Looking at the Horizon: A New Year’s Message 2018

(This message was delivered during a local church’s gathering on New Year’s Eve.)

In a few hours, we will be saying goodbye to this year and we’ll be embarking on a new year. Happy New Year!

The month of January is named after the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and of endings, and transitions. He is usually depicted as having two faces, facing back to back, one looking at the past and the other one looking at the future.

At this particular crossroad of time – the end of the old year, and the beginning of the new year – perhaps that’s what we ought to do: to look and evaluate the past, but also look and plan for the future.

Earlier this year, we were blessed with a trip to the Holy Land. We visited a place called Mount Nebo, which is located near Madaba, Jordan, or in Biblical times it is known as the land of the Moabites. The mountain is pretty high that it provides a panoramic view of the surrounding areas around it, including the land known as the Biblical Canaan.

As we were enjoying the view, the tour guide was giving insights and explaining the significance of this place to our group, while another group near us was having a devotional and they were singing the hymn “I am bound for the Promised Land.”

Where we were, is the place where Moses stood. And while Moses was looking at this same horizon that we were viewing, perhaps he was looking back at his life. But God also let him see the future and showed him the entire Promised Land, and the specific areas where certain tribes of Israel would settle. Since he was able to see details (recorded in Deuteronomy 34) that can only be seen with powerful binoculars, I believe God miraculously let him see Canaan with an assisted vision.

Yet the irony of this is, Moses never set foot in that land, for he died and was buried there in Mount Nebo.

IMG_3986

Moses, the chosen liberator of Israel, who led his people out of Egypt, and who dedicated his life leading the Israelites to enter Canaan, was not allowed to enter it. So unlike the song, Moses was not bound for the Promised Land.

Was Moses a failure then? Not at all!

Sometimes when we look at our past, we may feel that we are a failure, for we were not able to accomplish what we were supposed to accomplish. We may feel that we are losers for we are not where we wanted to be. Sometimes we feel like a disappointment for we started something but was not able to complete it.

Perhaps you’re thinking that you should have graduated from college by now, but instead you still have a couple of semesters to go since you shifted course. Or perhaps you’re thinking that you should have that high-paying dream job that you always wanted, but instead you’re stuck in a job you don’t really want. We may have started to work on a project, and now, it is still a project!

Friends, what we fail to understand, is that God may have some other plans for us. That God has a different destination for us, and we have just not realized it yet. Or God could have appointed you to begin that task, and He appointed somebody else to finish it. Just like in the case of Moses, where Joshua took over for him.

More importantly, when Moses stood there in Mount Nebo, while looking at the Promised Land from afar, he did not complain on why he was not allowed to enter the land that is promised to his ancestors, a land that was described as “flowing with milk and honey,” a destination I’m sure Moses wanted to be a part of. Instead, he humbly accepted God’s plan for him.

Moses may have not entered the Promised Land here on earth, yet God took him to a far better place, which is in heaven.

Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

As we stand here in the Mount Nebo of the year 2017, and as we look at the horizon to the year 2018, I pray that it will be prosperous for each one of us. I hope that it will be flowing with milk and honey. And for the lactose-intolerant, flowing with soy milk and honey.

As we set our goals for the coming year, may we not forget that all our plans here on earth are just temporary, for our ultimate destination is the Promised Land, the heavenly Canaan.

God bless us all, and again Happy New Year!

Christmas 2017

Some parts of the United States have seen significant snowfall early this season. Even in places that rarely see snow, like Atlanta Georgia and Texas had some snow this December.

But not here in Iowa. We have been dry the whole month of December. Though 2 days ago we had some dusting of snow. The snow fall was so little that they melted few hours later. I thought we missed our chance of having a white Christmas this year.

Then this Christmas eve, snow came to our area. We’ll have another white Christmas after all!

IMG_6226

Like the anticipated snow fall here, the coming of the Messiah was long-awaited by his people some two thousand years ago. Yet when he came, they missed it! Only the unsuspecting shepherds came and some wise men from far away foreign land.

Today, I hope we don’t miss the reason for this season. And it’s not the snow.

Merry Christmas every one!

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Bethlehem Hills and Herod’s Mountain: A Christmas Reflection

It is mid-December, and in a few days it will be Christmas. It’s a season for celebration, yet it is well-known that the holiday season can be a cause of stress and depression for some people. Perhaps we should let go of that long Christmas shopping list of ours.

Even if the whole world celebrate Christmas in December, it is likely that Jesus was not born in the winter. Based on Biblical narrative, shepherds were watching their flocks in the fields at night during that time, and December nights in Judaea can be too cold for the shepherds to sleep outside in the fields.

Many scholars believe that it was probably spring time when Jesus was born, so December 25th is unlikely to be the exact date of Jesus’ birth. What I am saying is that the date may be off, yet I am not saying that we should not remember or celebrate Jesus’ birth. That’s another subject of discussion and debate.

Earlier this year, we were blessed with a visit to the Holy Land, including a trip to the city of Bethlehem.

IMG_4282.jpgBethlehem is about 10 kilometers away from Jerusalem. Today it is a Palestinian territory. So our guide who was an Israeli national and who was touring us in Jerusalem, boarded off our charted bus just before we entered Bethlehem, and another tour guide whom I assumed was a Palestinian, hopped in our bus after we entered the city and cleared the checkpoint. They must have some specific rules and arrangement.

We went to visit the Church of Nativity, the site believed where Jesus was born. This Byzantine basilica was built on top of a cave. So at the cellar of this church was a grotto (photo below), marked as the traditional site of Jesus’ birth.

img_4306Though the exact location is hard to prove accurately with archeological support, for me, it is enough that the city of Bethlehem exists to believe that Jesus was born. It does not matter where the exact spot is, as long as it was recorded that it was in Bethlehem, the city of David.

“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”(Luke 2:11). What a reassuring thought, that our Lord and Savior came to this earth, and that should not be a cause of stress and depression, but instead of joy and hope.

While on the bus, I observed that the terrain around Bethlehem was hilly. In fact, Bethlehem sits on top of a hill rising about 3,500 feet above the desert valley. It must have been difficult for Mary who was fully pregnant and about to give birth to climb those hills.

IMG_4290We passed through some hills that were full of houses and buildings today (photo above). It was probably in one of those hills, two thousand years ago, where shepherds were watching their sheep when suddenly they saw a bright light and then the angels appeared to them announcing the birth of the Messiah. It must have been a marvelous experience to be on those hills that glorious night.

The tour guide asked us to look beyond Bethlehem hills and direct our sight to a strange-looking mountain in the distance. It was truncated and cone-shaped. I enlarged the section of the photo above to feature the mountain. (Sorry I was not able to get a better picture.)

IMG_4290It was a strange-looking mountain because it was man-made. The mountain was named Herodium, a fortress that Herod the Great constructed, about 5 kilometers southeast of Bethlehem. This was the same King Herod that tried to kill Jesus by slaughtering all the male infants in the region.

As history recorded it, when Herod the Great, was searching for a place to build his home and fortress, there was not a mountain high enough for him to build this structure. Instead there were two hills near each other at the site where he wanted it.

So what did Herod do? He cut down one hill and with an army of laborers he placed the pared hill on top of the other hill to make it higher, one bucket of dirt and rocks at a time. He literally moved a mountain.

When Jesus and his disciples were having discussion about faith, they were probably looking at this Herod’s mountain, which was hard to miss in the Judaean desert. Its dominating presence was a constant reminder of an oppressive regime. It was a common knowledge of that time how Herod moved a mountain.

However, what Jesus was telling his disciples is that faith, is much more powerful than what Herod can do. With faith they can be mightier than the mightiest ruler of their time.

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

Yes, we can move mountains. Though not by our own power but by the mighty power of God.

What mountains are we facing? What giant challenges are gripping our hearts with fear? Let’s put our faith in the King of Bethlehem hills, and He will move our mountains.

May we all have a meaningful Christmas.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Of Hawks and Turkeys

Last Saturday was gray, damp and cold. It was windy too with strong wind gusts all day. It was a dreary day. I hope Thanksgiving would be a better day as it may be hard to be in a thankful spirit when you’re freezing, fighting fierce winds and just trying to hold on to your hat.

As we were going out, I noticed a large bird hovering high above a field. It could be an eagle as we have eagles in Iowa, though rare. But I believe it was a hawk, as they are so many here in our area. Hawks and strong gusts of wind are what we have in abundance here in Iowa, so no wonder our two big State Universities’ sport teams are called Hawkeyes and Cyclones.

I know hawks or even eagles may not be the right bird to talk about during this occasion. We should be discussing turkeys, right? By the way, wild turkeys abound in our area as well. You can spot them just hanging out in the empty corn fields. Perhaps we can skip the grocery and just capture one of them and make it our dinner for the Thanksgiving.

Enough of the turkey, and back to the flying hawk that I saw. Maybe flying was not the right term, for it was barely flapping its wings. It had its wings open, and like a big kite, it was effortlessly gliding in the sky. It did not seem to mind the strong gusts of wind, and may even be thankful for it. For the stronger the wind, the higher it soared.

Sometimes the strong winds in our lives, those gusts that we think will shred our plans, and those storms that can blast our dreams away, may just be helping us soar to higher heights.

Last week, the lady in the gym’s reception desk, the one who greets me cheerily every time I come in, gave me a book. The book was entitled “Praise God for Tattered Dreams.”

I have observed this lady as always upbeat and has a sunny disposition in life, day in and day out. I am impressed on how she remembers all the names of the gym goers, as she greets everyone by name. And I mean everyone.

Few months ago this lady, after greeting me for years since I have been coming to this particular gym, learned that I am an ICU doctor. She then told me that she was a patient many years ago, in the hospital where I work, and even stayed in the ICU. But that was a couple of years before I came to Iowa.

Since then whenever she sees me, she would always try to convince me to write a journal about my experiences as an ICU physician. She said that it may be interesting to share those stories, and I may even make some money from it.

Last week, after coaxing me to write a journal every time we meet, I finally told her, that I was indeed already writing a journal. Well, sort of. I told her about ‘this’ blog. I rarely tell people I know, that I blog. Why? So I could write about them!

After learning that I write, she went to the back, retrieved a book from a drawer and handed it to me. She told me that she wrote and published this book, and it’s about her trying experience. She added that I can borrow and read it, but if I spill coffee on it, then I have to buy it.

She narrated in the book that she was a vibrant mother with two young boys, and with a promising career, when out of the blue, she suffered a near-fatal stroke. It was a large bleed in the head. She was only 33 years old at that time.

She was close to death when she was brought to the hospital. The doctors, including the neurosurgeon, gave her only 10% chance to live.

But she lived!

She was comatose for several days and spent 3 weeks in the ICU, and a total of 3 long months in the hospital. This does not include several more months of rehabilitation after being discharged from the hospital.

She described that half of her body was paralyzed and was unable to speak for a while. In that dark moment of her life, she found God and discovered a new purpose in life. When she felt that her dreams have ended, God showed her that she was only beginning to live a more meaningful life, for which she was very thankful for.

Now she is speaking and walking with almost unnoticeable residual of her stroke. She is happily working in the gym and encouraging people to be healthy and happy. She definitely has a story to tell. From tattered dreams to an inspirational life.

As we gather around our dinner table this Thanksgiving, with our roasted holiday bird, (the turkey, not the hawk), let’s thank God for everything. Including our trials and disappointments. For storms and strong winds can make us soar higher.

Happy Thanksgiving!

IMG_5638(*photo taken with an iPhone)

 

Conflicted

What do you do when you see a sign that says Caution:Wet Paint?

Are you like many people, which includes me, that can’t help but touch it? Just to see if it’s really wet! Maybe because we have been lied to so many times, and we don’t believe anything unless we prove that it’s true.

The other day, since we were having some construction in our office to add more examination rooms, I saw this sign. I know it’s a mundane sign, but it caught my attention.

IMG_4935

Do you suppose I touched that wall? Of course I did.

But there’s more to this sign. Is it wet? Or is it dry? I think the wall is conflicted. Is that an oxymoron, a wet drywall? Do you still call it a drywall when it is wet? I’m confused.

I believe the caution here is like that wall, some people today are conflicted and confused. We are lost in our identity. We are neither wet nor dry. Neither hot nor cold. Constantly riding the fence, and compromising our beliefs.

 

 

Walking Where Jesus Walked

Life is a journey they say. As I commemorate my fifth decade here on earth, I decided not just to go for a trip, but for a pilgrimage. I wanted to walk where Jesus walked.

In tracing the steps of our Saviour, we ventured to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. But unlike the familiar Christmas hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” Bethlehem today is not a little town but a thriving busy city.


We were led to an old church, the Church of Nativity, where it was believed, based on tradition, to be the site of Jesus’ birth.

At the basement of this church was the marked site where He was born. But there was no shepherds. No angels singing. Just a crowd of eager people trying to make a bee line to see this site.

Then as we traveled through Israel, I saw signs that points to Nazareth, the place that Jesus spent most of His years – from His childhood until He started His ministry. But the Bible was silent about those years He spent in Nazareth.

We followed Jesus’ footsteps into the river Jordan. This is where He was baptized, signaling the start of His ministry.

Some in our group even decided to be baptized in the Jordan River.


Jordan River is not as a large and mighty as I imagined. Though it appears “muddy” as it was described in the scriptures. No wonder Captain Naaman of the Syrian army as recorded in 2 Kings, refused to dip in this water.

Yet, muddy or not, I must at least dip my hand, and my belief.

Then we followed Jesus’ footsteps into the mountains near Jericho. This is the mountain where it was believed He was tempted.

What could it be like to spent 40 days and 40 nights in this barren place? Though interestingly today, there is a stone quarry at the foot of the mountain. Definitely lots of stones that can be turned into bread.

Then we looked for Jesus’ traces in the town of Cana. This is where He performed His first miracle, where in a wedding feast, He turned water into wine.


IMG_4622

Our trip then led us to a town that He spent some time during His ministry, a town called Capernaum or Capharnaum.

The only remains of this town today are ruins. Though the site is still beautiful as it is beside the lake, known as the Sea of Galilee. We even saw the remains of an old synagogue (photo below).


Even though we only see ruins of that Capernaum town, it showed us a glimpse, a window if you will, of where Jesus walked.

We climbed a mountain beside the Sea of Galilee. This they say is where He gave His teachings or His sermon on the mount, that became known as the Beatitudes.

img_4588

img_4594

As I looked at the beautiful scenery, I tried to listen through the blowing wind, to His voice and His teachings, in that Beatitude mountain.

img_4605

We even had the chance to sail across the Sea of Galilee, where on this very waters, He shouted “Peace, be still,” amidst the roaring waves and howling winds. Good thing there’s no violent storm when we sailed across it.

img_4535 I could even imagine the footsteps that He left on the waters, when he walked on it. But no one among us tried to walk on the water, for that will be preposterous.

We followed Him through Jerusalem. We climbed the Mount of Olives, where He spent some time teaching and praying.

From the Mount of Olives we viewed the City of Jerusalem (photo below). This is where Jesus wept when He looked into the city and the temple, knowing of its coming destruction.

IMG_4336.JPG

Then we trace Jesus’ footsteps into the walled city of Jerusalem and walked in its streets and alleys.

IMG_4402

IMG_4455

We followed Him into the Garden of Gethsemane where He fervently prayed, the night before He was arrested.

IMG_1501

Then we walked the path known as Via Dolorosa or the Way of Suffering. This is the path that he chose to walk on his way to Calvary in behalf of you and me. (Photo below is Station V of the Stations of the Cross in the Via Dolorosa)

IMG_4454

We then went to the place known as the Skull Hill (calvarium is Latin for skull) or also known as Golgotha. This is the place believed where Jesus was crucified and died, so we can have life.

Below is the Skull Hill today. Old photos of this hill showed it is really shaped as a skull, though recent earthquakes have changed its distinct features.


Then we went to see the tomb where they laid His body after He died. (The Garden Tomb is one site, though there’s another possible site, the Holy Sepulchre Church, which we also visited.)

We even went inside the tomb. But that tomb was empty. For He is risen! And that is the very foundation of my faith.

As we celebrate this Lent season, may we contemplate on His life and what He has done for all of us.

IMG_4541

at the Sea of Galilee

And as a pilgrim, I realize that walking where Jesus walked would be pointless, unless we also follow His will and walked spiritually as well, where He walked.

May we have a meaningful and glorious Easter.

Not Bound for the Promised Land

During our trip to the Holy Land, we visited  a place known as Mount Nebo, which is located near Madaba, Jordan, or the land of the Moabites in Biblical times. It’s pretty high that it provides a panoramic view of the surrounding areas around it, including the land known as the Biblical Canaan.


On Mount Nebo’s highest point, the remains of a church and a monastery was discovered in 1933. Today a Christian chapel stands on its site.


As we were enjoying the view beneath an iron cross, the tour guide was giving insights and explaining the significance of this place to our group.


While another group near us was having a devotional and they were singing the hymn “I am bound for the Promised Land.”

You probably know or heard that song:

I am bound for the promised land,
I am bound for the promised land
O who will come and go with me
I am bound for the promised land.

But the irony of this is, historically, here in Mount Nebo was where Moses stood and God showed him Canaan, the Promised Land from afar. But here also in Mount Nebo was where Moses died and was buried, without reaching the Promised Land. Moses was not bound for the Promised Land.

Moses, even though he was chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to go to the Promised Land, was not allowed to enter it. All his life work – including 40 years of top-notch Egyptian education, including military tactics and operation, and another 40 years as a lowly shepherd just to learn patience in preparation for his mission, and finally 40 mighty years of leading God’s people out of Egypt, and into the wilderness, on their way to the Promised Land – yet he never set foot to that land.

Was Moses a failure then? Not at all!

Sometimes we are assigned something to do, but we may not see the conclusion of that work. We may have started something that we are not able to finish, not because we are a failure, but because it is not planned for us to fully fulfill that. For God has some other plan for us, or He had appointed another one to finish the work we have started.

More importantly, when Moses stood there in Mount Nebo, while looking at the Promised Land from afar, he did not complain to God why he was not allowed to enter the land that is “flowing with milk and honey.” A land that was promised to his ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A land he probably dreamed of claiming all his life. He humbly submitted to God’s plan for him.

He may have not entered the Promised Land here on earth, yet God had a better plan for him. For he was taken up to the Promised Land in heaven.

So we may not be able to achieve the dreams or goals we set for our lives here on earth. We may never live a life so rich that it is “flowing with milk and honey.” We may not be able to claim the “promised life” we hoped for here on this world. We may not be bound for the earthly promised land.

But may we set a higher goal, the one God had promised for us. To live in heavenly Canaan with Him.

(The sign under the cross reads: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” John 3:14-15)