April 16, 2012 § Leave a comment
After the healing of the crippled beggar in the presence of Peter and John (Acts 3:1-10), people came running to them in astonishment and anticipation (3:11). Then Peter asked this vital question: “Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” (3:12). The Greek verb “atenizo” for “staring” plays an important role in this passage. First, when the crippled beggar approached Peter and John (3:3), Peter “stared” at the beggar (3:4) to call his attention to the name of Jesus (3:7). Now Peter wants to make sure the crowds don’t get the wrong impression that what they are staring at is actually the source of healing power, because “it is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him” (3:16). We can be so blind sighted by the illusions of powerful promises coming from people around us. We are staring at everything the media and politicians are dishing up with anticipation of happiness, health and peace. And yet, we are staring at the wrong place. Focusing on Jesus and trusting His name is the only worthwhile staring that can bring true life.
April 3, 2012 § Leave a comment
The strange tension of life and death. That is what Holy Week confronts us with. In John 12:20-36 Jesus relates death (his and ours) to glorification. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12:23). Holy Week – that week of death – is Jesus’ moment of glory. But his glorification comes through an obedience that glorifies the name of the Father. An obedience that leads to dying for the sake of something new is always counter intuitive. “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father glorify your name!” (12:27). And yet, that is the truth of the gospel. Life comes through death. In terms of Jesus’ parable, “I tell you the truth, unless an ear of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (12:24). Which leads to the truth about our glorification. “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me… My Father will honor (glorify) the one who serves me” (12:25-26). This week is our moment of glory… to die in ourselves (what needs to die in you?) so that the glory of the Father can shine in and through us for the sake of new life in and around us.
March 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
The meaning of Paul’s illustration in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 may seem self-evident in our own sport-obsessed culture. And yet, we still may lose the point Paul is trying to make if we think his emphasis is merely on winning and receiving the winning prize. We all like the last couple of minutes in a tight football or basketball game. Somebody said to me earlier this week he thinks they should just give NBA teams a hundred points each and let them play the last minute 🙂 No, Paul is more concerned about how we run the race than merely the outcome of the race. That is why he says “run in such a way…” (9:24) and “do not run like a man running aimlessly” (9:26). The aim isn’t victory so much as a particular way of running the race. The illustration for the life of faith here is not so much victory as such as it is about the effort and dedication required during the race. The purpose of yet another day added to your life and mine is not about the eventual destination, but about how we are dedicated to participating in the movement of God during this day. Where do you see God at work today and how can you commit yourself to joining Him in that movement?
March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
The Gospel in a nutshell. This is how we can describe the good news of Ephesians 2:1-10. It represents us with the opportunity to revisit the absolute basics of the Christian faith. First, viewed from the perspective of our “transgressions and sins”, we are all dead (2:1-3). Nobody is excluded from this reality in which “all of us… gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (2:3). The quantitative forms and shapes of sin is simply the symptoms of the qualitative nature of all of us being sinful human beings. And therefore, there are no hierarchies of sins in terms of its end result. Dead is dead. Secondly, the good news of God’s massive “but” entered the reality of sin as our complete and radical transformation: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved” (2:4-5). God’s grace is not a band-aid of patching up the wounds. It is the radical transformation from death to life. From God’s perspective, we are alive in Christ. It is a gift, not deserved or earned, and therefore, present us with nothing to boast about (2:8-9). It is all due to God’s love and grace. Lastly, this transformation to life in Christ is not only something spiritual for the sake of an everlasting life, but manifests itself in our everyday lives among others, “for we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…” (2:10). Indeed, we are alive in Christ today!
February 29, 2012 § Leave a comment
From a 1997 Walter Brueggemann prayer based on Psalm 22:23-31:
Holy God, to whom we turn in our trouble, and from whom we receive life and well-being even in the face of death; We gladly and without reservation assert: You are the one who gives life; You are the one who hears our prayers; You are the one who turns our jungles of threat into peaceable zones of life; You are the one who has kept us since birth, who stands by us in our failure and shame; who moves against our anxiety to make us free. You are the one who does not hide your face when we call. So we praise you. We worship you. We adore you. We yield our life over to you in glad thanksgiving. As an act of praise, we submit our sick and our dead to you; As an act of praise, we submit more and more of our own life to you; As an act of praise we notice your poor, and pledge our energy on their behalf; As an act of praise we say “yes” to you and to your rule over us. We say, “yes, yes,” Amen and Amen.
February 28, 2012 § Leave a comment
Mark 8:31-38 represents the first of Jesus’ three predictions that he will suffer, be rejected, and die. These predictions come in the midst of the disciples’ inability to understand who Jesus really is and what his mission on earth is really all about. It is remarkable that after each one of these three predictions, there is a story making it clear the disciples still “do not understand.” In fact, we have to go back to 8:17 where Jesus already asks the disciples a series of questions revealing their incomprehension of who he is. That tendency finds its climax in the final question of 8:21, “Do you not yet understand?” The irony is that Peter gave the correct answer to the question who Jesus is when he says in 8:29, “You are the Christ.” But Peter does not tell us what it means that Jesus is the Christ, and when he rebukes Jesus for predicting his suffering, rejection and death (8:32), it is clear that he has no idea what it means. The difficulty lies in associating Jesus with self-denial, taking up our own cross, and losing your life as a way of following Jesus (8:34-35). It is just so contra the natural expectations for victory and glory. So, it is also the crucial question for you and me this season of Lent. Who do we say He is? And how are we misled by conventional wisdom, natural inclination, and popular piety to truly understand what this means?
December 14, 2011 § Leave a comment
At the heart of Psalm 89 is God’s faithfulness. The introductory four verses set the tone: “I will sing of the Lord’s great love for ever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm for ever, that you established your faithfulness in heaven itself” (89:1-2). The Advent season is about waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise of faithfulness in the midst of so many signs and examples of unfaithfulness in the world. The Christmas message is that God kept his word, and that His word became flesh among us to establish His trustworthiness for ever. We all need to be loved… the kind of love that gives us security and that would not depend on changing circumstances or moods. We all need somebody to believe in us, to have faith in us… the kind of faith that can be fully trusted and won’t disappoint us. Only God can love us and be faithful to us in that way. May His love and faithfulness inspire us this Christmas season to embrace our love for others and to re-establish our faithfulness to others.