How do you measure a child’s faith?

Lately I’ve been engaged in a lot of conversations about what and how we should teach children in the church.  And naturally, these conversations lead to measuring what kids have learned and applied to their lives.  I know that most (hopefully most, if not all) ministers of children know that it’s not about how much information kids know that’s going to change their lives… and yet, for some reason, many seem to be hung up on assessing spiritual growth by how much kids know about God, the Bible, Jesus, the Church, etc…  I really struggle with this concept because I grew up knowing a lot about God and Jesus… I knew bunch of stories from the Bible, and pretty much, I knew almost all the right answers to the questions teachers asked at church… but that had absolutely nothing to do with the condition of my heart and my life.   Don’t get me wrong… I don’t mean to minimize the importance of memorizing verses nor knowing Bible stories.  Of course those are important… but where I have trouble is that we often equate knowledge with spiritual maturity in kids… and where I have trouble is the mere fact that we, as kidmin leaders, feel the need to even quantify children’s faith.  Maybe I’m the crazy one here (I often feel like I’m on crazy pills… go figure…), but I think we need to let go of control, be faithful in leading and helping kids love Jesus, allow the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of these kids, and loosen the grip on trying to measure the faith of children in our ministries.  Once again, please don’t misunderstand me… we need to know where our kids are coming from and their knowledge of what we’re trying to teach… but what I’m saying is that we need to stop equating spiritual growth with head knowledge of the Bible, Church, Jesus, etc…  (forgive me, it’s midnight, and I’m awfully tired… but just need to get this out while it’s in my head…)

I recently heard this story (paraphrased for space-sake):

Dad (talking to his 2 children 7 & 10 years old):  How am I doing as your dad these days?

Kids:  Okay, but sometimes you’re impatient with us… or don’t spend enough time with us…

Dad:  I’m sorry.  I will try to do better.  (Dad write and signs a covenant with the kids… promising to be a more patient dad who spends more quality time with them.  At the end of the covenant, he writes down few practical action plans, and promises to owe them $10 every time he fails in those areas).

7 yr old:  But Dad, isn’t forgiveness enough?  Why do you have to pay us $10 if you break your promise?

Wow… I don’t know about other people’s reaction.. but to me, this is evidence of child’s spiritual growth… She had been taught that we forgive when someone wrongs her just as Jesus forgave all of us… She’s trying to apply this to her life.  She may only be 7 years old, but even 7 year olds like money… but she’s trying to see how what she’s learned about forgiveness fits into her real life… that’s evidence of her learning and applying Biblical truth… and to me, this speaks louder than 20 verses she can recite verbatim or naming all the disciples.

In short, I don’t think we can necessarily measure a child’s faith… but for me, stories of what kids genuinely say and do tells me that they’re learning, loving, and growing in Jesus… (I’m really hoping this is coherent when I re-read it in the morning…)  time for bed…

 

missing opportunities…

Back in November 2011, I was so sure that I would be spending this exact week in Costa Rica with Lifetree Adventures / Operation Kid-2-Kid and VIVA Network loving, hugging, playing, and sharing God’s love with hundreds of children.  So much has changed in the last four months.  I’m back in a local church.  My weeks are filled with meetings, meetings, and more meetings.  We’re talking building plans, ministry programming, budget, logistics of day-to-day ministry stuff… and all I want to do right now is to be in Costa Rica with my friends and seeing God at work outside of my comfort zone.

I truly struggle with spending so much time and energy on all the logistics of getting ready to do ministry in the states, when I can be using that time and energy on actually  meetings the needs of people in tangible ways with less red tape, bureaucracy, and long process.  Don’t get me wrong… I think it’s important to have process just because that’s the way everything works in the states… but I can’t help but to think if that’s what I’m suppose to be doing here.  I have to trust in God’s sovereign plan, and believe that He has me exactly where I am for a reason.  But it’s hard for me to know that I’m missing out on some great opportunities.  I believe in seizing every opportunity, and obviously when I’m committed to a local church, I can’t do it all (no matter how hard I try…)  so that’s my brain vomit for tonight… It’s really hard knowing that I’m missing opportunities… and this won’t be the last, but only the beginning.

With that, I’m just staring at some of my favorite photos from my last Operation Kid-2-Kid trip with Lifetree Adventures.

life altering decisions…

Have you ever made any decisions that could change the course of your life?  I know, this sounds really dramatic… but I believe I’ve made some of those decisions in my life whether I knew it or not at the time.  One was choosing to go to Berkeley over UCLA for college. At the time, I just wanted to get far away from home as much as possible… and I just wanted to prove that I’m just as good as my two cousins that went to Berkeley.  However, after my first year, I was completely miserable,  and I was sure that I had made the biggest mistake of my life.  In fact, I had even begun the process of transferring to UCLA my sophomore year.  Thankfully, I was lazy and never finished the paperwork… and my four years at Berkeley ended up being the most wonderful and influential time of my life.  I believe a huge part of who I am has a lot to do with my time at Berkeley.  That’s also where I first had the calling to go into ministry (although at the time, I didn’t realize that it was a true calling).

Since then, I’ve had few more decisions that I’ve made a long the way which had huge impact in my life.  Each time I started or left a ministry, it was a big deal because I felt that would change my life in a drastic way… and to an extent, it has.  Recently, I’ve had to make few more decisions… and to be honest, I suck at making these huge life decisions. Why???  Because it’s SCARY!!!  It’s really hard to go into something without knowing the outcome… and of course, that’s where faith comes in.  Apparently I lack faith…

The latest big possible life-altering decision came very hard… I kicked and screamed to God for months… I kept telling Him “I’ll do ANYTHING for you, but this…”  I kept looking for a way out… I was ACTIVELY looking for a way out!!!  But in the end, God sent amazing friends to talk some sense into me and challenged me.  It’s taken me awhile, but God has been working in my heart… and I can finally say today without a doubt that I AM AT PEACE.

I think I’ve lived long enough to know that God uses every experience and situation to prepare me for the next step of my life… well, I’m now preparing to enter into that next phase of my life… and I look forward to seeing how the next phase will change my life to further experience God’s goodness and perfect plan for my life!

Before You (Antes De Ti…)

I LOVE MUSIC… that’s an understatement… and I have to be honest… I love the rhythm, the beat, the melody more than the lyrics!  Often times, I get caught up in the flow of the music… the tune causes me to smile and cry…

Last week, I was in Dominican Republic with Lifetree Adventures for a week of Operation Kid-2-Kid where we shared the love of Jesus through giving out 2,000 New Testament Bibles in Spanish and backpacks that children in the US and Canada made specifically for these children.  At each project, the children would perform a special song and/or dance for us.  At one of the projects, this melody caught my ears… and I’ve been humming it in my head since.  Today, I finally found the song!  Thank You SoundHound!!!  I actually looked up the lyrics and got them translated, and it really touched my soul!  Rarely do lyrics touch my soul as much as the tune… I just had to share it… I’m still thinking through my trip and processing all that I have seen and felt… I’m sure those blogs will come in days to come.. but for today, I just had to share this song with my friends!

Before you, there was no reason there was nothing without you. 
There was no song in my heart there was nothing in me. 
After much searching I found 
My heart found there. 

CHORUS. 
You’re all I want, light to my soul, everything you need, fill my space, you are my life, my everything, you are what you want for me and you found the reason of my existence. 

Before you, I lived a vacuum, there was nothing in me. 
Without illusion, in my heart there was nothing without you. 

After much searching I found 
My heart found there. 

CHORUS. 

You are my life, you’re my everything, you’re my desire, the reason for my existence

commitment-phobe…

Wow, it’s been awhile since my last post.  The past month has been a crazy month filled with sadness, joy, celebration, mourning, refreshment, frustration, etc… you name it… i probably felt it!  I went from my grandfather’s funeral in Kansas to a conference in Louisville, Kentucky where I was ministered to by great friends… then onto Toronto for a conference where I went through some culture shock (not because they were Canadians, but because they were all Koreans–haha, I know, go figure…) and a crazy great time connecting with my KidMin friends at Group’s KidMin Conference in Chicago.  Being busy kept me from processing a lot of what’s been going on in my life.  Now that I’ve been back home for over a week, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I have experienced and learned the past month as well as where my future is headed… and my insomnia seems to be making its way back into my life–insomnia usually means I can’t turn my brain off… uuuggghhh.  😦

Well, one major thing that has been preoccupying my mind these days is where God is calling me next to do ministry.  I’ve been praying and exploring for the past 5-6 months (i know, a long time…) and it seems to be getting down to the wire now.  I must admit that I’ve really enjoyed the last nine months of not having “church” responsibilities.  But I also must admit that I have missed it.  If you know me, you know that I love talking, thinking, and breathing KidMin!

Last week, as I was thinking about different opportunities that God has set before me, it hit me that I’m a total commitment-phobe!!!  Yuck–that’s a trait I don’t like in people, especially my volunteers…  Sure, I’m up for any spontaneous adventure.. if you ask me to forgo cleaning tonight to go watch a movie or even go on a road trip, I wouldn’t hesitate much!  However, a decision with this much gravity paralyzes me.  The type-A in me starts making pro & con list of what would be the best decision in the long run.  I start playing my own devil’s advocate.  I start imagining what my life would look like in each scenario.  And I… can’t… stop…  because I’m convinced that this decision could potentially change the direction of my life forever…

People that know me know that I take FOREVER making “important” decisions… but once I commit, I’m in 110%!  Many have called me “super picky” on many occasions.  While it is important to go through the discerning process of making an important decision, I find that I get lost in the “what if’s” more than trusting in God to direct and guide me.  The honest truth is, God can and will use me regardless of where I go… sure, one may be a better fit than other options… but I can’t possibly know the outcome of my decision NOW…

Sometimes, God clearly closes doors.  Other times, God opens several doors, and this is where the decision-making gets difficult. Perhaps there isn’t always just one right door to go through, but what matters more is my heart and attitude more so than being preoccupied with choosing the “right door.”

a thousand sleepless nights

Tonight I came across a song called “Blessings” by Laura Story through some facebook posts.  Alright, confession time–I don’t listen to a lot of Christian music… so when I read few posts regarding this song, it peeked my curiosity… and then one of the posts included part of the lyrics:

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

The lyrics immediately caught my attention.  I’ve had lots of raindrops, tears, trials, and definitely what feels like thousand sleepless nights in my life!  These are probably areas of my life that I don’t share too openly (except that a lot of my friends know that I’m a total insomniac!).  Fortunately I have had enough experiences in life to see the beauty God has created out of the darkest of situations… so even as I go through difficulties, I try to keep focused on what God will do with it eventually… but truth be told, dark times just plain SUCK when you’re in the midst of it!

Being the nerd that I am, I wanted to know where these lyrics came from… and my search led to Laura Story’s bio on her website.  You can read her whole bio here, but the following excerpt really spoke to me (btw, her husband, Martin, had been diagnosed with brain tumor 2 years into their marriage):

“Life is filled with things you don’t expect, but the Bible tells us to respond by trusting God and continuing to worship him,” Story begins. “Martin hasn’t received complete healing—and that can be hard at times when we view God as all-powerful and all-loving. But here we are now saying, ‘Yes, this is how faith works.’ God has proven to be faithful. We have been truly blessed out of a circumstance that at first didn’t seem like much of a blessing at all.”

This thing called faith…  in the midst of times when we don’t receive what we want from this all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God.  Yes, God knows what we need, and He gives it to us in His time… but we’re often preoccupied with what we want!  When I look back on my life, my biggest growth spurts as a Christian happened as a result of my darkest hours… but I never learn… I still want an easy, comfortable life… and this song was a good reminder that blessings often come through raindrops, healing comes through tears, and a thousand sleepless nights remind me that God is near–just like now!

church…

I have been thinking about this whole topic of church for a very long time… and I kept procrastinating about writing down my real thoughts… partly because this could be a very sensitive subject, and I could offend a lot of people out there.  In addition, my vocation is in ministry, so I, of all people, am not “suppose to say anything negative” about church (at least not out loud)… but this has been so in my face lately that I just felt the need to let it out!

In the past few months, I’ve had about dozen conversations with friends and acquaintances who all have stopped attending church.  It’s not that they don’t believe in Jesus anymore… but due to circumstances or because they just can’t find a church where they can connect, learn, and grow.  If they had told me this few years ago, my response would have been, “suck it up!  there are no perfect churches out there… and you’re probably the one with issues so just get over it!”  Now, after having visited many churches for the past 7 months, I have a lot of sympathy for my friends.  In fact, I have even uttered these words: “a lot of churches just suck… and it just feels like many are playing church!”  yes… i actually said those words out loud…

Before I continue, I have to make clear that I DO believe in the Church, even with all of its imperfections.  And regardless of all the weaknesses of churches, God continues to do beautiful things in and through them… so I don’t mean to criticize all the churches.  And I know that there are some great churches out there!  Recently, I read a friend’s blog, and I think he sums it up pretty well in regards to people’s hangup with church (yes, I got his permission to use an excerpt!):

*Morality -> Judgment -> Fakeness -> Guilt/Shame. Most churches and church-goers that I’ve seen are more concerned with morality (or their version of it) than about genuine growth, never on paper but always in practice. I tend to associate church with judgment more than anything else. For a religion that starts with the idea that all men are evil and broken, everyone seems to have their stuff together and in turn seems to expect the same from everyone else.  Perhaps it’s my own fault, but I don’t feel comfortable being myself at church. I don’t feel accepted as me. I have to put the mask on and play by the rules. I almost feel like I have to apologize for being who I am and get the sense that I’m not “good enough” to be at church, which makes zero theological sense and is really the opposite of what church should be about. I’ve told a lot of people that I would probably find more spiritual substance at an AA meeting than a church service. I don’t need or want to “play church” every Sunday with all the other actors (To be fair, I’ve known several exceptions, but I’m speaking for the vast majority). And I’ve gotten past feeling guilty about not going, so that’s no longer a reason for me to go.

*More religion than relationship, more performance than partnership. Church services, probably by necessity, tend to feel more like a routine series of events than a true celebration of life and community. Half the people seem to be there to blindly follow whatever they’re taught while the other half are there to expand their social network. When my students ask me if I’m Christian, I respond by saying, “It depends on what you mean by ‘Christian’.” (I really hate that title… it carries a lot of baggage for me.) Christianity to me is not a “religion,” and church is not about ritual. I do know that I’m far from being perfect and am loved anyways.

Unfortunately, I completely echo his sentiment!  I’ve heard some disturbing, sad stories from my friends in the past few months.  Many have left because they can’t find churches that are authentic, relational, and real.  They feel judged, they feel like pastors care more about programs and numbers than people, they feel like they’re not good enough to be at church… part of this may be perceived… but I don’t think it’s an accident that I’ve had so many of these conversations in the past few months.  Some churches are really missing the point–actually most of us Christians are missing the point… because isn’t Christianity about God who loved us so much to send Jesus to take away our sins through His sacrifice–LOVE???  If we can’t love people, then I don’t think we’re doing a good job of being the Church… what good is teaching the truth if we can’t demonstrate the truth in love?

The morning after I posted this blog, I came across this interview.  Definitely worth a read:

Why are people turning their backs on church?