The airplane shuddered and tilted back and forth as it descended toward the airport on Jeju Island, 50 miles south of the Korean peninsula. Peering through the window we could see the surf breaking against the rocky shore, stirred by the snowstorm brewing below us. Mr. Moon and I had been invited to teach at several church meetings over the weekend, but it appeared that the rare snowstorm on this tropical island might make it difficult to land the aircraft.
Suddenly the humming jet engines switched to full power mode, and amid a few gasps from passengers, we were tilted back in our seats as the plane pulled up in a steep climb. Moments later, the intercom crackled on, and the pilot explained that the airport was reporting high winds from the snowstorm, and for safety reasons he had carefully executed a missed approach.
I turned to Mr. Moon with a look of concern, for our first meeting was scheduled to begin in an hour… Mr. Moon explained that the pilot was going to try a second attempt to land. The experience of the pilot can make a big difference, and we were blessed with a very skilled pilot with 30 years of flying experience.
We held our breath as again the plane descended into the storm. I could picture the concentration of the pilot working intently to steady the plane against the turbulent crosswind. Now we could clearly see the houses and trees as we descended to a few hundred feet above the ground on the final approach to the runway.
But again we felt the aircraft drop as a sudden gust of wind suddenly pushed us down, and again the pilot pulled up for a second missed approach. The wind was at 50mph, exceeding the safety rating of the aircraft. “Safety is our first priority”, the pilot explained, as he turned the plane to head back to the Gimpo airport that we had left an hour before.
What about the meeting we were supposed to be at? What about the people that were waiting for us? Would we even be able to get on a later flight? These questions raced through my mind, but having no way to contact the church, all we could do was pray that the Lord would work things out.
But the Lord indeed was working things out, as little as we could realize it at the time. Arriving at the Gimpo airport, we found that that church had already called ahead, canceled the original tickets, and made arrangements for us to return on a larger aircraft. Quickly transferring our bags, we rushed to the gate, only to find that the plane was still awaiting clearance to leave.
Suddenly the authorization was given, and the crowd of passengers rushed to board the aircraft. We all knew that this was probably our only chance to make it to Jeju that evening. An hour later, all was quiet as the aircraft descended toward the Jeju airport. It was dark now, but the larger Airbus A300 was handling the wind a little better. With a sigh of relief we felt the plane contact the runway and come to a stop on the tarmac.
Leaving the aircraft, I could feel the ice crunching under my feet as the blowing snow whipped across our faces. With snow, ice and wind like that, I was amazed that they had managed to land the airplane. Later we learned that just after our flight left Gimpo, every single flight to Jeju was canceled! And on top of that, Mr. Moon told me that we had been allowed to purchase the very last tickets available for that flight!
A Pastor’s Vision
By now it was after 8:00 PM, and a core group of people from the church greeted us in the meeting room. Taking off our shoes at the entry, we joined the people sitting on the heated floor around short tables. I am still not flexible enough to comfortably tuck my knees under the table, so I tried not to be too much of a distraction as I periodically shifted my position from one side to the other.
Adjusting our plans for the change in schedule, Mr. Moon shared an introduction to the importance of building good character into our lives. Everyone enjoyed a group activity as we had them match the most important character qualities to various occupations. (Students need determination, dentists need gentleness, husbands need sensitivity, politicians need virtue, etc…)
Meeting the senior pastor the next morning before the Sunday service, we were impressed with his vision for the church. “We need to reach the next generation,” he explained, “We need to build strong families so that the next generation can be strong for the Lord.”
I sat back in my chair with amazement. So many churches today are focusing on building programs and outreach initiatives, while at the same time losing their own children to the world because of unresolved conflicts in the home. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, we tend to focus most of our energy on theological knowledge with very little practical application to daily life.
But here we were seeing something different; a senior pastor with a heart to learn and apply God’s ways, starting in his own life, and then in the lives of the church leadership, and then with their congregation.
Mr. Moon rejoiced to hear that the very topic he would be speaking about that afternoon was something that the Lord had impressed on the heart of the pastor over the past several months. Not only had God blessed our travels, but the Holy Spirit had truly gone before us and answered prayer by preparing hearts in a way that we never could have done.
Sharing from the testimony of his own life, Mr. Moon explained the vital importance of hearing the heart of his wife. While serving as a missionary in Egypt, he was so busy doing “God’s work” during the day that he would come home exhausted, and too tired to really hear his wife’s heart. But the Lord convicted him that he needed to lay down his life for his wife, even as Christ laid down his life for the church.
As Mr. Moon tried to obey the Lord’s direction in this area, he began to have a whole new appreciation for his wife and her counsel. Their relationship has deepened greatly since that time, and he has come to value her as a precious gift from the Lord.
Listening with great interest to this message, the pastor’s wife talked this over with her husband later that evening. “Let’s talk together,” she appealed to her husband. Even though he was tired from a long day of meetings, the pastor focused with renewed attentiveness as his wife shared from her heart.
For several hours late into the night they experienced the joy of resolving issues that for ten and twenty years had been obstacles in their relationship. “I was the one that received the greatest benefit from this weekend!” was the happy testimony of Pastor Kim the next morning.
A Turning Point
At the conclusion of our afternoon meetings, the assistant pastor was wrapping up some final details before taking us to dinner. Just before leaving, Mr. Moon told me that the pastor had arranged for a meeting that evening with the pastors and music leaders, and he wanted us to talk about good music, expanding on our discussion over lunch.
My heart trembled as I heard this. Yes, I see and understand the vital importance of right music, but I also know that this is one of the most controversial subjects in the church today, and discussions usually result in vicious opposition and tear churches apart with strong opinions on both sides.
Knowing that this is not a discussion to be won on an intellectual level, I prayed that God would give wisdom in how to appeal to the conscience and support their church vision. One of the elders took us out to a fancy sushi restaurant, but as I ate my fish head soup, raw octopus, my thoughts were on how to most effectively share about music principles.
After dinner we gathered in a meeting room with the pastors and church leaders, and the pastor talked with Mr. Moon about how they can emphasize principles of character in their church. The music director was there, but sitting back a little way from the table and not participating quite as much in the discussion. Silently I prayed that God would give us favor in the hearts of these leaders as we brought a difficult, but important message.
Turning to me, the senior pastor asked if I could share with everyone about music. Reaching for a piece of paper, I turned with a smile to the eager, interested eyes around the table. “God designed each of us in three parts,” I began, drawing three circles on the paper. We have a spirit, soul, and body. Our spirit is what is born again when we are saved, and our soul is the home of our mind, will and emotions.
Explaining these in more detail, I asked which one they thought was the most important. Everyone agreed that it would be the spirit. That is exactly right, I told them, God wants us to worship Him in spirit and truth. Godly music will minister to our spirit, encouraging us with the truth of God’s Word.
Music also affects our soul. I get excited in my emotions when I sing about God’s power and majesty, and what He has done in my life. And we also praise God with our body, singing with our voices to the Lord. Right music will bring the strongest focus on ministering to our spirit, while also involving our soul and body.
Looking around, it was clearly evident that God was working by His Holy Spirit to bring this message home to the hearts. The pastor was taking page after page of notes, and everyone was nodding in agreement. I sensed the Lord’s enabling to share these principles with great clarity. As I paused for Mr. Moon to translate each thought, the next one would come together in my mind with a clearness I could only attribute to the Lord’s working.
“Now let me show you a contrast,” I continued. “What kind of music would represent the world?” We talked about the worldly rock music of the 60’s. What was the strongest emphasis in this music? It was focused on the sensual passions of the body, and designed to stimulate the emotions to a wild excitement.
But what about the spirit? The spirit is the home of conscience, and rock music was designed to be played at volumes so loud it would drown out the voice of conscience. God doesn’t want us to drown out the voice of conscience and try to suppress guilt. He wants to resolve guilt so He can speak to us through a still small voice in our spirit.
Do you see the contrast? The world’s music is just the opposite of God’s design. Now do you suppose that the music of the Christian should be different than the music of the world? Yes, they definitely affirmed this. That is exactly what we read in the Psalms, where David talks about the Lord putting a new song in his mouth, even praise to the Lord.
Returning to my diagram, I explained the three parts of music, the melody, the harmony, and the rhythm. Which one of these should be dominant? They all pointed out the melody. Yes, and the harmony supports the melody, and the rhythm gives life to the music.
But what does rock music focus on? Again, we find it just the opposite. The rhythm is dominant with a driving beat, and chords are being played, sometimes with no real melody at all. “Now notice a correlation,” I continued, and pointed out how the melody ministers to our spirit, the harmony inspires our emotions, and rhythm appeals to our body.
In my observation, much of our music in churches across America today does very little to minister to the spirit, but is instead focused on creating an emotional response. You can get a youth group excited in their emotions on Sunday, but then have them go out and live in defeat through the rest of the week because they were not strong in their spirit.
“But I see an even deeper issue with this,” I went on. “Could I share with you something further?” “Yes, yes!” the senior pastor exclaimed, momentarily raising his pen from his paper. Deep in thought, the others leaned forward in interest.
God’s Word tells us that we should not be ignorant of Satan’s devices. But we see Satan using the same tactics that he has used through history. When the nation of Israel came into the Promised Land it was like Satan tried to destroy them with powerful armies, but ultimately failed because God defended and protected His people.
Then Satan changed tactics. Since he could not defeat them as a roaring lion, he became like an angel of light. In the account of Baalam, we see that Baalam could not curse God’s people to destroy them, but led them astray into idolatry and immorality with the Moabites. This brought the judgment of God upon Israel, and in the generations following, thousands of God’s people were destroyed through these compromises with the world.
Take a look at the nation of Korea. When we toured the Korean war memorial museum, we saw the advance of the North Korean army until South Korea was reduced to just a small section on the tip of the peninsula. It was like Satan was using brute force and military power in a desperate attempt to crush Christianity in this land.
But I firmly believe that it was not the United States that saved Korea. It was not the United Nations that saved Korea. I believe it was God that saved Korea, and preserved His people against the attack of the enemy. Christianity could not be extinguished, and has since blossomed and flourished.
But now it seems that Satan has changed tactics again. Since he could not overcome with force, he is working to defeat Christians through compromise with the world. If he can defeat the Christians in their personal lives and families, they would lose their influence and witness to the world.
I am thrilled to see the vision of your church to reach the next generation! We want to do all we can to see them be strong for the Lord, knowing that they will be the leaders of families and churches in years to come.
But today there are temptations and pressures facing young people that were not there in my generation. When I was a boy, my parents were very careful about the things they allowed in our home, and the kinds of information we had access to. But today we have the Internet in almost every home, and children are a few clicks away from the most evil things. The only way we can protect them is to help them become mighty in spirit.
Scripture tells us that the flesh wars against the spirit. Sowing to the flesh brings death, but sowing to the spirit brings life. This is where it relates back to music. Music has a powerful influence in our lives, but it is either feeding the flesh or feeding the spirit. What kind of music will help the next generation to be strong in spirit?
As I looked around the table, every person seemed deeply interested. I did not sense any strong reaction, but rather a genuine hunger for truth. The education pastor raised her hand to ask a question, but the senior pastor looked up from his fresh stack of notes, and said “No, wait.” Then looking at me, he said, “Keep going.”
The scene made me think of a picture out of the book of Acts. Never have I seen such openness to truth on such a sensitive issue! They were like the Bereans in Acts 17:11, receiving the words with an open mind, and studying them out to see if these things were so.
Mr. Moon went on to explain many more things in detail, and the pastor closed the meeting at about 10:15 PM. Upon returning to our hotel room for the evening, Mr. Moon and I knelt in prayer to thank God for the incredible moving of the Holy Spirit that we had just witnessed. Truly God had prepared their hearts!
A Visit to Remember
On Monday morning we were joined by several other pastors and discussed how a church can focus on developing Godly character in the lives of their people. In this meeting it was like the senior pastor was taking the lead, emphasizing to the other pastors that we don’t need more ministries and programs, we need to strengthen the families in our churches.
Focusing on character is not about implementing another program, but about changing the lives of people as they apply principles of God’s Word to practical daily living. Most of the discussion was in Korean, but Mr. Moon stopped occasionally to summarize for me what was being discussed.
Following our meeting, we had lunch at a Korean restaurant where the wife of the assistant pastor works. We sat cross-legged on the floor around the low tables in typical Korean style. This time we ate duck, frying it on the stone slab in the center of the table. They all thought something was very funny about how I trimmed the fat off my meat before eating it, but the comments were in Korean, so I never figured it out.
On the way to the airport we stopped by the sea side to take a few pictures. It was a new experience to climb across the lava rock to the shore where the waves were crashing against the rock, sending a spray of water into the air. But our time was brief, and we needed to head to the airport to catch our return flight.
God is doing a wonderful work in this church, and may the Lord greatly bless Pastor Kim and the Choong-shin church as they take steps to follow the Lord’s ways in these vital areas!