Archive for January, 2010

Giving inertia the finger in 2010

Sunday was kind of a downer. The sermon delivery went horribly. I felt so disorganized and felt like I had no direction in what I was saying that I almost wanted to stop in the middle of it. I wanted to crawl up in a shell and not talk to anyone afterwards. So I was so thankful that Andrew took initiative in trying to make the three newcomers welcome. We are having some changes to the pastoral staff so their kids will be joining us for good. The problem is they don’t speak much English at all. But I hope that through our actions they can see that we are a community that loves God and one another.

Slowly we are building unity, a true unity–based not on eating fast food, laughing at YouTube videos, breakdancing, World of Warcraft, or basketball–but on our common faith in Christ.

Praying for continued faithfulness and dedication in servant leadership among our group, but I’m also praying that somehow, maybe God would bring other people to our church. Not unbelievers but mature believers who feel a calling to serve at a small church.

There aren’t many places to study close to where I live. It’s a drive to get to the nearest Starbucks or bookstore. But recently, I’m beginning to believe that the 20-30 minutes I might spend commuting to these places is very worth it. Not just because I’m able to focus better with strangers around me and get more work done. There’s something about being in that public place, watching the people that come and go, overhearing conversations, seeing people from all walks of life intersect in one location, that makes me pray more and stirs my spirit more. I like it. Someone gives me a cold stare when I ask if I can move a chair. I begin to think about how I can forgive and love that person. How God loves him still. I’m encouraged to see a brother in Christ give his umbrella to a bearded, stumbling vagrant as he leaves and say “God bless you.” I see the hipsters walk in acting like kids and it makes me pray for the city. I hear people talking in Armenian or Spanish or Korean and it makes me think and pray about what God might be doing in those immigrant communities and in the native countries they represent. It makes me feel small, and I always welcome it because it humbles me, it reminds me of things beyond my grasp and familiarity. Even though sometimes the noise and the commotion make it harder to focus, I want to put myself there and make myself available for God to teach me things. That I might gain wisdom, that I might be a light where there may be darkness, maybe even that I might share the gospel.

Put yourself out there. Go somewhere new and take it all in. Give God the opportunity to remind you of things you may have forgotten, about yourself, about your sin, about the need for the gospel in this world. And don’t be afraid to do it alone. Sometimes, taking friends along for the journey can be helpful, but more often than not, it is just a distraction, a crutch betraying a fear of what is uncomfortable and new.

The stadium as altar

The pastors I admire the most are very good at pointing out the ways in which society tends to idolize certain things. Tim Keller is is so in tune with the various ways that idolatry manifests itself in industrialized Western society. His diagnoses are sharp and precise. Another pastor like this is Mark Driscoll. He was in a segment on ABC’s Nightline to discuss idolatry in Seattle, where he pastors Mars Hill Church. In his sermons and talks he often says, “Idolatry is when we take good things and turn them into God things.” Very similar to what Keller says in this short clip on the Amazon page for his newest book, Counterfeit Gods. In the Nightline segment, Driscoll drives around Seattle with Terry Moran and one of the things he points out is Qwest Field, the football stadium of the Seattle Seahawks.

This topic, sports, is something I’ve been wanting to write about. In my experience in the Korean American church, we are no less vulnerable to this tendency to idolize sports as the rest of the body of Christ. In the process of writing this, all the recent news and talk about USC football started swirling around. You might know someone who in your opinion is taking all of it way too seriously. But it isn’t because of recent events that I write. I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now, and I want to write about it because I haven’t heard it addressed too often in my circles. I want to point out the potential for sports to become an idol for us to get us to consider and reflect on to what degree it is true for us. If it has started to replace God as the center of our lives, then we must repent and allow God to return to His rightful place in our lives. If everything in this life is to be considered as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, then we must take care that we do not forget the Lord and His Kingdom work for something that, in the long run, is trivial and worthless. We must take care that it doesn’t become too great of an influence on our lives, our character, and our witness.

That being said…”us” and “we” most likely will not include females. The obsession with sports is mostly a male issue.

Sports, like movies and video games, is entertainment. Obviously, I’m not going to say that watching sports, or watching movies and playing video games, is inherently sinful. But we do need to consider how much we indulge ourselves in it, to the detriment of our witness and character. Do we ever consider how much of our lives are devoted to spending money and time on sports? The jerseys and shoes, the tickets, the hours of standing in line to get the best seats, the hours of watching TV and reading blogs. Sometimes it gets to the point where we start to sacrifice the time that we could spend at church or reading God’s Word in order to get our sports fix. Some people pride themselves on knowing a lot about sports. When we look to sports to give us meaning and identity, it has become an idol. When it starts to replace God in our lives, it has become an idol. When it takes us away from being Christ-minded and Christ-like, we are worshipping it rather than Christ.

Some examples…perhaps you know people like this.

  • People who constantly check their smartphones for scores and updates, even in the middle of a conversation or during worship service. Not only is it pretty rude, but it shows where their priorities are.
  • People who act so personally invested in the success or failure of an athlete or team. When their team is winning, they are proud and they rub it in other people’s faces. When their team is losing, they groan and complain. That athlete or team has become an idol for them.
  • Fantasy sports can be a way to have fun with friends. But to some, having a fantasy team means getting too involved with watching games and keeping track of statistics and scores. It can become an unhealthy and ungodly obsession. Especially when it also involves money (i.e. gambling).
  • I’ve seen fellow believers yell angrily during games at various people, fans of the opposing team, referees, even players on their own team. Some of these same people are really cranky and unapproachable after their favorite team loses an important game. How much of an influence has sports become on their life if it starts to affect their emotions like this? That they could be so incensed over things like a bad call by the ref and yet not care at all about more serious things like Christian persecution overseas.
  • And that blasted channel, ESPN. It’s well-produced and the people there do a great job, but sometimes it’s just crazy to think that there’s a channel devoted to all things sports-related 24/7. There are some college-age and young adult Christians who watch ESPN way too much. ESPN ESPN ESPN ESPN. What does ESPN even stand for? One of my roommates in college would sit down in the living room to watch ESPN, then get up and go to his room, but he would leave the TV on. I would hear the sportscasters’ blabbering leaking into my room while trying to have some quiet time to myself, with no one in the living room. I would get sick of getting up to turn off ESPN. Much less hear it being turned on. My other roommate would, first thing after waking up, pour a bowl of cereal, sit on the couch, and turn the TV straight to ESPN. It didn’t feel right to me that the first thing he would fill his mind with in the morning was sports. Not prayer or God’s Word, but sports. Sportscasters in fancy suits and bright studios reporting on multi-million-dollar contracts, coaching changes, players getting suspended or arrested, this stat, that score, that highlight reel. Is it sinful? No. Is it profitable? I don’t think it is.

It’s one thing to watch a 3.5 hour football game. That’s a huge enough chunk of time as it is. But some people go and watch on top of that hours of post-game commentary. They have fierce debates with friends about which team or conference is better. They read blogs on the NFL draft and high school recruits and insider rumoring and squabbling.

Sports is such an ingrained part of American culture that sometimes one needs to know something about sports in order to have any decent conversation with another guy. It’s a bit ridiculous, but it’s the reality. I believe we can redeem this cultural activity if we intentionally participate in it for the sake of the kingdom (“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”). I hope that the friends we make based on a mutual interest in sports can also be friends that we can share the gospel with. “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” But there must be a balance. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Titus 3:9 says “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.” I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to replace “the law” with “sports.” Definitely a lot of controversy, dissension, and quarrel that comes with sports. In the end, in the big picture of God’s plan for redeeming the lost, how profitable and valuable is the time that we spend on sports? It is up to each of us to determine if we have gone too far. This verse reminds me, though. Theology, just as much as sports, can be an idol. But that is for another time…

Thoughts?

This at last

“A good man is never less alone than when alone with God.”

I read this line in Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary on Mark 6:45-56 in preparation for today’s sermon. The context is Jesus’ walking on the water. What happens right before the miracle is that Jesus sends the disciples on ahead of him to take the boat to the other side while he goes up into the mountains to pray alone. This line hit me less because it gave me insight into the passage and more because it reminded me of something else. A good man is never less alone than when alone with God. A good man…alone. Alone…with God.

Adam, the first man, was given a task by God. He was to name the animals as God brought them to him. He had to spend time observing each animal and pondering its characteristics. He had to come up with a name that could capture the essence of the animal. All this must have been hard work. Through this work, he realized his need for a companion. He realized his need more and more as he went through creature after creature, finding none that shared his nature and his affection. Adam must have been exhausted and perhaps exasperated. Where was his helper? God had purposely presented all of creation before him to deepen his longing (Genesis 2:18: God says “I will make a helper fit for him” and then proceeds to bring only animals before him). God brought deep sleep to the tired Adam, and during his rest, He created and prepared for him the perfect companion. The result was Eve, a most suitable helper for Adam.

Adam obeyed God in fulfilling his calling as the head of all creation. One of the responsibilities and tasks of his calling was to exercise his dominion over the living creatures of the air, land, and sea by naming them. God knew that along the way Adam would become lonely. He made Adam wait. He made Adam go through thousands, if not millions, of candidates. How long must it have taken? But he was faithful with his calling and stuck it through to the end, and in the end, he received the most amazing gift the first man could ask for: the first woman. And it was very good. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” At last!

Something I have been telling myself and taking to heart is this. Be faithful to your calling, and the Lord will provide. More to come on what calling is, but I will say this for now. My calling is not just something greater and bigger in the future. My calling is that, yes, but it is also what I am doing now. I can’t shake the conviction that in the long run, the time that I am spending now on work, church, and family will not go forgotten by the Lord. I am working hard to fufill my calling as Adam did in the Garden. And the Lord will provide for me just as He provided for Adam. I take great comfort in this.

Today I was officially appointed the JDSN for Living Exodus Ministry (the English ministry of Ye Kwang Presbyterian Church). It was a great encouragement to hear the KM sing a hymn of dedication over me and to hear my dad praying passionately from the pulpit for me as I stood at the front of the sanctuary.

I’m looking forward to all that God will do in LEM in the coming months of 2010.