A Christmas Reflection on Shame

Shame(On December 21, 2014, I preached a 7 minute message on the Incarnation, teaching about the charge given to Joseph by the angel in Matthew 1:18-25- to follow through with his marriage, and to name the child Jesus. The main focus of the message was that Jesus was born into human shame in order to save us. Joseph’s fear was that he would be dishonored by taking an unfaithful wife, which was devastating in Ancient Near Eastern cultures. Christ was born into a scandalized family. He was poor in more ways than just material wealth – he was poor even in social esteem. He received human shame He did not deserve, in a wonderful exchange, so that we might receive divine honor that we do not deserve.)

So as a follow up to the sermon this last Sunday – sometimes there are things I wish I had said, or wish I had time to say. A quick reflection on how Jesus was incarnated into human hostility and shame for our sakes.

From even before His birth, there has always been a dual perspective on Jesus, the Messiah. He polarized opinions everywhere. Either He was the promised King, who would rule righteously and be the savior of His people (Simeon, Joseph, shepherds, Magi), or He was a threat to an established way of life, an established system of power and honor (Pharisees, Scribes, Herod, Rome). He was born into a two-layer system of honor and shame- he was honored by those who knew who He really was, he was shamed by those who felt threatened by who he was.

As Christians awaiting glory, we also exist in a two-layer system of honor and shame. The system of the world is passing away, it shall soon be reversed by Jesus, it is inherently flawed at the core by sin. But just as Israel awaited the Messiah to come and overthrow the unjust reign of evil men, so we await the second coming of Christ to truly judge rightly, to give honor, to designate shame, and finally to completely obliterate the old system of power and honor that would view the Christ as a disgraced man. One day we will see every atheist, Hindhu, Buddhist, Catholic, Christian, animist, polytheist, etc, give proper honor and recognition to Jesus for who He really is. And the saints who maintained their witness will share in the fruits of that new, hitherto subversive, secondary system of honor and shame.

Let us live so as to pursue honor in Christ’s kingdom, scorning any shame the world can ascribe to us.

TL;DR – 16 “Thus the last shall be first, and the first last.” (Mat 20:16 NAS)

Praise be to God, for Jesus has pursued last place harder than all of us.

May you reflect on Christ, born for you, this Christmas! Merry Christmas, NHEM family!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Two articles about Millennials and Church. Brain food.

Why Millennials are Leaving the Church by Rachel Held Evans

How to Keep Millennials in the Church by Brett McCracken (Response to above article)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

NHEM Vision pt. 2 – Multi-Ethnic Church


“The vision of New Hope English Ministries is to become an autonomous, multi-ethnic, multi-generational church…”

We learned last week that moving toward a more autonomous church congregation, i.e. a semi-church-plant, will yield multiple benefits for New Hope as a whole, the local churches around Buffalo, and the Kingdom. A newly formed autonomous church community can much more effectively reach new demographics including those of different ethnic backgrounds and those of different generational backgrounds.

First let’s focus on Multi-Ethnicity. Why pursue this as a component to our church vision? Shouldn’t our congregational demographics be made up naturally and organically, i.e. whoever comes to the Lord and/or joins our church is welcome? Won’t this dilute our own unique church culture?

The “why” is both biblical and strategic. The bible teaches us emphatically that neither race, nor gender, nor socio-economic status need be a barrier for fellowship or communal worship. In metropolitan contexts, the early church was also composed of much racial/cultural diversity. Unity was both possible and natural knowing that believers shared many commonalities in Christ and as His people. Ref. Gal 3:28-29, Eph 2:11-18. God does not show partiality when it comes to His grace nor His judgment, and therefore unity as God’s adopted children is based on our new relationship with Christ.

Now just because unity is possible, does not mean that any particular local church body should strive to be multi-ethnic. Many healthy churches remain mono-ethnic or pan-Asian or simply have no strategy or targeting priority with the demographics they reach. Why should we seek to “taste the rainbow”?

In short, it’s a question of evangelism. The church is called to reach their local community with the gospel and add them to their church numbers. Ref. Acts 2:47, 5:15. For us as a predominantly bi-cultural, or at best pan-Asian, congregation, what has that looked like in the past?

It has largely consisted of Christian migration. Christian Asian-Americans move to Buffalo for school or training, look for a church, find New Hope is alive and active, and join us. Once in a while we get a couple new believers through campus ministries that end up joining us as well. Each year we get a decent crowd of new community members to New Hope. So what’s the problem? It’s two-fold.

1) Problem: No lasting growth. The problem with Christian-migration growth is that Christians also migrate OUT of Buffalo. If we grow each fall because of new students, we also shrink each summer because of graduates. Those who stay behind and join New Hope long term are often too few, and those who finally leave are often too great. The composition of our membership should not depend on migration patterns, but on faithful witnessing, evangelism, deepening of discipleship, and commitment. Currently it keeps quite level in membership because very few people ultimately decide to live in Buffalo, but many people see the merit of coming through here for school. No bueno.

2) Problem: We’re not winning people to Christ. As long as we’re primarily composed of a mono-ethnic/cultural background, ethnicity/culture/language/expectations/etc will always remain a barrier between ourselves and our non-Asian neighbors. And if you haven’t noticed, Buffalo is about as yellow as salt and pepper (i.e. white and black, folks). For residents to evangelize their co-workers, neighbors, and general community, we hit a major wall when it’s time for them to commit to our church body. Missiological studies show that when a person is forced to assimilate to another culture in order to accept Christianity, they are severely inhibited in reaching their own peers of their former people group, and become largely ineffective gospel agents because they become an outcast amongst their own people. Ex. If a black person believes in the gospel and joins our church, he would largely need to understand Asian cultural motifs, expectations, and spirituality in order to fit in. This is a tremendous challenge for someone who has just met Jesus, and is an unnecessary burden on Christian faith, as James and Peter and the apostles deliberated upon in Jerusalem in Acts 15 (i.e. you don’t need to be circumcised to be a Christian). One should, by all means possible, be allowed to retain their own culture when becoming a believer. This leads to the fulfillment of the great commission that all nations will become disciples, i.e. all ethnic people groups. For us as New Hope, this limitation has inhibited us from reaching out with our faith. If we could break the multi-ethnic % barrier, about 20% non-oriental-Asian, we’ll have a much easier time integrating a non-believer into our church body and thereby witnessing Jesus to them. Long-term, this is the only sustainable growth and evangelism model- reaching our local community with the gospel and winning new converts.

The benefit of being able to effectively reach our community despite cultural/ethnic/socio-economic barriers are multiple, but a simple summary is this – if we grow by new believers becoming long-term resident believers committed to New Hope, NHEM will continue to grow, be revived in spirit and passion and energy, and will finally generate momentum to become a Kingdom-building force in Buffalo rather than a nice Asian club of Christians getting together to learn and worship. Christ calls us to have our joy-giving relationship with Him to be a contagion in every community we inhabit. When that never grows up to be a priority of a church, the greatest mission of the church shrinks in to a “should”, and where a church has no heart to obey Christ in increasing His glory among a greater network of people, the pleasure and power of Christ’s presence will ultimately leave.

TL;DR – we want to be a Multi-Ethnic congregation, not because God loves skittles, but because by doing so we will be a more revived, passionate, Jesus-obeying church.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Vision for New Hope


“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Warren Bennis

“The vision of New Hope Presbyterian Church English Ministries is to become an autonomous, multi-generational, multi-ethnic church which celebrates the gospel of Jesus Christ in life and teaching and reaches the greater Buffalo area with the good news of Jesus.” – New Hope English Ministries vision

“Oh boy…” – Chris Jhu

Where are we, as New Hope’s English Ministry, going, and why are we going?I’d like to focus on the first aspect of our vision and why we should pursue its realization – Autonomy

1) Autonomy – to peacefully and lovingly particularize the English Ministries of New Hope from the greater congregational body. This means we would develop and install our own congregational leadership, i.e. session elders, and become a separate church body from that of New Hope Presbyterian Church. It will require us to take on greater responsibility and commitment for our own care and operation. To become autonomous would also allow us to more effectively govern our own members, so that we can become more mature in faith and praxis and so bless our community and bless New Hope as a ministering sister congregation. In many ways, it parallels many of the benefits and pitfalls of church planting- in fact, it is basically a church plant…a slow, planned, pre-membership-loaded church plant.

1a) Why? First, read this. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/82646202/Why_Plant_Churches.pdfTo summarize for the time-crunched or lazy – Jesus basically instructs us to multiply congregations, and not just increase congregational size. This was also the strategy of His apostles, particularly Paul. Secondly, new congregational bodies as you might see in a church plant is demonstrably the most effective way to reach new people groups, new residents, and new generations of believers (which will lead us to our other vision points). And lastly, new church congregations revitalize, revive, and bless other churches in the area, especially a “mother” church that gives it birth. Although it may seem like a new and growing church body would compete with and/or drain other church bodies, actually the reverse is true. New church plants/congregations bring life and renewed health to other churches.

For us specifically, particularization from New Hope will ultimately allow us to grow, pursue our church vision to more faithfully and effectively reach Buffalo across generations and ethnic lines, and ultimately will bless our mother congregation of KM as we develop newer, deeper, more responsible and mature membership and leadership.

To all New Hopers – please read the article above and get on board!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Five Things the Pastor’s Wife is Doing for NHEM


“Happy Wife, Happy Life.” — Every experienced husband…ever.

Perhaps this post will be a little self-gratifying, but I thought I’d give some props to one of the most unappreciated servants of any church – the pastor’s wife! In Korean churches, this role is titled “Samonim”, or 3-5-nim. Figure that out!

Now the pastor’s wife has no biblical duties, qualifications, or particular roles other than that outlined for all wives. But here are some things your local church 3-5-nim is doing behind the scenes. In no particular order-

1) She’s developing relationships with the hard-to-reach areas of our church. Specifically, she’s spending time cultivating relationships with many of our KM member counter-parts, especially those who are younger parents sojourning in Buffalo. Why is this important? In our particular EM, we have charge over the children and youth of KM. Without some solid inter-ministry communication, it’s easy for hurt feelings to develop on both sides of the fence. KM parents may begin to brew discontent as they feel their needs are not being met, and EM servants may begin to feel resentful that no support is being shown. This is a recipe for fairly nasty conflict, and an easy way for a ministry to brew up some negative feelings. Enter 1st gen out-going pastor’s wife! She’s able to mediate and communicate expectations, feelings, and reasoning to a certain degree on both sides. She’s one of the few all important “bridge” persons in our church, which will be crucial for healthy particularization (autonomy) to occur. My wife and I both believe our family was called to New Hope, not just me, and I think one of her greatest contributions to our ministry will be in this area.

2) Noon-Chi (untranslatable…situational awareness, intuition, contextual perception, unspoken communication sensitivity…basically a female’s sixth sense!). She has the power to perceive things occurring in our ministry which may not be directly spoken. For some reason, my wife is always the first person to notice when two parties are not getting along with one another, when two people seem to be dating, when someone’s looking burnt out, when there seems to be discontent somewhere, etc. She’s not omniscient, but her sensitivity to unspoken things has helped me in my approach to certain issues with far greater wisdom.

3) A different perspective. Very often I’ll find myself thinking out loud about church issues, policies, history, precedent, decisions that need to be made, etc, and I’ll start to get set on a certain action, when Ji Hye will chime in and hit me with a lightning bolt of common sense. Sometimes it was such an obvious truth I was overlooking, and I just needed a voice to crystallize it. At other times it was really just my sinful, selfish complaining that needed to be shut up and put in check. Having another perspective on church issues can really help temper my approach to ministry to not be so egocentric and myopic. She’s also shot down some stupid ideas in the past with blunt truth, “No babe, that’s stupid. That’s never going to work.”

4) Keeps the pastor from getting too proud. My wife is the champion for shorter sermons, more diligent labor, a richer prayer life. She’s the one who will challenge me when I’m becoming idolatrous, when I’m being negligent of my responsibilities, when I’m being inappropriate or rude. Although rebuking laziness or sin may not be limited to the pastor’s wife, I think she does it best – with the most grace and the most insight (pay attention Eihing!).

5) Becomes a gap-filler, as much as she’s able, in church needs. She’s a Friday food purchaser, sometimes a cook or dishwasher, a fellowship hostess, a counselor, a new-member integrator through home lunches, and lately she’s even looked around for spouses for our single CSers. Before Collin was born she was a Jr. High ministry teacher, a pastor’s wife in a Korean Ministry (like deacon 2.0), an infant ministry caretaker, and lots of other roles.

These are just 5 things that came to mind as I reflected on the wonderful ministries my wife engages in behind the scenes.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Video Games, Porn, and Addiction


An older article I had copy-pasted into my archives. Sorry no photos, they didn’t copy well.

* Not implying that video-games cause mass shootings or psychotic episodes, but there’s definitely a self-control problem in our generation of which these things are symptomatic…*

‘The Demise of Guys’: How video games and porn are ruining a generation

By Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan, Special to CNN

May 24, 2012 — Updated 1351 GMT (2151 HKT)

Video games can go wrong when the person playing them is desensitized to reality, the authors say.


  • Authors argue that video games and porn create “arousal addictions”
  • Young guys are digitally rewired in a new way that demands constant stimulation
  • Video games go wrong when the person playing them is desensitized to reality

Editor’s note: Psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo is a professor emeritus at Stanford University and is world-renowned for his 1971 research, the Stanford Prison Experiment. Zimbardo teamed up with artist and psychologist Nikita Duncan to write “The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It,” released Wednesday by TED Books.

(CNN) — Is the overuse of video games and pervasiveness of online porn causing the demise of guys?

Increasingly, researchers say yes, as young men become hooked on arousal, sacrificing their schoolwork and relationships in the pursuit of getting a tech-based buzz.

Every compulsive gambler, alcoholic or drug addict will tell you that they want increasingly more of a game or drink or drug in order to get the same quality of buzz.

Video game and porn addictions are different. They are “arousal addictions,” where the attraction is in the novelty, the variety or the surprise factor of the content. Sameness is soon habituated; newness heightens excitement. In traditional drug arousal, conversely, addicts want more of the same cocaine or heroin or favorite food.

The consequences could be dramatic: The excessive use of video games and online porn in pursuit of the next thing is creating a generation of risk-averse guys who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school and employment.

Stories about this degeneration are rampant: In 2005, Seungseob Lee, a South Korean man, went into cardiac arrest after playing “StarCraft” for nearly 50 continuous hours. In 2009, MTV’s “True Life” highlighted the story of a man named Adam whose wife kicked him out of their home — they have four kids together — because he couldn’t stop watching porn.

Dr. Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan are the authors of “The Demise of Guys.”

Norwegian mass murder suspect Anders Behring Breivik reported during his trial that he prepared his mind and body for his marksman-focused shooting of 77 people by playing “World of Warcraft” for a year and then “Call of Duty” for 16 hours a day.

Research into this area goes back a half-century.

Breivik claims killing was ‘necessary’

In 1954, researchers Peter Milner and James Olds discovered the pleasure center of the brain. In their experiments, an electrical current was sent to the limbic system of a rat’s brain whenever it moved to a certain area of its cage. The limbic sytem is a portion of the brain that controls things like emotion, behavior and memory. The researchers hypothesized that if the stimulation to the limbic system were unpleasant, the rats would stay away from that part of the cage.

Surprisingly, the rats returned to that portion of the cage again and again, despite the sensation.

In later experiments, when they were allowed to push a stimulation lever on their own accord, they self-stimulated hundreds of times per hour. Even when given the option to eat when hungry or to stimulate the pleasure center, the rats chose the stimulation until they were physically exhausted and on the brink of death.

This new kind of human addictive arousal traps users into an expanded present hedonistic time zone. Past and future are distant and remote as the present moment expands to dominate everything. That present scene is totally dynamic, with images changing constantly.

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that “regular porn users are more likely to report depression and poor physical health than nonusers are. … The reason is that porn may start a cycle of isolation. … Porn may become a substitute for healthy face-to-face interactions, social or sexual.”

Similarly, video games also go wrong when the person playing them is desensitized to reality and real-life interactions with others.

Violence in video games is often synonymous with success. Children with more of a propensity for aggression are more attracted to violent video media, but violent media, in turn, can also make them more aggressive. This could be related to the fact that most video games reward players for violent acts, often permitting them to move to the next level in a game.

Yet research reported in the Annual Review of Public Health suggests a link between violent video games and real-life aggression: Given the opportunity, both adults and children were more aggressive after playing violent games. And people who identify themselves with violent perpetrators in video games are able to take aggressive action while playing that role, reinforcing aggressive behavior.

Young men — who play video games and use porn the most — are being digitally rewired in a totally new way that demands constant stimulation. And those delicate, developing brains are being catered to by video games and porn-on-demand, with a click of the mouse, in endless variety.

Such new brains are also totally out of sync in traditional school classes, which are analog, static and interactively passive. Academics are based on applying past lessons to future problems, on planning, on delaying gratifications, on work coming before play and on long-term goal-setting.

Guys are also totally out of sync in romantic relationships, which tend to build gradually and subtly, and require interaction, sharing, developing trust and suppression of lust at least until “the time is right.”

Less extreme cases of arousal addiction may go unnoticed or be diagnosed as an attention or mood disorder. But we are in a national, and perhaps global, Guy Disaster Mode that needs to be noticed and solutions advanced to fix a totally novel phenomenon, which will only increase in intensity and breadth without the concerted efforts of educators, gamemakers, parents, guys and gals.

It’s time to press play and get started reversing these trends.

Check out Zimbardo’s 2011 TEDTalk on “The Demise of Guys.”

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan.

Edit by Chris: As a Christian, I can’t help but notice how men like this can diagnose the problem so clearly, yet provide no real alternative to the hedonism-gone-wild mentality in our young men. If new life in Christ is not our alternative, than what is?

I wonder if we sometimes approach the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives much the same way we approach video games, porn, cigarettes, and food…sensation and stimulation on demand. It’s activity is only realized in our lives in as much as we “feel” it’s overt power to stimulate us, when the Bible teaches us that it’s personal, volitional, and always works to help us until Christ returns…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Which Bible?

17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth. (Joh 17:17 NAS)

So you’re looking for a bible, either for yourself or for a friend. But which one is the right one?

Bibles to take to church

  1. NASB – A literal translation, which tries to retain the word for word accuracy of the scriptures. This tends to be better when you are doing deeper studies in the scriptures, and need to know some of the exact phrasing.
  2. ESV – A cross between a literal and a dynamic equivalent translation. It tries to translate word for word except in those areas where the idioms or phrasings are too difficult to translate without some rewording. This is what New Hope EM uses for Sundays.
  3. The Message or Phillips Bible – This is a paraphrase translation, which takes a lot of freedom in language to express the basic ideas in scripture. These tend to be translated on a sentence by sentence, or sometimes, a paragraph by paragraph basis. This is helpful if you want a fresh read of familiar scriptures.

Bibles for your daily devotional/study

  1. ESV Study Bible – This was recently released a few years ago, and it is one of the best study bibles out there in my opinion. Awesome graphs, maps, thousands of notes, great introductions. This is a great bible to have if you trust the bible, but simply have a hard time understanding what it says.
  2. Apologetics Study Bible – The Apologetics Study Bible uses the Holman Christian Standard Bible as it’s base text. It’s real worth is in the fact that it provides some of the best treatment of problem passages, difficult theologies, and those passages that just cause you to shake your head. It adds an extensive amount of essays from the world’s leading Christian apologists. This is the perfect bible for those who are struggling with doubt, or with many non-believing friends who have a lot of questions.

Bibles if you’re a critical scholar

  1. Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament – Because seriously…

Where to buy them

  1. http://www.christianbooks.com – Tends to be cheap, can opt for engravings, ships quickly.
  2. http://www.amazon.com – Hit or miss on price, sometimes you can score awesome deals on used books

Hope some bibles make it into peoples hands and hearts this Christmas season!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Jesus (Like a Boss)

No that’s not Jesus. Don’t be an idolater!

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.
(Col 3:23-24 NAS)

Just wanted to keep New Hope updated with a clear sense of our vision and why we should pursue it.

What is New Hope EM’s vision?

“The vision of New Hope Presbyterian Church EM is to be an autonomous multi-ethnic multi-generational church which celebrates the gospel of Jesus in life and teaching and reaches the greater Buffalo area with the good news of Jesus.”

Today we’re going to focus on the last part of that statement- “reaches the greater Buffalo area with the good news of Jesus.”

Up until now, that part of the statement has concerned me. I was convinced, intellectually, that for a church to truly be obedient to Christ, that they must have a merciful, Christ-glorifying presence in their local community. However, it always remained as something we “should” do, but not something we “needed” to do as a church. It would be far more beneficial for us to focus on fellowship, squashing conflict, worshiping God, and learning about Him. The community-engaging part was something at the end- something that healthy/happy/big churches do. We don’t want to fall into the pit of a social gospel, right?

Brothers and sisters, I believe the time is now, and engaging our community with the gospel is something we “must” do, and not just something we “should” do. Unless we begin to make the presence of Christ known in our communities, New Hope will plateau, lose energy, and ultimately lose sight of it’s purpose in this present age. We’ll become a tired little Christian huddle. When the Lord accounts for all that He’s entrusted to us, He’s not going to be impressed with how many dinners we’ve had, how much basketball we’ve played, how many movies we’ve watched, or how many Sundays we went to church- He’s going to judge the boldness of our Kingdom investment, the tenacity of our witness, the depth and breadth of disciples added unto Christ because of our humility, trust, and work. Yes, these are all built up by the sovereign grace of God, by Him and for Him and through Him- but the human instruments will be held accountable, and even be rewarded with divine recognition (Matt 25:23).

In offering this challenge for our church, I have come face to face with the utter human limitations of my ministry. To be honest, I’m snagged by so many fears. I wonder if I could possibly develop enough trust and respect from our congregation members to lead them into unfamiliar territory. I whole-heartedly believe that if I start obeying God in more bold and even risky ministry, that antagonists will arise to criticize and oppose me. I fear failed projects and endeavors that will remove my credibility, maybe not only in this ministry, but my lifelong reputation as a minister. I’m worried that changing the status quo of our ministry (turning off the autopilot) will result in people leaving our church and joining some other big church around the corner where they can comfortably be a faceless customer of service. I wonder how I’ll give an account before our elders or committees if things just flop. I’m praying daily these days that our EM and our KM leadership has enough trust in me to follow my leadership, even though I’m young and prone to mistakes.

But the word of God has been goading me into action, and I hope it will for all of you as well. More and more now my greater fear is the Lord. I don’t think I mean that in a self-righteous way. I’m afraid that by playing it ultra conservative and careful, I’ll never develop the confidence of our mighty God. I fear that by placating the desires for security and comfort for all in our congregation, that God will become the antagonist for my ministry and withdraw divine support. And most of all, I’m disturbed by the real possibility that at the end of my life, when God asks me to give an account for all that He’s entrusted me, that I’ll return to Him exactly what He gave me- a few pleasant churches with great fellowship (and awesome food!). I would rather come to Him with nothing at all, having lost everything, but with the confidence of having tried everything to build His kingdom by the power of His grace. I would rather risk, lose, and be found faithful in His eyes than risk nothing, lose nothing, and be found wicked and lazy with the master’s resources (Matt 25:26). Fortunately I’m comforted to know that the Lord will supply divine empowerment for His saints when they seek to serve Him in the world. In poker terms, it’s not really gambling if you’re going all-in with “the nuts”. Christ’s sweet and powerful presence is a sure promise to those whom He sends, to those who faithfully go in His name (Matt 28:20)

So what might this look like? Practically a few things.

1) Evaluating and restructuring our programs throughout the year to conserve the energy of our church and spend it more faithfully in the things that matter. More events do not necessarily equal more ministry. Ministry activity without clear purpose or done ineffectively will lead to burn-out, which lowers the overall passion and energy of our congregation.

2) A “going out” emphasis on evangelism, rather than a “come here” emphasis on evangelism. Whereas historic Judaism was a temple-centric, Jerusalem-centric religion, Christianity is a mobile and infectious faith. It used to be where the whole world was invited to come and worship in God’s house – a centripetal model of worship sharing- i.e. come here and meet the true God. With the dispensation of the Holy Spirit and the elimination of the temple sacrifice system, worship is completely mobile- centrifugal – and that’s the way Jesus wants it. The command for making disciples was not, “Bring them here to Jerusalem and make them my disciples,” but rather “Go and make disciples.” This doesn’t mean that Lord’s Day worship service ceases to be an open door for non-believers, but it cannot and should not be the default method for faith-sharing. All believers are mandated to be engaged with the world in a benevolent, Christ-representing way. I’d like for our people to be empowered to share their faith and motivated to do so, rather than just inviting people to church.

3) Serve our community in some tangible way in the name of Christ. This needs to be generated by motivated congregation members, and not spearheaded by the pastor. I would love to support our own members ministry desires in helping our community somehow. Refugee ministry is already happening, but only involves one or two members of our EM. Other options could include a) convalescent home ministry, b) food bank ministry, c) international student assistance, d) Angel Tree gifts, etc. Possibilities are really only limited by us. It could be as simple as calling the police department/mayor’s office and asking them if we can give some volunteer hours as a church.

4) Lastly, a willingness to try new things and not be paralyzed by the fear of failure. Being conservative with true biblical doctrine is faithful, being conservative with God-given resources is not. Let’s take some risks, evaluate, reorient, and try again if necessary.

New Hope, the path is laid out- let’s start marching.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Praise: The Basics

O Lord, open my lips, That my mouth may declare Thy praise. (Psa 51:15 NAS)

Praise. This is such a broad and deep topic that I’m afraid any treatment I give of it will either be incomplete or regrettably shallow. I’ll just address a couple points about praise today, and promise more in the future.
What is praise? How is it different than worship?

Let’s start with worship. Worship as a biblical theme is the act of ascribing worth or value to a thing. It is the creaturely response, after perceiving something, of evaluating it. When it comes to us and God, it involves man’s demonstration of recognizing God’s beautiful/worthy/holy character, and bestowing upon Him proper exaltation and honor. In the OT, this was predominantly confined to the covenant sacrificial system, in which sinful man is allowed to approach holy Yahweh despite their sins. Worship was therefore institutionalized by, and offered for, God. In the New Testament, with Christ being the ultimate worship sacrifice to the Father which atones for all the sins of the elect, worship takes on a much broader application. No longer is it something performed in the temple, offered up by a sinful priest, but rather in Christ all of our life is to demonstrate recognition of God’s worth and value. The way you work, the way you play, the way you clean up church, the way you talk to your friends, the way you spend your free time, etc. Everything is to be consecrated unto God. Your body is the temple, your life the worship.

Praise as a biblical theme is more narrow in its function. If worship is a vertical activity between you and God that involves every sphere of life, praise is a horizontal activity between you and creation. Praise is the act of encouraging others to worship. You see this most clearly in Psalms. Psalms is one of the best view-ports we have into Old Testament praise. It involved written poetry, liturgical praise songs, stylized prayers of both celebration and hatred, and many other expressions of corporate worship. Despite having multiple words describing the English term “praise” in Psalms, whether accompanied by music or not, the basic idea is that of exhorting others to worship. The word “Hallelujah” is a simple way of saying, “Hey you- praise God!” It’s the Hebrew version of “PTL”! Praising God means you’re commanding others to worship God. It is the act of “Hallelujah-ing”. In one sense, you can be an effective “praiser” of God while having an anemic worship life- you just have to be a good hypocrite and faker. Sadly, some of the best praise leaders you see could also have a terrible life of worship personally. King David still knew how to play a mean harp and lead a good praise song even while he was fooling around with Bathsheeba. Maybe he even led some to tears through his music while his integrity was in shambles.

Ideally, anyone praising God (helping others to worship) is also personally worshiping (he himself adoring God). This may not always be the case however. This isn’t just true of a praise team, but also true of the congregation. During the praise time (you know, the 2-3 songs during every service), it’s not just the praise team that’s encouraging you to worship God, it’s the entire assembly of saints. Meaning, the guy standing next to you, the woman in the back with a baby, the high school students to your right, the Korean grandmother in the quilted floral coat, and YOU. The whole congregation is participating in this worship-synergy act- everyone in there is telling one another to worship God and to give Him your heart. The joy, peace, sincerity, beautiful music (we hope!), bodily expression, everything, adds to the individual believer’s encouragement to actually worship himself. It’s not about you and your worship to God, it’s about us and our worship to God, which is given exponential power when the church is gathered together and everyone is adding to the momentum of praise. Think about it- why is praise so powerful at events like Urbana, PCB, Retreats, etc? It’s because the praise time has a far higher level of participation and preparation. More people are involved more fully, and the presentation of the time is geared toward helping everyone in the room worship, and to help each other worship.


1) Praise team membership should strive for excellence in skill, not just in heart. If your primary responsibility as one who helps to lead a time of praise is to help facilitate worship of others during that time, than the communication of the “Hallelujah” needs to be clear and persuasive. In the musical context of praise, that means, quite frankly, that your ability to sing or play needs to be not only meaningful for yourself, but also beautiful for others. Your ability to sing, play guitar, drums, piano, bongos, whatever, needs to be good before you even ask to join praise team. That means instrumental or singing auditions for praise team are not only appropriate, they’re biblical. When Saul found David to play the harp for him, we find that David, the greatest praise leader ever, not only was a “man after God’s own heart”, but also had skill!

16 “Let our lord now command your servants who are before you. Let them seek a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall come about when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he shall play the harp with his hand, and you will be well.” (1Sa 16:16 NAS)

That means that David actually knew musical theory, had an ear for music, practiced often, etc. This is a model for truly godly praise. This doesn’t mean that you can just stick Slash from Guns N’ Roses into a praise band and everything is gravy. No, it means that musical skill is a necessary but not sufficient requirement of being in praise team. It’s part of the whole of what you need to truly effectively lead praise. I believe that the church therefore has a responsibility before God to not only protect its members from false teaching, but also from bad musicians! (Sorta joking, don’t get all enraged you aspiring praise peoples!)

2) Praise is about everyone, not just about you, so it should be orderly and unified. It’s primarily the westernization of corporate worship that says “it’s all about you and God”, so do whatever you want. Rather, in both the OT and NT, worship in an assembled setting always needs to be orderly, dignified, and unified. Meaning everyone is on the same page, everyone knows what’s going on, and everyone is generally doing the same thing at the same time.

40 But let all things be done properly and in an orderly manner. (1Co 14:40 NAS)

This is in reference to corporate worship and the controlling of the speaking in tongues. Now whether this is human foreign languages, ecstatic speaking of angelic languages, or whatever you may believe, Paul made it clear that whatever is happening in corporate service is to be orderly (i.e. arranged, disciplined, not simply spontaneous and random). This doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be boring, or inactive, or “frozen.” This is dependent on the local congregation. A black revivalist church would, appropriately, clap, sway, dance, speak to the pastor (“Preach on brother!”), and worship according to their own culture. But everyone is unified in it, so it’s orderly. It’s also disciplined and arranged in a way. In more conservative churches, orderly means there are appropriate times to sing, appropriate times to speak together, etc. But everyone has the same expectation and activity.

In local church praise, that means you can’t simply cite “freedom in Christ” to mean “I’m going to do whatever the heck I like during praise time”. That’s a total twisting of the kind of freedom that being in Christ gives us. Because to be in Christ means to be a beneficial member of His body, which includes the idea that you’re in harmony with the other parts. So if you’re the only Asian person inside a black revival tent meeting, you better be ready to two-step and clap joyfully during praise time. If you’re the only charismatic person in a senior citizen liturgical worship service, you better be ready to be quiet and join the order.

If anything needs to change to be more biblical and Christ honoring, (whether you’re convicted of the reality of Charismatic awakenings, of liturgical reverence, of blended worship, of modern mega-church accessibility, etc), you need to do the actual hard work of reforming the church through greater love for and understanding of the biblical teaching on the matter. It’s not as easy as just starting to pray in Latin and hoping the church copies you. That is not orderly, and therefore, not of God. If you can’t approach discussion of the matter in humility and unity, but rather simply feel disdain for a particular worship style, it’s far more likely a symptom of pride than it is genuine zeal for worship of God.

3) Watch your face! Sometimes the clearest communication of praise is your physical posture, facial expression, and body movement. Although a greater challenge for praise team (you’re on the eyes of most of the congregation!), everyone should consider how their physical involvement is influencing the entire praise experience. Is your face sour because of some recent conflict? FIX IT! It’s not being fake. Yes, we all know that no one is on spiritual happy-drugs all year. That’s ok. Do everything you can to prepare physically and emotionally anyway. Sleep well. Listen to some good praise songs before coming to church. Resolve your  conflicts before entering the worship time (hm, sounds like a Jesus saying doesn’t it? Matt 5:23-24). Make it a habit to resolve conflicts and resentment and bitterness.

Sometimes, part of the presentation factor means just preparing your stage presence. Dressing appropriately so as not to be distracting (no tuxedos, but no shorts and sandals either). Watching that your eyes are not glued to your music sheets during the entire song. SMILING.

For congregational praisers, COMING IN ON TIME. Singing the actual song instead of just observing or whispering the words. Seating yourself strategically for the benefit of others rather than always opting for the back seats.

Let’s all practice better praise, wherever we may be! Hallelujah!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Creating and Maintaining Relationship Boundaries

“You husbands likewise, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1Pe 3:7 NAS)

Today’s post will offer instruction on pre-marital boundaries between a dating couple. First we’ll look at why we need them, then we’ll look at what they should be.

1) Why do we need them?

a) Because men are scum. Yes. The bible tells me so. The boy that you’re dating (and yes, he’s a boy- please don’t pretend he’s a man) is corrupt in every part of his body and soul. By God’s grace, no part of him has reached maximal evil in any part, but EVERY part of him is stained with sin and the effects of sin. When it comes to sexual purity in the modern world, with it’s gigantic porn industry and sex-religion and almost-universal masturbation problem, your boyfriend has a big challenge. He has likely been regularly intoxicated with pornography since his early teens. Almost certainly, this is continuing as he’s dating you. His entire framework for understanding women is predominantly that of a sexual aggressor, not as a brother or father or friend. God created him in his husband-capacity to know, bless, and honor his wife (which includes sexual blessing). But this has been so radically distorted through repeated sexual experience and fantasy with a variety of women (in his mind if not in body) that by the time he goes on his first date with you, he’s already at an 8-15 year disadvantage. He’s had about 1000 sexual relationships through porn and masturbation with women he will never see again. He’s been conditioned through years of sin and habit to view women objectively for his own pleasure or use. He’s an exploiter by habit. You can’t have this conditioned and entrenched in a guy’s mind and expect his behavior to be radically different than his worldview. And in case you’re thinking your friend or BF doesn’t struggle with this issue, here’s a sobering statistic. Masturbation statistics – That statistic may be high, and the details of the study are not given, but it’s a sobering reminder of how big of a problem men are dealing with. Two interesting articles from Psychology Today that I’ll summarize (blogger’s liberty to interpret)- compulsive masturbation is basically an addictive coping strategy for excessive stress , and some general research by Univ. of Chicago with very conservative findings (61% being “considerably less prevalent” than expected), but remember they’re face to face interviews and surveyed up to age 60. So yes, your boy likely has a problem.

b) Because women are weak. I’m not talking about the WNBA or Olympic women’s weightlifting. And no, I’m not a sexist. The bible said it. Look at that bible verse above. OK, “weaker vessel” is most likely referring to their physical attributes, not spiritual character or inner strength, etc- i.e. they can’t benchpress as much as you, and need special provision of protection and gentleness from their husband who is stronger. Well, let’s look at a different passage.

23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.
24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her;
(Eph 5:23-25 NAS)

The relationship dynamic and leadership roles in marriage have been under a lot of debate in the last century, and this passage is often a point of contention. However, we’re going to assume a natural reading of the passage and assume that Paul means what he’s saying at face value (prima facie). Paul is instructing women to submit to their husbands as the leading office in the marriage. Women can trust their husbands to lead the family and submit to their decisions, because the husband is assumed to treat the wife as Christ treated the church – in completely selfless, sacrificial, total love. Christ cared for the church’s welfare even above his own, and gave up His life for her. He didn’t see the church as a group to be exploited for his own benefit, He didn’t abuse the church, He didn’t abandon the church when it got difficult. He used his strength and body and life to increase the happiness and joy of the church, in such a way that the church couldn’t do for itself. This is the image of marriage. Sacrificial husband who does everything for the wife’s welfare / submissive and trusting wife who joyfully allows her husband to lead (because he’s doing it for her benefit). This assumes, then, that the natural office of ruler of the home is the husband, i.e. the man. I think there are multiple reasons for why God created it this way, but we won’t dig into it here. We’ll just assume that he did.

The implication of this, in dating, is that the woman is not naturally suited to dictate the pace, boundaries, or restraints in the relationship. The natural spiritual tendency will be for her to assume that the boyfriend has the best interest of the relationship in mind, and will protect her and look out for her. She’s assuming that you’re acting like Christ when it comes to protecting her from sexual predations and inappropriate situations. She’s expecting you to treat her as a weaker vessel and in love, to add honor (value, esteem, dignity) to her; not use her. Unfortunately ladies, you’re not married and the boys that you’re dating are not ready yet to treat you like a beloved wife. It’s a sad reality in almost every dating relationship, but you’re the gatekeeper of your chastity and purity- not the guy. You are the only one really interested in protecting your self-worth and dignity in the relationship. Even if your boyfriend seems to care about sexual purity and chastity, to him that most likely ONLY means “NOT HAVING SEX.” He hasn’t really developed the idea that his entire attitude toward you will ultimately need to become Christ-like love, which when demonstrated, looks like humiliation and torture and ultimate humility. He’s not there yet. You almost can’t allow him to lead in the condition he’s in, because he will likely lead you into sexual immorality. Spiritual leadership is reserved for your husband, not your boyfriend. Don’t trust your boyfriend carte blanche to lead you into green pastures, because neither of you have made that covenant commitment yet. He’s still looking out for his own interests predominantly- at this point at least.

c) Because sexual purity is part of how God wants to bless you in Christ. God’s grace for you involves the restoration of self-control and honor, which will make you happier.

2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;
4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,
5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God;
6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.
7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.
(1Th 4:2-7 NAS)

Boundaries For Purity

So here’s some guidelines to follow for you and your significant other. Although this is also advice, let me be clear that this is a bare minimum standard I expect of any New Hope EM member in good standing (especially those in leadership positions).

  1. Do not spend much time together in private and/or intimate settings. Examples include a) your room, b) your dorm/apartment without someone visually present with you, c) your car at night, d) karaoke room, e) secluded areas in church/campus/retreats/etc. When I say “much time” I basically mean more than 2-3 minutes. Set a standard of about 5 minutes. Generally don’t invite your girlfriend/boyfriend to your dorm or apartment to hang out. Yes it’s Buffalo, yes you’re poor, but go watch a movie or get coffee or look at Buffalo architecture or something. Stop spending BF/GF time in your dorm/apt. Your room mates will thank you (and me!).
  2. Go home! Set a curfew for when you’ll end activities together and both go back home. Set it reasonably early, say 10:30pm at the latest. Do NOT sleep over at their house. Because seriously- NO. If I ever found out that my daughter had her boyfriend sleep on her couch and go home in the morning, I would go Jack Bauer on him. There’s no legitimate reason for that to happen. Even if you guys didn’t do anything immoral, it looks ridiculously shady. Part of “granting honor” to your lady-friend is protecting her from reproach- i.e. not giving others some excuse to gossip about her or your relationship. If you’re even allowing the appearance of shady things to happen, you’re dishonoring her. Go home at a set time while everyone in the house/meeting is still awake.
  3. Publicize your relationship immediately. The only motivation for keeping a dating relationship secret is because you don’t want people “in your business”. Why? What benefit is there to discretion or secrecy? If you’re honest, it’s almost completely because you don’t want accountability. You want freedom without other people’s input or involvement. Make it public knowledge ASAP when you’re dating someone. Don’t fool yourself- it’s EVERYONE’s business. Shadiness, sexual immorality, pregnancy, abortion, shame, guilt, exploitation…if God has called us to be a church and worship Christ together, then yes, it’s my business too, and God has called me to help you (not me the pastor, me the fellow Christian).
  4. Do not have double standards of physical affection. Don’t treat your partner’s body one way in private and one way in public. If you don’t kiss each other in public, don’t do it in private. If you don’t hold hands in public, don’t do it in private. If you need to “get a room” to show each other physical affection (hand holding, caressing, kissing, running your fingers through his hair, touching her knee/thigh, etc), then you’re just inviting sexually inappropriate activity. If it feels “mad awkward” to act like that in front of your friends and peers, then it’s already too far. Basically, don’t do anything in private that you can’t do around your friends.
  5. Be accountable to solid Christian brothers/sisters. It doesn’t have to be official accountability groups, but have born-again, growing Christian peers that you can be honest with and share with. Involve them in the relationship process.
  6. Worship together. Yes, worshiping together is a boundary thing. If you pray, bible study, sing praise, hear biblical teaching, and have true Christian fellowship (not just watching a movie at someone’s house) together with your BF/GF, you’ll begin to more rightly see her in the context of a Christian family. His/her deepest identity will be that of a beloved child of God, and your primary relational role to him/her will be that of a Christian brother or sister before that of a boyfriend or girlfriend. Here’s Truf™ – It’s really hard to get sexually intimate with your partner after you just prayed to Jesus together. Because it’s like he’s still in the room with you (which He is in a way). This means that every time you meet, Christ should be involved somehow. Sounds wonky, but here goes. Eating dinner together? Pray with each other thanking God. Doing homework together? Turn on some praise music. Talking about your feelings or whatever your generation does? Talk about how things are going between you and Jesus spiritually. Have nothing to do but want to hang out? Call some friends, bake some goodies, and bring it to your favorite EM pastor. Pray with each other and do devotionals together. Go to Starbucks and read some good Christian literature together (if you’re oldschool like me).
  7. If you’ve already gone too far sexually, repent, turn to God for mercy, and seriously consider breaking up. That sounds drastic, but the natural trajectory of a relationship is to have greater intimacy and commitment, not less. It’s a VERY difficult move in a relationship to scale back the intimacy to an earlier level. Most relationships simply can’t do it. Recovering purity in a relationship is sometimes just not possible without quickly leading to either break-up or marriage. It just can’t remain in a lessened state of intimacy for very long without extreme frustration and sense of disconnectedness. That’s part of the consequence of sexual immorality- you’re throwing in marriage-level intimacy without marital commitment. In short, you’re experiencing some of the closeness of marriage without the promise before God and His church and society to remain together. You have a few options after this, all preceded by genuine repentance: 1) Try and continue to have a relationship together, but in a regressed state of intimacy. It’s difficult, leads to feelings of grief and loss, and it will feel like you guys grew apart. You’ll feel this way (to a degree) until you guys get married. The severity of this will depend on the frequency and level of your sexual immorality. 2) Break up and suffer. It won’t feel like a break up, it will feel like divorce. Because in a way, you treated the other person like a spouse, and that intimacy you had will never be yours again, and will belong to someone else. This is part of the reason why God told you not to do it, and why the bible says “the two shall become one flesh.” Yes, ripping a body in half hurts. I’m sorry it feels like that, but that’s why sex is for marriage. Actually, I guess that’s just 2 options.

All of the above is practical boundaries to observe, but ultimately no boundaries will produce godliness. The end goal is inner increase of grace and peace which can only be ours through knowing Christ. By investing and cultivating our relationship with God through Jesus, His divine work of sanctification in us will produce self-control and godliness as we become more like Him. Read and meditate upon this passage, and I bid you shalom in Christ!

2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;
3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.
(2Pe 1:2-4 NAS)

Edit: I guess I should state that not every guy is a masturbating pornographer. A conservative minimum would be 65% of teen through young unmarrieds almost definitely are. I’ll humbly concede in case your vanity is wounded that not all guys have a problem with porn, but at the very least every guy who has grown up in the modern West has been inundated with highly sexual, nearly pornographic media in the form of television, movies, radio music, and almost all kinds of media advertising. Wasn’t trying to prove that every guy does sin sexually all the time (though many certainly do), but rather that it significantly increases the sexual temptations in dating. So, no offense to anyone in the 5%. Keep it real.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments