We Are Powered by the Gospel!

14 04 2009

If you have been a Christian for at least 5 years or even 22 years like me, the gospel is not a news. In fact, you may not remember the time when you didn’t know the gospel. It has become like a tarnished jewelry that has lost its original sparkle and luster. Some years ago in my spiritual journey, I came to realize that it’s not about how much more knowledge or insights you gain about the gospel but rather it’s about how more precious, richer, and sweeter the gospel grows with each year. I want to share with you a blessing I received in my meditation on Romans 1:16-17 few weeks ago.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (ESV) but in verse 15, Paul writes, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” That’s strange! Why is Paul “eager to preach the gospel” to the Christians? Aren’t they Christians because they have already heard the gospel and believed? Why would Paul need to preach the gospel to them again? He would not be saying this unless there was more to the gospel than merely converting the nonbelievers. Indeed, if we read on, Paul teaches that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to those who believe.

Today’s prevailing notion of salvation is often limited to the moment when people accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord. While it is absolutely the critical moment when one goes from condemnation to salvation, it is only the beginning. We were indeed saved through our faith in Christ sometime in the past, but we are still being saved at the moment and will be saved in the future. This ongoing process is referred to as “sanctification” where we are conformed to the likeness of Christ. Paul’s eagerness to preach the gospel to the Roman Christians comes from this knowledge and conviction in the power of the gospel for the believers.

How exactly, then, is the gospel the power of God for the believers? We must first have a sober understanding of the state of our sinfulness without grace. Unfortunately, sin, in the 21st Century Christian understanding is relegated to mere thoughts and behaviors that cause pain and harm either to ourselves or to others. Simply put, it is man-centered. As long as we’re not hurting or harming anyone, or breaking the law, then the notion of sin enters in our mind. But the Bible sets a completely different standard. Paul defines, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom. 3:23)” Sin, in essence, is falling short of the glory of God. None of us give God the glory and honor that is due to Him. We belittle and trample over His glory by exchanging them for other things of this world. Consequently God’s wrath is upon all sinners and his righteousness demands judgment. Paul continues in Rom. 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed form heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” This is the ultimate problem for all mankind. The full weight of sin and the subsequent wrath of God must be understood and felt in the sinners’ heart to for the gospel to be truly a Good News.

However, in this context, Paul addresses the believers. Verse 17 says that the gospel is the power of God to salvation for the believers “for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith.” Two phrases must be unpacked in order to make sense of this verse: “The righteousness of God” and “from faith for faith.” “The righteousness of God” bears a double-meaning. First, it demands that justice be carried out by punishing the unrighteousness. Second, in His love, God provides His Son to die on the cross and fulfills the righteous requirements thereby making the gospel the righteousness of God. In another words, His righteousness demands and the same righteousness also provides for what we cannot provide on our own. The second phrase, “from faith for faith” means literally “from faith to or unto faith.” When the existing faith encounters the revelation and the power of the gospel, it multiplies and produces more faith so that we can continue to believe in the future. The gospel gives us the power to keep believing until the very end because it’s not based on our own righteousness but on Christ’s alone. Therefore, we must not try to be righteous or get rid of guilty-feelings through spiritual disciplines or “good” deeds but rather know that we’re already forgiven and daily lean on the righteousness of Christ that empowers us to join him in the suffering and joy.

During this Easter season, may the Lord awaken us to the power of the gospel that saves us each day until the day we hear our Lord say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest.”


It’s Another BOY!!!

19 02 2009


We shared in December through the newsletter that Nicole was pregnant. It has been a difficult pregnancy for her as the doctors have been on her case to put her on a strict diet in order to control gestational diabetes. Although she had this condition during the previous pregnancies, she didn’t have to control it until the third trimester. But this time, they are enforcing it from the first trimester. The most miserable part is that she can only eat two or three spoonful of rice and absolutely no sweets while poking herself 7 times a day to check her blood sugar. To a Korean, a carb-free diet is like a death sentence. She is constantly hungry. On top of it, she has two boys to look after. The only consolation thus far has been that our third child might be a girl, based on her several dreams (which were right on with Josiah and Emmanuel) where she saw an apple tree full of little red apples and another dream of a cute little dog with a pink bow tie. She kept saying that the pregnancy felt different from the previous ones. Nicole even told the boys that they’ll be having a little sister. Besides, everyone at our church has been having girls this year.

So with a great expectation, we went to the hospital last week to get our first ultrasound. As the technician took pictures of the fetus, we anxiously waited for her to zoom in between the legs. Soon, she paused and sympathetically said, “Uh-oh, mommy’s in trouble.” She told us that it was undoubtedly a boy as the baby had his legs wide open for us to see. Nicole could not believe it and asked her, “Are you sure?” Josiah kept saying to me, “Are you kidding me? I don’t want a brother. I want a sister.” I didn’t say anything but smiled with a bit of It-would’ve-been-nice-to-have-a-girl disappointment.

I heard from my favorite talk radio host, Dennis Prager, about a Jewish proverb: “Man plans and God laughs.” How fitting it seems. We even had a name picked out for a girl, “Karis” which means “grace” in Greek. But it was not to be. So we are adjusting ourselves to welcome our third son into our lives. What a great privilege to be able to bring up three sons who will become the head of their household if God so grants them. Although we may never have a chance to adorn our children in pretty dresses or go out on dates, we will be able to rough it on backpacking trips and start a boy praise band!

“Sons are heritage from the Lord, children a reward from Him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons borne in one’s youth. Blessed is the man who quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.” Psalm 127:3~5

Experiencing A “But God” Moment

20 01 2009

Within the last two weeks, we received two unexpected, large donations to our support-raising. It breathed a new life into our efforts and took us much closer to our goal. One was from our church in Seattle. Someone had donated a large sum of money into the missions account anonymously so the church was able to give us generously (over $8,000) on top of their budgeted amount. Another donation was made last week by one of the dear couples who called to let us know that they want to commit to giving $10,000 annually as long as the Lord allowed. We were so moved not only by the generosity but also by the unlikelihood of anyone doing financially well in these days. It is no secret that many charitable organizations, ministries, and churches are facing serious financial hardships as the economy continues a downward slide of a historic proportion. In the midst of this turmoil, God not only blessed this couple financially but also blessed them with a heart to give to our ministry in Japan. We were losing steam in our support-raising efforts as our calls or emails went unanswered. In fact, there has been a drought of new support commitments since August, so our expectation and faith started to wane and wondered if now was the right time for us raise support and go to the mission field. But God reminds us, despite our Elijah moment (see below) of despair, that support-raising is done, “not by power, not by might, but by my Spirit.”

“But God…” is one of my favorite phrases in the Bible because whatever the “reality” up to that point seems so bleak, impossible, and hopeless. This is our fleshly perception before God shows up. To name a few examples from the Scriptures, Joseph’s brothers meant evil by selling him as a slave and remained a prisoner for a long time but God had a plan. When Elijah was scared to death and depressed that there was no one in Israel who had not bowed to Baal, God revealed that He has set aside 7,000. We were dead in our trespasses, deserving death but God in His grace sent His Son. “But God,” what a sweet phrase! It may not be so difficult to raise a missions fund during an economic boom because money is plentiful. However, God gets no glory when we can do it ourselves. Raising support during a depression, such as now, leaves very little room for our ability and credit but His alone.

Lord, thank you for being at work even though we become weary and our faith seems to depend on support levels when it should rest on the Solid Rock. We confess that we are so weak in our faith and are easily influenced by what we see. Help us to have confidence in You and be faithful to your calling.

“Most” (means “Bridge” in Czech)

26 10 2008

Here is an Oscar nominated movie in 2006 with a powerful meaning. This is an edited version. Enjoy!

The Blessings of Housing Bust and Wall Street Meltdown

9 10 2008

The year 2008 is turning out to be a memorable and sober year for everyone. Starting with the housing bust earlier this year and the domino effect of financial meltdown around the world, it seems like the foundations of the American and the Western societies are shaken to the core. It is clear that we are in for a recession for years.

We have been affected by the bust. My mom’s home, which is under my name, lost almost 25% in value and my 401K also depreciated about 25% from the beginning of this year. Although these are money I have never seen or touched, it doesn’t feel good to know that I’ve lost a quarter of my assets. It also makes it even more difficult trying to raise support for missions when people are struggling financially. So I’m left to wonder, “God, what do you want me to learn from all this?”

Owning a house is the ultimate symbol of the American Dream. Everyone wants to have one: the bigger the better. We call it, “Keeping up with the Kims,” here in L.A. where there are a lot of second generation Korean-Americans who are well-to-do. The people’s mentality wasn’t just owning a house, it was seen as the best way to invest your money. Regardless of the affordability, if you bought it and sold it in a few years, you would still make a profit out of it because the house value always went up. Wall Street, the symbol of American capitalism and the free market, withstood the tests of 9/11 and Katrina and came out booming. But this time, it wasn’t to be. Despite the government bailout, Dow Jones dipped under 10,000 and it continues to fall by the hour.

When two main sources of our earthly security start to lose value and collapse around us, it is the moment of truth for our faith. On what does my faith rest? The God who would not stand the Tower of Babel nor the Gold Calf of the Israelites reminds us that both our houses and Wall Street are like a house built on sand. Pope Benedict aptly put it yesterday, “Our financial system is built on sand.” God loves us so dearly that He wants us to be awaken to the reality of where we place our hope and security.

Matthew 6:19“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus reminds us that the treasures of this world do not last because they can either be destroyed or be stolen. There is no security. In fact, security is a perception, or even more accurately, an illusion. It can be taken quickly by natural elements or by people. The only lasting and secure treasures are stored in heaven. Jesus’ main reason for this teaching is not so that we will have the most secure treasures but rather it is because our heart follows what we most treasure. Unfortunately, we so often place our hopes on the same things that unbelievers rest on: our abilities, possessions, bank account, and health. It’s no wonder that people around me don’t ask what I hope in, because it looks like my hope is in the same things that they are hoping in. So there is no curiosity or bewilderment.

I am reminded in Mark 10:21 when Jesus asked the rich young ruler to sell everything and give it to the poor and follow him, the Scripture says, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” Those were his loving words and not critical words.

Mark 10:21And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Jesus teaches us what it means to lay up treasures in heaven in this passage. When a rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” he initially tells him to do the last six commandments of the Decalogue. The rich ruler confidently replies that he has kept them since his youth. Notice how Mark portrays Jesus’s reply to the ruler. It says, “He loved him and said to him.” Jesus was not trying to point out the weakness or to ridicule him. He loved this rich ruler enough to point out the most obvious. The first four commandments of the Law summed up in, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” His heart was not with God but with his possessions. He merely wanted to do enough to be saved so he kept the last six commandments. The one thing he lacked was the one thing he absolutely needed. So Jesus tells him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor which he translates as laying treasures in heaven.

I often wondered about Jesus’ command to this rich young ruler. Is this challenge only for him or for everyone? We obviously know that Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to sell everything they have and follow him. So we conclude that it was only for this rich young ruler whose wealth was his god. But I wonder sometimes for those of us living in a materialistic age, one of the most loving things that Jesus can say to us is, “Sell all you have and follow me.” No other time in history have wealth and possessions been accumulated like the American society that we are most often so unaware of our source of faith and trust. Therefore Jesus’ radical command for us to sell everything and give it to the poor is the clearest way to see if our faith rests on Him alone or Jesus plus our earthly possessions. In closing, when we face these trying times, it may be God’s way of saying, “I love you. It’s time to take away the distractions. Do you hope in me?”

“My Jesus I Love Thee!”

11 09 2008

Here is a great rendition of My Jesus I Love Thee (one of our favorite hymns) by Avalon, one of the best mixed Christian vocal groups. Let it be a moment of worship as you listen and view it.

Meeting the Takamotos

30 07 2008

We recently had a chance to meet one of the career missionary families with Asian Access in Japan on their furlough. Eric and Sue Takamoto and their three lovely children (Owen, Annie & Olivia) are back home from the field so we wanted to get together with them and hear some stories about their ministry. Since their three children and our two boys are young, Sue suggested that we meet at a nearby park in Pasadena where they were staying. It was a wonderful idea because we were able to have a great time of sharing without worrying about our children getting restless or destroying things.

Sue and Eric are currently focusing on planting a house church in Sanda, a city near Osaka. They have about five families who are consistent members. God has given them a heart to reach out to the families with children. Sue builds relationships with fellow “yochien” (preschool) moms while Eric reaches out to men in his neighborhood through BBQ and English classes. It was great to hear how men are longing to bond with other men through regular gatherings. BBQ was the beginning point of their relationship and led to forming an English class with 10 other men. During a “drinking gathering,” one of the members who became a Christian not too long ago spontaneously shared that one of the best times in his life was when he accepted Christ as the Lord. So this led to an opportunity to share about Christ and the Gospel. It was exciting to hear how God is using these casual meetings and BBQs to reach out to the Japanese. We were so encouraged to hear that it’s not necessarily about clever techniques but really starting with a genuine heart for the lost.

Another beautiful thing about the Takamotos is that Sue and Eric have adopted three Japanese children while ministering in Japan. Owen is 5, Annie 3, and Olivia 2. Annie and Olivia have the same biological mom but different dads. It is so beautiful to see how God has brought these precious children to a godly home even though they were born into an unstable environment. It reminded me how wonderful and hope-giving adoption can be. Children who would otherwise grow up in an unloving and unhealthy environment now have a chance to grow up in a loving family. The Bible says in Ephesians 2 we too were “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath” but have been adopted by our loving Father as “children and heirs” to His inheritance. Adoption is very close to the heart of God. What a testimony it is to the Japanese seeing these missionaries with three adopted Japanese children. We, too, pray that the Lord would open up an opportunity for us to adopt a precious child.