But by My Spirit!
Zechariah 4:6-7; Isaiah 43:19
Dear members of the church, how are you all doing? It feels like yesterday when I walked around McLean Campus with short steps, but two years have passed since I left. As I am standing at the pulpit with renewed feeling this morning, first I’d like to sincerely thank you all from the bottom of my heart for praying for the New Light KUMC and my family, and helping us out. Many of you have supported me by prayers and donations at every occasion. Some produced sermon CDs for a year and some visited almost every week to encourage me for almost two years. Some of you have been my co-workers by serving as a teacher or a praise leader, even to this date. I am well aware that the intercessory prayer team is still praying for us. I pray for God’s grace to be abundant in all of you.
Two years ago when I was about to leave, KUMC held a farewell party at Soonwon fellowship hall for me and my family. At that time, one of the church members came forward to talk about the memory of me; and he made all of us laugh aloud by mistakenly stating “a farewell party for Pastor Lee” as “a tribute for the memory of Pastor Lee.” Instantly, I ended up becoming a deceased person. Just at that moment, a voice coursed through my mind: “Yes, you must die. You will be able to bear the new ministry only if every part of you- even those that had not been died- face death. What you really need is a funeral, not a farewell party.” The phrase “a tribute for the memory of Pastor Lee” which came out by mistake became an awakening drum beat of heart calling to my soul. I am grateful to the person who killed me that day.
I went to the New Light KUMC with such a great lesson, but my will still dominated me as it used to do. I tried to do it by myself instead of leaving it to God. If the KUMC in Greater Washington was a comfortable city, the New Light KUMC was a wilderness. I was in a hurry as I was standing in the center of the desolate wilderness. I was impatient rather than waiting. I wanted to change the wilderness into a city by planting trees and channeling waterway by myself. Many of the times, however, things did not go as I wished. Every time I experienced that, I tried to keep calm on the surface; but deep down in my heart, I blamed the circumstance and complained to God.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, what are the characteristics of the wilderness? The wilderness lacks many things. You may find everything in a city, but the wilderness is the opposite. You do not find many things in the wilderness. There is no water in the wilderness; there is no shade; and no friend, either. Therefore, the wilderness is a place of thirst, fatigue, apprehension and loneliness. If a city symbolizes affluence, the wilderness may symbolize a shortage. You tend to complain or resent in the wilderness because it lacks many things.
The wilderness has another characteristic. You find values from shortage. Don’t stars in the night sky shine more when there are no electric lights? We can taste more flavor from rice when no side-dishes are available. You may have more thirst for God in the wilderness since it has no water. You may seek God’s care more desperately in the wilderness since it has no place to hide. Grace from the wilderness is ‘the grace of emptiness’. In this place, we seek God more since there is nothing, and we rely more on God since there is nothing to rely on. The wilderness is such a place.
I was a fool in that it took time for me to realize ‘the grace of emptiness’. After some time, I realized that I had to seek more from God rather than complaining due to the shortage. After some time, I learned that staying powerless can save my life from drowning in the water rather than desperately fluttering my hands and feet. Only after some time, I realized that what I needed was not my ability to resolve, but the faith believing the might of God and entrusting everything to God. It took some time for me to realize that the wilderness is a land of grace, not a land of prize.
What I have learned as I walked a path like the wilderness during the past two years was how small and powerless I am. On the day I was assigned to the KUMC in Greater Washington, Pastor Kang, who is my friend, sang a special praise song for me. The name of the song is ‘Wish’, and it starts like the following:
Wish to know His mind even in a small matter in my life
That path, I want to take that narrow path
Realizing how small I am and how great He is
Hope, I want to take its profound path
When my friend kindly awakened me through praising that I am small and God is big, I should have already realized that; but I did it after tasting the bitterness of the wilderness. The wilderness lacked only one thing; what I lacked was the humble faith of relying only on the Lord.
In chapter 4 of the Book of Zechariah which we read all together today, a person named ‘Zerubbabel’ appears. He rebuilt the temple of Jerusalem which was totally ruined by the Babylonian forces. With a support from Cyrus, the King of Persia, Zerubbabel had led a group among the people of Judah who had been captives and returned to Jerusalem to start the rebuilding of the temple. However, he experienced a crisis in which the construction was stopped because it was sabotaged by the Samaritans in the middle of the work. As a result, Zerubbabel and his people were deeply disappointed. Nevertheless, he was able to restart the rebuilding with a spiritual support from the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, and finally completed the construction of the temple. (Ezra Chapters 1-6)
Today’s scripture is a voice which was delivered from an angel to Zerubbabel regarding the completion of the rebuilding of the temple: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6) What is might and what is power? These are the means which the human beings rely on. It is a struggle of the human beings to build a city in the wilderness. We can build Las Vegas in the center of the wilderness using might and power. However, the Church of the Lord cannot be restored by might and power. “[b]ut by my Spirit!” The Church of the Lord is built not by skill but by prayer.
The angel continues to speak to the prophet: “What are you, mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground.” (Zechariah 4:7a) The big mountain is a level ground not because he is a great and strong person. It is because the Spirit of the Lord was with him. Goliath, who was like a big mountain, was merely level ground in front of David not because David was stronger than Goliath. It was because David was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.
A few months later after I was assigned to the New Light KUMC, I visited the home of a fellow believer who has been struggling to live. After we sang hymns and prayed with tears together, I was leaving the home when the husband, a deacon of the church, spoke to me something from behind. Since I could not hear him properly, I turned back and asked him: “Deacon, what did you just say?” Then he told me: “Pastor, I am looking forward to.” At that moment, I felt a shiver. “You are looking forward to?” “Yes, I am really looking forward to seeing how God will help my family.” I felt a great shock. That family was in a situation like standing on the brink of a precipice. If he was pushed one more step, he was about to fall off from the precipice. And such a person who was standing on the brink of the precipice said he was looking forward to it! At that moment of hearing what the deacon said, I recalled a piece of writing which I had read in the past.
At 100 meters before the edge of the cliff, God is pushing me.
Is He trying to make me nervous?
At 10 meters before, He continues to push me.
Now, He may stop soon.
At 1 meter before, there's no place to go further. Surely, He won’t push me further, right?
At the end of the cliff,
No way, God will never push me down the cliff,
since He knows too well how I have been trying.
But God pushed me, barely standing at the edge of the cliff, down to the cliff.
Only then, I knew that I had wings……….
What I needed was such a faith; it was the belief which would prompt me to expect even more at the edge of the cliff where there is no more place to stand on and no more thing to rely on; it was the belief that God will raise me up with the Spirit of God when I do not have any strength and power to rely on; and it was the belief which the deacon had shown me.
Thankfully, the New Light KUMC has become more settled and established in the last two years. The young families new to the church had joined us. We started overseas missionary work and established church choir. The Sunday school had grown a bit as well. As I have relayed in the Pastor’s Column last time, the number of people has not increased as much as we wanted, however, the number of disciples is increasing little by little. The whole thing is all because of the Lord’s blessing. What is even more grateful is that the Lord has answered the most pressing prayer of the New Light KUMC. As the Emmanuel UMC, located next to the H-Mart in Annandale, was merged with a big church, we will be moving into that building in August so that we can worship in the morning.
For the past two years, the New Light KUMC congregation and I have been learning how great the Lord is and how insignificant we are as we have experienced the crisis and trials as well as the divine grace and providence. We are still walking in the wilderness, but we confess that the work of the church is not done through our own will or power but only through the spirit of the Lord. And in faith, we hope for the amazing things that the Lord will do through us. As I have served the New Light KUMC for the past two years, I learned that “in order to transform the mountain into level ground, the Lord must use me as the instrument of the Lord, instead of me taking out my own instrument.” This is the learning which I wanted to share with you today.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, everyone may go through the wilderness in their lives. The wilderness that we may face in our daily lives may be illness, financial difficulties, business failure, our children who went astray, family discord, mental stress and depression as well as status issue which we may experience as immigrants. When we walk through the bumpy and dark road of the wilderness, do not try to turn on the light forcefully. On the contrary, there are some lights that can only be seen when the lamp is put out. There are things that can only be seen when you close your eyes. There are things that can only be held by letting them go. There are lives to be gained only by dying. Understanding this paradoxical truth is the secret of crossing the wilderness.
In today’s second scripture, the Lord speaks through the Prophet Isaiah: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19) I firmly believe this. I believe that if we do not depend on our own will or on the power of this world but just live by the Spirit of the Lord, the Lord will certainly make a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. It is the same for the churches as well as individuals. We shall only live by the Spirit of the Lord. If you and I can live our lives with the Lord’s grace which can be gained because we do not have many other things as we walk through the wilderness, this wilderness will surely become a blessing and a reason to give thanks. The author of the Psalm says, “Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalms 46:10a). I pray that all of us would stop our efforts to accomplish something based on our own will and power, and we entrust our lives in the work of the Lord who transforms the wilderness solely by the Spirit of the Lord.