How God Works…

If you are reading this, it is most likely because you read the email about my resignation and wanted to learn more. Perhaps you want to know how to discern God’s leading in your life. Perhaps you want to know the “real reason” I left Philippi. Perhaps you are just bored and clicked because you always click on random links. Perhaps you stumbled on this blog and have no idea what I’m talking about. Well, here goes. (Warning…it’s pretty long!)

On my 13th birthday my dad bought me a watch with Prov 3:5-6 inscribed on the back. He told me that from that time forward, I was to consider him more of a friend than a father and I was to learn to trust the Lord first for my direction in life. For the past 14 years the Lord has never failed me, and I can honestly say it’s been a fun and crazy ride. Things really got interesting shortly after Paula and I were married.

Our first home was in Dayton, TN, a tiny town of about 1,000 people in the middle of nowhere. I worked at our alma matter and we were a happy couple preparing to move to Dallas, TX and attend Dallas Theological Seminary. I had housing and job lined up and was ready for the adventure of seminary. I knew God had called me to pastor, and I knew I needed to go to seminary to pastor, and my dad and many of my professors had gone to DTS, so everything looked like a no-brainer. In November of 2001, I received a random call from my 5th grade Sunday School teacher inviting me to come to Maryland as his “English pastor” whatever that was. Paula and I flew up to BWI the week after thanksgiving and had our first introduction to the Korean-American church. Honestly, I thought he had scraped together all the Koreans in the Washington metro area and had enough for a church! I had no idea of the number of Koreans in the area or the profound impact they would have on our life for the next five years.

During the interview process, it seemed clear the Lord was leading us here. How did I know that? The answer is two-fold. First and foremost, we had a strong peace about the situation. The longer we staid, the crazier it seemed (neither of us had ever attended a church that operated in a foreign language, the church was in trailers without heat, often there was no running water, etc.) yet through all of this, we had a strong peace in our spirits that this was what God was calling us to do. Secondly, the logic slowly began to add up. I knew I was called to ministry, and here was an opportunity to 1- start straight into ministry right out of college, 2- not just be a youth pastor but to basically get to preach every Sunday and “run a small church,” 3- have seminary completely paid for, and 4- get what I had never thought of: cross-cultural experience. The only thing that was missing was that we knew in our hearts that we were called to all people, not to Koreans only. We told the pastor that in the parking lot of Friendlys on Cherry Hill Rd. I don’t know why this didn’t bother him, but he said it was ok, and we agreed to come.

That church worked well for just over two years until God moved us yet again. How did I know God was moving us this time? This one was a bit easier. I returned from our winter retreat (which had been a great experience) to be met by one of the parents in the parking lot. He shook my hand, nodded sadly, and in his broken English said “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Apparently on the weekend we were gone for the retreat, the church had completely split and all of the parents of the entire youth group had left the church. This left the church with 15 people, two full time staff and only 2 kids in the youth group (the pastor’s daughters). Needless to say, it was pretty clear that God was doing something at that time. I began to pray fervently that God would open another door, especially because I had only one more year of seminary to go, and I wanted to stay in Maryland to finish.

I really didn’t want to do another Korean church for several reasons. 1- I had heard and observed that the senior pastors were often jerks, 2- the language barrier was severely frustrating, 3- I didn’t like the idea of the parents isolating themselves from their kids at church, and 4- they often lived in a Korean “bubble” not wanting to integrate into the culture to which they had immigrated. Especially since Paula and I have been called to all people, doing another Korean ministry wasn’t what I had in mind. Nevertheless, this blog entry is about how God leads in my life, not about what I want out of life.

Interestingly enough, during my time at the first church, I had a few dreams. One of them was to plant a church. I had even taken a church planting class. The other was to take up running. Oh, and I have always dreamed of picking a town in the “best places to live in the US” and moving there to raise a family. This little aside would interestingly come into play later.

In God’s providence, there was only one church that seemed remotely interested in my resume, and that was Philippi. I hated the thought of another Korean church (for the reasons listed above), but it seemed that God wasn’t going to be so gracious to me. In my pessimism, I came to the interviews at Philippi ready to prove to God that this situation couldn’t work. Much to my surprise, God knocked down my objections one at a time. First, Pastor Song was the opposite of a jerk, so that took care of opposition number one. Secondly, Philippi is more of a 1.5 generation church, so many people spoke English, and I didn’t feel as much of a culture/language barrier. Thirdly, I wasn’t being asked to do youth ministry, but rather an inclusive college/adult English ministry. Finally, this ministry was supposed to be not just Korean, but multi-cultural. I couldn’t believe my ears. God had taken all my concerns and effectively eliminated them. On top of that, I was basically planting a new church and I got to live in Columbia, MD, (ranked #2 or 3 in the country a few years ago), and there are 90 some miles of running trails all over the place, beginning behind my apartment.

What a dream come true! Again, God led in two ways: peace in my spirit and peace in the logical realms. I have explained how God worked out the logical ways, and I can’t fail to mention how the peace of God slowly grew within me during the month or so that we interviewed and candidated at Philippi. God was good, and we were excited about His provision through Philippi. Once again, I did stress to the search committee that Paula and I strongly feel called to all people, not just Koreans, but was assured this was what they wanted especially as they were looking to begin a multi-cultural ministry.

We moved here and have thoroughly enjoyed 3 years of ministry. To be sure, ministry is never easy, and it has been very difficult at times. However, the rewards have outweighed the difficulties, and overall, it has been a positive experience. God brought me here for several reasons. Some of those were to contribute to Philippi, but many of them were for God to work on me. One of the main things God wanted to do in my life was to help me learn how to get along and minister effectively with people outside of my theological persuasion. Philippi is a unique church in that it stands for not taking a position on a lot of key issues. I was really surprised by the lack of theological questioning in my interviews and the apparent openness to other positions of various staff members. However, I have found that in Christ, as long as you are committed to the gospel and refuse to compromise on that, you can have unity in the body. The greatest example I can share is of myself and Pastor Kwon. Honestly, we have never really had any semblance of a conversation due to the language barrier, but we have set side by side in staff meetings for the past 3 years and we pray for each other every week. Although I still don’t know what he does at Philippi, what he believes, or how he interacts with God, I know that I have the deepest love and respect for him and am glad to call him my brother and fellow-worker. I never would have been able to do this had I not come to Philippi. I will always treasure what I have learned through Pastor Song’s philosophy and I am thankful to the Lord for bringing me here to learn this.

Once I finished seminary and was ordained, life was wonderful! I had persevered through 3 years of school, Philippi continued to love and bless us, my family was growing, the English Ministry was growing, and life was fantastic. However, I began to feel like I was losing direction in my life. I have always been a very focused, driven person, and with seminary done, my main focus was removed. At first I tried throwing myself into further building the ministry at Philippi, but over time, began to be more and more frustrated. Because one of the foundational principles of the church is unity, it is very difficult to maintain high standards, focused vision, etc. because if you do these things, you will naturally lose those who aren’t willing to go along with the vision, etc. In many ways, I was running up against a wall, and I found myself increasingly frustrated with the direction of the church.

Now this is the point in the story where everyone jumps up and says “so that’s the real reason you are leaving” and that’s where I shout out emphatically “NO, keep on reading!”

Over the past year, I have wrestled greatly with the frustrations I have felt about the slow progress the church is making on nearly every front (the building, holiness, administratively, etc.). However, as I prayed about it and searched the Bible, I couldn’t justify these grounds as reasons to leave a ministry. I couldn’t find them as a reason to stay either, but I knew that to leave for these reasons would be sinful. God had called me here, and I had to stay until He called me away. The problem was that as long as I was looking to leave, it meant that I wasn’t wholeheartedly fulfilling my calling to God and was living in sin, even as I stayed. So it became clear to me that God was calling me to stay and endure, even though I couldn’t prove that Biblically with a verse. I kept begging God to change my heart, to lead me away, to change the situation or something. Above all, I kept asking God to show me a Bible passage where someone knew they were called to do something else, but remained in a tough situation instead. All the stories I knew of were of people forsaking everything to follow Christ, and it seemed that the best thing to do would be to forsake the frustrations and leave. I knew that was wrong though because on the EM side, there was constant growth, awesome things happening, and God was clearly at work. (I heard rumors that He was at work on the KM side as well, but not knowing the language, it was always hard to tell what was going on….this has always been one of the frustrations of cross-cultural ministry: you can’t experience the good times with them).

Finally, on Friday morning, Jan 4, during my personal prayer time, God hit me with the passage I needed. It hit hard, because it was the sermon I would be preaching on Sunday, Jan 6. It was the story of Jesus teaching in the temple when He was 12 years old. His mom and dad rebuked Him, and His response was “didn’t you know I needed to be about My Father’s business?” Nevertheless, He went back to Nazareth and submitted to them for 18 years. When I realized that the ideal thing for Him was to stay in the temple, but that He submitted to His parents instead, God nailed me and told me that I was to do the same thing. Yes, I was beginning to have different desires about greater holiness, more accountability, clearer direction and priorities, but God was asking me to submit to the situation He had placed me in. It was at that moment that I finally gave into God and decided I would stay at Philippi without trying to leave.

One thing I have forgotten to mention is that in my life anyway, you don’t get the summers off between semesters. In other words, as soon as I pass one class in the Christian life, God seems to immediately advance me to another.

You should also know of some of the “dreams” that had begun to swirl around in my heart. One was to be closely mentored by a pastor (which would have to take place in an all English church, where I could observe weddings, funerals, etc.). Paula said I needed a pastor that would kick my tail because I was getting lazy in my personal integrity and in my doctrine. Secondly, I really don’t want to rent for the rest of my life, but the house prices have continued to rise just as fast as my salary, always staying just out of reach. I also began to dream of slowing down, and of really working on a team with a clear common goal and direction. As I explained above though, on Jan 4, I gave all this up, and began to plan for the next several years at Philippi.

On Jan 7 we left to go to Peru, a whole other blog entry in itself, but I knew that God had clearly called us to go on that trip. I wasn’t really sure why we had to go, but I knew that we did. The entire time I was there in August with the team, I had a strong sense in my spirit that I had to return and bring my family. I wasn’t sure if it was because I was being called to Peru as a missionary or for another reason, but I knew that I would be back with my family. I didn’t know it would be within six months. However, through the fall, especially through some of the sermons I taught, I realized that I needed to go in January. God opened the doors for us to do this, so we went in faith, having an idea that God would work through our trip, but not really sure what He would do.

God did some great things on the trip. The first thing He did was to confirm that we weren’t called to be missionaries to Peru. Because I loved the team unity of the missionaries there, I had an inclination to go joint them. On this past trip however, I was able to discern this was a selfish motive and not one from the Lord. Secondly, God laid it on Paula’s heart to resign her position as CM director. It had been taking a toll on the family for some time, and we tried to justify it as service for the kingdom, but while being in Peru, we realized it wasn’t a sacrifice God wanted us to make. He called Paula to be my wife and a mother to our children, and that must be what she focuses on now. For that reason, she resigned as soon as we returned to the States.

During our time there, the missionary’s wife happened to mention that her church was looking for an associate pastor. Since I love churches so much, I asked her a lot of questions about the church, not so much for my own sake, but because I love knowing what God is doing in other churches, and I like to be able to offer advice, pray through problems and rejoice when great things are happening. As she began to describe the church, though, I began to realize that in many ways, it sounded like it would be a unique fit for my gifts and needs. I didn’t begin the conversation with that in mind, and I tried to put it out of my mind, but as the week progressed and we all talked about it more, I was more intrigued.

Paula and I went for a walk in the streets of Trujillo and talked about it. We concluded that we were content to stay at Philippi, but that this new church was posing an interesting problem. I was frustrated, because I had finally come to peace with staying at Philippi and was now confronted with another option. I really wished I hadn’t heard of the opportunity. However, because we believe that you should always be open to the Lord’s will, we decided to send a resume.

How do you know if you are open to the Lord’s will? This can be a hard question to answer, but honestly, I believe that God makes His will very clear. Our responsibility is to knock on all the doors we see and then just see which doors God opens. If you don’t knock, the doors won’t be opened. With that in mind, I realized that it would be easy for my resume to be rejected (I had sent out 4-5 resumes in October when I was discouraged, and didn’t even get a response from most of them…VERY discouraging!!!). So I sent a resume while I was still in Peru.

Within a week, we had exchanged multiple emails, questionnaires, etc. and had scheduled an interview. Over the past two months, God has just continued to open doors there and close doors at Philippi. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s go back to the two ways God leads you: through your spirit and through logic.

In our spirits, both Paula and I felt more and more at peace about the move. Though we opposed it at first, and our first few visits there were rough, the more we prayed about it and the more we experienced it, the more we came to feel not just a peace about the situation, but also a confirmation in our hearts leading us to make the move.

Secondly, God generally acts in wise ways, and we can draw on wisdom. Everything about the move slowly began to make sense. With the new baby, we have to get a larger home, and the price of housing there is significantly less. With the boys getting bigger, we need a home with a basement, etc. My gifts are reaching their limit at Philippi. Philippi needs a Korean-speaking EM pastor to fully assist in the ministry here, and I am realizing that in many ways, my personality and gifts are not what the church needs in the near future. I am way too driven, and need to cut back and rest more. Paula keeps telling me I will die by the time I’m 30, and I am beginning to agree with her. The problem is that there are so many awesome things at Philippi to throw myself into, and I get addicted to the ministry. This sounds good at first but is really unhealthy in the long run.

I think God brought me here to fulfill a task, and I can only hope that those in the AM have grown as much as I have. I have gained tremendous insights into the way God works, His word, etc. and I have tried to faithfully pass them on to each of you. I have learned a great deal from Pastor Song, Ray Fox, and many others. Above all, I have greatly benefited by joining each of you on a part of your spiritual journey. I pray that by God moving on you will be challenged to continue to follow Him faithfully every day. We are all pilgrims, constantly on a journey. We are also servants of the most high God and serving Him faithfully is the greatest thing we can do.

Never forget that I will always consider myself to be your pastor. Feel free to call or email any time. I still meet with people from my old church (I met one guy this morning at 6:30am in Silver Spring, so I will make time for each of you as needed). Please keep me and my family in your prayers, and know that we will continue to pray for you. Stay faithful!

In Christ and for His Kingdom,

Robert

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2 thoughts on “How God Works…

Add yours

  1. Thanks for the entry, Robert! I have a feeling I will be coming back to this entry numerous times in the future. Every testimony, sermon, or bit of advice you have shared has always helped. Whether you feel like you have succeeded or failed with certain objectives in the past, please know that your lifestyle has always been encouragement to me. Nothing you’ve done has been left untouched by the Lord. He takes scrap and garbage and makes it into treasure and jewels. When we are weak, His strength shines. You know that better than most. It’s not a man’s strengths or weaknesses that define him or Him, but about the trust of that man in the Lord’s strength and sovereign will. I encourage you to continue to always put your faith and trust in our Lord Jesus Christ! He is the Ultimate Shepherd.

    I won’t waste any more words here because we have an eternity to worship and serve God together, but I just wanted to let you know I appreciate the entry and I know many others do as well.

  2. Hi Pastor Robert, really randomly stumbled upon your page and read the entire entry. I know we’ve only talked once or twice at Starbucks regarding KCM.. haha but thanks for sharing everything so openly and honestly. It’s really amazing to see how you and Paula function as one entity! There’s one part I read in your entry that I totally agree with..

    One thing I have forgotten to mention is that in my life anyway, you don’t get the summers off between semesters. In other words, as soon as I pass one class in the Christian life, God seems to immediately advance me to another.

    So true. The Lord always works for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose so, I know that you and your family are in good hands 🙂 God bless you pastor.

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