He is the Light

John 8:12 “Jesus spoke to the people and said, ‘I’m the light of the world.’” 

One of my professors declared December 22 as one of his favorite days of the year, not because it is on the day of a loved one or a close family friend, nor is anything particularly noteworthy in his personal history on this day. 

December 22 is his favorite day because it is the day when the days begin to get a little bit longer and the nights get a little bit shorter. On December 22, we will get exactly one second more daylight than on December 21. 

Light is life. Without light, no life would exist. So, the first word spoken by God is “Let there be light” (Gen 1:2). Before creating the first human beings, God’s provision comes with the very action of creating the “light.” This is God’s grace upon humans. The Creator has everything for us even before our creation. 

Christ is the light for humanity. His coming as the Messiah is the life for us. The night of his birth was designed to bring more bright light into the world. The Magi follows the star in the sky, because Christ is the light…he is the star for us. 

As we enjoy this holiday season, let’s not forget why the twinkling lights on all the Christmas trees is shining; it shines for the Messiah’s arrival. He is the light. He is the life…for US.


Being Remembered

Luke 1:48 “For he looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” 

Recently, a pastor I had met six years ago called me out of the blue.  He is a retired pastor who would join my Bible study group for seniors in a nursing home.  I did not know his past, that he had been a minister at a Baptist church in Tennessee, until one of the members in the group informed me. The pastor would quietly sit and listen to my teachings.  I guess he probably knew the Bible better than me, but would humbly say that he always learned new things from the study.  Um... he probably surpasses me with 30 years more experience in ministry. 

Then, the pastor unexpectedly contacted me. But, he said that this was not an unexpected call. He thought about me once a while and prayed for me even though he didn't exactly know where I resided. 

I felt so good after talking to the pastor. My spirituality was uplifted knowing there is a person who still remembers me after all those years, even though I did not stay in touch with him or recall his name. 

Being remembered by someone stimulates the spirit of confidence within us. We feel valued as a good person. The worthiness of our existence is verified by a simple contact from another person. Regarding this, a poet says, "I want to find the meaning of who I am by flying like a butterfly to you." Our children feel confident and secure knowing that their parents are watching close by.

There is a survey called, "When do you feel the most loneliness during the year?" The number one answer is Christmas.

Loneliness comes from the psychologically subjective perception that we are unworthy. 

The perception is often caused by carelessness or unconcern from others towards individuals. It simply says, "People do not know you are there." Regarding this, David Reisman uses the term, "the other-directed" in his book 'The Lonely Crowd.'  In our modern day, we need to be loved, approved and related to, rather than esteemed.   

During the holiday season, when seeing others who are excited and surrounded by many, we feel exceedingly left out. This is the dark side of Christmas. There seems to be more occurrences of feeling alone or left out than those of being exhilarated or thrilled.

This could be the reason that our Lord was born in the quiet place in Jerusalem. He came as a human being for those who feel like they were not worthy or didn't deserve to be joyful. The Messiah's visit to humanity was not sudden. It had been planned since the beginning of the universe. We have been remembered by the Creator. Thus, 'remember' the 'remembrance' of the Lord. You are worthy to be 'remembered' by the Messiah.   

Complete Transformation 

John 15:4

 “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”  

I happened to stop by a CD/DVD shop in the Los Angeles area.  The store looked unimpressive from the outside but as soon as I entered, it became this humungous media shop I had ever seen.  It has all sorts of collections from classic music record plates to black & white movies to 4K quality DVDs.  There were over 20 cashiers helping out customers.  Just looking around would take a few hours.  Then one thing intrigued me, young high schoolers and college students were poking around in the 70’s & 80’s music section.  They were not noticing them as just old music collections but were actually buying some of the music.  Interesting… I thought their adrenalin would be hyped up by songs of Ed Sheeran, Havana, Bruno Mars, or BTS.  But old disco? Jazz? 

Recently, I learned that there is a psychological basis of fervor for young kids to listen to old generational music. They are seeking a type of new and unique identity.  The terms ‘assimilate or identity’ might not be in their spectrum.  While listening to their favorite music, they discover and identify themselves with a new sense of self as a unique individual person.  

Since the beginning of creation, human beings always seek for a new identity by attaching themselves to a new image. In that effort, they try to acquire the distinctiveness of who they are. However, our human history has proven that their endeavor had them obtained a false image of themselves. They put a delusional image on themselves as close to a supernatural being or even identified them as a god. Adam and Eve made that mistake by eating the forbidden apple. 

The phrase “abide in me” is not simply attaching  or adding another identity. Its true meaning is “transforming” the depth of our inner self and turning us into a new self. The distinctiveness of who we are can only be identified as how we see ourselves in the image of the Lord. So, by being attached to the branch, our old self will be assimilated into the new branch. We are not ourselves anymore, but we are the new creation in the Lord.   

Ways to Understand the Word of God . . . 

American politics were divided in June, 1858, between Reform Liberalism and Utilitarian Liberalism (UL) over the slavery system. The debate between Abraham Lincoln, Liberalist and Stephen Douglas, UL were defining moments in American history over what freedom is about.

Lincoln and Douglas both explained how freedom should be achieved from their own point of view. Douglas said, "If people in the West want slavery, let them have slavery." He believed freedom is what the white majority wanted. His position was for the summing of preferences for a certain group of people.

However, to Lincoln, freedom is morally justified by doing justice for all humanity. He opposed the extension of slavery to the territories in the West - each individual living in a society that has a common good, rather than legislating on behalf of each individual's own good. Quoting from Lincoln's famous speech, "House Divided in Springfield, Illinois, in 1858,  he said, "I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free."

Both of them were seeking the truth of implementing freedom in this country.  Their pursuit was limited either by one's own ideology or by one's own motivation for the common good for all people.  

How we understand the Word of God could be initiated by these same interpretations. Self-interest is inherently visible in the way we interpret the Scripture. We can see, intentional or not, what we prefer to see for our own gratification. "Our own" is always producing prejudiced meanings drawn from the stories of the Bible.

This is why we quiet ourselves and seek for the Spirit to enlighten our inner-self to discern the Scripture from the Lord's point of view for both individuals and the public.

  • Is this word good for both me and others?
  • Or, is it just for the sake of my own interest?

Asking this question while reading the Scripture would help us not to be confined by our unrealistic ideology, fixed views on life, and biased sense of who we are. In that sound practice, we can learn the objective lesson that the Spirit would teach us, and would also discern what specific message He has for our own sake.

The Intrinsic Memory
John 15:5

5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 

Recently the L.A. Times surveyed the homeless in North Hollywood. They surveyed 200 out of 2,515 registered homeless people. The surprising fact is that most of the homeless were either born or grew up in the Los Angeles areas and didn't wish to move to another place even though it would provide a better opportunity for their lives. 

They responded that the beach where they wondered around used to be a place where they would hang out with their friends when they were young.  The streets and palm trees have been their shelter for a long time. They would still pass their schools, houses and office buildings where they worked.  Once in a while, they would spot their old friends driving by or walking even though none of them would recognize them. The homeless would enjoy being there with all those familiarities. There a sense of comfort and welcoming in where they are now, so moving to another area is not optional nor considered. 

We have a few church members who moved to another place for their illness or physical limitations. They have still sent their tithes or offerings to our church and want to keep their membership. God is everywhere, and they can find a new home church closer to where they are. But our church is where they grew up or have a lot of memories they cannot simply put behind.          

In our minds we have an intrinsic memory, which has accumulated for a long period of time. The memory might be fuzzy, but it has been engraved deep in our mind and pervaded in every part of what we do. 

All humans have that intrinsic memory that God has put in their hearts. For example, looking at the sunset creates a mystical or inexplicable longing for an unknown reality. Our inner being is unconsciously seeking for what the Lord has placed deep within us at the beginning of his creation. By his grace, we have found our Savior as the reality, which we are not able to simply put out of our minds.     

Simply saying, we cannot live without the Lord. We cannot simply leave his love. He has been around us, within us and with us. The questions is whether you have found the Lord and realize that you cannot live without him...

Who Are You Dying For

Romans 6:8-9

8Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. 9For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has dominion over Him.… 

The Lion Monument in Lucerne Switzerland, has a brave, sad historical background. 

In the 15th century, Switzerland struggled with poverty and a diminished economy, so the government had to export mercenaries to other countries for monetary support.  Because the soldiers acknowledged their importance to their country and families, they fought bravely without retreating from battles. 

Thus, in 1506, Pope Julius II hired the mercenaries from Switzerland to guard the Vatican government called the "Holy See." In 1527, 147 of 189 guards died protecting the Vatican from the troops of Roman Emperor Charles V, which were made up of 14,000 Germans, 6,000 Spanish and an unaccounted number of Italian infantry.  

The mercenaries' valiant spirit became known to other countries. In the early 17th century, King Louis XVI hired them to serve his family in the palace. During the French Revolution, King Louis moved with his royal family to Tuileries Palace in Paris. The Swiss mercenaries who served the Royal household fought for the royal family to the end. During the battle, more than 600 hundred were killed. The king asked them to go back to their families in Switzerland, but they stood their position and fell by the national guards of the Paris commune and federation from Marseille and Brittany. 

The Lion Monument, which is also called the "Rock Relief," was designed

to commemorate their courageous and faithful acts in the line of duty. In the Vatican, a Swiss guard is still responsible for the safety of the Pope and the Apostolic Palace. Mark Twain later said in A Tramp Abroad, published in 1880, "Young men. What are you dying for?" 

Christian faithfulness to the Lord can't be separated from a spirit of willingness and desperation...which is the heart of bravery. We are willing to die for Christ and desperately keep His words for our eternality. Our reward is not measured by any worldly standard, because we're dying for Christ and living for Him. We will find our relief in the Spirit of the Lord. That is the ultimate goal.

 The world might not understand all those agonies and pains we suffer in our spiritual journey on earth to keep our faith in God. Mark Twain's question "What are you dying for" might be asked of us by those who are not in Christ. What would your answer be to that question?

Is God's voice in junk mails?   
John 10:28
"My sheep listen to my voice: I know them, and they follow me."

 On Monday, I was waiting for a very important letter from my school for my next project.  It was supposed to come at the end of August but somehow it had not arrived.  It was a necessary task for my dissertation, thus, I needed to receive it very quickly.  My school mailed it again.  Finally, in the afternoon some days later, the postman brought me a stack of mail.  I was digging for my letter (that was already late) in the heap of all the junk mail and other important letters.  At first, I couldn't find it, but then I noticed that the letter had gotten stuck within a local advertising newsletter.  Finally, after all my searching, the letter was found!  Luckily I hadn't thrown the newsletter away.  Maybe I would have seen my letter sooner if I had only slowed down a little bit and searched piece by piece through all that mail. 
Isn't it the same with the voice of the Lord?  Paradoxically speaking, Jesus saying, "My sheep listen to my voice," implies that those who are not His sheep listen to something else.  It also means there are many other voices that do not come from the Lord.  When listening to Him, there are also other sounds coming with the true voice of God.  That's why Paul says in 1 Cor. 14 that there are different languages which have all different kinds of meaning, thus, we have to pray both in spirit and in mind.  We must understand both rationally and spiritually what we say to God and what He says to us. 
We have to develop our sensibility to discern what is good and what is evil (Heb. 5:14). Thus, spiritual discipline is our choice and practice. We choose to study the Scripture and practice what we learn in our daily lives. And we also pray. Following the Lord takes all our efforts. Of course, in the meantime, God will strengthen our walk in faith.

The works of the painter..

1 Tim 1:15
“This is a trustworthy saying, worthy of full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.”

Rome Caravaggio (1590-1610) was a notorious Italian painter during the Renaissance period. Because of his aggressive and prodigal personality, he was arrested many times over brawling, as well as gambling debts. Caravaggio was already a well-known painter, but his nick name was ‘Bad Boy of the Baroque.’

On the 29th of May in 1606, he even killed a young man named Ranuccio Tomassoni. After the incident, he ran away as a fugitive and ended up in Naples, outside the Roman authorities. In the city, he started to paint religious art to be in favor with the Roman Catholic church for protection. However, he was arrested again and imprisoned over another brawl. Later, in Sicily, he was ambushed by men and killed. 

It is ironic that many of his prominent religious paintings were created during the times of running away. His art was simply made for selfish reasons mostly for safety. One of the well-known paintings is ‘David with the Head of Goliath.’ Most Caravavgio’s paintings were inspirational and spiritual, but he himself was violent, short tempered, and provocative. He could be marked as the 16th century’s Rio Bravo, not with a gun, but with a brush and canvas. 

How did such a creative and beautiful artwork come from a man of hostility? Isn’t inspirational art supposed to be the evidence of the artist’s personal life, reflecting his inner sense of beauty, love, and nobility?

After long hours of prayer, the painter would be inspired by the Spirit of the Lord and create an inexplicable masterpiece…this would sound better…make us feel better.    

It could be true that Solomon’s beautiful poems might not insinuate that he is a lovely person. Elijah performed many divine wonders, but he might not be a person of confidence or optimism. Rather their personalities could be the opposite of what we imagine. God’s work should be understood as the divine emission of who God is, not the tool he uses. 

The way that God chooses a person for his work of ministry is not necessarily related to his/her personal life style. All those biblical figures we respect are simply human beings like us. They might not be as holistic, righteous, or pious as we paint. God chooses anyone, even the most vicious person for his kingdom. The divine moral standard transcends way beyond the measurement of what we think.     
Thus, God can use us, because it is not for us, but the work of his ministry.

Passing by the Lord

Mark 4:12 
"They may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing, but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven."
I had two very similar experiences on the same day.  During this past summer while Jayden was here in Alliance, I had bought his first wallet for him....which he quickly lost.  There was $20 worth of cash in it.  We were looking for his wallet everywhere; my place, the church, even in my car, but we failed to find it.  
Then I lost my car keys.  Again, I searched high and low for them, but couldn't find them anywhere.  Since I had an extra key, I was not too worried because I could still drive my car.  Unfortunately, I looked for days and still failed to find them.  One morning I got in my car, and as had become my routine, checked to see if I might finally be lucky and find them.  To my surprise I found Jayden's wallet sitting on the backseat of my car.  "What in the world...?"  How was it possible for me to miss his wallet?
Since I miraculously found the wallet that morning I once again began to rummage in my house for my car keys after I returned for the day.  Not finding them, I finally I gave up and took a break to watch TV.  Guess what...the keys were right in front of me hanging above the TV.  "What in the universe...?"  They were there the whole time - I was watching TV but I couldn't recognize them?
How is it possible that I was constantly failing to notice things right in front of me? Is there some mysterious force screening what I see and what remains hidden? According to psychologist Ulric Neisser, when our minds are busy focusing on one thing, our finite brains leave out other things and selectively pick up easier, and less important information. I was so caught up in looking for my car keys and Jayden's wallet that my brain selectively delivered easy information, which blinded me from identifying the two objects outweighed by other objects in my field of vision.  Simply saying....I wasn't looking, but was just informed by whatever my brain transmitted.
Two people read the Scripture or worship the Lord but only one of them could find the Lord through his/her spiritual eyes. Our minds are filled with much of our thoughts, worries and concerns, then our brains could just select easy information and deliver it to our minds. So, we have the knowledge of the Scripture and worship on a regular basis but might fail to see our Lord's love and grace. One person can deepen his/her faith and spirit while the other just hovers on the surface only seeing the superficial facts about Jesus.  
We must set aside a quiet moment and ask the Holy Spirit to slow us down so we can absorb everything He teaches us; or, we might miss the truth that God is trying to impart to us

Drive Through Disciple?
Matthew 16:24
Then Jesus told His disciples, "If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.
I pulled my car into an oil change service in Los Angeles.  It usually takes about 30 to 40 minutes to complete the change, so I was going to wait in the lobby.  I then realized there was no lobby; but, a sign hanging right underneath the entrance said, "15-minute drive through oil change".  I know there are drive-through coffee and drive-through fast food places, but a drive through oil change? It is good to have fast service without getting out of your car.  At the same time, I worried about how the quick service might cause the technician to miss some mechanical detail that could end up damaging my car.
In Las Vegas, there is a drive-through marriage service. You can marry someone in five minutes and still stay in your car. 
In Korea, you can have a medical drive-through checkup. You stick out your arm from the car and let it go through a medical laser scanner, which shows the results of your high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, and any skin diseases.  I wonder if we can do a drive-through worship service, baptism, or communion. Good idea? 

Becoming Jesus' disciples does not happen overnight. You can meet God and accept the Lord in a few seconds. You read the Bible cover to cover overnight, but that does not necessarily make you God's disciple. Earning the title "disciple," or "mature Christian, takes many stages in a life's journey. The term 'disciple' in Geek means 'going through the dust.' You undergo all the senses of human experience:  sadness, disappointment, failure, as well as success, joyfulness, and many others. There might be a time that the world is against your dream, so you are tempted to leave everything behind and abandon your faith. In another time, you would feel like you are the luckiest person on earth. With those ups and downs, your faith is being shaped in a unique form that would empty your old self and make your inner self strong and secure. You reach the point that your faith could never be shaken in any circumstance. That person we call a 'disciple' is always calm, joyful and patient, because he/she knows that God is in control. God is the one who orchestrates his/her life and leads them through their lives.   

Where is the kingdom?

Matthew 13:33

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Last week, I was poking around in the library at church, checking to see if there were any books I could use in my sermons.  Then one particular book got my attention which also took my breath away.  It is called A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken, which was one of my required readings for my school in Boston.  This book is the 1st edition hard copy released in 1977.  It is very rare to find the original, so the book that I found would be highly valuable.  The cover paper is a bit worn out, but it is mostly brand new; there are no marks of any kind and no damage to any of the pages.  Who would imagine that such a cherished volume was hidden among other books in our library?  For the last 40 years, this book has been just sitting there watching people pass by the sanctuary.  Our church library has an amazing collection of books for the bible study and devotional reading.  Stop by and check it out.  You would never have known there was a real treasure there. 

One of the aspects of the kingdom of God is hidden; it means He would come to us at an unexpected place at an unexpected moment.  You wouldn’t plan to see, hear or experience God’s kingdom on your schedule.  Our Lord would come to you at the least expected place and time. 

That is why we are so joyful and elated - this is the second aspect. When the Lord visits you, the mysterious pleasure encompasses your soul and mind, so you would know it is the Lord who is with you.

Many false voices in the world disguise themselves as the Lord’s truth.  They often simply show you, what they believe, would bring you up to your highest spiritual level and free you from the world of pain and suffering.  But the fact is, God peace and truth is unknown to us all.  How and when he comes are hidden to human beings.  But when He comes, He would let us know it is His presence and spirit in the most inexplicable way.  That is why we must keep searching, looking, and waiting with patience and hope.  He will come with inconceivable blessings and joys

Pray for your keys?

1 Tim. 2:1 “First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.” 

I parked my car in a public parking lot and took a shuttle bus to go to the airport. Looking down, I noticed that there was a key chain stuck between my seat and the next, and it had many keys dangling from it. It seemed that a previous passenger who came from the airport got off the bus leaving the key chain behind. I told the driver about the keys that I found, and he said, "Oh No!"  He immediately turned the bus back to the parking lot where a young couple with two little children were standing.  The looks on their faces showed anguish and worry. The keys belonged to them. They thought that they had lost them and did not know what they would do without them. One of the keys was for their rental car that they had to return that day. The husband held both of my hands and thanked me several times saying, "You saved my life today."  All the other passengers on the bus were laughing and cheering. He said, "I have never been so thankful to see my keys ever!" 

On the way back to the airport, I pulled my keys out of my back pack and made sure they were all attached. Then I realized that each key is actually very important for my life. One of them is my car key of course. Then while riding the bus, I decided to pray for each key, "Thank you for providing me the car and helping me drive safely each day." Next I prayed for my church key...I mean for my church. Next was the key to my house in LA, and I prayed for my family who lives in it. Last was the key to the church P.O box, and I prayed for all the people who deliver mail no matter how harsh the weather may be. 

There is an old Korean saying, "the darkest spot is right under the lamp." It means the most important thing you're looking for is right next to you, and you often miss it. 

Our keys are made for the things that are so valuable that they are to be stored securely. It could be possible that we miss them, or don't really pay attention to them because they are there all the time with us...or, we believe in our minds that they are there since we always keep the keys with us. Maybe, those keys should remind us of places or people who are in need of our prayers today.  

Why don't you look at your keys now and see if you are missing the opportunity to pray for those that each key brings to mind? Don't lose your keys and don't miss those opportunities to pray for those that the keys remind you of. 

Slow Down

Psalm 37:7

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! 

In Denver I rented a place five miles away from my school. It was a long walk, but fortunately, I had the luck of borrowing a bicycle from one of my classmates, Rev. Lance Swearengine. It was a sturdy mountain bike with heavy duty tires because he would use it during his triathlon events. I thought that having this sturdy mountain bike would not be a problem for the five miles to and from my school. But, on the first day to my surprise, my assurance was shot. On the way home from school, I had a flat tire and fell over at a crosswalk in front of cars that were waiting for the signal. Then the bus driver stuck his head out of his driver's side window and said, "You got a flat tire." The blazing 100-degree heat did not help with my embarrassing moment. Luckily enough my friend, Lance, was nearby and picked me (and his bike) up in his pick-up truck. For the next few days, I had to walk the five miles under the hot sizzling sun. 

However, walking those five miles turned out to be good. While walking slowly, I found a laundromat along my route that Susan was looking for. Then there was a Pho Vietnamese noodle restaurant in a strip mall, that my classmates wanted to try that was easily accessible. After lunch I found a computer repair shop next to my place where I could go to have my laptop computer fixed. How could I have missed all these places before? It was a hot and sweltering walk, but I got more out of it including some good exercise. All those places would have been ignored and out of my view if I had ridden that bike. 

Finding those places made me feel special and excited. I felt like I was the only one on earth who saw them. 

But at the same time, several thoughts flashed through my mind, 

  • "How many important moments in my life have I missed because I was too busy to slow down?
  • "How many opportunities to hear God's voice have I overlooked because I was in a hurry to dash through my schedule?
  • How often have I paused myself and simply looked for what God offers me?

Is this the reason that sometimes God slows us down in the midst of all the noise and in the full bustle of activities, so he can turn our attention from ourselves to Him alone?

Jesus set a time to be alone and away from His busy ministry. That time was essential to be in the presence of His father, God. And His life was completely alone again on the Cross. This time He was broken and that was necessary to show us who He truly was and why He came to us. 

God slows us down, so we can quiet ourselves and see all the things that He has for us. Being broken is not all bad. We are broken; therefore God comes to us to heal our wounds. 

Is Laughing Medicine?  
Philippians 4:4 "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice!" 

Last Wednesday during my time at Denver Seminary, I had a severe headache.  I drank some coffee and then took medicine, but nothing worked.  The pain distracted my focus on the lecture all morning long.  Then, during our break, a few of my classmates went out for lunch.  In our talks, one of us discussed another student's gestures and remarks in class.  It made us burst out laughing to the point where I almost choked on my lunch.  Then strangely enough I realized my headache was gone.  Not only that, but I felt refreshed in body and mind as well.  I didn't have the poking pain anymore.  Did the laughing work like medicine? 

Gelotology is the study of laughter. The term comes from the Greek, 'gelos', meaning laughter. Later the term became 'helo' which created the word "health".  Ancient people believed in laughter as a form of medicine which would impact the human body and mind.  Gelotology was coined in 1964 by Dr. Edith Trager and Dr. W.F. Fry to describe the scientific study of laughter.  They stated that humans laugh with their whole physical being.  Humor, mirth and laughter are on the side of contributing positively to the maintenance of health and survival, from the standpoint of their physiologic effect. 

In 2001, Dr. Ronald Berk, claimed the physiological benefits of laughter:

(1) improves mental functioning

(2) exercises and relaxes muscles

(3) improves respiration

(4) stimulates circulation

(5) decreases stress hormones

(6) increases immune system defenses

(7) increases production of endorphins 

Smiling, giggling, laughing, guffawing... these all are good things for our health and mind. How can we always remain feeling joyful and delighted? 

Looking at our lives, we barely encounter an occasion that makes us laugh. Often, we're overpowered by our worries and concerns, so there is no room in our minds for joy.  

Williams James, philosopher and psychologist, said that you don't smile because you are happy. You are happy because you smile.  

I would like to extend this quote to what Paul says in Philippians 4:4, "rejoice in the Lord all the time." His statement implies that we're not able to rejoice all the time without being in the Lord. Our life circumstances are sporadically changed. Our emotions can be swayed by outward events. So, we have to be in the Lord. Our tremendous composure comes from being in Him who knows what we need and who knows when we need it.  So we can smile...and laugh!

It doesn’t take a big thing
John 1:46 “Can any good thing come from the little town?” 

Frank and Joanne Toldstedt invited me and my family to a musical of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” at the Post Playhouse at Fort Robinson.  Wait, a musical at Fort Robinson?  Last Sunday I preached on Phillip in John 1:46 and what Phillip said flushed through my mind, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  So, can any good musical performance come from a tiny little town?  I passed the town last year and didn’t stop because I thought there was nothing to do there.  If taking a nap is your major event, then yes, Fort Robinson could be the best place… this was my ignorance.   

For 2 hours, I was mesmerized with the musical and it was not due to the cold freezing air conditioning. My two boys were in awe-struck the entire performance not moving a muscle and thoroughly engaged with ever song, action and humor.  Most of the performers were professional actors and actresses from New York, Los Angeles, and other major cities.  The music, choreography, and acting were excellent compared to the shows I had seen in L.A.  I was amazed to see such talent in the middle of nowhere.  It doesn’t take a big city to have an excellent show as long as the production is good.  

Looking at many historical figures who strongly influenced the courses of the world, we can see that a great thing doesn’t need to start with a great moment.   

(1) Dwight Eisenhower once said that he developed his responsibilities as general and president when he was involved in an accident that cost his younger brother an eye. He learned to be accountable for those who are not able to protect themselves.

(2) Mahatma Gandhi could have been a faithful Christian if he didn’t meet the church elder who was mean to him.

(3) Adolf Hitler would have been a different leader if his father would take good care of him. 

Who would have ever imagined that salvation would come from the grave located in a small town in Israel?

Who could expect that the darkest grave that had been forgotten by the world would be the most popular place in the world?    

Let’s look around you and see if there is anything that has been ignored by others, especially a person who you think is hopeless or has no chance to be a better person.  When God snaps his fingers, everything could change from the lowliest to the exalted.  So, we are always hopeful.  Can a good thing come from the little town, Nazareth?  God can do it.  He will. 

What value are we pursing for?

Colossians 2:8
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. 

There is a restaurant in Magnolia, Ohio where the owner is a 4th generation descendant.  The business has been running continuously since 1914.  The main dishes served are fried chicken, buffalo wings, biscuits and gravy, and all sorts of pies. Everyday, people are waiting in line for at least 30 minutes to get in.  Some of the customers were little children when they first ate there. Now they are bringing their own grandchildren to the place. The uniqueness of this restaurant is because they've kept the original menu, and cooked with the original recipes the restaurant used when it was first founded by its original owner. All the food is at the same price of $7.99 including the coffee. No money?  No problem.  Just pay later when your days are better. If you are over 70, everything is half priced. I can't wait until I reach that age to get that big discount! What about the taste? Yes, everything is homemade. Not frozen, nor filled with preservatives such as MSG. Even though the owner makes less than his margin, his philosophy in keeping the business comes from a promise made to his father, who has also kept the same principle that his father and grandfather, the original founders did. The core value of the restaurant is to serve people with homemade style food without any gimmicks. All the neighbors respect the history of the restaurant and its value to its customers. So they eat there, enjoy their memories with the food, fellowship with the owner's family, and appreciate their faithfulness to keep the original values of the restaurant.

Our value in the U.S. was established by our first immigrants in the early 1600's. They were seeking things like greater economic opportunity, or religious freedom. The common ground in those two distinctions was keeping unity in the family. The first Thanksgiving was held in the fall of 1621, when the Plymouth Colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast. What they really were thankful for was the support of their families after a few years of enduring conditions in the harsh environment. 

That thankfulness has been a significant factor in the U.S, which is also aligned with the value of God's creation. He created man and woman and they should not be separated. However, the foundation of God's creation has been shaken. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2011, one in three couples are divorced, and 26% of children live with a single parent. Among the 26% of children, 36% of them live under the poverty line. The major reason of the brokenness is parents' selfishness, irresponsibility, and lack of faithfulness. 

Personally, I would like to add my own view of the shattered family system. We have not been effective in teaching the core value of the Scripture to our children. Studying and teaching the Scripture has been secondary to deepening the experiences and principles of our culture.

The value of the Scripture is neglected while secular knowledge and norms are prioritized. Thus, our children are overcome with the teaching and pressure to be successful in where they are now, not teachings to be fruitful in the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The core values of the Scripture are missing within us and our children. Someday, our children will need to learn to stand alone in our society as we do. What value are you teaching them? What value do you think would make them joyful and blissful in their lives? I bet we all know the answer. There is nothing more valuable than the love of Christ.

The Truth of the Scripture
Ephesians 1:13-14
In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.

Last Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited the Bible in his defense of the border policy that is resulting in hundreds of immigrant children being separated from their parents after the parents entered the U.S. illegally.  He said, "I would cite to you the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, 'obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.'"

Please understand that I am not trying to get involved in any political debate on the separation of children from their parents.  Also, putting forth my opinion on the immigration policy is not my intention.  What I am concerned about here is that Scripture is being used out of context. If this isn't addressed, we could end up being caught up in logical beliefs and false doctrine, not the correct interpretation that Scripture requires. 
What Paul truly commanded here has two social and religious implications: 
(1) Paul emphasized a strong sense of Christians' social ethics and civil obligations.  As a citizen of Rome or a person under the care of its laws, he/she must represent themselves as a morally honorable person.  The essence of being salt and light to the world is living as a good example to both believers and non-believers.   
(2) The command is Paul's warning to the Christian community that being rebellious against the Roman government would potentially bring severe persecution upon themselves.  There were several insurgent Jewish groups, which continuously instigated military actions upon the Jewish community.  During the Jewish-Roman Wars (66-73), the city of Jerusalem was completely destroyed by the Romans (70), and over one million Jews were massacred. 
Thus, Jeff Session's quote on the immigration issue misplaces the Scripture's true purpose in an inappropriate situation.  According to his use of the Scripture:

(1) We do not need law makers anymore.  Any government policies and laws should be reviewed and revised by legislators to reflect current needs and changes.  What Sessions said could prohibit laws from being reassessed from various perspectives.    
(2)  The UN should retrieve their political and economic influences from all those brutal governments that severely violate human rights and even kill many innocent people in order to retain control through their dictatorships.  People should be submissive to their leaders who are appointed by the Lord. Are they?  We are all appointed by God's authority.  
Using a part of the scripture without engaging into the whole context is dangerous.  We can blindly believe our own ambitions as God's plans.  We can build our kingdom believing erroneously that it is God's kingdom.  It has been historically proven.  In 1943, a few Jewish leaders visited reformed Christian leaders in Germany to stop the systematic genocide of Jews.  They quoted Matthew 27:24-25:
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!" All the people answered, "His blood is on us and on our children!"

The Scripture is not a secondary resource to support what we think is true.  We believe the Scripture because it is the truth.  We read the Scripture not to find a solution for an issue we have. Reading the Scripture is to reaffirm who God is and invite Him into our lives, so that we don't lose our focus on Him.

The Only Truth

Deuteronomy 32:5-6

They are corrupt and not His children; to their shame they are a warped and crooked generation. 6 Is this the way you repay the Lord, you foolish and unwise people? Is He not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you? 

Once upon a time, automobiles were hailed as the solution to an acute environmental hazard.  A century ago in a city like Milwaukee, a quarter of a million pounds of horse emissions fouled the streets each day.  In Chicago, 10,000 dead horses had to be towed away in a single year.  With the flies and pathogens in the manure dust aside, magazine writers compared the overall "horse cost of living" unfavorably with the cost of switching to cars.  At the time, a gallon of gasoline cost 18¢, which today would be close to $4--exactly where we are now.  But that was still a bargain compared to the oats and tack and stables needed to sustain what Thomas Edison called "the poorest motor ever built." 

However, in our modern world, environmental concerns are at an all-time high.  Cars today are the major criminals of air pollution.  Once they were the savior of converting the dirty earth to a clean planet.  No matter how high the gas prices get, and how fast the earth's air is getting filthy, people don't give up their cars to use buses or other modes of public transportation.  

What we believe as the truth now would not be true at a certain point in the future.  Human certainty in what they create on earth is provisional depending upon the mercy of any circumstance.   

God calls the Israelites "a devious and crooked generation."  They are foolish and senseless because they frequently turn their trust from the Lord toward the temporary things they see on earth.  They created their own gods while moving in the wilderness.  What they rely on seems certainly and quickly promising to provide for their needs.  Their minds were corrupted, not able to see the only truth, which is God's truth.   

Foolish and senseless people should not be measured by any human rationale or academic capability.  Rather they are people whose absolute beliefs are nurtured by what seems to be wise and good about what they created.  They might be intellectually smart by human standards; but they are foolish, corrupted, and senseless by God's principles.  The only Truth is the word of God. He is the one who is our Savior.

Imaginary God?
Job 23:8-10
But if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him. 9 When he is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him.
10 But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
Twice a year, our Presbyterian Women's Group organizes the fundraising event called "Imaginary Bazaar." You might wonder where this name comes from.  The term "Imaginary" actually comes from the teachings of Scholasticism that was a popular critical thought in Europe from 1100 to 1700. Its core principle includes that all things have a God-given essential nature independent of human thought. Medieval Christians upheld three beliefs, that is the vision of reality accepted by all orthodox Christians from the early church through the High Middle Ages. The beliefs are: 

  • The world and everything in it is part of a harmonious whole ordered by God and filled with meaning - and all things are signs pointing to God.
  • Society is grounded in that higher reality.
  • The world is charged with spiritual force

These three beliefs are called "imaginary." We feel beauty, goodness and love beyond our experiences with our senses.  The high reality of God is there. That is "imaginary." I guess that the title "Imaginary Bazaar" was made from the sense of the high reality.

  • God is there no matter how we feel about Him.
  • The Creator of the universe exists even though we do not really see Him.
  • Imagine how your support would demonstrate the love of God to others.   

The Imaginary Bazaar is a faithful bazaar. The Lord utilizes all of our efforts, times, and even finances no matter how little they are. He uses them all in His way. God uses you in His perfect plan in ways that you cannot imagine.

Future of Christianity

Ecclesiastes 12:1

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”

In college my philosophy professor shared with the class a prediction that his college professor had made. He said that in 40 years, Jewish people would be prominent leaders and would be leading in all areas in this country.  The reason the professor made this prediction was because he had noticed that most outstanding students were Jews.  Ninety percent of the Jews in America are Ashkenazi Jews, who were descendants of the diaspora Jewish populations of Eastern Central Europe. They were educated by their parents on the history of their culture and religion. So, high academic achievement was their means to success in this foreign country. They studied hard and were respectful and diligent in all that they did. 

Students and young people are the criterion of the future of our country. What they see, think and do will be the culture and social norms in later years.   

In 2005, sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton examined the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers from a wide variety of backgrounds. What they found was that in most cases, teenagers adhered to a mushy pseudo religion that the researchers deemed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). 

MTD has five basic tenets:

1.      A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.

2.      God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.

3.      The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

4.      God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.

5.      Good people go to heaven when they die. 

The major reason for the decadence that diminished the glorious days of Christianity in Europe was the absence of Christian education for the younger generation. What we see today in American young people could be the reflection of what happened in Europe. In Los Angeles areas, many new churches spring up, but in a few years they are no longer active. What is the reason for this? It's because there is no fundamental Christian Education.  People enthusiastically started these churches based on current cultural trends and totally missed the basic teaching of Scripture. Feeling emotional satisfaction, or just gathering for fellowship does not represent "the Rock" of our faith.     

The future success of Christianity will fall into the hands of the younger generation. They will be the leaders of the church and this country. What do we need to teach them? How do we go about doing that? These are the questions we all need to ponder.  

See God through Everything

Genesis 11:4

4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” 

In a Boston restaurant, there was an argument between an older gentleman and a young mother.  The mother’s son (age 5 or 6) tripped over the front door while leaving the restaurant.  At the exact same time an older man entered the restaurant, saw the boy fall and helped him get up.  He told the boy to slow down or he could get hurt.  Then the mother heard his remark and was annoyed by the man’s comment.  She snapped at him saying, “He didn’t run.  The door nudged him down while you were walking in.”  The man immediately blurted out, “So it’s my fault?”  Then the squabble broke out.  While sitting next to the door, I witnessed the whole incident.  It was the boy who dashed out of the door like the Rock (Dwayne Johnson) in the movie G.I. Joe III, by twisting his feet in an unbalanced step and flying through the ground.  Prior to the fall, the boy was being impossible calling his mom and sister an idiot.  However, the young mother was the only one who failed to see her son’s true colors of being an insufferable little brat but instead blamed the older gentleman who compassionately helped him get up with a grandfatherly advice. 

It is obvious that a spoiled kid could be created by ignorant parents who are too trusting in their kid’s decency and behavior.  When a mother’s love is blind to a child’s genuine behavior it could limit the child to learn from one’s mistakes in order to develop a healthy social behavior.    Unacceptable behavior could look acceptable to some parents and therefore not be corrected which could damage a child’s sense of civility. 

The Renaissance movement created fear and superstition of the Catholic religion in Europe in the 14th to 15th centuries.  Conformist, humanists and reformers were awakened by the movement and lead the age of Enlightenment which was bridged to modern history.  The Renaissance period started with an effort of seeing God who is at work in the lives of humans by using their intellect and reasoning.  Then, their creation was a ladder in seeking God.  Later, humans began to see themselves and dismissed God from their world. Humans and their arts remained, but the Devine Being was not present anymore. 

Their blind belief in human rationale and intellect turned the chance of building Christ-basis Christianity into humanized culture.  The term “art” comes from the Latin word “art” as “be,” such as “thou art beautiful.”  So, the term “art” could mean “be who you are as a human.” 

Absolute trust with tangible and non-tangible inventions that humans created can blind us from seeking God as the Creator and therefore generates a false sense of image of humans owning the universe.  There is nothing certain on earth where we can completely rely on something.  God has given humans the ability to create beautiful art to see the Lord.  When we see only ourselves, there is no God.

Blessed….the poor

Matthew 5:3

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there is the kingdom of heaven.” 

Sunday afternoon I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop in Hollywood, CA, waiting for my family. The coffee shop is located at  the heart of Hollywood Boulevard where thousands of people from all over the world are visiting, and traveling around the town every single day. The famous Hollywood Walk of Fame is right next to where I am and I'm also only a few blocks away from the church that my family attends for worship. The richest town "Beverly Hills" is right below the Boulevard. Fancy shops and malls are mingled at the convergence of Beverly and Hollywood.  You can hit Santa Monica or Malibu Beach in 30 minutes. It is not exaggerating to say that Hollywood Boulevard is the most busy, vibrant, and populated place in this country...maybe even on earth.

However, on that particular Sunday, I noticed something that normally wouldn't get my attention.  Most people sitting or standing around me looked beat-up and burned out. Some of them must be working for the movie industry as script writers.  Others are wearing peculiar and sort of sensual outfits. It seemed that they were actors or actresses who were waiting for a chance to be spotted by their fans. I guessed that some others might have worked the night shift and just gotten off. There are a few homeless people passing by the shop. Among the exciting and extravagant appearances of the town, I saw more worn-out and drained faces which I was usually not aware of. Behind the richness and luxuriousness of the city, loneliness and brokenness are inherent in the town which would be a more genuine and realistic observation of this life.   

At the most famous lecture, which could have been the first official teaching of Jesus on earth, the Lord says, "Blessed are the poor..." The very first blessings initiated with "blessed (are) the poor," are written in Greek.  It might not be an accurate interpretation to read the term "poor," as economic poverty.  Among the crowds, there must be socially and economically upscale people whose lives are more comfortable and secure than others on various levels. So, it is more appropriate to understand that the term "poor" indicates our inner condition. The concern of our Lord comes in the first place in regard to the state of our inner minds.  Our Lord sees into the depth of our minds and finds that we all might feel emotionally or mentally drained or isolated. It is known to the Lord that we need His healing to renew our minds.

Thus..."theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  The blessing of the Lord is His Kingdom that brings newness to people's broken minds. Most importantly God's kingdom is already ours.  We have already had the blessing made available to us. The only thing we need to do is to recognize the blessing by accepting it into our minds. 

Set your mind on high, on the Lord our Savior. That's the beginning of your healing.

What Comes First?

Philippians 1:15-18

5 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.  18 But what does it matter?  The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this I rejoice.

Regarding the picture taken at the funeral service for the late first lady Barbara Bush, David Priess, a former analyst and daildy intelligence briefer at the CIA, wrote in his tweeter,

“Each president in this photo did things I disagreed with politically.  Quite a lot, in fact, for most of them.  And yet I never doubted that every single one of them acted based on core values, including love of country-not, primary, love of self.” 

What he said hit the “core value” of who we are as one nation, regardless of the differences of our views on what we should do for our life.  Our actions are confined to one unifying norm that defines our love for the whole nation as long as we remain loyal to this country.  We are all embraced by the great cause of patriotism for our nation. 

The word embracement is often used as a good practice for the virtue of who we should be in today's cultural diversity.  Being embraced or embracing others seems to be a   moral attitude that the present cultural value is demanding.  All our differences are emerged into the efforts of harmonizing our life styles.  Simply saying, we accept our differences and reject any level of discrimination. 

Christianity is aligned with the cultural code.  What Paul says is that all different methodologies to preach the gospels should be embraced whether they have an ingenuine motivation or not.  It seems his statement is widely open for any type of dissimilarity and does not allow any discrepancy or disagreement. 

However, what Paul says is confined to just one great cause- “Christ is preached.”  As long as Christ is the center of the proclamation, the practice of preaching is a matter of divergent procedure for effectiveness.  Without the great cause to begin with, embracing methodological diversities is merely a senseless purpose.  We do not blindly embrace others’ belief systems rooted in their cultural value or trend.  Peer pressure does not function in our work for the Lord.  All those differences can be accepted in the limit of the gospel message of Christ.  That’s why John says in John 15:6, “Without Christ you can do nothing.” 

Loving Christ always comes first.    

Why the Greatest Command? 

Mark 12:30-31
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Matthew 5:44
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

On the Antique Road Show, one lady brought an antique tea cup to be appraised by an expert.  The show expert check the item carefully and thoroughly, then said it was an emperor’s tea cup made in 15th century England.  It could have been invaluable if paired up with its plate.  The owner didn’t know anything about a plate.  Then later on in the show, another person had a plate that could possibly match.  Two antiques together truly became an emperor’s tea cup.

Jesus’ command “Love your God and Love your neighbors are the essence of all his teachings.  This is an absolute paralleled statement that one cannot exist without the other. You can’t love God without loving your neighbors. In the same way, loving your neighbors can prove your love toward the Lord. You should do both, because it defines who you are as a faithful child of God. Your identity can be in a perfect status paired with both loves. If you just love God, you would be a religiously rigid person. If you just love your neighbors, you could be just a humanist or philandrist.    

So, to love your enemies requires you to have the two. Love and pray for those who don’t care for us is very challenging. We need to have the same sacrificial love that Jesus has for us, so we can extend the love to others. That is why love your God and love your neighbors are the greatest command. It has both the nature of God and nature of who we should be.   

Embracing and Beyond

Romans 7:24-25 

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! 

In 1993, Kevin Carter, a well renown photojournalist, took a Pulitzer Prize photo that stirred the world.  This infamous photo was named “The Vulture and the Little Girl” which appeared on March 26 in the New York Times.  This fragile Sudanese boy reached the United Nations feeding center in Ayod, South Sudan.  The Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography awarded this amazing capture in 1994.  The boy amazingly got up again and made his way to the camp.  That one photo moved the hearts of many people around the world and brought numerous support for the people of Sudan.  

Unfortunately, Kevin Carter took his own life a few months later after the award. He had seen enough starving and wounded children to last a lifetime.  At one point, he couldn’t bear it anymore.  Kevin was only 33 years old.

Suffering and pain are permanent on earth. We live in a world of hurt, wound, isolation, animosity, and loneliness. They are the nature of this world inherited since the fall of Adam and Eve.  Blaming the fallen nature within human morals and ethical values are meaningless because it is not a system that could be modified by a rational decision or perfect justice.  The nature is intrinsically immanent in our mind and soul.

 This is the reason that God sent His only Son to this world, so that He would show us the hope and eternality beyond suffering and pain.  The term “beyond, does not exclude the fissures of the world, rather it embraces them within the hope and eternality.  The Cross that Jesus took upon his shoulder carries both the brokenness and eternality -His death and resurrection.  This Friday we will experience the brokenness-His death.  But that’s not all.  His eternality will ultimately encompass the darkness.  That is the meaning of Easter, the power of the resurrection of Christ.

Awareness of Our Weakness
1 Corinthians 11:28-31 
"Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying."
Among historians, Abraham Lincoln was one of the most popular presidents of all time. He was actually ranked first by 91 presidential experts. Most people already know Lincoln's history, including the Emancipation Proclamation, which reshaped the cause of the Civil War, and the Gettysburg address in which he invoked the Declaration of Independence by saying "government of the people, by the people, for the people."  However, behind all those political accomplishments that he had achieved, his childhood trauma at the hands of his father, Thomas Lincoln, is virtually unknown. His father was uneducated and very harsh with Abraham. They did not have an intimate father/son relationship. So deep was the rift between the two that when his father passed, Abraham didn't even go to his funeral and refused to return to his father's home.
However, Abraham was well aware of the fact that his dysfunctional relationship with his father was his weakness and that it would have a negative influence on his personality and political career.
Abraham Lincoln once said in the President's Annual Message to Congress, which later became the State of the Union Address:
"All human beings have their weaknesses, but not all of us realize them, come to grips with them, or offset their negative impact. As a group whose primary endeavor is interacting with other people, leaders must accomplish the paradoxical task of managing their darker sides."
A great leader is not without weaknesses, but is well aware of them, and has not allowed them to have a negative impact on his or her life.  
Paul's strength is his weakness. It can be rephrased as "the awareness of his strength is his strength." We may not be able to conclusively determine the depth of his self-reflection and analysis of his statement, but we do know that he is acutely aware of his personal shortcomings and inner scars. He thus intentionally turns them into the humble motive to suppress his sinful nature and to empty himself of all his secular ideas and thoughts which could prevent him from coming to the Lord.
Paul thus joyfully pronounces "I will boast of my weaknesses." Boasting is our willingness to admit our weaknesses and surrender them to our Savior and allow Him to work through them.  When we are aware of our weakness and allow the Lord to take over in those areas of our lives we can begin to redirect our daily steps toward intimacy with God in our relationship with Him.
Allow the God of all power to begin to work through your weaknesses and you will be amazed at how much stronger you will be!

Moral Conscience in the love of Christ 

Romasn 14:15
"If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died."

In the novel, Les Miserables, Javert is a capable and strict police officer who occupies a place of honor in French society.  He was determined to live by the laws and rules without any hesitation of choosing justice over moral conscience, which often leaves no room for mercy or generosity.  However, his resolute beliefs in his authority crumbled after meeting the convent Jean Valjean.  After years of chasing Valjean, Javert has a chance to arrest him,  but then lets him go out of mercy.  Unable to accept this moral conscience over justice, Javert kills himself. 

What the police ended up choosing reminded us of Judas Iscariot.  He felt severely guilty in his moral conscience that he sold his master.  Unable to overcome his shameful act, he took his life too. 

A moral conscience is a part of Christian faith.  They are not fused in a single entity.  Otherwise Christianity could fall into a moral religion such as Confucianism or any other rationalistic religions.  They are human centered religions pursuing profoundly all-encompassing way of thinking and living that entails ancestor reverence and traditionally cultural norm.  You follow what the law tells you to do, then you become righteous. 

Christianity, however, transcends the limit of human morality.  We live in the range of Christ’s love which covers what humans are not capable of.  We are not able to be perfect in any ethical codes, so we need the love of Christ and His mercy. What we’re struggling is between living up to His love and our sinful nature.  Christ’s sacrificial love always wins.  So, we don’t fall into a permanent shamefulness and eternal damnation.

Necessity' Without Knowing...

Matthew 16:21

"From that time on, Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."

In the early 20th century, a French botanist was attracted to the plant, Forsythia, which was blooming in the Spring.  Since it can be only seen for a few weeks in the Springtime, he brought the plant into his house and put it in a warm place, expecting to see its bud come out sooner. However, after a few months, the Forsythia didn't bud at all. Rather, the plant was drying out and turned dark in color.  Bewildered, the following year the botanist bought two Forsythia plants, and placed one in his home and other outside. After watching both plants he realized that only the plant that went through the cold winter outside sprouted its bud, and would fully blossom. 

The term 'necessary' is often applied to an invisible process.  Breathing air is necessary for humans to survive.  Parents' love for their children is necessary for them to have healthy emotions. In both cases, we don't see the processes of how the air and the love work in our body and emotions; but, we do know they are 'necessary' without knowing the cause.  The cold temperature is necessary for Forsythias, even though we don't see how it works in the plant. That is the way God creates the plant and produces its flower. 

Humanity has asked the same question for two thousand years, "Why did Jesus have to die?" "Why was it necessary?" The answer is...we do not know.  The only thing we can be sure of is that, that is the way God designed His saving work for humans. The important thing we need to do 'necessarily' is not to ask the question of why God planned such a process, but instead, trust His deepest thoughts on our behalf. 

In the same way, it is necessary for you to be where you are now, whether in spring, summer, or cold winter. Without those seasons, God's highest purpose for your life would not be accomplished.  Remember you are who you are now because you have gone through all those harshly callous circumstances.  God is good...He knows what He is doing.   

The Light is among us

John 12:35
Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. 

During both the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies, the hosts proclaimed that South Korea is the world's leading country in IT technology and science development.  In 2017, Bloomberg News published the Bloomberg Global Innovation Index and ranked South Korea first among all nations in digital media, tech density and patent activity.  However, this highest achievement has a historical back story. 

In 1879, Thomas Edison created the greatest invention of the age - an incandescent electric lamp.  Edison established the Edison General Electric Company by bringing his other businesses together, hoping that his new invention would be used by many people. However, at that time, his competitors wouldn't let Edison use his success to distribute the electric lamp. The Thomson-Houston Company emerged as a dominant innovation company in those days and tried to devalue Edison's new technology for the lamp.  During that time, Korean delegates were visiting New York and were very impressed by Edison's lamp.  Korea's last king, Gojoing, received the report from the delegates regarding the lamp, and he immediately told them to bring the technology to his country.  On September 4, 1882, faced with the obstacles from his rivals,

Edison's company decided to import the lamp and its technology to Korea in order to experiment on how it would be successfully installed and used for the public.  Finally, in September of 1883, the Edison's lamp was lit up at a Korean palace.

Korea became the first nation in the world to have electric technology for the public. 

Jesus figuratively described Himself as the "Light of the World".  The Light had the sense of public usage that meant that Christ's message was for all people.  However, this message was preached to the Gentiles first who were desperately in need of a Savior. (Matthew 10:5-7)  Later, Paul was chosen to bring the Gospel out of Israel.  There can be many theological interpretations and assumptions about why God planned to evangelize the Gentile nations leaving the Jews behind.  In my humble opinion, employed with some common sense, I believe that the Gentiles accepted the message without any doubt or rejection.  While Jews and their religious leaders were heatedly debating Jesus' political motivation, those who were marginalized simply received the Lord's message and let it shine upon them.

 We're walking through the season of Lent.  This is the time to set aside all our worldly concerns and simplify our spiritual discipline.  Go back to the Scripture and see who Christ is.  He is the Light among us.... not just among the church staff or seminary students, but among all people

The Real Symptom

3 John 1:2
2 Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul.

Two years ago, when moving to Alliance from Los Angeles, I was sick for two weeks with a severe headache.  I assumed it was due to the lack of sleep from driving for a few days, so I took some aspirin, but it didn’t work.  Then I took extra strength Tylenol, but still the headache didn’t go away.  Later, I came to the realization that the cause of my headache was from the high altitude of Alliance.  My place in L.A. is only a little over 1.5 feet above sea level while Alliance is 3,800 feet.  For those two weeks, without knowing the real issue of the sickness, I just dealt with the symptom on the surface.  

Jefferson Bethek posted his sensational spoken poem “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.”  It has been viewed by more than 33 million people so far.  In the video, he says,

“The problem with religion is that it never gets to the core, it’s just behavior modification, like a long list of chores.”

It is implying that the churches today are revolving around their internal struggles of moral scandals, fractions over theological views, and relational conflicts while losing the sense of activating the message of Jesus for the world.  However, our diagnosis usually lays on the failure or mismanagement of our leadership or incompetence of our relational skills; the real issue could go deeper than what it appears on the surface.  

Paul addresses, when it is well with our soul, then everything may go well with us.  All the symptoms we see on the surface do not surpass our spiritual status.  Our relationship with the Lord, both personal and corporate dimensions, is the primary check point before looking into other symptoms in our spiritual journey on earth.  We should know our spiritual growth is not a tool to eliminate all issues of our lives, but it would provide us Divine confidence and patience with which we would discern the path that God would direct us.  

There are many ways to strengthen our spirituality.  My first and foremost suggestion would be… get on our knees before the Lord.  

It is alright not to know yet.

Matthew 21:10-11

When He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” 

In Hawaii, there are two guys who are best of friends for 60 years, ever since elementary school; Alan Robinson and Walter Macfarlane.  During those years at school up until high school, they got together almost every day and hung out.  There were times when they were separated for a few years like when one of them went to the army.  After finishing the military, he came to join his friend at their hometown.  They didn’t know why they were drawn to each other.  They liked the same foods and had the same hobbies; one guy liked fishing while the other liked boating.  What a perfect combination.  The way they talked seemed identical.  They almost even looked like twins at one point… that’s right.  They were twins.  Since both were adopted into different families, they wanted to find their other families.  Macfarlane’s daughter helped him sift through matches on DNA websites, and they found that one for the top matches was username Robi737, who turned out to be his best friend, Alan Robinson.  They told KHON-TV, “We were shocked. But it’s Ok. Anyway, we’ve been best friends all those years, and we will be best friends for the rest of our lives.” 

Our Lord has been with his disciples and other followers for almost 3 years. However, they didn’t quite understand who Jesus really was. The huge crowds welcomed the Lord and celebrated his entry into Jerusalem.  But they still understood Jesus as a prophet, not the Messiah.  All the prophets in the Old Testament predicted the birth and mission of Jesus.  They proclaimed the message of God and revealed the Divine will and purpose for the Israelites. So, how they see Jesus as a prophet could be the half-truth, because the Lord also proclaims the word of God and reveals His purpose and promise for His people.  Our Lord would soon fulfill His mission on earth and manifests who He really is.  He is hope, inspiration and grace.  Their ambiguity on the Lord will be turned out to be clarity on Him. 

Lent season might come with uncertainty to some of us.  Each year, we walk through this time, and set aside some time to do some spiritual disciplines.  However, ambiguity falls upon our effort to grow in our seeking for the Lord. 

What I am doing is really helping me strengthen my spiritual walk in faith?

Do I need to spend more time for prayer or even fasting?

How come I still don’t know what the Lord wants from me? 

All those doubting questions come into our minds in this season of Lent.  However, as long as we live on earth, nothing is clear to us until we can see the Lord face to face.  That’s why our journey in this world is a spiritual journey which is invisible and requires our faith to hope for things not seen.  Whether or not we are certain in our spiritual walk, the Lord is always present in our lives.  He is there all the time even though we don’t recognize Him right away as our Savior.  So, it is ok not to know Him completely yet, because He knows us for sure.

The Burning Desire

Romans 13:14
4 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. 

The Kwakiutl are North American Indians who keep their traditional lifestyle.  They have lived in what is now British Columbia along the shore of the waterways between Vancouver Island and the mainland.  They subsist mainly by fishing and technology-based woodworking.  Their society is divided by rank and kinship.  One interesting fact about their culture is that they are a prideful people.  The people of Kwakiutl reveal their pride as part of their wedding ceremony.  During the ceremony they burn their property to show off how wealthy they are to their in-laws.  It starts off with small items in their houses and could end up with burning their canoes, their most valuable asset.  This pride battle ends when an in-law runs out of property to burn. 

The term "burn," reminds us of the word "consumerism," which is the compound of "consumer" and "ism".  Consumerism is an economic theory which states that a progressively greater level of consumption is beneficial to the consumers.  Some economists define "consumerism" as our mentality of wanting "more and more, "or "our burning desire."  As Kwakiutl people burn their canoes for their pride, we also burn our desires for products.  The two actions have different facades, but the origin of them is the same - "our burning desire."   

Paul's focus in Romans 13 is that we need to wake up from spiritual sluggishness by taking off our old self and putting on Christ.  As long as we live in this world, we are battling with our sinful desires. It is our constant dilemma wanting to live a life of being a light to the world but burning for lustful longings. Are we able to get away from this? 

·         Can we find a way that we would remain peaceful and calm for the coming of the Lord's guidance in the midst of being tempted to follow what looks better in the world?  

·         Do we have the capability to shut ourselves down to the absence of what our hearts are yearning for, and only be open to gratitude for what God has given to us? 

Paul is very clear about this question. "Put on the Lord and make no provision for the flesh."


That is not Your Fault
John 9:3

His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened that the works of God would be displayed in him."

In the  movie, "Good Will Hunting," Will, (Matt Damon), who was the victim of abuse, didn't know that he was gifted in math. He worked all his life as a janitor and unconsciously convinced himself that it was his fault that his life was filled with misfortune. One day he met a psychologist,  Sean, (Robin Williams), who recognized Will's genius brain. During a conversation with Will, Sean tried to help him accept that the direction of his life was not his fault.  Sean kept saying, "It is not your fault."  After Sean's repeating this eight times, Will finally broke down in tears. Sean helped Will to realize that the past was not his fault, he was not a bad person, and that he can't avoid risks all his life by thinking of what can go wrong.  

Psychology Society Magazine reported that one out of three individuals are emotionally wounded and that those wounds are self-inflicted. When unfavorable circumstances arise, by saying "it is my fault," they try to justify the unfortunate events as their destiny. They accept that their lives are doomed to be tragic. 

"#Me Too" is a movement away from the, "It is my fault" behavior that leads to the "doomed" rationalizations about  life.  Many female victims of sexual assault can't tell the truth about their experience, because of social pressure or people's ignorance about their pain. They remain unheard and their pains are unrecognized. "Me Too" is the sound of "It's not your fault," helping the victims realize that the abuse that they experienced was not because of anything that they had done.      

You might have wounds that are self-inflicted or blame that you have imposed on yourself believing that, "I must have done something wrong." Jesus' answer to His disciples' question was, "it is not his fault," which can be applied to us today.

Things seem to go opposite of what you expect, but it is not your fault.
You feel like you are less fortunate than others who seem to be doing better, but it is not your fault.   

Our Lord has a purpose for you to be here and going through what you are going through.  Jump out of your self-loathing attitude, then you will see how lofty and mysterious God's plan is for you

Our Entire Lives

Jeremiah 1:5
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." 

Last week I got a chance to talk to two other pastors at two different times.  We all had three things in common: same age, same sized church, and studying the same doctorate programs.  However, the way we came together was unusual.  One majored in engineering at a prestigious school with the privilege of working at NASA at the age of 26.  As a young scientist, his future was bright with no obstacles.  However, after he lost his parents in a car accident, he fell into emotional and psychological despair and couldn't get back to his normal life.  Then after meeting his wife, the pastor's life was gradually restored to the way it was before.  During that time of restoration, he met the Lord and dedicated himself to God. 

The other pastor was dreaming of becoming a pilot like his brother.  However, after being denied entry to the military due to his interview, he wasted his time for a few years and then finally got involved in the ministerial area with the help of his father-in-law.

When comparing each of these lives, we had things in common, but the paths we went down were all different.  At some point in our lives, the two seemed to have had a better life than me.  In other times, my life seemed to have been more promising than the other two.  We all were in awe of each other while listening to each other's stories. We all walked on the journey at separate times and in separate places; but, ended up in the same place and doing the work of the Lord.

Our Lord, the Creator created human beings in His image, and sees us through our entire lives.  Isaiah was already appointed to be a prophet before he was born.  The ways Isaiah grew up were led by God so he would become the person the Lord created him to be.  It is not inevitable that we are automatically destined to go on a particular path, but the understanding that when we live in God's will we are managing our lives to reach the point that God set for us.  In the process of our walk, we are repeatedly struggling, falling down, and getting back up.  God sees the whole journey.  That is why we need to be humble and always be hopeful no matter what stage of our lives we may be in.  There are no such words as "total desperation," or "absolute hopelessness."  Our Savior looks and remembers every moment of the way we live our lives. Thus, we all are worthy and precious.  

Our Entire Lives

Jeremiah 1:5
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." 

Last week I got a chance to talk to two other pastors at two different times.  We all had three things in common: same age, same sized church, and studying the same doctorate programs.  However, the way we came together was unusual.  One majored in engineering at a prestigious school with the privilege of working at NASA at the age of 26.  As a young scientist, his future was bright with no obstacles.  However, after he lost his parents in a car accident, he fell into emotional and psychological despair and couldn't get back to his normal life.  Then after meeting his wife, the pastor's life was gradually restored to the way it was before.  During that time of restoration, he met the Lord and dedicated himself to God. 

The other pastor was dreaming of becoming a pilot like his brother.  However, after being denied entry to the military due to his interview, he wasted his time for a few years and then finally got involved in the ministerial area with the help of his father-in-law.

When comparing each of these lives, we had things in common, but the paths we went down were all different.  At some point in our lives, the two seemed to have had a better life than me.  In other times, my life seemed to have been more promising than the other two.  We all were in awe of each other while listening to each other's stories. We all walked on the journey at separate times and in separate places; but, ended up in the same place and doing the work of the Lord.

Our Lord, the Creator created human beings in His image, and sees us through our entire lives.  Isaiah was already appointed to be a prophet before he was born.  The ways Isaiah grew up were led by God so he would become the person the Lord created him to be.  It is not inevitable that we are automatically destined to go on a particular path, but the understanding that when we live in God's will we are managing our lives to reach the point that God set for us.  In the process of our walk, we are repeatedly struggling, falling down, and getting back up.  God sees the whole journey.  That is why we need to be humble and always be hopeful no matter what stage of our lives we may be in.  There are no such words as "total desperation," or "absolute hopelessness."  Our Savior looks and remembers every moment of the way we live our lives. Thus, we all are worthy and precious.          

Walking in an uncharted territory.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

In class, I watched a film on two explorers, known as Lewis and Clark, on an American expedition across what is now the western portion of the United States.  From May 1804 to September 1806, they found and categorized 122 new animals and 178 plants, while mapping the geography and achieving friendlier relations with the natives.  However, what they all found was not what they really planned.  33 people, including Lewis and Clark, went through totally unexpected routes by both their misguidance and geographical obstacles.  But they ended up gaining an understanding of the geography of the Northwest and produced the first accurate maps of the area.

 Watching their stories and the channels they went through gave me an insight on their journey.  Even though they were misdirected with challenging unknown difficulties, Lewis and Clark, along with other people, still had many joyful moments which kept them going on their expedition.  They were electrified by the beautiful wild scenery through the uncharted territories.  The rewards of the expedition were overshadowed by the rough environments.

Lewis and Clark’s journey can represent how we should see ourselves in this spiritual walk on earth.  The reason our walk is called a “pilgrimage” is because we live in two identities; one is the citizen of the work and the other belongs to the kingdom of God.  This double citizenship makes our lives hard and busy.  That’s why Paul says in 1 Tim. 4:15, “Be diligent (in using your gifts) … so people would see your progress.”  Sometimes, we fall into a dead end and wind up making a choice between this world and the kingdom.  Other times, our two identities are crushed and confused.  Walking through the darkest valley doesn’t have to mean “unfavorably outward circumstances”.  It could be an inner struggle, uncertainty of our decision, or ambiguousness on our purpose in what we do and who we are.

In these uncharted territories, we can still have many joyful moments when changing the angle of our view in our life.  See your world citizenship through the kingdom’s one. Evaluate the value of your life by how your heavenly identity is bestowed by the Lord. Then you will find many joyful moments in your life. You will discover your life being blessed by all unexpected journeys you will have taken.    


Happy New Year      

Finding YOU

2 Timothy 1:6
“For this reason, I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.” 

There is a Disney animated short cartoon movie called "Lambert the

Sheepish Lion," released in 1952.  This film focuses on a lion cub accidentally left with a flock of sheep by a stork.  Lambert was raised by the sheep and lived among them.  Even as a grown-up lion, he still thinks of himself as a sheep.  Because of Lambert's features, peculiar from the other sheep - such as his huge claws, large body and luscious mane - he becomes a laughing stock.  However, he then discovers his true identity when his mother sheep is attacked and dragged by a gang of wolves.  Lambert's roar reveals the true nature of who he really is, the beast, the king of the jungle.

Each year, I hope we are all blessed by the Lord and can achieve all the goals and plans we set up before God.  One of the goals, I would suggest to you as your pastor would be to "rekindle the gift of God".  The term "rekindle" can be rephrased into 'discovering' the gift of God within you.  Our Lord has already implemented the gift within you.  It has been inside of you all along; but, the gift has just remained there without being recognized by you.  So, you remain timid and insecure, not realizing the great potential you have been given by God.

With this brand-new year, I want all of us to live a powerful life, being positive, passionate, determined, confident, hopeful and joyful.  Our attitudes reveal the fruits of our spiritual living in the world.  Powerful living is not necessarily achieved by doing something new or creating unknown strategies.  But it requires us to humbly see what God has already given us.  You are great because God has made you great already. 

Here I am not trying to be a motivational speaker in saying "Find your potential," or "You can be whoever you want to be."  My intention is for you to recognize "you"... the true you, the person who God created you to be.  You and I... who need the Lord and His guidance.  This discovery should be our basis for this year's goal.

Happy New Year     

Devotion 2018