Archive for August, 2008

In the fringes

KCM’s first general meeting was yesterday. Overall, it was a comforting and encouraging night, seeing friends and new faces. I do not want to overshadow how refreshed I felt during the meeting with what I write next. But I write to remind myself that there is no reason for me to get comfortable and believe that everything is perfect.

Because I’m a senior, I didn’t feel a need to get “worked up” over the massive amount of new people flooding the reception area after icebreakers. There was no temptation for me to get hyper over seeing my friends and hanging out with them. I found it easy to be a “free-floater” in the crowd, observing and contemplating. I’ve learned much by being a fly on the wall. In past years, I remember sitting in the back row and watching the stragglers walk in 30 minutes late, fall asleep during the message, socialize with their comfortable circle of friends, and act obnoxious. It reminded me that as bright as KCM’s light is, there are people and places it finds hard to penetrate, not because of those shining–who are sources of such great encouragement to me–but because of the hardness of those who just don’t “get it.” It’s something that weighs heavily upon my heart and can change my countenance dramatically.

I didn’t see too many people by themselves, alone, which was a good sign, but I didn’t assume that everyone felt welcome and loved. I know for some people it might have been overwhelming, especially those from out of state and those who don’t have any friends yet at USC. I know now how the large group of new faces whittles down to a dedicated freshman class plus a few come-and-goers. I am encouraged by the now sophomore class who were freshmen last year, how so many of them are on servant team. But I wonder where all the other people ended up, those who showed up the first few weeks of school but then never again. Many of them may have joined other campus fellowships, but I wonder how many of them soon let the cares of life quench the work of the Spirit in their hearts, leaving the Church altogether. The parable of the sower in Luke 8:14: “And as for [the seeds which] fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” A lot of the “cool” kids think they are too cool for the Church, too cool for God. I will try and remember the new people I met yesterday and see how many of them end up staying.

At Wendy’s I sat outside because it felt stuffy and hot inside. To my surprise, no one else joined me except the one guy I walked with. There were a few who came out and had conversations with one another. What I overheard weren’t exactly godly conversations. They seemed selfish, immature, and shady. Perhaps they came outside to have their conversation so no one else would hear them. Well…I was there. I felt depressed at how the gospel had failed to pierce their hearts, despite the faithful work of KCM servant leaders. When I think of how they’re “nice people” in the limited interaction I have with them–a hi and a handshake or a short conversation–it just drives home the lesson to never assume that people are mature believers or believers at all just from the face they put up in Christian company. Where I fall short is having wisdom in confronting and rebuking. Too many people would take it the wrong way. We are all sinners.

It was awkward and uncomfortable as the time continued to pass as I sat outside in the cool summer air. When I came home, I struggled to understand how my contentment had turned into anguish. Any loneliness I felt while being in the fringes was my own fault, but perhaps I needed it. Even though I’ve done my best to be humble this first week of school, I welcome a slap in the face from God reminding me never to get too confident in myself. Take care lest I forget…

I’m listening to this song right now, and I’m amazed at how the lyrics express what I’m thinking. It’s based on the story of Hosea and his God-appointed marriage to the prostitute Gomer and how it represented wandering Israel. Jesus is preparing a bride for himself in the Church, and despite her unfaithfulness, he will present her holy and blameless on that final day.

“Hosea in C Minor” by The Listening

Now you’ll carry on, son
Now…now you know
Won’t know its love ’til it’s taken away
And you’ve thrown your own soul into hell for a day
It’s the ransom you owed but a debt that I’ve paid
Yet you’ve hated your freedom and envied the slaves..

Grace through Tim Keller

During today’s service, we listened to Tim Keller’s sermon on John 2:1-11. I had read several of Piper’s sermon manuscripts on Romans 13 and didn’t find anything compelling, so I decided that we would listen to this one for a change. It would be a different speaking style, as well as a different Scripture passage. I didn’t even listen to the whole thing before we all listened to it together. The only thing I knew was that Keller would lay out the gospel through an exposition on Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine.

This time I had all the kids come up to the front 2 rows, while I sat behind them to watch them. Some of them, with their attention waning, twirled bracelets, played with their hair, looked at the ground, or took out their phones, but overall, they were well-behaved. The sermon was really, really good. There were so many insights I had never heard before in sermons I had heard on this passage. Tim Keller doesn’t have as much of a dynamic range in his voice, as John Piper and Paul Washer do, which just means he doesn’t raise his voice as often, not a bad thing at all, for in his preaching there is power.

[Note: I hope the time markers give you more motivation to listen to the sermon, to “look out” for certain parts] Chills ran through me as he preached on the Great Exchange from a passage that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with it on its face (34:16). He makes a very strong case that Jesus was already thinking of his death during his inaugural miracle (13:12). I was struck by his insights from years of being the minister at weddings (31:40 to 33:35). He knew how to speak to those on both ends of the marital spectrum, those who were single as well as those who were married (38:09). Wisdom saturated the entire sermon, and it was for the edification of the congregation who listened to him that day in 1996. 12 years later, our small congregation was blessed through this means of grace, the preaching of God’s Word.

This sermon was the answer to the prayer “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 55:12). Here is a direct link (to save to computer) and the page on which the link is located.

The Bible camp went well (it was like a retreat except at our house and no guest speaker), and though I was able to see the sinful tendencies of the kids more clearly because of the time we spent together, I was overall encouraged by the increase in friendliness among the group. I felt it as everyone had to recite their Bible verses to me before getting their meals. Through watching movies, going to the beach, talking in the car, playing Mafia late at night (I was too tired; they played on their own!), and playing soccer and basketball and hanging out at the park, I know that we became closer to one another. It was a tiring time for me and my mom, but I trust that God used our imperfect efforts to work in the hearts of LEMers.

I don’t know why they’re so averse to having their picture taken. It’s frustrating to get a decent group photo with them, but some of the pictures in the end are kind of funny:

White Horse Inn on the meaning of worship

Listened to last week’s broadcast of the White Horse Inn. I used to listen to it every week freshman year, but after a while, some of the content became repetitive, so now I only listen to it occasionally. In this one they had a guest speaker, Harold Senkbeil, professor at Concordia Theological Seminary, who had a very calm demeanor and voice and did not rail against evangelical Christianity like Horton and the crew sometimes do. Some good points which stuck out to me:

  • Worship is often defined as worth-ship. Worship as an ascribing of value to something. This isn’t quite right, as the biblical word is service. What the point of worship is is to respond to the invitation of God to come and receive what He has to give. We come primarily to receive what God gives. We have nothing to give to God until we receive what God has given us.
  • There has been a shift from worship service to worship experience, where the emphasis shifts from God to us, where what we do matters more than what God does. So many songs are all about what we do (I love you, I want to know you, I give you my heart, I will live for you).
  • In our quest to be relevant and contemporary, the church has become like Israel at Mount Sinai, who took the golden calf and used it in front of the altar during the holy feast in an effort to appropriate some visual tool–one that was not prescribed by God as a proper means of worship. Were God and Moses pleased? No!
  • Worship is rest (Sabbath). We don’t have to stress out and try so hard to give God all our best. Remember the story of Mary and Martha? Don’t just do something, sit there! There is nothing wrong with sitting in the pews receiving the gospel. In fact, that must happen before we can respond to God in praise and prayer.

Arturo Azurdia III had a link on the front page to a sermon by Arturo Azurdia called Transformation of a Working Girl. It caught my attention because of the interesting title. There was one word in red color next to it: “outstanding!” So I downloaded it and listened to it today. It was a breath of fresh air. I highly recommend it.

At times, Azurdia’s preaching reminded me a lot of Mark Dever’s preaching at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, very “high-sounding” with advanced vocabulary and eloquent sentences. For those who can follow it and aren’t put off by it, it’s very admirable and only enriches the hearer’s understanding of the Word. But what Azurdia has in greater proportion compared to Dever is a gentle and soothing voice, like a father speaking to his daughter. It was refreshing to hear him go through Joshua 2 and the story of Rahab and the Israelite spies and use it as a springboard to explain the doctrines of grace, weaving in verses from Genesis to the New Testament and giving the big picture of salvation. Oh that every pastor would speak so lovingly yet boldly and passionately about the doctrines of grace. The insights he brought out of the text were simply exciting.

How amazing that God saves sinners like Rahab. Sinners like us. Sinners like me.

Bad Sunday

A day like today and I really wonder how many of the kids are true believers. I’m never tempted to believe that just because they’re “good” at church, they’re Christians. First, because I don’t know what they’re like outside of church. For all I know, they could be getting into fights in school, dealing drugs, and stabbing people in the back. Doubt it, but there are sins like pride, materialism, slander, covetousness, impatience, and laziness which I know they fall prone to outside of church. Second, because of days like today, when they really get on my nerves with their disrespectful and irritating behavior.

I was in a bit of a hurry today because I had to pick up Justin and Austin and go to Costco to pick up pizza for today’s lunch. By the time I got to church, it was already 11:15, which is when we’re supposed to start. So I quickly got set up and we began service. The A/C wasn’t working for some reason, and I was sweating and finding it hard to focus during praise, not because of the music but because no one was singing. It infuriated me to see in my peripheral vision people turning around to talk to one another and fool around during service. William left the room and came back a few minutes later. John came late because he was playing the drums for KM, which was fine, but then he left again and then came back, disrupting service even more. Grace walked in late during praise. Brian and his friend who was new didn’t come in until praise was almost over. I had noticed soon after praise started that they weren’t in the room, even though I had seen them outside as I arrived at church and parked my car. But we had to get started right away, and I forgot, among other things, to make sure everyone was in the worship room before we started. Random people kept opening the door–because I was in a rush, I hadn’t put up the “Worship in progress” sign on the door.

After another choppy prayer closing praise, Brian and his friend got up to leave and I asked them where they were going. They said they left their cell phones outside, and I told them to stay inside and get it after. At that point, before we read Romans 12, I scolded the group for behaving so disrespectfully. I tried to let go of any frustration as I spoke on Romans 12, and for the most part I did. Everyone was quiet and no one fooled around during the message. But I felt like even then, the Word did not penetrate.

I had spent the morning finishing and printing out what I was going to say about Romans 12 today. I started it Saturday night and wrote most of it before going to bed, so I didn’t feel in a rush in the morning to do the whole thing as in the past weeks. Here’s what I had. With help from Pastor Piper…

Build your life on the mercies of God. Romans 12:1 -> Present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Romans 6:13 -> Present your bodies as instruments of righteousness. Romans 6 is the why, Romans 12 is the how. We are merciful people because God has been merciful to us.

Paul begins with the command, do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. 12:3-8 have to do with mercy within the body of Christ. Verse 3: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but think with sober judgment. Thinking with sober judgment means thinking about how we were once slaves to sin, enemies of God, and children of wrath. It means to think about how we deserved judgment and eternal punishment from God. But we were saved from such a terrible judgment! Psalm 130:3-4: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” We once faced the terrible burden of guilt for our sins, but God has snatched us away from the flames through His grace. Therefore, let us never think of ourselves better than anyone else, because we deserved judgment just as much as anyone. That’s what it means to think of ourselves with sober judgment.

12:4-8: Do we come to church knowing that we are all members of one body? When you came today, did you think about how you could contribute to the church? God has given us all different gifts so that we could serve one another.

12:9-21: We have a long list of what it looks like to be merciful people, people who are a living sacrifice, people who think about themselves with sober judgment. These are short sentences that are easy to understand, yet so hard to live out in our daily lives. Notice that all of these commands have to do with our relationships with other people. How we treat others, especially in the church, is worship. Verse 9 says, “Let love be genuine.” The NASB says, “Let love be without hypocrisy.” Is your love real or fake? Do you outdo one another in showing honor? Do you show hospitality by offering to clean the table, saying hi to newcomers, or trying to involve everyone when we play a game? How do you treat others who treat you poorly? Do you curse them and return evil for evil or seek revenge? The essence of mercy is treating well people who do not deserve to be treated well. We did not deserve to be justified before God, forgiven, and adopted as children of God, but God did all these things. That is mercy.

I closed by going back to verse 5: “We, though many, are one body in Christ.” None of this is possible without Christ. Without Christ, there is no church, and Sunday just becomes a social club where we sing songs, eat lunch, play games, and go home. Without Christ, there is no mercy for sinners, and our good works mean nothing to God. But with Christ and in Christ, we become merciful people.

I found it so hard to pray as I finished because I had so many emotions in me: anger at the childish behavior, humility over my poor speaking skills, contrition in asking God to make His Word convicting, peace in the reassurance of the gospel. Are they true believers or not?

Justin, Austin, and Grace Kim were the only ones that didn’t get on my nerves. I felt so tired after service, and I told Justin to gather the kids for lunch. I was in a brooding (actually means gloomy or depressed, not angry) mood as we ate. I told someone else to pray for the food. Grace did, but only after Jisun said she would and then flaked.

During the meeting after lunch, where my mom led discussion about the sleepover we would have at our house later this week, the boys were incredibly annoying. I am a patient person. It takes a lot before I raise my voice or do anything angry. I wanted to take their phones and hurl them against the wall. Freaking little kids and their phones. I want to see their faces when they see their toys broken in pieces. They’re so attached to these things, and it irritates me so much. A few of them were talking loudly even while my mom was trying to get input from others. I know she was dealing patiently with it, because she can easily strain her voice and raising her voice would only make it worse. So when the new guy was blabbering and using his phone while Mom was talking, I told him to shut up. He didn’t know I was talking to him, but it quieted the room…for all of 2 minutes. It probably took a lot of people aback, because I never say anything like that normally. My mom even thought Austin said it and gave him a stern look (ROFL), didn’t even suspect me.

I held a lot of it in and did not forget what Romans 12 was about. The kids need to be disciplined, but I need to do it in love. I wish I could just give some of the boys a beatdown, but would it work or just make them resent me and rebel more? I’m not very excited about the kids coming over this week. I don’t want them bringing more of their friends so they can fool around even more. I don’t want our EM to turn into a social club and breeding ground for carefree, selfish, churchgoing babies. Was it because Andrew wasn’t there today? Though sometimes he lacks a patient love for the kids, I do appreciate his ability to get them in line. I hope he and I gain their respect. I hope the Word will cut through their hard hearts and change them.