Archive for January, 2012

January 29, 2012

Love at First Sight

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My winter vacation is coming to a bittersweet end.  These past six weeks have been the most physically-draining, emotionally-taxing, yet spiritually-vibrant month-and-a-half of my life.  After all the retreats and related preparation, it’s funny to think that a new semester will be a “lighter load” than what I’ve just experienced.  But through the grace of God, I was able to spend the last couple days of my break with good food, great friends, and an amazing family.

I’m very close with much of my extended family on my mom’s side (my dad’s side is all in Korea, so I haven’t been able to see them in years).  Amongst the seven of our cousins and two in-laws, we call ourselves “Operation Super Pew.”  It’s our eldest cousin’s dream for all of us to attend the same church and occupy an entire pew to ourselves (which we’ve executed on a couple of occasions).  Three weeks ago, we added an addition to the Operation.  My cousin, Betty, and her husband, Kyung, gave birth to a beautiful daughter, and I had the privilege this past week to meet that little bundle of joy.

I guess you could call me a romantic.  I enjoy chick flicks and Korean dramas, and am decently aware of all the cliches and “events” that couples do for each other.  But even in my affinity for the cheesy and tacky, I never really believed in “love at first sight.”  We’re familiar with the scene in movies where the male protagonist walks into a bar, and standing across the room is his female counterpart, whom he falls head-over-heels for at initial glance.  Given my objective nature and accounting background, there are too many factors to consider and a number of intangibles that are being overlooked for LAFS to be possible.  But then I met my niece, Evangeline… and all that went out the window.

For being only three weeks old, she was the most expressive and most innocent person I’ve ever met in my life.  My Facebook photos don’t serve justice to how many of the beautiful faces she was capable of in the fleeting moments that I was able to hold her.  My cousin told me she probably doesn’t even know what faces she’s making or which emotions are connected to certain expressions, but I like to think she does.  Why?  Looking at that picture (above), seeing her smile, and knowing she’s happy … there’s no other feeling quite like it.

Gospel Connection:  As I held Evangeline for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel how much love I had for her.  There was something within me that convicted me to pray for her the moment I was told that she was conceived.  There is something within me that makes me miss her a great deal already.  And there will always be something within me that will look out for her best interests.  And yet, how much more did, does, and will God forever love us, His children!  Before our conception, to this very day, and in the many years to come, God manifested His complete and genuine love for us in the Son, Jesus Christ.  I like to call it the “cosmic love at first sight.”

As I held Evangeline, I couldn’t help but think, “I would give up everything for this child.  I would die for this kid.”  In that moment, I was able to catch a glimpse of the sacrifice that God made for His children.  But just as quickly as that moment came, it was surpassed by the reality that any sacrifice that I could make for her had it’s limits.  As I’m sure my cousins would share the same sentiment of unconditional love for their new daughter, whatever sacrifice they make for her would be conditional.  If we as human beings chose to give up our lives for the sake of a loved one, at best, that would only temporarily alleviate discomfort or prolong that person’s life for a couple more years.  But to fully understand the Gospel and the implications of the Cross, we must come to grips with exactly what was being lost, and what was being gained.  The everlasting, all-loving, and all-powerful God of the universe decided to incarnate Himself in the person of Jesus, so that through His death, sinners like us could have life.  So while my or my cousins’ decision to sacrifice everything for Evangeline samples that love, the complete expression of it is something we may never fully understand.

But the Gospel never stops there.  In the picture of the Resurrection, we are given that new life.  Jesus provides for us the answer in which we don’t have to make that sacrifice ever again.  We are no longer ruled by the limitations of human will and the slavery of sin, but given eternal life under the blood of Christ.  I praise the Lord for my sake, my family’s sake, certainly Evangeline’s sake, and hopefully for your’s, that this is the assurance that we can place our hopes in.

January 16, 2012

“Ask, Seek, Knock”

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The new year has only just begun, but already so much has happened.  This past weekend will mark a very special milestone for my own faith, because it was the first engagement that I had in speaking for an entire retreat.  The following post contains some of my own reflections from the past couple days and weeks (which includes the preparation for the retreat itself), but mind you, these are only the seeds of an initial glance.  Still battling physical and mental fatigue, and awaiting more divine revelation to help process what took place, I eagerly await the fruits of labor in the weeks, months, and years to come.

Maybe it’s the Presbyterian in me talking, but there were three big takeaways for me:

  1. God’s sovereignty
  2. God’s providence
  3. God’s grace

God’s sovereignty

New Haven Korean Church is actually the church that I grew up at.  After my family and I moved to Connecticut in 1998, I started attending the youth group  at the age of 10.  In the 13+ years that I’ve spent  involved with this church, I’ve experienced the highest of high’s and lowest of low’s with and because of NHKC.  On top of that, amongst those that attended the retreat, the majority of them were those I attended youth group with at some point or another.  To be quite honest, I never would have expected half of the said peers to have even considered coming to this retreat.

Then I started praying for them.  A couple days before the retreat itself, I had the registration list of attendees before me and began praying for each person by name.  For those I knew, I lifted up personal requests of how I wanted to see God speak to them at this retreat.  For those I didn’t know too well or at all, I prayed that God meet them where they stood.  When I was about three-quarters down the list, I remembered that the leaders mentioned a handful of other people who were still considering coming last-minute.  But I didn’t know their names and couldn’t intercede for them in the same way.  And then it hit me: God is sovereign.  Long before I decided to pray for everyone, or before I was asked to speak at this retreat, or even before the idea to have this retreat take place was conceived, God knew.  God knew each and every member by name and was aware of what their heart conditions were.  He felt every wound and bore every scar that all 37 attendees were carrying with them.  It was within God’s will to bring His children to this retreat, whether or not I could have imagined it.  So the work and effort I spent toiling in preparation for the retreat was not for my own gain, but for ways in which God was about to work in His children.

God’s providence

Though the retreat itself was only a day and half long, my speaking engagements numbered five in total.  Three for the retreat and twice on Sunday (once for the IMPACT ministry, and the other for the youth group).  The theme for the retreat was on prayer, and in God’s sovereignty, I was able to witness the true power of prayer.

Just before my last sermon of the weekend, I humbly asked for prayer from the youth group leadership team.  Working off of only two hours of sleep the night before, and less than six for the entire weekend, I was without a doubt feeling the effects of my fatigue.  I didn’t know how I was going to stand on my two feet for longer than 30 minutes, let alone make it through my sermon for the youth group.  But because of their prayer, I was able to not only deliver my words in a coherent manner, but communicated them in a most alert and clear state of mind.

Prayer works in many ways.  While the above story is a very practical example on the fruits of prayer, I know that it is not the only means in which we see prayer at work.  It is not just a means in which we offer up requests or demands in our times of need, but so much more.  On occasions of joy, we praise God for his goodness.  During times of confusion, we ask for wisdom to be enlightened.  When we are grieving, we have nothing but to reflect on the image of the Suffering Servant in Christ.  In all these instances and more, our souls are engaged in prayer.  We acknowledge that there is fundamentally something missing in our hearts that only God can provide.  I thank God that He is the only one who can provide.

A special acknowledgement of God’s provision comes from my family, fellow seminarians, mentoring pastors, fellow church members, and supportive friends who were able to join me in praying for this retreat.  Though not all of them knew who they were praying for in the list of attendees, they did so willingly and joyfully for the sake of the Kingdom.  What a beautiful picture we have that displays the unity of God’s people for whom He provides!

God’s grace

There’s nothing like learning how to do something by throwing yourself into the thick of things and getting your hands dirty.  It’s the same way for ministry.  Seminary is constantly rooting me in Scripture, equipping me with sound theology, and helping me simulate practical ministry skills, but I won’t actually learn what ministry is all about until I get myself into the real thing.

As I was on this retreat, I was made aware of how important preaching is.  Jesus commissions us to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20), and the only language that can be communicated universally amongst all people groups is the heart language of the Gospel.  In the deepest groanings and yearnings of our hearts, we seek a satisfaction that can only be brought about by the person of Christ, whom this thing called the “Bible” is describing.  For this retreat, it was my burden to share that Word.  My heart grew heavy.

On the last night of the retreat, people began approaching the front on their knees asking for prayer.  Through the hand of God, souls began offering themselves in humility, ready to (re-)commit their lives to Christ.  The fact that I had a responsibility in praying for them to do so made my heart grow even heavier.  I was immediately confronted with my own inadequacy in tending to these requests; requests had people’s souls at stake.  How was I supposed to accomplish any of these things?

Once again, God intervened.  Yes, through my own efforts I was not qualified or ready to handle such a burden.  In fact, if it were up to me, these people would be in a more grave position than they were before the retreat.  But therein lies the hope: it wasn’t and is not up to me.  God’s grace extends from the work of Christ and not our own.  So when I prayed for them, I thanked God for His grace, pleaded for the righteousness of Christ, and invited the intercession of the Holy Spirit.  By these means alone was this retreat able to be the awesome- no, awe-full!- blessing that is was.

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Gospel Connection: When I was preparing for one of the talks, it came time to brainstorm how to wrap up that particular sermon with a Gospel connection.  As I was typing the words to say how Jesus asks, seeks, and knocks for our own hearts, I began to choke up.  I’m usually not an emotional guy and it takes a lot to bring me to tears.  When it came time to deliver that sermon at the retreat, I didn’t expect to choke up at that part again, because I knew what was coming.  If it takes a lot to bring me to tears on one thing, you can imagine how much more it would take to make me cry over that same thing.  But lo and behold, as I was delivering that same portion, I realized I wasn’t just reciting words from an outline.  I began to see the picture of Jesus dining amongst tax collectors and prostitutes.  My mind flashed an image of our bloody Savior nailed to the Cross.  And in a second’s time, I was able to glimpse the sheer glory of His resurrected body.  In the most paradox picture of redemption found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I was once again brought to tears.  My heart was moved by the Good News as if for the first time.  Jesus looks upon our filthy, sin-stained hearts and still says, “I want you.”  And through the grace of an all-loving and triune God, we can answer that call because he said, “It is finished.”