One of my favorite renditions of one of my favorite Christmas songs: Future of Forestry covering O Holy Night.
Grateful for my District Church community and the ways we’re growing together. And I believe we’re just getting started. There’s more to come.
— Justin Fung (@justinfung) December 5, 2014
On Sunday, I preached from Luke 4:31-44 on Jesus’ authority and healing. Last night, the grand jury returned a decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. I’m still processing and praying through this, still figuring out how I’m supposed to respond. I didn’t write my message or preach with the Ferguson decision in mind, but I guess there was a reason God wanted me to be thinking these things through before yesterday evening. What I do know is that we live in a fallen world, where authority is not always exercised justly and healing is an ever-present need.
So here’s an excerpt from Sunday’s message — “The Authority of Jesus, a.k.a. Kicking Butt and Taking Names.” (You can listen to the full sermon here.)
I’m sure we can all call to mind people in positions of authority; we might think of the President, Members of Congress, judges, police officers, teachers, or doctors. And we might also be able to call to mind what it looks like when folks abuse their authority—the Watergate scandal, for instance; corrupt government officials who line their pockets at the expense of those they’re supposed to be serving; doctors who take advantage of their patients or teachers who take advantage of their students.
But just like sin is not just the things we do but also the things we should do but we don’t, when those in authority don’t exercise it when they should, that’s also a problem: recently, the police in Hong Kong chose not to intervene when peaceful protesters were attacked; or the last four years have seen the most unproductive sessions of Congress in recent history—and, given that there’s so much still to do, I think we have the responsibility to call our elected representatives to use their authority to better serve the common good. Because, in fact, everyone exercises some sort of authority: parents over their children, celebrities over their fans, pastors over their congregations, voters over their representatives, and so on.
The biblical understanding of authority is much like the non-biblical understanding of authority, in that it’s connected to power, particularly to the legitimate use of power, and it could simply be defined as the “right to effect control over objects, individuals or events.” But the biblical understanding of authority is much more than that, too. It goes right back to creation, when God created human beings in his image—to be like him—and said to them, in Genesis 1:28:
Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.
That’s God delegating power so that the world might flourish, so that God’s kingdom might be seen on earth, so that all might be in right relationship with God, with one another, and with creation.
That’s the purpose of authority: that humanity might flourish.
That’s how authority should be measured: does it move us closer to God’s kingdom on earth?
In Jesus, we find the truest embodiment of authority rightly and responsibly exercised. Everything Jesus said and did brought more of up there down here. Theologian Darrell Bock writes:
Evil has severe angst in the presence of righteousness ready to be exercised.
When authority is rightly and responsibly exercised by a president, by a legislator, by a judge, by an officer of the law, by a teacher, by a doctor, by a nurse, by a famous person, by a parent, by a pastor, by you in whatever capacity you have been given a measure of control—when authority is rightly and responsibly exercised to bring more of God’s kingdom to earth, evil has severe angst.
Think about that: what you do matters; what you do with your life on the big picture level as well as what you do in your everyday has bearing on whether the kingdom of God advances or not. How you treat the homeless person you pass on the street; how much effort you put into your work; how much attention you give to your spouse; how you respond to people who are different from you or who disagree with you; how you forgive those who wrong you; how you deal with messing up—these are all instances where you can exercise the authority you’ve been given, and they all have bearing on whether the kingdom of God advances or not. What you do matters.
We inhabit what some theologians call the already-but-not-yet. See, the kingdom of God is at the same time past, present, and future. We know that Jesus came to earth, 2,000 years ago, and at that time, the kingdom of God entered into human history in a way it had never done before—the demons were cast out, the sick were healed, the truth of God and the word of God were embodied in a living, breathing human being—that’s the already. We know that Jesus will come again, to finish the work he started, setting all things right, reconciling all things to himself, bringing the fullness of heaven down to earth—but that is not yet here. And so in the present, in the here-and-now, the Holy Spirit is at work in us and through us—as the people of God and the body of Christ—revealing more of that same kingdom, proclaiming the good news of that kingdom, in the midst of the ravages of the Fall in sin and sickness and death.
Any healing that happens this side of Christ’s return points toward the story of the gospel and the renewal that has not yet come but is promised. But any healing that happens this side of Christ’s return will always be incomplete. We and our loved ones will still get sick, we will not always be healed, we will still die. But God’s story moves toward ultimate healing—no death, no sickness, no tears. It’s coming.
Lord Jesus, even as we give you thanks for living the life we could not live and dying the death we could not die and being raised to life that we might be made new, we long for you to come back.
In the here-and-now, break the chains of our sin and sickness and death. Heal us from the ravages of our wounds both physical and psychological, both mental and emotional. Liberate us from our addictions. Be the light in our darkness; be the hope in our disappointment; be the joy in our loss.
Set us free so that we might walk in the life you desire for us to live—life to the full, eternal life. Remind us that we live and move and have our being in Christ, that we have been given authority as image-bearers of the Most High, authority as redeemed children of our Father in heaven, authority as ambassadors of Christ in a hurting and broken world.
We pray these things in the name of the One who was wounded so that we might be made whole, in the power of the name of Jesus. Amen.
Yesterday marked four months of marriage for Carolyn and me. We had a conversation the other day about what we say when people ask us how things have been. Because, on the one hand, we don’t want or need to air the ins and outs of everything we’re going through; but, on the other hand, we don’t want or need to over-extol the joys or present an untrue picture of married life.
So … here are a few things I’ve learned in the last 124 days:
Some things are awesome.
- I get to spend almost every day with the person I love the most.
- I get to share daily goings-on, little and large, with my best friend.
- I have someone who loves football as much as I do and will understand when a Seahawks loss makes me irritable.
- One of the things that drew me to Carolyn was that I wanted to see how God would continue to be at work in her life, and I get a front row seat to that — I get to experience the times of revelation and growth, and that is tremendously exciting to witness.
Some things are challenging.
- I have to spend almost every day with the person who knows me the best. I’m learning that I’m not as gracious or patient as I thought I was, not as good a communicator, not as unselfish as I hoped I was, and that there’s far more that God needs to do in me than I would like!
- When two people, who’ve been single for almost 60 years (combined), with two separate lives, two sets of friend groups, two very distinctive and different backgrounds, upbringings, educations, experiences, and schedules, come together, there’s a lot of give and take. It’s easy to have the presumption (or even the unconscious, unspoken expectation or hope) that being married will simply mean the addition of a best friend to your pre-existing schedule, but I can attest that that isn’t the case — and that’s been a teachable moment!
- Being someone who’s married rather than someone who’s single means learning a new way of understanding other relationships and communicating and being intentional in hanging out or catching up — with friends, with our church community, with family. Part of this means redefining expectations (on all sides) — and as my counselor has taught me: “Change = Loss = Grief.” But when one or both sides aren’t aware that there’s something to be grieved, we can be surprised by how we react (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance).
- Learning how to prioritize growth over winning is refining in itself. There’s a strong desire toward self-preservation, which can express itself in putting self first. In disagreements, my inclination is to try to win, to articulate my points, to make sure that I’m understood. But trying to understand more than I’m understood, trying to properly listen to and hear what the other person’s saying, trying to seek her good and the good of our relationship — this is something I’ve tried to do throughout my life, but in a marriage it’s that much more magnified.
Of course, just because something is challenging doesn’t mean it’s bad — indeed, many of these challenges are part of the growing and maturing process, and for that I’m glad. So grateful to be figuring all this out in community — I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to have folks we can text to be praying for us or to talk through the hard times or to celebrate the joys of life.
In just under two weeks, I turn 32. (That’s weird to see.)
Anyway, this year I wanted to do something a little different for my birthday, and I need your help to do it. Many of you already know my friend Eugene Cho, and the organization he started, One Day’s Wages, “a grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.”
One of the options ODW makes available is donating one’s birthday for a cause. And so that’s what I’m doing.
The United Nations estimates that, since the civil war broke out in Syria in 2011:
- almost 200,000 people have lost their lives;
- about 4,000,000 people have been forced to flee their homeland;
- with millions more displaced within Syria.
As the threat of the so-called Islamic State has spread from Syria to Iraq, ODW has expanded their efforts to respond to the plight of Iraqi refugees as well. And every cent of your donation will go toward providing aid and respite for these refugees.
As we say at The District Church, every number has a name, every name has a story, and every story is precious to God. The plight of displaced Syrians and Iraqis doesn’t often make the front pages any more, but their lives and livelihoods are no less important.
* 100% of your donations will go straight to the cause.
[Photo: Khalil Mazraawi – AFP/Getty Images]