Today I Saw God
What is the first Christmas you remember?
The first Christmas I remember was when I was four years old. It was also the first time I went to church after being invited by my childhood best friend and her family. I think it was a Christmas Eve event for children, complete with a children's pageant and nativity scene. I don't remember all of the details, but I do remember Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. Amazingly, I also remember what we sang that night: "Silent Night". And of course, I remember getting gifts and goodies.
Going to a church on Christmas Eve wasn't a tradition for my family at that time. Even though there were tons of churches around us in Seoul, South Korea, my dad and his family were strong Buddhists. My mom was a Christian, but she couldn't go to church or even tell anyone that she wanted to go. The culture was male dominant and the father's religion was the primary one to be observed by the family. However, I was able to attend church with my friends during my early childhood, although I didn't know much about faith until later, when I was in upper elementary school. I remember I started praying for my family's salvation around that time, especially for my dad and grandma. My mom started sneaking out to the early-morning prayer service each day and because I was an early riser from a very young age, I started following her to the service. As Christmas approached, we would often see beautiful morning stars on very cold, clear winter mornings. I used to ask my mom which star was the one directing the Magi to baby Jesus. She always pointed to the brightest star in the sky and told me that one must have been it.
I still regularly go to the early-morning prayer service and look up at the sky as soon as I get out of the house, just like I remember doing in my childhood. Especially this time of year, the memory becomes more alive when I see bright morning stars.
As we have been learning more about the God of Surprises through this Advent, the idea of God as Emmanuel fills me with wonder. It's amazing that God would even think of coming down to earth as a baby and being born in a manger in the small town of Bethlehem through a virgin named Mary. But this surprising story doesn't end with an unexpected birth. As we all know, it leads to the Cross and the even more surprising resurrection. However, I think there is one more surprise that came just before Jesus ascended into heaven. He reminded his disciples that he came to save the world and told them what they needed to do. If I had been one of his disciples, I would have panicked at hearing the great commission: "Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit."
Because the disciples were all Jews who didn't associate much with gentiles and because they also grew up in local, small towns, they must have been shocked and maybe even a little frightened at the thought of doing what Jesus was asking. What would the great commission mean for them? What exactly was Jesus talking about when he said "all nations"? They didn't have a globe or map of the world. But they all accepted the great commission, as evidenced in the book of Acts. And because the disciples obeyed, the Holy Spirit opened doors and expanded their vision and understanding of all nations. What if they hadn't obeyed Jesus? Perhaps I would have never heard about Jesus in Seoul, South Korea.
Between today's media and the Internet, we live in the most connected era of all time. Our physical view of all nations is truly global. However, I feel that our hearts' view of all nations has rather shrunk. Even though I get news from all over the world from my tiny laptop, I hardly feel for any of the people I hear about, even those in my own country. Especially in the busy hustle and bustle of Christmas, I hardly think of anything other than my church, family and friends (and if there is any wiggle room, maybe my neighbors).
When I was preparing last summer for this year's Christmas cantata, God strongly reminded me what truly needs to be celebrated. Jesus came to earth to save the world. John 3:16 clearly tells us that, "For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." Have you thought about what God really wants for Christmas? I have, and I truly believe that he wants all of us who live on earth to have a relationship with him, calling him Father through the salvation in Christ Jesus.
I pray that this year's Christmas cantata worship services will help open our hearts to receive the meaning of Christ's humble birth. You will hear carols from all over the world. I would like to invite you all to be a part of this celebration and to invite your neighbors, particularly those from countries where Christianity is not the primary religion. I also want to encourage you to go beyond the invitation and open your eyes to see who they really are. Who knows if there is another Yoon for whom this could be the first Christmas experience and who will grow in faith through this simple invitation? This could be our first step in following the Great Commission.
" I think that we humans don't have the capacity to imagine eternity, Mom" said my ninth-grade daughter Joanne. "If we can think of it a little bit, we may live differently."
This short conversation recently grabbed my attention. My daughter's English class had been reading and discussing the book "Dante's Inferno." She was assigned a small group project that explored the different levels of hell as described in the book. When she spoke about her class, she mentioned how she was scared about the conditions of hell portrayed in the book. The most unbearable thing to her was the eternal pain, whether the pain was from a little pinch or painful burning. I agreed with her but also encouraged her to think about the eternal joy on the opposite side: heaven, which is given to us through Jesus.
Lately I have been thinking about this conversation and the word "eternity." Even though I call myself a Christian, l don't usually think about the eternal life while I am living my daily earthbound life. I often live moment by moment and easily forget my final destination.
When I was in fifth grade, my Sunday school teacher taught us about salvation, which leads us to have eternal life in heaven. We learned not only about eternal life in heaven, but also about eternal life in hell. I took it very seriously and started praying everyday for my dad and family who didn't believe in Christ at that time. I was devastated because I loved them so much, and I wanted them to be saved. I brought my best friends to church with me as much as I could because I truly believed in eternal life, whether in heaven or hell.
However, as I got older, having been a Christian for a while, my thoughts about eternal life dulled. The joy of salvation became a phrase instead of a condition in my heart. I can't remember the last time I invited nonbelievers to church or even shared the good news.
I have a reasonable excuse not to do these things often. Because I work at a church, I hardly encounter nonbelievers on a daily basis. Still, I know that is just an excuse. I deceive myself in many ways, making myself believe that I have done my best so far. But I know that is not true.
So, how can I invite people to church so they too have a chance to enjoy eternal life in heaven?
One of ways God showed me recently was through a children's music camp. We all have neighbors, co-workers or friends who don't believe in Christ or who don't know who Christ is. And one way we could introduce them to Christ is by inviting their children to experience a little taste of heaven by singing, playing instruments and learning about other cultures all around the world. An experience like that could show them that God holds the world in his hands.
I pray that Floris UMC's Children's Music Camp in August could be an opportunity to provide a glimpse of eternal life to children who may share their experience with others, just like I did with my friends and family as a child.
I truly know how powerful it is to share the good news of Jesus Christ. I believe that God heard my prayers for my dad when I was young. Though he was not a believer then, he became a strong believer later in his life. I am deeply grateful for my Sunday school teacher who taught me about eternal life.
I would like to invite you to share this good news with the children. I wish as I grew older that I had kept that passion about eternal life in heaven. If I did, I would have lived differently each day. But, it is never too late to help others and yourself.
As a psalmist prays in Psalm 51, I pray, "Restore to me the joy of salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."
I don't believe in the New Year's resolution thing. However, I am a big fan of finding certain words to focus on at the beginning of a new year. Usually I pray about it and ask God to show me what I need to work on.
Surprisingly, this year my focus words are not from the Bible. What a shock! Actually, God gave me words based on his ideas but not in his book: "No parking any time. Keep moving."
I have found over the years that I have a tendency to want to stay where I am. Even though I pursue ultimate sanctification as Jesus told us to do, I enjoy being just me because it's comfortable. But that doesn't allow me to grow.
When I was a voice major at Indiana University (IU), one of my voice teachers had a sign with red lettering on his piano that read, "No Parking." The sign was a reminder for students to think about the very important singing method of flowing through breathing and sound. A "parked voice" may cause damaged vocal folds, and the sound may go flat. Without a doubt, it's an ugly sound.
We can find many similar things in our lives. Water needs to flow somewhere so it does not get stagnant. So do we: physically, spiritually and mentally. If we stay in one position too long, our body gets stiff. I am very thankful for my Gear Smartwatch that buzzes with a notification if I stay still for fifty minutes.
Some of you may have heard the story about the fish tanks transported from the East Coast to the West Coast. People tried to move a school of fish from east to west. They fed them, changed their water and took care of everything, but all of the fish ended up dying. They failed twice using the same methods. But on the third try, they put octopi and squids in the tank with the fish, both predators of the fish. On that trip, all the fish made it alive because the predators forced the fish to keep moving around in the tank during the long journey.
When I park my spirit in one place too long, full of contentment, I become self-righteous and numb about my growth in Christ. Parking numbs my spirit senses, which impacts my hearing, too. It is very easy to make my heart hardened. I am not sure whether others feel this way or not.
I do agree with keeping the Sabbath holy and having a full rest. Being still allows us to hear God and be restored in order to do works for the Lord. However, I don't want to park myself. I love the idea of "active rest." Even though we take a full rest physically and mentally, our spirit is always tuned in to the Lord, receiving active conditioning like a good car with a new battery, new engine oil, a full tank of gas and a renewed body.
We may find octopi and squids in our lives. Remember that they might be helpful in keeping us alive in this world by forcing us to keep moving. I read in one study that people who are exposed to challenges are often more mature and wise. For me, when I find octopi and squids in my life, I become more active in looking for the Lord, who is my rock and fortress.
I pray that I continue to enjoy being active and moving toward God each day so that my life would be used fully in his divine purposesharing his love to others in many ways. If you find me parking somewhere, please give me a ticket so I can begin to move again. And Happy New Year to you all, my brothers and sisters in Christ!
When I grew up in Seoul, Korea, there were war drills. Yes, war drills. On the fifteenth of each month, we had a short 30-minute war drill. Sirens went off, and cars and people had to stop in the middle of the streets, or wherever they were, to hide.
Also, there was a special drill at night once or twice a year for an hour when no one was allowed to turn any lights on in their homes. When I was very young, the night drills scared me.
My mom, who took the Korean War very seriously, was adamant about hiding the light. She covered all the windows with dark fabrics, even door cracks. And if you turned any light on by accident, patrols yelled at the door, "Turn the light off!" I think I was more terrified of their voices than the darkness itself.
When I reached elementary school age, I went to the roof with my dad one night during a drill. It was early summer, and our roof was built with a mini terrace area so we could walk up and lie down on a blanket to watch the stars and look around our neighborhood. I still remember that night. I was shocked to realize how dark the city could be. And how bright stars really were. Amazed at how many stars were in the sky.
I asked my dad, "Where they are coming from, Dad? I've never seen them before."
"They were always there, my darling." He answered. "You just didn't see them well because of the city lights around you."
I learned that night that stars could be revealed more in the dark.
Our Christmas cantata this year is "Celebration of the Light." I collected beautiful music composed by several different composers. You will hear a range of music from a beautiful a cappella song to songs that use a full orchestra, children's choir, soloists and a handbell choir all together.
In the Gospel of John chapter one, John describes the light: "The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of Godchildren not of natural descent, but born of God."
From the Gospels of John to Luke, we will illustrate the story of the Light through our cantata. We will hear why the Light came to us and who truly recognized the Light, and we will celebrate the Light with a joyful response: "Gloria in Excelsis Deo!" (Glory to God in the Highest!)
"Gloria in Excelsis Deo" is originally from an early hymn, known as the angel hymn, sung during Christ's nativity scene in Luke 2:14. "Glory to god in the highest, and on earth peace among men of good will," has been sung in churches since the third century. Many composers created beautiful, celebrant melodies and instrumental music using this lyric throughout history. One of our cantata songs is "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" by Mark Hayes. You will find the line "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" not only in this one song, but also throughout the cantata in many songs and hymns that proclaim and praise his glory and acclaim peace on earth.
You will experience a beautiful celebration through the stories of Mary, angels and shepherds and the prophet Simeon, who will all use beautiful songs to proclaim the joy of the Light.
Christmas is a season of hope, peace and joy, which are things not found in department stores or shiny decorations. We can find them only in Christ Jesus who was born in the lowest place but also as the True Light. I believe that when our hearts become truly humble, we can find the hope, peace and joy of Christ even in the midst of darkness.
As I experienced on that roof in Korea, the Light can be recognized more clearly when the darkness is darker. An amazing part of the story of the Light is the birth of it isn't the end of the story. It continues through us. Jesus called us to be the light of the world. He calls us to shine out from the darkness.
I pray that the story of the Light brings us not only a night of celebration but that it empowers us to be the light in this dark world. I hope you will join me at our Christmas Cantata, December 11, to celebrate the True Light who came for everyone.
I was recently inspired by one of Rev. Tom Berlin's sermons about gratitude. In the sermon, Tom mentioned that gratitude reflects our spiritual maturity. It's hard to admit that I need to grow in my spiritual life. Still, I felt challenged to practice gratitude not only during Floris UMC's sermon series but also throughout my life.
I often find that lack of gratitude occurs when I hold a lost or confused identity about who I am and who other people are.
Last summer, I had a few months during which God wanted me to change my attitude toward myself and others and to restore my true identity. God repeatedly reminded me that I have had some issues when it comes to loving myself. I hope you don't misunderstand; I mean loving myself as God loves me, which is different from pampering myself.
When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus answered, "Love your God with all that you have, and love your neighbor as you love yourself."
Over the summer, God showed me that I hadn't truly loved others because I hadn't even known how to love myself the way God loves me. I spent a lot of time asking God to show me how to fix this problem. He revealed what hid behind that problem and showed me how much he loves me just as he created me.
During one of Floris UMC's summer sermon series, I learned about Imago Dei, which means Image of God. After that, I thought about how God created not only me but also all human beings. And I thought about how much God wants us to be restored to the Image of God in us through Jesus Christ and to have a deep communion with him throughout our lives. With God's help, I recognized more and more that I had been sinning against his commandment by living without my true identity.
I knew and believed that I was a child of God. I called myself a Christian in my head, but in my heart, I was still comparing and competing with others to be better than them in some ways. Most of the time, my comparing was not on purpose; I didn't realize I was doing it. But God created us individually and uniquely. We can't compare ourselves to others because God created us each differently in love.
We live in a society that values people based on wealth, education, status and so on. The most shocking thing I realized is that I sometimes have this same value system in my head. Even though I wanted to say I value myself or others like God does, I wasn't seeing the true value God gives to all of us. It was a strong conviction to me. How could I have missed this basic step to being a Christian?
There are many things that provide us with fake values. There are times when we don't realize we are living with these fake identities, which produce complaint, grumpiness, hatred, contempt and self-pity. So, how do we get back to the value system under God?
I believe the first step is a humble prayer for God's mercy and grace. When I quietly go to God and ask for mercy and grace, he always shines his true light of mercy upon me and reminds me that I am redeemed by him through Jesus. God wants me to share the truth to others by loving them with the same love that comes from him alone.
Amazingly, God shows me how to share and with whom to share his love each day. Although I am still far from reaching full spiritual maturity, I am so grateful that God reminds me and gives me those chances every day. I am grateful, truly.