Millions in this country will be celebrating Easter this Sunday. Either masses of people are delusional for believing a dead person became alive, or it really happened, and the implications are far-reaching. In any case, no one can possibly ignore Easter.
And I hope you experience a “confusing” Easter this Sunday. Let me explain.
Last night we had a worship band practice. During prayer time, someone prayed that God would act in such a way that we cannot attribute the reason to anything else other than God in action. And fellow band member Ted prayed, “God, when we come together to celebrate Easter, please confuse us! Confuse us!”
I loved that prayer. It reminded me that a few weeks ago, a pastor showed this viral video to us to make a point:
The video’s really funny (and I feel bad for those drive-thru workers). And it’s a great illustration for how confusing it could be to see God working — because if the car is moving and no one is driving it, how else can you explain it?
In the same way, I hope this Easter Sunday, you will be confused as well. Not just confused intellectually that someone might have risen from the dead, but also confused how a God could go to this length to rescue us, and confused how God loves us.
May you all have a confusing Easter Sunday.
When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)
Ever since mid-November of 2012, members of our family of six have been suffering from sickness, one after another, with at most a few days of reprieve in between. It’s been a tough few months, especially while taking care of an infant. Reading Wendy’s Facebook timeline from the last few months, it was like our house was a constant war zone — and I’m not sure this thing is over or not. Yet this journey has taught me a somewhat surprising lesson.
At the beginning, it was mostly the three older kids who got sick one by one — common cold during the winter season. After a month, Wendy started getting sick as well. Even the baby had some running nose. The younger kids then had another round of cold and flu symptoms. And when we got better, we let loose and ate some fried food, and then everyone started coughing and sneezing all through January. A couple of them even had eye infections.
It was around this time that we started thinking, “There’s no way we could be chronically sick for so long! There must be a reason!” So we started placing blame. “It must be that kid that came to our house that spread the germs to us!” or “We should not have eaten at that restaurant!” We thought about giving up the dog because we didn’t even have time and energy to take care of multiple sick family members. Friends chime in with their kind-hearted advice and help. Some offered us humidifiers. Others gave us aroma therapy. Wendy got some Chinese herbal medicine.
And then I started getting sick as well. After two months of pridefully thinking that I was immune to the “Chan family epidemic,” I got stuck with bad cough for over a week.
This week I got sick again. I knew I spent too many nights working late into the night. I felt a sense of achievement that I was able to resolve a bunch of home finance issues, and I finished filing the tax return in February! I also had to work overtime to meet the deadlines of a couple of projects at work, and I was catching up on an online TV show, so I stayed up quite late. On Thursday morning, I felt a bad headache. I also felt like I couldn’t regulate my body temperature. It was stupid of me to still drive to the office, only to leave early and come home to discover I had a fever. I felt chills and I felt my lack of sleep. I crashed in the bed and still felt pretty sick after hours of sleep.
And then I started getting into the blame game as well: “Perhaps the kids aren’t washing their hands thoroughly!” or “Why do I feel so cold! What’s wrong with our heater!”
It was at that moment that an innocent comment by Wendy woke me up: “Hey, look at what you’re wearing! You should be wearing a jacket!”
She was right. Why did I assign blame on other people when I should’ve been looking at myself? What went wrong? To start off, I trusted the satisfaction of my achievements (home finance, work assignments) more than God. On top of that, I wasted valuable rest time by watching some online show. I was prideful for thinking that I wouldn’t get sick, and now look where I am. And of course I should be wearing a jacket when it’s cold.
I read an article called “Can blaming others make people sick?” in which researchers find that if you harbor blame and bitterness, you’re more likely to get sick. But I think it’s more the other way round: when you get sick, you’re likely to try to blame other people for it.
I discovered Psalm 38, a peculiar psalm that speaks to me. Please read it. The psalmist was apparently suffering from lack of strength in his flesh and bones (v.3), headaches (v.4), wounds (v.5), depression (v.6), burning sensation (v.7), failing eyesight (v.10), lots of pain (v.17), etc. But the psalmist doesn’t think he should blame others (v.14). He thinks he’s sick because of his own sin (vv.3-4,18), his own foolishness (v.5), his restless heart (v.8), and perhaps it’s God’s will to discipline him (vv.1-2). Interestingly, his hope is not in medicine. What he realized he needed to do was to confess his sins (v.18) and to wait for God (v.15), because he is certain that God understands his sorrowful state (v.9), that God will answer (v.15), and that God is his Savior (v.22).
I heard a second-hand story about a pastor who suffered a sudden bout of sickness, such that his entire body was in pain. He tried to sleep, but his sleeping position gave him incredible pain. He tried sitting down, but it was painful as well. Standing up was uncomfortable. After some experimentation of different body positions, he finally found one and only one position which didn’t yield any pain — a kneeling position of prayer. It was like God was teaching him that the only way out was to rely on God.
We tend to blame others for our own problems not just because we’re physically sick, but spiritually sick. In fact, everyone is spiritually sick, because we all need Jesus to be our doctor (Matthew 9:12).
And the great irony is that Jesus, who is not sick, and who heals our hearts, does not blame others, but he takes the blame for all of us by dying for our sins on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). And that’s why he’s our most wonderful Savior.
Whenever my son Chase experiences something exciting — like a baseball game, a visit to the aquarium, or a fun birthday party — the next time he sees a friend, inevitably Chase would tell his friend all about what happened. As I watch him recount his exciting experience to his friend, I would think in my heart, “Son, you’re so predictable! I knew you were going to say that!”
But, hypothetically, what if I take Chase on a fun vacation trip, and then afterwards he wouldn’t even say a word about it to his friends? It would seem unnatural. I would question whether my child Chase actually enjoyed the trip in the first place. Because, for Chase, enjoying an event MUST lead to sharing with others about that event.
As a child of God, I can think of many other cases where one thing must lead to another.
Belief -> Action • • • If you ask most Christians, “Do you believe in the importance of prayer and studying the Bible?” You’d get a quick “Yes” response. But then why are our prayer and devotion lives usually so impoverished?
Saving faith -> Works • • • If you have saving faith, it must lead to good works, otherwise that faith is a dead faith (James 2:26) If a tree says “I am an apple tree! I am an apple tree!” But then you don’t see a single apple on the tree, you’d go, “No, you’re not an apple tree.” The right tree must bear the right fruit (Luke 6:43-45).
Worship God -> Forsake idols • • • A true worshipper will abhor the thought of idol worship. But Jesus knows our hearts and wants us to examine whether we are serving God or money, because one cannot serve both (Matt 6:24).
God loves us -> We love people • • • If you have received God’s rich love for you, you must love people as well (1 John 4:11-12).
Love God -> Obedience • • • It doesn’t make sense to love someone yet disobey that person habitually. So genuine love for God must lead to obedience toward God (John 14:15).
Touched by good news -> Share good news • • • This is similar to what Chase would do. If he has a cool experience, he’d like others to know about it too, and perhaps to come along with him. It’s natural for kids to do it, and it should be natural for us as well.
Can you think of other examples?
Reading the list above, you might feel bad for falling short. And I’d say that’s good. Why? It would be strange if anyone can read this list and think they’ve accomplished all of it. The fact that we admit that we fall short means we do not trust in self-righteousness.
I am not trying to put you through a guilt trip. Nor am I saying “Do more! Try harder!” Read the list again. Each of these can only happen in the indicated order. For example, you cannot muster enough strength and will power to love people unless you receive love from God first. So pay attention to the items on the left. All of these require resting on the basis of who God is or what Chist has done on our behalf.
And that’s just the amazing part of it. It’s never about our ability or performance. For our part, we are compelled by God’s overwhelming revelation of Himself, or his abundant outpouring of His grace, and we respond to Him according to the praise and glory He deserves.
“Of all I would wish to say this is the sum; my brethren, preach CHRIST, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme. The world needs still to be told of its Savior, and of the way to reach Him. …… We are not called to proclaim philosophy and metaphysics, but the simple gospel.”
— C.H. Spurgeon, “Lectures To My Students”, as quoted by Steve Miller in “C.H. Spurgeon on Spiritual Leadership”
One of my favorite stops at the Oakland Zoo is to see the gibbons swinging in the tree. The other apes and monkeys at the zoo live in cages and tend to mind their own businesses, but the gibbons are out in the open, living in a tree on an island, and they always make eye contact with the spectators, and giving us a good show of their acrobatic prowess on the tree branches.
And for me, the gibbons and their trees illustrate what discipleship should be. Let me explain.
What’s Wrong With Modern Discipleship
In many churches, “discipleship training” is treated as a program, a curriculum, or a method. Worse, sometimes there’s (an unbiblical) misunderstanding that one must go from being a “believer” to being a “disciple,” where the latter is somehow framed as a higher level Christian.
When I was a young Christian, I was encouraged to join a discipleship training couse, which consists of doing a fill-in-the-blanks workbook and meeting with a mentor every week to go over the workbook and to see how I’m doing. For various reasons, my meeting with the mentor lasted only two meetings. I ended up finishing the workbook by myself, and I felt like all I did was learning a lot of basic head knowledge.
As Trevin Wax suggested in his thought-provoking article “Discipleship Is More Than Conveying Information”, discipleship is not just about giving information to people, but also modeling the Christian life. In this way, we can fulfill the Great Commission’s call to discipleship by “teaching them to obey.”
But I think much is still left to be said. Discipleship does involve some teaching and conveying of knowledge, but what does that “knowledge” look like?
Let’s consider the subject of trees. How do we learn about trees? I remember learning about the Chinese word for “tree” in kindergarten, and later the English word “tree.” And then I got to draw trees and appreciate that trees are beautiful. A few grades later, I studied elementary-level science and we looked at the anatomy of a tree (roots, trunk, branches, leaves, etc.).
That’s all well and good. But that’s not how gibbons know their trees.
Gibbons invest their lives in trees. They live in the tree, and they play and swing around in the tree. They raise their families in the tree, and they enjoy their communities in the tree. The tree provides fruit — the gibbons’ main diet — and when fruit is not available, they eat of the tree’s bark, leaves, flowers, and young shoots. And when the heavens provide rain water, the tree leaves would hold some of it, and the gibbons will drink from it. The gibbons also rely on the tree for shelter and protection.
That’s quite a different manner from how we know trees. The tree means the whole world to these gibbons. It is everything to them.
Disciples: All In
Likewise, a disciple should be as one who follows Christ to the point that Christ is his/her everything. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
In the case of the disciple, the “tree” is the “cross” of Christ. A disciple is “all in” and completely dependent on the cross for his/her nourishment, dwelling, protection, etc. Because of this utmost dependence on the cross, nothing else is necessary. “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33)
Are we all in? And is this how we make disciples?
– Notes –
Acknowledgment: This post was inspired by C. H. Spurgeon’s illustration about the squirrel and the beech tree.
When God wanted to give someone a real compliment, that’s what He would call them: “My servant.” Flipping through the pages of the Old and New Testaments, you hear Yahweh giving praise like, “for the sake of My servant David”; “Have you considered My servant Job? No one on the earth is like him”; “My servant Jacob, … without fail I will save you,” and “Here is My Servant whom I have chosen, My beloved in whom My soul delights” …… As Andrew Murray said, “Being servants of all is the highest fulfillment of our destiny, as men created in the image of God.”