Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

Life in a new city

I’m finally in New York. I’m finally here. I already feel so used to living on my own, being in a new place. I already feel accustomed to a lot of things here, things that when I first arrived made me feel a little out of place. I have to remind myself that 2 weeks ago I was still working–my last week before flying out and moving out, and I was still up to my neck with things to do. Just over 1 week ago, I pulled an all-nighter the night before my flight packing and padding and taping and roping, frantically trying to finish it all as the sun started rising, and then it was time to go the airport. I didn’t even have a chance to sit down and reflect on how it would be the last time being at home for a while.

It is too easy as I’m here alone to be zombie, to go about my day, go exploring, people watching, sightseeing, and at the end of the day zone out on my computer following all the hyperlinks and opening all those tabs to interesting things I want to read and learn about, especially about this new city I’m now a resident of. This I would not have had time to do just 2 weeks ago. That last week of July I was sleep deprived and my mind was running off deadlines and details. How many boxes do I need? How much stuff do I have, and what can I take with me and what should I just buy over there? What stores do they have over there and how do I get there? Do I need two taxis or just one from the airport for all my stuff? Is it better to spend a little more to sleep in Manhattan the night we land and not have to deal with a crazy taxi commute into the city in the morning or better to save money by sleeping near the airport? Better to take the bus (cheaper) or a taxi (faster)? Should I buy 7-day unlimited MetroCards for my whole family while they’re there for the week or just pay as we go? How much cash should I take with me and how much should I leave in my bank account? Which books should I take, which should I leave at home, and which should I just sell to make space? (This one was hard)

Despite all the planning, when the time came to go the airport, everything seemed to go wrong. Miscommunication and missed commitments made for a frantic dawn, and we weren’t sure exactly how to get around our mess. But somehow, everything worked out. We were there early for our gate, even with the hold-up at security. Once we were on the plane, I just slept, with nothing on my mind. Just slept. I don’t even remember taking off from LA.

New York was New York when we got there. The worker who acted disappointed even though I gave him $7 for barely doing anything to help us get our stuff to the curb. Hearing the chirp-chirp of the Chinese dispatcher’s walkie-talkie over the phone, trying to tell the driver where we were, with cars double-parking everywhere. The mass of foreign students near our hotel just hanging out, half-blocking the entrance. The taxi driver who cursed under his breath when we brought out all our luggage from the hotel, even though I reassured him that we had fit everything in the exact same car twice already. I tipped him 50% for eventually agreeing to take us and seemed nice about it in the end. The New York-ness of the day-to-day people: my superintendent, the contractors doing maintenance work in the building. This is hard to describe, but things like different ethnic first and last names (different from ethnic names in LA), the different accents and tones definitely made it seem like a new city. Hispanic in LA is different from Hispanic in NYC. And a lot more European diversity. Things like how as soon as you ask a local–like a porter or deli counter worker–to repeat something or if you don’t order the way they like, they seem so pissed but then when you understand them and go with their flow they seem fine again. More so to people they perceive as foreign, like my dad. It was eye-opening to see how people treated him versus me. It is humbling to consider how easy I have it because of his sacrifice.

And now I’m here, enjoying an apartment to myself before my roommates get here later this week. It is so nice to be able to finally relax, do whatever I want, not have any commitments. I don’t take this for granted at all, given what life was like not that long ago, talking to accounts payables and scheduling dispatch and counting payroll hours and tutoring kids and preparing for church. When people asked me if I was excited for NY, I would always say, yes but I have too much going on until I’m actually there. When I get there, then I’ll be excited. And now I’m actually here. And now I really am excited for all that’s up ahead. But I should always remind myself of all that it took to get to this point. Only by God’s grace. Take care lest I forget.

The last weekend before I left, we had a retreat with another church. I had to put moving prep on hold from Thursday night until Sunday evening basically (and I was leaving Monday morning!), but once we were there, it was such an encouraging time. Andrew and I think the kids began to see our heart as we enjoyed fellowship and good, deep conversation with people from the other church. Now that I’m gone, it seems that maybe they are changing. I really hope they continue to grow. My last sermon started with 2 Corinthians 5:9: “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” As I read through 2 Corinthians before Sunday service, I began to see how deeply emotional the entire letter was. I began to feel those same emotions as I thought about the legacy I would leave. Would they continue to grow and mature without me? The entire day I felt my heart swell–as I played my last praise set, as I delivered my final instructions and encouragements, as I sang “I Offer My Life” for offering, as I stood before the KM and received recognition for my two years of service, as they sang and prayed for me, as I ate lunch. And I was done. I had passed the baton at work, and now I was released from my responsibilities from church.

There are many things here that stir my heart and make me pray. But there are also many things that make my heart comfortable. I hope that God will continue to keep me humble and mindful of deeper things rather than worthless things. Writing this has been good for my soul. Going back to all that has happened and all that I’ve learned has been refreshing. To all that God will do in and through me here in New York City…

Summer 2010 outlook

At church, my brother and I, along with our dad, are planning and preparing for the transition that will need to take place before I leave for New York. It was in all of our minds for a while now, but after this weekend, I think it’s more real to us how much of a challenge it will be.

I’ve been thinking about my life and how seemingly nonstop it is. It could be worse, I know, and I am grateful to have a job that provides a lot of flexibility. But I look at friends who work full-time, and when they’re done with work, they go home and relax or go out with friends. They can do whatever they want Friday night and all day Saturday. And they seem so satisfied and blessed in their churches. All their friends are there. They’re always sharing about what they learned from their pastors. They have small groups, retreats, mission trips, sports fellowship, church T-shirts, potlucks, weddings, fun times. They have older people to mentor them and younger people they can disciple. They have backup praise bands and backup pastors. Maybe they don’t realize how good they have it.

Unbelievers, especially, have so much time on the weekends to do non-work things: get groceries, buy new clothes, wash the car, go to the beach. But I have so much work to do after work that I get agitated when business work spills into Friday evening and sometimes Saturdays, because it means that I have less time to prepare for church. The sermon itself is the bare minimum, essential thing I need to get done, but on top of that I want time to reflect and mull over the bigger picture things: how is everyone in the ministry doing, praying for them, praying for direction and unity in the ministry, planning meetings or events–just thinking more. To give an analogy from my job, the bare minimum is to enter the invoices and bills, reconcile bank transactions, make sure deadlines are properly noted, make sure details for tomorrow’s dispatch are comprehensive and logical. But we also have to analyze profit and loss statements and balance sheets, think about how much debt we’re carrying versus how much is owed us, think about how to increase cash flow, actively pursue government contracts and construction projects, think about how to make dispatch more efficient and error-free–we have to do these things to move the business forward.

There are fresh eyes at our church who would like for our church to be able to do this or that for them or provide this or that for their children. And their concerns are reasonable. But not many of them know just how much hard work it has taken us just to get to where we are today, and how difficult it is already. I know I can do more, but it is impossible for a few people to do everything that might be required in a well-run church, much less one person: prepare sermons, organize retreats, be a good EM-KM liaison, help out with VBS, do inreach and outreach, lead praise, give rides, make the jubo, lead prayer meetings and Bible studies–all while perhaps working a full-time job, raising a family, and going to grad school. I know there are many out there who can do a better job than I can, people that use their time more efficiently, people who are gifted and equipped in multiple areas, people who have all at once bigger hearts, thicker skin, and lower sleep requirements. But even for them, it’s never an easy responsibility.

For some time now, I’ve wished for God somehow to send us more servant leaders. I have found many people with servant hearts in KCM and other ministries who have ministry experience and serve at their churches faithfully. Sometimes I wish I could have those kinds of people at our church. God calls people to leave their home churches to become missionaries overseas. God calls people to leave their home churches to plant new churches in another city or state or country. Can’t God also call people to leave their home churches to help out struggling small churches, some which may be just down the street?

It looks like the 1040 movie has been really mobilizing and challenging people everywhere. I see the word revival thrown around even. It’s hard not to be moved by scenes of worship in other countries, powerful testimonies, and the participation of passionate, excited people in that screening room. KCM missions videos are always uplifting and inspiring. You just want to go when everyone else is going and talking about how blessed they were and how close they got with their teammates.

Then I think about small church. There is no glamour in serving at a small church. It is discouraging, it is tiring, and it is easy to want to just get by. I think the only two things that can really keep someone committed to a small struggling church is 1) family and 2) calling. Otherwise, it’s easy for visitors with “what-can-you-do-for-me” attitudes to justify why they would rather be at a different church. Number one as a reason seems to be losing ground. Kids do what they want and go where they like despite their parents’ requests. Even PKs find it too hard to stay when there’s too much going on. A strong sense of number two–calling–is something I’d like to see more in the body of Christ. The kind of calling that really makes people believe in their church community as a FAMILY united in Christ, even if there are no biological family members there or close friends. Even when things are hard. The kind of calling that makes a person visit a church and say “Even though I don’t feel comfortable here, even though this church can work on a lot of things…I think God is calling me to put my roots here and serve.” I’m sure people with these convictions are out there…I just don’t know where they are.

And I’m also not very good at recruiting and mobilizing. I am not an outside sales kind of guy. So how would I bring these people even if I found them? The thing I look forward to is when my brother and I get married and we bring our wives to our church. Two solid sisters right there, partners in servant leadership. That will be awesome. Maybe we will have to wait until then for God to provide for a need that we’ve had for a long time. Or maybe it will happen sooner. Maybe if that happens the order will be switched. :P

So I ask those of you reading to prayerfully consider all that I’ve written about, to ask God if maybe He is challenging you to a new calling, to keep your eyes open for people who are already looking for this kind of ministry opportunity. And please pray for YKC and the new chapter ahead. Andrew is going to have a lot of responsibility on his shoulders.

My grace is sufficient for you

And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. — 2 Corinthians 11:28

Last summer, I read this chapter of 2 Corinthians. I remember, I was riding in a taxi in Seoul. Verse 28 hit me. It never hit me before. Why then? Because I knew exactly what Paul was talking about when he wrote about “the daily pressure and anxiety” he had for the church. Never had that verse been so real to me as it was in that season of my life, wondering how everyone back home was doing, especially at church.

Interesting how I’ve been going through 2 Corinthians again and that I read this verse again last week. Because it is one way I can explain to myself and others why today I broke down just as I was about to deliver the sermon. A mix of burden, guilt, sadness, weakness, and brokenness became too overwhelming. And the foundation of it all, I think, was this anxiety and pressure that comes from having pastoral responsibility.

Paul, just before this, writes his formidable list of all the trials he has experienced: beatings, floggings, stonings, imprisonment, shipwreck, continual danger and threat from enemies, hunger and thirst, and loneliness. Yet he caps his list with this…the daily pressure and anxiety over the churches he had planted. There was a constant burden on his heart for his flock, if they were doing okay, if they were growing spiritually, if leaders were being accountable, if the testimony of the death and resurrection of Christ were being proclaimed, if any enemies had snuck in and tried to subvert the ministry. I think very few people outside of the pastorate know what it’s like to have this feeling, this burden. I think more believers should try to understand the agony and burden their pastors carry and deal with week after week for the sake of their flock. It is no joke.

“Who is weak, and I am not weak?” Paul writes next in verse 29. This is the context in which we find the famous verse, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12:9). This was the great apostle, devoted follower and bondservant of Christ: Paulus, “the little one,” his name literally meant. The one of whom his enemies said, “his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account” (1 Cor 10:10). The meek, gentle, and humble leader. God used him in such a mighty way. Man, that gives me hope.

In the midst of weakness, the Lord has done some crazy things in my life and those close to me recently to show me that God does not forget those who follow after Him. God does reward those who seek after Him, His kingdom, and His righteousness. May all the glory be to Him and Him alone, forever and ever. Amen.

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.

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.

Work and work

Though what used to be incredibly burdensome for me at church has now become more manageable, I still have a nagging feeling that I’m not doing enough. I feel like I could be doing more, but in reality just what I have to do now seems like plenty enough for me. I could theoretically be maximizing every minute of my time to plan and prepare for church, not just the sermon and praise, but Bible studies, fellowship events, outreach events, and other ways that will help Living Exodus to grow and mature. I was blessed at every Talbot class session this past semester, and I always wanted to take what I received and pour more into church, but when came time to follow through on my resolutions, I couldn’t seem to do it. I woke up early, but all it took was one 7:30 call from a customer and it was hard to get into the mode. There went my morning time. I would sit down at my desk in the evenings and the red numbers of my clock would glare back at me. Somehow the hours turned from 8, to 9, to 10, to 11, without much progress, and I resigned myself to bed so I could wake up again to try to redeem the next day.

I know I can do better. I know I can be more disciplined. I know if I could just get the sermon “over with” earlier in the week, then I can put my efforts toward thinking ahead, thinking about new things, new ideas. But just as it requires much self-restraint to put in the time to study and meditate for the sermon, it requires yet another push to do that breaking of new ground. It’s been a while since we sang a new song during worship.

One of the characteristics of a good leader is that he knows how to reach out to those who know more than him. He knows how to teach others how to do the things that he might only be doing out of necessity so that he can be freed to pursue other important matters. In our last class, we went over Ephesians 4. When other parts of the body are not performing correctly or they are weak, the body starts to use the stronger part. Sometimes the stronger part gets overused. We are meant to walk on two legs, not one. Walk on one too much and it will become stronger, but it will also become tired from overuse. No one is meant to walk on crutches even after a broken ankle is healed. The healthy ankle takes on a heavier load while the other is recovering, but it is only supposed to be temporary. When each part is working properly, the body can build itself up and grow properly (Eph 4:16).

I hope some of our group can step up more and learn to take ownership and responsibility for the health of our ministry. Am I able to discern when they are ready to take on responsibilities? Because so far, I see halfhearted dedication. They shy away from responsibility. They give God only bits and pieces, not their whole heart, mind, and soul. As a stronger part, I can fill in, but this is not the way it is meant to be in the long run. It is easy for them. All they have to do is “show up.” But most can’t even do that much. If they are not faithful with the little things, how can I entrust to them greater things?

Small business, small church 2

I was thinking more about the small business, small church analogy I mentioned a couple entries ago. I’ve been thinking about some new aspects of it, based on things I’ve learned recently.

It started out with a reflection on the big picture of the work I’m doing in my job. I’m doing what Jake used to spend a lot of time doing: paperwork with regard to daily business operations. Sometimes he would get snarled unexpectedly and a tiny mistake in data entry would cost hours of time. But now that I’m taking care of that, it has enabled Jake to concentrate his efforts on working out details for business development: thinking about how to expand our customer base and advertise beyond word-of-mouth, how to work out business deals with other companies, how to make operations more efficient now and more scalable for the future. I began to see, even if sometimes I am bored or feel like the things I am doing aren’t as “cool” or sophisticated as the things Jake does, I am still contributing in allowing him and other managers to concentrate on other aspects of the business, things that need to be dealt with in order for the company to grow.

I’m beginning to understand in small part how the poverty trap works in countries of extreme poverty, as the economist Jeffrey Sachs writes about. At extreme poverty, everyone is expending their energy and labor just to survive, just to fill their stomachs with food, just for that day that they’re living, that they have no time or energy to put into investing into the future. Even if Jake had all these plans for how to take the business to new heights (which he probably did), there was just no time for him to work on them, having to deal with all the annoying invoices and bills and bank reconciliations. But now that I can do it, he is free. Sachs mentions the kick start that the extreme poor need in order to escape the poverty trap. They need external monetary aid so they can stop worrying about just “getting by.”

There is a kind of trap like this at my church, I think. I feel like my work at church is only subsistence. I want so much to be free to do more than that. And based on the knowledge I’ve gained about my personality and spiritual gifts through handling my current responsibilities, I would even prefer to be the guy that does the grunt work and does it consistently so that another person can be free to do the visioneering.

A business needs capital to start something new. New ventures will require funding and float time until they get up and running enough to sustain themselves and produce a return on their original investment. Although the analogy isn’t perfect, the members of a church are like investors. The church needs their financial support to exist and to expand. In our case, expansion would be getting a full-time EM pastor. But there is a vicious cycle at work. Right now, there aren’t enough people in the KM and not enough giving to support a full-time pastor. And not having an established EM may be turning away seekers who are looking for a church that can take care of their kids (I could write another entry on how I hate that Korean parents expect the church to raise their kids for them). And so, we’re stuck, because if there are fewer people, there’s less giving, and there’s no pastor. If there’s no pastor, there are fewer people, which means less giving.

Do you see how the same cycle could apply, but in the positive respect for big churches? People are drawn to the bigger churches because they have more ministries and resources and because they are more established in their leadership. Reality LA is exploding right now, so much so that Pastor Tim Chaddick wants the church to stop growing so fast. Even though his preaching can be pretty intense and confrontational, and even though only a tiny percentage of the attendees tithe regularly, there is a solid core foundation of leadership that allows for vision building (from what I understand, at least). Bigger churches get bigger, and smaller churches get smaller. Rich countries get richer, and poor countries get poorer. It’s a sad reality.

One random bit I want to write about is that the more time I spend at my job, the more I realize how little street smarts I have. If I think long, I can come up with many specific examples, but this is getting long as it is. I know a lot of the knowledge some of my friends have is because they learned it from their upbringing. I don’t regret my upbringing, but when I compare it to kids who had parents in professional careers or blue-collar jobs or whose parents owned restaurants, I am lacking. But I have a knowledge that not many people have. The knowledge that I have from growing up as a pastor’s kid at a small church has given me a perspective that not many people know or understand. And I think it’s also something that a lot of Christians don’t appreciate. I think that’s why my blog has taken the direction that it has since I started it…because I feel like so many people are ignorant about the particular burdens that PKs (Korean American PKs?) face. Maybe a lot of PKs themselves don’t really know either, or at least how to get people to understand it. For me, it goes much deeper than the typical PK church drama. It was never drama for me. It was something else. I hope those who have kept up with this blog have a better sense of that now.

Much to learn…