which Jesus?

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. 

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 11:1-9

Who is Jesus? If you’ve ever been to church, you might have a ready answer. Maybe something along the lines of He’s the Son of God. Or maybe He’s a nice teacher, or even He’s a figment of our imagination.

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this is my King

This is my King. He doesn’t wear a suit of shining armour. He doesn’t wear a fine business suit. He doesn’t have nice hair, or a secretary. He doesn’t have a PhD, or a career in politics. He is the Son of God, but that doesn’t stop him from coming to find people who are lost. He is the Commander of all the armies of Heaven, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to talk to people who hate him.

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on God doing his job

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ’Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Mark 1:1-8

There’s an old meme floating around the internet, poking fun at Christianity. It goes something like this:

Jesus promised to get rid of sin. How many bad people do you see running around now?

Thor promised to get rid of all frost giants. How many frost giants do you see running around now?

Thor – 1, Jesus – 0.

It’s a silly old joke, but it does give voice to the idea that, well, sometimes it seems like God isn’t very good at doing his job. Or that even when he does something, he does it in a really bizarre way.

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on too good to be true

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

John 13:1-14

There’s an old running joke about Christianity, that heaven is probably filled with really awful people. If all it takes for you to go to heaven is to say sorry to Jesus, then that’s basically like a Get Out of Jail Free card. Lots of bad people must’ve noticed this loophole, and said the magic words. Which might mean that Christians might have to spend eternity with people who used to be crooks, or murderers. Anyway that’s how the joke goes.

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on dependence on Jesus

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James 3:13-18

When you think of a Bible teacher, what do you see? How does he or she dress? How does he or she carry themselves? How do they talk? What goes on inside their heads?

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on turning people away from sin

“Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

and before you were born I consecrated you;

I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 

Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.” 

Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” 

And I said, “I see an almond branch.” 

Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”

The word of the LORD came to me a second time, saying, “What do you see?” 

And I said, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.” Then the LORD said to me, “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land. For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the LORD, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands. But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you.”

Jeremiah 1:4-19

How would you act if you were to go meet a king? I’d probably put on my nicest clothes; I’d practice my bow beforehand; I’d act as respectfully as I could. When I was a little kid, anytime my classmates and I saw our headmistress we’d greet her very politely, but I noticed our voices always went up several octaves every time we did so. So if I were to greet a king my voice would probably sound like I was trying to sing the chorus to Let it Go.

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on living in tension

In Hong Kong we classify schools as local or international. The former follow a state-set, local curriculum, and most of them conduct lessons in Chinese. The latter are a more mixed bag, following a dizzying array of international curricula, and many of them catering to particular expat groups: Singapore International School, Japanese International School, Chinese International School, and French International School just to name a few. International schools tend to enjoy a higher reputation, not least because they are status symbols, but also because of the general high quality of the education and teachers.

But for a while I had leaned toward sending my children (if I ever have any) to a local school.

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on glorious things

What is the most glorious thing you have seen?

I, raised on a diet of war stories and mighty deeds of the Greeks and Romans, had nothing to say. The pastor gave a few sample answers he’d heard: the Milky Way on a night sky, dawn rays over a canyon, the megalithic might of a world-class airport after a long-haul flight, the taste of the perfect wagyu stew. Glory, he explained, in the Judeo-Christian tradition is related to weight. Something that matters so much, that demands such attention, respect, and awe, stuns us as glorious.

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love in a time of corona

I’ve wanted to throttle a stranger twice in the past year, both in the same week of a renewed viral surge: when a man wearing his mask sub-nose started coughing on the bus, and when a man on the train walked by and grabbed my arm — he was either addled out of his head or he’d mistaken me for a train pole.

Both cases awoke a sudden disgust reaction: wear your mask properly you GODDAMN BARBARIAN, and OMYGOD where have your filthy monkey paws been before this?? Not particularly forbearing or loving.

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against Uzzah; or, the virtues of being a basic bitch

Uriah and Uzzah: two exotic and tragic names, recalling two men who were mercilessly screwed over while just trying to do their jobs. 

Or at least that’s how I’ve always interpreted it. And while I could square Uriah’s case a bit more easily in my head — he was murdered by wicked David, a cautionary tale of how all men are sinful, even a man after God’s own heart — Uzzah’s case was more problematic. After all wasn’t he just trying to be helpful? 

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