Sunday Message – What is a King?

In a time of Democracy, the notion of a King holds little meaning. Why should we rejoice that the King is coming? As the hyenas from Lion King said, “Who needs a king?” Well, after watching several historical Korean Dramas and reading historical fantasy novels I consider myself mildly qualified to speak on the topic.

A king is the champion of his people. He protects them from enemies. If the neighboring king decides to invade, a king leads his people against their enemy. If the people are under slavery, the king does his best to ransom them. A king is responsible for his people’s well-being. Unlike Presidents who are never responsible for any mishaps during their tenure, a king is responsible for failed crops, bad weather, and even global warming. He might not be able to stop them, but it is his responsibility to ensure that his people are provided for.

A king enforces laws and executes justice. If robbers patrol the highways, the king is to blame – unlike presidents who are never at fault for high crime rates. A king lives for his people. Or rather, he should.

This and every Christmas, we celebrate the coming of a perfect king. The one who will do all the above and more. He comes to free us from sin, slavery and oppression. He gives us hope for the coming time and is a reminder that God has not forgotten us. He has already demonstrated his ability to rule by sacrificing himself for us. His coming is a time to rejoice because of all that he has done and will do for us. Here is a king we can love.

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Sunday Message: How To Fill That Hole In Your Heart

I was up late last night struggling with a good amount of discontent. I was suffering from the desire to buy a new PC game when I haven’t played all the ones I already have. I’ve never had this problem before. I’m the kind of person who just needs food, clothes, shelter, and amusement once in a while. Never have I suffered from an insatiable craving for material things. And then it hit me: I was experiencing what Christians refer to as a ‘hole in your heart’. It’s the knowledge that something is missing in your life and the inability to find that which will satisfy the craving. I was unfamiliar with the concept because I’d never had cause to experience it before. My life has always been sufficiently filled by God. I went to boarding school when I was ten. We had church services every Sunday, and compulsory prayers every day. I discovered a love for the Bible and I read it ceaselessly. I’ve always been filled, but that has been changing for more than a year.

It started very subtly. I returned from an extended stay in the hospital to find myself on a few mood dampening medications. Despite all the good they did, they made it a struggle for me to get anything done – from taking a shower, to studying for school, to going to church. I struggled, and was able to make it to church about twice a month, but I gave up attending Sunday school and Bible study. It was just too much effort. I was aware that a lax church attendance policy is dangerous (spiritually and otherwise) but I had no first hand experience with the issue and I was making the best of a bad situation. My state of mind also meant that I barely did anything at all – even reading my Bible, so just like if I had started eating an iron deficient diet, I was bound to feel the effects soon enough.

Thankfully, I realized what was going on before things got really bad. Once I realized what the issue was, it was very easily remedied. The temptation to buy something lessened, because I was aware that that was not the solution. It was too late to do anything, so I went to bed and woke up this morning feeling better. I finished reading 2nd Kings and went to Sunday School for the first time in a very long time. My problems haven’t disappeared. I ran out of energy halfway through the service and was itching to run home, but it was cold, I was hungry, and they were serving pancakes at Sunday School. I did a lot of thinking in those two hours and came to several conclusions.

1. It was not my fault, but I sinned against God anyway. I’m usually pretty good at blaming myself because my focus is on not excusing myself for my wrongs. I might be wrong in this, but I don’t believe I set out to turn away from God. I fell prey to temptation because I was weak. My emotions were all over the place and I wasn’t handling anything well. But I turned away from God anyway. Evidently, you can sin when you have no evil intentions.

2. I can now see why my fears about turning away from God are so silly. I’ve been worried about my ability to hold on to him, because I have no such ability! Rather, all I have to do is want him. He is the one who holds on to me. The determining issue is not how good I am at keeping his laws and seeking after him. It is how my heart is trained on him. I am human (weak, in other words). Of course, now I’m scared that I could stop wanting him, but I know that’s a silly fear too. I just haven’t figured out why yet. God stopped me (hit me with a brick, really) when I went sliding away from him because he knew that was not what I wanted (ultimately, anyway. I’m quite certain that I wanted to lie in bed for a few Sundays. But I’m human and stupid).

3. It’s interesting how even though I know what I am craving, and I know what will not satisfy me, I keep being tempted to do it anyway. As an analogy, it’s like I know soft drinks won’t sate my thirst, but I want to try them anyway. Why is that? It’s like I don’t want what I need, but something else, even while I know that such an action is foolish and futile. I suppose it must be an issue of wanting something that I shouldn’t, and not wanting what I should. It’s fascinating.

I must succumb to the need to play a game, now. I’ve achieved more today than I have in a while. I’m going to go beg God to let that continue.

Sunday Message: Temporary Home

Save MeI’ve been watching MSNBC’s new summer series Save Me featuring a housewife who talks to God. More often than not, it’s an example of bad theology but it’s amusing. In the latest episode, Beth’s husband is having his boss over for dinner, and she’s also having a Garage sale. When everything had been sold, a woman arrives for the Garage sale. On learning that she was too late, she begins gushing over Beth’s new set of China and God, unpredictable as ever, tells her to sell the China. She does so grudgingly. And then someone shows up to buy her new dress, and her daughter’s new shoes and the meal she was supposed to serve for dinner and her dining table too. So her dinner guests show up to dinner at an old worn out card table, paper ‘Happy Birthday’ plates and a very inexpensive dinner. God’s reasoning: she had too much stuff.

When the show was over, a thought stealthily crept into the back of my mind. I stumbled over it and instantly shrank back. My first thought was “we are not having this conversation right now”. And by ‘right now’, I meant ‘ever’. It was a very displeasing thought. But the thought remained, gently prodding at my consciousness, sneaking to the fore of my mind whenever I let go for a moment and using those moments to put forward its devastating logic.

Note to the uninformed: Never hold a logical argument with God. You’ll lose. The only way you win is if you plug your ears, stamp your foot and absolutely refuse to listen to reason. And that’s what I did. “Are you saying I can’t have a nice soft bed?”, I asked in my best whiny four-year old voice ,”But I like having a nice soft bed”.

No, he wasn’t saying that, but it took me a few minutes to realize that. He gently and persistently prodded at me till I got tired and stopped fighting. And then I looked around me and saw. When I lived with my parents, we had one TV, and when we got a second one, we barely used it. We didn’t have cable. The girls had one bedroom and the boys had another. Our bedrooms consisted of a closet, a bed, an air conditioner and (for the girls) a TV. And we were happy. It never occurred to  me that we needed anything more. Sure, we fought over the computer but now that we have more, we barely know what to  do with them.

I realized then that, like Beth, I don’t really need a lot. I don’t think I have too much stuff – my only excess is a set of baking pans and and about 8 pairs of shoes. And when I start my internship this summer and earn more money, there’s nothing I need to buy with it. This is, after all, my temporary home. It’s homely and comfortable. I could add in a dresser and reading table, but there’s no need to do that.

He then said one thing that completely broke my resistance. The less unnecessary things I have, the more I can give. I can host more dinners for my friends, give more gifts to those around me and buy ice cream and presents for an acquaintance who falls ill. I love giving to and taking care of others and he loves that too. And I can do more of it. I just have to be wiser with my spending.

There’s still more to think about to decide. I have to train myself to not buy just anything I like, and I still think I need more shoes and bags, But that’s a discussion for another day.

Sunday Message: Rationality is Overrated

Pi: The Transcendental Number
Pi: The Transcendental Number (Photo credit: tj.blackwell)

Today we celebrate love – that senseless and dangerous concept that leads people to all kinds of irrational acts. Today we remember that God, in a perfect show of love, sent his only son to be tortured to death in order to save people who are nowhere near worth it. That’s bad economics and it must have hurt like hell (for both of them), so it makes no sense. But hey, why should it? It’s love.

In keeping with God’s example, do something irrational today. Give out your dinner. Call your mom and let her talk your ears off. Do something nice for that person who is never grateful. But remember that you’ll never be as irrational as God was because unlike him, you will get rewarded for those actions.

Sunday Message – The Love of God

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me.”

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me. – Isaiah 49:15, 16

The Bible tells of a God whose love is so great as to be frightening. He rescued a people who had never done anything to deserve his kindness and cared for then no matter how many times they failed him. When they went astray he warned them, promised them gifts if they would return. He punished them when they went too far and forgive them when they repented, knowing that they would soon return to their sins. Over and over and over again this happened and he kept bearing with them.

The above passage from Isaiah was written during one of those times of punishment. God reminded his people of his love for them, a love that had endured centuries of assault. They were dear to him, his children and no matter how far away they ran, he would always hope for their return.

We can see around us the hell centuries of humanity have created through their actions. We know of the attempts at reform that have failed to wipe out cruelty. Some places have gained victory against such vices as slavery and the murder of infants, and some have not. But none have been able to get rid of the one plague that affects us all: the pain we suffer every day at the hands of our fellow human beings. The lies, betrayals, secrets, and neglect. And even worse is that we sometimes inflict that pain.

What God’s love means for us is that even though we hurt the ones we (and he) love and make the same mistakes over and over again, we’ll never be alone. Because he never quits. He is willing to rescue anyone who no longer wishes to live that way.

Sunday Message – The Wages of Sin

I have previously argued for the idea that we are all sinners; sinners in that we do not pay the attention we should to the moral law. We want to obey the moral law when we wish (like in giving away one apple when we have three apples and a hungry neighbor), but do what we wish at other times (like copying someone’s math homework instead of taking the time to do it ourselves). In other words, we want to do as we wish – a very different thing from being subject to the law. If you’re still not convinced, imagine that the penalties for plagiarism were abolished and proctors we removed from examination halls. What percentage of the students will act honestly? I was once in a class of about 170 students who took an exam where the proctors did nothing to stop cheating. I was the only person I know who refused to participate.

Why does it Matter?

Everyone sins, but most people are not in anguish about it. I’ve met people who freely admit to having stolen, but they say it calmly and not with the severity one should use in admitting to breaking a law. If you press them, you get things like ‘well, it’s not that bad. It’s not like I killed anyone.’ Or sometimes they admit that it was a terrible thing, but don’t seem all that moved, like the man who’s lived in a filthy house for so long, he doesn’t even notice that it’s dirty. My purpose here is not to imbue anyone with a deep sense of sorrow for their sins (though that would not be unwelcome), but to explain, in the academic sense, the effects of sin.

Sin Hurts Us

Have you ever been hurt? Who was it that hurt you and what did they do? For some people, it was a murderer, or a thief, or a rapist. But those people are in the minority. Most people have never been raped, or murdered (obviously) or had a close relative murdered. But they have been hurt by people. What hurt them? Here are a few examples

The elementary school kid who classmates call her fat.

The boy whose father never spends time with him.

The woman who found that her husband had gambled away his earnings.

The man whose wife is pregnant by another woman.

The teenager who is abandoned by the father of her baby.

The person who cut in front of you in a line and made you late.

The teammate who failed to turn in your work and cost you a good grade.

In fact, the majority of us are hurt by the people around us, not Hitler, or Stalin or big business. I’ve been hurt more by my brother’s refusal to help with chores than I have been hurt by big business or Hitler. We are hurt by the little things they justify to themselves: the lies, the theft, the looks, the words and the actions. They are not violent, but they are hurtful.  Yes, lies too. Dishonesty can destroy a marriage, unleashing suffering on an entire family.

Sin has no Place in a Peaceful World

If we are to live happy and healthy, we can’t have families (or anybody at all) being hurt by lies, or cruel words or actions even if those actions are not violent. In short, laws exist to protect us. So, anyone who wishes to do as they wish, to obey the law only when they wish to, instead of submitting to it, puts us in as much danger as the person who runs a red light. Laws are necessary for peace. Lawbreakers are not.

So, imagine that heaven is going to be a peaceful place, with no sorrow or pain. God would have to take away diseases, but he’ll have to take away bullies and dishonest people too. Dishonesty, after all, breeds disunity and heartbreak. So, if God decided to get rid of the murderers, rapists, bullies, insensitive people and liars, would you make it into heaven?

Sunday Message: What is a Christian?

Crucifix in the Hall
Crucifix in the Hall (Photo credit: Johnragai)

Read this even if you’re not a Christian. How can you reject something until you understand it?

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” – Luke 9:23, 24

“Christian” was a term coined to describe followers of Christ (or disciples of Christ, if you will). Here Jesus tells us what we must do to be his followers.

Deny Yourself

The word is Strong’s G533aparneomai“. It means “to forget one’s self, lose sight of one’s self and one’s own interests”. Basically, come to terms with the fact that you are not the most important thing in the world.

Take Up Your Cross

The word for cross is Strong’s G4716, “stauros“. It is defined as “a well known instrument of most cruel and ignominious punishment, borrowed by the Greeks and Romans from the Phoenicians; to it were affixed among the Romans, down to the time of Constantine the Great, the guiltiest criminals, particularly the basest slaves, robbers, the authors and abetters of insurrections, and occasionally in the provinces, at the arbitrary pleasure of the governors, upright and peaceable men also, and even Roman citizens themselves.”

When one carried their cross, they weren’t carrying a heavy burden towards a destination at which point they would be relieved on it. They were carrying the instrument of their own torture and death. They carried the cross till they reached their destination and then they died on it.

Follow Me

After forgetting ourselves and taking up our cross, we join Christ on the road to our deaths. We are following his lead and doing as he commands, because that is what it means to be a disciple. That is what it means to be a Christian. We are not discouraged that he calls us to our deaths because we trust him when he says that those who lose their lives for his sake will find it.

Note what being a christian takes:

Ichthys (Ichthus) Icon for Stub One of the sym...
Ichthys (Ichthus) Icon for Stub One of the symbols used by early Christians (prior to Constantine) to identify themselves to each other, when to be identified as a Christian could result in death. The symbol of a fish (ΙΧΘΥΣ in Greek) was used, because in Greek the letters of the word are also the first letters of a key Christian concept. I = Ιησυς (Jesus), X = Χριστος (Christ, Messiah, or Anointed one), Θ (the Greek letter theta) = Θεος (God), Υ = Υιος (Son), Σ = Σοτηρ (Savior). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Belief: You must belief that Jesus is who he says he is and that he has the power to save us as he claims or you would be the greatest of fools to follow him to death.

2. Action: You don’t just believe Jesus and then sit on your butt waiting for eternal life. You follow him. Too often people are told that they must believe in Jesus in order to be saved (and they must) and then they get the impression that after believing in Jesus, they can do  whatever they like and still be his disciple. You’re not a disciple if you’re not following. You follow by doing as he says, not by continuing in the sins you’re supposedly saved  from.

This is the relationship between faith and works. We are saved by God’s grace, through our faith in Jesus. Without trusting Jesus’ sacrifice, we are still dead in our sins and none of our good works will revive us. But faith without works will get us nowhere.

You accept the gift of atonement and reconciliation that Jesus offers us because you don’t get forgiveness of sins any other way. Without that, do good as you may, you still go to jail for the wrong that you’ve done. (Romans 5: 9-11, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

You get up and follow Jesus, turning away from your sins to obey his laws. Otherwise, how could he atone for someone who wants to keep on sinning? How could he teach you to live if you have no intention of doing so?

John summarizes the gospel:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. – John 3: 16 – 21