[No.208 / Interview]
After meeting the gospel of the cross, he spent only his attention on the Bible. Then he found out how ignorant he was in the Bible and neglected the Bible. I met Pastor Koo Kwang-taek, who was meeting the living God through a Bible full of dense notes and underlines at every chapter.
“I was born in Yeonggwang, South Jeolla Province, into a very poor family in town. After barely finishing elementary school, I couldn’t go to middle school and worked as a servant for another person’s house for a year. After that, I went to Gwangju and then lived in Seoul with just one bag. I got married at 22 and went to a church for the first time since I had two sons. I was at the age of 25 then.
- What make you come to church?
“When I was in the fourth grade, my parents were evangelized and I went to church with them for a while. But I didn’t like church for no reason. I thought a church was a place where people would go a little different from me. But I had a strange dream for about 3 years since I was 22 years old. It was a dream, like a white-clad angel-like people and shamans called me on the two-pronged road and I hesitated on a two-pronged road in my dreams. I was hoping someone would interpret it for me, and at that time, my co-worker recommended me to attend church. It was a very small church. Three believers and one preacher was the only member.”
Start a religious life in a church of four believers
- How was your religious life?
“I believed in heaven and hell, and I believed in God’s love for me. When it was believed, I prayed in the mountains and gave everything to God. I donated what I had to the church, not sending my children to kindergarten, but also dressing them with new clothes. I put everything on the service. When I was 26 and just over a year into church, I had to preach at church on Wednesday. I didn’t know anything, so I memorized another pastor’s sermon. Before worship, I kneeled down behind the platform and earnestly sought God’s help. God answered my prayer. I heard the inner voice that God called my name correctly and He said ‘I know you have no ability. I’ll give you the ability, so shout it out.’ I was thrilled that God knew me, answered me, and supported me. I shed a lot of tears because of this thrill and fulfillment of Holy Spirit. I didn’t even see what I memorized, and I delivered it with what I’ve heard so far. When I finished delivering sermon, I felt like I was stepping on a cloud. By the age of 29, I had lived a life of faith purely believing in God, while tasting God’s power. In the meantime, I took the middle school qualification exam, entered Chongshin University in 1990, and then completed the seminary, and was ordained as a pastor in 2000.”
- How did you make a living?
“My wife sold gimbap during the day, and she carried rice cakes around her head from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. I went with her at night. The children had a hard time. I’ve lived like that for about three years. I’ve been delivering Jesus passionately on subways and buses since I was a freshman in college. But eventually, I was an indisputable, existential sinner.”
- What do you mean?
“Even though I was married, I dated a sister from the same university. I was a leader at the university, and I used membership fee personally when I got others’ fee. When I was a curate, I fought fiercely so that I wouldn’t fall behind in church organizations. Then in 2002, I started church in Shintanjin. As I worked hard on training believers with famous training program, there were many members in the church. I prayed a lot in the mountains and I prayed and preached until dawn so police came because of neighbors’ complaints about the noise. But everything was just the appearance. I did do my best in ministry, but I had no pure faith as I did when I first started my religious life. After all, I was the master of my life with the ambition to rebuild the church and succeed in the church. I always sinned when the circumstances and conditions were right.”
– How did you come to realize that those were ambitions?
“It was a time when my second oldest son was a missionary in North Korea. He told me that he got to know the gospel school through his fellow missionaries and recommended it to me. At first, I said I would never go. Then, I had a spiritual thirst, so I went there around the spring of 2012. It was a pastoral gospel school that lasted five nights and six days, and everything was sloppy compared to the one I attended. I’ve never seen a lecturer on television or even heard his name before. By the way, did the lecture last about 15 minutes? He mentioned one bible verse “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke9:23) And he said, “Did this become real in your life? It’s the first time I’ve ever applied the word “real” to my life. I knew right away that it wasn’t. From then on, I concentrated and listened to what the Gospel is by looking the Bible from Genesis to the book of Revelations of St. John. I was shocked to hear the team leader’s “My Gospel” in the middle of training. Our pastoral group alienated him and we pretended to be holy. And on the fifth night, the ministers, who were trainees, shared “my gospel”. I cried before my miserable reality. Everyone’s sin was my sin.”
The Gospel was a shock itself. I realize my miserable existence.
- What has happened to you since then?
“The existing values have been completely destroyed. My sinful reality and the impact of the gospel were too great. I stopped all the programs I was doing in the church, including the famous student training, prayer, and even mission work. I’ve been in a panic for a while. But I had to preach. As a preparation for the sermon, I read the annotations of the Bible, copied other people’s sermons, borrowed examples of religious texts, but for this time, I couldn’t do that. Whether I’m good or not, I have no choice but to hold on to the Bible, so I read it. And I realized how much I hadn’t read the Bible, even though I am a pastor. At first, I read the Bible from beginning to the end and then I opened seven to eight versions of Bible, including various versions of Korean translations, English translations. I read every sentence and word carefully, comparing them. I wanted to stand before the Lord while reading the words. There was not a single word for ethics or morality, and the Bible was entirely sewn up. Whether it’s Book of Daniel or the book of Revelations of St. John, what the Bible says is not how many horns and what kind of animals are, but the gospel. The kingdom of God will revive, the believers will fight this battle with patience, and the Lord will come back. It’s the fourth Bible I’ve used for years. Now, except for special cases, I don’t read other books, but I only look at the Bible in depth. That’s why Wednesday’s and Sunday’s services are expository preaching. At first, I made a lot of mistakes because I wasn’t organized myself, and I made sharp remarks. But I am becoming more and more gentle and patient on preaching the Gospel in the Lord’s heart.”
-How do you share this grace in the church?
“Our church offers Bible studies twice a week and Wednesday and Sunday services. At that time, all we do is look at the Bible and pray together. I ask them to read Romans and Ephesians 50 times. The Lord speaks enough of the gospel in Romans. The dilemma for me is that I know what the gospel is, and I know what the Lord is saying, but I don’t really think I’m 100 percent fit for the gospel. I’m still fighting that fight.”
– Could you tell us specifically what kind of fight it is?
“The essence of the offering is to let it go. Our church finances all flow to missionary work and relief. I stopped building the church that I had planned before, and I also sent away a considerable amount of money that was collected to build the church anew for a missionary and relief. But when it comes to large amounts of money, such as church finances, I have given the Lord the initiative, but small amounts of money like my allowance of tens of thousands are still in my realm. Sometimes I give the Lord the initiative, but I still fight about it. When our church members ask me about this, I’m being honest.”
– Please explain a little bit more.
The Lord has dominion in every sphere whether it is large or small.
– What’s the biggest reason why the Gospel doesn’t become real?
“The Lord wants to save everyone. And redemption through the cross is only to be paid for by faith. If we find it is difficult to be saved, it is because I want to live as the master of my life. The gospel contains God’s whole heart. God hung everything in the Gospel. God crucified his one and only son on the cross to give us the gospel. Nevertheless, on my part, not receiving it wholeheartedly is something that I don’t want to hand over to God all the decisions of my life. My biggest pain is this. As a pastor, loving the church members are not a battle between the blood and the flesh, but between the Lord and me. No matter what the situation may be, I am glad if I do what the Lord wants me to do, and if I go against the Lord’s will, my heart is in pain.”
“I’ve never thought about redemption before. I think salvation is something I get when I go to church, so I put it aside. My only concern was whether the number of believers in the church would not grow fast or the church members leave the church. It’s okay to have a fight with my wife, but I couldn’t even eat when things weren’t working at church. It was because of my desire. Even though I was very grateful to hear the Gospel for the first time, I haven’t been able to figure out how to be saved. My seniors and colleagues around me say, ‘thinking about whether you’ve been saved is proof that you’ve been saved.’”
“But that was what I said to someone before. It’s not a question that anyone can answer. If I’m really dead in the cross, I should be dead, but even if I’m not, I can mistake myself for being dead. My faith is not complete. I have given God full control over the important matters, but in the small part the Lord is not the master. So there are still fights inside me. ‘What should I do if the Lord is really the master?’ How powerful Satan is… I still have that worry in me. Sometimes I’m worried, but if I run for God with all my heart, I believe that as Paul said, I will be saved with fear and trembling. I believe in what the Lord will do.”
– I think your church members also are fierce in front of God’s words.
“Yes, because I’ve shared the gospel like this, most of our church members have attended gospel school and have stood seriously before the gospel. But I still have worries in me. “Isn’t it necessary for me to raise the bar while other churches are all comfortable? Am I setting such a high standard? God will give grace to each man. But the conclusion is clear. The cross is a narrow road. My real concern is not whether the church members will live well in this land or not, but whether their souls will be saved. Now I’m not good enough, but the way for them to really know Jesus is for me to be a witness. I always have that desire. Only the gospel, the word, and the prayer are all I have.”
- Lastly, please share your prayer request.
“I’m posting my sermon on Youtube, and there are believers coming from a long distance after watching the video. A few people in Australia are with our church. I really hope that Calvary church will be like the early church. It is my hope that all the members of the community will rely only on the Lord, unite unconditionally, and continue to run for the revival of God’s kingdom and the completion of His mission. I don’t really want to be the one who talks for the gospel, but I want to be the witness of the true Lord’s delight. That’s enough for me. I won’t need anything else. I will not miss every Christian’s final goal, the revival of the kingdom of God and the completion of our mission.”
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