Why Was Jesus Mad?

April 2, 2017 | John 11:1-45 | Lent 5

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled.34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

I do not envy the task of Bible translators.  When confronted with a mysterious word in either Hebrew or Greek, they have to choose a word or phrase to accurately convey the true meaning of the text. (fun fact: in the Old Testament, the word “kidneys” was used to describe the inmost being of a person, the word we normally use today being “heart.”  But you won’t find a Bible verse that says, “Oh how my kidneys yearn within me to see the Lord!”  This is but one example of how cultural considerations must be made when translating the Bible into English).

John chapter 11 is a great example where many Bible translators simply get it wrong.

John 11:33 reads, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.”  I took this from the English Standard Version, which is supposed to be one of the most literal (read: “accurate”) modern-day English translations.  But what does “deeply moved” really mean?  I’m sorry but when I see this phrase, I think of indigestion.  After his lunch at Taco Bell, Jesus traveled to Bethany where, because of his liberal use of the Diablo Sauce on his fresco style bean burrito, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.

When we read the verse in its original Greek, we come to the conclusion that Jesus was more than deeply moved; he was enraged.  Pastor Tim Keller, in his sermon on this passage, understands this verse to mean that Jesus was filled with passionate anger, almost like a lion ready to let out a ferocious roar.

So why did many translators choose to declaw Jesus?  My best guess is that we are troubled by the sight of Jesus actually getting angry.  We would rather not see Jesus ready to really go bonkers, maybe with the exception of flipping over the tables of money changers in the Temple Courts.  We would rather see Jesus angry and disappointed at the hypocritical Pharisees and teachers of the law.

Isn’t anger a sin?  Not necessarily.  Anger is an emotion, a feeling that one experiences when provoked.  To be angry isn’t necessarily to sin; oftentimes, it’s what we do when we are angry that leads to sinful actions or thoughts.  I remind myself of this every time I play a round of golf (which is about once a year).  Golfers label their balls so as not to mistakenly pick up or play another golfer’s ball.  I mark mine with a simple Psalm 4:4: “Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent.”  The temptation to lash out after hitting an errant shot is real – just ask any golfer.  But I have learned to not allow my anger get the best of me when I am out enjoying this game.  I only wish I could mark other areas of my life with Psalm 4:4 and follow suit!

Again, Jesus didn’t sin when he became angry.  But He did grow angry and we cannot overlook that.

Why was Jesus mad?  This is an important question and the context of John 11 will help us understand.

Essentially, Jesus was angry at the death of his good friend Lazarus and at the sorrow and grief being experienced by Mary and Martha.  Jesus grew angry because Jesus knew that this is not how the world should be. Jesus was filled with so much anger and sadness, in fact, that at the sight of Lazarus’ tomb, he openly wept in a shameless display of raw emotion.

This is an image of Jesus I have come to truly appreciate.  My Jesus is a Lord who does not simply heal and restore people because He has the power to do so.  No.  My Jesus is one who enters fully into humanity to experience our deepest sorrows and fears.  My Jesus is one who identifies with us when we are at our lowest.  I imagine that Mary and Martha were a mess at this time.  Hair disheveled, eyes puffy and nose bright red.  Their dresses probably filthy with all the tears mixed in with the dirt every time they collapsed to the ground.  My Jesus was angry at this funeral scene because He fully entered into the suffering and pain of His dear friends.

But death did not have the final say in this story.   We read through to the end and see that Jesus displayed His awesome power by raising Lazarus from the grave.  This miracle is not meant to be stared at and memorialized; no, the sign points us to the greater reality that in Christ Jesus we have the hope of resurrection and eternal life.

Today, I believe this anger would suit the Church well.  There is no shortage of suffering in the world around us.  Beloved Church, if we are to love the world with the love of Jesus, shouldn’t that also mean that we grow angry when we see pain and suffering in our midst?  Should we not also have a deep anger welling up within us when we see the dehumanization of others?  When we see the images of war in Syria, or famine in Somalia, or racism and bigotry in the images of a burnt out African-American church or the shattered windows of a graffiti-marked mosque, should we also not burn with anger at the sight of injustice among us?

Like Psalm 4:4 instructs us, in our anger may we not sin.  Instead, like the Lord Jesus may our anger move us into a compassionate engagement with the world that is desperate for the touch of Jesus.

Thanks be to God.

Jesus Confronts Two Types of Blindness

March 26, 2017 | John 9:1-41 | Lent 4

Make it a Blockbuster Night!

Back in 2000, a tech entrepreneur named Reed Hastings flew out to Dallas to meet with John Antioco, CEO of Blockbuster.  Hastings proposed that Blockbuster purchase his fledgling DVD rental-by-mail service.  His price tag?  $50 million.  Antioco, whose company was valued at nearly $3 billion and had almost no competition in the video rental industry, passed.

By 2010, Blockbuster had declared bankruptcy and gone the way of the dinosaur.  And Hastings’ company?  It’s a name you might be familiar with: Netflix.

Blockbuster’s failure to adapt to the changing landscape of technology, social media and consumer trends is a lesson taught in many an MBA classroom today.  And Antioco, who was widely respected by fellow executives, ended up blinded by his own successes and failed to see that, in Netflix, the future had arrived.

But this story is a cautionary tale about being blind in business matters and making poor decisions that ultimately derailed a video rental company – a sad event indeed but not exactly cataclysmic in the eternal scheme of things.

Jesus Confronts Two Types of Blindness

Jesus speaks of another kind of blindness in this week’s lectionary reading.  Actually, two.  The story opens with Jesus and his disciples coming across a man blind from birth begging along the edge of the road.  His is a physical blindness, an inability to see with his own eyes.  As the story goes, Jesus heals this man and chaos and commotion ensue.  And this leads to Jesus eventually calling out a second,more insidious, disease – spiritual blindness, the inability to see that one is spiritually sick and in need of help.  Spiritual blindness was an apt description of the Pharisees and religious experts who came onto the scene.

What are the indications that the Pharisees were blind?

The Pharisees refused to believe the healed man’s testimony.

Clearly, something dramatic had happened to this man – let’s call him Hank – and others took notice:

8 His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?9 Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!” But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!”

The Pharisees asked Hank what happened.  He gave them an honest account (v.15)  They again questioned him, only this time they asked him, “What is your opinion of this man who healed you?”  The guy must be a prophet,  Hank honestly surmised.

But the leaders still doubted.  So, they called in Hank’s parents and read them the riot act:

“Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?”

I’m surprised that the Pharisees didn’t ask them if Jesus ordered the Code Red.  Eventually, they summon Hank for another round of questioning and that sparks this testy exchange (it reads better if you imagine that Hank is one snarky Hebrew):

26 “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?”

27 “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

The Pharisees see the same thing yet do not come to the same conclusion.  They refuse to believe.

The Pharisees refused to see the evidence that Jesus was someone special; instead, they considered him a sinner.

Jesus made mud pies and healed Hank on the Sabbath and this proves problematic for the religious authorities.  I see two distinct problems with their reaction.  First, they already don’t believe that this was a legitimate healing.  They are so skeptical that they even interview Hank’s parents to verify his identity.  If they don’t believe a healing took place, why are they worked up about a non-healing that took place on the Sabbath?  No healing = no work, right?  Or did the Pharisees consider the mud-making as work?  Either way, in failing to acknowledge the miracle, they also fail to see a transformed life.  All they see is a violation of their strict Sabbath law.

Second, isn’t it ironic that they accused Jesus of “working” on the Sabbath….and then proceeded to spend the rest of the day in full investigation mode?  Isn’t that considered work?   On the Sabbath, people come to synagogue to worship and pray; on this day, they were given a sneak peek into the pilot episode of CSI: Jerusalem.

The Pharisees react with anger and rage when other people are celebrating and in awe and wonder.  

Exhibit A of Pharisaic Rage:

28 Then they cursed him….

This was the Pharisees’ reaction to Hank giving them attitude from the verses mentioned above.

Imagine a scene at CUMC one Sunday where Chris Chui and Barbara Nagatoshi pray for Ellen Shirai’s knees.  God answers their prayer.  Then, Pastor Sam walks in demanding to know why there’s such a loud party going on inside Naeri Chapel.  Ellen testifies.  And then Psam drops some F-bombs on everyone because they aren’t ready for the Call to Worship.  If this scene sounds surreal, then maybe you’re not blind.

Exhibit B:

34 “You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw Hank[not his real name] out of the synagogue.

Somebody get these guys a Snickers.  Jesus casts out blindness while the Pharisees cast out the blind who are healed.  Something is wrong when anger blinds you to the reality that people have come to synagogue for spiritual nourishment and guidance.

In closing, these are a few of my takeaways from the story:

  1. Jesus clearly showed compassion and love to Hank and the point was taken further by Jesus when he said that this was his mission on earth – to give sight to the blind.  The healing of physical infirmities was a sign, then, pointing to a deeper reality that Jesus came to alleviate spiritual illness.  Hank became a living, breathing sermon illustration that the Son of Man came to do some serious work.
  2. But like the Pharisees, there are people even today who claim that they have no need of a Savior, of a Healer.  There are also critics who openly doubt the transforming, healing touch of Jesus.  It’s not on us to judge or criticize these people.  However, I choose to believe that Jesus would want us to side with the Hanks of the world, even if that means ruffling the feathers of modern-day Pharisees.
  3. Let us be the church that regularly testifies and celebrates when the blind receive sight and encounter Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God.

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

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?

How to Pray for 日本

Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I

in “praying for japan” do not omit the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the center, the 中心

 

This morning, I read the heroic tale of a British school teacher saving 42 of his high school students from recent tsunami.  You can read the story here.

 

Robert Bailey, 27, told how he was "terrified" but had a duty to keep the teenagers safe. He had just eight minutes to get the class of 42 students to safety.

The first sentence captivated me,

A British teacher has been dubbed a hero after he led his students to higher ground just moments before their school was obliterated by a tsunami in Japan.

Did you catch that?  Robert Bailey led his students to higher ground to save them from the tsunami.

In that earth-shattering moment, entire villages were wiped out.

  • Gorgeous villas with oceanfront views,
  • the latest shiniest fastest sports cars,
  • the most arable fertile plots of land

—>all came to naught at the merciless tides of waves and fury.

As I read this article, various Scriptures began to dart in and out of my mind.  I felt God moving me to sincere prayer for  not only the people of Japan but for my community of faith as well.

Prayers for the people of God

Are we building our house, our lives, upon the rock of Jesus Christ?

Since many of us grew up singing “Father Abraham” are we truly spiritual heirs to the faith that compelled him to relentlessly pursue, and trust in, God?

But remember also the Japanese people.

Right now, destruction and turmoil has covered their land; may the Glory of the Lord bring that nation to her knees.

Pray that more Robert Baileys may rise up and lead the beautiful Japanese people to the rock that is higher than they.

1 Hear my cry, O God;

listen to my prayer.

2 From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint;
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
3 For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.