This morning, I read Henri Nouwen’s journal, “Seeing the Beauty and Goodness in Front of Us”, from my devotional book:
“We don’t have to go far to find the treasure we are seeking. There is beauty and goodness right where we are. And only when we can see the beauty and goodness that are close by can we recognize beauty and goodness on our travels far and wide. There are trees and flowers to enjoy, paintings and sculptures to admire; most of all there are people who smile, play, and show kindness and gentleness. They are all around us, to be recognized as free gifts to receive in gratitude. Our temptation is to collect all the beauty and goodness surrounding us as helpful information we can use for our projects. But then we cannot enjoy it, and we soon find that we need a vacation to restore ourselves. Let’s try to see the beauty and goodness in front of us before we go elsewhere to look for it. (From Bread for the Journey, 47).”
Instead of going elsewhere to look for them, the author encourages us to appreciate and delight in the beauty and goodness that is already in front of us from God. I think that he is right. Happiness is not far away, and neither is God. I then got to wondering what the Bible had to say about this topic, so I typed “near + God” into the search bar on www.biblegateway.com, which yielded 32 results (cf. https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=near+%2B+god&qs_version=NIV).
I started to read through each of the results one by one and found one verse that spoke directly to this topic. Psalm 75:1 says, “We praise you, God, we praise you, for your Name is near.” I read this verse before, but I had forgotten about it. His name is Near! I was so happy to find this verse. Yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!
I just wanted to share with you a little bit about how I have been doing my daily devotion each day. Dallas has absolutely beautiful weather today. Why don’t you go outside for five minutes, stand at the door, soak in the warm sunlight and cold wind and enjoy the beauty and goodness from God whose name is near and waiting for you?
In Assurance Life Bible Study, one of the discussion prompts include, “Name your favorite passage from the Bible.” In other words, “Name one passage you have treasured in your heart and has served as an anchor in your spiritual life.” Do you know what mine is? Mine is Job 23:10, which says, “but He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” It gives me faith and peace whenever I start doubting the choices or decisions that I have made for the present or future. In those moments, I wonder: Am I making the right choices? What if the decisions that I am making now are wrong in the future? Am I doing okay? What might happen to me in the future? I think that verse 10 becomes even more meaningful when read together with the two verses before it: “But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him.
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.” In these two verses, Job confesses that he is completely lost and utterly broken. He does not see any signs of dawn; instead, he feels as though the night has been too dark for too long. Despite all of this, he confesses in verse 10, my favorite verse, that, following this long, dark night, he will come out even stronger and more genuine than ever. He confesses that “God knows the way that I take,” meaning that, in my life too, God always knows me, my path, the intention behind my decisions, the way that I want to live my life, etc. and that gives me extraordinary peace in all circumstances. For these reasons, Job 23:10 has become my favorite Bible passage. What is yours?
I am not sure how many of you still remember my message from Easter Sunday, given that Easter Sunday was already nine days ago (lol), but I preached to you then that the resurrection of Jesus Christ must not be some distant happening in someone else’s life but rather our own personal experience. More broadly speaking, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not just a historical event but also, and more importantly, a personal experience to be felt universally. It can be manifested in our daily lives for spiritual revival, something I believe we need in our lives every day. I found a message in my devotional journal today that encouraged me on this same topic and wanted to share it with you as well:
The Easter season is a time of hope. There still is fear, there still is a painful awareness of sinfulness, but there also is light breaking through. Something new is happening, something that goes beyond the changing moods of our life. We can be joyful or sad, optimistic or pessimistic, tranquil or angry, but the solid stream of God’s presence moves deeper than the small waves of our minds and hearts. Easter brings the awareness that God is present even when his presence is not directly noticed. Easter brings the good news that, although things seem to get worse in the world, the Evil One has already been overcome. Easter allows us to affirm that although God seems very distant and although we remain preoccupied with many little things, our Lord walks with us on the road and keeps explaining the Scriptures to us. Thus there are many rays of hope casting their light on our way through life.
(From Henri Nouwen, You Are the Beloved, P.106).
I have an urgent prayer request to share with you. There is a little girl in the Korean Speaking Congregation (KSC) who was diagnosed with leukemia in the emergency room of Cook Children’s Hospital yesterday. She is having a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy done today. I want to encourage you all to continue to sign up for our prayer and fasting chain for the world, and pray for, in addition to our original COVID-19 prayer requests, this little girl as well, particularly for God’s healing and protection, as well as for her family. Following Sunday Corporate Worship, Phil posted that we had a record week of tithing. I was encouraged by and grateful for not the amount but your desire and dedication to put God at the center of your life. I am proud of you.
During yesterday’s time of commitment, thirteen people sent me their commitments and prayer requests via e-mail and text. I’ve included some of their commitments below, in hopes that our ANF family might continue to encourage and motivate one another and be reminded of the message that God had given us yesterday:
“Today’s message encouraged me to commit to do my best to say no to Satan! To remember that it is my choice to close my heart to Satan.”
“I commit to stop being stubborn and be more teachable. Also, to prioritize God, not money.”
“to be more careful not to let sin creep in; to be better at ruling over it.”
“to open my heart to God and not Satan by practicing consistency and diligence in my QTs with God.”
“I ask God to give me tenacity and strength to say no, when tempted by the Satan.”
“I want to commit to be less afraid.”
“I am committing to be more humble and try to resist temptation.”
“I stop doubting that God can work through my unbelieving friends and family and that I would have more compassion for them.”
“I will live as a child of God and say No to all temptation.”
“I learned that repentance is the restoration of a broken relationship with God and not just having a guilty feeling. I will try to truly repent.”
“I commit to trying to be more self-aware and more honest with myself regarding the fact whenever I sin or fall away from God, it is not because of others or Satan but because of me.”
“I also commit to make more practical efforts to not make money such a top consideration or factor when thinking about or planning my future.”
“I commit myself in not following worldly temptations and constantly talk to God regarding my desires to seek His guidance.”
“I want to be a teachable person and a person who does not make decisions mainly for money.”
“I commit to continue repenting my past sins by working to restore any broken relationship with God.”
“I commit to God that I am no longer a slave to sin anymore. I am a child of God and want to listen to God’s constant love by being humble and teachable.”
This is my Sunday morning prayer for my soul and for ANF family ...
Pardon all my sins of this day, week, year,
all the sins of my life,
sins of early, middle, and advanced years,
of omission and commission,
of morose, peevish and angry tempers,
of lip, life and walk,
of hard-heartedness, unbelief, presumption, pride,
of unfaithfulness to the souls of men,
of want of bold decision in the cause of Christ,
of deficiency in outspoken zeal for his glory,
of bringing dishonor upon your great name,
of deception, injustice, untruthfulness in my dealings with others,
of impurity in thought, word and deed,
of covetousness, which is idolatry,
of substance unduly hoarded, improvidently squandered,
not consecrated to the glory of thee,
the great Giver;sins in private and in the family;
in study and recreation, in busy haunts of men,
in the study of your Word and in the neglect of it,
in prayer irreverently offered and coldly withheld,
in time misspent,
in yielding to Satan’s wiles,
in opening my heart to his temptations,
in being unwatchful when I know him nigh,
in quenching the Holy Spirit;
sins against light and knowledge,
against conscience and the restraints of your Spirit,
against the law of eternal love.
Pardon all my sins, known and unknown,
felt and unfelt,
confessed and not confessed,
remembered or forgotten.
Good Lord, hear; and hearing, forgive.
(from the puritan’s prayers, p.158-159)
In Luke 7:1-10, a Roman centurion, an officer in charge of a company of one hundred soldiers, asks Jesus to come and heal one of his servants, who is ill and close to death. Jesus begins his journey to the centurion’s house, and, when he is not far off, the centurion confesses, “Lord... I am not worthy to have you come under my roof… Only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and the servant does it.” Jesus compliments him for his exemplary faith.
This story reminds me two people: John the Baptist, who confessed, “I am not worthy to untie the straps of Jesus’ sandals” in John 1:27, and the prodigal son, who confessed, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” in Luke 15:21. Let’s learn two things from this centurion’s faith today. First, let’s not take everything for granted, instead being grateful and generous in all that we do. Second, let’s put ourselves under authority, being humble and obedient always.
In Luke 6:12-13, Jesus “went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he names apostles.” I want to share with you two important lessons that we can learn from this passage, the first being the importance of prayer. Why do you think Jesus prayed all night before choosing the twelve apostles? It was because he understood the importance of choosing the right twelve people. Before making any important decisions, Jesus always spent a night praying on the mountain. Let’s also consider how we have been making all of our decisions up until now. Most people try to think carefully and holistically, using different knowledge, traditions, feelings and experiences to guide their decisions. However, the thing that we need more than all of these things is a night of prayer; that is, an utmost desire to follow not what we will but what God wills.
The second lesson has to do with a change of identity. Among the hundreds of disciples that he had, Jesus chose these twelve disciples and named them apostles. In this single moment, their identities changed from “disciples” to “apostles”. What is the difference between being a disciple and being an apostle? It is a common source theological debate. However, the simplest definition of “apostle” is “the one who is sent.” In other words, an “apostle” is a person who is sent and does what the teacher asks, whereas a “disciple” is a person who learns from and follows the teacher. If that’s the case, let’s think about whether we are disciples or apostles according to this definition. I’ll give you four choices: (1) Neither, (2) Disciples, (3) Apostles, or (4) Both. The answer is…
Today, I want to share with you the best devotional journal that reminds us the meaning of birthday.
Birthdays are so important. On our birthdays we celebrate being alive. On our birthdays people can say to us, “Thank you for being!” Birthday presents are signs of our families’ and friends’ joy that we are part of their lives. Little children often look forward to their birthdays for months. Their birthdays are their big days, when they are the center of attention and all their friends come to celebrate. We should never forget our birthdays or the birthdays of those who are close to us. Birthdays keep us childlike. They remind us that what is important is not what we do or accomplish, not what we have or who we know, but that we are, here and now. On birthdays let us be grateful for the gift of life.
(Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, p. 46)
It has been a month since I first started writing my daily devotional journal. If I’m being honest, it has not always been easy, but my hope is that these daily journals can be of encouragement and guidance in the right direction to our ANF family during this COVID-19 pandemic. I am grateful for everyone who has been reading my journal, as well as my beloved editor.
Many find it surprising that even the Pharisees and teachers of the law from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem went to go see Jesus and sat near him whenever he was teaching (Luke 5:17). These Pharisees and teachers of the law traveled hours, sometimes days, to see and hear from him, meaning that they also had opportunities, like Jesus’ disciples, to hear his interpretation of the laws, parables and new teachings and see his compassion and miracles of healing on the blind, the leper and the paralyzed firsthand.
Still, they chose to challenge everything that he said and did from beginning to end, which reminds me of Mark 8:18 (NIV), which says, “Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?”
I believe it was because the Pharisees and teachers of the law did not like change. If they were to accept his teachings, their religious and socio-economic statuses would have been impacted and their behaviors and ways of thinking would have been questioned. Because of this, they always thought that they were in the right and that, by default, Jesus was in the wrong.
What is spiritual arrogance? It is the tendency for one to think that he or she is always in the right and that everyone else is in the wrong. Such spiritual arrogance leads to spiritual blindness, which leads to spiritual stagnation, which leads to spiritual decline. Let’s humble ourselves and begin having the mindset that we can be wrong and that, more often than not, it is not others that need to change but ourselves. Paul Tillich said it best, “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.”
Last night, I arrived back at home around 7 pm, after finishing some other work that needed to be done. Online Living Life Bible Study (LLBS) started at 7:30 pm, and everyone taking that class joined over Zoom: Joseph, Jonathan, Haneul, Kathleen and Tony from Dallas, John from McAllen and Diana from Austin. I was so amazed by their active participation and their desire to not only complete the class but also grow spiritually in the midst of the shelter-in-place rules. I told them that having bible study online is not ideal but that it was still better than not having one at all, for if there is no [spiritual] rain, and our [spiritual] land becomes dry like the desert, we need to go out to find the [spiritual] water ourselves.
Continuing LLBS online and offering online Assurance Life Bible Study (ALBS) is our desperate effort and hope to find this much-needed living water for our souls. I have Phil, Cecilia, Jess Kwak, Issac and Mpanga signed up for Tuesday ALBS and Steph, Jess Lee, Nuri, Jeff and Steven signed up for Wednesday ALBS. Teaching the Life Bible Study classes online is new to me, and I still haven’t gotten used to doing it quite yet. Still, I am hoping that, through such classes, we may be able to experience the rain of grace, as the Bible says in Joel 2:23, “[God] has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain.”