I was able to attend the OIL (One in Love) Conference at Wheaton College this past week. I was incredibly blessed and wanted to write a brief post to gather my thoughts afterwards. I would highly encourage anyone to go next year!
I was very blessed and fortunate to grow up in a Christian household. Between my father who was bi-vocational as a pastor and professor of New Testament and Ancient Greek at seminary and my mother who would inundate my younger brother and me with fervent prayer and bible verses, God and his word was heavily emphasized in my household. Though in the beginning, I went through the motions of my parents, I began to question and ask whether I really had any faith or love for Jesus. Sure I was involved with church and could pray, memorize scripture, and give offering, but is that what it meant to be a Christian? What did it mean to love God? How would I know that I “stepped over the line of faith?” Would it be a feeling or emotion I received? Would I walk around with a halo on my head? As I prayed, would the clouds rip open and the glory of the Lord descend? (that would have been cool). But as I went through confirmation, moved from California to Wheaton to Chicago, and was mentored and guided by my parents and other great spiritual figures, I began to realize the depravity and offense of my sin and just how much I needed Jesus, and how much he loved me and that the only response I could show or have after receiving such love was to love and give everything I had. It was not an emotion I would feel, but a decision and commitment I would make. I became a Christian on 7/29/2012 (the summer before I would go to high school) through Hebrews 12:1-2.
High school was difficult and presented many obstacles and challenges. Through my struggles whether academic or spiritual, I realized that I had issues of pride, purity, and self-image. Following God and loving Jesus slowly began to feel like a chore at times, and on others, I began to use it to be harshly condemning of the secular lifestyles that I saw within my classmates, peers, and even other Christians. It was a strange dichotomy; while I would have my doubts and apprehensions about my faith, I would cling to it to almost spite those who didn’t believe; as if to show how good I was at honoring God and showing how Holy I was in a midst of a culture that only sought to satisfy itself. Yet through it all, I still tried to hold on and cling to God’s word. But many of this issues still remained with me as I finished out my senior year and got ready to attend Cornell University. As I left Chicago, and drove with my dad to Ithaca, New York, the questions I was asking were along the lines of: “How will God use me at Cornell? What fellowship should I join? How will I grow in my faith and make it my own?”
I was certainly blessed during first semester whether it was through the classes I was taking or the wonderful and vibrant faith community on Cornell’s campus, but as I returned back on December 10th, I realized that I had more fundamental questions I was subconsciously asking myself: Why did I follow God? Why did I love Jesus? Was it simply out of habit? Did being a part of a church or a Christian group provide a social body that I felt like I could be part of and one that would accept me for who I am and not shun me? Was following Christianity merely something that I did because it was the most comfortable and I was afraid to leave it? I wrestled with these questions all through break, and well into the first few days into the New Year. I came to OIL, prayerfully asking that I could see and know more of who God was, and that I could love him unconditionally with all my heart. That God would reveal himself to me and following him would not be something I did out of habit or conviction, but that it would be something I truly wanted. As it said in Psalm 42:1, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” This was my prayer; that my soul would thirst for God. Furthermore, I wanted to be obedient to God at all times during the conference; that even if God was calling me out to the wilderness as the Holy Spirit did with Jesus in Mark 1:9-13.
As I sit here writing and reflecting on January 9th, two days after OIL ended, I give thanks to God for being faithful and for answering my prayers. I learned so much and was profusely gripped through the praise, prayer, seminars, and sermons. From Dr. Mitch Kim, I was challenged by the notion that my vision FOR God was bigger than my vision OF God. For so long, I had purely looked to God with a genie-in-the-lamp mindset. I was focused on what God could do for me, and when the results were not immediate or what I wanted, I would pray with a lackluster heart and bad attitude. I realized that in college, I had been living for myself and wanted God to bless my own plan. But then I realized how less of me must live and how Christ must live in me. As I follow Christ, will I do so with grit? I should not give up. As an unexpected yet powerful follow-up, Charles Zimmerman’s preaching on Matthew 16:13-16 also resonated with me. In the land of other kings, not Peter was willing to declare that Jesus was king but that Jesus was HIS (Peter’s) king. So in my life, there is no denying that Jesus is king...but I was gripped with the question: was Jesus my king? If the answer to that question is no, what was holding me back? I realized I loved my own plans and life too much; I needed to relinquish that which was mine and receive that which was Jesus’.
These two messages leading up were preparing my heart for Dr. Crawford Loritts message on January 5th. Reading from Revelation 2:1-5, Dr. Loritts powerfully articulated how we have left our first love, and have drifted towards self-centeredness. Looking at my life, I realized how I was not daily prioritizing my heart to love Jesus; I loved the way I did Christianity more than the Christ of Christianity. I was reminded of the line in the hymn “Come Thou Fount”, which states “Prone to wander Lord I feel it / Prone to leave the God I love / Here’s my heart Lord take and seal it / Seal it for thy courts above.” I had wandered so much and given myself so much credit for all of the good actions that I have done; how I did not smoke, drink, or party incessantly in college (even though other people did). That my only vices were dealing with purity and occasional bad language, and that I was faithful to God through my academics. Yet I realized how much I missed the point! Yes, God was happy and applauding me for not partaking in sin etc., but was that what it meant to really follow him? As Dr. Loritts said I had “exchanged process for destination… because I did the right things I thought my heart was right.” So this raised a question in me: what was I to do? What did it mean to really love Jesus? What did it mean to return to my first love? And yet I was struck that despite my infidelity and lack of commitment to love Jesus, God still loved me with agape love (unconditional). So what should my response be to this love? I left challenged by Dr. Loritts’ last question: when was the last time I sat in Jesus’ presence and told him how much I loved him? I realized that it had been a long time. Despite all of the actions I was doing, these did not communicate my love.
After that message, my heart and attitude towards the retreat changed immensely; whether through the prayer times or worship, I was reminding myself that I did want to love Jesus, but didn’t know how. I prayed that God would equip me with his strength and show me the way I could love Jesus. Through Dr. Kent Hughes message on Zaccheus, I was reminded that my stature did not matter; what was my vision of God? I was blessed to have Jesus “invade” my life, and so would my response be? To step down from my Sycamore tree? I felt most illuminated by what my response should be during the seminars by Skye Jethani, the Urban Missions challenge by Ray Bakke, and the final sermon by Dr. Min Chung.
Admittedly I fell asleep quarter of Skye Jethani’s second seminar, but when I woke up he was stating how subjects such as the arts and humanities (called the “useless” things by society) should be studied because we live in a world where we look at everything by its use; but there are things of inherent value, and we ought to value God not by what he does for us but for who he is. Did I love God for who he was? Not just for what he did for me? Not saying that I shouldn’t count my blessings, but I approached God as if what he would give me, when he had already given me himself. With Ray Bakke, he reminded me how Christians should “obey the law of the land but exceed it in character” while also “being the soul and conscious to the city.” As I lived and went back to Cornell, is this how I would live? Would I let the light of Jesus shine in me? Would my love of him be evident? This coupled with Erwin Lutzer’s prior message of being willing to offend lovingly for the cross was poignant; it all tied back to grit; was I too focused on myself and was I letting my fears supersede the love I had for Jesus?
As I thought about all of these questions Dr. Min Chung’s final message sealed the conference with resounding finality. There were many quotable lines and moments that shook me to my core. I should not seek happiness as the end result; I should seek Jesus. I WILL face hardships and thus I must daily deny myself. Fighting sin prepares me for suffering. Fight not FOR victory but FROM the victory Jesus has already won. Jesus promises PEACE not JOY in trials. The lowest place I can fall is on the foundation that Jesus Christ has built in me. Be moved by feeling, not calling. Harsh words are worth enduring so that I can stand before Jesus and be faithful. Ask Jesus what his purpose is for me. Thus, I realized how spiritually weak I was; I was not willing to endure for the cross, and I had the misconception that life was somehow better without Christ at the center. I lived an accessory filled life, where the “engine” (loving Jesus) took backseat while the physical actions I did came first.
So as OIL came to a close, I realized that God’s answer to my prayers came in the form of many questions. How would I live my life differently? So going forth, I realize now the importance of loving God and having a genuine relationship with him and how everything else is second. I need to rediscover my first love and “be a man of one book.” Every day I need to love God more and more so that way when the day I die, that is when I will love Jesus the most. I need to live every day as a response to the love and sacrifice Jesus has done for me. It is not enough anymore for me to simply live off of my parent’s faith or think that actions alone can save me. So daily, I will ask God to reveal more of himself to me through his word, and that I can see Jesus for who he is and love him, and that that love can dominate every aspect of my life. I want to be willing to break away bad habits and destroy accessories in my life that are not contributing to the engine. My relationship with Christ is the most important; let me live for no one else. As I head back to campus, I want to make concrete changes: I will attend prayer meeting so that way not only can I communicate with God but further know his word. I want to be inundated with God’s word so I will try to memorize a verse every day. I want to cut out things that may be distracting me, whether they be movie websites, toy videos, video games, TV, etc. Let me live 2017 focused and loving only one name: Jesus.