January 2, 2013

The Unanswered Prayer

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My dad is the youngest of five siblings. With 20 years that separate him and his oldest brother, there comes a lot of family in between the two. Growing up, I knew I had a lot of cousins, nieces, and nephews in Korea that I never met or knew too well. Even to this day, I don’t know the exact number of relatives I have back in the motherland. So whenever I get the opportunity to talk to or meet one of these distant family members, the experience is always so foreign and awkward. We’ve lived the majority of our lives halfway across the world from each other, and yet, are somehow connected because of a familial bond.

This past spring I was again confronted with a similar situation. Seong-Sil (Sung-Shil, 성실) was my dad’s niece’s daughter, thereby making her my niece. With aspirations to study English and experience the States on a budget, she ventured out to Iowa to spend a year taking classes. She came to visit us in Connecticut this past May with her mom and cousin after her spring semester was over. Over the handful of Facebook and IM conversations we had beforehand, SS seemed to be a very bright and sociable girl. She proved to be no different in person. Immediately, I could tell that SS was someone with great ambition. She wasn’t afraid to go on an adventure, and would probably want to discover all of Manhattan alone if we let her. She valued family very much. When my aunt was sick and going through chemotherapy treatments, she offered to come back to Connecticut to help my parents with her. I find it amazing to believe that God created each and every single one of us in our own uniqueness, but then I meet a girl like SS and know that He really is that sovereign.

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While visiting us in CT, SS takes a walk around our neighborhood.

Earlier this evening, that same spunk and spirit went to be with the Lord again. Here on earth, her parents, brother, uncles, grandparents, cousins, friends, classmates, and church community mourn her loss. No one should ever have to leave everything behind at the ripe age of twenty, but that’s what God had in store for her.

Even as someone in full-time ministry, I find myself having a hard time seeing God’s sovereignty in all of this. SS had so much going for her and was so young, why take her away now? Without any seeming reason or foreseeable warning, she was gone in a moment’s notice. I can’t help but glance through her Facebook page and see all the posts on her wall of encouragements, well wishes, and prayers that she would awaken from her coma healthy. In all their earnest and genuine heart, so many of SS’ loved ones prayed diligently for her recovery. How would they now respond after hearing of her passing? Will her parents find healing after having to bury their own child? Did God really leave all those prayers unanswered?

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Gospel Connection: We can never comprehend God’s will in its entirety (Rom. 9:14-24). But what we do know is that everything is possible through prayer under the name of Jesus Christ (Matt. 7:7-11; John 14:12-14; 1 John 5:13-15). SS’ friends’ prayers indeed were heard and answered. They prayed that she would awaken, and she was, to the joyful noise of the Savior’s Good News. They prayed for many blessings, and she was met with them in the form of her loving church body during her hour of greatest need. And they prayed that they would get to see her again, and because of what is promised in Scripture, they will on the day our Lord returns.

The only prayer God ever left unanswered was Jesus’ prayer in the garden at Gethsemane. The Father, in full confrontation of His Son’s anguish, chose not to remove that cup from him. Because Jesus’ prayer was rejected on the night of his death, we can now have our’s answered. It is through this very pain and loss do we, as fellow heirs, have a God who suffers with us. A God who answers us. And in the glorious victory of the Resurrection, we see hope for a world that is broken, but going to be restored to the way things should be. This post is dedicated to my loving niece, for giving your inadequate uncle such peace. We love you and miss you.

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Seong-Sil Park
Mar 13, 1992 – Jan 02, 2013

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December 31, 2012

Year in Review: 2012

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Last week, I had the opportunity to serve at the youth retreat for the church that I grew up in.  After a fruitful, painful, and blessed three days, what did I learn?  Kids are smart.  Smart enough to know that to give respect, someone has to earn it first.  Whether they know it or not, kids inherently operate on a credibility-based system.  Much like adults, they won’t invest in or be vulnerable to people they don’t trust.  If you don’t show them any respect, credibility, investment, or vulnerability to begin with, you can sure as heck not expect them to reciprocate any of it back to you.  I definitely wasn’t giving them enough credit going into the retreat.

Reflecting back on 2012, I realize that this has been a common theme for me and my ministry thus far.  I haven’t been giving credit where credit is due.  In turn, I’ve been giving credit where it certainly wasn’t due: myself.  Whether it be with youth, college students, my family and friends, and especially with God; I like to think that I have something to offer in all of the relationships I’m involved in.  That I have something to bring to the table.  That I serve a purpose in a two-way street.  And even, that none of these relationships could be sustained without me.  Are you scoffing at me yet?  I sure am.

Ministry isn’t a charity.  I am not a privileged individual with a seminary education who has oodles of wisdom to spread around to the “spiritually less-fortunate.”  I’m almost embarrassed that it took me this long to realize this.  Only now am I beginning to understand what my parents meant when they told me, “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into [with full-time ministry].”

A friend of mine posted a quote not to long ago by R.C. Sproul about his sentiments on seminary:

That means first that when we prepare to serve in the ministry, we have to prepare to serve in the ministry. Our seminaries, if we must have them, should more reflect a training hospital than a university. Divinity is not a body of knowledge to be mastered like geology. The Bible is not a book to be dissected like Moby Dick. We go there, if we must go there, not to study the Word, but to begin to learn to have the Word study us. We go to pursue not advanced degrees but the fruit of the Spirit. We go to lose our reputations, not to gain them. We go not to be thought wise, but to learn what fools we are.

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Gospel ConnectionThere’s a lot I can learn from 2012.  There’s even more that I can work on in 2013.  And with all these lessons and resolutions in mind, I’ve boiled down by year-end reflection to one thought: God never asks us to do something He hasn’t already done.  In all His divine majesty and authority, never once did Christ claim His throne in an imperious manner.  So why should I act as though I have any power over any of my relationships?  Instead, the image of Jesus is displayed by one of utter humility in the Incarnation and Crucifixion.  In the same way, we are called to live life together in joy, grief, excitement, confusion, eagerness, anxiety, and hope because of the victory we see in the Resurrection.  We die to ourselves for the less privileged, because Christ did.  We love because He first loved us.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
 John 15:12-17 (ESV)

December 5, 2012

Out of sight, out of mind

Click for YouTube video

Click for YouTube video

 

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I’m really bad at keeping in touch with people.  Unless I see you on a consistent basis (i.e. church or school), I probably haven’t talked to you in a while.  I have more fingers than instances I can count that I met up with a friend from high school.  Long-time friends in Connecticut only get to see me during major holidays.  I’ve even started giving the shaft to my friends from BC.  Sometimes, it takes more than a full week for me to realize that I haven’t talked to my parents in quite some time.  I guess I could use the excuse of saying I’m so busy up here in Boston… but that wouldn’t suffice, as there’s always time to spare for a little bit of effort and good conversation.

Over the course of seminary, I’m humbled each and every day of how imperfect I am.  While I thought I was coming to grad school to get smarter and better prepare myself for ministry, I’ve never been more aware of my flaws and felt as incapable as I have ever before.  Not being able to maintain all my relationships throughout the years plays a huge discord with my inner desire to please as many people as I can.  But with my recent revelation of inadequacy, I was confronted with the fact that I can’t make everyone happy.  The catch-up coffee date, the long-awaited meal together, or even the simplest email slips my mind, and someone is inevitably let down.

I’m certainly not perfect.  And I am indeed not my own or anyone else’s savior.

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Gospel Connection

During this Advent season, we are reminded of a coming Messiah who does not let us down.  While friends, family, careers, and diplomas may fail, the birth of Christ harkens back to a God who chose to enter the story as one of us.  Jesus was a man who was able to weep for entire cities because he emphasized with all the fears and insecurities of wayward loved ones.  And he was also a God who didn’t come to judge us justly for our guilt, but compassionately bore all of these shortcomings by death on the Cross.  With Christ, we can never be “out of sight” or “out of mind,” as his very incarnation was to keep us in sight and mind, and certainly in heart and in the Kingdom.

May our attempts to show love to close friends and distant strangers this holiday season stem not from our selfish desire to clear our consciences, but out of response to this Gospel narrative.  There’s no better news than the Good News that we’ve received something we didn’t deserve.

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it…
– Luke 19:41 (ESV)

October 24, 2012

The First

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What is love?  What does it mean to love someone?

After watching a recent video posted by WongFu Productions, entitled “The Last” (posted above), I was forced to ask myself the same questions.  Many people love people for different reasons.  And as alluded to in the video, a lot of those reasons center around the age-old, Five Diagnostic W’s: Who, What, Where, When, and Why.  But either from watching the above production or from first-hand experience, we eventually notice that loving anyone for any one of these reasons exclusively is not enough.

You can’t just love someone for “who” they are or how high a pedestal you place them on.  You can’t just love someone for “what” they are, because even though all your best friends can’t all be your lover, admittedly your lover must be your best friend.   You can’t love someone simply because of “where” you are, or else the lines of commitment and circumstances begin to blur together.  You can’t just love someone for “when” they are, because then we would all be formulated to our 2nd-grade crushes, 7th-grade summer camp flings, or high school sweet hearts (while that has worked for some, it’s not the overwhelming majority).  And you can’t just love someone on the “why,” lest your love gets diluted to a generalized reason with no unique attachments of reciprocity geared towards that specific one person.  What’s different about that love than the one you show to others?

In an ideal world, the goal is meld all of these reasons together.  If you can love someone for who, what, where, when, and why they are, you’ve found your perfect match… your soul mate.  Once you find “The One,” you’re supposed to hold onto them so that they are the Last.

But even this sentiment is flawed.

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Gospel Connection:  We all fall short.  As much as we would like to love someone encompassing all five W’s and more, we will fail to do so on the constant level our lovers demand.  And even as much as we would like to have someone love us in this way, past scars remind us that, that almost never happens.  So where is the hope in love?  If no one can fulfill the need for us, nor can we satisfy that for others, why even bother trying?  The world will tell us to continue searching for that love.  At one point or another, someone will end up being your Last.

The Gospel tells us that the love we are searching for is already here.  When we place all our hope and love in someone who is just as flawed as we are, the status of that savior-figure will, at best, only remain as “surrogate.”  But when we place our identity in the One who came restore everything that is broken in this world, we realize that the work is already done.  We no longer search for the Last, but believe in the First who chose to love us before our search even began.

We love because he first loved us.
– 1 John 4:19 (ESV)

October 17, 2012

Nameun and Eve

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It’s October and that means we’re in the full swing of playoff baseball.  But with the way the Yankees have been playing, it looks like they’re at the back end of that swing.  This time of year always gets me to be at the peak of my emotional sensitivity, as I am forced to feel both utmost elation and utter defeat in the span of about three hours.

This current postseason has proven to be no different, but these past couple of days have produced more frustration than satisfaction.  One of our star players (or at least supposed-to-be-“star”-quality-dictated-by-his-salary) is really struggling and was actually benched from the starting line-up tonight in a crucial Game 3 of the ALCS.  Alex Rodriguez (pictured above), had 3 hits in his last 23 plate appearances (a dismal .130 batting average), of which 12 PA’s resulted in strikeouts and no RBI’s.  For someone who is getting paid $29 million this year, it’s no wonder he is greeted by a sea of “boo’s” by his own home crowd.

As an avid fan of baseball, my natural inclination is to think, Give me a $275 million contract, and I could get 3 hits!  And it was in this very sentiment that I discovered an epiphany (and awoke from my 2-month blog slumber)

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Gospel Connection:  Anybody thinks they can do or be better than the next guy.  My gut reaction is to think that I could hit a 95-mph fastball without any practice or experience at least once out of a hundred times (or in this case, four times out of 23 chances).  Or, in many other instances, to think: I could have painted that… I could have cooked a better meal with a can of beans and baking soda… I could have figured that out in half the time…I could have done that with my eyes closed.

In the story of Adam and Eve, we encounter one of these very moments.  If only Eve didn’t eat the fruit, or Adam wasn’t persuaded by his wife to do so too.  Many times I thought to myself: If that were me in the Garden, I wouldn’t have eaten the fruit.  If I was in Eden, I would have obeyed His commands to the ‘T.’  If God had created Nameun and Eve, all of mankind would have been free from the Fall right now…

Therein lies my sin.

I’m sure many of the Israelites shared the same sentiments when they were wandering through the desert without food and little water for 40 years.  But even when God delivered them from Egypt, and after giving them the Great Commandments to inherit the blessings of obedience, they demonstrated infidelity and idolatry time and time again.  The Law actually showed that their own hearts were not immune to the self-desire that Adam and Eve were, and that they too would have encountered a great Fall if ever confronted with the situation.

The beauty of the Gospel is that everyone is a sinner.  No one can do better.  And the only One that actually could, chose not to flaunt it, and instead died for those who boasted that they could.  Now it doesn’t matter “who does better.”  All that matters is getting to know the One who did the best.

Therein lies my hope.