Sunday, December 16, 2012

A bloodstained Christmas: reflections on the Sandy Hook massacre

AP Photo/Newtown Bee, Shannon Hick

Christmas is often characterized as a time of great cheer. It is a long-awaited happy season when we look forward to good times with family and friends, to gifts, to good food. And it’s all fitting, because we should be celebrating in a way that is worthy of the King of Kings. But this year, our Christmas preparation is stained with the blood of twenty children and seven adults when a twenty-year-old man walked into an elementary school and fired guns at them. Where is God in all of this? Why did God allow this to happen?

All this has happened before

1611 painting by Guido Reni (1572-1642)
 Sometime after the birth of Christ, King Herod the Great was visited by magi from the east. Herod saw himself as the only king of Judea, and will kill anyone, including members of his own family, if he sees him or her as a threat to his throne. So when he was told by the magi and his own scribes that the long-awaited Messiah, the prophesied King of the Jews, was born, he lied to the magi to have them help him find the child and then move to kill him. But the magi were warned by an angel to not return to Herod, and so went home by a different road. When Herod heard this, he was furious and ordered the killing of every male child in the Bethlehem area – two years old and below, to coincide with what the magi told him. And so it was done. (Matthew 2:1-18)          
          But the question remained: Why did God allow this to happen? Those murdered children had nothing to do with the boy Jesus, except that they were roughly the same age. They were no threat to Herod. They were innocents.

Where was God?

The most oft-asked question in the face of tragedy is “Where was God?” The answer, at least in this case, is in one of the names given to the promised Messiah – Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23) Where was God when the boys of Bethlehem were being murdered? He was among them who were marked for death. He was being pursued by a malevolent king who would see no one as king except himself. God, in Jesus, suffered with those who were killed, though He escaped death because His time has not yet come. But His time did come, and He went to the cross willingly so that He might bring the Kingdom where innocents no longer had to die.
Where was God in the Connecticut Massacre? He was among those who died, taking upon Himself the evil that this world would throw upon innocents. He was among the surviving children, suffering the trauma of seeing beloved friends and teachers killed. He was among the parents of the dead children, mourning and grieving the death of those closest to their hearts. He was among the parents of the surviving children, cherishing them all the more and offering up thanksgiving for sparing their children. He was among all the people who sympathized with those who lost loved ones, extending love and comfort when they needed it most. Above it all, He is on His throne, holding on to His promise of returning to fully establish His kingdom where no more innocents will suffer or die. And He longs to return, even as His heart breaks for every tragedy that happens.

Challenge

We celebrate Christmas because we celebrate the coming of our Lord. Do we then, stop celebrating Christmas because of this tragedy? Not at all. In fact, we should all the more celebrate Christmas even as we remember this and other tragedies like deaths in the families of those around us, and the devastating typhoon "Pablo" (international name "Bopha") who hit Southern Philippines, killing many and destroying lives and properties. For it is because of these tragedies that we long for God to come and intervene. And God intervened on that blessed night in Bethlehem. We celebrate the hope that Christmas brings, that one day, no more children will die at the hands of evil people. And until then, we who believe in Him, who have that hope in us, should extend His love and comfort to those who grieve, pointing to Him who is the Comforter.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What Storms Bring Out (Matthew 8:18–27)


Last Tuesday, Typhoon Pedring hit our country, bringing death and destruction in its wake. And the question comes up the most is, "why does a loving God allow such storms to come upon people?" Do storms have some sort of redeeming value?


What Jesus does to crowds (Matthew 8:18–22)
Here, Jesus sees the crowds following Him. Instead of staying with them and ministering to them, Jesus "gave orders to go over to the other side." Now, this "other side" is "the country of the Gadarenes" (8:28) which is part of the Decapolis — Gentile country. This may have unnerved some of those following Him. But because of His growing popularity, many still followed. A scribe even came up and said that he will follow Jesus wherever He goes. But Jesus challenged him in his statement, saying that He does not have a permanent place to stay in, a place to call home. Presumably, the scribe was discouraged, for we no longer hear about him. Another asked for permission to first bury his father before following Him. Jesus saw the weakness of the man's commitment, for family ties still hold him. The man's request to "bury my father" is a euphemism for waiting until the father is dead before following Jesus. So Jesus challenged him in this, calling him to follow Him and leave such matters to others.
    Why does Jesus do this? Does He not appreciate the fact that many follow Him? Of course. What Jesus wants is for all people to follow Him. But Jesus is not interested in half-baked commitment. Much as He wanted all to follow Him, He is not one to hide the cost of such discipleship. Jesus goes to places where we might not even dare go to. Jesus would forego comforts and security to fulfill what He set out to do. Would the crowds still follow Him? Would we?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Holding on to the Birthright (Genesis 25:29–34; Hebrews 12:7, 16–17)


There was once a boy  named Paolo. Paolo’s parents worked hard to give their children decent lives and education. The father always told his children that their education is the only thing they could leave them, for they owned no property or business. Soon, Paolo had a girlfriend. And because he wanted to prove that he was a real man to his friends, Paolo slept with her. The girlfriend got pregnant. Because he didn’t want to shame his father further, he married his girlfriend to give their child a proper family. But to support his new family, Paolo had to stop schooling to look for a job. Because of his pride and his desire to fit in, he lost the only inheritance his parents could leave to him.
            How many of us are like Paolo? How many of us give up what is good because of the pressures of this life? The pressure to belong? The pressure to conform? The pressure to provide? The pressure to please others? The pressure to survive?

Esau despised his birthright (Genesis 25:29–34)
Esau was the firstborn of the twin sons of Isaac. As such, he was sole heir of everything his father owned. Moreover, he was second-in-command to Isaac over the whole estate. On top of all that, he is to be heir to the covenant promises that God made to Abraham passed down to Isaac, despite the fact that Abraham had seven other children (Genesis 25:1–2, 5–6).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Shamcey Supsup's Miss Universe Answer




News floated on the Net about the unfolding events at the 2011 Miss Universe Pageant. Miss Philippines Shamcey Supsup's answer to a question made me proud to be a Filipino Christian.

During the question-and-answer portion, judge Vivica A. Fox asked Supsup, "Would you change your religious beliefs to marry the person you love? Why or why not?"

Supsup answered: "If I would have to change my religious beliefs, I would not marry the person that I love. Because the first person that I love is God, who created me. I have my faith and my principles, and this is what makes me who I am. If the person loves me, he'll love my God too."

May many more Christians have such conviction in this postmodern world.

Photo and quote from
http://www.sunstar.com.ph/manila/local-news/2011/09/13/shamcey-supsup-ms-universe-3rd-runner-179077

 

Monday, June 27, 2011

When God Wants to Drill a Man

I first heard this poem from a radio message by Ravi Zacharias titled "Is There Not a Cost?" I was so encouraged and scared at the same time that I searched for it in the web. I repost it here for I know it will help a lot of suffering Christians undergoing various trials.


When God Wants to Drill a Man


When God wants to drill a man,

And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

On Eagles’ Wings (Isaiah 40)


A few years ago, a good friend of mine shared one of her favorite verses to me when I texted her about my troubles: Isaiah 40:31. I was encouraged by that. Now, in the midst of my current personal problems, I revisited that verse and went backwards seeking how is it that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.

A prophecy of comfort
Isaiah 40 is a message of God for His people who are exiled into Babylon. It speaks of the forgiveness of God (v.2), and the coming of God Himself for which repentance is needed (vv. 3-5), as fulfilled with the coming of Christ as heralded by John the Baptist. It is meant to comfort them in their troubles. But how is the message comforting?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

True love waits with enough oil (Matthew 25:1–13)


 Introduction
With all of the hoopla of the failed prophecy of Harold Camping and his Family Radio ministry (May 21, 2011, the End of the World? 'Judgment Days' That Have Come and Gone - ABC News), I am reminded of this message I delivered in June 2009. I eagerly await for Messiah Yeshua. May He come soon, even now....

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Who among you here would like to see Jesus now? Who among you here would want Jesus to come back now, and reign for all eternity? Why not? Let us look at a parable that addresses this situation.

The coming of the groom is a time of joy (v. 1)
Who among you here have relatives or loved ones abroad? When you receive news that they are coming here for a visit, what do feel? Do we not feel excited that this loved one is coming? And because that person is coming, what do we do? Do we not prepare the room where she will stay, plan where we could take her, clean up the house, plan the meals?
Let’s take it one notch higher. To the men who are married, do you still remember the time when you waited for your bride at the altar, and the great joy you felt when you saw her walking down the aisle towards you? For the wives, do still remember your arrival, and as you enter, you see the man you are to marry waiting for you at the altar? How did you feel? How different did it feel from when you were just meeting for a date?
This is the kind of anticipation that the virgins, who were the bridesmaids, were experiencing. They were excited! Maybe the bride is their close friend or relative, maybe even a sister. And they were excitedly waiting for the man who will marry her and so complete her joy. The groom is not coming for an accounting, nor for judgment, but for love and a celebration of that love that is to be joined. This is a happy occasion, not a fearful one.

Weddings in the time of Jesus
To help us better understand the situation, let us look at the marriage practices of the time of Jesus. During that time, marriages were arranged by the parents of both the groom and the bride. The man may have chosen the bride, but it is the parents who do the negotiations. Then they are betrothed and they are wed soon after. On the night of the wedding, the groom and his groomsmen leave his house and parade to the bride’s house, where the wedding ceremony takes place. Then they all go to the groom’s home where the celebrations will be held. The wedding celebration lasts for three days up to a week, depending on how long the newlyweds can supply food and wine to the guests. All this during a time of great oppression; weddings are a welcome break from the hard life, and here the people really have a good time.
            Here, we can see a parallelism with our own relationship with Christ. Christ is the bridegroom, and we the Church is His bride. We are now betrothed to Him and we are His, but He has yet to come to claim us fully. And when He does, it is a celebration of cosmic proportions.

The bridesmaids sleep (vv. 2–4)
There are two kinds of bridesmaids here: the wise who packed extra oil and the foolish who did not pack. The foolish are those who are so excited about the coming of the groom they cannot think of anything else.
But the wise are those who are also excited, but are realistic enough to see what could happen and prepared themselves. By packing extra oil, they are in effect saying, “We are here for the groom no matter how long it takes.”
            Looking at the wise bridesmaids, did they prepare out of duty, or obligation, or out of love? I honestly believe it is out of love that they have done so, love for the bride whom they serve, and for the groom whom they wait for. Isn’t it that we would go to great lengths for those we love without even a second thought?
            But the bridegroom was delayed in coming. The excitement wears off and the bridesmaids — all of them — fell asleep. Waiting can get very boring, even when the one we are waiting for is someone we love. Similarly for us who wait for the coming of Christ, as the months and years pass, we cannot help but fall asleep. We get bored, frustrated, discouraged. We even fall into sin.

The bridegroom comes (vv. 6–13)
The groom and his party finally comes, parading to the bride’s home for the ceremony. Thus the arrival would be announced. The bridesmaids get up and trim their lamps to light the way for the groom and his groomsmen. But they all saw that their lamps were going out. The wise take out the oil they packed and refilled their lamps. The foolish ones asked for some from the wise but the wise only packed enough for their own lamps. So they went off to buy from the dealers (At midnight?! Good luck!). While the foolish were gone, the groom and his party arrived and the wise were there to meet them. They performed the wedding ceremony and they all left for the groom’s home where they celebrated, and the doors were shut. The foolish bridesmaids, after finally getting some extra oil, proceeded to the groom’s home but he does not know them, since they were not there to meet him.
            In the same way, it is not those who “prayed to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior” who will be saved, but it is those whom He sees are trusting Him as their Savior and are following and obeying Him as their Lord when He returns. It is those who love Him so much that they eagerly await His coming and wish it was now, but they are also ready for a long wait, coming into a closer relationship with Him in spirit through prayer and the Word, and working hard in the tasks that He has entrusted to them. 
            Notice that I put the relationship first, for it is this relationship that drives us to work hard and faithfully for Him. It is our love for Him as manifest in our desire and preparedness for His coming that is important. It is not that we are perfect when He arrives, but that we are working to become like Him. And if we do not want to do this, if we don’t feel like preparing for His coming or, worse, we don’t want Him to come yet, we had better take a long hard look at our relationship with Him and what He really means to us.

Challenge
As we partake of the Lord’s Table, let us remember what Christ did for us on the cross so that we could freely come into His presence now and have fellowship with Him in the Spirit. Let us also remember that, as we eat of the bread and drink of the cup, we are having a taste of the heavenly banquet that Christ promised He would eat with us when He returns. It will be a celebration like no other, for it will be a celebration of the greatest love finally fulfilled!


*Preached as a sermon on 7 June 2009 at Jesus Christ Our Hope And Redeemer church, San Mateo, Rizal