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Monday, December 26, 2011

A People Who Sit In Darkness

This week the control of North Korea is expected to pass into the hands of Kim Jong-un, the young son of Kim Jong Il who died last week. He will be the third generation dictator to rule North Korea since it was established in 1948. He inherits a country still officially at war with South Korea.

Since a cease-fire truce was signed in 1953, the two nations have gone in radically different directions. South Korea, pursued democracy and religious freedom. As a result, South Korea has prospered becoming the fourth largest economy and the second largest missions sending country in the world. By contrast, North Korea is the last Communist dynasty. It remains mired in poverty, boasting the largest standing army in the world armed with nuclear weapons. According to Open Doors, Christians in North Korea suffer the most severe persecution of any nation in the world.

The stories behind the history and headlines are personal. I first met Robert about five years ago. He survived the Korean conflict on the streets of Seoul as a child. After the war, he was one of the orphans rescued by Pearl S. Buck and given an education in the United States. He achieved a prosperous and promising career in finance living in Canada, but was battling despondency and contemplating suicide until he met Christ. He is now pastor of a Korean church in the United States. Several years ago he began planting churches in Cuba. He said that he hoped working in Cuba would help him prepare for the day when he would be able to carry the gospel into North Korea.

My good friend Benjamin, also Korean, watched his father killed by North Korean soldiers. For years he harbored hatred toward the North Koreans for what they did to his father, but he found forgiveness through faith in Christ. In recent years he has been helping plant churches in China. Like Robert, he hopes to carry the gospel to North Korea. When asked why he wants to do this, he says, “Jesus told me to love my enemies.”

Last year a young North Korean student told her story to the Lousanne Congress on World Evangelism. Her father was an assistant to Kim Jong Il before coming to faith in Christ. As a result of his faith, he was later imprisoned. She has not heard from him since he was imprisoned in 2006 and suspects he was executed. You can hear and view her testimony by clicking on the image to the right. I have watched the video many times and still find it difficult to watch without weeping.

In these days following our Christmas celebrations, we need to join our Korean brothers and sisters in prayer. Let us pray that God will “shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:79; Matthew 4:18).

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Birth

Life itself is a miracle. Hours before my mother died at the age of eighty-nine, she was able to hear the heartbeat of her great granddaughter in my daughter’s womb. Two months later, I sat outside the delivery room at the hospital and heard my grand daughter’s first cry. Sunrise and sunset cannot compare with the mystery and the beauty of birth.

Our greatest efforts at language, music, art and theology fall short of describing the miracle that lies beyond our comprehension. John described it this way, “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1,2 14).

The Apostle Paul expressed it with these words: “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His son, born of a virgin, born under the law.” (Gal. 4:4). “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.” (Col. 1:15-16).

Birth and life is not about logic and reason. It is about passion and love, about hopes, dreams, aspirations, struggle, pain, healing and forgiveness. All of these are bound up in the birth of Christ. It is here that we see God’s passion and God’s love. In the life of Jesus God lifted our aspirations and our dreams to their highest potential. When Jesus was born, God embraced our struggles, our weaknesses our sufferings and our sins. In Jesus God made known His character and His nature in terms we can understand. “He that has seen me,” Jesus said, “has seen the Father.”

As miraculous as every birth is to every parent, the birth of Jesus was far more so. The Scriptures are clear that He was born of God, not merely man. He was fully human and fully divine. The Bible says that all the fullness of God was embodied in Him. “For God so loved he world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

Monday, December 12, 2011

Music for the Season and the Soul

Everywhere we turn we hear the sounds of Christmas. The little drummer boy drums; the nutcrackers crack; the babe sleeps in a manger in the little town of Bethlehem while the angels herald his coming. How could we celebrate Christmas without music?

The angels could not contain themselves. On a dark meadow outside Bethlehem the heavens were opened and the hills echoed with music human ear had never heard. The angels of heaven joined in a thunderous chorus praising God for His goodness and grace and announced His mysterious gift: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” God is not against us. God is for us. He has extended his hand to us and touched us in the flesh with the flesh of His son. He has healed us and saved us from our sins.

The best acoustic theaters of Greece dim in comparison to the music that echoed on the hills outside Bethlehem. The most extravagant speaker systems of today cannot reproduce it. The greatest composers of history have stretched their talents to capture the emotions and the significance of that moment. They have found their highest inspiration when reflecting upon the birth of Christ.

On August 22, 1741 George Frideric Handel secluded himself in a room in London and started writing an oratorio to celebrate the birth of Christ. Twenty-four days later he emerged with the Messiah. At the end of his original manuscript he wrote the letters “SDG” – Soli Deo Gloria, “to God alone the glory.”

Music is an integral expression of faith. Most of the Psalms written by David were written as songs to be sung in worship. The Song of Solomon is a love song between the believer and God likened to a lover. Music is a gift God has given us as human beings to express our longings, our emotions and our faith. No other creature is endowed with this unique gift. It has always surrounded the Christ event.

I expect that Mary and Joseph sang. Early in her pregnancy, Mary burst into song when she met her cousin, Elizabeth (Luke 1:46-55). I wonder what lullaby she must have sung to the infant in her arms? Music was part of Jesus’ life. The Bible says that after the last supper, Jesus sang with his disciples before going out. Imagine those twelve male voices singing in the upper room. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Col. 3:16).

During this Christmas season, may your spirit be renewed and lifted by music celebrating God’s unspeakable gift.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Last weekend the first strings of light were stretched across rooftops, lawns and windows. They punctuated the otherwise dark neighborhood with brilliant flashes of light. And, with each passing day, other houses added their glow.

This weekend we pulled the Christmas boxes from the attic where they have been patiently waiting since they were packed away last January. Candles, candy canes and crocheted snowmen took their places, surrendering center stage to the nativity. The branches of the tree that stands proudly in the window bowed with the weight of memories: cardboard stars that were cut out by chubby little hands long ago, names printed on them with backward letters; ornaments that remind us of vacations where we laughed and played. We hung stockings on the fireplace mantle, annual symbols of expectation. They once held the names of our children. This year, they bear the names of our four grandchildren, reminding us of their sparkling eyes and heart-melting smiles.

A large part of Christmas is preparation, expectation and anticipation. It feels right to me. That is the way God sent his Son, after centuries of preparation, expectation and anticipation.

The prophets foretold His coming centuries before. From Genesis to Revelation, the Scripture points to Him. Isaiah said, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14). “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6).

The Bible says that when Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary took the child to Jerusalem where they met some remarkable people who had been waiting a long time for this moment. They met an old man named Simeon who had been waiting for many years for God’s promised Messiah. The Spirit of God had revealed to him that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Christ. When he saw the child, Jesus, he took the baby in his arms and blessed God saying, “My eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-35).

Mary and Joseph had hardly recovered from Simeon’s amazing declaration before they met Anna, an eighty-four year old widow who had been fasting and praying in the Temple for years waiting for the Messiah. “At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:36-38)

I guess that is why I like this time of year with all the decorations. It reminds me of God’s preparation and God’s promise. It reminds me of the One who is worth waiting for! He has come, and He is coming!