Don’t Let the Fog Get in the Way (Peter Lee)

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According to travel.usnews.com, Grand Canyon is one of the top ten places to visit in the U.S.  Many of us have been there and is a spot where tourists are recommended to visit.  A few years ago, several relatives visited from Korea, and so my family and I, drove them to visit the Grand Canyon. 

I had already visited several times before and so I was excited for my relatives to witness the splendor and magnificence that was offered at the canyon. I already pictured which route to take and which stops to stop at for the best possible view.  I imagined the vast horizon that stretched beyond what we could see and the deep valleys that would take our breath away.  I couldn’t wait for my relatives to marvel at God’s creation.

As we reached our destination, the excitement in the car quickly turned to a sense of dismay.   We didn’t find the grandeur of the canyon in front of us.  There was no awesome view.  Rather, a thick, gray, soupy fog blocked the view of what was supposed to be there. 

Instead of being in awe and wonder, I left the canyon that day disappointed and thinking of the trip as a waste of our time.  I am sure this scenario resonates with some of us when it comes to our worship with God, both on a personal level and in a corporate setting. 

God’s nature and His attributes do not change.  Who He is, is enough reason for us to approach Him and be in awe of Him.  He is deserving of our praise and worship because He is worthy of it.  The splendor and glory of God is right before us. But blocking that view is the thick fog of unbelief, worries, pride, or sin.  Perhaps our circumstances create a fog that hinders our view of God and thus, affects our desire to worship and adore Him.

After spending a night at a nearby hotel, we returned to the canyon. The sun shined brightly that day as a light breeze kept us cool.  As we originally hoped for, the views were breathtaking.  This experience reminded me of a simple truth that I often forget.

However heavy the fog may be, the wind will eventually blow to break it up and we will be able to see the beauty of God revealed in Christ.  The important thing to remember is that God is always there.  God’s nature is always there and is unchanging.   We mustn’t let the fog determine our response toward God but to remember that He, in all His brilliance, is fully deserving of our praises.

One of my all-time favorite songs is a Korean song, that when translated says,

“Wherever You call me, I will worship. 

In whatever circumstance, I will worship.”

I pray that this would be the prayer and desire of our hearts as individuals as well as a church.  May every opportunity of worship we have be one where we are drawn to the beauty and goodness of the Lord and be near to Him, no matter the circumstance.

A Refreshing Retreat (Ashley Hong)

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As one of the college ministry leaders, I felt a great burden to not only prepare a great retreat for my peers, but also to prepare myself. Sure, it would be great to make sure that everyone would thoroughly enjoy this retreat, but if I myself am not in a place to wholly worship God, how could I encourage others to? A college retreat should be fun to keep the brothers and sisters motivated and awake, but it should be more about being a spiritual event where everyone would at least feel God’s presence.

Throughout the preparation for this retreat, I truly felt Satan spiritually attack me. Events and situations that wouldn’t normally bother me gave me stress, and I found myself lacking the desire to go to the retreat after a while. I just wanted to go back to my hometown and relax with my family. The day before the retreat was especially trying for me, and I realized how stubborn I had been for not kneeling in prayer before the Lord. I had prayed to Him about the retreat for weeks, but that Monday night before the retreat, I felt God telling me that in order to get the most out of this retreat myself, I had to really put down everything else in my life and only look to Him. Yes, the physical preparation is important, but that’s not the most important part. I realized how stubborn I had been and I humbly asked God to really use this retreat to refresh my own relationship with Him. I had been thankful for the things that He had given me, but I still wasn’t relying on Him completely. 

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I was truly blessed at this retreat because I had a chance to talk with several brothers and sisters who I had only greeted in passing before. I was so inspired because God opened up these brothers’ and sisters’ hearts, and I felt that we were able to openly and vulnerably talk about our individual situations. I also was encouraged by our guest speaker, Pastor David, and our guest praise leader, Eddie. At every session, there would always be at least one point that Pastor David would say that I knew God wanted me to reflect on in my own life. 

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As I am typing this reflection article from home, I can say that this retreat was not in vain. I always worry about going home because I have no one at home who is my age and a true Christian, and every time I spend over a week at home, I know that the strength of my faith wavers as I go down from the spiritual high of church retreats. Because of this issue, I had very high spiritual expectations for this retreat, and I was not disappointed. I was thoroughly encouraged that this retreat was not just to refresh my relationship with God, but also to reload my faith and truly live out what God put in my heart through this retreat.

Starting the New Year with a Restart: Ctrl+Alt+Pray (Joanne Lee)

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2017 was like a rollercoaster ride for me. It was a year of many ups and downs and a year of many firsts and much excitement. But it was also a year of many struggles and much disappointment. However, as I reflected on the past year in anticipation of the new year of 2018, I realize that even those struggles and disappointing moments were really blessings in disguise.

The past few months have been especially hard for me. I recently completed my first trimester in a very intense program that’s challenged me physically, mentally, and spiritually. Stress and lack of sleep led to a blackout episode in October. I also had a mental breakdown a few hours before a major clinical evaluation that was worth a good portion of my grade in the class. It was during this mental breakdown that God reminded me about the power and significance of prayer. When my classmates noticed that I was struggling, a few of them took me out of the classroom and started praying for me. Yes, in the middle of a busy hallway in the dental school with a lot of people walking past us. I didn’t care for those people though because as my classmates were praying for me, I felt this complete peace and warmth radiate throughout my body that I hadn’t felt before. I eventually passed the evaluation, but it wouldn’t have been possible without prayer.  

That’s why I want this new year to be a year of prayer and spending time in God’s Word, not only for myself but also for our church as well. The Word gives us the encouragement, conviction, and strength we need to tackle life’s problems. Prayer changes not our circumstances, but it changes us (and sometimes our circumstances also change as a result).

It’s interesting that the first day of classes for the spring trimester is also the first day of early morning prayer at our church. Even though it’s going to be a challenge to wake up an hour or two early to pray and though I can’t physically be at church, I want to start this new year and start each day with prayer. I want to fill my daily commute to school on the train with joy as I read God’s Word.

My hope for this new year is that, as I spend time with God through His Word and through prayer, I will enjoy His presence and that He will change me and replace my anxiety with shalom peace, His perfect peace that surpasses all understanding. I hope that I will seek God’s help and peace not just before a major exam or evaluation, but as I’m learning in class, as I’m practicing in clinic, as I’m being tested, and throughout the day. When I do become anxious, I hope that I will remember our Abba Father’s assurance to us in Isaiah 41 that He is the LORD our God who takes hold of our right hand and says to us, “Do not fear; I will help you,” and “do not fear, for I am with you” (v. 13 and v.10). I hope that no matter the circumstance, I will remember God’s promise in Romans 8:28 that He works all things for the good of those who love him and who have been called according to his purpose. Lastly, I hope to have opportunities to share my personal testimony with others as I explain how my testimony relates to this research project that I’m working on this year.

All of these hopes and dreams will only be possible if I press “Ctrl+Alt+Pray.”

BEC, let’s all start the new year with a restart by pressing “Ctrl+Alt+Pray.”

The Reason I Serve (Woojung We)

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I love children. Not only because of how cute and adorable they are, but also because of their imperfections. Every Sunday, I have the privilege of seeing our children in the church develop and master new skills. Kids who didn’t crawl before learn how to crawl.  Some kids barely walked before and now, they are running. Each child’s unique personality comes out and sometimes, it’s so neat to see the resemblance that they have with their parents.

Children are vulnerable and are totally dependent upon adults to survive. Adults teach, train, and encourage the children to do the right things even when they fail. All in all, Children remind me of our own spiritual journey. We learn of who God is and we study the Bible for spiritual survival. We also learn how to share the Gospel with others. It is a humbling experience when I spend time with children, but I can see clearly how great God’s love is for His people.

The vision for our BEC Nursery is that our infants will learn God’s love and for us to provide a safe environment for their children so that parents can focus on the worship service. The Church nursery is the first church community that children often experience. Our little children worship Jesus just like we do. It is never too early to teach and train them. They may not understand but we are helping them to build a solid foundation. My prayer for our nursery is that children will know God and love Him even at a young age. My desire is that their hearts will be full of God’s grace and love.

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While the children are in the nursery, I would like the parents to regain strength by fully focusing on their own worship times and experiencing a deeper connection with God. This is so important and so needed for parents because for me, the first two years after my children were born were the hardest and driest seasons in my spiritual life. I constantly had to take care of little ones and had no time to even listen to the message or to the worship songs. But I overcame that obstacle with help from other brothers and sisters in Christ. If we as a family of God can serve parents by helping them to have undistracted times of worship, I believe that they will regain their strength and fall deeper in love with Christ. And their love for Christ will help them to be better parents to their children and their children will experience the love of Christ even more powerfully through their parents. This is the reason why I want to serve in our nursery. I don’t see our nursery as just babysitting time. But rather, as a time of demonstrating what it means to have a Christ-centered community that expands God’s Kingdom by serving children. 

Retreating (Dyllen Jay Lingat)

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One of the first things that the guest speaker, Pastor David Kim, shared with us is that the military uses retreats to take a step back, to analyze the situation, and prepare to go back into battle. He warned us that many times, retreats are used to just feel good or to take a breather from our everyday lives. But it should be more like the military definition. If I am honest, I think I was expecting the latter in regards to this retreat. It seemed like a nice way to start the break since school was out. Luckily and thankfully, I got so much more than a vacation.

As a 4th year Computer Science major, with no applicable job experience and less than stellar grades, I’m uncertain as to what career path to follow. The future seems precarious to say the least. Graduation is quickly approaching, and with it comes all the pressures and responsibilities of living in the “real world.” Major life questions are at the forefront of my mind and decisions will need to be made soon. I felt and still feel directionless. But in many ways, this retreat gave me a chance to evaluate my situation in life and prepare for what is to come.

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A true testament to God’s understanding of our needs, everything about this retreat seemed applicable to my situation. The retreat did a lot for me personally, so getting into every detail about the things I learned would be too difficult to explain. I had heard many messages for years. I know that material possessions are temporary and that we cannot truly comprehend what God has in store for us in heaven.  I have heard that we cannot serve both God and money and God is a personal God. I understand it is important to repent when I sin. I recognize everyone is unique and comparing myself to others is unhealthy and pointless. Instead of talking about each message, I would like to share my biggest takeaways from this retreat.

First, I was trying to make decisions without making God the priority. Before this retreat, I had learned of a lucrative job I could potentially pursue. Outside of the potential of receiving good pay, I didn’t know anything about it except I would need to study for a year on the east coast. Furthermore, this job isn’t related to my major. Although I plan to learn more about the job, I felt less conflicted about turning it down rather than pursuing it for the sake of money.

Second, I was worrying too much about what the future holds. I need to set God as my foundation and trust that everything else will fall into place.

Third, I was reminded that alone time with God is absolutely crucial in the RELATIONSHIP I have with him.

Fourth, I will make mistakes. I will sin against God and true repentance stems from my relationship with God, not religion.

I can’t say I have figured out what to do with my life. But through the retreat, God reminded me He is the one thing that is certain, so I can move forward without worry.

Reflections and Resolutions (Victor Yoon)

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As I reflect on 2017 I can’t believe how fast it has gone by. Through my conversations with people, I realized that many of us feel the same way. We all zoomed through 2017. But why is that?

I feel that 2017 has gone by so quickly for me because even though I felt so busy all the time, I didn’t accomplish all my goals for this year. I didn’t keep the promises I made to myself in terms of where I would be in my health, finances, and relationships. Falling short of my goals fills me with regret that I didn’t work harder or manage my time better.

But then I think about all of the things I did accomplish this year. Although 2017 didn’t go the way I planned, I’ve made progress and learned many things along the way. I’ve learned what skills I need to work on. I figured out my purpose in life. I know my duty and obligation to the world. I know exactly what I need to do, and all I need to do now is to take massive action, each and every day.

The fact that I have found purpose in my life gives me peace. I’m incredibly blessed to have the ability to cultivate my life towards fulfilling that purpose. Even though I sin and fail all the time, I have the opportunity to repent, learn, and start again. All of this is possible because of Jesus Christ who cleanses me of my sin, and gives me strength.

“I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Every time I fail or get discouraged I think to myself, “Why did I mess up again? Should I just give up?” But then I’m reminded that Christ died for me. Even though I’m so unworthy, he showed me amazing grace. He suffered for me and gave me eternal life. I can never pay him back for that. But all that he asks from me is this, to love him and love others to the best of my abilities. No matter how much I fail, if I strive to do those things daily, I’m obeying God’s command.

How can I love others more and better? By serving them. By giving all that I have to serve others and helping them live out their purpose in life. Living my life diligently so that when it’s all said and done, Jesus will be proud of what I’ve accomplished. He’ll say to me “Well done, my good and faithful servant”.

My salvation is guaranteed. I don’t work hard because I’m building up my worth. I work hard because I’m loved and I have worth in Jesus Christ. It’s my job to show others the love and blessings that are showered upon me by loving on them.

So My New Year’s Resolutions for 2018 goes like this:
1. To pursue my goals with urgency and fearlessness – There’s no time to waste.
2. To love others through my actions – Actions speak louder than words.
3. To be the best version of myself each day – Embodying the strength and love of Christ in my life.

My goals are on top of this massive mountain. I’m at the foot of the mountain now looking up, and all I can see are the difficulties that lie ahead. The sheer amount of content I need to produce to build my business. The criticism and hate that will try to make me fall. The distractions that will cause me to lose my footing. But I can live fearlessly because I have a greater purpose. I’m not striving to achieve my goals solely for myself, but by maximizing my talents I can inspire others to do more with the blessings they’ve been given.

We’re all familiar with the parable of the talents. The master entrusts three of his servants with his property and goes on a long journey. When the master returns, he finds that two of the servants put their talents to use and doubled them while one servant buried his single talent because he was afraid of losing it. The master rebukes the fearful servant and takes his single talent away and gives it to the servant with the most talents.

The lesson Jesus gives is simple. Don’t let fear of criticism or fear of failure prevent you from reaching your full potential. Don’t let fear hinder you from maximizing your talents. In 2018, face your fears, break out of your comfort zone, challenge your limits and experience all the things God has in store for you. 

Joy & Sorrow: A Reflection of 2017 (Peter Yu)

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2017 for me was truly a study in contrasts. From the joy of seeing my daughter grow into her first year of life, to the pain of seeing my mother-in-law diagnosed with cancer. Watching my immobile little infant daughter learn to crawl, walk, and run, while observing my active and lively mother-in-law slowly lose her strength. Despite the beautiful new memories that I have made over the year, why do painful and difficult memories linger so strongly while joyful events, experiences, and moments are so hazy and easily forgotten?

Looking at my own life, and especially as I reflect on this year, I feel that maybe part of the reason that it is easier to remember negative experiences is that it is so easy to wallow in self-pity. Without much thought, I'll end up focusing on a situation negatively, wondering how I could have done things differently or questioning why it had to be my family to suffer—instead of quickly moving beyond and thinking positively, and looking at how I could learn from mistakes or make the best of bad situations. Perhaps I find it almost cathartic to dwell on the negatives, to dissect a situation from different angles—but that has the unfortunate consequence of further reinforcing the negativity, making it a more permanent memory in my mind and influencing my thoughts more than I want it to.

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That then begs the question, if bad memories and experiences can be reinforced, the opposite should be true as well, right? I do believe that beautiful memories and good experiences can be reinforced in the mind to positively influence thought and outlook, and therefore words and actions. However, making that my daily reality is the hard part. When I look at the past year and as we head into 2018, I want to more easily remember the many good things that God has blessed me with. I want those good memories to be the ones that linger and are easily recalled. It’s true that sadness and sorrow can’t just be avoided, but I want to be quicker about transitioning into the positives of each negative situation—even if the end of the tunnel seems infinitely distant. I pray that God gives my family and me the patience and discernment to be able to look ahead and praise him as much for the journey as for the reward at the finish line. With mom’s illness, there are some hard days ahead but there is also comfort in knowing that rest is there waiting for her.

Serving with Love (Juhae Sohn)

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This past Saturday, my family and I were able to visit the elderly at the Town and Country Manor. It is a nursing home located in Santa Ana.  My husband and I felt strongly that it was important for us to show our children that Christmas is not just about getting presents and taking a break from school, but that it is a time where we can reflect on the blessings that we have been given all year and we can try to share some of those blessings with those less fortunate.

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We were not sure what to expect upon arrival, but we quickly found ourselves in a room full of wheelchairs and smiles.  We had a time of singing carols together with the elderly living there, and then our church's kids musical cast shared a couple of special songs. This was followed by some of the ladies from the Korean congregation who played auto-harps for the audience.  We were able to share a small gift from our church to all those in attendance, and even walked around passing out the gifts to those who were unable to attend in person.  It was very touching to see the joy in the faces of the people we met, and there were definitely moments that we will remember, such as when one of the elderly ladies hugged and kissed our oldest son. 

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Our hope and prayer is that our short visit brought some Christmas cheer to the people we met, and that our sons will remember that this season is more about looking outside of ourselves rather than looking forward to what they will receive. We have already received the biggest gift in our lives, Jesus Christ, and in return, I believe sharing the joy and love of God should be our purpose, especially celebrating the birthday of the Son of God.

From Pastor Stan (Stanley Ng)

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As I’m writing this letter, my heart already aches as I anticipate the very few days left. This is my last pastoral letter to my beloved family at Bethel English Church.

Brothers and sisters in Christ,

I want to thank everyone for the many ways you have allowed me to be your pastor. As I reflect upon my time at Bethel English Church, I have seen and experience much where every person has had a part in. While it’s true that we tend to remember our failures more than our victories, I am humbled at the transformation that I have undergone. Ten years have gone by without any regret and the time spent with everyone was truly a blessing to Grace and me.

AWANA Awards (2010)

AWANA Awards (2010)

In ten years I’ve watched the generations grow. My first volunteer experience was becoming a volunteer leader for second graders. While there was a need, it was also an opportunity to learn more about the Christian faith and experience. Since I did not grow up in a Christian home, I was vicariously reliving the Sunday School experience. I remember the first time the children had to memorize and recite John 3:16. By the time the children finished shouting out this gospel verse, I was still searching through my Bible’s table of contents. The children were so shocked and ensued the fun and games--the teacher had become the student. The motivation from these little salts and lights began to ignite a passion in wanting to know more about the Word and defending the truth of the gospel.

Bethel College Ministry Retreat (2010)

Bethel College Ministry Retreat (2010)

At the same time, I was also involved in our very own college ministry. It was a time that some of us still remember. I remember cooking for Sister’s Appreciations, celebrating Christmas, helping pack boxes for the needy--it was truly an experience that I miss. At the same time, it was also a time of searching and deciphering the Lord’s direction in my life. As some of you are already aware, I had spent a short time in my engineering ministry. After the company acquisition, I began to ponder the next chapter. While still being consistently involved in my men’s group, the community suggested that I pray about pursuing pastoral ministry. This is what kickstarted the following seven years of pastorship with everyone here.

Without going into details of the last seven years, some of us were together during most of the time. Since the beginning of my internship, we have had several leaders come and go, trouble arose here and there. For some of us, it has been difficult to move forward. But my hope is that for all of us will continually be reminded of the one who remains constant: Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, He is the beginning and the end. As I become another one of those leaders who has come and gone, my prayer for this congregation is to always be fixated on Christ--that’s when your church will be defined by the mission. It may not look like the church we have had in the past and there may be difficult decisions which need to be made. But a passion for our Lord and Savior will see you through all your future trials. This passion guided the early church and the earlier congregations of Bethel, a passion which allowed them to navigate their own trials. They managed and flourished; so can we.

The words of the Apostle Paul resonates deeply in his letter to the church at Philippi:

I thank my 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 from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
— Philippians 1:3-6

This is an exciting time as Bethel English Church moves into a prospective future of Christ’s call. With everyone here, I am sure that the current and next pastors and leaders will be just as blessed to walk with you as I have in the past ten years. My prayer for this church and the new leadership is to dive into new ways of living together at the foot of the cross and to foster a church who loves the people within and, more so, the people without.

As for my future, doors have been opened in another ministry--the teaching ministry. My calling from God has always been focused on equipping future leaders in any capacity. In the next chapter, my call is to equip future leaders in the STEM industry. Everything we do is ministry--let’s not just think of ministry as just the “Christian” thing. If you’re a teacher, student, engineer, lawyer, social worker, physician, coffee barista, pastor, etc., that is the ministry that God has currently called you to be. These industries struggle to see Christ in their world--be the salt and light in your professions.

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Some people have asked me, “What was the most momentous event during your time here?” In the past ten years, Bethel was always there with me. From all my graduations to my marriage, I’m glad to say that everyone played a role in making my time special. But it’s hard to top Easter Sunday, 2008. It was the day when I surrendered my life to Christ. I may not have remembered the message, but Proverbs 3:5-6 was mentioned and it became my life verse. As blessed as it was to have amazing events, concerts, and service opportunities, nothing beats the day of Christ’s redemption.

I give thanks to God for the honor of serving the people in the Bethel English Church. As the place where I met the Lord Jesus for the first time, Bethel will always have a special place in my heart. I have been enveloped with the love of Christ by so many people here at this church, and there is no level of gratitude that I can muster in giving thanks to each and every single person.

...Many blessings...

PStan & Grace

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The Gift of Christ (Eliot Moon)

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The bright, burning flame, the colorful tree, stuffed stockings, and gifts under the tree – these are some of the things I remember about Christmas growing up. Yet the most significant tradition I remember in my household was attending the annual Christmas worship service at church. The privilege of partaking in a time of remembrance of the birth of Jesus Christ with my mother, father, and older sister was, without a doubt, an impactful moment for me. I had grown up in the church my whole life, and being taught of Christ’s virgin birth on Earth showed me the humility of our Lord. I believe seeing the selfless role He took as fully God, yet also fully man, made way for me to truly accept Christ as my personal savior. Hebrews 2:17 tells us this:

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
— Hebrews 2:17

On a personal level, Christmas today means continuing the celebration of Jesus’ birth with my family, friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ. Christmas is not about expecting to receive a certain number of gifts from those around me. Christmas is not about the reindeer, the songs, Santa Claus, and the food. Christmas is about recognizing the greatest gift was already given to us, and that gift is Christ and Christ alone. Christmas also gives me a heart of gratitude for the great qualities that came with Jesus: salvation, redemption, justification, and propitiation, just to name a few. As the sign of Jesus was a promise for believers to enter into the new covenant, I now have the opportunity to respond in faith and offer my life up to Him.

2017 has been one of the most difficult years for me. Disappointment, constant failure, and fear of the future left me feeling anxious and doubtful. Yet through this winter season, God has constantly revealed to me that though I may experience times of struggle and difficulty, He is always there. I do not have to hope in the temporary things of the world. I can place my full trust in Him. He is the author of my future, and my solid foundation amidst rough waters. I pray that we would all be mindful of the fact that it is all about Christ. May we remember the significance of His birth, which is a sign for new life. May we look forward for the year 2018, and the many blessings Christ has in store for us.

Christmas Time (Esther Baik)

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Christmas is my favorite time of the year--the smell of winter spices makes me feel very warm inside. I have so many memories of Christmas. But my favorite one is when I was a little girl about four or five years old. On Christmas eve, my mom and I would go to church where I would participate in a Christmas performance. That year, I remembered wearing a white gown and wearing a halo on my head. We were dressed up as angels and we sang “Silent Night” on the stage. I remember checking to see where my mom was sitting, making sure she was watching me perform. After the performance and the service, my mom and I would walk home in the snow. It was so cold that you could see icicles on some apartment buildings. When we got home, I washed up, got dressed in my pajamas and that’s when the fun began. I would get to stay up late to watch “Frosty the Snowman” that my mom had recorded earlier and eat my favorite snacks.

Looking back now, I realized how blessed I was to grow up in a Christian home and to be exposed to the gospel at an early age. My mom’s love for me was great but I know now that it was just a mere reflection of how much our Heavenly Father loves us. While I loved Christmas as a youth, as I grew older and more mature in my faith, the meaning of Christmas changed for the better. The meaning continues to become deeper and more significant with the realization that our savior was born that day, in a not-so-silent night but in a cold, dark, and noisy manger.  A savior was born who would come to live the perfect life and die the perfect death, sacrificing himself for our sins so that those who believe in Him would have all our sins forgiven and have Him for eternity. Oh, what great news that is!

I will always cherish the memories of my childhood years during Christmas but it now pales in comparison to the deeper joy that is only found in a relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. The childhood memories were just a sign of the things to come in my adult years as I have grown in my relationship with Christ. But in turn God’s present grace is also a sign, a sign of things to come in heaven in our eternal relationship with Him.

I still enjoy staying up late in my pajamas and eating my favorite snacks but now watching Korean videos instead of Frosty the Snowman. And I have the great privilege now of enjoying watching my own four-year-old son perform during Christmas at church as he jumps for joy during this time of year. I only hope that he would soon also experience the true and deeper joy that can only be found in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

God’s Peace for Hiroshima (Laura Chae)

Japan Mission Team 2017

Japan Mission Team 2017

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My team and I went to Japan from October 20-28. On the way to Japan, we encountered a myriad of obstacles and difficulties, resulting in Bryan, P. Justin, and me arriving Sunday morning without luggage, just in time for service. Kim and Vin didn't arrive until Monday afternoon, after spending Friday night in San Francisco and then Sunday night in Tokyo due to the typhoon.

Asaminami Chapel, the church we attended on Sunday, was barely 20 attendees, including missionaries. It is one of three small chapels of Hiroshima Evangelical Free Church under the unified leadership of three pastors, Haitaka Makio, Kitano Kenji, and Yamada Yoshiteru. We met the pastors on Wednesday and were inspired by their powerful testimonies. Afterwards, our team and Jessica paired off to pray for the city while we walked around the area.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Jessica teaches midday English classes at the chapels which are open to the community. All but a handful do not know Christ. We played games with them, exchanged stories with them, and prepared gifts for them. We were inspired and touched by their colorful personalities, and heartbroken by their unbelief.

We visited the Peace Park, which includes a museum in memoriam of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. Seeing how much the city invested into this park, along with hearing some of the testimonies from some of the older Hiroshima residents we met who were directly affected by the bombing, drastically changed our perspective on the devastation of this event.

I have been on many mission trips, but none have been as deceptively difficult as Japan. One of the things I personally struggle with is building foundational relationships, but God proved His faithfulness by instilling boldness in me to talk to strangers and meeting people who were surprisingly open and friendly. I definitely look forward to returning to Hiroshima and building deeper relationships with the people there, demonstrating how deep God's love for them truly runs!

The Designed Universe (Stanley Ng)

One thing that I find very intriguing is the phenomenon of astrology and cosmology. The vastness of the universe extends beyond the imaginations of man. But according to Scripture, the universe is as simple as, “Let there be…”

I recently was listening to a podcast of Ravi Zacharias talking about his experience talking with a scientist and such about creation and evolution. Although his debate didn't end with a renewed soul in Christ, Zacharias did leave the scientist with lingering thoughts of possibility for a Creator. When we look at the creation account in Genesis, I find that the purpose of the introduction is not to date the age of the earth or whether or not the Big Bang occurred, but to reveal to us as the reader how marvelous and powerful our God is.

Scripture tells us:

…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect...
— 1 Peter 3:15 [ESV]

Although we may not have the full and complete answers to every question, we are given enough to be able to share the Gospel message to others without fear or trembling. Many times when I talk to my friends about Christian faith, like Zacharias, I do not get a salvific response, but rather, plant the seed and allow them “chew on the thoughts.” In the midst of this, for us to also represent the loving compassion that Christ has shown us upon the Cross.

Are You Still Thankful? (Justin Kim)

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“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”
— Psalm 107:1 [ESV]

So now that the Thanksgiving holiday is over, are you still thankful? Now that you have no doubt gained a few extra pounds from feasting on turkey, and your weight loss plan is out the window, are you still thankful? Can you be thankful everyday by making thanksgiving into thanks*living*? 

It is hard to be thankful. Mainly because I believe the emotion of thankfulness goes against the natural tendency of the human heart. Furthermore, we are circumstantial people. By nature, our thankfulness is conditional. It is situational. Depending on the circumstances of life, we will be up or down, high or low, happy or sad. We will be thankful if there are reasons to be thankful. It is unnatural or even irrational to be thankful when there is no reason to be thankful. Why be thankful and grateful when things are hard? Why be thankful when you are in pain? Or someone you know is in pain so therefore, you are in pain. Being thankful when there is no reason to be thankful just makes no sense to the human mind. Unless you are a Christian. Unless your mind has been renewed.

Romans 12:2 says, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

The worldly perspective is focused on the here and now. The earthly mindset is focused on the self and what you are going through. So your feelings and emotions are always going to be conditional. It is near impossible for the unbeliever to live out 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, which says to "... rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 

Both Romans 12:2 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 speaks to the will of God. What is God's will for you? To discern what is good and acceptable and perfect. To give thanks in all circumstances. So what is good and acceptable and perfect? To give thanks no matter what. No matter what? Even if you have been hurt by the betrayal of a friend? Even if you have made some unwise choices and you are now paying for your mistakes? Even if the unthinkable is happening to you or to someone you love? The Bible says, "Yes, no matter what. Give thanks always. This is what is good and acceptable to God and this is His will for you."

The reason why a child of God can be thankful in all circumstances is because the Christian realizes that being thankful is not about him or her. Too often, our eyes are on ourselves. It's on our circumstances. Our eyes are focused on what's happening in the world. Instead of looking inward and outward, how about we look upward? Isn't that what we are called to do? To look up to God and beyond the physical? "To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!" (Psalm 123:1)

Psalm 107:1 says to give thanks to the Lord? Why? Because He is good. Because His steadfast love endures forever. His goodness and love is best expressed in the living and dying of the perfect and unblemished Son of God.

We remember that Jesus left the glories of heaven to come down into our broken world. He was tempted in every way and was sinless. So the most innocent man went to the cross to take upon Himself the sins of the world. The most perfect man took the place for imperfect humanity. In this sacrificial act, we see God's goodness and love fully realized. We can be thankful not just on Thanksgiving holiday, but everyday because His love endures forever. Jesus' life, death, and resurrection has lasting value and effect because eternity was impacted for those who believe. 

What keeps us from looking upward? What keeps us from being thankful? Our circumstances? Our pride? Some hurt and pain? Bitterness and resentful?

Whatever is hindering you from being thankful, learn to look up. Look at Jesus who has given us every reason to be thankful every day of our lives and not just on Thanksgiving day. We can live a life of thankfulness because our hearts are overwhelmed by the wondrous work of Jesus. This is God's will for His people. This is what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The Self and Public Proclamation of the Gospel (Stanley Ng)

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
— Philippians 1:12-18 [ESV]

Still in prison, Paul is still able to glorify God. Despite his current state, what Paul has been doing is continuing to advance the Gospel (v. 12). At the moment, I believe it is safe to say that most of us reading this are in a better position than Paul. Regardless of our status, we should always be pursuing the progression of the Gospel. Paul took the extra step to even tell his guards that what he is doing is all for Christ (v. 13). Even those who are in prison with him are now proclaiming the name of Christ without fear (v. 14).

In this era, preaching the Gospel is one of the toughest things to do, especially in a upper-middle class community. It's encouraging to see that people are continually preaching the Gospel to fellow friends and neighbors, but sometimes, there are times where the Gospel message is not preached out of love (v. 15-17). Despite whatever motives are being used, we should still be appreciative of the Gospel message that is being shared. If God does accomplish good using the means of the wicked, continue to rejoice. One group of people who come to mind is those who hold up those picket signs on college campuses condemning people to hell and what not. As "obnoxious" as they sound, some people do come to know Christ because of the type and style of the Gospel that is being preached. Regardless of the tone and attitude of these people, Paul would still rejoice; however, Paul would most likely not have ordained those who cannot share the Gospel out of love as ministers. Paul knew that the Gospel message would not be preached with love 100% of the time. But regardless of the reason for preaching the Gospel, rejoice in the advancement of the Gospel.

I also wonder how much of our own intentions are also mixed when we preach the gospel. Even if we think we are doing it out of love, there may be other motives as well. So it's good to also be able to search our own hearts too. Despite this, it's good to know that God does what He wants and saves people and uses us, as imperfect people, to bring the gospel to others--it truly is humbling.

Shepherding the Lost (Stanley Ng)

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For a flock of sheep, the shepherd is an important figure. Without a leader, the sheep would live aimlessly, only doing what is necessary for survival. This is a wonderful reflection of church structure and the necessity for not just a strong leader; but more importantly, an even greater Shepherd to guide all processes. I am glad and blessed to know that the Lord’s provision is upon our church and can’t wait to see what He has in store for us during and after this transition. So, if we know that God cares for our church, we should also be reflecting that heart of others. If God then cares for us, how should we care for others?

Luke 15:1-7 looks at the background and the cultural story that was presented. The story begins not with the parable, but with events that occurred in the past. Luke recounts tax collectors and sinners gathering and eating with Jesus. At the same time, we also see pharisees and scribes grumbling at Jesus’ actions from afar. For now, Jesus begins his parable:

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
— Luke 15:1-7 [ESV]

Two things that we see:

  1. First, we see the shepherd’s mental willingness to go out and find this lost sheep. If the shepherd does not go out for that one sheep, how unsure would the rest of the flock be knowing that losing one is no big deal? Honestly, it could have been any of the other ninety-nine. The shepherd’s willingness is able to give assurance to the rest of the flock.
  2. Second, we see the shepherd’s physical willingness to bear the burden of this task. Not only is it a journey to find the sheep, but it’s also another quest to bring it back to the flock. The shepherd needs to know that he is able to complete this task, otherwise his life along with the ninety-nine others left in the open may not end with a bliss.

For one, we are the lost sheep and God is the Great Shepherd. We should be encouraged knowing that God is willing to seek us despite our own straying away from Him. It is because of our own instincts, our own desires to fulfill that cause us to move further away from God. He is there, seeking us. Are we willing to accept His efforts? Though it is also a common mindset to equate anything related to shepherding to the pastorate, Jesus seems to encourage the differ. Just like the shepherd who is willing to seek the lost, I also get the feeling that He is commissioning us to go and do likewise. Who else will be there to guide and suggest the lost back into our churches? Let us also be mindful of the possible dangers that a wandering sheep may encounter during their lost journey.

May the Lord entice our hearts for the weary and the lost.

Original post from the author at The Two Cities Blog.

Grieving the Spirit (Stanley Ng)

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And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
— Ephesians 4:30 [ESV]

Serving is a blessing for the kingdom of God. I believe God smiles greatly for those who are willing to humbly serve His ministry. As we serve at church or anywhere else, one VERY important person, to be aware of is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity and should be treated as a person, and not a power or thing.

Ephesians 4:30 says, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God." What does this mean? How can we cause grief to the Holy Spirit?  In this passage, we see that grieving the Holy Spirit is related to how we as Christians relate and talk to one another. Previously, Paul writes:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
— Ephesians 4:29 [ESV]

As Christians, we are to be encouraging one another with our words and treating each other in love and forgiveness. When Christians hurt one another with their words, this grieves the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit longs for Christians to live in unity. We are to live in dependence on the Spirit to be able to love one another and treat each other with respect. Because the Spirit lives in us, He is the one who can teach us how to love one another as He loves us at the core of our being. 

Living by the Spirit isn't something that comes easily. It's hard to be dependent on someone else, especially when we typically live our lives according to our own power. When I have a headache, I automatically, and most of time instantaneously, reach for the Tylenol or Advil bottle. Yeah, we can say that God has so graciously blessed our country with medicine to rid these unfortunate pains, but God desires for us to come to Him first and to consult the Holy Spirit for healing. We see multiple accounts in the Gospels where Jesus rebukes diseases. How glorious would it be to make this habitual in my life. The Holy Spirit works whenever He wants, but may I be able to acknowledge, be aware, and live a life that is dependent on the Spirit, as I learn to follow Him and love others. May I not grieve the Holy Spirit and be able to come into repentance with love and obedience when it occurs. May I be open to His leading and be grateful for His grace.

What's All the Fuss in Space? (Stanley Ng)

Computer generated illustration of  two orbiting black holes emanating gravitational waves. (Image: Henze/NASA)

Computer generated illustration of  two orbiting black holes emanating gravitational waves. (Image: Henze/NASA)

Have you ever came across a news feed or article about something phenomenal and didn't have a clue about it? You might begin to wonder whether or not you live under a rock or something...

For me, one of the things that I found very fascinating (and over my head) was this news about gravitational waves. The fascinating part wasn't necessarily the context, but more so the publicity that it had received:

 

Brian Greene stops by Stephen Colbert's "The Late Show" to demonstrate the exciting new scientific discovery of gravitational waves. Surprisingly, Brian Greene's book, The Elegant Universe,  piqued my interest in supernatural philosophies of life.

 

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to listen to astrophysicist Jeffrey Zweerink (RTBUCLA) give a lecture on all the fuss about these gravitational waves. If you're interested, I recommend watching the video and visiting LIGO CalTech for more refined details because they can explain the phenomena much better than I can.

Although the post may seem so far out of place in this blogosphere, there is one thing that can be extrapolated from everything that I learned that evening: science points to our awesome God. How so? To be brief:

First, the gravitational waves that were reported pointed to things in the universe that scientists never even knew existed. If anything, this is humbling to know that we barely know anything at all!

Second, the laws of physics are maintained so consistent across the fabric of space, it points back to the Lord using science as an illustration reminding Israel and the world of our worries and fears. Here are some key moments in Scripture where the Lord points to science as an illustration to His unwavering faithfulness to His people:

33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?

34 “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
that a flood of waters may cover you?
35 Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts
or given understanding to the mind?
37 Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
38 when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods stick fast together?
— Job 38:33-38 [ESV]
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
— Hebrews 1:3 [ESV]

Third, gravitational waves gives us hope to see beyond our limitations. I can imagine my peers getting overly excited that two graphs matched up (with a 7 ms time displacement). This was the sign, this was the key. When the lines matched up, hope and excitement ensued immediately. But, imagine the hope and excitement that Christ has given for us. We're no longer slaves to sin, we're no longer stuck in a pit of sorrow, we're no longer teased by death itself. While I don't want to discount this scientific discovery, I also wonder, "What if the world had the same excitement for Christ's two nail-scarred hands as these scientists have for these two correlating lines?"

In certain circles, bridging science and religion has been difficult for people to support. One side of the argument will say that science limits or "puts God in a box." That is to say, God can only operate with a certain limitation that is defined by the physical laws of the universe. The issue with this claim doesn't begin in the statement, but rather in the false claims that science leaves God "in-the-box".

I personally think that we need to be more aware of the things around us and when can't comprehend it all, we need to rely on others to make sense of God's natural revelation (how God reveals to us in the natural, everyday world) to us. Whether a handyman, the local barista (I encountered one of my old students this week!), or the daily grocer, I find myself always being sharpened by the many professions that I come across. My encouragement isn't to understand everything that I've presented in the news (quite frankly, I don't either), but to see how must of a greater blessing it can be when we fathom the vastness of our Savior.

A Missional Church (Stanley Ng)

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When activities become routine, it can be easy to overlook their significance and simply run on autopilot. This can happen in many areas of life – including church. We can become so familiar with our traditions that we never stop to consider what the church is and why it exists. In fact, we may even forget whose it is and start to think it’s “our” church.

The first mention of the church in the New Testament is in Matthew 16:18, where Jesus said, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” This clearly shows us that the church belongs to Christ, and there will always be conflict involved in the growth. However, victory is assured because it is God’s power at work in the building process.

Although the Lord is the one forming His church, He’s enlisted us to participate in the work. That’s why, before He ascended to heaven, Jesus’ parting words to His disciples were, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). This is the unfinished task of the church, and it is still being accomplished to this very day.

We have a message to bring to the world – that God sent His only Son to earth to pay the penalty for sin with His death on the cross. He did this so those who believe in Him could be forgiven and receive eternal life (John 3:16). Our message is not about a thousand things. We have this one essential truth, and everything we do is because of it. If it’s not, then we are failing to accomplish what Christ called us to do. Unlike so many ideas and philosophies, our message never needs revising. It’s the same one Jesus spoke almost 2,000 years ago, and it still effectively and powerfully transforms people’s lives, no matter their culture or language. 

Christ gave His church a mission to accomplish – to spread the gospel to every tribe, language, people, and nation (Rev. 5:9). Even to the church’s teaching and training through sermons, Bible studies, and Sunday school programs exist to equip God’s people. We must know the truth before we can pass it on to others.

Although the gospel is global in its outreach, it’s personal in its impact. No nation or people group is saved corporately. Faith in Christ and repentance from sins are personal issues. Each person must hear and believe the message in order to be saved.

The motivation for the church’s mission is twofold. First of all, Jesus commands us to make disciples and teach them to observe all His instructions (Matt. 28:19-20). If we call Him Lord, our desire and ambition should be to obey Him. Second, the condition of lost humanity should prod us into action. In the Scriptures, God describes the unredeemed as separated from Him, deceived, darkened in their understanding, helpless to save themselves, and hopeless without Him (Eph. 2:12; 4:17-18). How can we possibly keep to ourselves the only message with the power to transfer people from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s Son?

Our methods for spreading the message of Christ are diverse (1 Cor. 9:16-23). We live in the most amazing time in history with multiple avenues available for reaching the lost. Whether it is through Christian radio, Christian films, internet websites and ministries, or just the traditional modes of visiting a church and hearing the Gospel, the way has been opened like never before for many to hear the Good News of Jesus. Let us be thankful for the Gospel and let us be faithful to use whatever means possible to spread the Gospel to those near and far.