God wen get so plenny love an aloha

March 12, 2017 | John 3:1-17 | Lent 2

So, it’s been about ten days since I unplugged from social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, I Snapchat about once every 4 months so that doesn’t count).  Already, I feel a difference.  This social media fast(SMF) has been good for my soul, akin to the detox benefits of a juice cleanse on one’s body.  I do not feel cantankerous because I have not been inundated with

slanted viewpoints,

fake news,

alternative facts,

combative opinions,

snarky memes,

and the like.

Even seeing less of the ubiquitous “angry face” has lowered my blood pressure.

*On a side note, I hope FB replaces the thumbs up with a .*

I did not realize how much of an impact all the negativity was having on my personal outlook.  Now, when I click onto a news story – whether it is good or bad, pro or anti Trump administration, it matters not – I am able to read the piece in its entirety without the echo chamber effect that social media tends to add.

*second side note: I’ve been watching a lot of Korean news lately and have you noticed how Hangook 5-0 LOVES the perp walk?  No matter how “westernized” South Korea becomes, the shame culture will always be off the charts. *

But what my SMF has done most of all is to help me realize that the enemy is not “out there.”  I removed SM for Lent thinking that the voluminous, venomous, vexatious online volleys were adversely affecting my life.  They were.

At the same time, whether I wanted to admit it or not, I was becoming the very thing I loathed seeing on SM: impulsive, reactionary, inflammatory, impatient, unable to speak (write) the truth in love, etc.  The following status update from January 28 is a clear case in point.  I wrote this in haste.  Granted, for the most part, I still stand behind most of what I wrote but if I were to change one thing, it would be the delivery of these thoughts:

Evidently, I’ve been reading John 3:16 wrong my entire life. Replace ‘world’ with ‘Christians’ & ‘whoever’ with ‘Christians’ ~ I’m kinda new to the realm of snarky banter so bear with me…..

But honestly, #Americafirst makes for terrible theology.

Wake up, sleepy disciples, the hour has come to unashamedly put #Jesusfirst and that is best embodied by a Church who will put Muslim refugees first, the undocumented first, women first, the unborn first, the marginalized first, the LGBTQ first, the least and lost first.

On a side note, Honolulu probably cannot become a sanctuary city because of our prohibitive cost of living but I wonder if we can still mobilize and make our voices heard. To my friends and family who support the Muslim ban, I still love you. But you’re wrong.

Ban something else…..like AR-15s and Uzi 9 millimeters – saying that with Arnold’s accent will take you back to the original (& BEST) Terminator. Xoxo.

I began this post by referencing the most famous Bible passage of all time – John 3:16.  I referenced that verse in reaction to some Christians who supported the (first) travel ban.  Like Franklin Graham.  Or these friends.

But looking back now, I fully acknowledge my lack of grace by painting this to be a clear black & white issue.  I’ll be honest and say that I’ve had some very mean thoughts about Mr. Graham, simply because I disagree with his sound bites (I still disagree with him, by the way).  But I have come to realize that to characterize him in the absolute worst picture imaginable is not my job.  His org actually does a lot of good (read the latter half of his fb statement.  I don’t know why I glossed over that in my first run through).

And it just so happens that this Sunday’s Gospel text from the RCL is John 3:1-17.  Check out John 3:16 like you’ve never seen before:

Jesus say, “God wen get so plenny love an aloha fo da peopo inside da world, dat he wen send me, his one an ony Boy, so dat everybody dat trus me no get cut off from God, but get da kine life dat stay to da max foeva.”. – John 3:16 from Da Jesus Book (Hawaiian pidgin)

Brothers and sisters, wake up.   God so loves THIS WORLD.  What did God’s love look like?

God gave freely.

God gave His best.

And if we are sons and daughters of God, what is our call to action in a time like this?

 

Church, in order to love this world – especially the regions mentioned above, troubled regions like Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia, & South Sudan – would you be willing to give freely?  Would you give your best?

This Lent Season:
“let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.” – One John Three Eighteen
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the first test

March 5, 2017 | Matthew 4:1-11 | Lent 1

Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: “Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.” – The Message

As we begin this season of Lent, the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) takes us to a familiar story: Jesus is led by the Spirit into the desert wastelands where he will fast and pray for forty days.  It is this physically weakened state of Jesus that the Devil “took advantage of in the first test” as The Message translation so aptly puts it.

“Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.”

The mere thought of tests takes me back to my younger days where I often dreaded participating in the universally accepted method of assessing one’s knowledge or abilities.  I remember walking out of my very first Chemistry midterm in college brimming with confidence.  I got my test scores back and I received a 97 – out of 200.  After that first semester, I would ending up transitioning into the humanities.  A medical doctor I most certainly would not become.

One thing I have learned about successful test-taking is that it is absolutely critical that you understand what is being tested.  You don’t go into a biology exam by cramming Shakespeare.  Realizing what is being tested is half the battle in one’s preparation.  Armed with that understanding, I have looked upon Jesus’ testing in the wilderness with new eyes during this Lent Season.

Through all my years in reading this passage, my focus has always been on the latter half of this temptation – turn these stones into bread.  I have often thought that was the crux of the temptation and it makes sense.  Jesus has fasted for forty days and nights.  He is weak.  He is hungry.  The devil wants Jesus to do something, perhaps to use His powers for self-sustenance.  But the main point of this temptation is not Jesus’ hunger – it is His identity.

IF you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.

Jesus’ identity as God’s Son is being called into question.  This line of reasoning is insidious, a slippery slope that – if Jesus were to fall into – would cast doubt on his true identity as God’s Son – and God’s goodness as a faithful father.  Remember that immediately preceding this testing in the wilderness is Matthew 3:13-17, the baptism of Jesus.  As soon as Jesus is baptized, he comes out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove and a voice from heaven proclaims, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  This first test, therefore, is the devil basically saying, “You sure ’bout dat?”

We see echoes of this temptation in an earlier time, in the Garden.  “Did God really say, ‘you must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” the serpent asked Eve.  You see, in the Garden, it wasn’t about Eve being hungry.  The subtle accusation in the serpent’s questioning (test) was that somehow, God was denying Adam and Eve.  Satan’s ploy was effectively to convince Eve that God the All-Benevolent Creator was actually holding out on her, that she was missing out because God wasn’t for her, because God wasn’t good.

Let me pause here and redirect your attention to our 2017 Annual Theme: Sons and Daughters, Sisters and Brothers.  That’s a lot of words and it’s not even a complete sentence.  I’m sorry about that.  But I am excited about this theme and I hope you will be too.  What I am trying to convey with SDSB is the idea that, in Christ, we are made to be Sons and Daughters of a Heavenly Father who is good, who loves us.  Moreover, as a church community our identity is also about growing as Sisters and Brothers in Christ, becoming a family of faith.  It is my prayer that we grow in deeper understanding of what it means to be Sons and Daughters of the Most High God, Sisters and Brothers through Jesus Christ.  And if the devil tried to call into question Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, then we need to be prepared for a similar testing.  But thanks be to God because in Jesus, we have One who has taken the test – and exceedingly passed.

It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”

Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3: “It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.”

Specifically Jesus was recounting the story of Israel – recognized throughout the Hebrew Scriptures as God’s Son – and how God proved Himself faithful by providing for His child by giving them manna from heaven in their 40-year journey through the wilderness.  In giving this bread from heaven, God was trying to show the Israelites that He could spread a table of provision for them anyhow, anywhere.  God would always sustain them and care for them.  But what was crucial for Israel to know was that they needed to trust in God, to believe that there was something they needed even more than mere manna from heaven – and that was the steady stream of words from God’s mouth.

Beloved community in Christ, may Jesus’ response remind us that the same answer holds true today.  May we be known as Sons and Daughters who seek the steady stream of words from God’s mouth.  Through Scripture study, worship, prayer and meditation, let us seek to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.  And during this 40-day season of Lent, may you draw closer to Jesus.  Thanks be to God.

 

I’ll bring you more than a $1 – thoughts on offering

I have two traumatic memories from my childhood that have heavily influenced the way I look at offering.

Using Offering Money for Personal Ice cream Gluttony

I grew up in Koreatown, Los Angeles and attended the Korean Central UMC of LA.  Every Sunday morning, the neighborhood ice cream truck magically appeared outside the steps to our church right after Sunday School was finished.  It was like the ice cream truck man just knew.

get thee behind me, satan!

My parents have always been generous to me so each Sunday, in addition to my $1 for the offering basket, they would also give me a quarter to buy an ice cream after service (yes, every ice cream on the menu was 25 cents).  One Sunday, it dawned on my pea-sized intellect that if I forego offering time, I’d have enough cash to buy not one, not two, but FIVE ice creams.  Moreover, I could become Mr. Popular and buy ice creams for my friends, maybe even cute girls.  I was the Gordon Gekko of ice cream.

Alas, mothers always have a sixth sense when it comes to their children’s disobedient ways.

One Sunday during offering time, I again passed the basket without putting my offering in, pulling it off with another feigned “oops, I think I left my offering in the car” look of stupidity on my face (coupled with the obligatory patting down of my pockets with mock urgency) – and soon after, I found myself at the front of the line, ready to spend my hard-earned $1.25.  my life motto might as well have been seek ye first the ice creamdom of god.

Lo and behold, while trying to get my grubby little hands around my frozen cavity sticks (see pic below for illustration) I heard a distinct, “상신 아!!”  Momma Nam wanted my attention.  While only my name was mentioned, everyone who grew up with Korean parents knew that my mom really meant to say, “imma kill you when you get home.”  I got a well-deserved butt-whuppin later that evening.  I never misused my offering money after that day – even long after my mom stopped giving me $1 for Sunday offering.

are you ready for K-town’s Most Wanted, circa 1981?

don’t let the bowlcut fool you; this 1st grader used to steal from God to feed his lust for popsicles

God wants your heart, not just your $1

Years later, I learned another powerful truth about offering, and again the setting was Sunday School and the object for this lesson was the ubiquitous $1 bill.  My Sunday School teacher at the time was the current Rev. Jonathan Park, a man I consider a dear friend and great mentor.  One Sunday, Jonathan tried to teach us the value of giving God our hearts.  He told us, “Everyone puts in a dollar because that’s what your parents give to you before you come to church on Sundays.  But guys, God wants more than just a $1 bill that you didn’t work for.  God wants your heart of obedience & even if all you truly possess is 1 penny, God would be more pleased with your sacrifice of 1 cent over that measly dollar.”

Being the smart-aleck 5th grader that I was, I chose to internalize only what I wanted to hear – God only wants 1 cent and not 1 dollar?  The next Sunday, i put in a penny and kept my dollar.  Perhaps I thought somebody would laugh.  Maybe others would follow suit.  Nobody laughed and (thankfully) nobody followed my asinine behavior.  That was the last time I ever left a penny inside the offering plate.

assuming few, if any, youth write checks for offering, i do not understand why our offering total always has cents in it. is that really what we think of God?

Is there an upgrade available from the current “$1 bill” model of offering?

When it comes to offering and Christian worship, young people who grow up in the Korean immigrant church are by and large ignorant.  We are, for the most part, inconsistent and irregular givers and we often lack any disciplined method of setting apart God’s “sacred portion.”  This phrase is taken from Deuteronomy 26:13 and what should surprise us about this teaching of tithing is that this tithe is a special tithe to be given every three years in addition to the regular tithe that God’s people were expected to regularly give.  This special tithe was reserved for the Levites, the alien, fatherless and widowed – essentially the people in society who had no income or means of support.  Social welfare done through obedience to God is regarded as sacred because God declares it so.  Let us never forget that.

For some, firstfruits still mean firsfruits.

Still, there must be a better way to teach our children and youth about the joys of sacrificial giving.  Recently, I found this envelope laid aside after one of our youth worship services:

student LEE, you have blessed me with your example of joyful obedience.

i know the young lady who wrote this.  it took me about 15 minutes to figure out how to blot out her name (a photoshop scholar i am not).  finding this envelope was a holy moment for me.  tears of conviction and gratitude welled up in my eyes as i thought of student LEE (by the way, she checks the “tithe” box but that is inaccurate; student LEE gave 100%, not 10%, of her first fruits).  i am grateful for this young woman’s parents and their insistence on teaching their daughter the value of giving our firstfruits to the Lord.  i also affirm her first bullet point – she wants more money.  =)  thatta girl.  you go, girl.  ask yo daddy for mo money.

may this type of sacrificial giving – not only of our money but our affections, time and yes, even ourselves – become the normative experience for Christ’s disciples today.

some reflections in the aftermath of Abottabad

Disclosure: I do not personally know anyone who died during the September 11 attacks and if I did, I might have different emotions flowing through me, even as I write this.

There has been an onslaught of online chit-chat concerning the death of America’s Public Enemy #1, Osama bin Laden.  On Monday night, I received an email from a concerned/bewildered youth (a 12th grade male).  He wrote me:

today alot of ppl at school were cheering Osama bin Laden’s death. Some carrying american flags, some yelling “Go America”, and today’s pledge of allegiance was much more spirited and enthusiastic.  How should christians react to Osama bin Laden’s death?

To be certain, not all Americans are celebrating.  Professional athletes have chimed in with their 2 cents.  People have even misquoted Martin Luther King Jr.!!  But how should Christians respond to this significant event?  Many, many Christians have tweeted or shared Ezekiel 33:11, seeking to temper or in some cases outright condemn the celebrations that took place after the news was announced.

Augustine

To assist me in my own understanding of the situation, especially as a follower of Christ, I have turned to the ancients for wisdom.  In particular, I have gained some encouragement from the writings of St. Augustine (c. 354-430 A.D.) one of the truly great Christian thinkers of antiquity.  St. Augustine was one of the most prolific writers in Christian history.  I am currently reading one of his lesser-known works, Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love.  This relatively short book (by Augustinian standards) is essentially a handbook outlining the basics of the Christian faith.  On the distinction between Faith and Hope, Augustine writes:

Again, can anything be hoped for which is

not an object of faith?  It is true that a thing

which is not an object of hope may be believed.

What true Christian, for example, does not believe

in the punishment of the wicked?  And yet

such an one does not hope for it.

Did you catch his reasoning?  Just because we believe something to be true – God’s righteous judgment upon the wicked – does not mean we should necessarily hope for it.  To a certain extent, I believe this ancient wisdom speaks into our current situation; namely, how do we respond to the death of such an evil man?  We believe in the judgment of the wicked.  We believe that God’s Justice will prevail.

But we do not operate out of justice.  Justice (and judgment) belong to the Lord.  We, however, are motivated by love and it is God’s love that compels us to go out into a hostile world to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Does the death of one man make a difference?  YES!

Christ followers understand that the killing of one evil man (Stalin, Hitler, bin Laden) will not wipe out the problem of evil in this world; instead, the death of the One Righteous and Perfect Man, Jesus of Nazareth, has wiped out evil once and for all.  His was the sufficient Sacrifice and Propitiation (the act that quenched God’s wrath against sin).

One last source of inspiration/hope:

I also draw much encouragement from hymns.  Take note of verse 3 of This is My Father’s World:

This is my Father’s world.

O let me ne’er forget

that though the wrong seems oft so strong,

God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world:

why should my heart be sad?

The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!

God reigns; let the earth be glad!

Have a blessed day, all!

An open letter to Angry, Vindictive Asians who Happen to wear Jesus t-shirts

Today, I lament over Asians (especially my Christian brothers and sisters) who chose to use their time, energy and means to shame, berate and threaten an already-shamed, berated and threatened young woman.

Check out this news story: Alexandra Wallace leaving UCLA

Friends, she made a great error in judgment.  Because her rant was posted on youtube, her 3-minutes of viral fame will make her infamous for the rest of her life.  Any future prospective employer will google her name and see this unfortunate lapse in judgment.  But more than the eyes of her peers or future bosses, my prayer is that she will discover the piercing gaze of Jesus who alone can deliver her from her sins.  Disclaimer: I don’t know this young woman and I do not go to UCLA.  I’ve just witnessed 6 days of utter madness being played out on my Facebook newsfeed and I’m fed up.

Some Questions:

To those saying she got what she deserved, let me ask you: Do YOU wish to be known/labeled/identified for the rest of your life by your worst mistake ever?  I didn’t think so.  Shall we give her a break?  Amen.

To those who produced/shared/laughed at all the internet responses (especially the countless youtube counter-rants), I humbly ask: But did her rant deserve “eye for an eye” treatment?  Did ridiculing her and mocking her make you feel better?

To those who cranked it up a notch and called her home to deliver death threats, I am wondering aloud, “OK, not just eye for an eye but death threats?  Really?  Because in her frustration, ignorance and lack of judgment she said some mean-spirited things, she is deserving of death?”

Are we seriously going to make this young woman the lightning rod for all things racist and derogatory that Asians have endured?

Return to the Cross

Brothers and sisters in CHRIST, where is the love, the grace, the mercy, the pardon?  The psalmist writes, “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O LORD, who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared” (Psalm 130:3-4).

Fellow Christ-followers, let us embody the grace that was so richly lavished on us when we came to the Cross.  What was it that Paul himself confessed to his disciple Timothy as Paul neared the end of his life?

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. – 1 Timothy 1:15

Maybe it feels good to beat the living dookie out of a person but I’m not feeling too good right now.  Normally, I’m better with my words but I just feel dirty and sick over what has transpired.  Today, I am NOT proud of my heritage.  I must run to the Cross and cling to the sweet mercies of the One who has loved me and called me and freed me.  I know that I must repent or else I will end up being guilty of some kind of bizarro reverse racism by hating Koreans (some of us need to repent of this, too, but I digress).

Fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, will you join me in running to the Cross?

Christmas = Christ mas = más Cristo = more JESUS

friends,

Apple has just announced a new product that will be released in time for the Holiday Shopping Frenzy. It’s called the iDOL.

Actually, everyone is selling it. Who will stand up against the god of mammon?

Brothers and sisters, let s clear out of our path anything that gets in the way. I wish to go to the mountaintop with all of you.

Habakkuk’s bold vision, let it be our prayer and aim as the people of God.

Merry Christmas and Happy HOLYdays to all of you and yours.