I recently realized something about myself. You may find this hard to believe, but I realized that I am no longer in the physical prime of my life. I watch other people in the movies like Daniel Craig jumping from rooftops or crashing through a wall and I think I can do that. Or Allen Iverson in the NBA, we are the same age and I watch his moves and they seem doable. Allen Iverson is a great athlete and I may not be at his level, but I can still hang. That’s my mentality when it comes to anything related to fitness or sports.
That’s why even my soph year I challenged someone in this room who shall remain nameless in a 1 on 1 basketball game in front of the whole church and I got skunked. But I am quick to forget the past. I am all about today. Forget that I eat unhealthy foods and I only exercise about once a month whenever some of the brothers play basketball after church. Forget reality. In my mind, I don’t need any help. I am just fine with me.
In high school, I read a bunch of books about fitness so I knew the physiology of the body and so I knew the mechanics of what I should do in the gym to keep myself fit. In college, I put all of that book knowledge into action and I exercised 4-5 times a week.
So I know about fitness. These days, I admit, maybe my fitness level could have dropped a notch or two, but in my mind, I am still one workout away from reclaiming the physical prime of my life. It’s just I haven’t put my mind to it. Because you know and I know that once I start to exercise regularly, it is game over. I know the routine. I can get myself back into shape without anyone’s help.
With this mindset, in the past month, I did something I thought I would never do. Twice. I ended up attending a spinning and a yoga class.
My boss’ wife is really into spinning and so there was this charity event for a private class with her spinning instructor and she won the auction so she invited the whole company to come spinning with her one afternoon. I wouldn’t normally volunteer for an hour of torture, but the class was held during work hours so I said alright.
In case you don’t know what spinning is, imagine a 1 hour long class of grueling bike riding at various tensions and speeds where your pedaling is synced to the beat of the song. I like bike riding but when I do it by myself, I bike at a nice leisurely pace, I take brakes, I go to starbucks. But in this class, you are clipped in so even if you want to stop, you can’t. And if you slow down, the instructor will call you out and I didn’t want to seem weak. Especially in front of my younger brothers, Atsuro and Jason from WLA, whom I work with. So I kept pedaling.
The yoga class was a similar experience. I was at 24 hr fitness on Veterans Day and I just randomly walked into a yoga class thinking it would be easy. Man, I don’t know what was harder. One hour of furious pedaling. Or one hour of furious body contortions. I have to hand it to those of you who do yoga – I never knew you could sweat so much just standing still.
Both classes taught me two key lessons. One, knowing is not the same as doing. I know it is good to exercise 3 times a week. I know it is good to eat fewer greasy foods and more fruits and vegetables. But knowing doesn’t mean that I do these things. Actually, I end up doing exactly the opposite. I eat greasy foods. I don’t exercise. I don’t eat enough fruits or vegetables. Second, I learned to appreciate the value of having a master trainer. Both classes were led by a master in their field.
The spinning instructor was a woman in her mid forties with toned muscles and veins popping out. And a yoga instructor was a younger woman who was a bit plump but solid. She could balance herself on one leg with the other leg in the air and arms reaching back to stretch the lifted leg for a very long time. On a side note, I realized that I have a yoga body type, not a spinner’s body type. I’m not chunky buff. I am just solid. Stable. Steady, like that yoga instructor. Whether it was spinning or yoga, I was completely surrendered to the trainers because they were the experts and I didn’t know anything about either sport.
I used to look down at those classes. That’s for the old overweight people who eat twinkies at midnight. Not for someone like me in the prime of my life. I used to think I am fine without the help of a master. But obviously, or maybe you can’t tell by looking at me, facts are facts. The weight scale does not lie. I am a tad heavier than I ought to be. My way of exercising for the past 10 years has not given me the results that I desire. And for the first time, I realized the benefit of yielding or surrendering to a master fitness instructor to achieve good health.
In that surrender, there was also repentance as I had to let go of all my wrong thinking that I was in shape, that I didn’t need help, that I could burn as many calories on my own as I could if I joined the class led by a master. The truth is I am lazy and if I were to work out by myself, I might not even make it to the gym because on the way one block from my house there is an In and Out and I smell the aromas from the burgers beckoning me to come in and fellowship with them. I need help.
Imagine if I started attending a yoga class regularly and I told the instructor, I need your help. I want to surrender to you, I will submit to whatever you tell me to do so that I can get into better shape. But as soon as the class begins, I keep interrupting the class saying you know, I don’t like that stretch. And I pick and choose what I want to follow. The result? I will be limiting what the yoga instructor can do in my life because though I say I surrendered to the instructor, but I have not really surrendered because I have not repented of my wrong thinking regarding fitness.
I think the same principle can be applied to our spiritual lives. Since the retreat, Pastor Daniel has been sharing about surrendering to God in prayer. And I have tried to do that. But as I surrender my life to God and say Lord, I am ready, teach me, use me, I realize surrender is not that easy because there is this battle raging inside of me because of my sin.
We know surrendering to God is the best thing, but knowing is not the same as doing. And that gap between what we know to be true and how we actually live can be called sin. We fall short. So in surrendering to God, we need to also repent of everything within us that regularly rebels and rejects what God asks us to do.
In other words, surrender needs to go hand in hand with repentance.
Pastor Daniel gave us the picture of praying with open hands. It is a tangible reminder of surrendering our lives to God. I’d like to add to that and in prayer to visualize an altar where we regularly lay down our sins as we approach the throne of grace in worship and bring our other petitions and requests to God.
And so today I’d like to talk about repentance.
I think the first problem is not knowing what to repent for. John 1 talks about the light of the world, Jesus Christ, coming into our darkness and how the darkness has not understood it. It’s like being in a dark room. The room might be filthy but as our eyes get accustomed to the darkness, we stop noticing all the mess that needs to be cleaned up. But Jesus comes to us through the Word of God and it’s like the light switch is turned on.
Have you ever been in deep sleep and suddenly the light is turned on and you are woken up. When that happens, our first instinct is to turn away from the light because it hurts our eyes. But once we overcome that initial pain of being exposed by the light, what happens? Our eyes adjust to the light and we begin to notice all the laundry under our bed, papers strewn all over the floor. The trash can that is overflowing. We begin to have a sense of problem – man, it’s time for me to clean.
King David certainly knew about repentance. He almost ended his life with a tragic mistake. In 2 Sam 24 which we read recently for DT, David conducts a census and he sees that he has 800,000 fighting men in Israel and 500,000 fighting men in Judah. That’s quite a formidable army. And next, we read that God is absolutely furious with David.
Did you ever wonder why God was so angry? It seems pretty harmless at first glance. He just wanted to see how many fighting men he had, like any other king. Why was God so angry? The bible does not give the answer directly. On the surface, we can assume that one reason God may have been angry is because David was beginning to shift his trust from God to the strength of his army. God, and not the size of Israel’s army, was the reason for past victories. Trust is one issue, but I think there is a deeper sin here.
In his success and wealth, at a time of relative peace, King David began to view others as a statistic. His fighting men became just a number to boost his ego and his sense of security. Look at what I have amassed, David must have thought to himself. 1.3 million soldiers, And he felt proud and secure.
At that moment, the universe revolved around him and people were just a pawn in David’s chess game called life. And God is so angry with this sinful way of viewing others. God punished not only David but also the people of Israel by sending a plague because he wanted to totally eradicate this kind of sinful thought pattern and to sear this lesson into the hearts and minds of his people so that they don’t repeat it. God wanted to teach David that life is not about him and his ego. It is about God at the center and shifting our attitudes and behaviors to match that of God’s. And specifically, since God views each and every person as a precious soul who needs to be loved and God wants us to view others in the same manner.
How do you view your life? How do you view others? Often, we fall into the trap David fell into and we forget that God ought to be at the center of our lives. We ascend to the throne of our own hearts and become rulers of our own lives. And when that happens, one of the first tragic consequences is that we begin to dehumanize people.
Think about all the wars throughout human history. It is one ruler looking at his army – okay, I have 250,000 soldiers so if I go to war against this neighboring tribe with only 150,000 soldiers, even if I lose 1 man for every 1 of theirs, I will still be 100,000 in the positive. That’s the basic calculation when it comes to war. Is my army bigger than yours? If so, let’s go to war. All for what? Many times, sadly, simply to satisfy a single ruler’s greed.
In LA, one of the first things that comes to mind is traffic. How do you view people when you are stuck in traffic. You are not seeing others as God sees them when you are bumper to bumper traveling at less than 5 miles/hr. People are reduced to mere obstacles on wheels that are slowing us down from reaching our destination. And when there is an accident, is your first thought, I wonder if that person is okay. Or is it great, now I’m really late for work.
The media certainly knows about our tendency to objectify people so only the most attractive and most handsome men and women are chosen to be on the big screen and we turn these larger-than-life celebrities and athletes into objects to entertain us.
What about all the vain guys out there who flaunt around their much younger wives. And what term do they use – they say, hey, look at my trophy wife? Trophy wife means that she is not really a wife for me to cherish and love but she is an object, a trophy, a prize to show off to others so that the husbands can feel good about themselves even though they are balding and overweight. And countless women are reduced to being just an object to be flaunted around town, like a shiny new sports car.
You see this mentality in the workplace all the time. Esp. if we have a difficult boss, the boss ceases to be human in our eyes. Instead, we reclassify them by their function in relation to us. They are no longer a person with a name and a story but we call them our “employer.” You see the difference? He is just a person who gives me a paycheck. This is his role in life, at least for me.
At the workplace, there is such a hierarchy. You have the money makers. Those who are bringing in all the business or have some special talent that is difficult to replace. And the employer sees these people differently from those who contribute less to the bottom line. The high achievers = money.
They can do no wrong. They could have the worst characters or personalities. They can come in late every day. Take extended vacations. Run high expenses on business trips, but they are treated unfairly special. For the majority of us, we are late 10 minutes and our boss goes, why are you late?
How offensive it is to put people in boxes. I put you in this box labeled “people I need to treat well” because I consider you important. And this other person I put into a box labeled “It is safe to ignore” because you don’t benefit me in any way..
Imagine if my kids did not see me as their father but I just became a provider of toys. Whenever they see me, they don’t say Daddy and throw their arms around me, but they say, where’s my toy? I am not their father but just a toy dispenser. That would be tragic.
Around this time of year, I feel insecure because I do not know if people at church are thankful to have me around for who I am or if when you all look at me, all you see is a turkey chef.
In America, there is a strong entitlement culture. I am entitled to be treated with respect. We see this mentality in our attitude toward those in the service industry. All the people who work behind service counters at the local fast food restaurants and cafes. All the waiters and waitresses. How do we view them?
I recall being in line at Subway a couple of months back and there was a customer who was so rude to the worker assembling the sandwich. Just because we are paying a little money and because their job function happens to be food service, we get some weird sense of entitlement that they need to treat me like a king and I can treat them like dirt.
How about people in restaurants who snap their fingers and use other finger gestures to get the attention of waiters and waitresses. Are these people less human than us just because we have a higher salary or a better education and that’s why many feel they have a right to treat them like our pets?
It’s our consumer mentality and the higher the price tag of the goods or service we purchase, the more we demand a higher level of customer service. At a restaurant when you are ordering food, do you look at people in the eye who are taking your order behind the counter? I have noticed that many times people look past them or they are looking at the menu and we miss one small chance to display basic Christian virtues that we appreciate what they are doing to service us.
It is a tragedy that in this Me generation we have become so rude by stripping each other of basic human dignity.
There is an interesting detail recorded in the Acts 3 account about the crippled man at the gate called Beautiful who is begging for money and Peter says, Look at us! We can assume that the beggar had his head down, perhaps his hand out. The beggar did not care who walked by. To him, everyone who walked by was a just a potential money bag. He didn’t need to see the faces of people walking by. He just cared about hearing the jingling of coins as they were dropped into his hands.
And Peter wanted this person to make eye contact and once their eyes meet, the conversation can begin. And Peter is able to say the famous verse, Silver or gold I do not have but what I have I give you. Jesus Christ.
When I read 2 Sam 24 about David taking a census and God being so angry, God showed me that he wanted me to repent thoroughly for the sin of using ministry in the past as a way to boost my ego. I had identified this sinful thought pattern many times in recent years but only in the past month or so did I realize why this is such a serious thing I need to repent for. People ought not to be a means through which I can feel good about myself.
So I have been repenting and God led me to Matthew 25:31-46.
This is the chapter about the Sheep and the Goats. I admit it is not a typical message to preach on and certainly not on a Thanksgiving Sunday. But as you are turning there, let me explain how God led me to this passage.
During this personal repentance, I started reading Mary Poplin’s book, Finding Calcutta, about her experiences with Mother Teresa and the Sisters of Charity. And that was a week before the retreat. So my own repentance, along with reading about Mother Teresa’s life and then the lessons from the retreat about the indwelling Christ and surrender all contributed to God leading me to Matthew 25, which happens to be Mother Teresa’s life passage. It gave her personal direction as a Christian and a direction for her ministry.
The Sheep and the Goats
31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34"Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37"Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40"The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
41"Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44"They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45"He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
I think part of the reason why preachers stay away from this passage is an immediate sense that if you take this passage literally and it is held out as the standard by which all Christians are judged, then many of us are in trouble. I think it is these kinds of passages that seem so plain that don’t require any advanced exposition that give us the most difficulty because its message is in your face and it is hard to swallow. It is safer to focus on mysterious sections of the Bible like Revelation. In Revelation, there doesn’t seem to be a right or wrong answer and we like operating in shades of gray because there is less to struggle with.
This passage certainly seems to be a black and white text. It speaks about judgment at the Second Coming of Christ. The Son of Man appears and he forms two camps – on the right, the sheep who are invited to come and receive their inheritance. And on the left, the goats who are told to depart into eternal punishment.
Some may argue that it is unfair for this passage to be used as a standard for all Christians because every person and every church has their unique calling. Some ministering to the poor, but others have to minister to the elites of society. Everyone needs Christ, right?
I don’t have a precise answer as to whether all Christians have to be involved with helping the poor in some way, but reading about Mother Teresa and listening to messages from Pastor Don made me think about Matthew 25.
For Mother Teresa, she wanted to be cleansed of all sin and emptied of all pride so that when people saw her, they would not see Mother Teresa but Christ. This is why repentance is important. We want to give Christ, not our wisdom or advice or our charisma. We want to give the best – silver and gold I do not have, but Christ, I give you.
And along with this, Mother Teresa literally practiced Matthew 25 in her ministry. Whenever she fed the poor or cared for the leper or loved the orphan, it was her deep conviction from this passage that she was loving Christ himself, directly.
Pastor Don said a similar thing – to live is Christ. It’s all about Christ and he was so reluctant even to share testimonies for fear that he would attract too much attention to himself. And from my vantage point, Pastor Don displayed a similar humility and intimacy with Christ as Mother Teresa. And like her, Pastor Don also happened to be involved in helping the poor on Skid Row and even having his own foster children with troubled pasts.
Does that mean we should all do homeless ministry and help others in desperate need? I have no idea. But what I do know is that this year, I feel God has given me two examples of people who were involved in helping the poor and needy and how their participation in this kind of social work seemed to be one safeguard which kept their hearts tender before God. And at bottom, what I do in terms of a ministry is secondary. The primary thing I want is a tender heart before God. Isn’t that our heart and prayer? We want hearts of flesh before God.
At the very least, being exposed to these new kinds of ministries classified as social work can, I believe, help us spiritually even as we serve God in whatever way that we believe he has called us, whatever our individual mission and mission of this church.
But rather than getting into specific callings which is really a separate topic, I think we can draw one direct lesson that I think applies to all believers.
Remember, this passage was written to address people who profess faith in God. While this separation is going on, there is some confusion. The sheep start by asking sheepishly, Lord, when did we feed or clothe you. And the sheep are surprised to find out that unbeknownst to them, they were in fact loving Christ all along. On the other hand, the goats who are judged are genuinely shocked. What do you mean, Lord, that we didn’t care for you?
I don’t believe that this passage is calling all believers to go and seek out the poor and feed them. For some, that could be an individual’s calling, but even for the rest who do not go out and directly help the poor and needy, there is no room for excuses. Why?
Because regardless of your ministry focus, there poor and needy who cross paths with us all the time. But the problem is we don’t recognize them.
People come into our lives and unless we have labeled them as a “ministry” we treat so many people as interruptions or sources of our complaints or hindrances.
We need to repent of this pattern of viewing people from our selfish point of view. Every person is not a statistic, not a number, not a means to get what we want, not someone to use for our benefit. Every person is a precious soul before God. Think how much more radical our faith and witness would be if we approached every person we met in this way. Think about it.
And when we begin to treat every single person we meet as a precious soul in need of love, an amazing thing happens. It is the most remarkable truth from this passage. If we repent and love others around us, especially those who are not readily on our radar, Jesus says those acts of love done unto them, he actually receives them as acts of love done directly for him. This truth really blows me away.
This is truly remarkable. Giving food to the poor, giving a smile to those we pass by on the street, praying for a difficult boss or coworker, offering a prayer to someone who seems to be down. Those seemingly small and insignificant acts do not go unnoticed by God.
From this passage, the line between loving God and loving neighbor is blurred. Who loves God more? The one who prays for 5 hours or the one who prays for 1 hour and spends 4 hours in face to face loving ministry to those in need. I don’t know.
But in the words of Keith Green, what separates the sheep from the goat. It is what they did, and didn’t do.
I believe that God will wipe away many tears in heaven as it says in Revelation 19. And I think those will be tears of regret. Regret for all the missed opportunities to love those around us in need over our lifetime. We commit so many sins of omission. Things that we ought to do as Christians but omit without even realizing that we are omitting them and disobeying. Specifically, we are too dull to even recognize Christ coming to us disguised as people in need.
Let’s not waste time sorting out all of our spiritual problems. No one has all the answers. As Pastor Don said at the retreat, what are we waiting for. We try our best to live for God, but we will never fully get our theology or practice all figured out. But it is sin to use our hang-ups as an excuse not to love.
Brothers and sisters, we need to repent of all the ways we intentionally harden our heart toward God and people around us. We need to repent for how we think the universe revolves around ourselves, our issues, our worries. We need to repent for viewing people as a statistic or an object. And after being forgiven, we need to try our best to love those around us. And in doing so, Jesus will receive those acts of love for others as acts of love done unto him.
Are there people in your life who you are praying for and loving in some concrete way? If not, let’s commit to identifying people in our life who need our love. Even one person. Can we do that?
In closing, I think the person who came up with the acronym ACTS for prayer had it right. ‘A’ for Adoration. We need to first adore God. This means worship and surrender because that is the starting point. We don’t know how to lead our lives. We don’t know how to live as good Christians. But God knows our hearts. We adore Him and praise Him for who He is – the Mighty God who can change us and use us. So we surrender to Him. We need to surrender to God and be led by the Holy Spirit every moment.
Adoration is followed by C for Confession. Confession means repenting. Praying with open hands symbolizing our surrender. And laying our sins before the altar of prayer in repentance and confession, naming them one by one. Adoration or surrender and confession and repentance go hand in hand.
If you think about salvation, salvation is when we confess that Jesus is our Lord and we surrender to his lordship over every area of our lives. He is our master trainer. But it is also a confession that he is our Savior and recognizing our need to repent.
This afternoon, I outlined one specific area that we can repent for and that is in our view toward others. Do we see people as precious souls who need love. And do we know that God gives us countless opportunities to love him if only we could have the eyes to recognize the people in our lives who are in desperate need of love.
And a person who acknowledges who God is, that He is our Mighty God, Wonderful Counselor and Abba Father and who surrenders to God and has confessed his or her sin and been forgiven, only then is it possible to be thankful. I want to be a thankful person but you can’t will yourself to be thankful. A grateful heart can come only from God alone.
As it is the season of thanksgiving, let’s thank God for not looking at us as a statistic. He knows each of us and all our problems better than we know ourselves. He cares for you and me. And let’s thank the people in our lives who have loved God by loving us.