Tuesday, September 29, 2009

To my daughter...

We went into the hospital on September 28th at around 8:00. After checking into the hospital, your dad took the car back home and rode back in a taxi. Your mom was surprised that I was able to call the taxi to our house. Luckily, I knew just enough Korean at that point to order a taxi. After I arrived at the hospital, we waited till about 11:30 when a nurse gave your mom something that was supposed to help open her womb. We tried to sleep that night, but couldn’t sleep much.
We woke up at 5:20 am the day you were born. We were both so tired and nervous. We weren’t sure what the day had in store for us, and I’m sure glad we didn’t know at that point. At 6:00 in the morning we went to the delivery room and they started to administer the drugs to induce labour at about 9:00. Everything was going well. At about 11:00 they told your mom she wasn’t dilating properly, so she had to work out until 1:00 to try and get her womb to open up. We went back to our room and she had to bounce on an exercise for 15 minutes, followed by walking in a small circle in our room for half an hour. She was so exhausted by the end of it.
Throughout the afternoon you kept trying to come out, but the passageway wasn’t opening any for you. At around 6:00 they told us that they were considering surgery. This blew me away. I think your mom handled it pretty well, but I had a pretty hard time with it. We would know by 9:00 whether or not you would be born. Your mom’s cousin came to the hospital and I was able to go back to your room, which was something I needed to do. I broke down crying and prayed to God about the whole ordeal. I had some trust issues with the Lord that I needed to deal with. Thank you for helping me with those things, my dear.
The people that came to the hospital were your mom’s cousin and 큰고모부. They really wanted to see you too. I was thankful that they came to support our family. At about 8:30 they decided that your mom and you needed surgery. So they brought you into the surgery room. I wanted to be in there too, but they wouldn’t let me. I waited outside and kept worrying. I kept hearing a baby start to cry and then stop. That happened several times, and every time it did I felt my heart sink. I tried fighting off tears so many times. Everytime your mom’s cousin talked to me, I had to choke back tears. I don’t know if it was because I was worried, or overtired… I think it was mostly because I was so thrilled at becoming a father. When they finally brought me to see you, I couldn’t fight back the tears. I started crying more than you. I managed to snap this picture of you:

After they showed you to me and I touched you, I was so overjoyed. My heart is just overflowing with love for you. For the next 20 minutes, I couldn’t talk to anyone without having to choke back my tears. I was just so thrilled that you were here. About an hour after you were born I was able to see your mother. She didn’t look too good. The anaesthesia really did a number on her. I told her I would check in on her every half an hour.
When they brought you to the glass to show you to me again, you kept looking at me. Here’s a picture:

I love you my child, and I will do my best, in God’s strength, to be a good father to you. I know I’ll make mistakes, but I pray that I will be able to show you how great a Father in heaven we have. I hope that I can teach you adequately that life is all about bringing glory to God. That is my purpose as a father. I love you, and can’t wait to bring you home.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Phil. 3:18 - If you're not living godly, you may be God's enemy.

When we hear the phrase ‘enemies of God,’ what sorts of people come into mind? I called a few people from ICC this week and asked them. Their answers were all pretty much the same: an unbeliever, someone who isn’t saved, someone who lives in unbelief. Other answers included Satan and the demons. We could also include satanists, atheists, murderers, rapists, child molesters and a whole slough of morally corrupt people. These are the things that quickly come to mind when we hear that phrase - enemy of God. It’s easy for me to identify Richard Dawkins as an enemy of God when he calls for the total abolition of the Christian faith. Its easy for me to identify Nietschze as an enemy of God when he declared the death of God, and that we had killed Him. The classification of these men as enemies of God is obvious to us, and comes as no surprise, having virtually no effect on us. For that very reason I was shocked and horrified when I read in Phil. 3:18 that Paul calls confessing Christians enemies of the cross of Christ.
I have to clarify at the outset that I am in no way arguing that a true Christian can be stripped of their salvation. That being said, this passage was a very difficult passage for me to study. I am quite fond of the security of the believer, knowing that we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise. And yet when I read this phrase in verse 18, I really wanted Paul to be talking of people outside of the church. Upon studying the text, however, we find that the verse is indeed referring to professing Christians who are found within the Christian church. As we read commentary after commentary, we find that the overwhelming consensus of Christian exegetes interpret this text to be speaking of people who were found within the Christian community. These were not people who were involved in pagan practices, who worshipped idols, and hadn’t heard of the Almighty Creator God, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are a number of reasons why Christian scholars have come to the conclusion that these enemies were indeed operating within the Christian church. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, but as it is important to our understanding and application of the text, I’ve decided to cite 2 reasons which I think are compelling.
The first is the fact that Paul is weeping over them. This fits with the language that he uses of the Philippian believers in 1:7-8. He feels deeply for the believer’s who he has become a spiritual father to, and it pains him deeply when he sees those he spent time teaching the gospel to living ungodly lives. This really struck a chord with me after a series of events unfolded in my life recently. Last year my wife and I had the privilege of leading a friend to Christ. After a few months of trying to teach him how to live a Christian life, he suddenly dropped off the radar. He didn’t return or answer any of our calls, wouldn’t respond to e-mails, and simply kept out of contact with us. This week we were suddenly able to reconnect with him, and found out that he now has taken the position of agnostic, because he couldn’t ‘feel’ God. While there is a lot of unpacking that has to be done in order for me to properly process the situation, I was able to understand Paul’s words here by the reaction I had to our friend. We spent hours of tearful prayer for him, and his rejection of the Christian life is still a source of grief for us. And Paul here is grieving over these men who had by their lifestyles rejected the gospel of Christ.
The second reason is that Paul is making a comparison here of who to imitate. In 3:17 he tells the Philippians to imitate those who ‘walk according to the pattern you have in us.’ The parallel is those who are walking as enemies of the cross of Christ. The word περιπατεω, translated here as walk, usually indicates the behaviour of a Christian in the New Testament, and especially in the letters of Paul. He is making a purposeful contrast for the Philippian believers to seek out godly examples from within the church to imitate, and to avoid those within the church who aren’t living godly lives.

I) When we live ungodly lives, we are demonstrating an opposition to the gospel.
To say that there are those in the church who aren’t living godly lives is easy for us to recognize and accept. We’ve invented terms to identify them. We’ve all heard of ‘backslidden’ believers, and we’re comfortable talking about people, or ourselves, as being this type of Christian. The terms we use today are very soft, and overly gracious. To say that a Christian who is not living a godly life is an enemy of the gospel of Christ is a difficult statement to swallow. And well it should be. And yet here we have the Apostle Paul telling us that it is this way. He’s telling us that when we live ungodly lives, we are demonstrating an opposition to the gospel.
The Christian Apologist Ravi Zacharias once made a confession during one of his speeches to a large audience. He said that there was one question about the Christian faith that gave him a good amount of faith. The question was this:
Why is it that so many people who talk of a supernatural transformation show so little of the transformed life?
We’ve all encountered this same question in our lives to some degree. We’ve been hurt by people in the church, we’ve seen inconsistencies in people’s lives by the things that they do. There seems to have been an explosion of this in the last two or three decades in the Christian world. I was debating whether or not to list some names to give as illustrations, but thought it better not to waste your time talking about such shameful things. What we can say however is that it is easy to recognize public Christian figures whose actions do not even come close to matching their words. And yet I would venture that we needn’t have to go to public Christian figures to find examples. I’m sure that most of us can probably think of examples from their own churches, or maybe from camps they went to or conferences they attended. May I be so bold as to go one step further and say that we can find the example oftentimes in our own lives. I’m not sure about you, but I have struggled throughout my Christian life to live a life consistent with what I believe.
If you are not walking godly, Paul says, you are an enemy of the cross of Christ. Why does he say this? Why does it make you an enemy of the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ is being used here representatively of the gospel of Christ. And what is the gospel of Christ? The gospel of Christ put briefly and succinctly is the truth that Christ, who was God in the flesh, came and lived among His creation, went to the cross to die as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind, to bring about the redemption, reconciliation and transformation of those who would put their faith in Him. The fact of the matter is that we tend to focus today on the redemption and reconciliation part of salvation, and tend to leave out the fact that we are transformed!!! In Romans 6 Paul says that part of that transformation is the fact that we have died to sin, and we are now alive to God. If I make the statement and really do believe it to be true, how is it possible for me to continue sinning? If I say I believe it, but my life doesn’t embody that truth, then my very life serves to combat the claims of that gospel, and my life is then lived in opposition to the gospel; that is to say, I am an enemy of the cross of Christ.
II) The Characteristics of an ungodly life.
A) An ungodly life is ruled by lusts.
Why is it that the gospel of Christ seems so powerless in our lives? Is it maybe because that gospel hasn’t really taken root in our life? We seem to be comfortable talking about God with people, talking about how God is working in our lives, and yet for some reason we rarely see fruit. Let me repeat the question as phrased by Dr. Zacharias:
Why is it that so many people who talk of a supernatural transformation show so little of the transformed life?
Do we think that people won’t notice? All those Christian leaders we’ve seen whose hidden sins have been made public seemed to think that way. I think one of the reasons we have seen such an ineffective Christianity is that we’ve downplayed the role of the Christian in working towards godliness. Modern Christianity tends to reflect an attitude that God will do everything for us. But the Bible clearly states that we do have a role to play in our transformation. We don’t just sit back and let it happen. If that were the case then there would be no imperatives in the New Testament. And yet we do find imperatives all throughout the New Testament. I recognize that this may be an uncomfortable concept for us to hear, that we have to work at our faith, but this is a Biblical concept. We are justified solely on the righteousness of Christ, yes, but the Bible does not stop there. We are told over and over again to do things afterwards. In verse 17 we’re told to join those who are imitating Paul by the way they walk. 4:1 says to stand firm. The Holy Spirit causes us to grow in godliness when we do things that are congruent with growth in godliness. And the Holy Spirit will guide us in doing those things.
Notice that the first characteristic of an ungodly person is that they are ruled by their lusts. Paul says that their god is their stomach, or their god is their appetite. They are ruled by their lusts. They follow their lusts. They worship their lusts. What are your desires? What do you love to do? Are you animated by the Spirit, or do you only seek the things which give you pleasure? Is it a chore for you to sit down and read your Bible, to pray for all of your friends and family? Will you still do it even if it is a chore? If you won’t do those things, what things are replacing them? It’s easy for us to think of these statements we read of in the Bible in their worst possible logical outworking, but it’s much more difficult for us to view them in the small ways they affect us. When I think of someone who follows their appetite, I think about the 800 pound man who had to be lifted out of his house by a crane; I don’t immediately associate it with how I watched a movie with my friends when God was calling me to pray for those friends. What Paul is saying here is that the enemy of the gospel of Christ is that person who instead of serving the God they’ve claimed for their own, they serve their own desires, their own appetites.
Christ told us that in order to be a true Christian we have to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. We must be willing to give up an hour of sleep to spend time in concentrated prayer if God demands that of us. We must be willing to pass on watching that movie we really want to see if God is calling us to meditate on His Word. What will it cost you to be godly? It will cost you absolutely everything. We are dead to those lusts Paul said, but we’ve got to live like it. If we’re controlled by the Spirit, we’ll show a desire to spend time in His Word, meditating on it and coming to a deeper knowledge of Him, and we’ll have a desire to spend longer periods of time in fellowship with Him through prayer. If we find ourselves void of these desires, we ought to be praying for them, perhaps with fasting.
B) An ungodly life is proud of its sin.
One thing about following your own desires is that you become so comfortable in doing it, that you begin to be proud of what you’re doing. This is what Paul says when he says that the ungodly professors of Christ glory in their shame. Nothing has demonstrated this to me better than my own past. At the beginning of my Bible College days I really took solace in the fact that I was a good kid. I didn’t do drugs, didn’t drink, didn’t swear, and I had been sexually pure. While all these things were true, I lacked a fervent prayer life, and a consistent desire to be in the Word of God in anything but a superficial way. Because I followed my own desires rather than the desires of God throughout my college career, by graduation my life had become a contradiction. I had studied the Bible in depth and learned a great deal about theology and the doctrines of our faith. What was amazing was that I now smoked marijuana and drank regularly, I found it hard to put together a sentence without the use of expletives, and I was no longer sexually pure. Because I had followed my own desires, I had led to live a life characterized by things that I had previously thought to be done by only the worst of people. What was truly amazing about it all, was that I was proud of those things. I was proud when my friend’s told me I wasn’t like other Christians and they really liked being around me because I wasn’t so uptight. I was proud of smoking weed, proud of being able to drink copious amounts of alcohol, proud of being always welcome at parties. Those things were shameful, and yet I was proud of them. When you do not submit yourself fully to the will of God, you will eventually find yourself in a place where you are proud of those things that really ought to bring you shame.

C) An ungodly life does not care about the things of God.
How many of us grow uncomfortable when we’re with someone who exhibits a real passion for the Lord? How many of us immediately take a defensive attitude towards the ‘holier than thou’ Christian, simply because they like to pray or read the Word of God often? An ungodly person sets their minds on earthly things; they only think about the things of this world. What car do you drive, what job do you have, where do you go to school, what countries have you visited, what books have you read, what sports do you play, what movies have you seen, what music do you listen to? With all of our conversations that we have with people what is that we talk about? And with all the amount of time that we spend by ourselves, what is it that we think about and do? Do we set our minds on spiritual things? In Col. 3:2 Paul tells the Colossians to set their minds on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. And there’s a reason for doing it, he says in verse 3, because you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. If we have really died and been hidden with Christ then we will be concerned with spiritual matters. We will be concerned with how the Heffner’s are doing in Taiwan, or how our brothers and sisters are doing in their spiritual walks. We’ll be interested in praying for the needs of our family, friends and church. We’ll be interested in talking about the Scripture with others, to help us come to a fuller understanding of Him.
If we’re enemies of the cross of Christ, we’ll only be concerned with the latest episode of 24, or the latest performances on American Idol, or with who’s playing the lead role in the next Batman movie. Our conversations will be full of talking about sports, news, weather, and funny internet movies and be devoid of anything about Christ and His cross.

III) The end of the ungodly life is destruction.
While we like to think that our own godless pursuits can be in harmony with the gospel of God, the truth is that they are not. Paul says that their end is destruction. The only thing that our godless life will come to is failure and sadness. We will have become one more argument for an atheist to use in his denial of God. We will have been one more reason for someone we know to have not trusted in God. We will be totally ashamed at the judgement day. These enemies of the cross will not see the salvation that they thought they had. They weren’t aware that their lives were in contradiction to the cross. They didn’t know that the truths of the gospel were not just theoretical. If you’ve examined yourself here today, and found that your life is being lived in contradiction to the cross, please give yourself completely to God. Do not delay in this. If you don’t have the desire to live godly, pray for that desire. Fall on your face before the Lord and ask Him to be working in you, changing your heart and your mind. Ask Him to give you the strength and desire to live a consistent godly life.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

My life has officially changed forever...

because my wife is pregnant with our first child. Most of you probably already know this. I'm writing to sort of put some of my feelings about this in word form, so as to reference it in the future (therefore this post is more therapeutic for myself, rather than meant for everyone else).

I definitely have very clear and distinct emotions after learning the news. I've been overwhelmed with feelings of excitement and anticipation, anxiety and fear, and sense the heaviness of the responsibility that God has been gracious enough to bestow on me. I'll deal with each of the emotions in order of my listing them.

First there's the excitement and anticipation. For years I've dreamed about what it would be like to have children that I'm responsible for. I've fancied the moments where I can teach them and share with them. I don't know why, but it seems like I've been built for fatherhood. I've spent most of my adult life immersing myself in books, trying to learn as much as I can about life and how it fits together, not really for myself, but in order that I might pass that on to my children. I really desire children who will glorify God with their lives, and I'm excited for the opportunity for God to use me in rearing children who love and glorify Him. I'm excited at the idea of a family, a real family. I'm not putting down singleness or married couples without children, I think that those things are wonderful in their own rites, it's just that there seems to me to be something sacred about the propagation of life. There's something that excites me about this opportunity for my wife and I to focus our love together on another person, who we are responsible for bringing into the world (naturalistically speaking; God is really the one responsible.). I'm anticipating watching the growth of my child/children, watching them learn about God's creation, and coming to recognize Christ as their Creator, Sustainer, Saviour and Lord. All of these things excite me.

All of this excitement, however, is mixed with an amount of anxiety and fear. I recognize the fact that I'm bringing this child into a fallen world, a world where the hearts of men are corrupt and wicked. A world that could potentially distort the mind of the child, and cause him to continue in his sin. I know that he/she will be born into sin, and I recognize that they may be subject to the same weaknesses and temptations that I am - and I know the grief and sufferings that they have caused me, and want to spare my child from the damaging effects of sin. I know that there's a chance that my child will not come to recognize God as being who He is, that there's a chance that he/she will reject Christ as Messiah, and that truly worries me more than anything else. I desire a child who glorifies God with his life from an early age, and my heart aches at the thought that they may continue under the bondage of a sinful heart for many years, and possibly their whole life. It causes me distress to think that my child could reject Christ and be damned to eternal punishment because of their rebellious heart. I worry at the thought that I'm imperfect, I might lose my temper with them, I may be a poor example of Christlikeness for them, and I may be just a selfish and uncaring father. I pray that I never reach that state.

I recognize that I can't do anything about the fears that I have, the only thing I can do is to cast those worries on God, allow Him to deal with them, and rest in the righteousness of Christ. I'm thankful that God is such a person that He takes those anxieties from me, and gives me peace. I'm also thankful for the worries themselves which have been helpful for me to understand the responsibility I've been charged with. While I can't make any choices for the child, and I have to allow them to go their own way, trusting that God will lead them, there are things that I can do as a parent. My wife and I are responsible for creating a home environment which the child will know God is real, and know that we are fallen. I can display to them the true character of a Christian life, by being disciplined myself for the purpose of godliness. I can show them that it's not the things that you do that make you just before God, but it is humility and brokenness before Him that allows Him to make you holy. All of the things that I've been striving to practice in my own life for the past 10 years have now been brought to the forefront of my thought with a sense of urgency that I find difficult to express. My past failures to live a holy life consistently before God have shown me that I don't really care about myself very much, and don't consider myself as being very valuable to Him. That statement is not meant to show my humility, but a recognition of a false view of myself which needs to be purged. The urgency comes from the knowledge that the way I live my life will now affect another person in a very real way that I had not previously been aware of. I've always been vaguely cognizant that my life/actions affect other people in some fashion, but the role of fatherhood has brought that unequivocally to the forefront. Whether or not I am broken and humble before God, whether or not I live a practically (as opposed to theoretically) holy life, whether or not I am thoroughly devoted to Christ will now have a direct impact on another human being who I already care about far more than myself. So in response to my fears/anxieties I gain insight to my responsibilities as a father to create an environment which is godly, by humbling myself before God and asking Him to make me godly. Applying myself to the spiritual disciplines has become more important now than ever. Prayer is an absolute must now. I can't be 'on again off again' with my prayer life. Finally, I can't become narrowly focused anymore on just myself, my wife, or my child in my prayers, as selfishness in prayer is still selfishness. I must have a robust prayer life, praying for all of those who are dear to me, and even those who are not.

I forgot to mention the one final emotion that sort of trumps all the others. That is the inexpressible joy that I feel. I guess that's part of the excitement/anticipation, but it is a sort of all-encompassing emotion. It takes in to itself the excitement/anticipation, the anxiety/fear and the sense of responsibility. All of these feelings are part of the joy that I feel. I begin to feel weepy when I really reflect on the coming days for Eunji and I; and it's a good thing. I feel incredibly thankful to my Lord for blessing me in this way.

To my child: when you come, you will be loved.