May 31, 2011 § 1 Comment
We are a people of the Word. And we worship a speaking God. That is why the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5 are heard as God’s voice “from the fire” (5:24). However, this Word needed interpretation, because “this great fire will consume us… for what mortal man has ever heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and survived?” (5:25-26). Therefore, the request from the elders that Moses be the one to “go near and listen to all that the Lord our God says. Then tell us whatever the Lord our God tells you. We will listen and obey” (5:27). The Word is always a mediated Word. Just as the elders needed Moses to write down what he heard God is saying to them, we still need each other in communities of interpretation to discern God’s Word from the all-consuming fire. Listening and obedience are ways in which we are willing to submit ourselves to the speaking of others. First of all to God as Another, but also to each other in the process of interpreting God’s Word. It is not easy to cultivate habits of listening and obedience in a culture that lives by the illusion of individualism, and in which the ideal is to buffer the self from others. Who are you listening to when it comes to the most significant things in your life… or even about those things that you think you already know it all?
May 30, 2011 § Leave a comment
On Memorial Day – a day when we honor those who paid the ultimate price in serving their country – it is difficult to regard the world as a stable place. The reality of wars, sending loved ones on harm’s way, and sacrificing lives for the sake of protection against evil certainly don’t suggest that we live in a stable world. And yet, Psalm 93 praises God for his unshakable reign in the world. Yes, because of the nature of humanity, we discover attempts to make the world an unstable place every day. And yet, because of who God is, we discover the promise that God will never abandon this world despite our ability to make things unstable. A God-perspective on this world lead us to the confession, “The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved” (93:1). As a direct result of God’s rule, verses 1-2 announce that the world enjoys stability, and verses 3-4 attest God’s defeat of the chaos in the world. This, in fact, makes Psalm 93 a very appropriate song of praise on Memorial Day. In the midst of the power struggles of a world with its cycles of violence, the only hope which we clinch to is the hope we find in God’s promise of a stable world.
May 26, 2011 § Leave a comment
The New Testament scholar, Craig Koester, writes the following on John 14:15-21: “Coming to faith is analogous to falling in love. One cannot fall in love in the abstract. Love comes through an encounter with another person. The same is true of faith. If faith is a relationship with the living Christ and the living God who sent him, then faith can only come through an encounter with them. And the Spirit is the one who makes this presence known. John’s gospel calls the Spirit the paraklētos or Advocate, a term for someone who is called to one’s side as a source of help. In modern contexts someone may serve as an advocate in the court system, in the health care network, or in an educational institution, while other advocates may press the legislature to act on behalf of a certain cause. A quick reading of John may give the impression that the Spirit is the Advocate who brings our case up before God in the hope that God will do something merciful for us. But here the direction is the opposite. God has already given the gift of love unstintingly through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and such love is what creates genuine life. The Spirit is the Advocate who brings the truth of that love and life to people in this time after Easter, which makes faith possible.”
May 25, 2011 § Leave a comment
Freedom is a quality of life that everyone desires. A dictionary definition describes it as “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.” Those who recall the history of slavery will remember the ugly realities of freedom’s opposite. And yet, freedom remains the illusion of many who don’t even recognize the many ways in which they are constraint by the very (so-called “free”) choices they make in every day life. Like the Jews in John 8:31-38, they think they “have never been slaves of everyone” (8:33), and yet everybody is “a slave of sin” (8:34). Freedom of choice is no guarantee that you are truly free, because it depends on what you chooses to trust and obey in life. Only the truth can set you free (8:32). “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (8:33). We all belong in some way or another. The question is to who or what we belong? The culture in which we live create various kinds of desires through all its dominant forces of consumerism. Who or what do we choose to run our lives? Recognizing that we belong to God, and choosing every day to embrace the Son of God, will cultivate true freedom in our lives.
May 24, 2011 § Leave a comment
There is no shortage of advice on how to live healthy. Just pick up any number of health magazines, walk the shelves of popular bookshops, or flip to any of the health channels on your television. And yet, Proverbs 3 keeps it simple: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding… Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment in your bones” (3:5-8). No big distinction here between body, soul, and mind. They are all integrated, and they all influence each other when it comes to a holistic and healthy life. The root of it all is who or what we trust. If we lean on our own understanding, and we trust the wisdom of our own minds, we should not be surprised to find a corrupted soul that affects the body too. Contrary to many beliefs, a healthy body cannot be separated from a healthy underlying spiritual life. The anxieties, fears and concerns about worldly matters and how to control the future is fundamentally a matter of not trusting God with our lives, but an attempt to take control by virtue of our own wisdom and understanding. To let go and find peace in God’s presence will also bring healthy bodies without stress and lots of rest in Him.
May 23, 2011 § Leave a comment
Psalm 102 is a prayer of an afflicted man. You can hear it in the tone of desperation when he “cries for help” (102:1). In his distress, he turns to God with an urgent request: “when I call, answer me quickly” (102:2). Life can sometimes be completely overwhelming. When it feels life is vanishing and withering without me having any control over it (102:3-4, 11). Or when you lie awake at night “like a bird alone on a roof” (102:7). That is when we need God’s compassion most, and we need it quick. That is also when the strength of faith is entirely about trusting God to show up in quick time: “He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea” (102:17). Do you currently find yourself in such a desperate situation? Or do you know of someone else who are in similar circumstances? Did you turn to God with prayers of urgency, pleading for His quick intervention? Do you expect God to show up in time to bring new life where only destruction seems possible?
May 21, 2011 § Leave a comment
According to the Gospel of Luke, the last words that Jesus spoke from the cross were taken from Psalm 31 (see Luke 23:46 and Psalm 31:5). This psalm is also associated with the death of Stephen, the Christian martyr (see Acts 7:59). Therefore, Psalm 31 is often used at funerals and associated with occasions of death. However, this psalms is actually about the life of a believer. It is a psalm about trusting God no matter what. A dominant metaphor in this psalm is hand: “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (31:5); “My times are in your hands” (31:15). God’s hand of care, protection, and salvation is in contrast with the hands of the enemies (31:8, 15). Trusting God’s hand to be stronger than the enemy’s hands is based on previous experience of God redeeming the one praying (31:8, 22), and that God has proven himself to faithful (31:3). The hand of God turns out to be “a spacious place” or literally “a broad place” (31:8). On the table in my office lies an autobiography of Jurgen Moltmann, a prominent theologian of our time. The title, “A Broad Place”, is taken from this verse. A spacious or broad place is a place of safety and security. May you also experience your life to be a broad place in the palm of God’s hand.