Postmodern Parables

Joy In The Mourning

There is joy and hope for those who mourn. (See, Matthew 5:4). "How can we live this way? Many of us are tempted to be relieved of our pain. We want to flee it at all costs. But when we learn to move through suffering, rather than avoid it, then we greet it differently. We become willing to let it teach us. We even begin to see how God can use it for some larger end. Suffering becomes something other than a nuisance or curse to be evaded at all costs, but a way into deeper fulfillment. Ultimately mourning means facing what wounds us in the presence of One who can heal” (Nouwen. 2001:xix)

(Henri Nouwen. 2001. Turn My Morning Into Dancing: Finding Hope During Hard Time. Edited by Timothy Jones. TN: W Publishing)

Laughing With God

God has a great sense of humor. I prepare a talk and at the end, he takes a small portion of my presentation and multiplies it to one person listening to my teaching. Isn’t this funny? After spending hours and hours of study and teaching preparations, one insignificant portion of my talk becomes the turning point to this one person. Has this ever happened to you?

Yesterday, I was in a church retreat here in Borneo. The SIBH church leaders have invited me to speak on the Trinity. I gave a lecture on the “Renewing Ministry of the Spirit.” One portion in my talk was the topic of forgiveness. I learned later, through one of the church leaders that this topic had an impact on a few of the participants. I find this humorous. Long hours of preparations and only a small theme, actually a footnote, found relevance to these few individuals.

Well, it is God’s work. So, I will leave everything to our God to use any portion of my presentation to encourage his people to a life of renewal…, I meant forgiveness. Maybe, next time, I will share about forgiveness.

Perfected Obedience

Just like a gardener watching her garden bloom and her trees bear fruit. Or just like a shepherd leaving the 99 and seeking out the one lost sheep. He exalts in jubilation when he hears the cry of help from the lost sheep. What about the joy of a parent seeing one’s children come home? Just like that popular story of a father seeing his wayward son come home. He jumps with joy and runs toward his son whom he sees from a distance. God’s joy is made complete when we surrender our selves to Him in all His perfection and love.

Allow me to share a real life story—the experience of watching a small child take his or her first few steps. Now, if the child falters and falls, we do not say: “The child is a failure” or express some other discouraging words. We encourage the child and cheer on the whole family. The important thing is that the parents are rejoicing with the child learning how to walk for the first time. The first few steps may not be perfect, in the eyes of the adults, but they are enough for the parents to celebrate. They are perfect in a sense that the child’s attempt to walk completes the joy of the parents. Perfection is in the side of the parents.

In the same way, our feeble attempts to love our enemies may not be perfect. But if we surrender them all to our Heavenly Father, and draw strength from God’s perfect character, then we can be hopeful and receive some encouragement. Our obedience to God’s command to love our enemies (and our neighbors and all our friends), this life of obedience will become perfect in God’s eyes. God finds joy in watching His children obey Him. Simple acts of obedience celebrate God’s perfection. Little expressions of surrender complete the heart of God.

Worship In A Language You Don’t Understand

Have you ever been in a gathering of Jesus-followers expressing worship and celebrating God’s goodness in a language that you do not know or in a tradition that you are not familiar with? And after your visit, did you still come out of that experience with a sense of Divine Presence and a touch of the Spirit of God?

One pastor suggested that every Christian makes it a practice to go and “visit a worship service with a different tradition or style than you are used to” (Calhoun 2015:51). I would even go a little further and encourage everyone to seek out a worship celebration where the gathered ones are using a language you do not understand. (Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. 2015. Rev. edition. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. IL: IVP Books.)

Our Lectionary Reading for this week (03/12/2023) is from Psalm 95, where the Psalmist is exhorting the readers to make a joyful noise, to come into God’s presence with a grateful heart, and to bow down to the Maker of heaven and earth. On the same breath, the Psalmist reminds everyone to listen to God’s voice and not harden one’s heart—to not follow the example of the people of God.  “Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah, as they did at Massah in the wilderness. For there your ancestors tested and tried my patience, even though they saw everything I did. (Psalm 95:8-9 NLT).

I think, going to a Christian celebration where the medium is unfamiliar to you, is a good discipline, an excellent practice of reminding ourselves that worship is all about God. This exercise will force us to listen to the Spirit of God. It will be a perfect time to soften our hearts before the Maker of heaven and earth and remember our life of disobedience and surrender them at the feet of Jesus. In these kinds of experiences, we will find rest for our soul and our joyful noise will come straight from our heart and go directly to the heart of God.

So, go and seek out a “worship service” where the gathered ones are singing in a different language and speaking to each other in a tongue you do not understand. God will be with you there and the Spirit of God will be your Interpreter—your Friend and Counselor.

"Drop everything and listen, listen as He speaks." (Psalm 95:7 MSG)

Listen To Jesus

Listening to someone is hard when we are talking. And sometimes, even when our lips are not moving, we still can’t tune in to what others are saying because we are busy thinking of words to say on the next available opportunity we get. Listen! God spoke from the cloud on that mountain saying: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). We are to listen and align our hearts to Jesus. We need to be silent before our God and listen to His Son. 

On this Transfiguration Sunday (02/19/2023), please read our Lectionary Gospel Reading from Matthew 17: 1-9. We will be ready to listen to God when our hearts and minds are soaked in the “silence of God” or the quiet assurance of His presence. It is only after we have learned to be silent before God that our words will take on deep meaning for others.

“Words can only create communion and thus new life when they embody the silence from which they emerge. As soon as we begin to take hold of each other by our words, and use words to defend ourselves or offend others, the word no longer speaks of silence. But when the word calls forth the healing and restoring stillness of its silence, few words are needed: much can be said without much being spoken.” (Nouwen 1981:57. -- from: Henri Nouwen. 1981. The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. NY: Harper Collins Publisher)

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?

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!

Fully Christian And Fully Asian

Fully Christian and fully Asian. I was privileged to visit with some Bataknese people here in Southeast Asia. On my last day of visit, my host arranged for a time of worship, dance, singing, and affirmation of our humanity. It was uniquely Batak, dance steps in the tribal way, singing songs in the language of their ancestors, and moving with everyone that only belong to their Bataknese identity. They welcomed me as one of their own. The leaders draped me in the traditional garb with its tribal colors. Everyone coached me to dance in the rhythms of their tradition.

I have never felt more fully human and fully Christian before this particular worship time of Bataknese dance and songs. I started praising God in unfamiliar tongues and moved with the people in the beat of their culture. I felt so close to God in a very strange way. Fully Christian and fully Asian. God be praised!

Looking With God’s Love

God is calling us in his love. This is a truth that is very simple that even children get it. We see people and treat our friends based on the Father’s love for them. However, in practice, most of us do not start this way. Our human tendency is to view other people according to their responses to God’s love. Let me explain.

God is the Father who calls us out of his love. He calls everyone to connect with his heart for all people and nations. He calls everyone to participate in his compassion for the world. This is God’s compassionate call. Jesus models for us this way of looking at people through God’s heart for the world. When Jesus faced rejection, he still continued seeing God’s love in the persons who rejected him. In Mark 10:21, a Rich Man approached him with questions about eternal life. The text says Jesus “looked at him with love.” Even though later, we read that this man rejected Jesus and walked away in great sadness. Jesus saw God’s love in his life. This was Jesus way. When he was with a Samaritan woman, with a Roman Centurion, with a Syrian mother, among the Jewish religious leaders, with a leper, or an impulsive fisherman, Jesus saw the Father’s love in their hearts and minds. Jesus is viewing the people around him with the Father’s compassionate call.

What does this mean for us today? One way of applying this is by putting a stop to our tendencies to focus on results, on giving priority to only those who are repentant. Many of our reports are on big numbers, on stories of flashy miracles, or on physical healing and spectacular events. We tend to see God’s love as only defined by people’s response to the call for repentance. We forget that God is calling everyone to his love, even the ones who reject him.

So, let us focus on seeing God’s love in people, even if there are no results. Even if a person rejects God, we still should love them. Results are good. Miracles and healing are wonderful. But these are not our goal in missions work. Our goal is to worship God by seeing his love in people’s hearts and lives. Let us celebrate God by seeing and hearing his compassionate call for everyone.