Category Archives: reproduction

why was Jesus born into SUCH difficult circumstances (or when we’ve become too used to the Christmas story)?

i grew up in the church and have heard the Christmas story countless times.  i’ve seen plays and movies of it, heard retellings of it, read it, studied it, meditated on it.  as with many things we’re repeatedly exposed to, Jesus of the Christmas story can easily become someone we can feel familiar with and touch over without him getting to our heart.  on top of this, with the commercialization of Christmas there has been a sanitizing of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth that can be easy to miss.

given that, as the gospel accounts make clear, Jesus was the God of the universe in human flesh, here are just some of the elements in the accounts of the arrival of Jesus into our world that seem peculiar at best and, at times, downright troubling:

1. the era of his birth – Jesus is estimated to have been born around 6 to 4 AD.

why was he born in such a “backwards” time?  why not when there would be better medical innovation and technology for health care and life expectancy?  why not when there would be the internet to make wider announcement of his arrival?  why not a time when Israel was in a better place politically, not under roman control and occupation?

2. the mother he was born to – Jesus was born to a poor dark-skinned palestinian-jewish teenage girl.

why wasn’t Jesus born to a mom with more experience, education, credentials, and financial/social status?

3. the father that would raise him: Jesus’ earthly father was not his biological father and was a poor worker in construction.

especially, if men at this time were the main financial breadwinners of the home, why was Jesus born into such a poor family? why into a home where the family business was manual labor (maybe in our modern times carpenters make more money but we know the family was most likely poor because when these young parents take Jesus to the temple all they could offer were pigeons for sacrifice, an offering reserved for those who were too poor to offer a lamb. we also know that by the time of Jesus’ death his father has most likely already passed away as the care of his mother mary was given to the apostle john.  if this was the case, that means joseph had probably already passed by the age of 50…this was not an easy life.).

4. the timing of his birth: Jesus was conceived by Mary BEFORE she was married to the person she was engaged to…and impregnated by a different Father.

yes, the virgin birth was what was supposed to happen according to the prophecy but why couldn’t God have sent an angel to Joseph to explain the circumstance while they were getting married and Jesus have been conceived AFTER they were married? at the very least, if the timing of the virgin birth were pushed back a little later this could have saved all of them them A LOT of shame of such scandalous talk and rumors, especially in such traditional times and a deeply religious culture.  what would it have been like for mary whose child’s origins were continually second-guessed and her explanation sounded incredulous and awfully self-congratulating?  what would it have been like for joseph to see his firstborn son and raise him knowing that he wasn’t the true father?  what would it have been like for Jesus to grow up being ridiculed as a bastard child?

5. the place he was born – he was born in a food trough in a stable that was most likely a cave.

why was Jesus, literally, born in such a disgusting place?  ok, so his parents couldn’t afford better accommodations on their trip to Bethlehem, but seriously, why wasn’t the savior of the world born where humans lived instead of being born where animals lived?

6. the announcement of his birth to shepherds – shepherds worked with animals so they were unclean and unable to participate in the religious activities of the temple.

out of the all the groups of people the “heavenly host” of angels could have arrived to why did they arrive to uncouth, stinky, and solitary shepherds?  why make a religious announcement to religiously unclean folks?  unclean folks who worked with animals and not just any animals but probably some of the stupidest and most easily frightened animals?

the circumstance of his most critical early years – king herod, in his paranoia of rumors of another king being born, ordered the massacre of all jewish babies to the age of two, forcing Jesus family to flee to egypt then back to nazareth after the king had died.

why was Jesus born during the reign of such a notoriously jealous and violent king?  couldn’t Jesus birth been delayed until king herod died?  why were he and his parents forced to become refugees to another country?  then move back into a no good ghetto like nazareth to be raised?  why all this transition in the most critical years of a child’s development?

 

why was Jesus born into such difficult life circumstances?  certainly not circumstances befitting any king of this world.  i have some thoughts and potential answers to these questions for which there isn’t enough time.  however, at least one things has become clear to me – Jesus is not afraid to identify with and live in our suffering.  the God of the universe came into our most scandalous, disgusting, and unpresentable places.  he chose to be raised and be identified with the most marginalized of people.  when we are broken by the suffering in our world and in our very lives, let the nature of his arrival be a light of hope to us.  could it be that the manner of his arrival was this intentional in order to know our suffering?

this is our Jesus.  this is our God who is with us.

jesus-poverty

Advertisements

How Do You Know the Bible is True?

With so much in doubt these days of what is true and who we can trust, it is of great significance to know if there actually is an objective standard of truth by which we can make sense of the world.  

It is claimed that the bible is such a document to guide us, even making the outrageous assertion that it is inspired by God himself “and is useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness.”  

Now, I am not ignorant to the fact that the bible has been used to justify all kinds of madness but I believe that is the fault of people that selectively handle the bible, not the bible itself.  In fact, research indicates that, even when adjusting for education, the more someone ACTUALLY reads the bible the more they will have socially just views (even correlated with leaning “politically liberal”…*gasp!).  And if you think science and religion are incompatible that is NOT what frequent bible readers believe.  Keeping this in mind, how then do we know if the bible is true (as in a reliable historical document as well as something worthy to help guide our lives)?  

THE SHORTER ANSWER

I know that the bible is true because it is like a LAMP* that guides me in the dark.  

LIFE = the bible is true to life, transcending differences.

ARCHAEOLOGY = archaeology confirms the historical accuracy of the biblical narrative

MANUSCRIPTS = manuscript copies confirm the reliability of the Bible

PROPHECY – no book comes close in fulfillment of predictive prophecy, demonstrating the bible’s supernatural inspiration

THE LONGER ANSWER

Here is an expansion of each of the four points above.  

1. LIFE – the bible is true to life, transcending differences.

The bible still speaks to us today even though its contents were written thousands of years ago. times and cultures may have changed but what it says about the human condition has not changed.  God has been inspiring people through the words of the bible, resulting in transformed lives throughout history even to this very day.  

There is a remarkable unity of ideas in the bible even though written by/in

  • different authors (kings, military leaders, peasants, philosophers, fishermen, tax collectors, poets, musicians, statesmen, scholars, shepherds),
  • different places (wilderness <Moses>, dungeon <Jeremiah>, palace <Daniel>, prison <Paul>, while traveling <Luke>, in exile <john>)
  • different times (war, peace)
  • different moods (joy, sorrow, despair, confusion, doubt)
  • different continents (Asia, Europe, Africa)
  • different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek)

 

2. ARCHAEOLOGY – archaeology confirms the historical accuracy of the biblical narrative

“It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference…the almost incredibly accurate historical memory of the Bible, and particularly so when it is fortified by archaeological fact” – Nelson Glueck (renowned Jewish Archaeologist)

Old Testament (OT) – some examples of biblical places and events confirmed by archaeological finds

  • City of Sodom and Gomorrah (bituminous pitch – brimstone plentiful at site)
  • City of Jericho (walls that usually fall inward here fell outward)
  • King David (wall past the pool of Siloam)
  • King Solomon (pomegranate temple ornament w/ inscription of God’s name)

New Testament (NT) – archaeological finds confirming the book of Luke for example

  • The Pavement (where Jesus was tried),
  • The Pool of Bethesda,
  • the Nazareth Decree (Imperial Decree not to disturb graves),
  • The Pilate Inscription (Pilate’s name and title),
  • Erastus inscription (Erastus that Paul mentions),
  • New Testament coins (mentioned in gospels indicating values)

 

3. MANUSCRIPTS – Manuscript copies confirm the reliability of the Bible

“to be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament books is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament.” – John Warwick Montgomery from History of Christianity

How can we trust that the bible that we have now is what was originally written?

The bible passes the test of the “3 Principles of Historiography”:

1) Bibliographical test (reliability of ancient texts are tested through: # of copies, time between copy to original, and variety of documents <languages, material on which it was written>)  

2) Internal Test – no major contradictions in text

3) External Test – other historical materials confirming testimony of the documents (other sources outside of bible that attest to Christian movement writings): from non-Christians

  1. Tacitus (Roman Historian of 1st century)
  2. Suetonius (chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian who reigned AD 117-138)
  3. Josephus (Jewish Historian AD 37-100)
  4. Pliny the Younger (Roman author and administrator wrote in AD 112)
  5. Lucian of Samosata (Greek writer of the 2nd century)
  6. Mara Bar-Serapion (Syrian writer between late 1st and early 3rd century)  

The Old Testament is reliable too.  

  • Accuracy of coping texts in the Jewish culture was part of their religion
  • The OT was translated into Greek before the birth of Christ (the Septuagint) so even more comparisons can be made for inconsistencies
  • Biblical texts, called the “Dead Sea Scrolls”, dated about 150 BC to 70 AD and representing most of the OT, were found in the 20th century that match much of what we currently have.   

Well, how was the bible put together and who decided what books to include?

There are 5 Principles to Recognize / Test What to Include in Canon (the standard)

“The church did not determine but rather discovered (recognizing divine authority) the cannon”

  1. Was the book written by a prophet of God? (In NT Jesus or Apostolic authorship/apostolic approval <John 16:13 Spirit’s promise, 2 Pet 3:16 Peter acknowledges Paul>)
  2. Was the writer confirmed by acts of God (Moses, Jesus, the prophets, apostles)?
  3. Did the message tell the truth about God? (rule of non contradiction)
  4. Does it come with the power of God? (transforming power)
  5. Was it accepted by the people of God? (people who knew the prophet or writer)

NT books as we have them today:  

Athanasius of Alexandria (AD 367) gave us the earliest list of books that is exactly like our present New Testament.  However it is important to know these books were already recognized, established, and quoted from by various early church leaders (ex. Polycarp AD 115, Justin Martyr AD 100) The councils merely put it into writing.        

OT books as we have them today:

The Jewish community had acknowledged it and we know of the discipline of the Jewish scribes through their Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures called the Septuagint (250-100 BC)

 

4. PROPHECY – no book comes close in predicitive prophesy, demonstrating the bible’s supernatural inspiration

“Other books claim divine inspiration, such as the Koran, the Book of Mormon, and parts of the Hindu Veda. But none of those books contain predictive prophecy.” – Norman Geisler and William Nix

Notable Examples of Predictive Prophecy:

Destiny of OT Cities “Every major city and virtually every nation within a thousand miles of Israel had its entire future prophesied by the Bible”  

  • Destructions of Tyre (Ezekiel 26 fulfilled in specific invasion by Nebuchadnezzar and later fulfillment by Alexander)
  • Destruction of Edom
  • Curse on Babylon
  • Destruction of Nineveh

Jesus Christ

  • the time, city, and nature of Christ’s birth as well as life, death, and resurrection, many beyond a person’s control were written centuries before he was even born (about 300 prophesies of the messiah) and fulfilled!  

BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR FURTHER STUDY

The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell

Truths that Transform by D. James Kennedy

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

*LAMP acronym courtesy of Rijin Lee

IMPLICATIONS

(2 Peter 1:16-21, 2 Timothy 3:16, Joshua 1:8)

If the bible is true, let us actually READ it and let it guide our lives.  

to my dear asian american brothers and sisters (an open letter)

i am writing to you as a fellow asian american.  i am writing to you as a fellow believer in Jesus through whom i also believe we share a special bond and understanding.  

i’ve been meaning to write this letter for some time.  i know it is not common in our custom to address issues head on but i am compelled by the model of our prophets and our master, Jesus, to call things out in our community, in us, in me before we find it is too late.  i believe we as a people have developed a blind spot in our faith: we are ignoring Jesus in ignoring the least of these.  

yes, i know i am speaking in generalizations.  there are certainly exceptions.  there are those fellow asian american brothers and sisters who are suffering in poverty and isolation as perpetual foreigners in america.  there are those of our asian american brothers and sisters who are laying down their lives to love the least, the last, the lost.  however, please, let us not be so quick to make ourselves (myself included) the exception.  let us take the time to fully consider the ramifications that we as a race in america are the most educated and most wealthy of all.  and from the ones much has been given much will be required.

why, am i saying that we are ignoring Jesus? i’ve pretty much grown up in the asian american church and have been cared for so well by my family in Christ.  however, in the past four years through my study of scripture, I have become convinced, that loving those in need is ESSENTIAL to being a follower of Jesus and is a fruit of true salvation.  by those in need i don’t simply mean those within our family, friends, and race (who even non-believers know to love) who may periodically be in such a place but rather those beyond our family, friends, and race (the people we don’t consider our “neighbors”) who may persistently be in such a place.  sadly, this kind of love has not been the tenor of what i was taught from the pulpit or modeled in the lives of my asian american brothers and sisters in the fellowships that i’ve been a part of.  

what does loving those in need, those that are different from us, have to do with ignoring Jesus? there is a terrifying passage found in matthew 25:31-46 that captures much of what i am addressing.  Jesus says that we will be in for a rude awakening when we see Him on that day to discover that in ignoring the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner we have ignored Jesus.  He says “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”  so closely does Jesus identify with the least in society that to disregard them is tantamount to insulting Jesus himself.  

we, as asian americans, work so hard to not find ourselves in such situations of need (which is a great thing) that we get as far away as we can from those who still find themselves in such situations of need (which is NOT the mission of Jesus).  i believe we as asian american believers have been so careful not to commit sins of commission (doing bad) that we have fallen into the sins of omission (neglecting good).  Unfortunately, the consequence for such neglect is not just a slap in the face to Jesus, it is eternal damnation!  again, i must clarify that i don’t believe Jesus is saying we must do good works to be saved but rather that we are saved to do good works.  good works is not the root of our salvation but it is the fruit of our salvation.  if we claim to know Jesus, we must know the heart of Jesus.  

i am saying this just as much to myself as i share this with you.  

i am grieved.  

yet, i am hopeful.  i am amazed by the way our people care for our own families.  the sacrifices our parents make to see we are provided for.  i am a recipient of such love and hope to love my children in such a manner. I believe God has put that into our culture.  

but what if we obeyed Jesus and loved our neighbors in need like our own families?  what if we loved our neighbor’s children as we did our own?

then the kingdom of God has come upon us.  

let us not ignore the cries of the least of these.  let us not ignore Jesus.

to my dear 24-year-old david (from 36-year-old david),

i know you’re in the midst of the hardest year of your life thus far.  it’s your first year of teaching…in the hood of south los angeles.  you probably don’t have much time to spare, so let’s just get right down to it.  

none of your friends or family, well meaning as they are, understand what you’re experiencing right now.  i do. because i’m you 12 years later.  your world is being turned upside down.  you’ve come from a quiet asian american middle class life.  and let’s be honest, nothing has really prepared you for this.  you are experiencing the brokenness of what poverty does to young hearts and minds on a daily basis; poverty that you didn’t even acknowledge existed right in your backyard.  you can’t escape it because it’s your job to face it and try to teach in the midst of it every day.  you are being smacked in the face with the reality that public education in the u.s. is neither equal nor fair…and most of society has turned it’s back on this corner of l.a. because it’s easier to ignore than to deal with.  you’ve never seen this sort of institutionalized dysfunction.  you’ve never experienced so much hate thrown at you.  you’ve never had to work to the point of exhaustion…not just physically but emotionally.

press in.

don’t escape.  i know it’s hard.  i know it’s hell.  but don’t give up.  these very years will be what builds in you a character of perseverance.  these very youth will be the ones that break your heart in the best kind of way to get you to really consider what matters to the heart of God.  but most of all these very experiences will be what opens your eyes to the fact that you desperately need God every day.    

press in.

yes, some of these students will ignore you, some of them will curse at you, some of them will even push you. consider that it’s not so much that they hate you personally but that they will project upon you all the pain and confusion they have experienced at the hands of adults that were supposed to care for them.  if you are going to follow your role model, Jesus, remember He loved those that didn’t love Him back well…and remember that is you, that is us.  

press in.

yes, i know you’re lonely and REALLY wish you had a girlfriend.  but think about it, is that really going to solve your problems?  if anything you’re either gonna escape HARD into this girl or you’re gonna treat her like crap because you’ve got nothing left to give or both.  no woman, no matter how awesome, is going to be in the classroom with you and give you what you need to stand in love and power in the midst of this.  only an infinite God can do that.  yes, a girlfriend’s nice (and yes she will come to you and you’ll marry her and she’ll be pretty rad) but now is not the time…there’s some inner growth in your relationship with Jesus that needs to happen before that or else you’re gonna wreck two people in the process.  and Lord knows we don’t need any more brokenness.

press in.

the work you’re doing now will prepare you for the work i’m doing now (aka the work you will be doing in the future).  this work you’re in now is going to lay the groundwork for and open doors that you’ve never even considered of God’s vision for justice; it will help you see the Word of God in a whole new light…even if i tried to explain it to you now i don’t think you’d understand or appreciate it without what you’re going to experience in the next couple of years.  with that said, i think there are a couple of things you could understand at this time.  

1) david, if you’re serious about disciple-making and leadership development you can’t do it remotely.  at least not effectively. Jesus spent TIME with his disciples and you can’t expect to walk with those you are leading if you don’t even live in the same neighborhood with them.  and that’s how leaders are developed…not just through teaching…it’s through living.  

2) lastly, you need a mentor if you’re going to mentor.  not just a mentor that reflects your experience.  have some humility to recognize you don’t know it all and you can’t do it by yourself.  you need a mentor who has experience loving and walking amongst the least of these, because that’s where you will find Jesus (Matthew 25:40).  sadly, there aren’t that many asian american men that are doing this work, so it’s not like you have a lot of choice…you’re gonna have to be mentored cross-race.  it’ll be awkward at first but don’t let your pride get in the way of your growth to learn from someone different than you.          

press in.  because Jesus did for you.  

a testimony of two Tavos

When I first met Tavito 4 years ago he was a junior higher who had only recently started to come to church with his family.   I remember how he’d share with me about getting teased about his belief in Jesus at school and struggled to forgive others that hurt him.  Even forgiving his father, Gustavo, who although had given his life to Jesus and was changing, Gus in his former life had hurt the family a lot with his anger.

Tavito (top row left) performing with his band
Tavito (top row left) performing with his band

I’ve gotten to know Tavito through youth group over the years and in this past year have had the privilege to mentor him. Even in the past year, I’ve been so encouraged by his faithfulness and growing courage to be more open about his faith and to care for others that are left out.  He has not only grown to forgive his father Gus but this past month they even got to minister together on a mission trip to Taxco, Mexico!   While they were there Gus sent me this message: “Tavito and I prayed for a blind woman and God healed her.”

God broke forth an amazing ministry of healing down in Mexico through members of our inner city church. Gus and Tavito shared how they’d be praying for people’s physical and emotional healing for hours. With the lady that was born blind they persevered in praying for her multiple times in one sitting and her healing progressed from seeing light to seeing her mother in front of her to seeing figures in the distance.  I challenged him to share with the youth group this past Wednesday about his experience.

Whereas a couple months ago I was concerned of Tavito’s distance from the youth group, he stepped in with God’s courage and shared with his peers (a big step for high schoolers who are so self conscious to what their peers think)!  Tavito is not yet some super experienced Christian guy but he’s opening to God’s grace working through him. I know that the teens seeing God touch one of their very own peers makes them long for more of Jesus.

After the youth group meeting Tavito, Phil (one of the local youth leaders I’m mentoring), and I talked about the spiritual atmosphere of the teen group, talked about the possibility of starting up a bible club at his school this fall of his senior year, and prayed for the youth of our community.  Tavito is not only acknowledging Jesus but is letting Him lead and thinking about the others Jesus wants to touch.  It was a beautiful moment I didn’t even imagine in my dreams.

God hears our prayers.  God is always at work.  There’s a harvest of the lost, the last, and the least that God still wants to reach.

happy 3rd birthday to my first born

big brother

you’ve made it through your terrible twos (kicking and screaming)!   you wanted to hit and spit on and most everything (often your younger brother), had countless crying breakdowns (you didn’t quite know that you could use words instead), had the most explosive solid-overflowing-your-pants sort of poo (which daddy made worse by pulling down to your feet), and got your first troubling note home from school (that gave mama some tears).

yet, this year you also learned to eat by yourself (downing that natto and ice cream as if your life depended on it), wash hands by yourself (with way too much soap), write letters of the alphabet (along with a bunch of other made up hieroglyphs), sing songs heartily (in japanese with your korean mom), share (some) of your food, make friends (esp with the ladies), and have actual conversations (your daddy gets a kick out of those)!

your top two interests in your twos were cactus and mannequins…yup, you’re a little weird…which I love about you!

here’s to hoping your year as a threenager will be gracious!

i can be pretty blind

this past month my heart has been heavy as i’ve looked out and see many of the men in our community either not stepping into life or even stepping away from life. addiction. apathy. busyness. complacency. resignation. shame.   these are just a few of the reasons why people do not choose into Jesus. me included. and it’s not always “bad” things that keep us from him and the life he offers us every day. in fact we might be giving ourselves to good things…it’s just that it keep us from seeing what is best…Jesus. i’ve been trying to pour into and pray over the men God has entrusted to me and it’s been disheartening when i don’t see response and change. ministry in the “hood” takes even longer as we must work through the brokenness of not only people (ministers included!) but the brokenness of generations of unjust systems. i’ve been thinking to myself “Jesus, didn’t you promise that if we come to you rivers of living water would flow from within us?” why don’t I see this?”

i can be pretty blind.  Jesus has been opening my eyes these days though.

gus, my brother in Jesus, shared God’s word yesterday from john 4 and from the testimony of God in his life. before Jesus, gus used to be a very angry man…he has sent people to the hospital in blackouts of rage. he was addicted to drugs and alcohol. his marriage was on the rocks. he thought he was a lost cause.  but Jesus did not. like the samaritan woman at the well, Jesus reached out to gus. first in the form of his wife, isabel, who stood by him as he overcame addictions. then a handful of years ago Jesus himself met him. then the deeper healing began. gus had deep pain in his life. one in particular was from when his daughter was born prematurely at 6 months and passed away after only a couple hours in this world. he was angry at God. in a time of prayer a few years ago Jesus revealed to gus God’s perspective: his daughter had a collapsed lung and should not have been able to live at all. God gave gus the gift to meet her and hold her for a couple hours.

gus is not a perfect man but i was reminded today (thanks lucy!) that Jesus’ living water IS flowing out of men like him. gus is a guy i just want to be around. he is a model of perseverance. he has had excruciating pain in his back from a work injury for years. yet he stands in God’s strength. as he has difficulty sleeping he mediates on scripture.  he essentially remodeled our church building. the young men of the high school football team look to him for advice. this is a man who essentially prayed that God would send him to prison and took that opportunity to share Jesus with inmates.   after he shared the word of God and his testimony, more than i have seen in months, men were drawn to the living water and stepped into Jesus by asking for prayer.

Jesus is awesome because he restores.

thank you Jesus for restoring my sight.