August 20, 2012

Time capsules

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The last time I went to Korea was in 2000.  Back then, being the pre-pubescent teens that we were, my brother and I returned from that trip with an arsenal of spring-action BB guns.  For about a month after being back at home, our entire house was covered in a sea of white BB’s – the resultant aftermath of our daily target practices.  From toilet paper rolls to water bottles; and the even more challenging task of the occasional, evasive fruit fly, we would spend hours on end shooting everything in sight.

Then one day, our joy was taken away from us quicker than when it had entered.

One night I was sitting on the couch watching TV with my mom, with my gun by my side, of course.  My mom, being the curious parent that she was, picked up my brother’s gun that was nearby and started to think aloud in Korean, “What is it about these guns that make you boys so excited?  Are these really that fun?”  And as she was waving the gun in front of me, she pulled the trigger not knowing it was loaded, and shot me in the face.  My mom shot me in the face.

Luckily, the BB hit me in the cheek and there was no serious damage done.  But from that moment on, my mom grew deathly afraid of the potential consequences of these weapons of doom that she threw them away… at least she said she did.

Twelve years later, the aforementioned BB guns reappeared (pictured above).  My brother was looking for something in my parents’ closet and inadvertently discovered our lost, childhood souvenirs.  I feel 11-years old all over again.

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Gospel Connection:  Often times in our lives we have moments of nostalgia that bring us back to a certain period in our past.  A specific smell might remind us of a season of the year, or looking through old pictures help us relive memories.  Not unlike these spurts of sentimentality, our Christian faiths experience similar types of reactions.  Going to retreats help “boost” our conviction to right our own spiritual lives, and coming back from missions trips revitalizes our passion to serve others.  A good sermon might linger with us for a while and even warrant us sharing it with a friend or two.  But we’ve all experienced both the “spiritual highs” and the inevitable lull that sets in after about two weeks.

Many people continue on living out their faiths on this roller coaster of a path.  Personally, I’ve always been uncomfortable with bouncing from one extreme to the other, so I always try to be as level-hearted as possible.  But I’m not perfect either, and am faced with the unavoidable burn-outs and peaks.  One thing that has always helped me is remembering that Christ is my “first love.”  The Korean culture is very big on first loves (첫사랑), but that’s not exactly what I’m getting at here.  More so than tapping into a source reminiscence, we are called to reflect on the everlasting love of God.  While our love for others fall subject to conditions and may fail, the love of Jesus rests on the foundation of the eternal character of the Triune Godhead.  The same God who created the universe from His words alone, is the very God who chose to love us before we existed.

I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.
– Revelation 2:3-5a (ESV)

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July 18, 2012

There’s no such thing as a “free lunch”

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I’ve been cutting my own hair for the past 5 years.  It took me about 2 years to begin to master the art, but it seemed well worth the investment.  For the price of a pair of scissors, a comb, and a set of clippers, I was saving $250-$300 a year on haircuts.  That’s nearly $1,500 to date, which conveniently adds up to the price of my new Macbook I’m using to write this post!  But while I was cutting my hair the other day, I was faced with the above motto depicting an economic principle I learned in high school (Mr. Basbagill would have been proud).

As I was using my fingers to comb through my hair and determine its desired length, I inadvertently ended up cutting off a tiny chunk of my left pinky.  After I let out a schoolgirl yell, I quickly examined my stupidity.  There was a split second where the area around my knuckle turned blindingly white… then the blood started to flow.  My bathroom sink was covered in my hair, pools of water, and now countless spots of red.  I could feel tiny bits of my hair entering my wound, and I did whatever I could to frantically clean up my mess.

While I was sterilizing my entire bathroom, I couldn’t help but think to myself: “This was not worth the $25 I thought I was saving.”

Chopping off a chunk of my own flesh enlightened me to the concept of opportunity cost.  What I thought I was saving myself the price of a single haircut, actually cost a lot more than its perceived value.  Even when I was getting my hair cut at salons and barber shops, it would take no more than 30 minutes (rinse, blow dry, and styling included).  But when I was first learning to cut it myself, I spent the good part of 2 hours perfecting every strand of my hair to its envisioned state.  The vacuuming of hair and cleaning up newspapers were not tasks I was responsible for when I had my hair cut by someone else.  There were other intangible costs that came with the territory of doing it myself, and sometimes I wonder if they’re worth the extra couple bucks.

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Gospel ConnectionEverything we assess in life is screened through this principle of opportunity cost.  Especially as Americans, and even as Christians, we like to have options, weigh them, and choose the best one available to us.  We feel more constrained and enslaved when we’re limited to fewer choices.  The schools we pick, the clothes we wear, phones we surf the internet with, the churches we decide to attend, the relationships we choose to invest in, even the very faiths we believe in… these are all choices we make on a basis that determines the most self-serving option over the rest.

When we base our decisions on what is “best for me,” we only perpetuate our sin.  Our narcissism is fed by a system revolving around our broken nature.  The only One justified to be self-centered is God himself.  Praise the love of the Father, who chose not to consider the  alternatives over the cost of redemption.  Gracious is the Son, who willingly laid down his life for his enemies to be called coheirs.  Blessed is he who allows the Spirit to move them of this truth, and live as if the only option in life is Christ himself!

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
– Romans 6:1-4

July 10, 2012

Lamp Post (Guest Entry)

by: anonymous

Whenever the weather is nice, I like to go out onto my porch.  It’s usually at night so I always end up staring at the street lamp post behind my house.  It’s not too bright, but you definitely notice it.  One night it really stood out to me.  I noticed how it was always there, showering the street with its orange glow.  The lamp post is always there, so people know where they are going.  Its constant presence seems to provide a sense security.  Everyone knows that lamp posts are there and they know why they’re there, but rarely do people appreciate them.  That is, until they go out or they walk onto a street without any.

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Gospel Connection:  Now mind you, I’m no seminarian, but on this night, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the never-ending love of Christ.  There are times where we go on with our lives worry-free.  Then only during times of distress and anguish, do we cry out to ask for God’s intervention.  But the fact of the matter is: He was, is, and ALWAYS will be there… whether we happen to notice Him or not.  We may not acknowledge or appreciate Him as we should, but He’s there, wanting to be available to you.  And just like a lamp post, He’s there so people can see where they’re going.

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come,
the Almighty.
– Revelation 1:8

July 4, 2012

R&R

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I’ve been in school for the past 19 years.  And for the better part of nearly two decades, I’ve been a pretty good student: I rarely missed a day of school, I earned good grades, I was liked by all my teachers, and I was well behaved.  But regardless of my admirable school record, I was just as eager as the next kid to leave school grounds whenever the bell rang at 3:00pm or scream and holler when the year had concluded for summer vacation.  Homework and exams were only done because I had to, so I just gritted my teeth until it was all done.  As a result, my methods for “unwinding” from school were as lethargic as my efforts to study were studious.

This habit seems to have carried over to today, even as a seminarian.  After an exam, I would nap for hours for the sleep I lost studying; after finishing a paper, I would watch hours of movies/TV shows/Korean dramas to dumb my mind with meaningless entertainment; and after concluding a semester, I would then proceed to spend the next couple of days hanging out with friends and piggin’ out on food to raise my cholesterol level.  As I would like to call it, “veggin’ out” seemed to be the perfect remedy for hard work well done.

But after a while, I didn’t feel rejuvenated from my usual means of unwinding.  Sleeping in, staring at my computer screen, and eating unhealthy foods no longer seemed to serve as the R&R I needed.  In fact, I felt more tired and restless when I did these things.  And what were activities that were meant to prepare me for the next exam, paper, or semester, only made me burnt out and unmotivated to do work.  Clearly my method of rest wasn’t working.

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Gospel Connection:  Only God can give true rest.  What we think of as “rest” or “unwinding” after a long day or hard semester is most often focused on ourselves and our own satisfaction.  And especially when our work revolves around our benefit, it’s no wonder that our attempt to rest actually makes us more restless.

After the sixth day of Creation, God saw everything He made and it was good.  On the seventh day He rested and established the Sabbath.  So only when our work is kingdom-focused for the purpose of glorifying God can we partake in the Sabbath as God has set forth.  Our rest becomes useless when our aims are to restore our own goals and motives.

But as always, we’re always faced with the clincher of the Gospel: none of this can be accomplished by sheer will.  Kingdom-building work and divinely-instituted rest is only made possible through the redemptive work of Christ.  As I learned the hard way, even rest can be done the wrong way.  So the next time God gives you a breather or when you feel like your confronted with some “me time,” remember to reflect on the One who made everything possible.  Praise his name, identify with his character, and do likewise out of your joy for his extended hand; only then can you find true rest.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
– Matthew 11:29-38 (ESV)

June 27, 2012

Two month hiatus explained


One of the most frustrating things about playing fantasy baseball is “the slump.”  Baseball is a game that’s all about numbers.  Batters hit home runs and pitchers induce strikeouts, so then everything gets recorded into a huge database.  A player’s entire value gets determined by the types of numbers he can put up.  So if any player runs into a slump during the season where they aren’t getting any hits or are giving up too many runs, their value goes down.  It’s even more frustrating when the player that is slumping is generally a good player.  A slump can last anywhere from a week to even an entire season.

But the reality is: even the best player runs into a slump.

No matter how hard they practice and try to be consistent, every player seems to run into a stretch where they can’t figure out the game.  But the sign of good ball player is one who will make the necessary adjustments to get out of the slump they’re in.

Gospel Connection The same seems to go with living out the Christian faith.  No matter how hard we try to pray or read our Bibles, every Christian seems to go through a period of spiritual dryness.  For some it may last a week or two, but for others it can extend to a long period of time.  We might show signs of willingness to get ourselves out of our slump, but it only gets worse the harder we try.

For the past couple of weeks I found myself in a pretty bad slump.  Being a seminarian and a pastor-to-be, I thought I would be less susceptible to the volatile fluctuations of the spiritual “highs and lows,” but I was wrong.  Even while spending time in the Word and in prayer, I quickly realized that reading Scripture became mutually exclusive to my studies and academics, while my prayer life only revolved around the people I was interceding for; none of it fed any of my growth to love God Himself.  I stopped writing in this blog, and therefore stopped reflecting on real Gospel Connections in my life, and vice versa.

Trying to go back to the basics, like any good baseball player who finds himself in a slump would, I stumbled upon an old devotional that I used to use in high school.  In it, I found a helpful quote that I think began to awaken me from my spiritual slumber:

Our calling is not primarily to be holy men and women, but to be proclaimers of the gospel of God.  The one all-important thing is that the gospel of God should be recognized as the abiding reality.  Reality is not human goodness, or holiness, or heaven, or hell – it is redemption.  The need to perceive this is the most vital need of the Christian worker today.  As workers, we have to get used the revelation that redemption is the only reality.  Personal holiness is an effect of redemption, not the cause of it.  If we place our faith in human goodness we will go under when testing comes.

– Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

I thought that striving for my own personal holiness was the answer to getting out of my slump.  Making myself better and more presentable to God seemed like the right answer to ridding my spiritual dryness.  But in that selfish endeavor, I began to forget about the importance of proclaiming the Gospel.  Only when we reflect on the Good News of Christ, digest it’s redemption narrative into our perspectives, and genuinely declare of its truth for others to hear, will we be revitalized by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
– 2 Timothy 4:1-2  (ESV)