The Sweet Psalmist of Israel

Thank God, last week I was able to spend several hours after work at Pacifica church to pseudo-attend EWR (and enjoy delicious free dinners). Below is my attempt at contributing a devotional, which is something I have not done in awhile. The process of editing/peer review was refreshingly rigorous and is something that I had forgotten and have missed from EWR’s in the past. Anyways, the idea for this was something I heard from a sermon recently, and I wanted to share it.

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People are often remembered by remarkable discoveries, critical innovations, or monumental achievements because of their impact on human history and society. Those accomplishments are typically summarized in a person’s epitaph. For example, the epitaph of Thomas Jefferson reads:

HERE WAS BURIED THOMAS JEFFERSON, AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE, OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.

If we were asked to pen an epitaph for David in the Bible, what might we include? Perhaps descriptions such as “Victor over Goliath,” “Mighty king of Israel,” or “Subduer of the Philistines.” Indeed, David had many feats and titles of worldly renown. The author of 2 Samuel, however, before recording David’s final words, decided to describe him very differently.

“Now these are the last words of David.

Thus says David the son of Jesse;

Thus says the man raised up on high,

The anointed of the God of Jacob,

And the sweet psalmist of Israel:”

— 2 Samuel 23:1

Broadly speaking, the first three descriptions summarize the stages of David’s life. The last, however, describes what David did – not as a warrior in his youth or as a king in his adulthood, but as a psalmist throughout all his days. Despite all his marvelous accomplishments, the Bible remembers David for the things people more easily overlook – his words of thanksgiving, praise, and glory to God.

How will we be remembered? Do we desire to be remembered by man for our degrees and titles, or by God for our offerings to Him?

Day to day, we may study diligently and work tirelessly in the hope that at the end of our lives we can be remembered by some small but lasting contribution to the world. Yet let us not forget that the recognition of men will pass away with the world, but the recognition of God will endure. The heart that we pour into our servitude may be long forgotten by people, but it will be forever remembered by God.

May we be remembered less for our worldly merits, and more for our life-long service to God.

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Note:

In the original Hebrew verse, the last clause literally says “the sweet/pleasant psalms of Israel.” Thus, the translators have interpreted this to mean “the sweet psalmist,” although the original literal description could be more profound and abstract. Anyhow, that is a topic for further study and meditation :)

NYST, BibleDB –> Bible Tidbits

It’s been awhile hasn’t it?

Thank God, two weekends ago the NYST was completed at Hillsborough church in NJ. This was the first time I’ve ever coordinated anything in church of this scale, so although it was a bit stressful, I learned a lot and feel blessed to have such reliable and diligent coworkers in NYM. I also gained a few powerful tidbits during the seminar which were really needed and they have renewed my sense of meaning and strength in serving God (lately I’ve been feeling a bit weary, including during the time I spent prepping for NYST). I guess I’ll just share a few that I remember off the top of my head.

  • Sometimes our zeal can cover up a hidden motive that we weren’t really aware of. In one of the classes we learned how Paul was truly zealous for God before his conversion, yet his zeal (and that of the Pharisees as well) actually stemmed from his desire to assert himself. The law of God is in essence good and holy and righteous; how can anyone who is so zealous for the law miss its very essence and become someone cruel who enjoyed punishing others? Zeal without true knowledge can become zeal with an ulterior motive. And even if it doesn’t, zeal without knowledge causes more harm than good.
  • A growing fellowship must know where its strength comes from. Likewise for the coordinator and for any worker of God. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:5 – “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God” (emphasis added). I think more recently I’ve come to try to rely on my own strength without really entrusting to or having faith in God’s power. As a result I was always tired and reluctant to do work. But if we know where our strength comes from, we have the assurance that in whatever we have been entrusted to do, we can have sufficiency from God.
  • Be wary of becoming too task-driven or inflexible with deadlines, because it may lead to caring more about the smoothness of an event than the needs of the members who participate. Arguably it is necessary to be task or deadline driven because otherwise things just don’t get done. But we need to be careful not to become so efficient that we neglect the needs of the people and the purpose of holding such events (which are intended to meet those needs). I may have been guilty of this in preparing for the NYST so I need to think a little bit more on how to strike a good balance.
  • When dealing with weariness from holy work, it is important to pinpoint the cause of the weariness. Are we tired/burdened because our spirit is not being truly satisfied? I think this is commonly the case for me, and I believe this blog post on 5 loaves 2 fish summarizes the concept very well. If we’re not being satisfied in spirit, then it’s an indication that our service is more like busy-work and not something we do because it is fulfilling. Perhaps our servitude is not accompanied with the necessary cultivation. If we do not know the God whom we serve, how can that service be meaningful to us? Jesus set such a wonderful example for us. After every great work, like feeding the 5000, he retreated to pray. This teaches us that after we complete some holy work, whether it be an RE workshop or a seminar like NYTS or NYST, that is the time we need to pray the most. That prayer is needed for spiritual rest and renewal of strength. We often emphasize prayer in preparation for some event or special activity, but forget that prayer is just as important afterwards too.

During the fellowship on the last night, we had a few epic rounds of telephone charades (with like 20 people in each line). It was wildly funny to watch and I’m glad I was the designated photographer. Anyways, Pr. Hou had a really interesting observation from it which he shared during the closing ceremony.

He said that the game reminded him of how difficult it is to pass a message down sans variation and mutation. Indeed, in telephone charades the original message becomes beyond recognition by the 3rd or 4th person. When it comes to the truth, we are also tasked with passing down the gospel to those who come after us. It made me realize two things:

  • We need to really know what we believe in, and understand what we have been taught by those before us. In a game like telephone charades, it is extremely difficult to perpetuate the act if you don’t know what you are portraying, even if you mimic every movement mechanically.
  • Even when we think we know the message, we don’t realize our inadequacy until we’ve tried teaching it. “You don’t really know it unless you can teach it.” Sometimes in telephone charades people were able to recognize the answer, but their execution in communicating it to the next person left more to be desired. Thus, even if they knew what the answer was, it was still lost afterwards.

In the game it’s always funny to pick out who in the chain of people really messed it up, but when it comes to the truth of the gospel, we must certainly not be the generation that distorts it for those who follow us. Paul urged Timothy to guard the doctrine with the Holy Spirit, and to preserve the doctrine. As churches become increasingly liberal, the word “doctrine” takes on an increasingly negative connotation of narrow-mindedness and conservatism. But like it or not, doctrine is indisputably crucial to Christian faith – Paul’s exhortations to Timothy and the churches in general attests to that.

In light of all this, it is truly a marvel that the doctrines of True Jesus Church have been preserved since her establishment in 1917. Across borders, cultures, and generations, our basic beliefs have been kept intact. By the grace of God, may we continue in the pattern of sound words which we have heard.

Now onto a completely different topic, I’ve been thinking about what to do with BibleDB. The site’s been inactive and I would venture it’s because of these reasons:

  • people are simply too busy
  • it seems like you’re supposed to write some long and insightful reflection (in this respect it has become something quite different from the original intention of categorizing verses)
  • even if someone did want to get around contributing, the password is long forgotten

A redesign has been swimming around in my head for a little and I’ve gotten around to developing it. I call it “Bible Tidbits” because the purpose of it is to jot down “tidbits” or bite-size notes/annotations, rather than fully developed reflections or devotionals. These tidbits are generally the short little notes you might squeeze within the tiny margins of your Bible, but often record some interesting observation or thought associated with a passage, or with a set of cross references.

Thus, the semantics for the content in this redesign is different from the existing BibleDB. Instead of “Context notes” and “Reflection,” there is “Tidbit” and “More,” for cases where you do want to put down more elaborate thoughts. Typically, however, only the “Tidbit” will be populated and the “More” will be hidden by default unless the person wants to specifically write more stuff. The design is meant to feature the tidbit prominently, so no more need to click on a single record to view its content.

I also removed categories altogether, and just left the organization to tagging. This lets users organize their notes themselves rather than enforcing some categorical scheme.

And the most important enhancement, in my personal opinion, is cross references. Tidbits can be associated with multiple verses/passages instead of just one.

I will say, however, that I’m not developing this app and trying to push it so that many people will want to use it. Ultimately, I’m kind of developing it for myself and tailoring it to the way I work, and if it appeals to other people, great! But for now, I’m just hoping it can be a useful tool for me, a place to perhaps centralize all my Bible margin scribbles and inspirations that can be retrieved later for further development.

Some things I would like to put in place before “releasing it” for general use are authentication/login with existing services (most likely google or facebook) so people don’t have to maintain another special account, and a way to query a passage reference and bring up all the tidbits associated with that range (this is already possible in BibleDB, but because the underlying data model is different, doing it in the redesign is a little more involved).

<begin shameless plug>Anyhow, if you’re interested in checking out the preview, let me know! It’s a fun (although somewhat time-consuming) project for me as it is also an opportunity for me to work with HTML5, CSS3, and Javascript even more. It would be great to get some feedback though, especially in relation to how it should be different from BibleDB so that it can be more useful/more convenient to add content. So again, if you’re interested or just curious to see it, let me know and give me suggestions! </end shameless plug>

I’m not publishing the url since what I have now is basically a prototype and it could very well be so inefficiently fetching too much data in each request that if even a few people play with it my very limited memory quota will be exceeded, causing my webhost to terminate my process.

Brother MG

Brother MG and his wife JW began truthseeking at East Bay, according to my memory, about a year ago. They experienced many blessings and graces from God, both receiving the Holy Spirit before being baptized. JW received the Holy Spirit first and was baptized during last year’s spring ESSC. MG received the Holy Spirit several months ago and a special baptism was scheduled for him, since his health was deteriorating.

Today, I was informed that brother MG was called back by the Lord in the afternoon.

I did not have too many conversations with MG, but each one was enlightening and caused me to reflect. Sometimes a new believer’s faith reminds us what faith and spiritual cultivation should be. We were talking about our personal Bible reading, and I think I said something along the lines of how sometimes Bible reading can become dull at times, but we need to keep at it because all of God’s word is useful for teaching and there are a lot of interesting things, etc. MG said something that made me thank God while also causing me to feel a little shame.

Oh, the Bible keeps itself interesting! Everyday before I read it, it’s like, “What am I going to learn today?”

During the short period of time after his baptism and before his health took a turn for the worse, we had always said that we should get lunch during the week, because we both work in the same city. We even exchanged phone numbers, but for whatever reason – preoccupation, laziness, being in a rush – I did not call him and ate at my desk as usual. Even after I heard he had been admitted into a hospital a few weeks back, I always thought there would be a time when we would have lunch. After the East Bay picnic last Sunday, several members stopped by the hospital to visit him. He was so happy to see us since he was unable to go to church for some time. One of the things he said to me was, “We’re still on for lunch though!”

Brother MG, looks like we’ll have to rain-check for when we enter the heavenly kingdom. I pray that I may make it there to meet you. It will be a feast to look forward to.

For the Sake of One

Jesus and the disciples had just crossed the stormy sea of Galilee, arriving at the land of Gennesaret (or Gergesenes, or Gadarenes). The moment He embarked He encountered a man possessed by many demons (a “Legion” of them). After He cast them out, the people in that area made Him leave, and so He did. (Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39).

In another incident, Jesus trekked all the way to the region of Tyre and Sidon, and He did not want anyone to know about it. Inevitably, word got around and He was found by a Syro-Phoenician woman, who begged Jesus to cast out the demon from her daughter. She was not discouraged by Jesus’ insult and her humility was rewarded. The Bible does not say whether Jesus did anything else in that region and He seemingly departed and returned to the the region of Decapolis (around where He encountered Legion), where He healed many. (Matthew 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30).

In both of these cases, Jesus went to predominantly Gentile regions for a short period of time, healed a single person, and left. There may be multiple reasons for this with various interpretations, but I think one of them is He went specifically for these single individuals. Although neither the demon-possessed man nor the Canaanite woman were Jewish, He sought them out, knowing not only how much they needed Him, but how much they hoped to find Him. Sure, the journeys may have been troublesome, far, and incredibly roundabout, but Jesus loves every man. A single precious soul is worth it.

At times we are overtaken by numbers. We evaluate the worth of an effort or initiative by numbers (for good, valid, and practical reasons!). But if we’re not careful it may lead to thinking that isn’t Christ-like. We may become discouraged if there’s only one truthseeker at an evangelical event. We may start to feel disappointed if only a few members show up to listen to our sermon, or weary if only 2-3 students can participate in our awesome lesson plan. Perhaps we grumble if we need to pick up a truthseeker who lives far from church. Overall, we may feel that the effort, time, and labor that we put into planning, coordinating, and preparing is not worth the result. And before we know it, pride has displaced the love of God in our servitude. It has pushed aside the love of the souls which our work is supposed to bring closer to God.

God values every single soul. The work of God does not cater only to large crowds but also to individuals. God may guide us in a way that is contrary to what we expect or think is more sensible, until He reveals the single or few people that He wants us to draw closer to Him.

The example of Philip comes to mind. He was preaching in Samaria and brought many people to believe in God, but then God told him to leave and go into the desert (Acts 8:26). Philip may have wondered, “Why? What can I do in the desert? There’s no one there!” Philip remained submissive, however, and when he saw the Ethiopian eunuch in the distance, he understood. The Lord had brought him there so he could preach to this one person who was diligently searching the Scriptures for God.

May we shed any self-interest in our service to God, and rededicate our efforts towards edification of others. It doesn’t matter if our work affects many, or simply one. All are dear to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Body Worlds Vital Exhibit

This past Friday I went to the San Jose Tech Museum (The Tech) with my sister, brother-in-law and dad to see the Body Worlds Vital exhibit. It was my first time going to this sort of exhibit on the human body and it was really fascinating and inspiring on two levels.

The first level was actually a conviction in intelligent design. As I read various descriptions and summaries on certain muscles, the nervous system, circulatory system, and digestive system, I was just so amazed at how truly, every part of the body, down to the smallest blood vessel, serves a purpose. So much is going on in everyday actions like breathing. The body contains a myriad of systems and sub-systems that all work to accomplish a specific task that contributes to the general well-being of the entire body. This is engineering and design at its finest. To me, the complexity and thoroughness of the human body (and life in general) points to the notion that there was and is a creator and designer. As my sister once said to me, the notion that all of this came to be through sheer chance and probability is harder to believe than the idea that someone was behind it all. I realize the evolution vs. intelligent design debate is a rather touchy one, but I’m not trying to specifically convince or refute anyone. These were just my overriding impressions from the exhibit.

On the second level of fascination and amazement, I became inspired to be more active in maintaining and taking care of my body, which basically translates to eating healthier and exercising more. One of the objectives of the exhibit was to motivate people to fight the sedentary lifestyle that humans have become accustomed to, and to be more active. Regular exercise helps fight aging and a good diet keeps the internals running optimally and cleanly. Being able to see our innards (which was both intriguing and grotesque) allowed me to realize just how much an effect (whether positive or negative) diet and exercise can have on our bodies.

This also reminded me of 1 Tim 4:8 – “for bodily exercise profits little, but godliness is profitable for all things.” If now I feel that physical exercise is so important, how much more important is exercising ourselves toward godliness?

Deception of the Gibeonites: Living Carefully

This post has been in my mental queue for awhile now, for no real good reason. And as with most of my reflections here, it’s particularly relevant to my life.

After Joshua and the Israelites defeated Jericho and Ai, the rest of the Canaanites were terrified and united together against Joshua; all except for the Gibeonites. Although they were a neighboring people, they came to Joshua pretending to be ambassadors from a distant country. To support their claim, they brought along old wine skins, dry and moldy bread, and battered clothes and sandals. And with this guise, they sought and won a treaty with the people of God. This is recorded in Joshua 9.

One passage that got me thinking was 9:12-15, where the Gibeonites describe how worn out and disgusting their provisions were. In spite of this, what did the men of Israel do?

Then the men of Israel took some of their provisions; but they did not ask counsel of the Lord.

So Joshua made peace with them, and made a covenant with them to let them live; and the rulers of the congregation swore to them.

They accepted the provisions, even though they knew they were pretty much garbage. And perhaps out of our human inclination to reciprocate, they established a treaty with a people they were supposed to drive out. Why in the world did they even accept these provisions in the first place? It didn’t make much sense to me.

Then a thought came to me. Maybe it’s because it was free.

Let’s be honest. Most of us are suckers for free merchandise. We’ll gladly take stuff that is useless or low-quality if it’s free. A visible example of this is a career fair. A lot of people go not just because they’re looking for a job, but also because they want to get their hands on some free goodies (yes, some are actually cool/useful, but the majority of the giveaways, well, suck). So many free pens I’ve horded I’ve just ended up throwing away because they don’t write smoothly. So many XL shirts that I never wear. Even the “cooler” things are useless; a mini USB light, low-fidelity ear buds, and yes, boogie bots. On a few occasions I was able to go to a career fair as a recruiter. Some of the candidates I talked to, you can see their eyes glancing down at the table where all the goodies are, while they’re talking to me.

If it’s free, our hands will be all over it. Maybe that’s why the men of Israel accepted the provisions of the Gibeonites. After all, it was basically free food, clothes, and water bottles. This gesture deceived them into establishing a treaty.

Sometimes this can happen in our own lives too, especially with the prevalence of multimedia. And the internet makes media extremely accessible and in many cases, free. We know that a lot of media is actually detrimental to our spirituality and can influence us away from godliness. We know there is a lot of content that can skew us away from the principles of the Bible. But in spite of this knowledge, we still fill ourselves with this kind of entertainment that usually does more harm than good. In my own experience, I’ve burned a lot of time on useless media that could’ve been better spent in “asking counsel of the Lord.”

If this media was not as accessible, it’d be easier for us to resist. Just imagine if youtube and hulu started charging money to watch all of their videos. If that wouldn’t stop us from watching it altogether, it’d certainly make us watch less, right?

Thus, as God constantly told His people, we must be careful to keep God’s commandments. We must live carefully. Don’t let the notion of “free” cause us to drop our guard and make us prone to the deception. We must put on the armor of God and be watchful in prayer, in order to stand against the wiles of the devil. Let us be careful to seek what is actually precious and valuable, which is our Lord Jesus Christ.

Spiritual Food

Pr. Ko is in the bay area and has been leading services at Pacifica church for the past week or so. I had the opportunity to attend Wednesday night service yesterday after work, and all I can say is, “Thank God!” I don’t really know exactly why or how, but the topic and each verse that was brought up really had an impact on me and caused me to reflect.

Ever experienced a time when you don’t know exactly what you’re craving for dinner, and then what you eat just happens to really hit the spot? Or when you try to spend the time to cook your own food and the results are just kind of bland and plain, and then when you go out to eat the food just tastes amazing? That’s kind of how last night’s sermon was for me. I came to the church hungry (physically too, since I had been working up through 7:30pm), and I left in awe of how satisfied, rested, and nourished I felt.

In the past several weeks I had a recurring thought that I really needed an SSC or a seminar to just focus on God’s word, and to rejuvenate my spiritual pursuit. Thank God, I really felt renewed from the service, as if a few days worth of SSC inspiration were bundled in the sermon (or going along with this food analogy, it was like http://dinnerinabottle.com/, minus the grossness of the idea).

Even just upon arriving and seeing some members that I know but do not regularly see brought back that gladness of greeting other brethren who fear the Lord, the kind that brings an involuntary grin on my face.

There are certain children at Pacifica church who are famous for singing very loudly. After the hymn, Pr. Ko said that it reminded him of the passage where children were crying out loud praises in the temple (Mt 21:15-16). To some adults the noise may be shrill, harsh, disharmonious, and downright annoying, just as the Pharisees were indignant of the children’s cries. But Jesus said that praise was perfected out of the mouths of babies and infants. Their praise is perfect. Indeed, I also marveled at how engaged the kids were during the service. They sat in the front and listened intently and answered questions that the pastor asked them. Pretty sure I didn’t pay such attention during sermons when I was their age. Thank God for these children who are examples to children and adults alike.

I haven’t even said what the topic of the sermon was, but I intend to write about it in a later post. Still need to take some time to revisit and think it through for myself. But it was truly powerful and inspiring right from the beginning. And it wasn’t even really the speaker’s eloquence or words; he simply spoke the words of God. But the words of God, words that I have come across before but had forgotten, suddenly became scintillating. Right from the introduction with the motivating verse I was brought into a humble state, admiring our Jesus who came into this world. Our Lord. Our Savior.

Hehe, and I shall keep you in suspense of the content of the sermon until next time. Meanwhile, treat yourself and go out for dinner more, spiritually-speaking.