Maker of the mountains

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of usActs 17:24-27

View of the bay of Akaroa from 1300 feet above sea level

Some things are meant to capture our attention big time. Our senses are wired in certain ways to respond to stimuli around us whether it’s the aroma of cinnamon apple pie baking in the oven, the sound of great music played by an orchestra or the sight of a spectacular scenery while cruising. Traveling in New Zealand these past several days, I have definitely enjoyed numerous breathtaking landscapes that I never knew existed. Photographs don’t do them justice. (I try, anyhow.)

In his book, Awe, Paul David Tripp explains that the beauty of creation didn’t happen by chance. God intended for it to be a daily reminder of who He is. Sadly, we often miss the point as we get stuck on the created thing, all the while ignoring the much more glorious Creator behind it.

“We all carry the corrupted capacity to look around us and miss God. We enjoy the glories of creation and yet as we do, we fail to remember the Creator. God meant the earth to ignite and stimulate awe in us. As we encounter the physical world everyday, we should be blown away by the glory of God to which it points.” Paul David Tripp

Approaching Wellington NZ

I chose to begin with a scripture passage from Paul’s Areopagus sermon in Athens in Acts 17, because his audience then were also stuck with created things as their objects of worship. Paul knew that only the grace of God through faith in Christ could free them from wrong thinking and wrong living. Therefore his words pointed carefully to the supremacy of God who made the universe and appointed ALL things. Paul wanted them to know Him in whom all things live and move and have their being; that He is the God who needs nothing from us. His goal was to proclaim Him who is much greater, and the only One who is truly worthy of worship.

Dusky Sound, the biggest fjord in New Zealand

Similarly, only God’s grace through Christ can free us from our shortsightedness when we misplace our affections on things that are simply meant to direct our affections to Him. And here I can’t emphasize enough how knowledge alone is insufficient in creating this change in us. I know that I am an idol-maker. I have a strong tendency to love the gifts and forget the Giver. However, knowing this problem does not mean I can solve it. Only Christ has the power to take away the self-focus that is so natural in us, and replace it with love of Him. The good news is that He does, because He is faithful. It is a journey though, but one that is worth going through, as He daily redirects our path from awe of self to awe of Him.

These lofty mountains of New Zealand remind me that there is an all-powerful God who made them and that no matter how grand a thing, place or person may be, everything merely points to One whose glory has no rival. These fjords have echoed lessons learned in the past – that only a passion for One who is much greater can replace my passion for puny things on earth. Obedience happens only when the heart is made captive by awe, and awe is restored right where it should be – in God and God alone.

Milford Sound, the most famous fjord in New Zealand

On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.” Psalm 145:5-7

Do you know Jesus?

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3

Astronomical Clock at the center of Old Town Prague

Do we know Jesus? Scripture tells us that knowing Christ involves much more than an intellectual belief that He exists. It goes beyond respecting what He has said and done. To truly know Christ signifies a deeply personal relationship in which we not only know Him but we are known by Him. In John 10:14, Jesus said “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”

There is a huge difference between knowing Christ and knowing about Christ. I was preparing to teach at our weekly ladies’ bible studies when I was reminded of this incident that happened while I was traveling.

More than a decade ago, I was shopping for souvenirs on my last day in the city of Prague, Czech Republic, when I had what we could call a miscommunication (though not an unpleasant one) with the owner of a store that sold beautiful handmade crystal items. While I was browsing, he approached me and asked where I was from, and I said Cleveland, Ohio. I half expected him to say “where is that?” But to my surprise, his face lit up as he instantly asked his next question, “Do you know Lebron James?” I smiled and said, “Of course, I do! I know Lebron!” and proceeded to say a few things about him because me and my family were real fans (at that time). I could tell that this gentleman was fascinated to hear all that I had to say about LBJ. All throughout my time in the store, I was treated very well, and was given a generous discount on my purchases. Later, as I was packing the things I bought into my suitcase for my flight back home, I kept thinking about what exactly happened. I knew LBJ had fans internationally and I obviously met one of them. But the VIP treatment this LBJ fan extended to me felt like I was one of LBJ’s own friends. Oh my goodness! That explains it. In hindsight, I recalled that while I was in the store, I did hear the owner tell the other sales clerks, “She knows Lebron.” I think that somehow, I inadvertently gave the impression that I knew Lebron personally, even though I only knew of him, just like any regular Clevelander would know LBJ.

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Cor 2:2

Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic

Christianity is knowing Christ, not just knowing about Christ. Affiliating with a Christian church doesn’t guarantee that one would come to know Christ any more than living in Cleveland would guarantee a personal connection with its then celebrity athlete. Neither does the ability to discuss facts about Jesus make one a Christian; not until God’s grace finds its way into the heart that is seeking to know Him truly.

Knowing Christ is a matter of the heart and entails an intimate love relationship with our Lord and Savior. The apostle Paul considered this to be of utmost importance, that he was willing to lose everything for the sake of knowing Christ.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Phil 3:8

I initially thought that knowing Christ was at the top of Paul’s agenda. But it sounds more like it’s the only item in his agenda. I am not a theologian and I have to be cautious about my opinions. But the more I get to know Jesus, the more I believe that it is impossible to truly know Christ and not be radically in love with Him. I am a long way away from where Paul has been, but this apostle’s single-heartedness for Christ is something I pray the Lord will create in my own heart. I’ve often shared the hymn Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus and I will do so again, because it is true that the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.

Daily I hear about family and friends whom I once walked with in churches and in prayer groups, who have since declared their departure from what they’ve been taught in Christian circles, in order to follow their own minds about life, morality, God, eternity, independent of the authority of God’s Word. While such news are heartbreaking, these stories also alert me to the fact that it is God’s grace that governs the process of truly knowing Him and therefore I do not lose hope. I do not lose hope because it is up to our great God and not me. It is His light that shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5). Perhaps in the past these friends of mine only came to know about Jesus. There is still hope that one day they would know Jesus.

J.I. Packer, author of the book Knowing God said, “Once you become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord.”

Do you know Jesus?

Vltava River, Prague, Czech Republic

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.

hymn by Helen H. Lemmel

In the garden or in the wilderness, He satisfies….

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

Powerscourt Gardens, Ireland

It’s New Year’s Day! Another year has passed. What a great time to thank Him for all that He has done! Indeed all my Facebook friends have been posting memories and testimonies of God’s goodness and all His blessings. One of the common phrases I see nowadays is “my heart is full” which is appropriate when the remembering is much like reaping joyfully from God’s garden of delights. He is undoubtedly the Giver of gifts and to these I say Amen and Amen. All glory belongs to Him who has done marvelous things. All thanks be to Him who has given His Son and in Him has given us all. He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will He not also with him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32

It is equally fitting, however, to reflect on what God has taken away and to be reminded that His goodness is manifest when He takes just as much as when He gives. For some of us, we look back at the year and we don’t see a garden of delights but a wilderness of sorts. When it seemed like He closed a door, when the music we were enjoying came to a stop. When that which we treasured was broken. When a loved one said goodbye. When we were displaced from what was familiar and comfortable. He was loving us in all of these. There is something unspeakably precious in being emptied by Him who works all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Hopefully, we have come to agree with the apostle Paul when he said, But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me 2 Cor 12:9.

Holden Arboretum, Kirtland OH

In her book, Even Better than Eden, Nancy Guthrie wrote: “If you’ve come to the end of yourself, if you’ve been emptied by your delusions of strength, you’re at just the right place to be filled by the goodness of God. You’re finally fillable, you’re fully dependent, there is room for the power of Christ to rest on you in such a way that it will give you the strength to be content even as you continue to live your life in the wilderness of this world.”

To be emptied of ourselves so that we can be filled by Him – let this be the desire of our hearts as we begin another year. Let’s put aside any earthly bucket list, which is just a re-branding of what Solomon described ages ago in Ecclesiastes – a chasing after the wind; because the truth is, contentment remains elusive despite successfully checking off items on such a list. We can also delete the YOLO (You Only Live Once) mantra that is so embraced in our culture, that prompts the pursuit of as many “amazing/beyond belief” experiences as possible, often without regard for what God truly wants for us and of us within this finite time-frame called life.

Only Christ satisfies. Only He is worth pursuing. What is truly deserving of the words amazing and beyond belief is the fact that He pursued us and continues to do so.

For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things. Psalm 107:9

The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied. Proverbs 19:23

Let us come before Him today like an empty cup waiting to be filled by His truth and grace. Happy New Year!!!

Welcome our Prince of Peace

And He shall be their peace. Micah 5:5

….and His name shall be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

It’s (almost) Christmas and the Christmas rush is (almost) over. Since our family had already celebrated and exchanged gifts with each other, I’m anticipating a quiet and restful Christmas day. I am filled with thanksgiving that this has been a very meaningful Advent, rich in prayer, reflection and guided study of God’s word. It has been another season of pruning by the Vine-dresser; trimming and paring me down to the core, which always takes my heart to a place of peace: a place of knowing that I have nothing of my own and that Jesus is everything.

Peace. I’ve never met anyone who does not desire peace. But it is also true that peace is often misunderstood. Many would define peace as the absence of relational conflict. Some equate peace with a blissful feeling or a state of being problem-free. Others require silence and solitude in order to experience peace. However, the peace that is found in Christ is much more than these.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27

To have peace is to have security in Christ, in a way that the heart remains unshaken even in the midst of ongoing turmoil. His peace overflows when trusting my All-Powerful God wins over my attempts to take control of life with my own abilities. His peace overcomes my anxious mind when I am reminded that He has full knowledge of what I do not understand. His peace soothes the aching of my soul when by His grace, I am able to surrender to His will, even if it is not what I would have chosen.

I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world. John 16:33

I am aware that whether in our own communities or in faraway countries, there are countless people who are weighed down with sorrow and strife this Christmas. Losses and longings, hardship and failure could be even more palpable during this festive season. I pray that we may humbly and lovingly serve as compassionate channels of His peace, which transcends all earthly tragedies. No wonder the apostle Paul described it as peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7).

The Prince of Peace entered our restless world that first Christmas. Peace flowed through the gates of heaven that have been opened for us by the Child in the manger who became our Savior on the Cross. In Christ, our peace no longer depends on favorable circumstances, answered prayers, restored relationships, thriving ministries, the healing of our ailments, or anything else.

For He Himself is our peace, not just our ticket to peace. Christ alone. There simply is no one else. The more we adore Him and place our faith in the truth of who He is, the more we are stripped of everything that is not Him. It is in this state of emptiness that God fills us the most with inexpressible joy, and we find ourselves delighting in Him and all that He does. Joy to the world! Our Lord, our Prince of peace, has come.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:14

Bring Your peace into our violence
Bid our hungry souls be filled
Word now breaking Heaven’s silence
Welcome to our world

Fragile finger sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Unto us is born

(From Welcome to Our World by Chris Rice)

Priceless Gift for a weary world …

The true light which gives light to everyone was coming into the world. John 1: 9

Christmas tree inside South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa California

I’m spending a long weekend in southern California, steps away from South Coast Plaza – home of the largest concentration of high end designer brand fashion retail on the west coast with more than $1.5 billion sales annually. That’s an enormous amount of dollars! But then if a Dior scarf is priced at $2,000 (yes, there are three zeros) and a Hermes bag is $12,000, and shoppers have no restraint, then I guess gross sales can add up to more than a billion. In contrast, the annual sales of a brand-name ibuprofen (i.e. “designer pain reliever”) such as Advil, pales in comparison totaling $449 million for all 50 states. (I’m being silly).

Seriously, I am here to neither indulge nor judge. But just like anywhere I’ve been, the sights around me somehow speak to my heart such that past the glitter and glamour, I’m reminded of truths that I’m constantly learning.

What determines value? What defines worth? Is it inherent or earned? Or is it bestowed upon another and by whom? Value is desired by every human being. Each person wants to be affirmed that he or she has worth. Though some deny it, every individual longs to mean much to another.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

God determined our price tag and declared our value when He sent His only Son to save us. When we consider that the Greatest Gift-Giver, gave the Greatest Gift, to the least worthy, Christmas definitely becomes a story that is much bigger than we can celebrate – a radical act of an extraordinary God!

Even in our own limited ways, the value that we ascribe to people and relationships could be reflected in the process of gift-giving. Think of the gifts we give to our own children. Aren’t they more valuable than what we give to other people’s children? Of course! Those who belong to us, naturally mean more to us. We fill them with gifts. We don’t give them away as gifts. To give away what’s most precious, like one’s own son is unthinkable. But that’s exactly what God did. And to whom was this priceless Gift given? What kind of world was waiting for Him? An incredibly broken one…

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6

At the time that Christ was born, the world was definitely not what it is today. The practical needs and external demands were different; the pace was for sure slower. But just like today, the world in which Jesus was born was weary because of sin. The lament of souls in bondage and darkness has been heard since the fall of man. Distant from God, the human heart’s yearning for love and meaning has remained unmet in all generations. The world was weary because hope was nowhere to be found. The only Hope who can illumine this darkness, is Jesus Christ.

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining till He appeared and the soul felt its worth; A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

Outdoor Christmas tree in Costa Mesa California

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life. John 8:12

He who invites the weary to come to Him that He may give us rest (Matt 11:28), He is our Priceless Gift who is unmatched by anything we consider good and beautiful. For the believer, there is no other way to live except in awe of Him. It is impossible to truly know Him and not be changed because His grace is not without power. In the light of Christ, we see the futility of focusing on ourselves. We stop measuring our worth for who needs a lofty price tag when the King of the universe already declares us precious in His eyes. Let us not hold back. Let us give our all to Him who did not hold back but gave His all to us. As we do, His grace transforms us into His image bearers so that those around us will see that there is hope for a weary world and His name is Jesus. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! for the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted. Isaiah 49:13


	

The King worth waiting for…

Micah 5:2-3 “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” Therefore, He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child.

It is Advent season once again! A blessed time of waiting, reflection, repentance and worship. While I’m dwelling on Old Testament passages that clearly foretold the coming of the Messiah, one of the greatest treasures I find is the simple yet profound truth that God acted in love from the very beginning. In Genesis 3:15 when God told the serpent that the woman’s offspring shall crush his head, we see that way back in Eden, God already announced His victorious plan that will be fulfilled in the birth of Christ and His death on the cross. This is why I tend to think of the Old Testament as one long advent season, as God established the lineage of the Messiah, generation after generation, until Christ was born. No matter how complicated HIStory unfolded on the pages before the gospel of Matthew, God always exercised His sovereignty in love and wisdom. He is the God who does not change (Malachi 3:6).

Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.

Each Advent season we celebrate now reminds me that this steadfast heart of God is such that He desires fellowship with His people, no matter how unworthy we are. He chose to come and dwell among us. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth – John 1:14

Isn’t He the King of kings? Was the universe not created through Him? And yet He chose to dwell among men, eventually to be crucified by men. The Creator willingly suffered under the hands of His creation in order to bring creation back to Himself. No other King would do what Christ has done. The depth and breadth of love that compelled Him to take the form of man is something we will never be able to comprehend. I am just thankful that we can worship Him not only for what we know about Him, but even for what we do not understand.

Today, through His Spirit, He remains Immanuel, the God who is with us. Immanuel doesn’t love us from a distance. Immanuel doesn’t accomplish His purposes remotely. Immanuel works in us, through us, in spite of us. And there’s even better news for us who believe in Him. Our advent goes on. Our season of waiting continues. In a sense, our life, our journey here on earth, is one long advent as we wait to be reunited with Him. Christ, Immanuel, is coming again! We, His church are His bride, and we live with the hope and confidence that one day, our Bridegroom will return for us. Hallelujah! Immanuel will come again! And there is none like Him. He is the only King worth waiting for.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. John 14:1-3

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

 

Thanking him with eyes lifted high…

“To whom then will you compare me that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing.” Isaiah 40:25-26

Moses had Mt. Sinai. I have the Holden Arboretum – the place where I can go on prayer walks and be surrounded by natural beauty in all four seasons. I was there recently on a day when there was just enough sun and “warmth” for the snow to start melting, and I noticed right away that the clouds were simply gorgeous. Except for a few short segments where I had to keep my eyes on the ground (mainly to avoid slipping on ice), I was practically admiring the sky for an entire forty-five minutes. With my gaze directed toward heaven, I had the privilege of delighting in the work of His hands, overwhelmed by His greatness, while giving Him praise.

It is easy to be overwhelmed with other things – lesser things, in fact. I can be overwhelmed simply by looking at my schedule or my to-do lists. I can also feel discouraged as I deal with illness and dementia in the family. Some of my concerns are truly trivial, while others are obviously not. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter, for God will always be GREATER than anything that confronts me. He is the only one who has the right to say “To whom will you compare me?” because the truth is there is none like Him. There is no one as loving, as wise, as gracious, as just, as merciful, as powerful, as steadfast, as faithful, as beautiful, as holy, as PERFECT. Sometimes all we need is to lift up our eyes and look beyond ourselves and our cares, to catch a much-needed glimpse of who He is.

As sinners saved by grace, it is but fitting to be awed by His greatness and to praise Him in response. This is how we are to live, always in reverence of Him. It’s never a waste of time to rave about our Savior. As families all over America prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, let us who call Him Lord give thanks for all that Christ is. We are ordinary people, but there is nothing ordinary, routine, or predictable about how He has loved us and how He has drawn us deeper and deeper into Himself. He whose power is such that not one of the heavenly hosts is missing – He is also the One who satisfies our greatest need. Isn’t He wonderful?

Today is much too windy and cold for a walk in the arboretum. But while inside my kitchen, I can still lift the eyes of my heart to the One, through whom and for whom all things were created (Col 1:16). To the One who filled the void of the universe and the void of our lives with no less than Himself, may He be exalted as we give thanks.

Awake my glory! Awake O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Be exalted O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! Psalm 57:8-11