Archive for July, 2008

Proverbs 14:13

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief. — Proverbs 14:13


When Love Came Down

I was very encouraged by church today. I woke up and prepared the message (I don’t want to use the word sermon because I am not a pastor). I seem to hold off on preparation until late Saturday/early Sunday, and in the past few weeks it’s been a cause for a bit of guilt. Even though I did all the preparation only a few hours before service, I felt the message almost write itself. Romans 10:14-21 is straightforward but with very poignant lessons. Salvation is a 5-part process: 1) sending of a preacher, 2) preaching of the good news, 3) hearing of the good news, 4) believing in the good news, 5) calling on the name of the Lord.

A lot of preachers use this passage as support for missions, and they are right to do so. However, as I read John Piper’s sermon manuscript and Matthew Henry’s commentary, I was reminded that the “Israel problem” is still in full view in Romans 10. The whole reason for writing of the process of salvation was to justify the need for Paul to witness to the Gentiles in the face of the Jewish rejection of the gospel. Romans 9:1-5 and 10:1-4 demonstrate Paul’s burden for his fellow countrymen. By quoting the Old Testament prophecies, he shows that Israel’s rejection of the gospel is all part of God’s plan.

For the Gentile believer, Romans 10 should produce two equally deep emotions. The first is thankfulness, that because of Israel’s hardheartedness, God chose to open the inheritance promised to Israel to the Gentiles. The second is brokenness, for it was only because Israel rejected the gospel that it was spread to the ends of the earth. The joys of the overwhelming response in Gentile hearts is tempered by the sadness of the persistent stubbornness of Jewish hearts. Romans 11 goes over this more thoroughly, and there’s a verse that sums it up well: “So I ask, did they [Israel] stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” (11:11-12).

I reminded the congregation (seems strange for me to use that word in place of “the kids”) that if not for the sending of missionaries to Korea and their gospel work, we probably wouldn’t be sitting together in that room today. When I prepared for the message, I read the story of Robert Jermain Thomas and his early death at age 27 at the banks of Korea in 1866. I finally saw photographs of Horace Allen (1858-1932) and Horace Underwood (1859-1916), the first Presbyterian missionaries to Korea, and upon matching their faces to their names, I felt a deep gratitude for their work. During service, I told them of how barely 150 years ago, Korea was vehemently anti-Christian. How blessed we are now by the presence of the gospel in so many households in the Korean-American community.

There were many small things that encouraged me today. They all pointed toward increasing unity and love for one another and for the church. The kids didn’t need to be told to sit down as the start time neared. Almost everyone brought their Bibles today and was attentive as I taught. I told Austin he should do the OHP (overhead projector) every week without being told and he agreed to do it ungrudgingly. The tambourine wasn’t a source of distraction this week, probably partly because I told them it shouldn’t be. Everyone seemed more animated during praise, as in actually singing rather than blankly staring at the front. Our last song was “When Love Came Down,” by Stuart Townend, the gifted songwriter behind the beloved modern hymns “In Christ Alone” and “How Deep the Father’s Love.” The second verse is so moving, especially with the pause between its final two lines.

When Love Came Down

When love came down to earth
And made His home with men,
The hopeless found a hope,
The sinner found a friend.
Not to the powerful
But to the poor He came,
And humble, hungry hearts
Were satisfied again.

What joy, what peace has come to us!
What hope, what help, what love!

When every unclean thought,
And every sinful deed
Was scourged upon His back
And hammered through His feet.
The Innocent is cursed,
The guilty are released;
The punishment of God
On God has brought me peace.

Come lay your heavy load
Down at the Master’s feet;
Your shame will be removed,
Your joy will be complete.
Come crucify your pride,
And enter as a child;
For those who bow down low
He’ll lift up to His side.

Grace was willing to take care of the offering basket every week. Andrew was more friendly today. A lot of people helped out with lunch. Jisun seems more outgoing to everyone, not just with people her age, which is awesome because she only just started attending about a month ago. We had cake for Justin, who turned 19 last week, and we didn’t really have to tell the kids to gather together; they just all came in and we sang happy birthday. Sandy, who normally sits with the 1st gen kids, sat with the rest of us since there was no space with them. I arm wrestled Brian and John. We laughed with (at? haha) Austin as Andrew made him do calisthenics. We had bing soo at Ice Keki and had to stuff someone in my trunk to fit everyone for the drive there. It seems everyone looks forward to fellowship after church now.

We’ve added new people, too, which is crazy. They’re bringing their friends, and they’re staying. I would love for their to be more diversity in future growth, particularly more 2nd gens, high schoolers, and unchurched. If we do get churched members, I would love for them to be mature believers who are willing to serve and lead. But this is encouraging as it is.

Thank You, Lord.

Church is Family

Excerpts from “Church is Family” by John N. Day in Modern Reformation. After Day writes that the Bible uses family terms to describe the church and its members (God the Father, brothers and sisters in Christ, household), he tell us what this means for the external practice of our faith:

These aren’t just empty words; they mean something. Part of this meaning is certainly that it recognizes our differences and stays together anyway-not just by tolerating one another, but by actually seeking to love one another. If church is family, we cannot live and grow by promoting division: that’s not family, that’s dysfunction. As the apostle Paul says: “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal. 3:26). “Sons of God”: there’s that family again. And one of the chief consequences is this: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ” (3:28). It breaks down all those barriers.

But look how we continue so commonly to build churches based on divisions-even if it’s called good business practice and marketing sense-instead of around our identity as family. We have churches divided by race and subculture (when usually it’s not a necessary thing); we have churches divided by generations or various preferences of worship and style; we have churches that divide over almost anything and everything. Is that what (good) family does?

Yet in how many of your “blood” families do you have only one generation of people-one age group? That’s impossible. In how many families do you have only one perspective on how to dress? How many of us-in our own small families-have different interests? For example, I prefer outside work, my wife prefers inside; I don’t particularly like slugs and spiders, but one of my daughters loves slugs and my son loves spiders. How many of you like different foods or think that things should be done in different ways (the proverbial toilet seat up or down comes to mind)? How much more, then, in our churches?

If we have our differences (which we invariably will), we must try to understand each other, accept each other, treat each other with respect (as we would want to be treated). If we have a problem, we have to learn to work it out: to be kind to one another, to forgive and be forgiven. For with family, you’re stuck.

How many churches are truly characterized by this mindset and actually seek to live this out? In how many do you sense the genuine warmth and spirit of those who not only call themselves “brothers and sisters,” but who actually live like it? Too often instead you find things cold and uncaring, plastic-faced or two-faced; and too quickly to quarrel and divide. Oh, that our churches again would recapture this affection-not in pretence, but in truth! Because family cares-and shows it.

I am reminded of a verse which the Holy Spirit has used this past year as a guiding light in times of misunderstanding and hurt feelings within the body of Christ. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, meekness, humility, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:12-13).

Age separation should only be a temporary thing

In Modern Reformation magazine, there was an interview with J.I. Packer about his thoughts on the current status of the evangelical church in America. One of the questions stood out to me:

What do you think about a niche marketing approach that has by virtue of the different worship styles-teen pop, alternative, and adult boomer-created generational segregation?

We have separated the ages, very much to the loss of each age. In the New Testament, the Christian church is an all-age community, and in real life the experience of the family to look no further should convince us that the interaction of the ages is enriching. The principle is that generations should be mixed up in the church for the glory of God. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t disciple groups of people of the same age or the same sex separately from time to time. That’s a good thing to do. But for the most part, the right thing is the mixed community in which everybody is making the effort to understand and empathize with all the other people in the other age groups. Make the effort is the key phrase here. Older people tend not to make the effort to understand younger people, and younger people are actually encouraged not to make the effort to understand older people. That’s a loss of a crucial Christian value in my judgment. If worship styles are so fixed that what’s being offered fits the expectations, the hopes, even the prejudices, of any one of these groups as opposed to the others, I don’t believe the worship style glorifies God, and some change, some reformation, some adjustment, and some enlargement of spiritual vision is really called for.

The age separation in the Korean-American church should only be a temporary thing, necessitated in the short term by the language barrier that many congregations face. In many KA megachurches, there are separate Korean-language ministries for the adults and for the youth. This should not be; families should worship together. As 2nd gens form their own churches as they get married and raise families, I hope they won’t create separate youth groups. The Church must provide spiritual food for the youth, not entertain them and hope that they’ll eventually get “serious” once they become adults. There’s a reason so many college students who grew up going to church youth groups leave the church. It’s because they’ve never been taught to take the gospel seriously.

I like how Packer emphasizes “making the effort.” We all prefer to hang out with people like us, of the same age, socioeconomic bracket, and culture, but we must make the effort to bear with all of God’s chosen people. Young people can learn so much from older people, and older people can learn so much from younger people.

Looking to heaven for affirmation

The aspect of our worship service which most worries me is the sermon, or the preaching of God’s Word. It’s the thing I put off until the weekend to prepare for and it’s the thing that makes me wake up Sunday morning feeling so unworthy and guilty for not having put much time into it. For the past month, we’ve been continuing our study of Romans, and I’ve been explaining a chapter or half each week. It’s not too hard to speak for 20 minutes, explaining what’s going on and giving an application at the end. I know that even though I don’t have formal training, the knowledge I have is still greater than what the EM kids have, and so they will benefit from what I share. Perhaps my dad would say that the messages I give are fine. But I feel I should be devoting more time to this.

Yesterday, I tried to find an audio sermon we could listen to on Romans. I listened to quite a few but found that some of them strayed off teaching and into random stories rather than focused on the exposition of God’s Word. I struggled to decide whether John Piper would be too difficult for the kids. Like many scholarly Reformed pastors, Pastor Piper has that hard-to-explain way of lengthening his sentences by adding clauses, verbs, or adjectives. I think I know where he’s coming from. Sometimes in my prayers I pause and try to find the right word to describe something but end up saying all the related words I can think of. Not, “Help us not to sin,” but “Help us to be above reproach, blameless in Your sight, pure, holy, righteous, sanctified, Christlike, to not turn to the left or the right, to walk in Your truth, to hold fast to the faith, and to turn our eyes from evil.” But what I love about Piper is his ability to exude the emotion or reaction the congregation should have as they hear God’s Word preached. From humility in his opening prayer to boldness against modern-day heresies to trembling contriteness at the revelation of God’s holy standard of righteousness to utter joy at the proclamation of the gospel, Piper is a man who understands that the “dogma is the drama” (Dorothy Sayers) and that the exposition of God’s Word incites reaction and takes us through the deepest expressions of our emotions.

So we listened to half of Piper’s sermon on Romans 10:5-13 today. The room was mostly quiet, which contrasted the disrespectful and immature behavior during praise. I paused intermittently during the first song because people were talking and fooling around even while I was playing and singing. I got annoyed when they paid more attention to the tambourine I brought for one of the kids to play instead of singing. It irritated me that the guy who normally did the overhead projector had someone else do it for him, who ended up not knowing any of the songs. He thought a strum pattern change indicated the next song, even though we obviously hadn’t finished singing the lyrics for the current song. It took him more than two lines of lyrics for one of the songs before he realized he had the wrong transparency up. And for our offering song, he couldn’t figure out which song to put up, even though it’s obvious that it’s the only song that we didn’t sing during praise. As we sang Behold, I became angry at the way they lacked any seriousness toward the powerful and convicting imagery of the lyrics. Rather than lash out (it’s very difficult to express anger in a restrained and selfless manner, especially in a leadership position), I diverted my frustration to my prayer and asked God to help us not to make a mockery of Christ’s sacrifice (cf. Hebrews 6:6). Here are the lyrics. I first heard this song at City Presbyterian Church in Long Beach.

Behold (You Alone Are Worthy)

Behold the Lamb who was scorned,
Who was mocked, who was abandoned
Behold the Lamb who was crushed,
Who was slain, who was broken
By Your wounds we are healed
Hallelujah for the blood that was spilled

You alone are worthy,
Are worthy to be praised
You alone are worthy,
Are worthy to be praised

Behold the Lamb who was raised,
Who’s alive, who has overcome
Behold the Lamb who is here,
Who’s at work, who’s among us
Glory be to the Son
Hallelujah for the things You have done

During the sermon, I could hear the clicking noises of the girls texting behind me, but other than that, I couldn’t hear anything. I wanted to take their phones and hurl them against the wall, but I chose instead to focus on understanding what Piper was preaching and not fretting over the possibility that they didn’t understand any of it. At the very least, they were hearing someone “different.” Different in ethnicity, different in age, different in wisdom and stature.

We ate lunch with the KM as we had a little celebration for this year’s graduates. It was overdue but at least we had something for them. I thought it was good.

It’s weird how once Sunday morning rolls around, my heart breaks for the church and I feel convicted of my weakness and unworthiness. There’s something about actually being in the “trenches” that reminds me of how much I need God. The sermon that seemed like such a task to listen to and evaluate last night, I approached this morning with a contrite heart. How thankful I was that God opened up the promises of the gospel to Gentiles. How thankful I was that the gospel has produced so much fruit in the Korean-American community. How thankful I was for the missionaries like Horace Allen and Horace Underwood who brought the gospel to Korea. I hope one day the kids realize this as well. They are blessed, truly blessed. Despite the childish ways they act, they are good kids. I just hope they are true believers.

Forgot to mention

I never wrote that Eric isn’t coming to our church. We never heard back from him after my dad appealed to him. I guess it was never “official” that he wasn’t coming because he never replied. That’s why I guess there was no moment when we could say for sure, “Now we don’t have an EM pastor.”

What’s with people not replying to emails? I’ve had a few times when I sent an email or Facebook message, something that required prompt response, and ended up never getting a reply. It’s very disrespectful, especially in this context, an older pastor asking a potential candidate for ministry for a response.

One other reason I haven’t felt the need to update is because I feel okay with the current state of things. I feel content for the most part. Some things I struggle with, and I don’t think I’ll write them now…I’m not in the mood. But I have decided to bear this responsibility with a willing heart, not a grudging one. Such is the life of a PK, to be the “default” during times of need. I’m just thankful that God had prepared me before bringing our ministry to this place. I’m still far from qualified, and I still worry about the unity and spiritual maturity of the group and whether it will grow without a leader around. But I am willing to learn to love Living Exodus.

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith…Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. — Hebrews 13:7, 17