Service For The King

Let us stay close to the King of the kingdom of God. When we are intimate with the King, then our service is full of mercy and comfort. We give help to others, but we know only the King can satisfy them and the peace of God is the only thing that can comfort them. We offer our gifts to our friends, but we also confess that we are fellow travelers and we are poor just like them, and we continue to hunger and thirst for righteousness just like them. We practice generosity and a life of service not that people will see our benevolent acts, but so that God will see us. We do these acts of kindness not to hear our friends appreciation, but to hear the affirmation of our Lord, longing for that time when He calls us sons and daughters of God. We give, help, serve, and become generous because we are seeking the kingdom of God.


Happy Are You When ...

We are happy when we are hungry for righteousness or merciful to others, or making peace. We are happy when we are pure or persecuted, because the King of the kingdom of God is with us, near us. Our happiness is not based on what people think of our acts of mercy or the correctness of our hunger and thirst for righteousness. Our happiness is not dependent on the world’s definition of peace, purity, or persecution and sacrificial service. Our happiness is grounded on our relationship to the King of this kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is our goal. The kingdom of God defines our happiness. It is in the kingdom of God that we shall receive mercy, comfort, and satisfaction. It is in the kingdom of God where we will be called sons and daughters of God, inheritors of the earth, and seeing God in a most intimate way.


Proximity To The Kingdom Of God

Jesus said: “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them! Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them! Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!” (Matthew 5:3-5. GNB)

In this passage we say, “Happy are you when you are poor. Happy are you when you mourn. Happy are you when you are meek.” And so, we go down the eight blessings of this Beatitudes or Teaching of Jesus. Now, if we look closely, we have to ask ourselves: What kind of happiness is this? How can we be happy when we are poor, mourning, or meek? This is a valid question. However, Jesus is reminding his listeners and us, the readers of this Beatitudes, that happiness is not based on our present circumstances or the type of feelings we have, but on our proximity to the kingdom of God. If we are seeking the kingdom of God like Jesus is doing, then we will be happy no matter what, even if we are poor, mourning, or meek. If we are close to the Ruler of the Universe, the King of God’s kingdom, just like Jesus is close to the Father, then we are proclaimed happy persons. Happy are those who are close to the kingdom of God.


Road To Discovery

The road to discovery means seeing new things and trying out untested ways that lead to beauty and a life of encouragement. When Jesus called his first disciples, he invited them to follow him saying: “Come and see.” (John 1:39). 

This is a call to a life of discovery. In this (January 15th) week’s Lectionary Gospel Reading in John 1:29-42, Jesus does not say: “I am going to heaven. Come and follow me.” It is not an invitation to travel to a certain place or to do a particular religious lifestyle. Rather, Jesus invites them to follow him and in this adventure, they will discover new things.

Most of the times, this invitation is unsettling and disturbing. It means changes and many uncomfortable adjustments in our lives. Most of us would prefer a level of certainty, such as heaven, or a mode of comfort and security. But Jesus’ call is an invitation to a life of adventure, a journey to fulfill God’s will in our lives.

So, what new discoveries are you encountering today in your journey with Jesus?


Joseph Became A Refugee

Joseph took his family and crossed the border into Egypt, and became refugees in a foreign land. What was the reason for their departure? Was it necessary for them to flee to Egypt and live the life of an unwanted immigrant? The angel could have said: “Do not leave for God will command His angels concerning you, to guard you.” Or, he could have said: “Stay and God will fight for you.” No. Instead, our lectionary reading states that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 

Our Gospel Reading for this week, the first week of January 2023, is in Matthew 2:13-23. In this lectionary reading we find the answer to our search for a reason for Joseph’s family fleeing their homeland. Verse 15 presents to us the reason—This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” This verse quotes Hosea 11:1 and relates the life of a sojourner and a refugee in a foreign land. 

More particularly, I think the reason was didactic in nature, aimed at teaching Joseph a valuable lesson as the father of the Son of Man. The flight to Egypt gave Joseph a perspective on the life of a refugee. It gave Joseph a better understanding of the kind of life his son Jesus is going to take here in earth. Joseph’s life as a refugee in Egypt made him a better father to Jesus.

So, Matthew 2:13 states that the angel said to Joseph: “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you.” And if I maybe allowed to say, the angel probably continued saying: “Live in Egypt as a sojourner and a refugee of the land. Live among the poor so that you will learn how your Son will bring the kingdom of God among them.  Mourn with them so that you will partake of your son’s ministry of comfort. Be humble as a stranger of the land because this is what your son Jesus will be doing in his life as an adult. He will take the form of a servant and will not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. Be merciful and seek peace in the land, and you will be called Joseph the father of the Son of Man." (Compare, Matthew 5:2-12 and Philippians 2:5-11).


Imagine The First Christmas

Let us imagine the first Christmas story when the shepherds first heard the angels proclaiming the birth of the Messiah.  What if they decided to stay in the fields and repeated the message of the angels to themselves. Imagine this conversation:

“Let us gather together here and bring in our drums and trumpets, and sing the same songs that we heard from the angels. Let us dance here in the fields and worship our God just like the angels did.” 

We do not know what would happen if the shepherds did this. There is no way of knowing. We would only end up speculating about could happen. For me, I am glad that the shepherds did not do this. Instead, they went out and followed the command of the angels to go to the city to see the Messiah.

Our Lectionary Gospel Reading for this Christmas Sunday is from Luke 2:8-20. Here we can read the obedience and joy of the shepherds on that first Christmas Day. 

So, what are your “acts of obedience” for this Christmas 2022? May we respond in joy and worship, just like the shepherds did in Luke 2:20, where it says: “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”


Christmas Fruit: A Sermon

Good morning, and Merry Christmas. Today, I will share about the first Christmas and see the fruit of the Spirit of God from the experiences of the shepherds. 

Let me start with a question: What fruit of the Spirit do you see from the first Christmas story? For one, we see the joy of the shepherds and the Magis when they first saw Jesus. There is the peace that the angels proclaimed. Today, I will suggest the fruit of goodness (service) and kindness, and the fruit of patience and perseverance.

Let us read Luke 2:8-20, and see what the shepherd did in response to the angels proclaiming the good news.

In our readings from the Lukan text, we see that the shepherds were given two contrasting scenarios. They were challenged to respond in fear or to obey with joy. At first, the shepherds reacted with great fear to the heavenly spectacle shown to them. Then eventually, the angels encouraged these lowly shepherds to respond in joy, as was said: “I bring you good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10). 

In this story, it is a choice between fear or joy. It seems simple enough that the obvious response should be joy. But we sometimes forget that there are other choices, somewhere in between fear and joy. 

Let us look at Matthew chapter 2 and we will see two other choices that other groups of people showed us. The Magis responded with anticipation. They waited for a few years before seeing Jesus. Now, biblical scholars have told us that there is a gap of two or three years between Matthew chapter one and chapter two. This means that at this time, here in chapter two, Jesus was about 3 years old. (Compare Matthew 2:16.) So, this means that the Magis waited with patience and anticipation from the time the star appeared at Jesus birth until this time of their visit to Jerusalem. So, for the Magis, it was not a choice between fear or joy, but a choice to wait, and to patiently wait with faithful anticipation.

Another group of people here in Matthew chapter two is the group of “scribes and priests” mentioned in Matthew 2:4. They responded in knowledge and certainty. They knew where the Messiah was to be borne. And yet they did not go to see the child and worship Jesus, the Child King. Their responses were full of knowledge but lacking in goodness and service. They were certain about the truth of the Messiah and yet they did not move forward and put action to their knowledge. They did not serve the Messiah, but instead followed the evil ruler, Herod. They chose apathy and self serving decisions.

Of course, we know later that the Shepherds went on to obedience and chose joy, as we see in Luke 2:20. Also, the Magis went on to obedience and worship, and chose joy, as we see in Matthew 2:10. What I am trying to say here is that, initially, the choices we face is not as simple as between fear and joy. Our choices could mean a time of waiting. Or it could mean putting good actions and service to our knowledge.

Why am I sharing these different choices from this Christmas story? It is because we need to remind ourselves that our life choice is not just choosing joy, but could also mean choosing patience, when we practice waiting on God, or choosing goodness, when we put action on our biblical knowledge of the truth.

Let me illustrate this with a personal experience. When Christmas comes, many people talk about food and table preparations. It is during these kinds of conversations that I am reminded of my mother’s special Christmas food. When everyone starts enjoying the Christmas meal, I join in the celebration with an empty space in my heart. I wish she was here with my family eating with us, with my children.

I miss my mother. And for some of us who have lost love ones, Christmases can sometimes become challenging. It is not a joyful time. It is a time of waiting for God. It is a time of reflection and patiently waiting and quietly anticipating God’s visit during this Christmas season.

So, this Christmas, go ahead and celebrate with joy. But remember, there are some who are waiting and quietly anticipating God’s visit in their lives. Be patient with them. Also, there are those who are struggling to practice goodness and kindness in their lives. Be gentle with them. Let the fruit of the Spirit of God of joy, peace, love and faithfulness grow abundantly in this Christmas season.

Let us go back to the shepherds’ story. What if the angels stayed on the sky with their dazzling appearance and never came down to the shepherds’ level with a personal invitation? The shepherds probably stayed on being fearful—constantly living in fear.

I am glad one angel took her time to come down to the shepherds’ level and explained to them the good news. And it would have been okay if the angel said, “Have no fear and rejoice. And if you cannot be joyful, wait for God’s visit with patience and perseverance. And always practice goodness. And add kindness to every knowledge you gained from this announcement of the coming Messiah. Glory to God in the highest and to earth peace, joy, patience, goodness, kindness, and love to all humankind.”

(By: Dr. David W. Clemente. 2022 December. Illinois. USA)


Simple Christmas

What is a common theme among these three Christmas songs: “One Small Child,” “Little Drummer Boy,” and “Silent Night?”

These Christmas songs critique flashy and extravagant holiday celebrations. The messages of these songs highlight the importance of silent and little Christmas experiences. Do you remember the line: “I am a poor boy too… I have no gift to bring… That's fit to give our king.” Let us continue to celebrate unassuming and quiet Christmas moments. Let us treasure the “Infant, so tender and mild”—draw close to our hearts the simple Christmas things in life. There is beauty in “One small child in a land of a thousand.” There is hope and freedom when we remember and celebrate small and ordinary stuff. Have a merry simple Christmas!

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Checkout “Silent Night” by David Crowder from the 2011 album Oh For Joy, “Little Drummer Boy” by Jars of clay from the 2007 album Christmas Songs, and “One Small Child” by David Meece from the 1990 album Our Christmas.


Christmas Response

The angels came and lit up the sky with bright lights and sang a mighty chorus with the announcement that the Savior has come in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes. One of the angels said to the shepherds: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)

Now, the shepherds could have said, “Let us take a vote and determine if the things the angel said are true or not. And then, we can form committees to plan our next actions.”

Or, the shepherds could have responded in a more systematic way. They could have said: “These are all just hallucinations. Because of the herbs we took or the drink we had this morning, we are seeing things and hearing announcements that are farfetched and impossible to carry out. Let us first check the accuracy of our senses before we do anything.”

Or maybe, the shepherds could have been more bookish and said: “Our scriptures say that if we believe, then we will be highly favored from above. The good book says that if we accept truth in our hearts, then our lives will be abundantly blessed and prosperous for many years. We will have nice houses, fast chariots, plenty of sheep, and healthy children. This talk about a helpless child in a poor person’s manger and dressed in swaddling clothes and not in a kingly manner, these do not align with our understanding of the scriptures. This announcement of a baby is not a picture of prosperity and wealth. This is not by the book.”

Instead, we see in Luke chapter two that the shepherds obeyed and went out to see the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. They responded in wonder and joy. They worshipped the Child-King. They told everyone everything.

So, how should we respond to the announcement of “Joy To The World” during that “Silent Night” situation?  Do we “Go! Tell It On The Mountains” about Jesus who is “Away In A Manger” in that “O Holy Night” story?  Fear not, for behold, Jesus. Merry Christmas!


Missional Questions, Missional Group

Whenever I am here in Asia, I make it a point to visit a Filipino community. There are two questions I ask them. These two become my way of evaluating their missional life and practice. The two questions are: What do you do when you are gathering as a group?v What are you doing to share Jesus to those who do not know Him?

In Auckland, New Zealand, I visited with a group of Presbyterian Filipinos. They gather together from different local churches and meet for a time of fellowship. They eat a meal together with good Filipino dishes. They exchange news of political events from back home. Much of their conversation is in Tagalog.

In Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, I visited with a group of Filipinos hailing from a pentecostal tradition. They worship together in the “charismatic style,” full of lively singing and the spectacular display of the gifts of the Spirit. They share freely, mostly in the Cebuano language, and never mindful of time.

In Malang, Indonesia, I visited with a Filipino family involved with an indigenous group reaching out to the Muslim people in their area. The family connects with the pastor of this indigenous group, who shares the gospel in the group’s tribal language and sensitive to the special needs of the Muslim culture. 

When I asked the second question, the first two groups could not give specific answers to the goal of reaching out to the local people around them. These groups from Auckland and Kinabalu spend most of their time within the circles of their Filipino friends. Filipino food and cultural events among their fellow Christians. Nothing wrong with these cultural expressions, but they take precedence over missional activities. Instead of going to their non-Christian friends, they spend their time and energies on church-defined activities. There is no attempt to go beyond their comfort zones. 

The third group from Indonesia is very missional. They intentionally find time to connect with a work among the local community. They partner with a local pastor who is doing ministry in a Muslim community. They leave their Christian comfort zones and reach out to traditions different than their own. This is a missional group.