9/11: My “Where Were You?” Story

On September 11th, 2001, I was two weeks into the fall semester of my third year at Bible college in a small town in Canada. I skipped breakfast in the cafeteria that morning and attended daily morning chapel. I arrived a few minutes late and sat in one of pews in the back row. The worship songs had already started, so I did not have the chance to talk to any other students. After a few worship songs, there was a time of prayer and the person leading prayers mentioned the situation in the United States. I did not know about what was going on in the United States and, being a student from the United States, I immediately leaned forward and asked another student. This student briefly told me that there had been a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. 

I am a west coast guy, so I knew little about the World Trade Center or the landscape of New York City. I thought maybe there was a bomb explosion in a building and thought little of it at first, but at the end of chapel there was an announcement that there were televisions set up in the cafeteria showing the news coverage. This caused me to think that the situation was more serious than I had originally thought, so I left chapel immediately and rushed to the cafeteria.  

Upon arriving at the cafeteria, I saw the news footage of the planes crashing into the twin towers and the news footage of the south tower collapsing. The footage shocked me. I could not believe that this was happening in my home country. Several U.S. students were glued to the televisions. We watched the live footage of the north tower smoldering, wondering if it would soon collapse like the south tower. The Canadian students consoled us as we all tried to make sense of such a large-scale terrorist attack through the use of commercial airplanes. Then we watched live as the north tower collapsed. I dropped to one knee in shock. This was the most devastating and distressing thing I had ever witnessed. 

I watched the news coverage in the cafeteria through the lunch hour and when other students, knowing that I was a U.S. student, asked me what I thought about the attack, I had little to say because I was in shock and disbelief. Also, the thought of processing the attacks while being away from the U.S. for the school year was becoming a reality. While my country was panicking and grieving, I was stuck at a Bible college in Canada. After the lunch hour, I had watched enough of the news coverage and met with one of my professors for prayer and to get help with processing my emotions. This was helpful and enabled me to continue through the rest of the day.

Because I was in an academic theological setting, the days that followed 9/11 were filled with thoughts and conversations about God’s relationship and involvement in world events, the philosophical problem of evil, the worldviews and practices of religious extremist groups and the justification of U.S. retaliation and war in Afganistan. I was young in my theological understanding, and so I was catapulted into these topics for the first time. I just started to scratch the surface on these complicated topics. I followed the aftermath news on the internet and read about all the efforts that were going on at Ground Zero. One story that has stuck with me throughout the years is about a New York City priest/chaplain and his ministry at Ground Zero the days following 9/11.

A New York City priest became involved in the rescue efforts at Ground Zero following the attacks on 9/11. Alongside many rescue workers, he spent hours upon hours, day after day at Ground Zero. He spent most of his time ministering to people and praying with them. Everyone from distraught family members of missing people to exhausted rescue workers to traumatized New York citizens. He led daily candlelight prayer vigils and, like many others working at Ground Zero, he went weeks with very little sleep. In an interview, he talked about the overwhelming trauma and the overwhelming need for spiritual care at Ground Zero. He explained that the need became so great that he just had to start briefly laying his hands on people and quickly blessing them with a simple verbal “blessings.” That is all he could do amid the overwhelming pain and suffering, amid overwhelming darkness and amid his overwhelming exhaustion. He had to trust that God would use his simple verbal “blessings” to comfort and minister to people.  He had to trust that his simple presence as a follower of Jesus was light in a dark place, life in the midst of death and love in the aftermath of hate.  

This story stuck with me because I was training to become a pastor, and I viewed the priest as an inspiration for my life as a minister. His experience is an outstanding example of how even small ministry acts can work in a profound way. In life, we will be confronted with overwhelming situations where the only things we can do is to be present and to say a few words that comfort the souls of others. Throughout the last twenty years, I have remembered and reflected on 9/11 and on the lives that were lost and the lives that were affected, and I have tried to follow the example of the priest in my daily life by saying “blessings” to others in moments when few words can be said.    

A Friday Reflection: Biblical Hebrew Syntax

 וְהֶאֱמִן בַּֽיהוָה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָֽה׃

And he was believing in the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

In this Hebrew verse, the first word וְהֶאֱמִן starts with a וְ (waw conjunction) meaning “and.” The rest of the word הֶאֱמִן is a hiphil perfect verb from the basic root אמן meaning “firmness” or “certainty.”[1] In the hiphil stem it means “stand firm,” “trust” or “believe.”[2] Typically, the hiphil stem describes causative action or the causing of an event by an agent.[3] The hiphil stem is in the active voice, and the key words “caused” or “made” are often inserted. For example, “they caused to kill” or “they made someone king.”[4] However, the hiphil stem may also express a simple action which would preserve the qal stem meaning and negate the causative meaning mentioned above.[5] This is most likely the case with הֶאֱמִן in this sentence,[6] but verbal aspect must also be considered to understand the reason for the hiphil stem and to determine the meaning of הֶאֱמִן.

For this discussion, it is important to focus on two forms of verbal aspect in Biblical Hebrew: qatal and wayyiqtol. The qatal aspect is associated with the perfect designation to express a state or a condition that requires duration or repetiton or to view a situation or action as a complete whole that is temporally undefined.[7] The wayyiqtol aspect involves an imperfect verb plus waw consecutive. In general, an imperfect verb denotes an incomplete action or describes an event without the end in view,[8] but when an imperfect verb is prefixed with waw consecutive, it will be translated with a similar aspect as a perfect verb.[9]

Next, it is important to point out that these two forms are often together in narrative. According to H.H. Hardy,

wayyiqtol verbs depict the mainline events of a narrative. The story is moved along from one event to another using successive wayyiqtol verbs. When additional setting material, contrasting statements, summaries, epexegetical remarks, background information, or any out-of-sequence occurrence is provided, the sequence is interrupted by a switch in verbal form. If this information is also perfective, then the verbal form is qatal.[10]

This is the sequence of the general context leading up to הֶאֱמִן in Genesis 15:6. In the first few sentences of the narrative of Chapter 15, Abram and God are having conversation

(v.2) Abram said (wayyiqtol verb)

(v.3) Abram said (wayyiqtol verb)

(v.4) God took Abraham outside and said (wayyiqtol verbs)

(v.5) God said (wayyiqtol verb)

(v.6) (Abram) he was believing הֶאֱמִן (qatal verb)

This shows the verbal form switch of Genesis 15:6, but this switch goes undetected in most english versions of the Bible that translate  הֶאֱמִן in 15:6 as “he believed.” This is certainly within the translation possibilities of the hiphil perfect (qatal) form. As mentioned above, the hiphil stem can express a simple action like the qal stem, but the interruption of verbal sequencing points to the writer trying to emphasize something in the narrative. The writer switches to the qatal aspect to emphasize Abram’s belief in the Lord as a complete whole that is temporally undefined. Abram did not start to believe in the Lord at this point in the narrative, rather Abram started believing in the Lord in Genesis 12.  For Abram, believing in the Lord was not a one time thing in 15:6, nor was it finalized at this point, but it was a repetitious process of believing. Thus, an appropriate translation of הֶאֱמִן is “he was believing.” The writer uses וְהֶאֱמִן “and he was believing” to emphasize that Abram’s faith was a journey. His journey of faith wasn’t perfect, but Abram was believing in the Lord, and it was because of this believing that the Lord “counted it to him as righteousness.”

Just like Abram’s faith, the Christian faith is not a one time thing, but a journey of believing. It is a life of trusting in the promises of God. We are living and growing in belief, and we are called friends of God.


Continue reading “A Friday Reflection: Biblical Hebrew Syntax”

A Friday Reflection: Because it’s Friday

Sometimes I write on Fridays, thus, I have several posts entitled, A Friday Reflection. More than any other day, Fridays are reflective days for me. With that said, I don’t claim that I do my best writing on Fridays:), just that the way my Fridays are structured, they are very important to my spiritual and contemplative life. This Friday, I want to share how my Friday routine that is structured around being with Jesus and striving to be like Jesus led to my experience of doing Jesus’ kingdom ministry. I want to share that as we journey with Jesus, he will work through us to minister to the hearts and lives of people.

I follow an ancient tradition of viewing every weekend as a “mini” Easter weekend. Basically, this is a practice that weekly reflects on the Friday through Sunday events of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Each day has a specific focus and related spiritual discipline. For example, Fridays are focused on Jesus as the suffering servant on the cross, and the related spiritual discipline is fasting. Saturdays are focused on the mysteries of the Friday events and the profound silence of the grave. The related spiritual discipline is spending time in silence and solitude while contemplating and learning. Sundays are focused on Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and the related spiritual discipline is gathering with others in celebration. This is a summary of the tradition; much more could be said. I simply want to set the background for my Fridays.

I begin my Fridays spending time with Jesus. I set my gaze upon him and reflect on his life and ministry. I read Philippians 2:5-11 and begin to focus my day and life on following his example. I pray cross centered prayers from the Book of Common Prayer (ACNA 2019)

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your son our Lord. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your name. Amen.

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Throughout the day, I fast from food. There are many aspects to fasting and people have written lengthy books on the topic, so again there is much that could be said here. I fast to experience some minor physical suffering while reflecting on Jesus’ physical suffering on the cross. I fast to experience the pains of hunger so that during the hunger pains I may focus on hungering and thirsting for God and his righteousness. I fast to devote my body to God and depend on his life-giving sustenance. I fast to discipline my physical urges. I fast to stand in solidarity and pray for people who are starving throughout the world. I fast to give up something in order to make room for God to work in my life and to make room for joy as a result of God’s work. I fast because Jesus fasted, and he explained to his disciples that with prayer and fasting comes power to confront evil (Matt 17:14-21).

My Fridays are also marked by labyrinth walks. A labyrinth is an elaborately designed meditative or prayer path. I walk the path with God towards the center releasing to God all my concerns, fears, trials, desires and sins. I arrive at the center and focus on receiving God and receiving his blessings. I reflect on his provisions with gratefulness and thanksgiving. I listen for anything that God might want to say or show me. Then, I re-walk the path with God with renewal, restoration and rejoicing. I focus on re-entering my Christian life with all that I have received and experienced at the center. I re-imagine my life lived with God.  It is at the labyrinth where on this Friday, my Friday structure intertwined with a ministry experience.  

When I arrived to walk the labyrinth, there was a young man in the distance sitting with his back towards the labyrinth. Typically, I am the only person in this secluded area, so him being there was a unique situation. I began my walk and a few minutes into my practice, the young man’s parents arrived which immediately started a heated argument. I kept walking. They were having a conflict about the young man’s drug abuse that has been going on for years. He had been to treatment several times and his parents were demanding that he admit himself to a treatment program today. I kept walking and started praying for this family. There was a fast approaching time deadline for the young man to enter the prearranged treatment program. The family was in a power struggle. They argued back and forth in a circular pattern.

I have a history of working with youth and families in crisis, so the longer the conflict went on, I started praying and thinking about intervening. I kept walking and started to sense that maybe this was a divine appointment for God to use me in this family conflict. I don’t typically interject myself into this type of scenario, and I considered minding my own business and just leaving after my labyrinth walk. However, I sensed that God was giving me the words to introduce myself to the family and giving me a strategic approach if they were willing to let me sit with them for a while. I felt I had to be obedient to God and trust that he might be up to something in this situation.  The setting, timing and issue along with my sense of preparation was extraordinary.

I stepped out in faith and obedience, and the family allowed me to speak and listen to them. The young man was attentive, and we had a productive conversation. I could tell that he was challenged, and that he was reflecting on the things we were discussing.  I was not going to solve all the family’s issues, but I was a different voice and perspective to change the dynamic of the interaction. The family still had work to do, and they still had to figure out the treatment program option and timeline. I encouraged the family and departed, trusting that God would somehow use my intervention to help the young man and his parents.

This was not a typical Friday. After reflecting on the day, I am amazed how everything works together. I believe that God used the structure of my Friday to prepare my heart and my mind to minister to this family. God leading me to focus on Jesus and on his example enabled me serve and support this family. God leading me in the spiritual discipline of fasting enabled me to be more dependent on him and to confront the undergirding evil that has gripped this young man. God leading me to practice walking with him enabled me to help this family with their journey.

This is a Friday reflection because it’s a unique Friday, but this type of scenario can happen on any day. May we remember that God is always at work and that he will use every aspect of our lives to work all things together for his good purposes.    

A Friday Reflection: Deliverance

Deliverance has been on my mind for several months now. I suppose my reflection started from a pastoral posture while thinking of the people I know and the people I support who are experiencing or have been through severe violence, turmoil, challenges, grief, illness, pain and suffering. I groan for their rescue, removal and escape from these things. My reflection also has focused on my own life and circumstances. I too need deliverance from troubles, disappointments, fears, dangers and sins. Moreover, I look out into society and see the unfathomable chaos, the rampant evil, the seething anger and the extreme division, and I am wobbled saying: “We need deliverance!”  “How will we escape this?” “Who will rescue us from our condition?” 

There are many voices trying to address, protest, change and solve personal and societal challenges. Deliverance is offered through various means. There is the overprescribing of and the overdependence on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications in place of real deliverance and profound transformation. There is the overindulgence in distractions and the shirking of the issues. There is the notion that a political party or a social justice group will lead us out of bondage and into the utopian plains. There is the riotous protesting that demands justice and reparations. There is the increase in gun sales for self-protection against violence. There is the prideful self-reliance by humans that they can lift themselves out of the slimy pit. 

These responses cannot deliver true deliverance because only God is the deliverer of true deliverance. Only through God and through the means of God does true deliverance happen. This was the experience of the Israelites when God delivered them out of Egypt and when God delivered them throughout history from danger, illness, trouble, fear, sin and death. God directly delivered and used people as deliverers (i.e. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, the judges, Samuel, Saul, Jonathan and David). 

God’s deliverance was the song of David when he sang,

Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people (Ps 3:7-8)

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (Ps 18:2)

God’s deliverance was the prophetic promise by Jeremiah and by Daniel when they declared,

The Lord said, “Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose; surely I will make your enemies plead with you in times of disaster and times of distress (Jer 15:11).

“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book (Dan 12:1).

God’s ultimate deliverance is through the salvation deliverer, Jesus, the anointed one who came and preached good news to the poor, release for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). God-the Son became incarnate in order to suffer and die so that those who are in bondage to sin, evil and death would be set free and rescued from ‘the Devil,’ ‘the present evil age,’ ‘the domain of darkness’ (Heb 2:14-15, Gal 1:4, Col 1:13). After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, his deliverance ministry continues by God-the Holy Spirit and through the ministry of the Church being guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Triune God is still delivering people from all kinds of circumstances, conditions and perils. As 2 Peter 2:9 states, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.” God has been delivering people for a long time.

God will deliver people spiritually, emotionally and physically in this life and in the life to come. Thus, we should pray for deliverance as Jesus taught us to pray (…lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. Matt 6:13). We should cry for help and trust in him and wait patiently for him to lift us up out of the mud and the mire (Ps 40:1-3). We should rely upon him to heal our suffering, to calm our fears, to transform our lives. We should be careful not to look to other gods (means) for deliverance. Rather, we should delight in God’s deliverance and give thanks and praise to him (1 Sam 2:1, Ps 30:11-12, Acts 3:8). 

May we look to God for deliverance. Open our hearts to him. Receive him and receive from him. Come to Jesus. Be delivered. No matter how much suffering. No matter how much guilt. No matter how much anger. No matter how much rioting.  

A Friday Reflection: Playing with Words

In her book, entitled Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, Marilyn Chandler McIntyre writes about stewardship strategies for using words in various forms of communication. Her #10 strategy involves the concept of play in the communication process. She encourages a ‘free play of the mind’ as a precursor to the ‘process of playing around with words’ in communication. According to McIntyre, creative wordplay is often overlooked by communicators, which is unfortunate “[b]ecause to play with words is to love them, delight in them, honor their possibilities, and take them seriously.” McIntyre gives examples of playing with words and how wordplay may be used to inspire, encourage and entertain, which initiated my own ideas on examples and experiences with wordplay.

I thought of a few wonderful examples of wordplay in Holy Scripture. The first chapter of Jeremiah describes God’s call of Jeremiah to prophetic ministry, and v.11 states, “[a]nd the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”

Lost in the English translation of this text is a Hebrew play on words. God gives Jeremiah a vision of an almond branch which in the Hebrew text is rendered שָׁקֵ֖ד, shāqēd, almond branch. Then, God responds using the Hebrew word שֹׁקֵ֥ד, shōqēd, I am watching over. In Hebrew these words look and sound alike and have similar meanings. The vision of an almond tree is significant because it was the first tree to bloom in the spring. It was used in the watching for the spring. Thus, as people watch the almond tree for the realization of spring, God watches over his word for the fulfillment of his promises.

I like to imagine that in this interaction Jeremiah may have smiled and said something like, “God, I see what you did there with the wordplay.”  Or maybe Jeremiah collapsed to the floor with amazement at the profoundness of the wordplay. Whatever Jeremiah’s response, I think God was playful with words to address the challenging reality of Jeremiah’s call to preach the message of judgement and of hope and renewal, “to pluck up and break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). The people needed to know that past prophetic declarations of judgement and renewal would come true. God would watch for the spring-like moment, the first opportunity to carry out his word. The people needed to be reminded that like their watching the almond tree, God was watching them, and they needed to watch for God as he fulfilled his word.

A New Testament example of wordplay is in Matthew 16:18 which reads, “[a]nd I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” In the English text, the name Peter is derived from the Greek name Πέτρος, Petros which also carries the meaning of a stone or a rock. Moreover, in the Greek text the word πέτρᾳ, petra, stone or rock is used. Here we see similar looking and sounding words with similar meanings. With this knowledge, the reader may smile and say, “Aha, I see what you did there Matthew!” Or if one believes in the divine inspiration of Matthew, “Aha, I see what you did there God through Matthew!”

I acknowledge this is a notoriously debated passage between Roman Catholics and Protestants, specifically regarding the topic of the Pope. Sorry, I won’t be commenting on or resolving this debate, and I wish I could come up with some playful words to transition, but I got nothing. This is a strategy that I am just starting to learn, but I digress.

Regardless of how readers interpret this passage, I think we should recognize and appreciate the personal and powerful play on words within the broader textual context that also has a personal and powerful message for those confessing that Jesus is the Christ. Amid this profound and mysterious passage, God deemed it fitting to be playful with words to encourage and inspire and maybe even bring a smile to our faces. There are many other examples of wordplay in the Bible, and I think we should explore them, learn from them, enjoy them and share them with others. By doing this, I believe that we will develop God-like wordplay fruitfulness in our communications with others.

Personally, I have little experience or examples of being playful with words, so I will close with the example of a past colleague and friend named Bridget. I worked with Bridget in a homeless youth program where she is the founder and executive director. She has decades of experience serving youth experiencing challenging circumstances, but she always finds a way to make them smile. One way is by using wordplay. When I worked alongside her, she often used catchy limericks or a playful use of words that would stop youth (and me) in their tracks and jolt them into a positive and happy mood. I thought this was just something she did. Just a funny characteristic. Now, I think there is more to it. I think it is a gift that she has and a skillful strategy that she has developed. I think she knew something that I did not know at the time, that is, the power of the playful use of words. She has impacted hundreds of young people through wordplay, and so I think she stands among the great users of logopoeia (word creation). Bridget is an inspiration and an example of McIntyre’s strategy on the playful use of words which instigated this blog post.

Thus, with the examples in McIntyre’s chapter, the examples in the Bible and the example of Bridget, I am confident that I too (and others) can develop the strategy of wordplay in my communications with others.  This will no doubt take practice. As McIntyre states regarding wordplay, “Try it out. Spin it out. Play it out. See how it feels.” Now that’s grandandioadvice!  

Caring for Words

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.- James 1:19

It was said about Abba Agathon that for three years he carried a pebble around in his mouth until he learned to be silent. – From Desert Wisdom: Sayings From the Desert Fathers

A word with power is a word that comes out of silence. A word that bears fruit is a word that emerges from the silence and returns to it. -Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart

In the age of social media there are a lot of words being used, sometimes for good and sometimes to the detriment of a whole nation. Words are important, and we should learn to care for words. However, we should first reflect on silence and listening before strategizing about loving and using words. I think active and attentive listening is a primary language of loving others well and of effective communication. We listen by first being silent, and we learn to be silent in the silence and solitude with God. How do we care for words? By entering the silence. By learning to be silent. By speaking and writing out of the silence on what we have heard, experienced and learned in the silence.

A Tribute to My Parents (50th Anniversary)

This is a theological essay on marriage as a tribute to my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary.

Christians believe in one God in three persons. A Trinity in unity. God is a being. God is personal. God is loving. Thus, God is a relational being and from this nature, God created human beings in his own image. The image of God in humans includes various aspects while primarily corresponding to the loving, relational life of God-the Father, God-the son and God-the Holy Spirit. Humans were created to participate in this divine relationship. They were created to lean into the Trinity’s loving embrace, to experience the magnificent glory of the Godhead and to enjoy and to be completely satisfied in the Triune goodness. 

In the Genesis creation narrative, Adam begins his life journey without a suitable relational companion and helper. Then, God declares the relational truth about humanity, that it is not good for the human to be alone. God recognized Adam’s capacity for relationship as an image bearer and his detrimental isolation among the animals. Adam needed companionship with a distinct-yet-corresponding other. He needed belonging and togetherness within a peer community. God responds to Adam’s situation by creating another human (Eve) to relate with and to experience life’s journeys with. When Adam encounters another human, he responds with joy and relief uttering, “Finally! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! Name her Woman, for she was made from Man” (Gen 2:23). Eve fulfilled Adam’s capacity for human relationship and vice versa Adam for Eve.

God created humans, male and female. He blessed them and commissioned them to “[b]e fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). Within the blessing and the commissioning of humans, God instituted marriage between a man and a woman for future generations. The aside statement of Genesis 2:24, “[t]herefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” describes the man’s new primary loyalty to and loving embrace of his wife and the profound ‘one-flesh-ness’ unity of marriage. The ‘one flesh’ meaning of marriage involves one man and one woman in one fully shared life whereby the two become a new God-designed, God-purposed, God-supported and God-guided ‘one life.’ It is a committed, exclusive and lifelong partnership. This ‘one flesh’ union becomes the most profound bond that exists between two human beings.

The marriage relationship reflects the image of the triune God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are intimately relating equal and distinct persons of the same nature and essence with different roles in the pursuit of a glorious common purpose. The Father loves and leads; the Son submits and redeems; the Holy Spirit proceeds and sanctifies. Likewise, husbands and wives are of the same nature and essence while being equal and distinct with unique roles for a common purpose. The husband loves and leads, the wife yields to and supports her husband’s leadership and together they go out into the world as a sanctifying presence.

Throughout the Old Testament, marriage is used to describe the relationship between God and Israel. God is described as a husband declaring his marriage vows to his wife Israel. God speaking through the prophet Ezekiel states, “I came by again and saw you, saw that you were ready for love and a lover. I took care of you, dressed you and protected you. I promised you my love and entered the covenant of marriage with you. I, God, the Master, gave my word. You became mine” (Eze 16:8 MSG). The prophet Isaiah states, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name” (Isa 54:5). Jeremiah 2:2 describes Israel’s early faithfulness by using the marriage metaphor, “Thus says the Lord: I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.” While celebrating the intimacy between a married couple, the Song of Solomon is also a marriage metaphor about God and his people. The people of God are the beloved of God, and God’s desire is for them. 

The Old Testament prophets also describe Israel’s unfaithfulness as a broken marriage covenant, which led to a form of divorce between God and his people. Jeremiah 3:20 states, “But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,” declares the Lord.” Hosea 2:2 states, “But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—for she is no longer my wife, and I am no longer her husband. Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.” However, speaking through the prophets, God calls Israel to return as his bride (Jer 3:12-14) and promises to restore the marriage relationship (Isa 62:4-5).

The metaphor of the marriage relationship between God and his people extends to the New Testament. In John 3:29, John the Baptist describes himself as the best man who eagerly waits and listens for the arrival of the bridegroom, knowing that upon hearing the voice of the bridegroom there is great joy. John the Baptist explains that he experiences such joy because Jesus has arrived as the bridegroom. Jesus also refers to himself as the bridegroom throughout his ministry (Matt 9:15 pp Mark 2:19-20 pp Luke 5:34-35; Matt 22:2; 25:1-13).

While teaching on marriage, the Apostle Paul identifies marriage as a ‘profound mystery’ revealing Christ’s marriage relationship with the church. Paul points to parallels between the marriage of a man and a woman and the ultimate marriage of Christ and his church. As a husband and a wife are ‘one flesh’ in marriage, Christians are members of Christ’s body. According to Paul, Human marriage is the earthly type, pointing towards the spiritual reality. Earthly marriages should reflect the heavenly marriage with Christ. Thus, husbands should love their wives with the sacrificial love that Christ has for the church, and wives should submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. Together a husband and wife have the sacred privilege of declaring through their union the greater profound union with Christ (Eph 5:22-33).

Human marriage is a good thing, but all human allegiance ultimately belongs to Christ. There is no human marriage in heaven. The heavenly kingdom with Christ is the marriage. The Apostle John writes, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband”(Rev 21:2). The heavenly multitude shouts, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear”(Rev 19:6-8). 

In view of the theological aspects of marriage, here are some practical points about marriage. First, marriage cultivates spiritual formation. Marriage is one way in which the Holy Spirit transforms people into the image of Christ. Through marriage, the Holy Spirit sanctifies, heals, challenges and blesses people. Second, because of sin entering the world and its effect on the human condition, no marriage is perfect. Every marriage involves work and the giving and receiving of grace and mercy. Couples must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and grow their marriages. Third, marriage is the intended context for raising children. Marriage is the nucleus of the family. Children need a mother and a father in the home. They need the commitment, exclusivity and stability that a marriage relationship provides. Fourth, marriage is the most basic and instrumental social relationship for the welfare of society. Without marriages, society will collapse. Thus, marriage as God has designed and purposed must be upheld. 

For 50 years, my parents have emulated many of the theological and practical aspects of marriage. They are a testimony of God’s intention for marriage and of God’s faithfulness to married couples who set their gaze upon and follow Christ.

A Friday Reflection: Love, Mercy and Patience

So stubborn, so irritable, so rough around the edges, and yet so loved. Always shrinking back, always making excuses, always pursuing my own way, and yet always being wrapped in mercy. Slow, lazy, distracted, and yet patience abounds.  

Oh, the goodness of God in our lives. His love, mercy and patience is abundant. God is not exhausted with us in our feebleness and shortcomings. Rather, he is eager to meet us in the hideousness. He is willing to look past our faults and embrace us with compassion. He is desirous to walk with us in our slowness and to guide us in his ways and in the works he has prepared for us to do. 

In fact, God wants to be with us and bless us with his goodness so much that God-the Son entered the broken and sin ravished world in order to reconcile it to himself. He pitched his tent among us. He became incarnate. He became the God-man, Jesus. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6). Jesus was born to be the savior of the world. He was born to become a substitutional sacrifice for us. He was born to conquer sin and death. 

As Christians, we celebrate this birth. We celebrate the incarnation. We celebrate Jesus. While we celebrate, let us reflect deeply on the meaning of Jesus, and let us prepare and open our hearts to receive God and all his goodness. May we see the ways God has shown and is showing himself to be loving, merciful and patient.

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: 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.