Children’s sermon, article in church magazine,
and sermon for Mongolian congregation
In my church office, pastors get called by their nickname: for instance, Pastor Josh becomes P.J. Mine is “p.N.” One of the main tasks of being a pastor here means preaching sermons. Besides sermons for the English congregation, I have had the opportunity to preach for the children’s ministry, youth ministry, and Mongolian ministry. I’ve also had the chance to share part of my testimony by writing an article for the church magazine. I am also currently leading my second Bible study and I’ve done 3 Friday night worship/prayer times so far.
If you’ve already glimpsed my beautiful graphic, you might think you know what this post is about. This is not my typical blog post as I branch out and express some of my thoughts.
I will have the privilege of teaching a Bible study on Proverbs this fall. Sunday in class, I envisioned a picture to help illustrate NOT just the moral premise of the book of Proverbs and the rhetoric of all wisdom literature BUT primarily an epistemological [i.e., about knowledge] dilemma in which humans find themselves, particularly as creatures.
Many have questioned the Biblical account of the garden of Eden, particularly as it informs the goodness of God. All of Scripture insists on God’s goodness, His trustworthiness, and His fairness. Why, then, would God put a tree in the middle of the garden that could send Adam and Eve to hell? Why is it possible to die in Paradise? In all honesty, I do not know. All I can say is that I think it contributes such a unique narrative tension, and usually I try to explain it away with human will and how God wasn’t going to force us to love Him, but there are still some question marks there for me.
What I will say, by way of hairpin segue, is that humans do not know the consequences of their actions until the consequences are upon them. That is, humans do not have experiential, empirical knowledge of the consequences of their actions until such knowledge is possible and inevitable. I do not want to wander too far afield, because I am only an amateur epistemologist and I do have a point for this post, but the question is, do I really need to burn my hand on every heating element in order to know that it is too hot and I should not touch it?
Enter wisdom. I think a good working definition for wisdom could be [and I am not being technical here at all, I’m not acquainted with all the epistemological jargon] indirect knowledge of consequences for human behavior. Wisdom could be defined as first-hand accounts of consequences. And so my graphic:
Consequences will never be the same!
The reason we should heed wisdom and be wise is because we did not decide the way the world works–God did–and we cannot see past the tip of our noses concerning consequences. Wisdom is the voice of someone who has been there, done that, and may even still have a vantage point to confirm that when God says ‘you shall surely die,’ He’s not lying. I find it funny and frightening that I and other people can be more afraid of, say, heights or the dark, than the fog of war that obscures future consequences. We should be so concerned that we are not wandering further and further down into a labyrinth of bad decisions which might seem passable for now but ends in a trap. But the only way we can avoid that is by keeping ourselves according to God’s word. God sees all, there is no such hindrance as time on His sight, and without being asked, shoves wisdom into our hands and blares it at us from the busy street corner. What a good God!
For the past couple of months, I have had the opportunity to lead worship on Sundays for the youth group in my English congregation (how’s that for qualifiers?). It has been a joyous and daunting opportunity. The youth worship team is very competent and hard-working and the music on Sundays sounds great. It is such a rewarding experience to worship God and then have God use your worship to facilitate more worship for fellow believers.
Thankfully, I do not have to lead every Sunday, because the youth pastor Joshua Suh – while doing the preaching and leading for the youth group – also leads worship on certain occasions as well. In fact, before I came along, he had been doing all the worship leading and preaching himself! Three weeks ago (I think) I got to lead half of the worship times at the annual youth retreat [more on that later]. I am thankful and so glad to be doing this and investing this particular talent.
Leading is hard work
Even this, though, the Lord has used to sanctify and temper my mettle. Pastor Josh gets to pick the songs, since he knows the youth group and the songs they know. This means that sometimes the learning curve for me is steep. Learning a new praise song is not hard: learning it well enough to lead confidently and in time with the rest of a band is hard. It is a great situation because like just about everything in Korea, everyone knows that I am leading not out of sheer personal merit but because of my position. So I have humble myself to receive grace, to work hard to learn and lead, and to be transparent. Thankfully, again, the Lord has blessed and most Sundays the worship time is beautiful. I have really become more in touch with expressing my feelings towards God and being together with others: I am far more willing to sing out and tear up in the midst of praise.
But some days, things fall apart. Our first worship time for the youth retreat was one of those times. We were introducing a couple of new songs to the youth group, and there were 2 or 3 songs that were entirely new to me. Well, we got on stage and limped through the first one but in the second song, the wheels came off. The keyboard wasn’t giving us a pulse to keep time, the lead guitar forgot his intro riff, and I didn’t put my capo on my guitar [we had decided to change the key at practice a few days ago but that change was not made on the chord charts] so I was in the wrong key! Eventually I stopped playing and let the bass give me the right key to sing. The song was the new “The Way” from Tim Hughes and co. and so if you listen to the song, you’ll know the melody line is not your usual, paced praise tune and the chorus kicks up notably. So, just imagine tires screeching in a parking garage and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what it sounded like. After that set, I was the most ashamed I’d ever been in my life – my first distinct failure since being in South Korea. The guest speaker got up to speak and I just prayed and processed and persuaded myself not to walk out of the worship hall and to the nearest bus stop for the airport. It was that bad. When the guest speaker ended, it was decided that we wouldn’t do the ending song we had planned, ostensibly because of time constraints. I felt very responsible for letting the youth team down, the youth group and all the adults there down, including the other pastors.
I could say more, but in that moment, I felt and experienced being completely melted down as all my impurities of pride, selfishness, etc. rose to the surface of my conscious. I had to forgive myself and feel exposed, vulnerable. Everyone now knew I was completely mortal and fallible as a worship leader. But, I am pretty sure that led us to more accurate intimacy for the duration of the retreat and so that picture you see up there of me confidently leading is only after the Lord has His way with me in front of everyone. It is experiences like these that I could never have sought or contrived myself but which the Lord has brought me to in order to make me more and more capably His servant.
I recently preached a sermon for a Mongolian service – it had to be translated from my English into Mongolian. The interpreter was a lady from the Mongolian congregation. Thus, the sermon is short and sweet. It is a sermon that I actually preached before at Northwest – then, it had to be translated into Burmese for the congregation I served there for a while.
MARK 1:29 – 31 [ESV]
“1:29 Now as soon as they left the synagogue, they entered Simon and Andrew’s house, with James and John. 1:30 Simon’s mother-in-law was lying down, sick with a fever, so they spoke to Jesus at once about her. 1:31 He came and raised her up by gently taking her hand. Then the fever left her and she began to serve them.”
In the beginning of His ministry, Jesus asked some men to follow Him. Jesus asked these fishermen to be His disciples. These disciples are famous because they followed Jesus. Peter, James and John were the disciples who were closest to Jesus. In the Gospels, Peter, James and John are mentioned many times. In fact, Jesus gives Peter that name, “Peter,” meaning rock. In this story from the gospel of Mark, Peter is called by his older name, Simon. Peter says many things to Jesus; Peter is the one who made 3 denials of Jesus, and in the gospel of John, Jesus talked to Peter after the resurrection. Jesus chose Peter, James and John so that they could spread the gospel, even after Jesus ascended back to Heaven.
But in this story, the main character is a woman who does not say anything. The story does not record any words from her. She is the mother of Peter’s wife. In fact, at first, she is lying down when Jesus and the disciples enter the house. She is sick with a fever. The disciples are the ones who have to speak to Jesus about her. Jesus comes to her, and raises her up, gently taking her hand. Because of Jesus, she is healed and no longer lying ill. Her response is important. She does not say anything. She responds by beginning to serve Jesus and the disciples.
I think this short, small Bible story is an important and powerful teaching. In this small story, we see God’s plan for us. This woman, who is not even named or quoted, sets a simple, powerful example for all believers. Jesus comes to us, and we are lying down, we are sick with sin. We cannot even ask Jesus for help. Because of God’s will, Jesus comes to us and gently raises us up to health and life. But, do we get up and serve Jesus and His disciples? Do you follow this woman’s good example?
Do we take action, because of what God has done to bring us back to life? Jesus said the greatest commandment is Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus commands us to love God with everything, with our actions, our good deeds, and not just our words. Jesus commands us to love God because God has given us life, God has given us health, God has given us strength to serve Him! Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as ourself because that is the healthy thing to do. In one action, this woman fulfilled the two greatest commandments. When she served Jesus and His disciples, she perfectly fulfilled God’s plan and purpose for her.
How can believers preach the good news with our words, and then not serve each other with our actions? How can we talk to people about the gospel, but not take care of each other with the love that Jesus has given us? How do we expect people to listen to us speak about the love of God when we do not follow Jesus’ example? We do not even follow this faithful woman’s example: getting up and serving one another. How can we expect people to respond to God’s invitation, God’s salvation, when we do not even show our thankfulness by loving our neighbors as ourselves?
So we have this small story in the gospel of Mark to set the example for us. When Jesus gives us His grace that heals us, we should serve Him and His disciples. If you want to be a follower of Jesus, it won’t be with fancy words or memorable performances, but with active service. It should be simple for us to serve one another. God has brought us all together with His powerful plan. We are together because of Jesus. He has brought us together and made it simple for us to obey His commandment by serving one another! Let us fulfill the command of God, let us follow God’s plan and purpose for us: let us serve one another.
[Note: this passage is also by no means insignificant to the entire argument of Mark. I’ll quote Dr. Kuruvilla at length:
“In all these accounts of Jesus’ increasing popularity, only this woman, Simon’s mother-in-law, is said to minister to (“serve,” 1:31) Jesus–an act of self-giving. Indeed, her story . . . is bounded on either side . . . by statements attesting to Jesus’ incredible popularity. Nobody in that idolizing crowd is mentioned as giving to Jesus, not even the disciples. Everyone is out to get, except for this anonymous woman. Amidst all who are seeking only to get from Jesus, here is one who was willing to give, because she herself had been given [sic]. It is no doubt significant that there are only two instances of [diakoneoo] (“serve”) with humans as subjects in Mark’s Gospel (1:31 and 15:41), and both times the subjects are women. A subtle jab! The narrator is pointing an appreciative finger at the example of this mother-in-law, a woman who does the male disciples one better! She is already doing what Jesus himself will later model for his disciples. The same verb [diakoneoo] is found in the statement on the ESSENCE of Jesus’ mission [emphasis added]: the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve (10:45). The narrator is implying that this woman is a true disciple, serving after the fashion of her Lord. Simon’s mother-in-law is thus a foil to both crowds and disciples, indeed, to all who might follow Jesus for the wrong reasons.” (Mark, pp. 38-39)