Archive for the ‘Edification’ Category

Judges 14 – Samson

Today was the first Sunday after the death of one of our members from a long battle with stomach cancer. She was just shy of 40 years old, leaving behind a husband and 8-year-old daughter.

Today’s passage was Judges 14, about Samson. It was, like many stories in the book of Judges, a bizarre tale. Yet, as he has done for the last 6 months, P. Charlie preached the gospel of Jesus Christ and the sovereignty of God through this difficult, strange account. Again and again, I am blown away by the teachings God prepared for His people through these narratives.

The first point of the sermon was that God works through people. He does not control them as automatons and machines but instead works through their (less than ideal) characters and personal foibles to bring redemption to Israel. In His love He has chosen people to accomplish his plans.

The second point was that God works through people for the Church. We looked at Judges 14:4. “His father and mother did not know that it was from the LORD, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines.” “It” here was Samson’s desires (indeed, his lust) for a Philistine woman (not Delilah, she comes later in chapter 16). It was Yahweh, though, not Samson, who used Samson’s sinful desires to accomplish his plans for Israel.

One point stuck out to me in this section: Yahweh loved Israel too much to let them stay in deadly peace. In Genesis 3:15, God promises to put emity between the Enemy and the Church, between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Over the years, the borders between Israel and Philistia had grown too porous, and Samson’s life was just a reflection of Israel’s assimilation with foreign, godless peoples. In this crazy story of Samson’s burst of anger and murder of 30 Philistine men (his groomsmen at his own wedding!), we see a blessing in disguise–God was reintroducing the enmity that should properly have existed between Israel and this godless nation.

What did this mean for us today? P. Charlie encouraged us to broaden our perspectives from the meaning of our experiences for ourselves to the meaning of our experiences for the Church. What is God doing for the Church through what I am going through?

And here, he shared some words on the recent loss of our sister and friend. He did not want to minimize the personal grief of their family, or appear arrogant for trying to explain the reasons for this tragedy, but he did want to share that already because of this trial there have been things happening for good. Love has been multiplied within our community. The sharing of testimony and the gospel has taken place among unbelievers in schools in the Upper East Side, where her daughter goes to school. God wants His Word and glory to go out to the world, to the people He desires to save. One way of understanding why God allows tragedy is to see how these events, though it makes it no easier to explain them for those personally involved, can draw others closer to Him.

I felt chills through my body as P. Charlie concluded by speaking of the death of those 30 Philistine men. Samson took the life of 30. But Jesus gave his own life for many. It was almost prophetic. His presentation of the gospel felt so much more weighty given the tragedy before us.

During Communion I meditated on several verses regarding death. From that point until the end of service–through the communion hymn and ending hymn, through the closing prayer and benediction and dismissal–I felt like I was looking at myself from a distance, with my life as just one small part of God’s epic plan.

He himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death. (Hebrews 2:14)

For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (2 Corinthians 5:4)

Destroying the power of death. Life swallowing up what is mortal. It all felt so immense.

These were the stakes Paul and the apostles faced. Today, unlike every other time, I felt the weightiness of his famous words to the Corinthians:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Wasting away. Their bodies were weak. They had seen and touched death. Affliction. But the eternal weight of glory unseen far surpassed any present affliction–no matter how prolonged, no matter how severe.

That is the hope that we have in Christ. It is not a trite hope. It is not a warm fuzzy feeling. When we say we will see the dead again, we mean it. Our loved ones will be waiting for us on that day when we join our Lord and Savior Jesus in heaven. We can be sure and confident of this.

Oh the glory of the Lord!

Twitter: the elephant in the room

Let’s talk about Twitter.

One of my friends posted a link on his blog last year (it pointed to The Gospel Coalition, which quoted a bit of another blog post written by an author named Nicholas Carr). I thought it was interesting then, but recently I found myself revisiting and rereading it. I find it kind of amazing that the original analysis on Twitter by Carr happened way back in 2007, before anybody really knew or cared about Twitter. But now I think it’s quite timely for us to rethink these things. Twitter has made its way into the social consciousness of my “network.” If they don’t use Twitter themselves, they at least know of the concept.  Carr has some pretty interesting things to say about Twitter. I don’t think he is a Christian, but his words have implications for believers who use Twitter. Read on…

I read that feature article in Time magazine last June and found the article pretty interesting as it talked about the innovative uses of Twitter that were beginning to emerge as it started to gain a critical mass of users. I think Twitter can be a great marketing tool for businesses. It can make real-time discussion of large-scale events much more accessible and stimulating. I like using Twitter to keep up to date on what law school admissions offices are up to, as well as upcoming projects or albums from musicians. And even though people make fun of Twitter as Facebook status updates on steroids, it consolidates information in a way that makes sharing interesting things much more doable. Status updates on FB get lost in the news feed, and there’s no guarantee that the people you want to see your updates will actually see it. With Twitter, you know that just as you can see every update of the people you follow, your followers can see the same for you. As a way of getting occasional updates from places or groups that you would normally never hear a peep from, Twitter is awesome. But there’s that other side of Twitter, the incessant posting of inane personal details that all of us are familiar with…that’s what the rest of this post will focus on.

What’s a little different with Twitter is that, compared to Facebook, we know our audience with more precision. Especially if we require approval for people to “follow” you, we know exactly who will see our updates. Because all our updates are consolidated onto one concise, constantly refreshing feed for followers, it makes it hard for our audience to miss anything we want them to know. This takes the “look at me” factor of Facebook and multiplies it. One of the snippets in the linked blog post I found spot-on (though maybe a little extreme) was this:

The great paradox of “social networking” is that it uses narcissism as the glue for “community.” Being online means being alone, and being in an online community means being alone together. The community is purely symbolic, a pixellated simulation conjured up by software to feed the modern self’s bottomless hunger. Hunger for what? For verification of its existence? No, not even that. For verification that it has a role to play. As I walk down the street with thin white cords hanging from my ears, as I look at the display of khakis in the window of the Gap, as I sit in a Starbucks sipping a chai served up by a barista, I can’t quite bring myself to believe that I’m real. But if I send out to a theoretical audience of my peers 140 characters of text saying that I’m walking down the street, looking in a shop window, drinking tea, suddenly I become real. I have a voice. I exist, if only as a symbol speaking of symbols to other symbols.

It’s not, as Scott Karp suggests, “I Twitter, therefore I am.” It’s “I Twitter because I’m afraid I ain’t.”

That last line summarizes it all pretty well. “I Twitter because I’m afraid I ain’t.” Do we Twitter because we are afraid our lives are meaningless if we don’t? The typical reaction would be: “No…what the hell are you talking about??” It’s easy to deny such a devastating-sounding accusation and call Carr a Twitter-hater, but I hope that all of us can examine deep down what our intentions are, what our motivations are for tweeting about the tiniest details of our lives. Actually, not why we first started tweeting—because most people start tweeting thinking the Twitter concept is the dumbest thing—but why we started to tweet more. What makes some people go Twitter-crazy?

There is a good side to wanting to share and confide the details of our lives with others, wanting to enjoy pleasurable experiences with others, and wanting to form social bonds with others. But are we beginning to make an idol of this attention, of being “known”? Looking back at my high school and early college years, I think I wrote a lot of my Xanga entries because I wanted to feel significant—to be known and valued by others. This desire, just like sexual desire, is not necessarily sinful. God created us with these desires for relationship and community. But to give it ultimate significance is to make an idol out of it. Maybe deep down it really is narcissism.

Psalm 139 begins this way:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. (139:1-4)

You don’t need to tweet about something for it to be meaningful. Does our use of Twitter augment the genuine, in-the-flesh relationships we are nurturing with our friends or do we engage in it just to convince ourselves that we do have friends who care about what we do, our feelings, what excites us, what frustrates us? Why do we have “conversations” on Twitter even with people we see and communicate with regularly through other mediums? Does seeing our @username mentioned in other people’s feeds and tweets give us a sense of satisfaction because we know that others will see? Because as an outsider, it’s weird to see interactions that normally happen in private happen in the palm of my hand (literally). I’m not saying that having them is wrong. I just want to encourage people to think about why they do what they do. There is something very significant that drives our willingness to put our lives on display (or, to put it negatively, our disregard for our personal privacy). We begin to forget who’s “watching” and the implications about ourselves that we suggest to others when we post this or that. All of our tweets form a picture of who we are. Some may complain when people assume this or that about us by reading our tweets. Are we not enabling their misconceptions by tweeting? The more we put “out there,” especially when we’re doing it in 140-character bits and pieces, the more confusing it can make relationships. Then why do we keep doing it?

Verses 17-19:

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.

On first read, I read these verses like this: “How precious to you are my thoughts, O God!” Seeing as how this psalm is a picture of intimacy between the psalmist and God, and how it alternates between God’s knowing of the psalmist and the psalmist’s knowing of God, I don’t think it is too far of a stretch to switch these pronouns. The rest of Psalm 139 is really awesome as well, and I would encourage you to read it and meditate on it as it relates to this Twitter cultural phenomenon.

We must remember that God knows us more than any Twitter feed can make ourselves known to others. God knows that you are really enjoying your latte on a cold, rainy day. God knows that you really don’t want to get out of bed to go to work. God knows that you think the person at the other table in the restaurant is really annoying. God knows that you think the sunset is so beautiful. Your life has meaning because God knows you and cares for you. Those who don’t know and believe this are finding themselves caught up in the existentialism of the Tweety-first century.

Know that the God who created us knows our every thought and emotion. We are precious to Him. We are of more value to God than the sparrows, whom God has not forgotten (Luke 12:6-7). The Lord knows our every need before we tell anyone (Matthew 6:8). And because of this, no longer do we need to look to Twitter or Facebook to feel like we matter in this world. There is freedom in knowing the love of Christ. Let’s share this love with those who are lost and seeking meaning for their lives.

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.

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.

Being cool is (usually) not cool

One thing I realized was that in my last entry I might have suggested a sort of elevating the white church above the Korean church. I did not mean to do that. I was just sharing the contrast I’ve experienced between both settings. Maybe many will agree with me that white people tend to be more welcoming…but I know that it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because they truly know the gospel. Maybe many are like that only because that’s how they were raised by their parents and not because they really know the gospel. I know there are probably many people in Crusade that show up only because their friends are there. But some of the most solid people I know are white, and one of the characteristics I see in common in all of them is a genuine warmth and hospitality toward all people, rather than just those in their inner circle.

I share about my experiences outside of the typical Korean church subculture because they have given me a perspective I wouldn’t have gotten if I had just surrounded myself with all Korean people in college. Some may ask, then, why are you still serving at a Korean church? Why do you live with all Korean roommates? Some may try to see in it a cowardly motive, but I hope it’s evident that rather than bail on the Korean church and resort to soapbox blogging, I want to edify the community while the opportunity is before me. And I am trying to do this both through sharing my thoughts in writing as well as living them out in person. Though my voice may be small, I hope that the perspectives I bring will continue to challenge us and push us toward a richer understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Of course, it’s not like these perspectives won’t benefit anyone but Korean Americans. I hope the few non-Asian readers of this blog can benefit as well.

I realized also that in the anguish of writing the previous entry I hadn’t included any Bible verses. Here are a few that I’ve been meditating on with regard to this issue.

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” — Hebrews 13:1-2

This verse says to continue to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. But it also says to show hospitality and be welcoming to strangers. I think of Abraham’s encounter with the angels disguised as men in Genesis. Also, I think of Jesus’ words about the final judgment and the sheep and the goats: as you did it to the least of these, you did it also to me. How often does the Korean church neglect hospitality toward strangers, visitors, and newcomers, whether intentionally or unintentionally?

“Therefore, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” — Romans 15:7

I love this verse because in one sentence it tells us what to do and also tells us WHY. Here is the gospel, that Christ welcomed his enemies, welcomed strangers into the household of God. Christ was so thoroughly UN-self-centered that how can we not also be welcoming to strangers and especially strangers in the faith? The characteristic of being warm and welcoming is one of those characteristics that, when I see it in someone, I think, man, that person knows the gospel. Really and truly understands the gospel. These are the “cool” ones. I want to be one of those people. The Lord knows I fail just like everyone else, but the grace of the Spirit keeps me mindful of the call to Christ-likeness. Take care lest I forget…

A brother of mine has been writing on this issue as well (here and here). I hope we are not the only ones that think about this! Please join the conversation.

Silence is golden

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. – Proverbs 17:27

I wrote this verse down on a note card sometime during high school. I had completely forgotten about it until last weekend, when I happened to see that note card on my desk. That verse meant a lot to me in high school because it gave affirmation to a part of my personality that I was only just beginning to recognize. And now that I’m out of college, with a little better understanding of myself and life, I can say that the proverb’s encouragement to me now has remained much the same. And I can also say that I have become better at doing what it values.

I have come to really look up to people that are careful and thoughtful with their words. There’s something about the way those people share advice or let me finish talking before offering their opinions, which are full of wisdom and discernment. It is hard to describe, but there’s a way that some people pause thoughtfully as they form their thoughts. They choose to struggle to articulate what is difficult to express rather than resort to rambling. I admire those kind of people.

It’s not just what people say but how they say it as well. The people I respect most are those that speak gently but firmly, confidently but humbly. There’s something about that phrase “cool spirit” that I like a lot. Cool spirit => understanding. The NIV says “even-tempered.” A man of understanding is even-tempered. A man of wisdom and maturity has a cool spirit. I think it is referring to someone who doesn’t get tossed by the waves of emotion.

It is hard to have much respect for people who show a lack of restraint with their words. I won’t go much more into that, except this. A good word to describe people who don’t restrain their words? Obnoxious. The next verse does say this: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” So true. Some people would do well to just be quiet once in a while.

Of course, showing restraint isn’t just a guy thing. 1 Peter 3:4: “[Wives], let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart and the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” What a beautiful verse. And how beautiful are those who possess that gentle and quiet spirit. They are hard to find.

With time, we will learn.

God’s riches at Christ’s expense

Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.

I told a brother yesterday that when I write, I like to sit down and write a lot.

Oops.