The “Me Church”

June 23, 2006

mechurch.jpg

"Imagine a church where every member is passionately, wholeheartedly, and recklessly calling the shots…" Watch this humorous and tragic video (1 minute 22 seconds) on YouTube. I got the link from 9marks.org

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PCA General Assembly in Atlanta

June 21, 2006

I'm at the PCA General Assembly this week in Atlanta from Tuesday – Friday.

If you are reading this and you are at the GA, then don't forget about the KA Pastors' Luncheon on Thursday, 12:00noon in the Vancouver Room of Embassy Hall.  You must sign up with Rev. Henry Koh. 


Personal History of Korean American Ministry (part 2)

June 17, 2006

Where did I leave off (see part 1)?  Oh yeah, my ungodly teen years (that was the late 70s and early 80s.  I didn’t mean to get into my personal life, though that might be interesting, I just wanted to outline Korean American Ministry through my personal experience not as a scholarly study.

late 60s – early 70s > the first Korean churches in large metropolitan areas begin to be established.  I came to the US in 1971 when I was 7 years old.  This was a time when Koreans really appreciated meeting each other.  If you met a Korean on the street, it was  like meeting your lost brother.

mid-late 70s > Korean churches multiply, often by splitting, the first wave of primarily English-speaking youth emerge.  Korean churches begin to look for English speaking youth workers.  I don’t remember how many youth pastors served at my church, but it seemed that every six months or so, there was a new youth pastor.  We even had a Caucasian JDSN once.  Korean churches begin to experience tension between reaching out to English-speaking Korean youth and trying to preserve the Korean language and culture. The first-generation made a lot of mistakes in how they handled this situation, yet I must give them some credit for trying to organize events for the young people. In 1978 (or was it 1979?), my father and other pastors in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania organized the first SFC (Student For Christ) conference.  I think there were about 500 people (teenagers, college students, etc) who attended.  I think it was the first big youth retreat of its kind in the East Coast (I’m not sure about this, but it was the first one I ever been to that large). For that time, it was large.  The SFC Conference was kinda crazy. Most of the kids were there for not-so-godly reasons. It was a chance to meet people.  At night, some people prayed, some partied, some played poker.  However, it was at this first SFC that I received Christ as my Savior and Lord.  I responded to an altar call.  I’m not sure if I was moved merely by emotion, but God used that experience to plant something in my heart.  However, I do not bank my assurance based upon that response. For a few weeks I tried to be “holy” – read the Bible, pray a lot, and tried not to watch too much TV. That was about the extent of my understanding of sanctification. This lasted for a few weeks but then school started and it was like nothing had happened.  All I wanted to do was fit into the crowd in high school. 

During my childhood and teenage years, I saw in my parents and many other grown ups a living faith that I respected. However, I felt like I lived in two different worlds: the church world and the school world; the Korean world and the American world; the spiritual world and the secular world.

early – mid 80s > The bigger Korean churches have established Youth Ministries and begin to move into Campus ministry (College Ministry).  Retreats are the central focus of these ministries.  Most of the youth and college leaders are 1st generation or 1.5 generations.  There were hardly any 2nd generation or English-only youth leaders. Two of the most popular speakers for youth were 1st generation pastors who spoke English well. Rev. David Sangbok Kim from Maryland and Rev. Mark Hongsoo Kim from Chicago.  These two were the keynote speakers at the first SFC Conference and many other conferences and retreats.  There were some 1.5 generation youth pastors that started to emerge during this time in the early 80s – Victor Kim (Chicago), Ron Chu (Pittsburgh and New Jersey).  I’m sure there were others, but these two are the ones I know well.  They were two of the pioneers of English-speaking ministry in the Korean American Church.

mid-late 80s > My life was transformed in 1985 during the first semester of my senior year in college. It will take me a long time to write about this so I’ll stop here, until part 3.

 Thanks for reading….


Worship God Live CD Review

June 15, 2006

Worship God CD
A month ago I heard about a free CD give away of Sovereign Grace's "Worship God Live" but there were some conditions: you must 1) be a pastor or worship leader, 2) have a regular blog, and 3) post a review by June 15th. Today is June 15th so here is my review.

For those unfamiliar with this CD, you can check it out here. You can download lyrics and listen to samples. The Sovereign Grace website says this about the CD:

Worship God Live is the latest live recording from Sovereign Grace Music, capturing two evenings in February 2005 at Covenant Life Church. Featuring worship leaders Bob Kauflin and Pat Sczebel, this CD includes 14 new songs from two generations of songwriters – Bob Kauflin, Mark Altrogge, Stephen Altrogge, Steve & Vikki Cook, Pat Sczebel, Jonathan Baird, Ryan Baird, Adam Sacks, and Rich Dalmas.

The songs range in style, but are all congregationally oriented. Two of the songs features lyrics from Isaac Watts ("O God Our Help in Ages Past") and William Cowper ("God Moves") in current arrangements from Mark Altrogge and Bob Kauflin, respectively.

My overall evaluation is that the music took a while to connect with but the lyrics are so God-exalting and Cross-centered that I found myself listening to it over and over and liking it more and more. How different Sovereign Grace Music is compared with other contemporary Christian music which focuses so much on the unholy trinity: "Me, Myself, and I" and on only one aspect of God's attributes: His love. In contrast, Worship God Live begins with the greatness and majesty of God "How Majestic is Your name…You are awesome in Your glory." Of course, that's what all worship songs should proclaim. The distinction of Sovereign Grace is not only to point to the awesomeness of God in celebratory worship, but in pointing to the utter depravity of man. In "How Majestic", the second stanza goes, "You are awesome in Your glory, We are sinful and impure, How can we approach the Holy, Who will not one sin endure, Yet You sent Your Son to die, His blood has paid the price, For all my sin." AMEN! This is the gospel. In another song, "Foul sinners clothed in white"(Endless Praises), "Dead in transgressions and sins, Without God, Without hope in this world, Then the glorious light of Your gospel broke in…" (You Are the Way).

Foul sinners we, Glorious Savior He be. That's my line, but that's what these songs proclaim. If you want to be told how great you are and how much potential you have, these songs are not for you. You can go listen to Joel O'Steen preach. However, if you don't mind singing songs that highlight our sinfulness in order to truly highlight God's rich and glorious mercy for sinners, then these songs are for you.

Actually, though our sinfulness is highlighted in one sense, it is not dwelt on to focus on our failings, but as an expression of sheer gratitude to the God who saves us from the wrath that we deserve. "Your blood has washed washed my sin, Jesus, thank You; The Father's wrath completely satisfied, Jesus, thank you, Once Your enemy, Now seated at Your table, Jesus thank You." (Jesus, Thank You).

The CD was recorded in a Live Worship at Covenant Life Church in Maryland. I have heard John Piper say of this church, "They are the most grateful people I know." I have been to the church and I would have to concur. That gratitude for God's grace is evident in this CD.

I must say, that not everyone will like the music. When I first listened to it, I didn't like it that much. I didn't find the songs "catchy" and couldn't see myself singing it at church. However, the more I listened to the words, the music grew on me.

One final thing, the CD is an example of corporate worship – worship in the first person plural – "we". There are a few songs with "I" – "I will trust You forever…" (Count It All Joy), "The mystery of the cross, I cannot comprehend" (Jesus, Thank You), etc. But you don't have the repetition of "I will worship, I will praise you, I will give you all my heart…" (not a real song, but I hope you know what I mean.) The focus is expressing together the greatness and mercy of God and the Gospel, and thereby experiencing together the greatness and the mercy of God in the Gospel.

Two of the dangers of "contemporary" worship music are 1) shallow or bad theology and 2) focus on individualistic intimacy (focus on me and my lover, God). Worship God Live avoids both of these dangers and presents to us Worship Songs that are God-exalting, Cross-centered, celebratory and humble, corporate and personal.


A Personal History of Korean American Ministry (part 1)

June 13, 2006

Though Korean American immigrant history is over 100 years old now (celebrating its centenniel in 2003), it was not until the early 1970s that Koreans came to America in large numbers. The Immigration Act of 1965 opened the way for a large number of Asians to come into America. Of course, those who could take advantage of this law immediately were those of high education and ambition. My father was selected to receive a scholarship from a seminary in Massachusetts and was able to come to the States in 1966. However, he was not able to bring his whole family – my mother and four young children. I was 2 years old when my father left to go to America. Our family was able to join my father after he had finished seminary and established the First Korean Church of New Jersey. We came in 1971. My first church experience in the US was at the First Korean Church of New Jersey. I got to observe the immigrant church in New Jersey from the very beginning. I remember a lot of positive memories. The church seemed like one big, mostly happy, family in the early years. There was little church strife, at least that I knew of, and a lot of eating together and sharing life struggles. Of course, there was no English Ministry in those early years. Everyone spoke Korean, or were expected to speak Korean, unless you happened to be a white visitor.

As I grew older, my desire to assimilate into the American culture grew as well as my frustration with the Korean culture and the Korean church. Church became a BIG problem to me: Boring-Irrevelant-Gloomy. Well, at least this was my perception. Actually there were many positive things I learned as I sat, often sleeping, through the Korean Services that the teenagers were required to be in. One thing was the singing of hymns. I can recall the robust signing of the congregation. This was an expression of true faith and hope in Christ. You could hear it in their voices and see it on their faces. This is one of the reasons why I love hymns today – I learned it sitting through many Korean services. Also, the prayers. Yes, some of them were really long thus it allowed me take a good nap without anyone noticing; however, the prayer life of the Korean church is one of the great strengths. Since I learned to pray in Korean, even when I grew older and spoke better English, it took me a long time to feel comfortable praying in English. Somehow, at the time, praying in Korean seemed more holy to me. Of course this is a wrong view, but it has something to do with the honorific speech in Korean. It seemed more reverent. When I started to pray in English, it seemed too casual and disrespectful. Of course this was a wrong view as well. It wasn't until I started to develop a real faith that I was able to speak what was in my heart in English and not just token words of respect to God.

My father, who pastored the First Korean Church of NJ for 31 years, saw the ups and downs of immigrant life. The church went through a few difficult splits. Of course I had little or no understanding of the cause of these splits or the hurt that they inflicted on my father. I just blamed and used it as an excuse to justify my growing worldliness and ungodly behavior in my teen years.

(I'm rambling a bit, so I'll stop here and get back to this later. Thanks for reading. Please comment, I would love to know who is reading this.)


Global Day of Prayer on Pentecost Sunday

June 5, 2006

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, but since our church doesn't really adhere to the Christian calendar other than Thanksgiving-Christmas-Easter, there was not much focus on this day. However, I did attend, by myself, the Global Day of Prayer in Atlanta. I was tired as often pastors are on Sunday evenings, and no one I asked seemed to want to go or able to go. However, since I had told people I would go, I did. I drove nearly 45 minutes into downtown Atlanta to the steps of the Georgia state capitol building. I'm glad that I went.

There were a few hundred, maybe a thousand at most, people there. However, this event which was coordinated out of South Africa had over 250 million people (according to the organizers) in nearly every nation of the world were participating in this global prayer meeting on Pentecost Sunday. The crowd was relatively diverse and the music and style of worship were "mildly charismatic." However, it was not the crowd gathered that impressed me, but the time when I gathered with three others around me to pray. The small group I prayed with was especially earnest as we repented of our and our nation's sins. I felt a kinderd spirit with the people I prayed with – an African-American woman who works with the homeless in Atlanta, a Causasian man who coordinates inter-church mercy ministries, and a grey-bearded "southern-man" who looked like General Stonewall Jackson and who loved the Old South (though not the slavery part). My initial discomfort being alone at this event was quickly allevated when we started to lift our hearts to our One Lord in prayer.

As I prayed, I realized that my own prayer life was so weak, so my first thought was one of repentance for my prayerless heart. I realized that there were two things that are needed to pray rightly (and in turn which right praying fosters): 1) a burden and 2) a hope. We cannot pray rightly without a burden for the lost condition of our soul and of our community around us. Unless we are burdened in our hearts for the lost, our prayers become mundane. However, a burden is not enough. We also need hope to pray continually. A burden brings us down to our knees, but hope, true and living hope in a faithful and merciful God, brings us up to our feet. I realized that both my burden and hope in prayer were weak. But as we were praying that is exactly what I asked God for: "Give me a burden for the lost, hurting, wayward souls. And give me a hope that is rooted in the Gospel — a hope that believes in redemption, revival, reformation." I didn't use those exact words, yesterday, but that was the substance of what I was praying in my heart and out loud with my newfound prayer-friends.

A BURDEN and A HOPE IN THE GOSPEL. Are you cultivating these in prayer? Have you become hardened to your own sinfulness and of the world? Do you believe that God can give life to dry bones (Ezekiel 37)?

Thank God for Prayer. Thank God for the Holy Spirit who is still at work today in bringing new life where there is no life. Revive us, O Lord.