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

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.

 

love, live, lent

“Lent is the 40 day period of fasting, penitence, and sorrow, leading up to the feast of Easter, recalling Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness.” – http://www.churchyear.net/lent.html

I am writing this blog primarily for the students and staff of LinC Ministry (the youth ministry of the KUMC of San Diego).  Feel free to use, reproduce, or canonize any part of this for your own viewing pleasure.

While there are different definitions and nuances given to this unique season in the church calendar, most Christians will agree on the following bullet-points regarding Lent (in other matters, we’re more likely to kill each other).

Lent is….

  • 40 days (not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday (March 9) and Easter Sunday (April 24).
  • a time to focus on simple living, more prayer, self-denial.  (some even include an emphasis on giving to the poor).
  • a chance to remember Christ’s 40 days in the desert where he was tempted but sinned not.  Because the Bible records that Jesus fasted food, we can rest assured that Jesus did not forsake twitter, facebook, Call of Duty, or K-dramas.
  • a spiritual training opportunity for Christian men and women to walk more intimately with Christ,

Question: WHY did Jesus do this?

Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit and “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil for 40 days while eating nothing – Luke 4:1-2.

Jesus of Nazareth Spirit-filled & Spirit-led.  CHECK.

Jesus of Nazareth tempted by the devil himself.  CHECK.

Question: Why do we do this?

Let’s understand that running into the arms of God means that the devil will be coming after us with greater fury and urgency than the chariots of pharaoh chasing after the freed Israelites.  Hear Oswald Chambers:

We are apt to imagine that when we are saved and sanctified we are delivered from temptation; we are not; we are loosened into it.  Before we are born again, we are not free enough to be tempted, neither morally nor spiritually.  Immediately we are born into the Kingdom of God, we get our first introduction into what God calls temptation, viz., the temptations of His Son. – The Psychology of Redemption, 1078 R.

We will fast patiently, pray earnestly, and live simply in the hopes of being consecrated & completely sold-out to Jesus Christ.  We hope to gladly offer up our lives as living sacrifices upon the altar set up to worship the one true living God.

Question: WHAT HAPPENED after Jesus did this?

Power.  Boom.  Kabow.  The Bible teaches us that Jesus went to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.  Jesus is Spirit-empowered to do His Father’s Will.  Jesus preaches, heals and teaches with Kingdom Power and Authority.  He’s on fire.

Question: WHAT WILL HAPPEN to us?

John Wesley wrote to Alexander Mather in 1777:

Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen, such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven upon earth.

This is my prayer – that LinC Ministry will turn into a furnace where the Master and Savior of the world will fashion and forge Spirit-empowered young women and men.

So, what do we do?

  • Pick a food item or a meal (b,l,d) and fast from it.  (you can eat it on the 6 sundays during lent)
  • pray.  as a group we meet on wednesday evenings and saturday mornings but you would be wise to pray more than 2x a week.
  • read the Word of God.  do the bible reading journey.  attend the ketchup sessions.
  • save up money and ask God how you should spend it (with the one rule being that this $tash of cash can’t be for selfish gain)

Don’t call it fasting, but you can try denying yourself some stuff like various forms of electronics.  It may even benefit you:

  • you might improve your sleep
  • you just might grow that elusive fruit of patience
  • you might actually have time to pray and read the Word.

 

strength and honor,

ps