Monday, October 24, 2011
As soon as I got word, I called the DC Metro Police to get more information before I called his parents. I couldn't get through so I looked through his old posts on Facebook, found that he had been working part time at a restaurant in Maryland and called them. They confirmed to me that the police had called them the day before to gather information regarding John. My heart dropped.
Apparently, John was hit between 1-8 a.m. and the car that hit him, dragged him for about 15 feet before his body separated from the car. He was pronounced dead on arrival. I am writing this so that he can live on in my own memories and in the memories of others as they read this...
If there is such a thing as nice, John was the epitome of it. About the time I first met him, he spent three months just living with me and my family. He was going through a rough patch in life, but I thought it was great that I could get to know him better. Our friendship was forged from those three months forward. Anyone who knew him would attest to his gentle nature and the constant smile that was plastered on his face. He never pursued anything for status, but in everything he did, he did because he saw a purpose behind it. He was one of the most mission oriented people I have ever met. He rarely ever had any money, but that never stopped him from being generous.
I met him for the first time as he was getting his M.A. at Berkeley. After spending nearly everyday together for three months, we became close. I remember calling him up one day and asking him if he was doing anything; I was in LA at the time and he was up north. He said he was just studying and I said to him that I would be there in 7 hours. I packed my things and drove up for three days and just spent the entire time just hanging out and talking about various aspects of life, something we often did. John was very intelligent, but his curiosity never died. I think it was his curiosity of things that kept his fascination for life robust.
After he graduated from Berkeley for both his B.A. and his M.A., he wanted to devote his life to medicine. We went on missions to Guatemala together with my aunt and uncle who lead annual medical mission trips and was able to bond further, sharing the thing that mattered most, our faith in Jesus Christ. He fell in love all over again with the idea of being able to help people by healing them. Everything he did in life oriented and pointed in the direction of medicine.
After he finished his M.A., he struggled through medical school application rejections, he became determined to join the Army and become an officer, and through the Army, become a medical doctor. He was always in great shape and kept himself active - he even boxed for fun. When the Army wouldn't accept him, he found himself at another crossroads. He had been so determined to be a doctor that he didn't want anything to stop him, but there was one thing that kept him from moving forward with his medical career.
Anyone who knows John, knows that he is a genuinely kind spirited person who is always willing to serve. What most people may not have known about him was that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. From what I know, the catalyst was an experimentation with acid that altered his psyche because a few friends decided to try it. This affected his college social life and his social life beyond college. For the most part, no one could tell unless if he was off his medications, but whenever he was on his medications, he would always be frustrated because he felt as if a part of him became void. He felt like he couldn't feel. This had always been the primary source of his exhaustion, his greatest frustration, his greatest struggle. This, had been the thread of internal conflict in his life since I have known him. This, was also why I respected John so much as a friend. As much the disorder would affect him, I never found him violent toward me when he was off his medication. There was always a bond of love that I knew existed between the two of us.
Seeing that he had been blessed with a top tier education (he was also getting his second Master's degree in Public Policy from USC - he got his Master's in Public Health at Berkeley) he knew that there were injustices at a policy level for those with mental disorders. He shifted his sights from a medical career to advocacy and politics. He would frequently invite me to events where they would discuss mental health issues and the injustices following people due to stigma, ignorance, and poor policy. He started to speak at council meetings, town halls, and awareness campaigns. He began to engage with political leaders and social leaders who saw the same injustices that he did. He then began to set his sights on changing policy from up top, not just from the bottom.
John, in every sense of the word was a believer. His sense of belief drove him to excellence in everything he put his mind to. This translated in his efforts from his schooling to his volunteering and most importantly, to his relationships. I consider myself lucky to have many people who have rallied around me that believe in me, but one person that has always stood out in their belief for me was John. John would call me to tell me how blessed he was by the words that I wrote and the conversations we had, he would also express to me his constant anticipation of what my future would bring, as if I would single handedly change the world.
I think a lot of people misunderstood John because they didn't know him. Few people were truly fortunate to have been able to spend the amount of time that I was able to with him (and even the amount of time I spent with him wasn't that much). In everything, he was optimistic no matter how hard things were. In everything, he looked at the world with the perspective that the glass was always full, never half full or even half empty.
The last time I had spoken to John was 4 months ago while I was in Korea. We chatted and caught up, but even in that interaction he asked me if there was something he could do for me. He had always been one of my greatest fans in life and for that, I always found myself grateful. I don't think that there is a person that has read every single thing that I wrote beside John, and even as he read through them, his enthusiasm for my poor grammar and mediocre content always encouraged me to write more. Anytime I needed a friend, he was readily available, and he was always someone I could count on to be there. One time, while I was serving in the Peace Corps, John put together a pricey care package that anticipated many of the needs that I would have. All this, he did, when he had almost nothing in his bank account and probably needed the money more than I needed the things he sent me. Another time, I needed a friend to drive with me from Los Angeles to Chicago because I needed my car for college. John volunteered, and while he was driving, we ended up sliding on the ice, wheels locked, crashing into another car already in the ditch in Iowa. After the accident, we looked at each other, freaked out, but still laughed at the situation. We've had quite a few great moments, and throughout the 10 years I've known him, John has maintained consistency in his loyalty and positivity towards all things.
I think as we all approach death, we will wonder if we have said enough in life to be remembered in a positive way. I think we will wonder if the words we spoke as we lived gave or took away life from people. When I think about John, I think he has said plenty and that he has filled the jar to the brim. All the words of encouragement, hope, belief, and even his vulnerability and transparency in things have instilled within all those he has been able to touch the fuel to go out and conquer the world. The words John has spoken of others have only been positive and uplifting, edifying and encouraging, and my hope is that those of us he has blessed can take the words and deeds of John and make the most of it.
John, I will miss you. I will do my best to live up to the way you viewed me, as a world changing history maker. I hope that I can live with the humility you had throughout life and serve in the manner you served. It won't be long until I see you for all eternity. Enjoy God until I get there!
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Many people are either uninhibited by their past or paralyzed by it. For those who see the weight of their past sins, their past can be paralyzing. I've known many people who bear the guilt of one false move that they made that may have prevented their friend from getting into a car accident or into a situation where another person got hurt or killed. There are far too many situations where we have made the choice to ignore God or even try to find fulfillment in things outside of God because we don't want to have to trust Him in all circumstances. Whatever the case is, if you carry your past with you in the present, Exodus 3-4 should be a passage of hope for you.
In Exodus 2, we see that Moses was rescued from the Pharaoh's decrees to kill all of the Hebrew babies by Pharaoh's daughter. However, because he was raised for much of his childhood by his birth mother, he learned of his Hebrew nature. This led him to flee from Egypt after word started to spread that he had killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave - a capital crime.
After walking through the desert and marrying a woman of a distant land he integrates into his wife's family and tends to his father-in-law's flock as a shepherd. One day, he goes to Mount Horeb. Here, an angel of the Lord appeared to Him and as he continued to approach the light, God called out to him and revealed Himself to Moses. At this point, Moses encounters God in a way very few people throughout history have. In fact, he is now in a league with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the forefathers of their people. Here he was, speaking to a bush in a mountain that seemed to burn without getting burnt, being told that the same God in whom Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob placed their faith in, had now come to Him in manifest form to speak. This is significant because the Hebrew people were a people who had shared the history through a verbal tradition and without a shadow of a doubt, all of the Hebrews knew the history of their forefathers less than 7 generations ago. They were holding onto a promise to become a great nation and the seed that would come to bless all nations. This hope, was dim for the Hebrew people. This hope, was dwindling down. However, for God, the hope was active and He was about to inject into the people, a hope that they would carry throughout all the generations unto Jesus' time.
God tells Moses everything he needs to know about Him. Essentially, God was reestablishing a relationship with His people through Moses. Then through a dialogue, God tells Moses that his faith need not be blind, for blind faith entails an obedience to an object that is unknown, where as a seeing faith encompasses an obedience in an object that is known. God, in this case, as with all cases, tells us that we are not walking blindly, but fully able to see that in order to accomplish the task, God must be with us. So God says to go back to Egypt, but Moses gives a reason employing a fear masked with humility to say "who am I to go to Pharaoh?" God, should have responded in wrath, but understanding the paradigm and the power that Pharaoh held over the Hebrew slaves, He knew that Moses, although he knew the stories of his forefathers, have very little experiential knowledge of the God they served. So in His patience, God tells Moses not to worry since He will go with him. At this moment, Moses should've left, but then he asks, "can you tell me who you are again so that I can tell the people of Israel who you are?" God responds by going over everything He had just told Moses again, then goes one step further and gives Moses the reassurance that the people will listen if he goes, because God will go with Him.
In his third attempt to dissuade God from sending him, Moses says, "well, people won't listen and just dismiss me because they can easily doubt that you appeared to me." To this, God does two spectacular things: first, he tells Moses to place his staff on the ground and transforms it into a snake, which Moses gets freaked out about, and second, He has Moses place his hand in his robe over his chest and remove it to find it has leprosy, then place it back in and out to find it clean. Then God said that if they don't believe these two miraculous signs, that he will turn water from the Nile, the very source of the Egyptians livelihood, into blood. Then, in Moses' fourth attempt to get out of returning to Egypt, he says he is inarticulate and cannot speak well in public. At this, God responds in stunning authority, "Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?" Then, God tells Moses to go, once again reassuring him that He will be with him. Finally, after exhausting every option, Moses finally just says, "Please, send someone else. I don't want to go!" At this, God gets angry because Moses had seen God just perform several miracles and even more, encountered God in one of the rarest of ways. Moses was changed by the encounter, and still there was something that was paralyzing Him.
Finally, God says, I will send Aaron with you as a helper, but you will perform all the great signs. And as Moses asked Jethro, his father-in-law, for permission to fulfill a mission from God, God gave him the final reassurance he needed - that everyone who wanted Moses dead, were dead themselves. The thing is, Moses was paralyzed by his past to the point that he couldn't see all that God was doing in the present. Moses had the weight of punishment through his 'wrong doing' bearing on his shoulders that he didn't want to move forward by confronting his past. Moses was happy with his new family as he was able to escape the death he deserved for saving a Hebrew slave - a death that Jesus would not Himself escape hundreds of years later. He had experienced the type of salvation and freedom that very few could actually experience and didn't want to leave his current life. Moses was haunted by the past and didn't want anything to do with it. This prevented him from trusting in God in the present, even after he encountered God in the most radical of ways. In this state, God called him to act as a mediator between Him and the people as well as Him and the Pharaoh.
So many times, do we fail to see that Christ was the great mediator on our behalf, but more-so we fail to see all that God is doing in our lives in the present because of a guilt we have in the past or a sin or experience that we committed in our past that we carry with us to this moment that makes us feel shame, condemnation, fear, anxiety, or even distrust. So many of us don't think we deserve the best future because we failed so much in the past. Others of us don't think that we can face our past because it was such a low point in our lives. All these things, the enemy uses to prevent us from engaging with Christ, the only hope that fulfills.
For those of you haunted by your past:
Christ was punished so that you don't have to be
Christ bore the shame so that you don't need to
Christ experienced the guilt so that you don't have to live with it
Christ faced the condemnation so that we don't have to
Christ carried the burden so that we could be free from it
Christ lived the life we should've lived and died the death we should've died so that we can be glorified with Him through all eternity
In Christ, all things are made whole, even if you are broken, impure, and the furthest thing from perfect. God loves you and He sent His Son, who with joy, willingly went, so that he could be the mediator and rescue us from bondage and slavery and cover us with His blood, so that we don't have to die and through faith, have everlasting life.
Exodus 161They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3and the people of Israel said to them, "Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."
4Then the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily." 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, "At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against the LORD. For what are we, that you grumble against us?" 8And Moses said, "When the LORD gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the LORD has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him— what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD."
9Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, 'Come near before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.'" 10And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. 11And the LORD said to Moses, 12"I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, 'At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'"
13In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. 14And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. 15When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat. 16This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.'" 17And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. 18But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. 19And Moses said to them, "Let no one leave any of it over till the morning." 20But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. 21Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
22On the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers each. And when all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23he said to them, "This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.'" 24So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. 25Moses said, "Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. 26Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none."
27On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. 28And the LORD said to Moses, "How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? 29See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day." 30So the people rested on the seventh day.
31Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. 32Moses said, "This is what the LORD has commanded: 'Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.'" 33And Moses said to Aaron, "Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the LORD to be kept throughout your generations." 34As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the testimony to be kept. 35The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36(An omer is the tenth part of an ephah.)
When I was young, I was taught that in the Old Testament, you see an aspect of God that is more wrathful than in the New Testament where you see a God of love. As I continue to bury my nose into the Old Testament, I see love and compassion throughout.
In Exodus 16, the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea out of Egypt and had been wandering for about 45-46 days. They had just seen the Red Sea part, the bitter waters of Marah turn sweet, and had now been wandering for a month and a half. There is nothing easy about adjusting from slavery to freedom as it would be hellish to adjust from freedom to slavery, and the Israelites, under the protection of God's hand and leadership of Moses were set free and were wandering the desert, in an inhabitable land (v. 35). Above all things, I believe, this passage shows the adoptive Father's heart.
When I talk to adoptees who remember being adopted, one of the things they consistently tell me is that they had to learn to trust that they would not be abandoned, that their new parents truly cared for them, and how to behave, think, and even feel in this totally new environment. We must remember that for four generations, the Israelites had been living in captivity and slavery. Long were the days since Joseph was the Pharaoh's right hand man. This means that the great majority of those who were alive at the time (probably everyone) had been born into slavery and that was all they knew. The transition from what they knew in slavery to complete uncertainty and freedom was as big a shock as it gets. There are countless movies and narrative stories that portray people that have gone through this transition like Encino Man, Blast from the Past, Bubble Boy, among others (why most of them have Brendan Fraser, I have no idea), but they all depict a great struggle to adjust and become acclimated into their new setting. Whenever we experience a small change, many of us have a hard time adjusting to the new reality, but imagine what it was like for the Israelites who had just barely escaped Egypt in the most grand escapes and were left in a desert to trust a guy whose leadership capacity ranged from being a part of an Egyptian court to having a family and tending sheep. You see in verse 3 that they were in such shock that at the moment, they preferred the certainty of not eating and being enslaved over not eating and wandering through the desert led by a leader in training who had just been charged with history's first million member congregation.
What God knew the Israelites needed was to undo what slavery had done to them and show them that they had already crossed over and were completely free whether or not they recognized it. For this reason, He put forth a test, a marker, to help them with their faith process. He sent quails to cover the camp and manna to form on the ground. I believe He did this because it was a best form of meals on wheels. Wherever they went, they would always have food, and for 40 years (v. 35), we see that he provided the most convenient method of food delivery ever. Their only job was to walk outside their tent to collect a small pots worth of food for the day; the incredible thing is that no matter how much they collected, it would be enough, and only if they saved some would it rot, stink, and collect worms. What God was teaching them was that no matter how much they collected it would be enough. Somehow, as they filled their pots, it would always be enough, and going out there to collect more wouldn't change anything. God was teaching them that He would faithfully provide for them as any father would and that what he provided would always be enough so they could rest in the fact that He would never leave them.
We also see God's compassion on Moses as well as the rest of the Israelites. We see that as the Israelites grumble before God to Moses, he gets overwhelmed and freaks out. Twice they grumbled before God, and twice Moses gets flustered and nervous, then God calmly reminds Moses of who He is. God tells Moses, "At evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD..." (v. 6-7). Essentially, the remedy for their cure is to remember and to encounter. In the evenings, God wanted them to do something they never had the chance to do, to kick up their feet, lie in their tents in peace, and just reflect on what God had just done for them. There would be no Egyptian at the door or dread of tomorrow's laborious tasks, but only learning to trust the God that had already rescued them from bondage. Then, in the morning, God wanted them to encounter Him in a new, yet familiar way. For forty years, we see a thread of familiarity in the relational aspect of God through the provision of manna intertwined with the newness of being able to trust in Him to provide. He knew that they needed this so much that He emphasized and reminded them three times that on the Sabbath, they are to rest and remember, and to just trust God without any anxiety that God is in control.
The Father heart of God is so great that when we were enslaved to sin, He rescued us by covering us with the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, that as long as we place our trust in Him, regardless of how strong or weak that trust is, that He will provide in every way we need. God, is truly good. (See John 6 and how Jesus references Himself as the manna of life)
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
John Piper defines God's glory as "the radiance of his holiness, the radiance of his manifold, infinitely worthy and valuable perfections."
The thing is, we aren't able to see God's holiness as we aren't able to stare into the sun from a foot away. God's holiness, when we sinned, was covered from us as it would've obliterated us from all existence if it was still clearly exposed to us. God's glory, then, is the process in which we are able to see a little more of God.
I used two analogies in the last post to describe this process: First, a dirty window that slowly gets the layers of dirt wiped away. We stare from one side and slowly the picture of what is on the other side of the window becomes more and more clear. Second, the layers of cloud (and for those of us in LA - smog) that cover the sun. As the clouds clear out, it brings light and warmth to all it reaches and exposes its luminosity to all who are able to gaze.
The important thing in all of this is the process of revelation. This happens through conversion, which Paul, in the book of Acts, uses the word that means "to turn around completely." In other words, as Tim Keller says, it isn't a replacing of yourself, but a refacing - where you we're once headed in one direction, you have changed directions to face something else completely. As we find ourselves converted daily, to face God and to continue to reface Him as He calls us, we find ourselves seeing more of who He is. As we see more of Him, as we experience His glory, we find the picture of God to be more clear, as if more pieces of the puzzle have been inserted for us to see that God is so much greater than we could've ever imagined. Our only duty is to receive and keep receiving.
Dedicated to M.Y.
Monday, October 17, 2011
[Jesus said,] "Father, glorify your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine."
As I continue to go deeper into the Gospel of John, I'm amazed at how loving, strategic, and offensive Christ was to those that refused to accept Him as God. The more I see Christ in the Gospels, the more I realize that you must either love Him or hate Him with everything you have in order to make sense of the claims He made about Himself and His oneness with the Father; his claims that He was God.
As Jesus was preparing for the prophesies to be fulfilled through his brutal death and resurrection, He participated in a feast. This feast had gathered people from all walks of life, many of whom had seen the wonders and signs of Jesus - particularly raising Lazarus from the dead just prior to His entry into the city. Without doubt, Lazarus had died and was embalmed in the tomb which he was laid to rest for 4 days - and "on account of the people that stood around" did Christ proclaim that He was there to fulfill the Father's will and commanded Lazarus to come out from the grave. This, for many people was enough to tip the pot over as no one has been raised from the dead and the burial rituals of the time were set up to ensure that they were not burying anyone alive.
So when it came down for all the gears to work toward the Crucifixion of Christ, He enters into a communion with the Father as He has always done and asks that the Father be glorified. To this, the Father responds through the heavens, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." This booming voice was audible to the crowd gathered around. Many had no idea what to make of the voice, but as they heard Jesus ask the Father to "Glorify His name," the Father responded with two things, that He already has and that He will once again in a manner that was for the people.
Christ inevitably knew that the Father had been glorified through Himself. In John 6, we see that Christ was sent by the Father, and in an act of honoring obedience, Jesus became a man on a mission. His mission was to be a substitutionary atonement for all those whom the Father gave to Him. To which he says, "and this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." The glory of the Father was in the Son, and the manifestation of the Father's glory was in the presence and obedience of His son to us. He essentially says throughout the entire book of John and the rest of the Gospels that if you see the Son, you see the Father. Or, if you see the Son, you see the glory of the Father.
The thing about glory is that it has many meanings, but for the Father to glorify Himself, and for the Father to say that He already has and will once again, means that there is an encounter and revealing that he has done and prepares to do in the future. The Father already has full glory, but there is a sharing and a revealing of His glory that allows us to stand with Him in His glory. It would be like standing at the Olympic medal platform while someone who loved you won the gold medal, but had you stand with them. However, for the father to be fully glorified among us, there needed to be nothing that prevented us from seeing Him fully. In other words, for the Father to glorify Himself, the dirty window in which we try to view him by must be perfectly transparent so that as He shines perfectly, we can enjoy Him without any distortions.
Thus, anytime we see God glorifying himself, the reality is that he is clearing out the brushes so that we can see him more accurately. Nothing in God changes, his radiance is perfect in every way. The beneficiaries of his revelation of glory is us, not Him. As sin entered the world, it was as if a million layers of clouds covered up the sun and our repentance through faith in Christ as He lifts us up through the clouds, allows us to see more and more of God.
The fact that God takes pleasure in allowing us to know Him is quite an honor. When I am reminded to realize that the God who created the universe wants to show me more of Himself, I get overwhelmed. Its utterly amazing to think that for our sake, does God reveal Himself, so that what He gains from the exchange is the pleasure of seeing us experience the ultimate joy of knowing Him. God is good!
Friday, October 14, 2011
2Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. 3In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" 7The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me." 8Jesus said to him, "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." 9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. 10So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed." 11But he answered them, "The man who healed me, that man said to me, 'Take up your bed, and walk.'" 12They asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?" 13Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you."
As I continue to encounter God through the Gospel of John, I find myself amazed at the claims Christ made about Himself (He is God). Through His claims, I find amazement in all He does to show that He is the only hope that actually makes sense in this world and the next. You see this emphasized in the incident of the invalid man at Bethesda.
Built by Nehemiah, there was by the the Sheep Gate, a pool which was believed to have healing powers. Many Biblical historians believed that the first person to enter the pool as it started to stir was healed, thus, a multitude of invalids including the blind, lame, and the paralyzed we're awaiting an opportunity to be the first to jump in. Among the crowds, there was one man who had been an invalid for 38 years. The language suggests that he had not always been invalid, but instead had become that way 38 years ago. At the time, all people who we're born with such diseases could not be a part of the community life, something he probably was a part of at one point, but now, had only vague memories of. The thing is, for the Jews, community was the central institution for their life, it was nothing like being in LA where people didn't have to belong to a particular group in order to be accepted. In LA (and most of the US), you could be a part of as many social groups as you like or none at all, and no one would say anything, nor would you feel any external pressure and condemnation from anyone. Temple life was community life to the Jews and to not be able to be a part of it because you were considered unclean or a "sinner" meant you weren't a part of the most important thing of the time. It meant you were a second class citizen.
The pool, we know, was infamous because of the amount of people that had camped out by it. I think it would be safe to say that it was a lot like skid row, where there are tons of homeless people just hoping to get shelter for the night. Most shelters practice a first come, first serve policy. If you are in line and far enough up in line that there is a bed available as you approach the front of the line, you get a bed for the night, if not, then you can only hope that another shelter nearby hasn't been filled up. Imagine if among the hundreds and thousands of people waiting in line for a bed, that only one could get one for the night. This was the very picture of healing.
On top of that, people who had less incapacitating diseases found it much easier to just stroll by and jump in when the waters started to stir - people who had minor cuts or bruises, acne or even a broken arm could just dive in faster than the blind, lame, and paralyzed. This kept the man hopelessly hopeful that his situation would change. He had nothing to really look forward to in life, thus everyday, he waited by the pool because it was the only thing he found hope in that would give him everything he wanted in life: acceptance. The drive to be accepted is one of the greatest drives out there. Guys who join gangs are willing to get beat up as initiation and sometimes kill people to prove their loyalty. Girls in high school change their stripes and become people that they aren't so that they could find an affiliation with the group that they think could help make people think that they are popular. You see it in movies, how people, just to find acceptance will join cults, pursue specific career paths, and even place themselves in danger so that they can be a part of something, that something can give their existence meaning.
When Jesus saw the man and knew that the man had been there for a long time, He asked him, "Do you want to be healed?" I found this to be an odd question to ask as people who awaited the pool to stir were all desiring healing. What I found to be odder was the invalid's response, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me." The man, who had clearly not known Jesus, had just revealed to Him that he had been abandoned and that he was at his wits end. At one point, he probably had people trying to help him into the pool, but so did many others who were there. Slowly, but surely, people gave up on him. After months of trying, they might have said something like, "Forget it already. We've come out to this pool to intermingle with all the invalids trying to help you and every time we try to help you, you are either too difficult to get in or someone else beats us to it. Just give up already, accept your lot, and hang out at home." But for the invalid, that was not an option, and for 38 years, his hope was in being healed so that he could once again say that he belongs.
To this, Jesus simply responds, "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." So the man, who was instantly healed did just that.
At this point, Jesus had still not revealed Himself to the invalid. The invalid, overwhelmed with great joy for being able to walk after being paralyzed for 38 years had most likely just walked away in shock at what was going on. He literally got up, took his mat, and walked away. Jesus then withdrew as the man was carrying his mat to go to the temple where his acceptance would be solidified. The man gathered a crowd as it was against Jewish law to do any work on the Sabbath (a day reserved for rest and remembrance) and carrying a mat would be a direct violation of Sabbath laws.
My sister, works at UCLA Hospital as does a couple friends of mine. On Saturdays (the Jewish Sabbath), if you ride the elevator up and down, you notice that in order to get to the lobby from the top floor, that even if you press the lobby button, you will stop at every floor. They program some of the elevators at UCLA to do this so that if there are any Jews who observe the Sabbath, they wouldn't have to press the elevator button as it is considered work and not rest. The Sabbath was and still continues to be a very important day in the week. Therefore, doing any sort of work would draw all sorts of attention. You then have to wonder, why, the invalid continued to carry his mat.
I believe he carried the mat for a few reasons. First of all, he may have been attached to the mat as a physical object like a blankie is for a child. It was his safe haven for as long as he had it and it was his only source of comfort outside of the hope he had of actually being healed. Secondly, he might not have been certain whether this healing would last and so he carried it with him just in case he had to return to the pool. Thirdly, it could have a reminder that he may have wanted to keep that he was once an invalid, but now, he was healthy person just like everyone else. Some people keep casts from when they broke their bones, he kept his mat. Fourthly, he was obedient. Later, as the Jewish leaders encircled him, he responds to them by saying, "The man who healed me, that man said to me, "Take up your bed, and walk." So out of obedience and amazement, he just started to walk with his mat.
Here is where I believe the man realized something. He realized that the very thing he hoped for was anticlimactic. Once the amazement of his healing had begun to subside, he realized that being healed wouldn't be the answer to his need for acceptance. This, is why I believe Jesus didn't reveal himself to Him right away. The book of John is a narrative of 21-22 days of Jesus' life. By this point, people had already wanted to kill Him for all the claims He had been making saying He is one with the Father and that He was the long awaited Messiah.
Then, after the Jewish leaders had finished their questioning, Jesus approaches the man in the temple, the very place the man thought he would find the acceptance he so longed for, but instead, found himself in wanting an acceptance that being in the temple could not provide. When Christ came to him a second time, this time, he was able to put his own problems and needs aside to hear what Christ had to say. At this time, not only did he understand where his healing came from, but where salvation and full acceptance comes from. Christ had revealed to the man that He was greater than the healing the invalid man had experienced and that He was a far better hope.
Christ had come to the man when he was abandoned by those he considered family and friends. The man, being invalid for so long, had lost his identity and all associations to people except for those at the pool, but even they were competitors to him as only the first could get healed. Christ revealed that the man had placed his hope on all the wrong things, from the pool to the community he wanted to belong to, and in His great love, He revealed Himself to the invalid man to show him that He was the great hope who provided abundant acceptance.
Monday, October 10, 2011
8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.During a recent Bible study, someone juxtaposed the story of Cain and Abel with that of Esau and Jacob. The discussion revolved around notions of predestination and free will with the text of Romans 9:10-13 to make a case for predestination, "And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad - in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call - she was told, "The older will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."
First of all, I don't think that they are stories that can be juxtaposed with each other. These stories, are often times used to argue about whether or not God is fair, but that is not the point of either of the stories. For Jacob and Esau, the point is grace; for Cain and Abel, the point is something completely different. For the sake of this blog, we will just look into the story of Cain and Abel.
Cain, whose name means possession, was Adam and Eve's elder son and a worker of the land. Abel, was the younger and he was a shepherd. As they worked, they brought an offering to God. Cain brought fruit from the ground and Abel brought of the firstborn of his flock and the fat portions. From there, He rejected Cain's offering and delighted in Abel's. Now, many people who have been raised in the church have been taught that God likes meat and not vegetables. That somehow, the quality of the offering was in the substance of the thing given. This, if believed, makes God very petty, very fickle, and very unloving. The God preached growing up through this passage often times seemed impossible to please.
The reason why Cain's offering was rejected is more evident in Cain's response than the actually offering itself. Once Cain realized that God had "no regard" for his offering, he became angry. Almost always, people become angry when an expectation or rule that they have set up has been violated. Sometimes, these expectations are justified, but how do we justify them when God is the one who rejected the offering. Cain had offered something he thought merited the favor of God. He had two major misconceptions working through his arrogance: 1. that the fruit he cultivated was a direct result of his own abilities and 2. because he had cultivated everything, everything belonged to him, therefore, anything he gave should provoke gratitude, favor, and reciprocation from the receiver. Cain, in other words, had the audacity to be angry with God because God didn't accept his offering. It would be the same as if Warren Buffett gave you a stock tip that would make you millions, the money to invest in the stock, and insured you against any loss and you wrote a book about how much of a stock market genius you were, gave no credit to Warren Buffett, and then wrote that you taught Buffett everything he knew. Then you went back to Buffett and bought him a happy meal from McDonald's. There is something absurd about this!
We often times experience anger when things don't go our way. We think we deserve one thing, and yet, we don't get what we want. Cain was certain that if he gave to God anything, that God should've been grateful. His arrogance blinded Him from seeing that God was actually the giver. Because he failed to recognize God as the giver, he elevated his own production to glorify himself, constantly saying, "Look at me! Look at all that my hands have produced! All my efforts amount to an immense production and in my production, I have found great worth!"
Cain had allowed the land that he tilled and the fruit that it bore to define his worth in life. It became his identity and it told him whether he was a worthwhile person. As the land kept on producing, his pride kept on growing. The stories he had heard of God through his parents we're no longer needed to keep him grounded because he had everything that he wanted and he was a productive member of his family. He no longer needed God because his hands produced everything he needed in the soil. His work fulfilled in him what only God should have fulfilled and when his offering was rejected, his arrogant viewpoint was on full display.
Then, God counseled Cain emphatically. He asked him why he felt the way he felt and then encouraged him to consider a few things. He asked leading questions that both displayed genuine care as well as guided him to the source of his issues when he asked him, "why are you angry and why has your face fallen?" Then God warned Cain of the dangers of continuing down the path he was walking on, that it wasn't too late.
Cain didn't listen. Instead he colluded into a spiral that led him from anger to rage and bitterness. He was so set that he deserved better treatment that he wouldn't listen to God who had created him! Then, because he couldn't take it out on anyone else, he took it out on the only person who instead of being an example for him, was the person who amplified his shame through jealousy. He was so infuriated that he killed his own brother.
Then God came back to Cain and asked, "Where is your brother?" The fascinating aspect of this scene is that it resembles the scenario between Adam and Eve after they ate from the tree that God told them not to eat from. This, as it was for them, an opportunity for him to repent to God, expressing the reality that he has fallen short of perfection and therefore needs God to rescue him. This was Cain's chance to come clean, to say to God, "Father, I need you because I am at my wits end without you and will continue to ruin that which you intended for good. I am barely capable of managing my own emotions and my reactions are often times great indications of the evil inside of me. I've tried to hide it and suppress it and ignore it, but no longer can I ignore it. I have failed and am ready to accept the grace you have given me. May you be lord over my life."
Instead, Cain replied, "I do not know (a lie); am I my brother's keeper?" Cain blatantly lies to a God who he has heard created the entire world that he sees, including his parents. Adam and Eve must have shared the story of the fall many times with their children Cain and Abel and it was not a distant memory for them. Cain must have known the picture of what paradise had looked like. Maybe, that was what Cain was bitter about. Because of his parents, the world was no longer perfect, and no longer bore the full extent of exotic fruits and vegetation that had once covered the land. He desired to re-create what his parents had lost for him and he might have even blamed his parents for destroying the very thing he wanted most. Therefore, it had been the reason why he became angry with God when his offering was rejected - that he was finally proud of the progress he was making and was showing God that he didn't need God to produce a bountiful harvest. Cain didn't see that he needed to repent because he didn't think that there was anything wrong with him. Certainly, he knew he had made a mistake in killing his own brother, but it did not cultivate in him a sense of guilt, a sense that he was in the wrong.
Cain, thinking that he was the master of the soil thought that if he buried his brother, that he could hide his sin from God and the world. Even after he murdered his own brother, he turned to the soil as his solace and protection. To him, without the soil to toil, he was lost. So, God after giving him several personal and direct opportunities to renounce himself off of his throne exposes with great wisdom the idolatry that was taking place in Cain's heart, thus driving all of his behavior. God tells Cain that the ground will no longer yield fruit. In other words, the very thing Cain turned to for all aspects of life, was now dead to him. In one statement, God revealed His great power over all the earth and exposed the darkest places Cain had hidden in. No longer could he find his worth in the land and Cain was now distraught. As God stripped the land he would toil from bearing fruit, he also made mention that he would be a fugitive made to wander the earth. From the presence of God, Cain was being dismissed and even then, Cain cries out to God that he is distraught because the ground will no longer bear him fruit. Then instead of begging God for forgiveness and requesting Him to return favor to Him, he just says, "well, if you let me out of your sight, someone will kill me."
To the end, there is no repentance. To the end, Cain refuses to remove himself from his throne and cast his crown before the true God. To the end, Cain doesn't acknowledge that God is actually the master of the soil. Instead, God gives him over to his own desires where undoubtedly, he will go through the rest of his life, looking for plots of land to cultivate, only to continue to find that every seed he plants bears no fruit. He missed the point completely. He tried to recreate paradise on His own when paradise was being offered from God Himself. He had set his eyes on things that he could never obtain himself.