What is Good Friday?

Today is Good Friday. You’ve likely asked, “Why is Good Friday called Good Friday?” and “What is good about Good Friday?”

Some places refer to it as Black Friday. We’ve heard of Black Friday sales, but that’s not what it’s about. Some also refer to it as Holy or Sacred Friday, Great Friday, and Passion Friday. It’s all connected to this Easter weekend. Good Friday is a day of commemoration. Christians observe the death and sacrifice of God’s son on the cross. The third day after Jesus resurrected from death, comes Easter.

The word “Good” in Good Friday might have been a derivative of the Anglo-Saxon form which literally translates as God’s Friday (Ex.: Goodbye, a derivative of “God be with you”). Another reason was “good” was meant “holy” in medieval times.

Many people theorize about what is good about Good Friday. It’s good for us that Jesus died for our sins to free us from the consequences of death and give us new life (Romans 3:24-25).

Why on Friday? There probably isn’t any good reason. Given that three in the afternoon is when some think when Jesus died on the cross, the third day after his death comes Easter Sunday… or kind of the third day. Friday seems like a convenient day of the week. Why not? Easter used to fall on a Wednesday anyway.

Good/Holy Friday comes after the six weeks of Lent including Palm/Passion Sunday.

Historians say that Good Friday might have been practiced since the 7th century by Christians in Jerusalem (pre-sanctified Masses are referenced in the documents of the Quinisext Council, 692 AD).

The Way of the Cross is practiced whereby fourteen stations of the cross are preset at various locations. This is merely symbolic of what Jesus would have experienced on his way to the cross. Each location provides a place for the worshipers to pray in commemoration of the events that happened.

Have a good Good Friday this day, and an expectant Easter soon to come!


A patient and hopeful gardener

Image result for images fig tree

In the parable of the fig tree, Jesus told a story of a gardener:

“A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’

Luke 13:6-9

What?! No fruit for the last three years?! A smart practical farmer would do one thing. Cut it down and plant something else that’ll guarantee a crop.

But here, in our passage, we see a farm-hand, perhaps a hired gardener. He says to the owner, “Boss, let’s give it one more chance. Let’s leave it alone for just one more year. I’ll dig around it. Add some fertilizer.  If it bears fruit next year, great; but if not, then let’s cut it down.”

To the owner, that fig tree was just another plant. But to the gardener, he cared for it. He likely invested his time, energy, sweat and tears into caring for it. He knew that tree he tended each day. Maybe he even had a name for it. He didn’t want to see his efforts go to waste because he was the one who cared for it. He knew what it was capable of. He didn’t want to give up on that plant. He’s a patient gardener who knows about holding out for hope—maybe because he’s seen it happen before.

This parable of the gardener and the fig tree actually shows us good news. This gardener is a typology of Christ in our lives. Just as this gardener held out hope for the fig plant, Christ the Lord is also holding out hope for us.

Like this gardener, Jesus invested his blood, sweat and tears into our lives. He died for us on the cross and he wants to see us produce fruit. He wants to see a good harvest in our lives. So what would this fruit or harvest in our own lives look like? Jesus was speaking about repentance.

In this season of Lent, we are called to enter into a place of repentance. Jesus told this parable to give his followers a message. He is saying something like this. “I want to see hearts repent. I hope to see changes in your lives.” Otherwise, like the fig tree analogy, God may come to cut it down. Jesus was reminding us that God is saving us from destruction.

Jesus’ message to his followers is the same for us today. It’s still a message to warn those who might be feeling a little too comfortable in their spiritual state. When we are too comfortable where we are in this life. We let our guard down. We become complacent in our faith. We also care less about the people around us. We care less about the well-being of our friends and family and even of society. People might become an obstacle, or an object or just a tool for our own benefit. But God is holding out hope for us because God wants to change the direction in all of our lives. That’s the essence and reason for this story of the gardener of the fig tree.

Imminent death at our doorstep

We all hope the world’s threat from nuclear proliferation has decreased since President Trump’s meeting with DPRK’s President Kim. One deadly push of a wrong button by a rogue madman could destroy half the world. Today, we also have deadly pathogens and global pandemics to worry about. There might be some mad scientists working in backroom laboratories inventing some new strain of virus. Today, we know about the newly identified Disease X as pathogens that can potentially kill hundreds of millions of people, if we don’t find antidotes (read article here).

The book of Revelation gave apocalyptic warnings during the early church. “The fifth angel emptied his bowl on the throne of the beast (Rev. 16:10).

We’ve provided scientific explanations to our real world problems of global pandemic. Whether God actually sends plagues, or we invent some crazy pathogens, either way, death would imminently be at our doorstep.

As human beings who are constantly looking for human and improvements in our world, we are holding out for some hope. We know there is hope. But most important, God is the one is patiently holding out for hope that we might be saved. This salvation is not only physical, but it is also spiritual. Just like we need to prepare for emergency preparedness kits for earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and fires, hurricanes, etc., we also need to prepare ourselves in spiritual ways.

In First Corinthians 10, we really see death very clearly. Paul reminded the Church, which was of Hebrew descent, that 23,000 of their ancestors had died in the past because they had been constantly rebelling against God. He didn’t want them to take their relative sense of calm for granted. He said to them, “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.” He wanted them to be on guard. Stay alert. Don’t be deceived. Don’t be taken in by their temptations to sin like they had done under Moses in the wilderness.

During this Lenten season, may we offer a prayer of repentance:

I confess that I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself.  I have sinned against You in my thoughts, words, and actions; by what I have done, and by what I have intentionally not done when I had the power to do so.  I have not loved You with whole-hearted devotion.  I have not loved other people around me as I would want to be loved.  For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.  Forgive me, make me new again, and guide me, that I may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of Your holy name.  Amen.

Where is God

https://ebonyjohanna.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/on-earth.jpgWhere is God?  As Christians, we believe just because we know or we assume something to be true.  There are some who won’t believe until they see God and heaven.  Downside of this is that they may never get to see until they pass from this life.  By then, will it be too late for an “I told you so.”  Hence, we look for God’s presence, God’s reality, and indicators of God’s existence in our world.  Jesus also used words like “My father’s kingdom.”

In Luke 17:21, Jesus taught that God’s kingdom is neither here nor there.  His followers, including some of his disciples, had thought that his coming kingdom was going to be a secular government on earth.  Jesus was actually referring to a spiritual kingdom.

As creatures of this physical world, we prefer to speak of God’s kingdom as a country or nation.  God’s kingdom has no physical location.  It is everywhere, yet it is nowhere to be located.  It is neither ethereal nor out-of-this-world.  Jesus said, “God’s kingdom is here with you.”  It cannot be seen but yet it is with us.  We might try to emulate God’s kingdom on earth, but it can never be an earthly kingdom.  God’s spiritual kingdom might be within an earthly kingdom, but we can never put an earthly kingdom into a spiritual kingdom.

So where is God’s kingdom on earth?  It is current.  It’s happening in the here and now.

    • It might be found within the life of a real king or queen, or it might now.
    • It might be found working in the life of church organization, or it might not be.
    • It might be found working in offices of a corporation, and it might not be found working in a church office.
    • It might be found working where people are praying on an old warship in the middle of the South Pacific, and it might not be found in normal-looking but dysfunctional family.
    • It might be found working in compassionate hearts volunteering in a street ministry, or it might not be.
    •  It might be found in the life of a single mother raising two children in the ghetto, or it might not be.

God’s kingdom can be understood as God’s purpose or God’s will happening in this world.  God’s purpose or will can be happening in your own lives.  It can be within our society and culture.  It can be within your place of habitation, within my yown community, and yes, even in my secular place of work.  It is working and functioning within God’s people and where God’s people are glorifying God and doing God’s will.  When God’s will is done, as it is in heaven, then we can say that his reign or kingdom is coming.

One might ask several questions:

    • Do I sense God’s kingdom and God’s will being done in my life or family, in my community, in my church?
    • Are people seeing God working in their lives?
    • Does what I do glorify God?  Is what I do glorifying to God?

If it is a “Yes”, then God’s kingdom might be in your midst.  If you can say positively that God is working in places where you are present, then God’s kingdom might very well be present.  God’s kingdom is present where you are in-line with God’s will, and actively doing his will.

In the end, it will always come back to the question of faith.  If you can honestly affirm the above question with an affirmative “Yes”, it takes faith to believe the unseen.

A closer communion with God: spiritual resilience

Ever felt like you’ve lost your way, or felt off-kilter but couldn’t pin-point why or how you got there?  That’s me and I just hate that feeling.  I have found that making time for contemplation and communion with God helps me be more grounded and centered so I don’t lose my way.

It is called spiritual resilience and it can be developed (read here). Spiritual resilience is a term recognized even by the U.S. military (read here).  Spiritual resilience is not necessarily religious, but yes, having a religious basis helps to give one’s spirituality a framework.  Spirituality and spiritual resilience are like the muscles that give us strength; and religion is like the skeleton that holds up our muscles.  Having one without the other is difficult, but both together will complement one another.

Without this grounding or spiritual resilience, we become more vulnerable to burning out, anger, envy, bitterness, lack of self-control when stressed, and other negative emotions. The advantages of spiritual resilience shines through at certain stressful times in our lives, like being on military operations, going through divorce, losing a job or a loved one. Our ability to be resilience becomes more apparent to us when we go through tough times.

People who are less vulnerable to these things under stress tend to have a more developed spirituality. People practice spirituality in different ways–either religious or not religious. Some might be Christian monks and nuns. Some might be ordinary Catholics or evangelical Christians. I’m not saying we have to become monks, nuns or holy people to be spiritual. Almost every major religion have their sets of spiritual disciplines that followers can practice in order to center themselves and develop spiritual resilience. These are virtues. As human beings, there might be times in our lives when we seek to be more spiritually-grounded. We innately know there is something greater than ourselves that we can turn to. A belief in a higher power becomes our strength.

Every so often, any person can veer off the virtuous path, lose hope, lose our morals, or lose one’s desire to live. We are all fallen human beings who fail at one point or another.

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The scriptures speak on the wisdom of patience and long-suffering, but how do we develop this spiritual character? Through practice and discipline. It’s like learning to ride a bicycle or an instrument.

Personally, for me there are times when I feel I might need to be more spiritually grounded and return to practicing some spiritual disciplines again. Some people find themselves returning to church in order to find themselves. If that is how you feel, then go for it.

If within our Christian disciplines, we can deepen our spirituality, we might gain more self-control of our personal lives and become better people. Without a spirituality and spiritual resilience, even the best of people can lose our ways and lose our balance. A deeper spirituality can help individuals become more centered and spiritually in-tune with God, with themselves, and with others. It be time to return to a closer communion with God.

Spirituality and battle with anger

Have you ever blown your top, got angry and resented the words that came out of your mouth?  I have.   It might feel good to release some steam and pressure but the results are short-term gain but long-term pain.

The bible speaks of anger.  It acknowledges our human weakness, anger.  It sounds like it isn’t necessarily a sin to get angry but it is a less desirable emotion.

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil.”

James 1:19-20 says, “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”

Anger causes us to do crazy things.  It opens the door to hatred, violence, fights, war and terrorism.  As human beings, we are better off to seek peace and to create peaceful resolutions.

Being quick-tempered is a sign of folly but wisdom and peace create harmony: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) “A fool gives full vent to anger, but the wise quietly holds it back” (Prov. 29:11).

I ran across an article on NPR on how the Inuit people (Indigenous people in northern Arctic) raise their children to refrain from anger.  A little big of frustration or irritation is considered weak and childlike.  Wow!  The writer of this article witnessed these things:

For instance, one time someone knocked a boiling pot of tea across the igloo, damaging the ice floor. No one changed their expression. “Too bad,” the offender said calmly and went to refill the teapot.

In another instance, a fishing line — which had taken days to braid — immediately broke on the first use. No one flinched in anger. “Sew it together,” someone said quietly.

By contrast, Briggs seemed like a wild child, even though she was trying very hard to control her anger. “My ways were so much cruder, less considerate and more impulsive,” she told the CBC. “[I was] often impulsive in an antisocial sort of way. I would sulk or I would snap or I would do something that they never did.” (full article here)

This self-control comes from discipline.  We might come from many cultures, e.g., Italian, Middle Eastern, Asian, Western, etc.  Some of our cultures do not keep anger very well hidden.  We can be quick to show our anger.  Inuit culture on the other hand, seems to be the opposite.  I think this something we can learn from our First Nations–Indigenous brothers and sisters.

It makes me wonder if training and spiritual disciplines might be a good thing in our children’s upbringing–and yes, also in many of us adults too.

Letting God do the impossible task: to love your enemies

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Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 6:27-28, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”   It’s a parallel to Jesus’ sermon on the Mount in Matthew ch. 5-7. 

When I think on this, there are days when I might think to myself, “Yes, I can obey Jesus’ law to love my enemies—that’s easy.”  But in all honesty, there might be some bad days when I feel I cannot even love my friends or even my family, let alone my enemies.

There can be a real challenge in following through with this command.  For some, this might be easier to do depending on the day and on our circumstances.  It might depend on where people are at in their lives.  For some, our hurts and traumas can easily override our ability to love others.  The last thing we can expect someone who has been hurt is to love their perpetrators. 

A person’s visceral reaction in anger might be: “I’m going to wipe them out!  Give me a rock…give me a button… give me a trigger… At certain times in one’s life, it would not surprise me one bit if a person could do it without shedding a tear or breaking out in a sweat.  Jesus’ command seems to stand in stark contrast to the desire of our flesh.

How do we interpret this passage of Scripture?  Was this a piece of good advice or nugget of wisdom?  Or was it a command?  What if the entirety of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from Luke and Matthew was meant to describe the impossible? What humanism has wanted to achieve perfection in humanity might actually be next to impossible. 

If the latter is true, it forces you and I to turn to God for mercy and grace each and every day.  You might see human perfection as a possibility. For me personally, at this point of time in my own life, the possibility of achieving human perfection is impossible.

If Jesus’ sayings from the Sermon on the Mount were meant to be prescriptions of laws that we must obey, then I would definitely be a failure.  Over time, we might, at one point or another, fail to live up to most or all of Jesus’ commandments.

When we are in the flesh and operating in the needs and desires of the flesh, it is very hard to love our enemies.  Our flesh will naturally want to destroy or defeat our enemies using our human means and methods.  Yes even when we are living as Christians, praying hard and committing ourselves each day to live with Christ, this spiritual battle won’t be easy.  But when we are operating in the love of Christ, there is less reason to give into the flesh.  Jesus asks us to give him all of our worries.

When Jesus asked us to bless those who curse us, it is because there is something that happens in the spiritual realm that we do not see.  On the surface, there is nothing to be gained eternally by blessing those who curse us.  If this was a command, then what reward would there be? 

There is a blessing in simply loving others without expecting to receive anything in return from our fellow neighbor.  We can love others just for the sake of loving others.  There is no ulterior motive to love our neighbor.  This is pure freedom. Christ can free us from the fleshly desires in this world so that we can love the unlovable, do good, and give without expecting anything in return (v.35).

To truly love our enemies who have full intentions of hurting us without mercy is the hardest thing to do in the world.  Personally, I know I don’t have the patience or the strength within myself to love my enemy.  My human flesh tells me to kill whoever might want me dead.  I do not have the tenacity to wait it out to see what happens.  To me, this command is like telling me to fail. 

After recognizing my human weakness, I realize that I need to fall upon the grace and mercy of God.  I would rather hold my hands up and say to the Lord, “Lord, if you are real, give me your grace. I cannot love my enemies.  I cannot stop hating them for even one second.  Pour out your grace upon my life.  Have pity on this poor soul.  I need you God.”  This would be me after God has driven me to utter submission.