Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Gospel Story

It’s been a long time since I last wrote to you guys. I repent of this, one because I have not valued and loved you through keeping you updated on what is going on in my life and our ministry at Covenant church. I also repent, because of my foolishness in not seeing my need for the specific prayers of God’s people. Your prayer is just as significant, if not more, than my presence and work here. Thank you for your faithfulness to pray and support me, even in the midst of my sinful negligence.

This summer was deeply challenging. Many people in our Korean congregation stopped coming, a handful of people in our English congregation went back to either the States or Canada, and our financial situation was a source of constant stress. We even came to a point toward the latter half of the summer where we considered moving out of our building to find a cheaper space. All of these factors led to a difficult season of trial in our body, as we didn’t know how God was leading us.

Now, does that sound like the vision of what missions and church planting is? Not the stuff you think of and hear in missionary stories, which sound far more adventurous and life-changing. That’s exactly why I was not compelled to update this blog--didn’t have many uplifting, exciting stories to share; instead, only trials that forecasted a ministry of potential failure. But my thinking is the essence of worldliness: defining our ministry by success and failure, not Jesus Christ and the gospel.

The gospel meets us in the height of colossal failure: a cross, a symbol for one who’s cursed. On the outside, Jesus’ life looked entirely wasted, as he was dying, with followers who were betrayers and failures. But the cross, which in that night represented only failure and foolishness, became the symbol of shocking, world-changing reverse: death to life, foolishness to wisdom, defeat to victory, despair to hope. This is the announcement of the best news ever heard in the universe! But it also presents not simply the way to eternal life but a new pattern by which the Christian is to live and see ministry. Failure, suffering, weakness--things which formerly led to paralyzing fear and crushed our identity--are now God’s megaphone, proclaiming to us, His church, and the world, it’s not about us but all about Jesus and the cross.

Our stories aren’t meant to make people say, “Look at that successful person, ministry, or church. I want to be like them.” They are meant to be illustrations of the One true gospel story where people see through us in the face of brokenness, weakness, and even failure to the greater Savior, who gives us true rest, joy, and peace no matter our circumstances. That will leave people wanting Jesus, not our program for success.

The past couple months many new people have joined our church, as we even had about 60 people in our English service and over 50 people in our Korean service. Not only that, but enough money is coming in now to enable us to remain in our current building. Praise God! But please don’t think that is the good news. The good news is that God is slowly but surely weaning me and our church off of ourselves to make us a people that point others to Jesus.

A summer that seemed to signify God’s absence actually showed His presence more clearly than success ever could. These experiences are building us into a community that is beginning to experience, rejoice in, and show Jesus. What seemed to be the source of possible separation was God’s instrument for deepening our love and unity in the gospel. How sweet is that! May God continue to write in my life, Covenant church, and your lives gospel stories, crafting us into people who, more than wanting success or fearing failure, desire to share Jesus no matter what.

Love you guys.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


May 21-22, we had a retreat with both our Korean and English congregations! Around 80 people came!

Below: Beautiful view of the Korean Mountains at Oak Valley retreat center.

Below: We had a mix of Koreans and foreigners stay in English congregations! Around 80 people came! Each room together. This is the room I stayed in. We definitely had the best food!

Below: This resilient group woke up at the crack of dawn to go hiking. I befriended the Korean couple on the right and
had a delightful time getting to know them. Definitely worth the lack of sleep!

Below: For lunch on Saturday, everyone ate at a Korean restaurant. Very fun group!

Below: Some super-cool waeguk-ins (Korean word for foreigners), and Hara Yoo.

Below: Two great Korean families:
~The Lee's on the left
~The Yoo's on the right

Below: More super-cool people eating.

Below: Our Limousine bus on the way back to Seoul. We
had over half of our group go on the bus, and there was
even a karaoke machine on it! Great times!

One of the best parts of the retreat was having the Koreans and Foreigners interact in an informal setting. It really made the often shy Koreans a lot more comfortable, and led to a much greater sense of community and sense of belonging between the two congregations.

Saturday morning we had small group bible studies on Ephesians 2:8-22, which gives a beautiful picture of the peace God created between Jews and Gentiles in the church through Jesus Christ. What a sweet taste of heaven to experience part of this reality in coming together as Koreans and Foreigners! I'm so blessed to be a part of God's work and ongoing story at Covenant Church! To Him be all the glory!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Freedom in Brokenness

"There is a lot under the surface of life", Reverend John Ames said in his letter to his young son in Marilynne Robinson's great Novel Gilead, "everyone knows that. A lot of malice and dread and guilt, and so much loneliness, where you wouldn't really expect to find it, either." It's true, and everyone knows it. Nevertheless, what strikes me in these words is how few of us, especially me, actually live like this is true.

Tuesday-Sunday, I go to our church building with the Yoo's and Jinwon. Most weeks are similar. We have morning meetings discussing the different tasks we need to accomplish each day. We all teach Bible classes during the week. I lead a small group on Wednesday's, travel to Gumi three hours away from Seoul to teach every Thursday, and prepare for and help lead Sunday worship on the weekend. Routine can be a great blessing, providing a necessary rhythm and flow to life; yet, it can also present a danger: a failure to see "under the surface of life", ourselves, and others around us. Sure, I still will engage in external ministry through teaching my bible classes, leading my small group, and having conversations with people; yet, lost in them is a deeper core of reality in the hidden realms of my own and others' hearts: unspoken struggles, unfulfilled expectations, unsatisfied desires, brokenness, and sin. We all have a keen sense of this reality in and around us; but somehow, even and especially in the church, we often carry around our burdens alone within us, hoping that we can hide in our performance, work, and maybe even mysteriously have all the brokenness evaporate. Maybe if I just ignore the deeper longings and struggles, do my job well, maintain good relationships, everything will get better and one day be far more fulfilling. The solution: ignore the interior layers of life, focusing on the exterior, and the heart will naturally come. I would never say or agree with those words, as they are obviously Pharisaical, but my actions proclaim that I do.

A couple weeks ago, I was unable to ignore my brokenness and weakness. I had kept on seeking to serve in ministry, preparing for my sermon that I preached a week and a half ago, teaching, and helping others in my own strength. There was no true inner reliance on the grace of God, no openness before God and others of my own need to repent and believe the gospel, no perspective outside of myself to God and others. Once I began to pray honestly before God, my sin and brokenness was exposed. I couldn't hide from it, as much as I wanted to. My own words I was preparing in my sermon on the church in community wouldn't let me: Christians can never live as self-made, self-sufficient, self-sustaining islands. We were made to live through Christ and community in lives of repentance and faith: brokenness. Christians aren't strong, righteous, or good in themselves. Separate from Christ and community, we are only desperately weak, wholly unrighteous sinners. I knew this. I constantly talked about this in classes, public prayer, and conversations. Yet somehow, when it came to experiencing and practicing the lifestyle of the gospel, I wanted to be above it. As a result, I had cut myself off from experiencing the only source of life, joy, peace in Christ and community.Finally, thankfully God would not let me continue striving.

The next day Jae, Hannah, and Jinwon were sharing in our morning devotional together about Paul's struggles in ministry where he was abandoned and deeply discouraged (God's providence, anyone?!). It was the perfect passage to delve into my own struggles and brokenness, admitting my hypocrisy and my subsequent desire to escape. The amazing thing is that in sharing and facing my brokenness with my brothers and sister, talking and praying together, we all opened our hearts about our own struggles and sin and were led to rediscover how real, deep, and great God's grace is for broken sinners. Through sharing and prayer, I could literally taste God's grace. Yes, my sin was great--far greater and deeper than I could dare imagine; yet, God's grace was infinitely greater and deeper than I could ever believe! You see, facing brokenness and sin does not alienate or destroy us, as I often think it will. Instead, it actually frees us to know and experience the grace and love of God!

Later that night my Bible reading was Psalm 32. David's words were the perfect description of the reality of true freedom through brokenness:
"Blessed [happy!] is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed [happy!] is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledge my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin" (v. 1- 5).

David first recounts how the one who knows and has God's forgiveness is truly happy! Yet, in his experience, he was wasting away. Why? Because he was silent. He was not living through the grace of God as a sinner. This silence isolates David, leading his life to be nothing but weariness and groaning. But when David faced his brokenness and sin, then he rediscovers the reality of God's forgiveness. Later, look at how David comes to see God after facing his brokenness: "You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance" (7). This turns my idea of exposure upside down. I think exposure will isolate, shame, and destroy fellowship with God and others. David shows in this psalm that it brings the opposite: community, freedom, and joy in God! It enables us to stop hiding in ourselves with only our weakness and sin, and to discover God as our Hiding Place who holds our lives in His Sovereign, gracious hands. It enables us to stop striving in our own strength and rest in the provision and power of our God who is mighty to save. It enables us to stop foolishly trying to be our own saviors and to depend solely on the One true Savior, Jesus Christ. Facing my own brokenness and sin enables me to not simply say that God is good in the gospel; it actually leads me to taste God's goodness in Christ with His people.

When we are broken before God and with His people, it also brings true fellowship and community. The next Sunday after sharing my brokenness to many people who make up Covenant church, God brought person after person to share their brokenness and to taste again together of God's grace in the gospel. The isolation I feared in exposure actually brought community! I could now be ministered to and minister to others! The grace of God wasn't just words but reality itself--the very air you and I breathe as Christians. Without it, I will suffocate, not simply in salvation but in year by year, month by month, week by week, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, second by second living. The gospel of grace for sinners is the sole source of our existence as Christians. When we live in it as a community in reading God's word, praying, playing, eating, drinking, working, ministering, giving, and receiving there is a freedom, joy, peace, and depth in the midst of brokenness, sin, and suffering that no person outside of it has ever tasted. The gospel reaches to infinity and beyond. Its length, height, width, and depth is immeasurable. It cannot be tamed, controlled, or mastered, nor was it ever meant to be. God revealed His glory in the gospel, so that we could spend our entire existence and all eternity exploring, savoring, relishing, worshiping, delighting, growing, and adoring the light of the gospel in the face and person of Jesus Christ. Lets keep going deeper and deeper and deeper together through Christ in lives of repentance and faith until we behold that glory in Jesus ourselves without any hindrances, scales, or veil and shall, through beholding Jesus, be like Him.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Ideal and Real Life

It is easy to think, while in ministry, that just because you articulate some of the ideas of the gospel and what Christianity is that you actually get them in real, everyday life. I get to talk about the gospel week in and week out in Korea: in my children's bible story classes, with the Yoo's and Jin Won at the church, in my Small group on Wednesday's with several Koreans, in my Bible Study on the gospel of John with Koreans, in times of fellowship with friends in the church, on Sundays in praying, singing, and sometimes even preaching. These are great opportunities to interact with what the gospel is and a real blessing; but, there is great danger in them. In talking so much about what the gospel is to others and thinking about how others around me are getting the gospel, I can easily forget how much I need the gospel. I can hide in my words and my external teaching and understanding of the gospel, talking in idealistic terms about how the gospel should change people. Yet, when I move from the ideal to my actual life, where actions speak far louder than idealistic words, I see how far I am from living out the good news of Jesus and His Kingdom.

I've been reading through the gospel of Luke over the past month, and it is one of the most striking, humbling, practical books of the Bible. God has used it to reveal the gap between my words and actions, the ideal and real life. Much like James, the focus is not simply on what people say, but what their actual lives say about what they really believe. For instance, one of Luke's central teachings, if not the core of his gospel, is the arrival of the Kingdom of God and how it should change how we see and live our everyday lives. Luke 12:32-34 says, "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." This year, I do not yet have the pledged support coming in that I did last year. So, I have been trying to save more in case I come to be in a great position of need (God has graciously been providing, and it is nothing to worry about). Anyway, a couple weeks ago, I got together with a Korean I did not know, who I contacted through another friend in Mississippi. Right after introducing myself to him, the first thing he said was, "I am just a student, and I don't have much money. Can you buy me dinner?" I was really thrown off by his question. It is really uncommon for people in Korea to just ask you to buy something for them. I agreed to pay, but the whole rest of the night my opinion of this guy was clouded by a judgmental spirit in me. All I could think about was how this guy was probably using me for money, as I saw that he had pretty nice clothes on and took some trips to the U.S (how did he get the money for that, I wondered in judgement). I knew his family was in a poor condition, but in the moment my frustration exceeded any thought to this man's condition. After coming home, I realized how pathetic my attitude was. I don't think that money is much of an idol to me, but my actions proved that it is. Rather than seeing this brother with compassion, seeing him from a gospel basis, I judged him, upset that I felt used. God reminded me in the gospel, Jonathan, when I gave you the greatest grace, what was your response? Was it gratitude? Was it love? No, you treated me as an enemy. You even used me in my grace. When I gave you the Kingdom, have you lived your life in sacrificial gratitude to me? No, you have valued your possessions more than me. If I actually got the gospel, acting on the reality that my Father has given me the Kingdom, I would sell my possession freely, just as Luke's gospel said. I would not hold on to what I have with such a tight grip. I would not be so concerned with how others are treating me. I would desire to show others where true value is in the Kingdom of God by giving of my life and possessions. I would have, at least, had a heart of love and concern for this brother and his difficult condition.

Every day the battle wages for which Kingdom I will live for: the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of the world/self. It comes in instances like I just mentioned that we do not expect where pride that subtly lived deep within my heart will rear its ugly head. It comes in times when I don't measure up to other people's expectations and my own, like this past week when I discovered that some of the Mother's in my class with Korean kids thought I could teach better. Will I make teaching about me, hiding in self-defense, anger or self-pity, or will I live in humility, knowing I'm far from perfect, and submit to learn to teach more effectively for the sake of others? It comes in the daily choices I make in how to use my time. Will I mindlessly and selfishly waste away on the internet, browsing through different sites to see if anyone has paid attention to me or said anything meaningful to me today, or will I actually seek first God's Kingdom in using my time redemptively and sacrificially to grow in the gospel and love others around me? It comes in the deepest seat of my being, the heart, and where my concerns and desires are in ministry: am I concerned about my sermon, because I'm worried what other people will think of me and fear failure, or is there any view above me to God, His glory, and pointing people to the only source of hope in Jesus?

I can tell you that I am far more worldly than I want to admit. I love the things the world loves far more than I even know. I want to think that the ideals I often talk about are evident in real life; yet, my actions often reveal the opposite. I am reminded that the Christian life--life in God's Kingdom--is one of constant repentance and faith. I want to be above change, a master of the gospel, and yet to even think such a thing contradicts the Kingdom God has brought, a Kingdom exhibited in humility, meekness, repentance, dependence on King Jesus, and faith that looks never to self but always to Christ. The more I learn about God's Kingdom and His good news, the more I realize how little I understand of its vastness, greatness, and depth. When you simply talk about it, it may seem like you can get a grip on it. But when you actually try to live like it's real, to walk like what Jesus said in His Kingdom is ultimate reality, you quickly see that there is no way to get a grip on God's Kingdom and gospel. It's grip--the very grip of King Jesus Himself--must always be on us. Praise God that it is, as he says, "Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom." Now, to seek the "sell-your-possessions-and-finding-our-treasure-in-heaven" part, where I see the gospel in real life. God be merciful to me, a sinner. Grant that I might know this grace in such a way that I would live it out in real, everyday life.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reflections on 2009 and New Opportunities in 2010

A year has quickly come and gone with another one already marching forward. I was deeply blessed to take a three week trip back to the States to see family, friends, and to try and raise more support to continue the ministry in Korea through 2010. Thank you exceedingly much for your support, both financially and spiritually through your prayers. I could not be a part of this ministry without you, and "I thank God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel" (Philippians 1:3-5).

While I was in the States, one friend asked me to summarize my first year in Korea in 4 words. My first word was "wow", partially because of my poor ability to be concise, but also due to the fact that 2009 was a year of brand new experiences: being in Korea for the first time, being a foreigner for the first time, and being in church planting ministry for the first time. It is hard to step back and truly appreciate and marvel at the uniqueness of this year, since I am right in the middle of it. On occasion, it will hit me, "Jon, you are half a world away from anything you've ever known. Jon, you are surrounded by Koreans. Jon, you are helping to plant a church. Jon, you are even preaching." Bizarre. One day I am sure I will be able to marvel at the experiences I have had at such a young age.

The next three words I chose were "Humility. Broken Expectations." These words are inseparably linked. Humility came though God breaking my own expectations for ministry. Though I would not have verbalized it, I came to Korea with the foolish notion that I could be something in ministry. I could quickly have great conversations with Koreans, teach in a way that would resonate with my students, and leave Korea a totally different person. I do not like to admit this, but that was my initial vision for this ministry. Thankfully, God intervened. After first arriving in Korea, I was told that by merely going into a coffee shop, reading a book, and just being there, Koreans would come over to me and have conversations. In my second full week in Korea, all the Yoo family caught the flu, and I went to do this on a few different occasions. Almost no conversations were had. Nothing of significance to report back to Jae. The only conversation I did have, the Korean I talked to thought I was a mormon. Ministry was not nearly as thrilling as I had envisioned. In the midst of my doubts, God desired to show me that it is only when He opens doors that ministry is possible. Sitting on the subway after trying to connect people in a coffee shop, I had given up for the day. I was going home to rest after another unsuccessful, frustrating day. Yet, as I sat on the subway with no intention of talking, another Korean asked me who I was and what I was doing in Korea. This Korean and two of her friends have been in our church ever since. On another occasion, I was in route to an English church with the Yoo's. Walking with a Korean/English bible in my hand, a canadian named Chris tapped me on the shoulder to ask where I was going. After the service ended, he invited me to a bible study he had started with several other guys. When we began our church, nearly everyone from this bible study joined our body as well as many other people Chris new (nearly 20 people). I was not trying to connect anyone. None of these people came through my efforts. God solely opened these doors. I began to see that ministry is not about my efforts and work. Instead, it is all of God's grace to provide ministry opportunities, usually when I least expect it. I can spend hour after hour, labor with all the energy and strength I have; yet, all of it is vanity apart from God going before me.

When I thought of ministry before coming to Korea, I thought of purely exciting work: day-to-day, heartfelt conversations with Koreans, soul-stirring classes and bible studies where Koreans could really grasp the gospel (through my teaching, of course), connecting many Koreans to our ministry through being a foreigner, and having wonderful relationships with most everyone in the church. Instead, I spent much of my time in the first year making bulletins, printing songs for services, cleaning our office, struggling to connect with Koreans, typing up agendas for different meetings, passing our fliers for our church, and doing lots of different administrative work. Ministry was far more normal, humble, and similar to life than I had hoped. Instead of being fulfilled and doing remarkable things for God, I was being humbled and exposed for my selfish, false expectations. Rather than doing work where I could share a great number of incredible, missionary stories, God desired for me to do humbling, often unnoticed work. Feeling insignificant, I was brought to see that I was making ministry all about me. In the first sermon I preached on a Sunday morning this fall, I was reminded what I was missing in ministry through the example of Jesus washing His disciples' feet. At the end of his life, on his way to the most miserable death in history, Jesus found it utterly necessary to do the work of a slave, work that no one in Jewish culture would have desired to do. Yet, Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the one who upholds the universe by the word of His power (as one person said, His pinky), condescended to wash His disciples feet. This was not just a one-time occurrence; it was merely an extension of all Jesus' ministry. Everything Jesus did was the work of a humble servant that often was unnoticed. In fact, nearly all that Jesus did in His life was not understood, appreciated, or grasped in its significance and sacrificial love. Instead, Jesus was despised for becoming a man, rejected for His life of self-giving love, and forsaken by all for what was the greatest act of love every displayed in giving His life for all sinners who would believe in Him. A servant is not greater than his master, and humbling work is not to be the exception, but the norm for the believer. Ministry does not have to do with me looking or feeling significant but everything to do with reflecting Jesus through humble service.

As a new year is dawning, it is tempting for me and our staff in the church to see this first year of humbling learning experiences as merely the backdrop for the ministry that is taking place this year. Many different Koreans are beginning to come into our body. Opportunities abound in regard to me starting a small group, bible study, and getting involved in Koreans' lives. Every week unbelievers and nominal Christians are getting to hear the gospel. God is definitely doing some incredible things. Yet, the lessons our staff and I learned about ministry in 2009 are invaluable. Without them, we would not know what ministry is. Before we could give the gospel to others, we had to learn to believe it ourselves in the face of adversity and brokenness. Praise God that He loves us enough to give us what we need, not what we want.

I am very excited to share the coming year with you. It will be far different than what I expect, which I'm learning is a wonderful blessing. As we all venture into a new year, I want to leave you with this benediction from Paul that reminds us how God transcends all mine and your expectations for our ultimate good in Christ: "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Children. Preaching. Thanksgiving.

This is a picture of my library reading class that I taught over the past 10 Saturdays from 2-3p.m. I had my last class this past weekend, and I was very saddened to say goodbye to the kids who came. This one hour became one of the most enjoyable times of the week for me. No technology, no stuff...just an open room, two books, a foreigner, and anywhere from 10-20 kids sitting on the floor together. It is so easy to make life all about things, to-do lists, busyness, a routine, and suck the life out of life without any sense of wonder, imagination at something bigger than my own small world. In a metropolitan city, this problem is magnified exponentially. The family is affected by this deeply. Father's work well into the night in order to provide for their family with more and more money to ensure their kids get the best education, go to the best university, so they can get well-paid jobs to earn more money and do the same thing for their family. The saddest part about this process/cycle is that the the very basis of work and all of life is lost and forgotten: relationships. Instead of spending face-to-face time with each other, families rarely get to all be together. How ironic that the very component of life that is idolized--family--is actually seldom enjoyed or experienced. I find this to be such a temptation for all people: you can spend all your life trying to arrive, earn enough money, do enough to gain some sort of status, even provide for the people you love, and yet totally miss the people right in front of you and never actually live enjoying and loving one another. These children reminded me to never forget how important and powerful it is when people actually spend time together, being where they are; so simple, yet utterly profound when all we usually are thinking about is the place we are not. Getting to be in a room without distractions, free to explore, free to listen, free to talk, and to learn about each other...what a blessing! All I had to do was listen, ask questions, show care, and these kids opened up about anything and everything. I'm not trying to say that kids are innocent and free from sin; far from it, they could rarely, if ever, hide their sin, as children just say what they think and do what they want. Yet, in doing so, I found it so refreshing that these kids were who they were. They didn't hide. The shy ones were shy. The talkative ones kept talking. All showed both the God-given common grace and the fallenness of all humanity. My last class I picked my favorite children's book for our last reading: "The Giving Tree." I asked the kids, how could the tree be so happy to give up everything it had for a person who did not even care about or love it? They certainly could not see the reasoning behind it when I asked if they would be happy to give everything they had for someone who didn't even really care for them, who just kept wanting more. At this point, I could not help but tell them about God's love for sinners in giving up all He had for people who did not care. More than that, God gave His Son for people who hated and crucified Him. Why? This is the question where words do not suffice, where we can only be lost in love, awe, joyful tears, and wonder that God is as loving and good to embrace sinners like you and me. I really hope God spoke to some of those kids and leads them to discover true Life in Him. Hopefully, some of them will remember the invitation I gave to my children's bible story classes, so they can hear and discover the gospel.

Since I last updated you, I've had three different opportunities to preach, two times in our new PM Fellowship service, as well as once for our morning service. The first time I preached was an intense battle. I went up to the podium, prepared with content, yet completely unfit for spiritual battle. I did not expect that in looking out at the audience, how much I would be tempted to forget the message and just think about how people were receiving what I was saying. Though God gave me the grace to get through the message, I was carried more by my perception of what people thought of me than by the message of the gospel. Thus, preaching immediately exposed a deep idol in my heart: wanting favor from people more than God Himself. Humbling truth. The second time I preached in the morning service was a far greater blessing. Though it was anything but perfect, I learned from my first experience how important it was to preach the message to myself first, letting the gospel expose my own heart and my idolatry before I even think to look at others. It was a tremendous blessing to actually be more focused on the message, and to know God's love and presence while giving His people the message of Jesus. What a wonderful, freeing truth to rediscover that preaching, ministry, and life is not about me but all about Christ! After preaching a third time, it is well apparent that I have a great deal to learn. I find myself just wanting to be great at preaching and ministry in no time at all, while God desires for me to be refined and sanctified by trials, reproof, discipline, hardship, and failure to see that I will forever need the gospel. I can't say that I always enjoy this process (dread is a far more accurate word), but it constantly shows me that what I need to desire is not to be or possess something that will somehow, in my own estimation, make me valuable. Rather, I need to desire Christ, the only One who gives lasting value. May God continue this refining process through preaching and ministry to slowly but surely mold me into the man He desire me to be. is Thanksgiving! I must say that I miss the presence of family, friends, and great thanksgiving food; yet, the presence of absence reveals the worth of its object, which means that this Thanksgiving I have even more reason to be thankful for what God has given me. In being away from family and friends, I've been reminded how richly blessed I am to have all of you in my life. Not only that, but God has changed a foreign country into a formative, blessed place of new family and friends. Though it takes time for these relationships to grow deeper, and for honesty, freedom, and depth to be born in them, I can say that if I were to leave this country today that I would miss this place and the people in it very much. Now, wherever I go, I will not feel entirely at home in the world, as I have now experienced the beginning reality of my identity as an exile and sojourner in this world. Part of me hates to be an exile, as I hate to be away from people I love. I desire to have all my worlds collide, having everyone in my own world together to enjoy now. Yet, what I am slowly beginning to realize is that I need to not feel at home in this world. If I had everything the way I wanted, my roots would be dug into the soil of this world, not into the true home that God has prepared for me in Christ. What is more, when I dig my roots in the world, relationships, ministry, good or bad experiences, it does not matter how great any of those things are; they will leave me disappointed, hopeless, rootless without a true identity that comes through Jesus Christ alone. God's path is far better than the world/kingdom of my own expectations and desires. Not that I believe this most days of the week. More often than not, I come to believe it through the groanings, pains, afflictions, and disappointments of daily life where God breaks me of my false, worthless idols and reminds me that what I really need to give me joy is always there, no matter the circumstances in my life: Him. My Father loves me with an unbreakable love. My Jesus has died for me and paid for my sin and has risen and freed me from both sin and death. I have nothing to fear. I am forgiven. I am secure. I will not be forsaken. I belong to Jesus. I am bound for the promised land. This is my identity! Not sin, guilt, my failure, my success, my ministry, my works, my relationships, my work...nothing but Jesus! How different would my life be if I daily lived out of my ultimate identity in Christ, rather than the earthly identities/broken cisterns that I put on each day? Tim Keller pointed out in a sermon on Jesus being "The Lord of the wine" how we are in control of our joy. In other words, everything that needs to happen for us to have joy has already occurred! Christ/joy has come into our hearts, even living and welling up within us through the Holy Spirit! Because of this, I do not need to look for joy. I have it through Jesus forever and ever! Yet how often do I live as if joy were alien to my experience, seeking for life in everything but Jesus, while living in anxiety, boredom, guilt, works, relationships, and the highs and lows of human experience? Oh that the Spirit would lead me to preach to my heart every day that I have every reason to take joy in whatever circumstances I find myself in, because I am my beloved's and my Beloved's mine! I have every reason to abound this Thanksgiving as God continues to provide for me in more ways than I could imagine.

Happy thanksgiving, family and friends! Thank you for sharing in my life, and for giving me cause to be exceedingly thankful today. Through your friendship, God has revealed Jesus Christ to me. May all the blessings He gives lead us to value the One who blesses infinitely more; for, the treasure is not in the gifts He gives; it is Him. May that reality lead us to see that for all of eternity we have every reason to abound in joy and thanksgiving through Jesus Christ--even He who is sovereignly directing, guiding, and shepherding every stage and detail of our lives to experience and know Him alone as the pearl of greatest price, the fountain of living waters, and our eternally loving bridegroom.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Full Living in Korea

Today is Chuseok weekend, one of the biggest holidays in Korea! For the first time since I've been in Seoul, the city isn't actually overflowing with people, cars, and busyness! I've also been blessed with a weekend break to rest, reflect, and also to share with you of the many things God has been doing here in Korea. (Oh, and for the information of my Grandparents and family, I spent much of today with Kristin Mutchler, her husband Gary, and her parents who are visiting from China! We had a great time together! God is so good to bring family together on this foreign holiday!).

These past couple of months have been full of many significant happenings, graces, lessons, and blessings. One of the first to note, as most all of you probably know, is that my Grandparents, Packa and Geemaw that is : ), came to visit me in Seoul from August 20-September 3! I was blessed so deeply to have them here, amazed by the bravery and love of my Grandparents to come half way around the world to share and experience the new life and world God has brought me in. We stayed in a beautiful hotel together with a breathtaking view of the city. Among my favorite times, in fact, with Packa and Geemaw were simply sitting together to fellowship, eat, and talk, while looking out at the wonderful view we had. Spending time with Packa and Geemaw always reminds me that the best moments and times in life don't center on events and what you are doing; rather, they center on just being in the presence of the people God puts in our lives to show us His truth and love. That is not to say, however, that we didn't have many adventures together! On the contrary, our time together was very eventful, as we traveled to a beautiful Korean Island overnight, enjoyed seeing the COEX Aquarium, took a day trip to the Demilitarized Zone that divides South and North Korea (a very moving time), and took a cruise down the Han river on one of our last nights together. I also was blessed to hear Packa preach again one of the Sundays he was here, hearing another great sermon from Hebrews! It was wonderful to have my Grandparents worship in the church I'm serving in here and to meet our body and the people that God has brought into my life. I mentioned in my last blog how having Will Joseph here provided one of the first moments where the two worlds I've experienced finally intersected. Having Geemaw and Packa come made these two worlds merge ever closer, bringing such a significant part of 'home' into this new life. Now, through people in Covenant church meeting and seeing me with my Grandparents, I feel far more connected and known. What a blessed grandson I am to have my Grandparents! They are some of the dearest and best friends I have, and I am so thankful God gave us this time together. I will never forget it.

I also mentioned in my last update that we were prayerfully considering and looking for a new place for our church to move. Well, September 7, we moved into a new space! We were waiting for a big commercial building to open that real estate people were telling would be open for months. Yet, it just wasn't opening and kept getting pushed back. Then suddenly, this space opened up with a reduced price at a much better rate than normal, and God paved the way for us to move! We have since resumed our Korean worship service, along with continuing our English worship service, and are just starting to get settled into the new place. There is enough space to fit well over 100 people in the sanctuary, and there is also plenty of room for additional class rooms and office space! God has certainly been very good to us! I would ask you to please pray that God would continue providing for our church plant. The new space is more expensive, as it is very costly to move into any spaces in a metropolitan city like Seoul. Pray that our trust and efforts would all be grounded in unwavering, firm trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior, Lord, Sustainer, Guard, Guide, and Treasure. So much is happening and it is very easy to miss the purpose for all that we are doing. We are getting ready to Launch Small Groups in a couple weeks. We are starting an evening fellowship meeting with the young men in our church, including me, to lead messages through the book of Acts that starts October 11. We've just been blessed with another full-time staff, Jin Won, a married 30 year old Korean, who will play my role in the Korean service and work to connect more Koreans and people to our body. We are getting ready to reach out much more fully into our community through offering many classes for children, and a few for adults as well, while also just trying to serve the people and city we are in to share and show the love of Christ. Not only that, but Pastor Yoo has asked me to preach for the first time in my life on either October 25 or November 1. Pray for me, the Yoo's, Jin Won, and all our church to be grounded and centered in Jesus Christ that all we do as a body would be subordinated to our chief purpose of sharing Christ and His gospel in truth and action. Pray that, as we serve, we would rely wholehearted and solely on Christ, who alone is the architect and builder of the church. Pray that in the midst of all our efforts we would submit to Christ's vision and purpose for our church that is far beyond our imagination and expectations.

Recently, God has been showing me how in spite of my constant application of the gospel to the lives of others that I rarely apply the gospel to my own life. This truth hit me deeply on my day off this Monday. I was alone the entire day with little activity and felt completely worthless. I tried filling the time up with significant things I could do...reading, thinking, brainstorming what I could be doing. Nothing came. I tried getting together with a couple people, and sure enough, as I was informed later, they didn't have their phone with them. Little did I know what God was up to. I went to Hangang park, which is about a 15 minute walk away from my place. Attempting to rid myself of feeling useless and insignificant, I read through a couple books while sitting out on a bench with a view of the Han river. I read and read and read, trying to piece together my cluttered mind. Finally, after reading sections of a couple different books for around an hour and a half, I started writing. In the middle of writing, trying to make sense of where my heart was, suddenly the truth dawned on me: "I want so desperately to wake up one day and just be whole, together without need. The truth is, I want the gospel for others but nor for me. I want to master the gospel without having to need the gospel. I want to prove that I know and get the gospel without having to see my brokenness, depravity, incompleteness, insufficiency." You see, you can never be a master of the gospel but always a student of it, because one can never fully grasp the gospel. You can never plumb the depths of what Christ has done in the gospel and what it means for yours and my own lives. I had forgotten. I had tried to be a master of the greatest mystery and glory that has ever existed, rather than submitting, resting, and trusting in my gracious, good, kind, and glorious Master in the midst of life. All the while, I forgot the mysterious ways of God revealed in giving us this life that is filled with blessing in all different shapes and providences for our growth and trust in Him: days that are lonely, dry, ordinary, tough, wonderful, clear, confusing, sorrowful, joyful, memorable, forgetful, dark, bright. He does this, so that I wouldn't seek blessings from Him in certain types of days and moments, but so I would actually learn to rest, trust, hope, and find my greatest treasure in Jesus Christ, the fountain of living waters. How sweet to have my heart reopened to Christ and the beautiful gospel that enables me to face life, face me in the hardest, weakest, dullest, most hypocritical places of my being. Pray that God would continually give me a broken and open heart to see Christ no matter what He sends me. Pray that I wouldn't rest in feeling significant in myself and my performance, but that I would trust daily and entirely in Jesus in the deepest places of my heart. Ministry isn't glamorous or significant in itself. In fact, it is usually quite ordinary and humbling, anything but what I expected. Yet Christ is in all of it, breathing His life into the seemingly mundane and, in the process, transforming me, a supposed minister, through giving me Himself not what my idolatrous heart expects and wants for myself. Oh that I would see, believe, and behold Jesus more and more! May I endless pursue to know Him more and more, while always remembering that I can never see Him clearly enough, nor ever get beyond Him. May I, finally, through seeing Him learn to live humbly as His follower to serve faithfully, patiently, and continually to show Christ no matter what the circumstances are.

Thank you for how you have shared and shown me Jesus Christ, family and friends! I love you guys so much and pray that you would be filled with the grace and love of Jesus Christ in whatever place God has you in your lives. He is greater than our circumstances. He is greater than our sin. He is greater than our desires. He is greater than our fears. He is yours and He is mine now and forever. May we learn to rest in Him in all that He sees fit to give us.