Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Frightening Conquerer

Who is the most formidable opponent? It is he who possesses the ability to turn your best weapons and abilities against you. Imagine going into a fight with someone who not only tests your weaknesses but uses the greatest arsenal in your kit to crush you.

How frightening. 

For all of mankind, there is a powerful weapon aimed at the core of its existence: death. The inevitable power of death looms over us and eventually takes over no matter how strongly, deftly we fight against it. For man, death is such a frightening conquerer. Its means? Violence. 

Whether it's death through war and tragedy or old age or illness, violence causes breakdown which leads to death. Whether it's a bullet or a tidal wave or cellular/DNA degeneration, violence rampantly brings down the human race toward death.

Are you frightened? 

But, is there one who takes the best weapon of death - violence - and crushes that insurmountable enemy? Yes. And he is the true frightening conquerer. 

Jesus Christ came to conquer. His aim was to defeat death and its violence. How did he accomplish this? With greater violence? Did he kill death with brute force as death would do? 

Jesus's weapon was love. Love that lays one's own life down to serve another. Such love - preserving another at one's own expense - is antithetical to violence which serves the self at the cost and destruction of the other. Jesus let violence upon himself knowing that the love with which 1) he himself laid down his life for his beloved and 2) the Father has for those who are faithful will shatter and demolish death and its power. Love came down and conquered death.

God, who is love, has shown us that he is the true frightening conquerer. 

If God could conquer death in such a frightening way, using its utmost power of violence against itself, then there is a hope for us who are struggling today. 

We know that death is a wage of sin. No sin, no death. Yet, the crippling reality for many of us is that this sin is rampant in our lives, and it despairs us of the resulting brokenness and creates haunting doubt of whether we will get to the destination we hope for. 

If this is you, there is good news for you.

For if God is the frightening conquerer and he has given us son, then we know that our worst sins will be turned into the greatest weapon of his redemption. Our struggle with sin in the past, present, and future will all be worked together for good in the redemptive power of love that resides in Jesus Christ. When we are burdened with our sins that enslave us, we can look beyond the immediate oppression to the one who oppresses sin. Jesus will surely return, and he will crush our enemy with the might of his steadfast love. 

One day, our frightening conquerer will descend on the clouds. On that day, all of our tears will be wiped from our eyes and we will exult in the shadow of our Redeemer. Look to that day today, for if your trust is in Jesus Christ, it is surely yours. 

O Lord, come! 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Don't Fret

I was at a high school retreat this past week to lead worship. On the last day, I found some of the equipment broken and my guitar damaged and began to fret. I know that these were caused by carelessness and disregard by others, and I began to vent angrily at the situation.

The effect I had on the others were immediately felt. Smiles and laughter became muted, the talking ceased, and the team who were helping me break down slowly began to position themselves farther from me. My negativity was felt. And even though in my bones I felt justified in fretting over the damage, I was soaked with a sense of wrongdoing and brokenness.

Fretting seems like a small deal, but it has consequences on relationships that are far more expensive to fix than broken equipment. Oftentimes, I fret about small things. Reparable things. Things that with a little bit of effort can be rectified. Yet, these small moments of fretting come at a great cost. Fretting causes division between people, a fixation upon the unfixable past, the breaking down of the life that has been given to love, construct, and move forward. The damage caused by fretting is vastly more difficult to restore.

From now on, I want to fret not.

Today, I spilled some roasted tomato juice on a new pair of selvedge jeans. I began to fret about how annoying the situation was and a surge of anger began to rise from within me. Probably because of the equipment episode, I was able to recognize what was happening and step back to think. The effort needed to clean these jeans probably takes no more than 15 mins of my time to google a fix and apply it. In the worst case scenario, I just buy new jeans. What's the big deal? Is it worth spending in sullenness the hours of time that I will never get back?

But what if it was irreversible. Not a pair of jeans but my face? Not a mic stand but my vocal cords? What if the damage is of the traumatic kind? Should we fret then?

It's incredible that we can fixate on something so small as stained jeans. It's moments like these that prevent us from seeing the unfathomable reality of eternity. If Jesus is coming back to restore everything at the cost of his life, where he not only lost his body but his soul and spirit, then all of our afflictions are momentary. There is reason to rejoice even in our suffering.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't grieve or hold back our emotions. When we're angry, we should be angry. When we're sad, we should be sad. But do we let these emotions control us onto destruction? Do we need to be enslaved by them? No.

What can do is to give the appropriate response to any situation. And the eternal nature of God's gift to us in Christ, once grasped, becomes to context within which we measure all our mishaps. We can weep over tragedy as Jesus wept over Nazarus's death. Yet, just as Jesus knew what would happen in a moment, and therefore moved on to call his name out of his grave, we can move forward in our moments of frustration knowing that one day Jesus will call our name from all the brokenness of this life onto eternity with him.

So don't fret. Look up and look forward. Jesus is calling.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Seasons

These days I'm reflecting a lot on the seasons of life. Without our consent, events and circumstances come and pass as time progresses, adding and subtracting from us, shaping our lives with a relentless force we cannot deny. We can only play along, if we are to be wise, if we would take time to understand the times. To ignore or dismiss the seasons would be like wearing winter coats during the heat of summer. But we're so good at numbing ourselves to the seasons. We stay locked up in the dungeon of our hearts, flustering with the broken A/C,  deluding ourselves with false securities.

I don't know if this is true, but I feel a sense of change in season in my life. The past few years made up a season in which death had to clear the path for new life. A seed cannot grow and flourish unless it's planted in fertile soil.  The winter months come, bringing death to what is old. And before the seeds can be planted firmly and fruitfully, the land is tilled. The soil is ploughed and harrowed turning over fresh soil and burying the old, dead crops to become the base for the growth and harvest of the new seed.

It's remarkable how poignant a metaphor this is for life. We are born and raised with a dizzying complexity of presuppositions and fallacies. Weeds are strewn all over, heavy boulders lay crush the soil, a lack of protection fails to keep robbers and pests at bay. We grow up with obstructions in our hearts that are too stubborn to remove by will. For life to birth, winter must come. The tiller must do his work. Only then can the seed grow and become fruitful, yielding a harvest.

I've spent many years of my life misguided with foolish assumptions about life. Not only that, there have been wounds and scars that have crippled me from living life in the manner it was designed. My brokenness and folly have led me to pursue what is worthless and deceive myself to a destructive end. Without a certain, and clear, death proving to me what is folly as opposed to wisdom, I couldn't fully commit to the convictions of wisdom and life. This past season has proved to me these things. By God's grace I've come to the sobering and undeniable conclusion that I am like a mere grass that is here today and thrown in the fire tomorrow. There is nothing I deserve. And yet I have lived with a sense of entitlement that views God as his slave. A death of me had to come in order that I could see the reality of the fear and majesty of God. I am his subject. Not the other way around.

I feel the tide turning. As the spring sprouts leaves and fall yields harvest, I am finding victories previously unattainable that point to the hope of fruitfulness.

I don't know what kind of season you're in, but I hope that you will take a moment with me to reflect where you are. In all these things, there is a God who is faithful and whose love remains through the changes. If we hold onto him, he will make sure that our hearts become fertile ground that yields a harvest of righteousness. May we cling to him, even as the seasons change, and seek his unfailing love to mold us according to his image.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Alienation

As I struggle with the frustrations of my own alienation, I remember that the reasons for the rejection of me are deserved. I earned every right to be flung off, cast out, and condemned. When I find myself isolated and unwanted, it's because I am a sinner who sowed sin unto a harvest of desolation.


When I realize this truth, it relieves me of my pain. When I ask myself, "why is it that people seem to find me unlikable," I realize that it's because I'm unlikable. Because of sin, there is brokenness in my life that I will need to battle through. It's supposed to be this way. It's relieving to know.


But I also realize a greater truth. There was once a man who deserved nothing but praise, nothing but affection, nothing but true, unyielding adoration yet was deserted. He was betrayed by all of his friends. More than that, he was cast off by his Father whom he loved for all of eternity. He was cast off for me. Alienated for me. So that before him, I never have to bear the burden of my deserved rejection. In Christ, I am always welcomed, loved, and embraced - all because Jesus, my savior, bore my sins on the cross.


Because of Christ, I am never alone, never forsaken, never rejected. And one day, when he returns, I will never feel this alienation again. There will be no more tears and no more pain. O Lord, come!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Our Glory

What was Job's glory? Why is he so significant and highly regarded?

Job remained steadfast to God all the way to the end.

When everything is taken away from us, will we, like Job, remain steadfast?

The glory that we are called to achieve is to hold on and cling to God who remained steadfast to us. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the master and ruler of the universe, remained on the cross and endured the wrath of God. He remained steadfast to the end, and therefore God exalted him above every name (Phil 2).

"God doesn't promise us better life circumstances. He promises us a better life."

Tim Keller often says this statement, and I must concur. Furthermore, he promises a better life by enabling us to remain in him all the way to the end.

When we encounter trials of all kinds, we must realize that they are not outside of God's plan. Rather, it's through excruciating circumstances that God refines us into the image of his son. It's why we ought to rejoice and be glad in these times of hardship. We are assured of God's masterful work in our lives and given the chance to glory in the eternal, incomparable riches of God in Christ.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

How to Overcome Addiction

Little do we know that there all kinds of addictions that rule our lives in big and small ways. Addiction isn't limited to substances, taboo'ed activities, nor pure moral failure. Addiction is about how we attach ourselves to reward cycles that are destructive over time.

Oftentimes, as I am often prone to do, we try to overcome addiction negatively. That is, we try to cut out the things we no longer want to do because we become aware of their self-sabotaging effect. But the problem is that, once hooked, we end up wanting the very things that hurt us more than we want to end it. Therefore, attempts simply to cut out addiction simply will not work. First, the desire is too strong, and secondly we won't know how to deal with the void that is left.

The way to tackle addiction is to proactively partake in positive activities in such a way that there is no room for the addictive activities. I think one of the primary reasons why groups like AA are successful is that they replace the time the addicts would imbibe in drink with meetings that are positive and restorative. If alcoholics meeting during the time in which they're most vulnerable to drinking, they will be much less likely to relapse. Without a better way forward, one cannot escape the status quo.

Perhaps this is why the writer of Hebrews says this:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)

If the community of Christ, the church, ceases to make time and space for each other to stir one another up in love and good works, there can only creep up voids in which addictions that stir the opposite of love.

For those who are in Christ, we are saved people. We have been delivered out of darkness into his glorious light. Let us live in the light, in fellowship with God and with one another. Where there is light, darkness cannot abide. Let us replace addiction with what is better - the love of God in Jesus Christ, manifested in the community of the church. There, we will find healing and freedom. Amen.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Relationship Is the Goal

In our brokenness, we often get it wrong. We set our objectives on tasks and accomplishments because these are necessary for life. We need to have our needs met, to make a living, and to experience success. But is the goal of our lives to get stuff done or is there something greater for which we do these things?

I think even for the secular individual, it's not hard to grasp the concept of putting food on the table. I don't mean this strictly in the sense of attaining financial security but in the regard that work for most people is about providing for another. We live not just for ourselves but for our loved ones. While this sense of other is nominally at the root of our lives, it doesn't necessary get nurtured in the way it should.

We live in an individualistic, materialistic time. The messages we see and hear are often about how to make our lives more interesting, comfortable, and convenient via consumption. But is this how God created the world? For people to find fulfillment in things?

Jesus lived without any possessions, yet we must see him as the complete person. His attention and fulfillment never came from things. Jesus prized most of all communion with his Father and his people. Indeed, Jesus left heaven and all of its benefits in order to become poor and to die the sinner's death. Why?

In Hebrews 12:2, it says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him. In his heart and mind the goal that drove him through infinite suffering was the prospect of an eternal relationship of his people to himself.

If we are to follow Jesus and take after him as our teacher, we must also see to it that our hearts reflect this. The problem is that our hearts don't know what a relationship with God could be. A lie has been told to us that God is not good, he is not true, he is not enjoyable.

The only way to overcome the lie is by the truth. Jesus, who claimed to be the truth, invites us to know him for who he really is. When we approach the living God with such a seeking and openness, we will taste and see that he indeed is good and our hearts will be reoriented to seek and treasure eternal relationships with God and his people rather than fleeting, earthly goals.

I need this more than any other, but it all starts with worship and a seeking after him. Let us pursue the living God in Jesus Christ who made a way for us. Amen.