A Friday Reflection: Peace, Peace…But?

They have treated my people’s brokenness superficially, claiming, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. Jer. 6:14

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. A day of commemoration of a meal in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag. It was a gathering of different cultures to celebrate and to give thanks for a successful harvest. It was a peace meal that would initiate fifty years of peace between the distinct people. However, eventually the peace faded and war broke out between the two groups. 

Fast forward to 1863 during the American Civil War where Abraham Lincoln, on the heels of his issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, pointed back to the 1621 peace meal as an example of the spirit that would heal the wounds of war, put an end to the civil strife and restore the nation. He declared the last Thursday of November as an offical annual holiday marked by thanksgiving, celebration and peace. Also, Lincoln stirred the people to humbly repent of “national perverseness and disobedience” and to provide tender care to “all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife.”[1]

Lincoln cast the vision for future Thanksgiving Day observance, and thus throughout the years on Thanksgiving Day most U.S. citizens have strived to gather together with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and strangers to give thanks, to celebrate, to pass the peace and to take care of one another. There has been many annual meals commemorating that first thanksgiving meal and Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day vision. The nation says peace, peace!

But we need to ask ourselves, is it superficial? Is it sincere? Will it last? In the United States, the day after Thanksgiving Day is referred to as “Black Friday” and throughout the years, Black Friday has been creeping in reverse into Thanksgiving evening and extending to “Cyber Monday” and into the Advent season. Black Friday is all about saving on material goods. People camp outside waiting for the stores to open so they can take advantage of all the deals. Every year there are people getting into fights over the hot deal items. On Thursday people offer a turkey wing to their neighbor while on Friday they elbow a stranger in the face. Seemingly peaceful on Thursday but a complete savage on Friday. We can celebrate and be grateful for the harvest but then get completely overrun with materialism, consumerism and discontentment. 

We can gather with family, friends and neighbors, and we can even put our differences aside for a few hours all in the name of Thanksgiving Day. We can feast and go around the table saying why we are thankful while neglecting to apologize or repent for the wrongs we have committed to one another. Thanksgiving Day can become a superficial treatment to the brokenness of our relationships. We can say “peace, peace when there is no peace.” 

How do we experience geniune and lasting thankfulness and peace? Well, I think Lincoln touches upon this with his emphasis on grace, mercy and providence of the Almighty God. Lincoln explains that even “in the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity” the nation has experienced bountiful blessings. He states, “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”[2]

Thus, we should sincerely and humbly look to God praising and thanking him. Not just with our lips but with our whole hearts, with our whole being, with our whole life. We should always be quick to confess our sins to God so that we might experience his grace, mercy and peace. We should always be quick to genuinely confess our wrong doings to one another so that we may experience forgiveness and reconciliation. We should always be quick to forgive so that we may experience God’s restoration.  

Moreover, we should resist the “Black Friday” culture. I think the team over at Advent Conspiracy has done great work at reversing the hijacking (which begins on Black Friday) of the Advent and Christmas seasons. They do a good job at explaining how materialism and consumerism have crowded out the meaning and purpose of Advent and Christmas.

If we celebrate on Thanksgiving Day to the glory of God and settle into the true meaning of the Advent and Christmas seasons, then we will more fully experience God’s goodness and greatness through the redemptive life and work of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus became incarnate and died for our sins and was resurrected, we also are resurrected and our resurrection hearts and lives will be filled with genuine and lasting thankfulness and peace. 

On the western church calendar, the Advent season starts on Sunday Dec. 1. Let’s forgo Black Friday (or cyber Monday if your already shopped today) and prepare to settle into Advent.  


[1] http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm

[2] http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm

A Friday Reflection: Wilderness

Oh that wilderness, desert place. A place of such history and ambivalence. The wilderness is “vast and dreadful… a thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions”(Deut 8:15). It is a “barren and howling waste” (Deut 32:10), an uninhabitable place, a dangerous place, a place of death. The Israelites said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?”

The Israelites were expecting to die in the wilderness, but it was into the wilderness that God delivered them from the bondage of Egyptian slavery. The Israelites met their God in the wilderness, and God showed his power and compassion by providing food, water, clothing and healing. The Israelites received God’s greatest gifts–his statutes, commandments and holy sabbaths. God promised to be with them in the wilderness and to bring them into “a land flowing with milk and honey.” In the wilderness, God wooed the Israelites into a loving covenant relationship, and later through the prophet Jeremiah, God recalls this time in the wilderness by saying, “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown” (Jer 2:2).

However, it was in the wilderness that the Israelites lost their vision and grumbled, protested and rebelled against God. Due to the Israelite’s unfaithfulness, the wilderness became a place of wandering, testing, judgement and punishment. This wilderness experience was not terminal because God remained faithful and did not allow his divine anger to erase his love for his people.

God allowed the Israelites to continue into the land, but the wilderness wandering became a prophetic reminder throughout history of the potential judgement of God upon the Israelites if they were disobedient and unrepentant. God speaking through the prophet Jeremiah says,

Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives (Jer 17:5-6).

Through the prophet Hosea, God explains that Israel must repent, lest he “turn her into a wilderness, and make her like a dry land” (Hos 2:3).

But God juxtaposes these wilderness statements with eschatological pronouncements that with the future outpouring of the Spirit, the wilderness will become a fruitful field (Is 32:15) and Zion’s wilderness will be made like Eden (Isa 51:3).

The Psalmist sums up God’s sovereignty and actions regarding the wilderness,  

He turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, and fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who lived there. He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs; there he brought the hungry to live, and they founded a city where they could settle (Ps 107:33-36).

The wilderness is an important place used by God for his purposes, but the people of God must heed the words of Psalm 95:8,9

Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did.

But there is more wilderness juxtaposition that should be considered.

Throughout biblical history, the wilderness was viewed as a place marked by uncleanness, defilement and evil. People were relegated to “outside the camp” if they were determined ceremonial unclean (Lev 13:46; Num 5:1-4) or if they had blasphemed (Lev 24:14). The wilderness was the “cut off” place where the scapegoat was sent after the sins of the people were transferred to it on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:10, 21-22). Moreover, it was believed that Satan and evil spirits were in the wilderness. Jesus is confronted and tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1-13). In Luke 8:29, the Gerasene demoniac was driven into the desert by a demon. In Matthew 12:43-45 and its parallel in Luke 11:24-26, the unclean spirit who had been cast out “passes through arid places.”

In contrast, the wilderness was also viewed as a place of refuge, a place to get away to meet with God and a place where kingdom work took place. David escaped to a stronghold in the wilderness during his flight from Saul (1 Sam 23:14; 26:2-3). Jeremiah wished he had a wilderness hut to get a respite from the sinful people (Jer 9:2). Jesus often withdrew into the wilderness in order to pray (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16). Jesus fed the multitudes in the wilderness (Mt 14:21; 15:32-39). The wilderness was a place of revelation and proclamation of the good news. As prophesied by Isaiah (Isa 40:3), John the Baptist lived in the wilderness (Luke 1:80) where the word of God came to him (Luke 3:2), and he preached and baptized (Mark 1:3-5). Philip’s missionary outreach to the Ethiopian takes place in the wilderness between Jerusalem and Gaza (Acts 8).

Today, we also may experience the wilderness in these ways by seeking God in solitude, silence and prayer. We can choose to get away with God, and we can experience his rest and refuge. God may lead us into the wilderness for his kingdom ministry. We may find ourselves in the wilderness not by our own choice but because God has led us there. Take Elijah for example, God led him to the wilderness for a season where he was fed by ravens before he continued on in ministry (1 Kgs 17). The Apostle Paul spent a season in the desert being taught by the Holy Spirit before starting his ministry (Gal 1:16-17). Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness before his ministry.  

These examples teach us about depending on God and not giving up while in the difficult places. God cares for us and is watching over us. As we cry out, “O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water” (Ps 63:1), God is preparing us for future things that are greater than we could imagine. He is leading us to things that we could not fathom doing if it were not for being formed in the wilderness.

As we have seen, there is a lot to this wilderness place, but no matter why we are in the wilderness, God loves us and is faithful to us. He has a perfect, sovereign plan that he is accomplishing, and we can trust him and look to him.

A Friday Reflection: Shalom

For the most part in life, I am a transparent person; however, there are those times when I try to present an “everything is okay” facade in the midst of trials, turmoil, disappointment or failure. I don’t want others to see my struggles and pain, and so I hide behind a mask while sweeping my problems under the rug and denying my lamenting soul. What would others think if they knew the status of my life? What would God do if I laid out my complaints before him?

Then there are the times when the storms of life get so frantic that there is no hiding or denial. Everyone sees what is going on. It’s like the moment in the biblical story of Job when Job’s friends heard about all his adversity and all the things that had happened to him and upon seeing him, they were astonished and disturbed by his condition (2:11-13). What to do in these times? Typically for me, I go all comatose in distraction and comfort. Now some distraction and soothing is good when it comes to helping to mitigate the challenges and to regulate the emotions, but often it gets to the point where I completely depend on my own devices to alleviate my discomfort or to experience respite from the harshness of life.

As Christians, God calls us to be people of “shalom” (Hebrew translated, “peace”). The basic meaning of this is that we are to be in peaceful relationship with God and others, and we are to be agents of God’s peace in the world. For this post, I want to focus on the deeper meaning of shalom which involves the idea of flourishing, wholeness, delight, or the inner sense of satisfaction. Shalom is the way things ought to be in the world and in our lives. How are we to be people of shalom in the midst of trials, turmoil or disappointment? How do we live and experience shalom when, like Job, we may face circumstances where others would advise us to just “curse God and die” (Job 2:9)?

Shalom can only come from God. We cannot manufacture shalom, and so in the midst of challenges and chaos, we should resist the urge of trying to fix our problems all on our own. We should resist the urge of denying that there is real brokenness that we face. We should resist the urge of living with constant distraction so as to self-medicate ourselves. We cannot experience and live God’s shalom while living a facade or while hiding behind masks or while being in a comatose state of distraction or comfort seeking.

In order to experience and live God’s shalom, we need to turn to him in silence and solitude seeking his wisdom, strength and comfort. We need to make time in our busy and often noisy schedules to silently sit and lament before the almighty and loving God of the universe. We need to receive the shalom that is ultimately in Christ Jesus. Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we have a present and future hope. No matter the trials or pain in this life, we can experience shalom knowing that Jesus has triumphed and that upon his return all things will be put back to right.

Nevertheless, in the meantime during this challenging earthly life, we also should be open to others by receiving and giving care and support as the body of Christ. We have one another and we need one another as expressions of God’s shalom.      

A Friday Reflection: Discipleship

How costly is it to be a disciple of Jesus? It costs our very lives. It requires our entire allegiance. It involves a cross. Like Jesus who “humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8), his followers are to take up their cross with humility and denial of oneself. We are crucified with Christ. Our lives are put to death. We no longer live according to our own plans and desires. This involves having the same attitude and posture as Jesus who prayed to the Father “your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matt 6:10) and “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39).

But there is more to this cross-shaped life. More of God and his glory. Followers of Jesus experience Christ’s new life in intimate relationship with the Holy Trinity. We experience the beauty of God’s holiness and the wonder of his love. We experience his greatness in all its grandeur. Like Jesus who was glorified by the Father, followers of Jesus are also glorified. We partake in the magnificent glory of Christ. We are lifted up and exalted with Christ. Our lowly bodies will be transformed into glorious bodies, and we will rule and reign with Christ for all eternity to the praise of his glory.

Thus, followers of Jesus Christ proclaim Christ crucified, participate in his sufferings and experience the power of his resurrection. We imitate a crucified savior as people of the resurrection life. We walk in his steps by the power of his Spirit through a dark world in desperate need of experiencing the light.  May we joyously follow Jesus and humbly serve like he did on the cross, so that the world might also come to know, follow and experience the glory of the Lord. 

A Friday Reflection: Life and Walk with Jesus

Every heavy breath, every disappointment, every aching of the heart is a chance to come to Jesus, the one who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30).

Every moment of rejoicing, every good thing, every gift in life is a chance to abide in the one who said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). 

Every step of life is a chance to walk with Jesus in complete dependence and with genuine faith. We really can release all our cares, needs and desires to him. We can repent of all our sins and failures. We can hit the reset button of our lives and realign ourselves with the creator, sustainer and lover of our souls. We can bear our souls open before the Holy Lord Almighty whose glory fills the whole earth.

Jesus delights when we turn our faces to him, and he is always ready to embrace his beloved. He is benevolent and the giver of every good and perfect gift. His goodness is more than we could ever imagine or comprehend. We may not always understand what God is up to in our lives, but assuredly he is always working for our good. We need eyes that see and ears that hear and hearts that receive all his blessings and provisions. We need a greater vision and understanding of how much Jesus has done and will do for us.

As we experience Jesus more and as our perspective about him is heightened and transformed, we may reimagine a life lived with Jesus. We can rewalk over and over with him with renewal, restoration and rejoicing. We can reenter our Christian lives with light, life and love and in the power of the Spirit of Jesus reaching out to a dark and dying world in need of love, grace, mercy and peace.

The Cappadocian Siblings and A Personal Reflection

During the Early Church period, an influential group was the Cappadocian siblings which included Macrina, Basil and Gregory (of Nyssa). Growing up, these three siblings had a strong Christian family foundation reaching back to their grandparents who endured under the Decian persecution. The siblings grew up to have significant ministry roles in the eastern church. Macrina played a major role in teaching and theologically influencing her brothers and others. Basil devoted himself to a monastic lifestyle and became the Father of Eastern monasticism because of his teachings and development of monastic orders and rules. He spent his life serving and advocating for the poor. Later in his life, he became a strong and influential bishop, even confronting powerful Roman officials. Gregory was known for the inner fire of his spirit which was evident through his writing. He played a significant role as a hesitant (preferring a contemplative lifestyle) bishop in the Council of Nicea and the Council of Constantinople.

While reflecting on this family, I began to compare Macrina with my little sister when I began my walk with Jesus. My sister was well grounded in her Christian school and in her youth group at church. She had a vibrant faith and a ‘joy of the Lord’ filled heart. At my first birthday after my conversion, my sister smiled when she and my parents gave me my first meaningful and engraved Bible. She was there at my baptism (and I am certain it was her idea to go cliff diving afterwards. She had a way of showing me how to live the new and abundant life). She was there at my first sermon to her youth group and at my first public testimony about God’s radical work in my life. This was probably a little embarrassing for her because I can attest that my public speaking skills needed some work, but she was always there with her spirit-filled eyes and smile offering encouragement and support. There were times when we and others would go out on the streets talking to people about Jesus and giving out warm clothes. We worshipped together, prayed together and maybe even did a biblical word study or two together. When I got serious about academics and theology, she was my inspiration because she was a high school scholar at the top of her class and a science olympian who was kicking butt. My sister has gone on to a very impactful neonatal nursing career, and so she continues to be an inspiration while using her life and gifts to serve and support others.

Like Basil and Gregory who received the encouragement and ministry from Macrina, I have received the blessings, inspiration and support from my little sister. God used the Cappadocian siblings in a powerful way for the furtherance of the gospel and the kingdom of God. Similarly, I boast in the Lord that in his compassion and grace he has used my sister and I for his glorious purposes.

Winter Time Reflection

Glorify the Lord, O chill and cold,

drops of dew and flakes of snow.

Frost and cold, ice and sleet, glorify the Lord,

Praise him and highly exalt him forever.

(Benedicite, Omnia Opera Domini)

As a new resident of Minneapolis from Seattle in order to pursue graduate theological studies, this stanza has become a mantra for me. While I like the idea of four seasons (actually two…winter season and road construction season…as the saying goes here in Minnesota), this winter so far has been bitterly cold which is a shock to my west coast body temperature. Many times I have asked the question, “what am I doing here? This is a legitimate question to ask when we consider decisions that we have made or situations we encounter in our lives, but there is more to the question because it is the question that God often asks us throughout our lives. This is the Elijah question from 1 Kings 19:9 where God asks “What are you doing here, Elijah?” This was a self-reflective question presented to Elijah. He was prompted to consider his heart, to check his motives and attitude, to reflect on where he was at in his relationship with God. We should consistently practice the same introspection in our lives. Thus, when I experience the uncomfortable moments or the challenging moments in my life to the point where I ask the question, “what am I doing here?” I should ask the question again. I should rephrase it with a God focus. In the midst of the freezing cold, where is my heart? What is God doing in my life? In the midst of vigorous and challenging graduate studies, instead of cynically asking, “what was I thinking?” I should ask the question, how is God using my studies to draw me closer to him and to further his kingdom? As the winter elements glorify the Lord, so my life should praise him and highly exalt him forever. Next time I’m brushing the snow off my truck in below zero temperatures, I will have a better perspective on what the snow and I are doing here.