Sunday, July 30, 2017

Paul's Secret in God about Us and The World

Good morning!

Greetings in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. (John 17:17-18)

Apostle Paul was on the journey to Rome.   It was the journey that he decided after hearing the voice of Jesus, “Take courage!  You have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (Acts 23:11b)   As soon as he made this decision, a danger came to him: a group of people tried to kill Apostle Paul.   However, God, who were in charge of everything on earth and heaven, protected Paul.    That very night, Paul was sent to the Governor, Felix under the protection of Roman soldiers.   God also gave Paul a great opportunity to proclaim His Gospel, i.e. the truth about Jesus Christ, and His death for sins and resurrection, before King Agrippa and Governor Festus. 

After hearing his testimony about Jesus, King Agrippa wanted to release Paul, but Paul was to Rome because Paul had appeal to Caesar.  The journey to Rome was started.  It was a difficult journey to Rome.   The ship carrying Paul sailed from Caesarea, where Governor Festus was located to govern Jewish people for Caesar.  The ship also carried other prisoners, Roman soldiers, sailors and passengers.  As predicted by Paul, soon the ship met a terrible storm.   Then they were in dark under the storm for fourteen days without seeing sky.  The sailors took cargoes and even the ship’s gear, and threw them overboard.   Eventually, the ship ran aground near a small island.  Then it was broken into two pieces.  To prevent prisoners from escaping, the Roman soldiers tried to kill all prisoners during the chaos.   Again God protected Paul.  The Roman soldier’s commander ordered not to kill the prisoners.   As a result, all of the prisoners and the rest of the people on the ship escaped safely to shore. 

Once they were safe on shore, they learned that they were on the island of Malta.   The people of the Island were very kind.   It was cold and rainy, so the Island people built a fire on the shore to welcome Paul and the others saved from the shipwreck.  

As Paul gathered an armful of sticks and was laying them on the fire, a poisonous snake, driven out by the heat, bit him on the hand. The people of the island saw it hanging from his hand and said to each other, “A murderer, no doubt! Though he escaped the sea, justice will not permit him to live.”  Paul’s reaction was calm, and just took off the snake into the fire.

Paul might have not known that it was a poisonous snake.   He must have had a pain from the bite of the snake.  Rather than being scared by the snake and its bite, Paul calmly and simply shook off the snake into the fire.  

How many of us would react as calmly as Paul did when a snake bites and hangs our hand?   Paul must have had a faith, which was bigger than a fear that most of us would have when a snake bites and hangs on our hand.   It was not a secret for Paul to have such a great faith.   Paul went through many things with God.   Paul says in the Book of Corinthians 11:23-27:

Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again.  Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea.  I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.  I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.

Yes, the secret was Paul’s sufferings and hardship experienced in God.   His faith and his Godly character was slowly built, not given to him at once by God.  Paul shared this truth in the book of Romans.  

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Paul encouraged us from the precious experience with God through his journey in God.   We can rejoice, when we run into problems and life trials, for we know that all of these seemingly bad things on our eyes (yes, nobody wants sufferings and hardships,) on the contrary, help us to develop Godly character in us.  Our suffering in God produces endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation, which is our faith.

Therefore, under any circumstance, our faith in the hope never disappoints us.  Why?  Because of God’s love toward us, which is the strongest of all things that we know and even imagine.   To prove His love toward us, he put Jesus Christ, his only begotten son, on cross for our sins because the wage of sins is death.   On cross, Jesus was in agony and shouted out of the weight of the sins of all humanity.  But God did not hear His own begotten son, and God made Jesus take all our sins.   Yes, Jesus received all condemnations that we would have to take.  As a result, we are freed from the bondage of our sins – the condemnation of eternal death.  Additionally, God lovingly calls us His sons and daughters.   This is the greatest blessing and assurance.   We can now confidently in faith stand before God as His children.    God also continuously pours this love into our hearts by sending Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit testifies and assures us every moment about this truth.   Nobody can take away this blessing from us.  This is our faith.  Through our faith, we are walking with God, and getting closer to Him, which slowly caves our small Apostle Paul out of us, a raw material before God. 

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."  (John 16:33)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

God's Hand vs What We See and Experience

Good morning!

Greetings in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." (Acts 23:11)

Can we go to Rome?   Of course, for us, it is just a matter of buying a plane ticket, and flying to Rome.   That’s about it.    Of course, if you are in Europe, you can drive to Rome. 

How about Apostle Paul?  At that time, no way to fly to Rome because airplanes were not invented yet.  Even no car was available.  For Paul, it was a long and tedious trip to Rome.   It took months to get to Rome, and it was more than year after he heard from Jesus Christ – “Take courage!  A you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”    For us, it would take a day or so, but for Paul, it was a real long journey.    Additionally, he had to confront huge challenges and dangers that were waiting for Paul.

People, who did not like Paul, plotted to kill Paul in the following morning, but Paul’s nephew heard of this plot, and told to the commander.  The commander hearing from the Paul’s nephew, moved Paul during the very night against the plot to kill Paul.  How serious was the matter?   The commander prepared and sent 200 soldiers, 200 spearmen and 70 mounted troops to protect one single man, Paul from the mob to kill Paul.   Paul was safely moved that night to Governor Felix in Caesarea.   Paul, then, was under the Governor’s direct jurisdiction.   As a result, those who tried to kill Paul had to go through the Governor. 

Five days later, Ananias, the high priest, arrived with some of the Jewish elders and the lawyera Tertullus, to present their case against Paul to the governor.   Paul was brought in too.  They did everything that they could, but the Governor was not convinced.   Ultimately, Paul was under God’s protection.   The next Governor, Festus succeeding Felix, continued protecting Paul.   Later King Agrippa visited Festus, and Festus brought in Paul.   Before the king, Paul gave one famous sermon to King Agrippa and Governor Festus.  In his sermon, Paul testified his conversion from one who persecuted believers to a new person who preached Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.   He proclaimed the Gospel that saved in Christ both Jews and Gentiles.   

After hearing and interacting Paul, King Agrippa found nothing to hold him anymore as a prisoner.   King Agrippa said to Festus, “He could have been set free if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar.”   Yes, Paul already made up his mind to go to Rome, and as a mean to go to Rome, he appealed to Caesar because Paul was a Roman citizen, and he had a right to appeal to Caesar.   Thus, Paul was sent to Rome, and his long journey to Rome was started as a prisoner, not a freeman.   (This reminds us:   a journey to God is not necessarily easy and comfortable.)

The following day after leaving Caesarea, which was the prospering harbor city at that time as a center of ocean trades, the ship docked at Sidon.   With God’s generosity, Paul was allowed to go ashore to visit with friends.   The first day was a good day, but the situation quickly changed.   As soon as leaving Sidon, strong headwinds made it difficult to keep the ship on course.   (Again, we sometimes puzzle why we are up against strong headwinds when we work for God in pure faith.  Here it happened to Paul.  He was faithfully following what was told by Jesus).   With struggle, they barely arrived Myra.    Then the commanding officer found an Egyptian ship from Alexandria to Italy, and put his prisoners including Paul on board.

Several day slow sailing and after great difficulty, the ship arrived Cnidus.   The wind was continuously against them, they struggled along the coast with great difficulty and finally arrived at Fair Havens.  They lost a lot of time.   The sea became dangerous for sea travel.  It was so late in the fall.   Then Paul, moved by the Holy Spirit, open his mouth:  “Men, I believe there is trouble ahead if we go on—shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to our lives as well.” (Acts 27:10)    The commanding officer, instead, listened more to the ship’s captain and the owner than to Paul.   How many times have we experienced?   Although we say the truth from God, the person who are in charge listens to the rest more than to us.   Of course, as the commanding officer, he would have said there were lots of logical reasons why he listened more to the ship’s captain and the owner than to Paul as follows:
1.       Fair Heaves was an exposed to harbor – a poor place to spend the winter.   
2.       Most of the crew wanted to on to Phoenix and spent the winter there, which was  good harbor to spend the winter with a favorable southwest and northwest exposure.
3.       A light wind began blowing from the south, which was the sign for them to get to Phoenix.

Three things that we can observer: 
1.       The current choice is truly unfavorable.
2.       A perfectly logical alternative is available.
3.       A favorable situation surfaces up that encourages to choose the logical alternative. 

Following the commanding officer’s decision, the sailors pulled up anchor and sailed close to the shore of Crete to reach Phoenix.   But the weather changed abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (called a “northeaster”) burst across the island and blew us out to sea.  The ship facing strong storm was blown out to sea.   Then the ship was under mercy of the wind.   The sailors couldn’t turn the ship into the wind, so they gave up and let it run before the gale.   All of the above rational thinking and convincing reasons were immediately evaporated.  They thought that they could make to Phoenix and the situation was favorable, but it was not the case.   The truth did not change, which was foretold by Paul. 

They did everything that they could.   All of the experiences of the skillful sailors were applied.   They bounded ropes around the hull of the ship to strengthen it.   They lowered the sea anchor to slow the ship not to be driven further before the wind.   All these measures were not enough.   The next day, as gale-force winds continued to batter the ship, the crew began through the cargo overboard.    The following day they even took some of the ship’s gear and threw it overboard.   The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone.  God let them suffer to the limit.    No one was eating either for a long time.  

It was about fourteen night in to the storm.   When all hope was gone.   There was no sign that the storm would stop.  The ship was continuously beaten by the storm.   The people and the equipment (anything on the ship) were tossed by the wind.    (I was once on a ship when 10+ ft, i.e., 3+ meter waves were hitting the ship, which could carry about 100 people.  I was literally tossed around.  I was on bed, but I was literally suspended on air briefly and then pushed down to my bed.   The downforce was so hard that I thought that I was buried in the bed.   Standing was very difficult, without grabbing anything attached to the ship.  Eating was completely out of question. We tossed around all night.  Then the sea became calm the following morning.   I was able to see very few people showing up at the breakfast table.  It was a really terrifying experience.   I think it must have been much more terrifying during the terrible storm for 14 days and nights.)

The Holy Spirit again moved Paul, who encouraged the people to eat.  Then he comforted by telling that not a hair of your heads will perish.   They could endure the night.  When morning dawned, they could not recognize the coastline.  Suddenly, they saw a bay with a beach, and wondered if they could get to shore by running the ship aground.    However, they hit a shoal and ran the ship aground.  Then the ship was broken off due to the force.   The water gushed in the ship, and people abounded the ship.  It was a chaos.  Per the standard operating procedure, the soldiers tried to kill the prisoners not to be releases during the chaos.   However, the commanding officer prohibited to save Paul.  (God was in charge even during the chaotic situation.)  As a result, all 276 on the ship were able to escape safely to shore, which was foretold by Paul.   

Let’s examine what had happened.  The initial hope kindled by Paul was not directly translated to a safe rescue from the storm.  Instead Paul, the fellow prisoner, the Roman officers and soldiers had to go through a series of disappointments and unexpected challenges.  It would be easier to be crushed by the continuously unfolding challenging events.   However, Paul was not crushed.   Yes, Paul could have been killed by the Roman soldiers, but God did not allow it.   As God told to Paul, all 276 people, who struggled in the terrible storm, were saved because God was with Paul and the rest of the people although they did not know at that time.

The shore belonged to Malta Island, Paul spend the next three months while healing the sick, and evangelizing the Island people.   Then Paul arrived in Rome after a couple of stops on the way.   When he arrived in Rome, he was allowed to live in a rental home.   He freely evangelized the people in Rome for the next two years.   Yes, Paul’s journey to Rome was not easy and full of unexpected events and dangers although Paul faithfully followed what Jesus told to him.   Paul was also a man of zeal for God.   Whenever and whereever he had a chance, he shared the Gospel.

Is our journey on earth in Christ easy?  Does the world around us suddenly turn into a promenade with roses alongside?   Not really.   Instead, unexpected turmoil and hardships find us from time to time.   What can we learn from Paul?   Continuing keeping faith in God under all circumstances, and share the Gospel whenever opportunities presents before us.   This is what God wants from us.   Why do Paul and we respond in a unique way different from the rest?   This is our humble response to the love of God shown on cross by making our Savior, Jesus Christ died for our sins.   Also God prepares our eternal home, and every day, this home is getting closer, which makes exciting in this world.   This is our hope and faith.   Praise God, who gives faith, hope and love in our heart to know and experience Him!

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

God's Mercy: From Jacob to Israel

Good morning!

Greetings in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”  (Genesis 32:28)

Jacob was an extremely zealous person from his birth.  His mother, Rebekah, became pregnant with twins.  It was God’s answer to a long period of prayers for children because she was unable to have children.   The twins struggled with each other in her womb.   And when they were born, Esau came out first, and then Jacob, whose hand was holding Esau’s heel.   Thus, he was named “Jacob”, which meant heal catcher.  

Since his birth, Jacob had never been changed as the same heal catcher.  He tried to be the first over his brother, Esau.    Here is the famous interaction between two brothers: 

One day, when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau arrived home from the wilderness exhausted and hungry.  Esau said to Jacob, “I’m starved! Give me some of that red stew!”  

“All right,” Jacob replied, “but trade me your rights as the firstborn son.”  

“Look, I’m dying of starvation!” said Esau. “What good is my birthright to me now?”

But Jacob said, “First you must swear that your birthright is mine.” So Esau swore an oath, thereby selling all his rights as the firstborn to his brother, Jacob.

Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew. Esau ate the meal, then got up and left. He showed contempt for his rights as the firstborn.

The above interaction between two about the birth right was not the last one.   Jacob also wanted to have  his brother’s blessings associated with the first born son. 

One day when Isaac was old and turning blind, he decided to give out his blessings to his first born son.   Thus, he called for Esau, and said, “My son.”

“Yes, Father?” Esau replied.

“I am an old man now,” Isaac said, “and I don’t know when I may die. Take your bow and a quiver full of arrows, and go out into the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare my favorite dish, and bring it here for me to eat. Then I will pronounce the blessing that belongs to you, my firstborn son, before I die.”   

Unfortunately, Rebekah, who loved Jacob much more thanEsau, overheard this conversation, and secretly called her son Jacob.  She explained his father’s plan to bless Esau.   Then they plotted together to deceive Isaac, and sent Jacob in to Isaac’s room with a delicious meal while Jacob was pretending as Esau.   Isaac was initially suspicious, but soon deceived and gave his all blessings prepared for his first son, Esau.   It was a tragic scene, but Jacob’s lifelong desire was fulfilled.   Jacob got everything that he wanted even by deceiving his father and his older brother.   Of course, this deception did not last long.  Soon it was revealed.  Esau, who was so angry, wanted to kill Jacob, and Jacob had to flee.  His mother, Rebekah, sent Jacob to his uncle, Laban.   On the journey to the Laban’s house in Haran, the sun was setting, and he stopped to spend the night.  He found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep.   He was alone in the middle of wilderness at night.  

God, who was full of mercy, appeared in his dream, and comforted Jacob.  God blessed Jacob – “I am the LORD, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants.  Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”  (Genesis 28:13-15)

Jacob gave thanks to God, and worshipped Him.  Following morning, he took the stone he had rested his head against, and he set it upright as a memorial pillar.   Then he poured olive oil over it. He named that place Bethel (which means “house of God”).    Jacob, although he fled from Esau due to his wrong doing, God showed His mercy on him.    God was always faithful to His people regardless whether his people were upright or not.  Why?  He knows weaknesses of human beings including sinful nature.  With mercy, God always protects, leads and makes his people to be more like Him, while going into a deeper relationship with Him, the True and Ever-Loving Father.  However, Jacob did not get this message yet. 

Following morning, Jacob continued his journey to Haran.  He found Laban in Haran, and lived with his uncle.  Initially, the relationship between Jacob and Laban was good, but soon their relationship was being deteriorated.  In fact, both were not so honest persons.  They deceived each other.  At the end, Jacob deceived more than what Laban did to him.  As a result, Jacob could collect huge wealth and most of all, he took both Laban’s daughters as his wives.  Jacob was not able to be with Laban, his uncle, any more.   He had to leave the Laban’s house.   Jacob now headed back to his hometown, even though there was his fearful brother, Esau, who tried to kill Jacob due to his deception.   Jacob, who should have known about his sins committed against his brother, Esau, and should have been get out of his old self: self-centered and using any possible mean if he could gain something that he dearly desired – the birthright, the first born son’s blessings from Isaac, and Laban’s lambs and goats.   Jacob was not changed at all.  

His returning journey to home was not so easy, because his heart continuously reminded his wrong doing.  He was suffering from a severe fear of Esau who would revenge by severely harming or even killing Jacob.  All suddenly came back and pressured down on him.    As getting closer to his hometown, his fear about Esau was even more intensified every moment by moment.    Finally, he arrived at the Jabbok River, which was the last river to cross before arriving his hometown.  Although he sent out all of his belongings including his wives, and his children, he cloud not cross the river.   He was simply frozen due to the extreme fear of Esau, because his heart continuously was telling that Esau would kill him.   Jacob started to really feel the heaviness of his sins against his brother.   The sin reality hit Jacob.  The day was getting dark, but he was suffering from the sins that he committed.   That night, Jacob met a man, and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break.  The man was God’s angel, and although Jacob used up all his strength while wrestling, it was the God’s blessing specially prepared for Jacob at the place and at the very time.   In reality, God made Jacob wrestled with his sins and the consequences till Jacob was ready for receiving the promise that was given when he fled to his uncle’s house.  

The man, i.e., the God’s angel, was sent by God to transform Jacob that night.   Jacob, without knowing this, continued wrestling with the angel till the dawn.   Jacob was desperate, he had absolutely no intention to release the angel because Jacob believed it was the last chance to receive his redemption against his sin.  The angel hit his hip socket.   Jacob was limping.  Finally, Jacob could not hold the angel anymore.   The angel was released from Jacob, and the angel saw a new Jacob, who was desperately holding on God rather than his own cunning and deception while justifying his means to obtain what he desired.   Now, Jacob saw the end of his sins, and himself in extreme fear of the consequences of his sins.   Through the wrestling, struggling, and most of all God’s mercy, Jacob got rid of the old Jacob -- self-centered and doing anything for his own gain.   Finally, God prevailed over Jacob.   God carved out the Jacob that he wanted.   Then God changed his name too from Jacob (heal catcher: self-centered) to Israel (God prevails: God-centered).  Jacob’s old self was completely broken before God’s hand.   He becomes a man of God, who was ready to receive God’s promise given to Abram and Isaac.   Yes, God’s hand was stronger than anything on earth.   The strong-willed, old Jacob was finally destroyed, and on top of the broken Jacob, he built the new Jacob, who was finally proper to be called “Israel.”  The new Jacob, Isarel, became the father of the twelve tribes of Israel that we know now.  

God is always faithful to His people, and continue to be merciful.  He is really patient till his people turns and comes to Him.  God, who was patient to Jacob, is today also waiting for us even in this very moment.  Just come to Him, and He will accept us, and He protect and guide us because God is full of mercy.   

For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.  (Ephesians 2:10)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

God's Blessings vs Our Pride and Hidden Sins

Good morning!

Greetings in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch (1 Corinthians 5:7a)

After the death of Moses the LORD’s servant, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant.  God said, “Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving themI promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you— from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites.’  No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you.”   (Joshua 1:2-5)

What a comforting and encouraging message from God!   Joshua was blessed by God, and God promised Joshua “I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you, and I will be with you as I was with Moses.  I will not fail you or abandon you.”   Sure.  We all want the same blessing with the same promise.  Our God, who created heaven and earth, is always with us while protecting through all circumstances.   This assurance is the very center of our faith. 

God dearly loved Joshua.  Joshua faithfully followed God’s command given to him – exploring the land flowing with milk and honey, which was promised by God.   Eight out of the ten spies went to spy the promised land, returned, and reported “The land was good, but we would not be able to subdue the people already living there.  They are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified.  They even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak!  Thus, it is impossible to take over the promised land.”   The Israelites who heard this report, they were in turmoil.   They shouted why we came out of Egypt, where we could have been fed without any worries and concerns.  (Of course, as we all do, they did beautify their past slavery life in Egypt.   In reality, their life was harsh.   Their mourning was so severe, which reached to God in Heaven.)  

However, Caleb and Joshua tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!”   It was the great example of the strong faith of Joshua.    It was logically impossible to invade the land filled with giants and fortified cities because they were not so strong as the people already living in the promised land.  What a dilemma it was!    They came out of Egypt with only one hope to go in the land flowing with milk and honey.   Now the land was just before their eyes.  Yes, the land was truly flowing with milk and honey, but they could have it because they had no ability to conquer the land and receive the promise land.  This promise was given through their multiple generations of forefathers: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  

As soon as the other eight spies heard what Caleb and Joshua said, they sharply disagreed. “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!”   Then they spread this bad opinion among the Israelites: “The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!”   Then the whole community began even weeping aloud, and they cried all night. Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained.  However, Joshua and Caleb kept their hope in God not being swayed by the whole community of the distressed and disappointed people.   Even so, nothing could stop Joshua believing in God.  Joshua continued believing God even though he could not see any evidences and clues about the promise would be really fulfilled.

God loved Joshua’s courage in faith.  Later Joshua led the Israelites and returned to the same place. It took forty years after the first spying on the promised land.  For this time, Joshua was ready to go into the promised land.  God also gave Joshua a huge encouragement:  “Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them.”   Yes, Joshua had an absolute faith in God, which God loved.   Additionally, he was a wise man.    He picked two capable and faithful spies, and sent to them to the other side of Jordan River.   (Joshua and the Israelites had not crossed the Jordan River yet.)   Joshua carefully instructed them, “Scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho.” So the two men set out.  When they came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab, they stayed there that night.

Jericho already had informed that Israel spies would infiltrate and spy out their land.  Thus, they combed through their land to spot the spies, but by the help of Rahab and God, they could escape without being caught.    They returned to the camp where Joshua was waiting for, and they reported that the people in Jericho was in fear because they already knew God had given their land to the Israelites.   What a comforting report that they got!     For this time, the spies could see the hand of God, which was already in action.

On the following day, they left their camp.  In three days, they arrived the Jordan River.  Joshua completely relied on God, not his own might, wisdom or army.   He asked the priests who were carrying the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant touched the water at the river’s edge, the water above that point began backing up a great distance.  And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho.   Meanwhile, the priests who were carrying the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant stood on dry ground in the middle of the riverbed as the people passed by. They waited there until the whole nation of Israel had crossed the Jordan on dry ground.

The Israelites gave thanks to God, and they experienced a supernatural power of God.   They made a memorial in the middle of the Jordan River by carrying in twelve stones by twelve tribes.   Then they purified themselves by circumcising themselves before getting into the promised land.   (By the way, the Israelites were a new generation who were born in the wilderness, and were not circumcised.)  By having circumcision, they were made ready to conquer Jericho, the first city in Canaan. 

Now the gates of Jericho were tightly shut because the people were afraid of the Israelites. No one was allowed to go out or in.  Then the LORD said to Joshua, “I have given you Jericho, its king, and all its strong warriors.  You and your fighting men should march around the town once a day for six days.  Seven priests will walk ahead of the Ark, each carrying a ram’s horn. On the seventh day you are to march around the town seven times, with the priests blowing the horns.  When you hear the priests give one long blast on the rams’ horns, have all the people shout as loud as they can. Then the walls of the town will collapse, and the people can charge straight into the town.”  (Joshua 6:2-5)

It was a totally unexpected and illogical order from God.    No sword, no weaponry, no army, but God ordered seven priests to blow a ram’s horn while circling Jericho.   The rest of the people just followed the priests.  Even so, they faithfully followed God’s order.   As God instructed, on the seventh day, the walls of Jericho collapsed.   The Israelites easily conquered the city of Jericho.   What a victory it was!     We can easily think that all of the Israelites faithfully followed God’s command.   However, it was not the case.   A man named Achan had stolen some of these dedicated things, so the LORD was very angry with the Israelites.  (Joshua 7:1b)    Joshua did not know, and so were the people.   Without knowing this, especially right after the huge and easy victory over the fortified city, Jericho, they were confident about themselves, i.e., their own ability, not God, although God actually made them victorious over the people in Jericho.  

The next city was Ali.  For this time, they relied on their own wisdom and strength, and made a decision:  sending 3000 warriors to defeat the city of Ali, which was much weaker than Jericho.   On the contrary, they were soundly defeated, and some of them were even killed by the people of Ali.    What a disaster it was!  

Why were the Israelites defeated?   Joshua was the leader, who was always faithful in God regardless of any circumstances.   The Israelites felt that God was with them.   However, in reality, these were not enough.    Their heart was already filled with pride, and they did not diligently search and eliminate any hidden sins, such as the sin of Achan.   After the miserable defeat before Ali, Joshua purge all evils among the Israelites, and Joshua and the people of Israel carefully heard God with humility.   Only after this humility and purification, they could defeat the city of Ali in God.    After all, the very source of the first sin ever committed by Adam was their pride in their heart – wanting to be equal with God.   Sin and pride are a deadly mix.   Even the faithful Joshua were trapped in this deadly mix.  Then what can we do?   Let’s focus our eyes on Jesus Christ with humility and purge all sins (especially hidden sins) in us.  

Your boasting about this is terrible. Don’t you realize that this sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough?  (1 Corinthians 5:6)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Good morning, my friends!

Greetings in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18:8b)

As the Holy Spirit came, on the day of Pentecost, which was promised by Jesus, who ascended to Heaven after His resurrection.   The disciples and the rest of all believers gathered in one place.  Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting.  Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them.  And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

Then Peter stood up and boldly preached the Gospel – the death and the resurrection of Jesus.   By the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter’s words pierced the hearts of those who gathered in the pace, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles—all who have been called by the Lord our God.”  Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation!”

On that day, those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church —about 3,000 in all. (Acts 2:41)   What a power of the Holy Spirit!    We all like to be Peter, who powerfully preached the Gospel to thousands people, and made them accept Jesus.  

Peter with John continued speaking boldly about Jesus.   However, soon they were confronted by the priests, the captain of the Temple guard, and some of the Sadducees.  These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead.  They arrested them and, since it was already evening, put them in jail until morning.   Peter endured the persecution with the power of the Holy Spirit with faith in Christ Jesus.   Peter’s perseverance was not just for Peter, but for the people who heard the message of God from Peter.   They witnessed Peter, who was physically confined in jail, but He was joyfully obedient to God in the power of the Holy Spirit.    Thus, many believed God and accepted Jesus.   As a result, the number of believers grew to about 5,000 men, not counting women and children.  (Acts 4:4b) 

The next day, both Peter and John were brought to the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law in Jerusalem.   Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, boldly proclaimed to them, “Jesus is

“ ‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:11-12)

Those who heard this bold message had nothing to say.   So they ordered Peter and John out of the council chamber and conferred among themselves.    Then they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.

But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!  As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”  (Acts 4:19-20)

So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.

But Peter and John sternly replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

The council then threatened them further, but they finally let them go because they didn’t know how to punish them without starting a riot.  As soon as they were freed, Peter and John returned to the other believers and told them what the leading priests and elders had said.  When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God: “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them.  (Acts 4:24)

All of them prayed with heart and mind to God for His Sovereign power and thanksgiving for releasing Peter and John by silencing the religious leaders and the authorities.   Again, this was the power of the Holy Spirit on action, not that of Peter and John.   Peter and John were just a holy instrument to magnify the glory of God, and His absolute sovereignty.  

All humans’ cunning, wisdom and even earthly power were simply powerless before the power of the Holy Spirit    After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.  

When the Holy Spirit is with us, like Peter and John, surely we will be above the power of the world because we are with our God, who is absolutely sovereign to everything on earth.   Peter and John had experienced the power of the Holy Spirit.   Their faith was continuously strengthened in the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus.    The same Holy Spirit acts on us even today, which is the promise and the reality today in our hearts.   

However, Jesus lamented, “when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”    Why?

Like a warrior story, when we heard and learned about great powers of the Holy Spirit, we are all charged up, and we feel that we also could be victorious over all things and hardships in the power of the Holy Spirit.   Is it true to each of us?    Absolutely not.   We are sinful and short of the glory of God.    Our hearts are prone to change like chameleon.   When everything goes well, we all confidently think God is with us, and we are on God’s side.  However, when we confront our life storm and hardship, how do we respond?  Yes, we fail miserably. 

It is absolutely true that we cannot overcome our trials and hardships by our own might and strength, but the power of the Holy Spirit makes use overcome all things, through which God’s name is glorified making people to fix their eyes on Jesus Christ, our Savior.   Yes, we will surely fail in our everyday life even though we cling to Jesus with all our might and strength.  Why?  We are mere humans.   Surely, we will fail miserably; not if, but when.   We might not have strength to pray because of the harshness coming into our life.   Then please do not dismay, and cling to the word:  The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  (Romans 8:26)  The same Holy Spirit made Peter strong in Jesus is with us.  Thus, we will come out more than conquerors through the power of the Holy Spirit.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)