Canyons, crevices and the cleansing of our hearts

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:13-14

What is the first place you think of when you hear the word canyon? If you’re American or if you’ve been to western United States, The Grand Canyon in Arizona would most likely be your answer. Why not? It is after all THE most famous hole in the ground, which is why it receives close to 5 million visitors annually. But have you ever heard of a slot canyon? I am not a geomorphologist and I don’t claim any expertise on this subject. But my husband and I just had the opportunity to visit the Antelope canyons within the Navajo Nation in Page, Arizona, so I learned a few things about this interesting landform.

Slot canyons are found worldwide, in geographical areas with little rainfall. Here in the US, the ones we know of are in northern Arizona, southern Utah, New Mexico, and California. A slot canyon is vaguely defined as a long, narrow, deep and tortuous channel or drainageway with walls of sandstone, limestone and other sedimentary rocks. I was reading up on the Antelope canyons and admiring the photos on the website of the local tour company way before our trip but I later realized nothing could have adequately prepared me for the experience. What I saw exceeded my expectations.  From the beams of sunlight that find their way through the narrow slits above me, creating natural hues of orange, red, yellow, pink and purple; to the variable and sometimes undulating shapes of the sandstone walls, which, at certain points are literally next to you – everything exudes our Creator’s majesty. It is incredibly beautiful, fascinating, and almost otherworldly. I noticed though that because of the irregularly-shaped spaces inside, there are segments and crevices that remain in darkness.  They are either too distant from the openings where sunlight penetrates the canyon, or they are positioned at an angle that creates shadows and prevents them from being illumined. However, when flash floods occur as they do during the monsoon season, water can rapidly fill every inch of the canyon. There is no corner, crevice, slit, hole, that cannot be reached and washed with the gush of rainwater.

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Prov. 28:13

I believe the same is true of the human heart and that many times, we shelter sin and shame in our own secret crevices. We can understand how this could be the daily reality for someone who is unaware or unyielding to the grace of God. However, this is not only true of unbelievers. Although justified once and for all through Christ’s victory on the cross, believers in Christ are works in progress who continue to wage war against sin.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9

As followers of Christ, we have tasted and seen God’s mercy and compassion. We read in Scripture about the tenderness of our Shepherd’s heart towards the weak. But do we understand the crucial role of repentance in the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in us?  I think that for most of us, we intercede much and confess very little in our personal and corporal prayer life. If we paid more attention to what we say, it sounds as though we seek His provision more than His pardon. We desire to be fed and clothed more than to be forgiven and cleansed. And we know what the bible says about our words – they merely reflect what’s in our hearts. We all have much to learn from the psalmist David, who rightfully lamented over sin and earnestly sought God’s forgiveness.

Have mercy on me O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgression. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! Psalm 51:1-2

Repentance is not an item to legalistically check off some list of what makes one a good Christian. Repentance demonstrates our total dependence on Him against Whom we have sinned and continue to sin. For a child of God, repentance is born out of a heart that has been softened by grace and is secure in the love of the Father; a heart that cannot bear for any of its parts to remain hidden in the shadow of self, unchanged by the glory of His light. The closer we lean into the heart of our Master, the sooner we are able to recognize sin and bring it into the light of His mercy. Genuine repentance enlarges the portals through which His grace flows abundantly. When His Spirit leads us to repentance, God allows us to feel His sorrow over sin, and creates in us a deep desire and thirst to be washed and cleansed by Him who shed His blood in Calvary. The more we linger in His presence in prayer and reflection, the more we are awed by the preciousness of Christ, and the lesser things we were foolishly holding on to are swept away in a flood of grace.

I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. Isaiah 43:25

No one ever visits a slot canyon to sprint through it. Not only is that dangerous. It is also an absolute waste of an extraordinary opportunity to appreciate the unique beauty of this piece of God’s creation. In the same way, we shouldn’t rush through seasons of repentance for they are seasons of great grace. It’s when the grain of wheat falls deep into the earth and dies, in order to bear fruit. It’s when our prodigal thoughts and ways find their way back home, and humbly rest at the feet of Him who purchased us by His blood. There is nothing so freeing as being forgiven by Him who knew no sin. He who desires unbroken fellowship with us, is also the One who sanctifies us. It is therefore with faith and confidence in the Lamb who was slain that we pray:

Search me O God and know my heart
    Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!

Psalm 139:23-24

Sometimes He uses mountains

As we drove through the highways and switchbacks of Zion National Park in Utah, I found it impossible to not be awed by the magnificent mountains that unfolded before me at every turn. It was my first time to set foot in Utah and I had no idea that I would find some of the most breathtaking landscapes here. Looking up, I could see unique and interesting shapes on the peaks, such as the west temple or bridge mountain or the watchman. The spectrum of colors that varied depending on the amount and direction of the sunlight, is no less fascinating. There was red, pink, orange, white, gray black, with some green from the trees that are scattered throughout the mountainsides or in thin strips outlining some of the rock layers. The photographs I took could never adequately capture the splendor that my eyes and my heart enjoyed.

For a brief moment, I asked myself how God could create these beautiful and diverse landscapes. And the Holy Spirit reminded me instantly – He spoke. That’s it. He spoke and the world came into being.

Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded and it stood firm.

Psalm 33:8-9

Now why is this still important for me to reflect on after decades of being a Christian? Because I forget. And because He knows that I forget, yet loves me unconditionally, He never gets tired of reminding me. Sometimes He uses mountains.

In the gospels, we read that there were quite a few events throughout His life and ministry when our Lord Jesus went up on a mountain. Matthew tells us that Jesus went up to a mountain to teach, and that’s where we find the sermon on the mount. The sermon began with the Beatitudes in chapter 5, (which I would love to blog about another time) all through chapter 7. Jesus covered a lot while on that mountain – enough to fill three chapters of Matthew’s gospel. And we see chapter 8 opening with “when he came down from the mountain…” (Matt 8:1). I wondered what it was like to be among his listeners, standing on a plateau or sitting on a rock or resting under a tree while learning from the Master.

We come across another mountaintop event when Jesus was transfigured and demonstrated His glory to three of His closest disciples – Peter, James and John. On that day, and on that mountain, the voice of God the Father himself spoke to human ears, and was heard by ordinary men. (Matthew 17:1-8). Appropriately so, the disciples fell on their faces terrified. But when Jesus touched them, they heard the most comforting words from their Rabbi – Rise and have no fear. Words that our gentle Savior still speaks to us today.

Jesus also retreated to the mountains in order to spend time with His Father in prayer. In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. Luke 6:12 This verse refers to a particular time of prayer that took place just before Jesus made a very important decision; that of selecting the twelve men who would be His apostles. Clearly, Jesus was purposeful and faithful in setting aside time to be with His Father. If it was that precious to Jesus, shouldn’t it be precious to His followers, too?

I see how mountains can really be useful in pointing my heart to God. They help me remember what God has said and done. They invite me to recall what Jesus taught and how He lived. I came to this place with a mountain of cares. I have been praying that God would strengthen me because far more challenging times are up ahead. I have realized that the strength that I seek is not found in these mountains themselves but in the God who created them, the God who still uses them for His glory, the God on which they stand firm. Like all of His creation, my very existence is meant to display God’s glory, and my steadfastness as a follower of Christ depends on Him alone. He says to me and to you, “Rise and have no fear.”

As we pack for the flight home and I recharge my phone battery that has been repeatedly drained in my efforts to photograph the beauty that surrounds me, my heart has likewise been generously recharged by His loving presence in the grandeur of His creation. I’m leaving these lofty mountains today with a refreshed soul and a renewed perspective of how great my Father is, and I pray this truth will equip all of us as we journey in the valleys of daily life.

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Revelation 4:11

This hard place in which you perhaps find yourself is the very place in which God is giving you opportunity to look only to Him, to spend time in prayer, and to learn long-suffering, gentleness, meekness – in short, to learn the depths of the love that Christ Himself has poured out on all of us.

Elisabeth Elliot

Rain clouds for my retreat

“Dark clouds give water when the bright ones do not.” John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress

I had great plans for a lakeside retreat in western New York. I picked a nice hotel with great reviews, and booked a room with a balcony overlooking the water. So I ran some errands, delegated tasks, rearranged schedules to free up myself for two days. And after I got done taking my mom to a routine medical appointment, I took off for the two hour drive, already anticipating some long reflective walks by the lake, and hours of quietly reading my bible on the dock under full sunshine.

Nope! That was not going to happen. A steady rain became my constant companion throughout my drive to Chautauqua Harbor Hotel. Though I found my room lovely and the atmosphere serene, I was still unsure how God would use my time there. But  God did what He always does – He redirected my disappointed heart to Him.  He called me to repentance for letting the dark clouds of everyday life discourage me and diminish my view of who God is.

We live in challenging times and dark clouds loom on the horizon of our personal and communal realities. No one (who is alive) is spared from trials and hardship. In a letter to fellow believers, James wrote  “Count it all joy my brothers (and sisters) when you meet trials of various kinds.” (James 1:2). How does one count it all joy? Does this mean I should try my best to ignore the pain and convince myself to remain happy no matter what? That’s not what James meant. Positive thinking has never been and will never be the antidote to suffering. Imagine if I had chosen to respond with strong optimism, and disregarded the real status of the weather, and I sat on the dock in summer outfit and beach slippers, complete with a straw hat and huge sunglasses, in the middle of pouring rain and thunder.  That would be insane. It would also be highly arrogant of me to think that clouds could get whisked away by my relentless insistence on having more sunshine.

“For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:3

While our human nature is focused on avoiding suffering, James points out that steadfastness is the fruit that results from trials, and this is important enough for us to consider it pure joy when we are tested. Trials bring us to a state of complete dependence on God. Through trials, God corrects our self-centered vision and allows us to rightly gaze at all that He is, which is all that matters – His goodness, holiness, mercy and power. Suffering also enables us to look at ourselves through the lens of humility so that we can see without a doubt, that apart from Him, we can do nothing at all. (John 15:5)

Knowledge of God’s word is essential to our growth and maturity, but knowledge alone does not produce steadfastness. Fellowship with the body of Christ is truly life-giving, but that’s not where steadfastness develops. Nothing else brings forth steadfastness more powerfully than the dark clouds of trial and suffering. Underneath these clouds, we realize that what we need the most is in fact the One who loves us the most. Underneath these clouds, our hearts are transformed and made steadfast by the One whose steadfast love never ceases. Underneath these clouds, we need not suffer alone. When it seems the clouds are here to stay, we can be most certain that Jesus is all the more here to stay.  Such intimacy with Him is reason enough to rejoice.

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:4

I’ve come to see that when, by His grace, my heart seeks Jesus more than it yearns for the sunshine of earthly security, happiness and freedom, even the darkest clouds have no power to steal my joy. Steadfastness doesn’t mean I am unshakable on my own. Steadfastness means I am unshakeable in the arms of my Savior and Lord.

“Can you find a promise that if we follow the Lord Jesus Christ, life is going to be fairly easy? I do not think we shall find even one. But we shall find ever so many promises assuring us that however things are, we may count on strength to make us brave and peace to keep our hearts at rest.”
― Amy Carmichael

The fullness of His knowledge and the fragments of my mind

Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
         Or as His counselor has informed Him?

With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
         And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
         And informed Him of the way of understanding?

Isaiah 40:13-14

Lighthouse in Wellington, NZ

Isaiah 40 has been a beacon of light to me during 2020. In the ESV bible, the title of this chapter is Comfort for God’s People. From a historical perspective, the author did have an immediate audience in desperate need of strength and endurance. Well that describes how I’ve felt since the spring of 2020 – in constant desperate need of strength and endurance.

There are multiple portions of Isaiah 40 that spoke powerfully to me. It was no surprise though that one of the main truths that carried me throughout the year is the greatness of our God and the fullness of His knowledge. Isaiah 40 was a reminder that there is absolutely nothing that God does not know. Unlike me, He does not need anybody to teach Him anything. The psalmist describes God’s understanding as infinite or beyond measure (Psalm 147:5) He who put the stars in their place surely does not need my opinion on how to run the world. (Yes, there were times when I made suggestions). My role as His child, is to trust my Father who lacks nothing at all.

There is something (or someone) else in my current situation that God used to deepen my faith in the fullness of His knowledge. As some of you know, my husband and I are taking care of an elderly parent who has dementia. My mom is definitely still the kind and pleasant woman she has always been, but her thought patterns are very different now. There are days when her mental framework is very fragmented, able to process only bits and pieces of information. She may ask about something totally random, like a classmate from her high school days or a dish from our native land. Every now and then she would insist on doing something that is no longer safe for her and these are the waters we tread carefully. Overall, I find myself becoming more selective of what I relay to her, not because I’m keeping any truth from her but simply because she no longer has the full capacity to handle what she could handle before. I have to consider, will this be helpful to her or will this confuse and overwhelm her?

One night it suddenly occurred to me, that this must be what it looks like as far as the fullness of God’s knowledge and the fragments of mine. I am His creation and child, to whom He has graciously imparted everything I need for me to love Him back and live for Him daily. As 2 Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godlinessthrough the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence”. But compared to His knowledge, mine are bits and pieces, like an unfinished puzzle.

I frequently find myself telling my mom things like, “It’s okay, you don’t have to think about that anymore.” Or “You don’t have to worry about this. I’ll do this for you.” Or “Let me take charge of this so that you don’t get stressed about having to remember.” Similarly, I know that God also gives me only what I can handle. He does not withhold out of cruelty but out of love. Because in reality, there are times (perhaps many times) when I do not know what I do not know.

The only appropriate response to this truth is humility. Humility that leads us to surrender the bits and pieces that we hold and worship Him whose greatness Isaiah proclaimed. Humility that creates that holy discontent – that thirst, that draws us to drink of the Living Waters (John 4:14). Humility that opens the eyes of our hearts to the truth that nowhere could strength and endurance be found apart from Him who endured the suffering that should have been ours (Isaiah 53:4).

There is one book that I read twice in 2020 and I highly recommend it. The title is “Awe: Why it matters for everything we think, say or do”, written by Paul David Tripp. My husband and I read through it together while traveling in New Zealand in February (right before the lockdown!). I picked it up again and studied it throughout the fall, via weekly zoom meetings with a group of ladies from our church. In this book, the author presents Isaiah 40 not only as comfort literature but worldview literature. And I can see why, because the greatness of God and the fullness of His knowledge ought to be THE focal point, THE lens through which we view all things – suffering included. How foolish of me to settle for distorted lenses that exalted the bits and pieces that I know.

I pray that we would face this new year with God-given lenses of faith. I plead for grace to lay aside our fragmented perspective of what normal should be or how the world should look in 2021. After all, the source of all comfort, the source of all strength and endurance remains All-Powerful, All-Present and All-Knowing. He is unchanging and He is my Father who is Sovereign yesterday, today and tomorrow. Happy New Year!

Mountains in Tauranga, NZ

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

Resting on His sovereignty

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD;
he turns it wherever he will
. Proverbs 21:1

Fall at Squires Castle, North Chagrin Reservation, Ohio

I saw this bible verse posted on pastor and author David Platt’s FB page and at once I felt deeply comforted in my heart. I think I’ve mentioned before that when I think of God, one of the main things that truly amazes me is His sovereignty. Sovereignty is God’s power to do all that He decides to do. Job proclaimed this clearly when he said to God –

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Job 42.2

When I think about how God is loving, merciful, faithful, gracious and forgiving, it is such an encouragement to know that whatever it is that He wills is exactly what would take place. But seeing that Job, the righteous man of the Old Testament who loved God and yet suffered in ways none of us ever will, most beautifully expressed the meaning of God’s sovereignty adds so much depth to this concept. A depth that most of us are intimidated to even explore.

Several years ago, I came across this quote from Charles Spurgeon:

“The sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which the Christian rests his head.”

I say yes and amen to this yet there are many times I can’t seem to find that pillow. When challenges confront me, even though they represent only a smidgen of a fraction of what Job went through, I still look to find rest in the old rotten pillow of control. I thought I threw that stinky pillow away. Apparently, it can always find its way back to my bed, when I worry about me or those around me; and even when I worry about those who are or will be in authority over me.

The author of Proverbs 21 believed that God’s sovereign hand works in the heart of a leader. At that time, they had kings as leaders. In fact the main author of the book of Proverbs was a king himself who had both strong and weak moments during his reign. But here in this verse, he acknowledged that even the most powerful man is under God’s control. We can believe this even today, because as we have seen in biblical history, (and even contemporary history), this has less to do with the king and has more to do with the King of Kings. In God’s mighty hand, any king’s heart is but a stream that He can direct wherever He wishes.

Watkins Glen, Gorge Trail

Our world is overflowing with anxiety and believers are not exempt. I’ve come to accept that as long as I’m in this body, my human nature will never give up trying to be in control. Yes, Christ has victoriously and completely paid the price and freed me from the penalty of sin, but His word reminds me that I am daily dependent on His grace and the work of the Holy Spirit for my heart to be changed into trusting Him in all things. And the all things totally includes relying on God’s sovereignty over those who have earthly authority over me. This does not only pertain to government leadership. This also has implications in relationships that we did not choose such as the family we were born into, as well as relationships, positions, and affiliations that we ourselves chose, like marriage, career, church membership, citizenship and others. It is not my intention to minimize the horror of abuse that one might have suffered in any of these situations. Neither do I imply that it is all right to be complacent because God is in control. Not at all! (In my last blog, I marveled at how God used courageous women in Exodus 1&2 to carry out His plan. No complacency there whatsoever). My heart’s desire is simply to bring our gaze back where it belongs: in Christ who is above ALL authority.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Matt 28:18 

Let us place our hope in Him who is Sovereign over the universe that He created.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Col 1:15-17

He invites us to come and rest in Him. So grab that pillow and sleep well….

“Nothing in all the vast universe can come to pass otherwise than God has eternally purposed. Here is a foundation of faith. Here is a resting place for the intellect. Here is an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast. It is not blind fate, unbridled evil, man or Devil, but the Lord Almighty who is ruling the world, ruling it according to His own good pleasure and for His own eternal glory.”
― A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God

Five Women of Courage in Two Short Chapters

It is often said that we are ordinary people, with an extraordinary God. The book of Exodus and all the phenomenal stories in it, definitely point to a God whose ways are far beyond man’s. And embedded within the grand plot of Israel’s redemption from Egypt and journey to the promised land, are multiple moments where ordinary people were given a choice to take a risk and trust an omnipotent God.

But the midwives feared God and did not do what the King of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So God dealt well with the midwives…And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Exodus 1:17,20-21.

Shiprah and Puah are names that are not usually remembered when it comes to biblical characters. They were Hebrew midwives at a time when the king of Egypt, out of fear of losing his dominion to a rapidly growing race, wanted all male babies killed. With no ultrasound yet to carry out gender determination and murder in utero, the king called upon the two midwives with the busiest practice and ordered them to do the killing at the moment of delivery, as soon as they have verified the baby’s gender. But these women feared God more than the genocidal king. And because they feared God and not man, God gave them the courage to do what was right. Even when summoned back and interrogated by the king, they were able to stand firmly and defend their position wisely by giving details on how Hebrew mothers give birth – details that were impossible for the king to refute. Read verse 19 and imagine the king trying to wrap his mind around the scenario: deep breath, now PUSHHHHHH!!!!! He probably said that was too much information, forget plan A, move on to plan B. Meanwhile, God looked upon Shiprah and Puah with favor, and rewarded them for their faithfulness.

When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds in the river bank. Exodus 2:3

Holden Arboretum

Chapter 2 tells us of the birth of Moses and how God preserved his life. Can you imagine being a mom in those days? Baby boys were being thrown by Egyptian soldiers into the river Nile to die. It took tremendous faith and courage on the part of Jochebed (Moses’ mother) to hide her child on the banks of the Nile. We read this with comfort because we know what would happen to Moses. But Jochebed didn’t know that. She took a huge risk. Did she think the river would be the last place for the soldiers to be looking for a living baby? We don’t know. Nonetheless she took the effort of waterproofing the basket so that her child wouldn’t drown. That which was within her power to do, she did well. And she left the unknown to the all-knowing God.

Mothers, think of Jochebed when it’s time to send your kid to kindergarten, or when it’s time to drop him off to college, or when your child joins the military, or leaves for mission work. At the same time, let’s seek the Lord for the grace to waterproof that basket with His love and truth.

Now back to Egypt, where it’s bath time for the princess. I count her story as one of courage, too. She did not belong to God’s chosen race but it doesn’t mean God couldn’t use her.

When she opened it she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” Exodus 2:6

God moved her heart and she took pity on the baby. In that moment, she who was also created in the image of God, somehow saw the preciousness of this life that has been hidden in a humble basket. She knew that this helpless one needed protection – one that was within her capacity to give, though it meant going against her father’s edict. On behalf of a child who was not her own, she chose life. She chose to keep the baby.

As we think of our own life stories, I’m sure there were times when God sent someone at just the right time and place to meet us at our point of need. That someone might not even be a fellow believer, and the encounter was likely unexpected. It only proves that God is able to use anyone, anywhere, at any time, if He so desired.

Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Exodus 2:7

Finally, let’s look at a young girl, the sister of Moses. She has been keeping an eye on her brother’s basket. Was she filled with horror when the maids took the basket and brought it to the daughter of the king; the king who wanted her brother dead? I’m not sure how old Miriam was at that time. I’m in my 50’s. I’ve had years and years of education, training and professional experience. But I don’t think I could’ve come up with a plan as wise as Miriam’s when she came up to the princess and tactfully asked if she could get her a Hebrew woman to nurse the child. Clearly, Miriam was more than a guardian who stood at a safe distance. She sprung out of her hiding place, intervened at the first hint of opportunity, and did it so graciously. She was just a young girl, but God gave her courage.

Hidden Lake, Leroy Ohio

And we know what happened next. Jochebed got paid by the princess to nurse her own baby. Just two short chapters into Exodus and I am already absolutely amazed by the wisdom and greatness of God. No one else could have written this story. No king, no power can stop God’s plan from moving forward. This is because He is indeed an extraordinary God who uses ordinary people. The king of Egypt was already wealthy and powerful, and yet because he didn’t know God, he greatly feared man. He feared the thought of being overthrown by men. The Hebrew women in this story feared God, not man. That’s the difference.

Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Waiting at the watchpost…

Habakkuk. I never knew this minor prophet well. I’ve misspelled his name a few times. Sure I’ve read his book more than once. But except for the last few verses of Chapter 3, I can’t recall much about it. The last several weeks proved I’ve been missing out on deep scriptural wisdom by not studying the book of Habakkuk.

Oh Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. Habakkuk 1:2-3

Just in the first few verses, we can quickly see that many of us share Habakkuk’s sentiments. How long? Oh Lord, how long? Haven’t we been asking the very same question these days? These months? We have something in common with a 7th century BC prophet. As we resonate with Habakkuk’s lamentations, let us not miss the fact that He brought his cries to the right place. He didn’t rant on the social media platform of his era but he also didn’t ignore the gravity of the sins he saw among his own people (i.e. God’s chosen people). In fear and frustration he called upon the Lord and laid his burden on One who is Greater. And so must we.

Watchtower of Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, Italy

Indeed the entire book is a dialogue between God and Habakkuk. It is the only book in the bible of such nature i.e. one that is purely a conversation between God and man from the first verse of the first chapter to the last verse of the last chapter. In a sense it is a depiction of intimacy; a living personal connection that allows one to ask hard questions of the One who knows better. It shows a relationship with enough trust that enables a servant to wait and listen until he hears from His Master. What a beautiful lesson on perseverance in prayer. He said, I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me…. Habakkuk 2:1 And so should we.

Why do we need a watchpost? Why must I station myself on the tower? Could it be that God wants to change our perspective? People, things, and life in general would surely look different from that vantage point. After all, He did say “Look among the nations and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” Habakkuk 1:5 He wants to expand our vision; to open the eyes of our hearts that we may see Him and be transformed. God used the watchpost to change Habakkuk’s heart. He began with complaints but concluded with worship.

Torre de Belem, Lisbon, Portugal

In the watchpost of prayer and humility, God gives us the grace to look beyond our pain and weariness, in order to gaze at His greatness and majesty. From the tower of faith, we can see that He is in fact working out His perfect plan unceasingly. He is neither deaf to our pleas, nor is he uncaring of our suffering. It is difficult for us to see Him for who He is – the Sovereign God of all nations, when we are focused solely on ourselves and all things that concern us. Our hearts must remain in the watchpost of submission, even when we don’t see the answers coming; even when we don’t understand what God is doing. For the righteous shall live by his faith (Hab 2:4). Let us worship Him, the God of all nations, as we faithfully wait at our watchpost.

So wait before the Lord; Wait in the stillness. And in that stillness, assurance will come to you. You will know that you are heard; you will know that your Lord ponders the voice of your humble desires; you will hear quiet words spoken to you yourself, perhaps to your grateful surprise and refreshment.” -Amy Carmichael

Watchtower of the Alhambra, Granada, Spain

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!!!