Saturday, November 27, 2010


‘Tis the season, at least in the U.S., to get together with family and eat turkey and give thanks.

I like #1 and #3. Good ideas. Don’t care much for #2, the bird of the week. I’d rather have dead cow! But the desserts were great.

So I engorged … and gave thanks.

I have been blessed. Indeed! Dad, brother, sister-in-law, and nephews. And my other, adopted family in Dallas.

For this reason I bow my knees
before the Father,
from whom every family
in heaven and on earth
derives its name.
Ephesians 3:14–15

I’ve been blessed.

I was thinking about all this and working on a passage in Mark that has a lot about family. Jesus redefines what it means to be part of family—His family.

And He came home,
and the crowd gathered again ….
When His family heard of this,
they went out to take seize Him;
for they were saying,
“He is out of His mind.”
Mark 3:20–21

Wow! His family thought Jesus was crazy! This is the group of people you’d have thought would be “in” with Jesus. Hey, they are genetically related to him, aren’t they?

But notice where they are. They are “outside.” Insiders we’d expect them to be; and genetically, inside they are; but physically, they are standing outside. And what’s worse, they accuse Jesus of being “out” of his mind. So where are they morally?

They are trying to “seize” Him. That’s a hostile word in Mark: Herod “seizing” John the Baptist; Pharisees trying to “seize” Jesus; and the religious leaders “seizing” Jesus to have him killed. And here, the family—His family!—is seeking to “seize” Jesus!

There they are again, still standing outside.

Then His mother and His brothers arrived,
and standing outside
they sent word to Him
and called Him.
Mark 3:31

Now the crowd around Jesus gets into the act. They’re feeling uncomfortable.

A crowd was sitting around Him,
and they said to Him,
“Behold, Your mother and Your brothers
are outside looking for You.”
Mark 3:32

And Jesus uses the moment for a powerful lesson on family—His family.

Answering them, He said,
“Who are My mother and My brothers?”
Mark 3:33

Yeah, who are they?

Looking about at those
who were sitting around Him,
He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers!
For whoever does the will of God,
he is My brother and sister and mother.”
Mark 3:34–35

Finally we get to the real “insiders”: Jesus’ family is made up of those who do the will of God.

It is not just the Twelve alone who are in the coterie of insiders, but anyone who does the will of God; indeed, Jesus uses deliberately inclusive language with His addition of “sister”—there was no mention of a sister in His physical family. Nobody said anything about a sister. But there it is; suddenly, “sister.” That addition by Jesus is pointed: it marks out the fact that anyone who does the will of God is an “insider”—part of Jesus’ family, a disciple!

And the condition for being part of His family of disciples: obedience to the will of God. That of course begins with placing one’s trust in Jesus Christ as one’s only God and Savior.

For you are all sons of God
through faith in Christ Jesus.
Because you are sons,
God has sent forth
the Spirit of His Son
into our hearts,
crying, "Abba! Father!"
Galatians 3:26; 4:6

Families—what a blessing! The real one! And the adopted one! And the eternal one!

Saturday, November 20, 2010


A strange thing happened a couple of Saturdays ago. The Opera Company of Philadelphia celebrated National Opera Week in a very special way.

The Opera Company’s Chorus plus over 600 singers from area choirs invaded Macy’s at Philadelphia’s Center City. That store, you might want to know, was once upon a time Wanamaker’s department store, one of the first department stores in the United States.

You also gotta know that the largest operational pipe organ in the world—the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ—is located in, of all places, this Macy’s, situated in a vast 7-storey court.

And so … the choral invasion of Macy’s a couple of Saturday, October 30.

600+ singers, a magnificent pipe-organ—an infiltration. The choristers blended in with the crowd of close-approaching-holiday shoppers. And, unbeknownst to the throngs of spenders, on cue, they broke into Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.


For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Suddenly and without warning comes the powerful notes … and words … and the truth of this chorus. Invading the mundane lives we live, the humdrum of our routines, the tedium of our hours and days and weeks. “Hallelujah,” indeed.

The LORD will reign forever,
Your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the LORD!
Psalm 146:10

I must confess it gave me goosebumps, when I saw the video the first time. (The only thing that’s better is the Dallas Seminary community singing its official hymn: “All Hail the Pow’r of Jesus’ Name” (Diadem).

But this was wonderful! What an astounding thing to hear, all of a sudden, from all around you:

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ.

Quoting from the book of Revelation.

… and He will reign forever and ever.”
Revelation 11:15

He will. Yes, He will! Hallelujah!

And on His robe and on His thigh
He has a name written,
“King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
Revelation 19:16

Amen! And amen! Hallelujah!

You can hear and see the Philly Opera Company’s unusual performance and the wonderstruck crowd’s responses here. More than 3 million have seen this item on youtube—it’s gone viral. Apparently, this year, only one other submission—about a record pot bust in New Jersey—has been viewed by more people. “Just beautiful,” said one commenter. “Brought tears to my eyes,” said another. “Perfect way to start the Christmas season,” gushed a third. “Would love to have been there,” voiced one. And it “[g]ave me goosebumps, hooray for the ‘Random Act of Culture’!” came from another.

“Random” whaaaaaaat? Did I hear “Random Act of Culture”?????

That’s the only sad note in this symphony of Hallelujahs: Macy’s and the Opera Company and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation—the sponsors of this Hallelujah surprise—designated this remarkable event a “Random Act of Culture.”

Sad, because this label likely reflects what most thought of this powerful piece by maestro Handel—just another aesthetically inspiring chunk of “culture.” No more!


I hope most of those who sang and most of those who heard recognized what was being sung and what was being heard—that the King of kings and Lord of lords is coming to reign. He is!

And the government will rest
on His shoulders; ….
There will be no end to the increase
of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David
and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it
with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
Isaiah 9:6–7

The Lord omnipotent reigneth! Hallelujah!

Saturday, November 13, 2010


The other day, I walked into the room of a patient. A sprightly young lady. “You don’t know me,” she said, “but I know you.”

“Yeah?” I asked, on my guard. What had I done wrong now?

(It’s that guilty conscience, you know, which—along with cricket being played on the other side of globe—keeps me awake at night. Guilt and cricket. Nice combination!)

Anyhow, I was wondering what I was getting into. I sat down.

And what I heard made my day!

Apparently this patient of mine had gotten a divorce from her husband a year ago. She goes to church. He doesn’t—he wasn’t a believer. She is. And I happened to be preaching in her church earlier this year. That particular Sunday, her ex-husband turned up.

Yours faithfully preached (I’m not even sure what!). And that gentleman—Mr. Ex-H, got saved!

He placed his trust in Jesus Christ as his only God and Savior, believing that Jesus had paid for his sins on the cross, dying for him. A miracle.

For God so loved the world,
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him
shall not perish,
but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Life changed. Dramatically.

I’ll cut to the chase. My patient and her ex are dating again. And I was told that I could expect a wedding invitation soon. Correction: a “re-wedding” invitation.


But then again, maybe not so amazing. Why should I be surprised that God’s Word works? And works in amazing ways?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel,
for it is the power of God
for salvation
to everyone who believes.
Romans 1:16

Indeed, it is the power of God! And preaching is the instrument of God. And all who proclaim, formally and informally, the agents of God.

For the word of the cross
is foolishness
to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved
it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18

No, no reason to be amazed at all. Delighted, yes. Gratified, sure. Thrilled, of course. Amazed, not really!

God had already made it clear a long time ago that His Word is potent.

We preach Christ crucified,
… to those who are the called,
both Jews and Greeks,
Christ the power of God
and the wisdom of God.
1 Corinthians 1:23–24

Now the fact of the matter is that we don’t always experience the potency of God’s Word or see its punch or recognize its profit as we proclaim. Yes, I learnt about what had happened in this couple’s life about a year after I had preached.

But I am thankful for being told what God had done in and with and through His Word. Made my day!

So for those who are faithfully proclaiming, from pulpit, from office, from classroom, from coffeehouses, from kitchens, …, keep on. Keep on. God’s Word is efficacious.

“For as the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
And do not return there
without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower
and bread to the eater;
So will My word be
which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding
in the matter for which I sent it.”
Isaiah 55:10–11

God’s Word. Always potent. Never powerless.

We might not see immediate fruit, instant results, imminent change. But God is working. And His Word is always vital, never void.

Let’s keep preaching, proclaiming, promoting God’s Word.

The efficacious power of God ….

Saturday, November 06, 2010


Those are his digs. The Pope’s, I mean. AKA appartamento pontifici. It’s that grayish building on the right as you stand in St. Peter’s Square, right behind the massive colonnades of Bernini. On the top floor, the last window on the right is his bedroom. The window on the left is that of his study. Apparently if you visit the Square at night as a Poping Tom (nope, not original with me!), you can spot the midnight oil being burnt by Benedict XVI. On some Sundays, the Holy Father himself appears at the window to bless the throngs below.

That’s where he lives. And from there he surveys his “kingdom”—the Holy See (from the Latin sedes for “seat”), the central government of the Catholic Church, kinda like the “Crown” in the British monarchy. The Holy See dates back to the first century. It is an curious entity that has authority and jurisdiction and sovereignty to govern a worldwide constituency of Roman Catholics, while at the same time having neither permanent population nor a defined territory.

There is Another that has a worldwide—nay, universe-wide—jurisdiction. In a sense all people are under him and all territory his.

God highly exalted Him,
and bestowed on Him the name
which is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow,
of those who are in heaven and on earth
and under the earth,
and that every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Philippians 2:9–11

Or as Isaac Watts wrote in 1719

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

He deserves this position. He created everything.

For by Him all things were created,
in the heavens and on earth,
visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or authorities—
all things have been created
through Him and for Him.
He is before all things, and
in Him all things hold together.
Colossians 1:16–17

One day, soon and very soon, this King will come and this Kingdom will be established.

And the government will
rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to
the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it
with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
Isaiah 9:6–7

He’s coming, to set things right.

But, even right now, he reigns as Head of the Church, the universal body of believers.

He is also head of the body, the church.
Colossians 1:18

He is the Head of the Church, because He redeemed His own.

Worthy are You …
for You were slain,
and purchased for God with Your blood
those from every tribe and tongue
and people and nation.
Revelation 5:9

So believers in Christ are in a curious state (pun intended). Part of a Reign that already is, but not yet.

Interestingly, this curious state is reflected in the Vatican. One can never be a citizen of the Vatican alone. The Pope, for example, is citizen both of the City State of The Vatican as well as Germany. And appropriately enough, the Vatican issues only—yes, only—diplomatic passports. All of its 500-odd “citizens” are technically diplomats.

So are we, the citizens of the already, but not yet. Diplomats representing the King.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:20

Let’s go live for the Kingdom.