Grammar and Theology

One of my favourite places in the world is the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Taking a safari drive through Kruger is an amazing experience and those who have some knowledge for spotting animals will tell you that the trick is to DRIVE SLOW. It’s much easier to see through the trees and bush when driving slowly. Not only do you see better and hear better, but you don’t spook the animals when speeding through like a maniac. Another trick is to stay in the park for a couple of days. Take early drives, late drives, again and again. This will give you the best chance of spotting some amazing animals and birds. When you simply drive as fast as the speed limit allows you, trying to check all the “spot this animal” boxes you might see a thing or two but you will never actually see. One example is when we drove past a family of hyenas. We spotted a mom nursing her cubs in an empty concrete water pipe under the road. For about 20 minutes we just looked in amazement. The family was pretty well hidden from the road and if we sped past like many others we would never have spotted this happy little hyena family. Word of advice if you ever get to go to Kruger…drive slowly!

Now, why this story? Well, I have been studying Japanese for about 5 months now and just worked out that after coming to Japan I have spent over 600 hours learning the language, that excludes learning through daily life conversations. With all that learning, I still feel like I have only scratched the surface, barely made a dent in the armour. Many things I learned I have already forgotten and so I need to constantly relearn and review while filling my head with new information.

Since I am here as a supported Christian missionary there is often the temptation to think of my language learning as some kind of hurdle I have to get over quickly so I can get into the real stuff like preaching, teaching, disciplining, etc. Sometimes people have offered to pray for a miraculous acquisition of the language, something like the gift of tongues perhaps. I have prayed many times for a miraculous understanding of the language which God is, of course, able to do. However, I think there are many things God wants me to learn in the process of language learning. A hurried approach is wrong because it would be taking a shortcut, it would be like racing through Kruger without noticing all the special little things that make it a great place. I have come to realize that language learning takes time, but it is not time wasted, in fact, it is necessary.

Recently, a colleague told me about an incident that happened between Hudson Taylor and some new missionaries which encouraged me to do some further research.

“Seeking a special baptism of power, the celebrated Cambridge Seven of athletic fame in England arrived in China in 1885 to serve with the China Inland Mission. While sailing up the Han River with J. Hudson Taylor, three of them, C. T. Studd and Cecil and Arthur Polhill, put their Chinese grammar books aside and prayed for the Pentecostal gift of Mandarin and supernatural power according to Mark 16:17. Exasperated, Taylor told his starry-eyed novices: “How many and subtle are the devices of Satan to keep the Chinese ignorant of the gospel. If I could put the Chinese language into your brains by one wave of the hand I would not do it.”17 Taylor emphasized not only that such presumption would delay their mastery of the language and keep the Chinese from hearing the Gospel even longer but also that effective communication in Mandarin required more than just an ability to speak the words. Criticized as an idle fanatic, Studd wrote home that he and his companions finally returned to their books”.

Full article available here: http://www.internationalbulletin.org/issues/2001-03/2001-03-118-mcgee.pdf

Taylor understood that learning a language is so much more than simply knowing the words. You must know the heart of the people. This has encouraged me to reflect upon my own language learning and develop some reasons why language learning for missionaries SHOULD take time. Here’s my list!

It is good to be humbled

I came to Japan with a little bit of pride. I did not know it at the time but it was there. I have a Masters degree in theology, I have experience as a preacher and a pastor. Surely, I will lead a successful ministry in Japan. Well…5 months down the line and I am still sucking at Japanese. I realize that I’m not so great after all. Not being able to read my post, not being able to have significant conversations in Japanese, and panicking every time I have to go to the dentist or ask for something at the bank is all very humbling. It is through this humbling experience that I have renewed my thoughts about depending on God for everything.

Jesus did it

Jesus was not in a hurry to start his earthly ministry. It is good to be reminded of that because often missionaries think learning the language and culture is simply a hurdle to quickly get over so I can get to more important things. There is the temptation to drive fast or take shortcuts when it comes to learning. Or perhaps the temptation to learn the bare minimum and jump into ministry from there. Missionaries with those ideas should reflect on the fact that Jesus only started his public ministry around age 30. What did he do before then? According to Luke 2:40, 51-52 Jesus grew…He grew in wisdom, stature and in favour with men. In his humanity, Jesus studied the Scriptures and learned about carpentry. From childhood, he had to learn how to use language and interact with the culture of his day. Although Jesus was and is fully God he became human to identify with us and take our place on the cross. For 30 years Jesus grew in wisdom, statue and favour before the time was right for him to begin his public ministry. Since Jesus spent 30 years humbling himself and learning is it not ludicrous for missionaries to think that they can get by with only a couple of months of training?

Learning Japanese is more than just learning words

Language is merely the skin of a culture that covers their worldview, values, beliefs, and customs. Language is the flower that is seen above the surface but it is the root of culture that gives this language flower life. Learning this takes a lifetime of immersion into a new culture. Japanese, for example, is a difficult language not simply because of kanji or grammar but because of the culture that influences so much of the language. Polite vs Casual speech needs to be considered. Silence vs Speaking must be considered. There are certain phrases that are appropriate for some situations but not for others. All of these are important to remember.

It sends a message to those you minister to

New OMF missionaries typically spend 4 years in training during their first term on the field. It sends a message to the Japanese that we love their culture, we love their language, we want to understand them, we want to hear their heartbeat. Of course, our desire is to share the good news of Jesus Christ in all its fullness but we want them to see that it is THEIR good news, not OUR news imposed on them. It takes patience, time and wisdom to teach the Bible in a way that the Japanese can see and understand that this message is for them, in their language, meeting their needs.

Learning a language IS ministry

Language learning is not a stepping stone to ministry, it IS ministry. I hope the 4 points above makes that clear. Before, I prayed and hoped that our supporters will be patient with us as we learn in order to minister later. Now I pray and hope our supporters will understand that our learning IS ministry. It is part of God’s overall plan for us being here and should be done with zeal and enthusiasm. Language learning also opens up opportunities for us to talk to Japanese and have conversations that would not otherwise be possible. Moreover, there is some ministry that we can do in Japanese, without even using Japanese. For example, we attend a bi-weekly calligraphy class attended by elderly Japanese. Last week we baked a cake for them…well, Aven did😊. The cake was a hit and we could feel how we were drawn closer into the group after that small gesture. In Japan, groups are formed over time and newcomers need to break into the group slowly. Gift giving is the most natural way to do this, we learnt this through immersion in the culture. We make many mistakes, we are corrected, laughed at, but also appreciated by the Japanese who still look at us as oddballs but accept us anyway. Praise God for that.

So, maybe you in a place where you are frustrated with learning or preparation for something that you want to do. Remember, God is in the process, not just the result. Also, thank you to our prayer and financial partners who see the grand purpose of God’s mission in Japan. You encourage us greatly.

 

 

3 Months In…is AJ getting culture shock????

Its been 3 months since we arrived in Sapporo Japan to start our journey into long term missions. I feel we have adjusted well overall but I would be wrong to say that it’s always been easy. I wanted to share what has been the hardest aspect to deal with during this transition phase but first, a word about culture shock.

We’ve been told that culture shock usually kicks in 3 months after arriving in a new country. Culture shock is a natural sense of anxiety or confusion caused by adjusting to life in a foreign country. Before then there is the initial arrival stage called the honeymoon phase where you will typically hear phrases like: “I love snow” “Japanese people are so polite!” “The sushi is amazing!” “Look! A device that instantly wraps plastic around your wet umbrella!” “The streets are so clean!” This phase is soon followed by a period of frustration where you will typically hear: “I hate snow” “Why is owning a car in Japan so expensive?”. “Why does KFC and Coke taste different?”. “What’s the point of going to church if I can barely understand a word?”. “What’s up with this old-fashioned banking system?”. “Why do high school kids stare at me and shout hero, hero!” Hello culture shock!

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Language learning, not fitting in, being stared at, not having many friends, are all things that I’ve been able to cope with pretty well. I like to think of myself as being fairly adventurous and adaptable. The hardest thing for me however is perhaps not something that people commonly think about. If I’m to be completely open, the toughest thing has been the feeling of status loss. Maybe a bit of a weird struggle but culture shock hits in different ways…right? In South Africa I was a pastor at a church. I preached often, led worship, I led Bible studies, I spoke at youth meetings, I took them on mission trips, I taught at camps and events…I had a fantastic time and felt energized by all I could do to serve God. I enjoyed the feeling of being appreciated, being wanted, being needed; I enjoyed having a leadership role. I enjoyed the need to get up early, work late, and that feeling of actually contributing towards something and seeing the effects.

Since coming to Japan it feels like I have lost those privileges. Right now, my role with OMF International is to be a learner. I don’t have the language capabilities to preach, lead Bible studies, or lead anything. I can’t even read the letters in my post-box! This has been a difficult reality to come to grips with. I have lost my own notion of status and my ego does not like it one bit. Is this part of culture shock? Am I a bad missionary? Am I just whining? Should I just build a bridge and get over it?

The amazing thing though has been to see God’s hand in the midst of these feelings. A senior missionary encouraged me by saying I should focus on leading myself and my wife well, the rest will come over time. I should find joy in my current situation because God knows all about it and will use me regardless. Other missionaries shared stories of how God used them in spite of their language handicap. God has also been gracious in giving me small glimpses of what could come in the future. Being able to read 2 verses from the Japanese Bible in front of an audience, being able to introduce myself in Japanese to our new church in Japan, spending time with Japanese university students and being able to communicate somewhat, talking to my barber about the weather and about his work in Japanese. In all these moments I can sense the good hand of God upon us, He has not left us!

Last week I believe God encouraged me from 2 Corinthians 3:4-6:

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Cross cultural ministry in Japan has revealed to me how insufficient I really am. I have come to a place where I can accept that fact. But I also rejoice that my sufficiency comes from Christ. He equips, He enables, He makes me a sufficient minister of the new covenant which is all about grace in the Lord Jesus and life through His Spirit. I’ve lost no real status, I’m still God’s child, I’m still a privileged minister of His grace, I’ve simply been reassigned.

So, if you feeling like ministry is tough and overwhelming, remember that God will always be your loving Father and will grant you everything you need to do His will and fulfil His purpose for your life.

If I can keep learning these lessons because of culture shock then shock me more! 😊

Purification and Wa 和 ‘Harmony’

(This is an excerpt from my Masters thesis on a Contextualized Theology of Purification in and for the Japanese)

Promoting harmony is a key idea in Japanese culture and observable in many areas of their social life. (i) The concept of uchi to soto 内と外 ‘inside and outside’[1]. (ii) Shinto festivals and its focus on community building. (iii) Ancestor veneration. (iv) Favoring ambiguity over making direct statements[2]. (v) Japanese tea ceremony[3]. (vi) Strong emphasis on hierarchy and family based off Confucian principles[4]. The general understanding of harmony based off these examples is that it seeks to keep a tranquil balance and order in all things. This desire for harmony should not be despised since we can find evidence for the value of harmony in the Scripture. This theme of harmony can be traced all the way back to Genesis and be used to further develop a theology of purification.

In Genesis 1-2 we read how God established order at creation. He created cycles, seasons, day and night, animals, birds, and creeping things all according to their kind. The text gives the impression of complete order, peace and tranquility, a mist going up from the ground (Gen 2:6), a river flowing through the garden (Gen 2:10), these natural scenes were all very good. God also created man in His own image (Gen 1:27). He made them male and female, two creatures who would complement each other in their respective functions, producing offspring by means of a harmonious, unifying and intimate act. God also established a hierarchy in creation, giving human beings the responsibility to be stewards over His creation (Gen 1:28). However, God still maintained His divine authority as Lord over all that He has made. To demonstrate His loving rule, He gave His creatures only 1 command, not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17). After everything was established by God it was declared very good (Gen 1:31). All creation enjoyed a pure existence where everything had an ordered place and existed in complete harmony.

Genesis 3 tells the tragic story of how this beautiful harmony was ruined. The tempter tempted Eve to step out of her place of purity, to challenge the legitimate rule of her Creator. Soon Adam followed her in this rebellion and from there the curse of sin entered their hearts to defile them. As God’s appointed stewards, the consequences of their sin spread to every part of creation. It spread to their descendants, it corrupted their relationships, and to this day all creation groans under the weight of this curse (Rom 8:22). The harmony of life was ruined. Their bright fellowship with God was turned into a dreadful sense of fear and shame as they hid from their Creator in the garden (Gen 3:8). They died a spiritual (Gen 2:17) and physical (Gen 5:5) death because of their disobedience. The woman would have pain in child bearing (Gen 3:16) and the ground became cursed (Gen 3:17). The complementary relationship between husband and wife became damaged, husbands will now seek to rule their wives instead of leading them in love. Wives will now try to fight against their husband’s God given headship (Gen 3:16). They were driven out of the garden (Gen 3:24). Their descendants demonstrated jealousy that led to murder (Gen 4:8). The rest of the Bible echoes the tragic events of Genesis 3 as all the whole world was thrown into chaos.

But the Creator God did not simply stand by, allowing His good creation to be thrown into chaos forever. Genesis 3:21 gives us a tiny glimpse into the gracious provision of God. He clothes his naked and shamed creatures with the skin of an animal. The very first sacrifice recorded in the Bible. In spite of their sin, God was still gracious and although sin continues to echo throughout man’s history, another story began with Genesis 3:21 which would also echo forth. The story of God’s provision of a Savior. This Savior has been revealed in the person of Jesus who came to restore the purity of man and creation. He came to restore the harmony that was lost. His harmony restoring works are well described in Colossians 1:19-22,

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.

The above Scripture details how Christ reconciles to himself, all things in heaven and on earth. It especially highlights the vertical reconciliation. Man was alienated from God but has been reconciled through the incarnation and death of Jesus who is the agent of God’s purifying work.

Ephesians 2:14 is another important Scripture that explains the horizontal aspect of reconciliation. Jesus in His body on the cross, broke down the wall of hostility that separated Jew and Gentile, making them one people. Jesus also declared, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

As a Christian I want to live in the harmony God has achieved through the death of His Son. Harmony with God, and harmony with my fellow human beings. The Christian’s purpose: Love God, love people.  Mark 12:30-31

 

[1] Controls the way a Japanese person relates to those inside and outside their group. It is employed to produce a sense of balance and harmony.

[2] Davies (2002:11) writes that ambiguity, aimai is essential for Japanese social interactions. People learn to become aware of how others think and feel and ambiguity maintains harmony by working as a lubricant in communication.

[3] Sen no Rikyuu 千利休 was a famous Japanese tea master who taught 4 important spiritual values for the Japanese tea ceremony, wa 和 ‘harmony’, kei 敬 ‘respect’, sei 聖 ‘purity’ and jaku 寂 ‘tranquility’ (Nesbitt, 2017:198).

[4] From an Asian perspective, harmony is the measure of all things. It is maintained through hierarchy where relationships are built on the inferior person’s respect rather the superior’s domination (Wu, 2012:82).

 

Citations

Davies RJ and Ikeno O (eds) 2002. The Japanese Mind Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture. Tokyo: Tuttle.

Nesbitt M 2017. Jesus for Japan Bridging the Cultural Gap to Christianity. © 2017 by Mariana Nesbitt.

Wu J 2012. Saving God’s Face. A Chinese Contextualization of Salvation through Honor and Shame. Pasadena CA: WCIU Press.

Beware, sensuality leaves a lasting legacy

I’ve been reading a book “Disciplines of a Godly man” by R Kent Hughes. If you are guy, you need to read this. If you are married to, or dating a guy, buy your man this book as a late Christmas present. There is so much hard hitting truth in this book, I read chapter 2 yesterday and was so convicted that I decided to write about it.

The chapter is about sexual purity and the statistics are alarming. According to a survey done by Christianity Today 25% of Christian men confessed to have committed adultery, 50% of Christian men surveyed confessed they had done something sexually inappropriate. The writer explains that this leads to an inescapable conclusion: “The contemporary evangelical church, broadly considered is Corinthian to the core. It is being stewed in the molten juices of its own sensuality”. OUCH!!!

The Corinthian church struggled with holiness in the midst of a pagan, sensually charged culture. The church today is not so different. Consider the shows we watch, the music we listen to, the jokes we make and you will quickly see how subtly Corinthian we still are. We have not separated ourselves from many Corinthian ties. There are at least 3 reasons for this lack of separation. The first 2 are “palatable” but the third one is frightening and requires much humility to accept.

  1. We live in a thoroughly Corinthian environment

Through the media (TV, Magazines, Music, Comedy) we are constantly exposed to sensuality. It has become normal to make sexual jokes, flirt around, use foul language, and get a little “tipsy” with friends. These cultural delights are laughed off and we use excuses to rationalize our lack of holiness – “It’s just innocent fun”.  “I’m not hurting anyone”. “Surely God wants me to be happy”. “At least I go to church on Sunday”. We “rationalize” while a lot of this behaviour flies in the face of New Testament commands on holiness. 

  1. We believe purity is old and Victorian

Christians do from time to time toss out holiness in an attempt to be with it. The idea of modesty, purity, and self-control has become synonymous with being out of touch, or Victorian.  Maybe you tempted to think that now while reading this blog. “Here’s another one of those legalistic Christians”. “Here’s a guy taking the FUN out of Fundamentalism”.  Please continue reading. Honestly, I wrestle with these issues too. I don’t want to be Victorian and out of it. I want to be cool and in. I want to contribute to conversations and have people like me. But at the same time I must fight to believe that God doesn’t want to deprive me of joy and fun, rather, God wants to give me authentic, lasting joy, even if it means not being culturally with it. Yet, like you, I too sometimes get this wrong and I need to repent for my lack of holiness and satisfaction in God.

  1. We suffer from forgetfulness

Like I said, this one takes humility to accept…are you ready? …When we ignore holiness, we forget God. Bonhoeffer observed that when lust takes control, “At this moment…God loses all reality…Satan does not fill us with hatred for God, but forgetfulness of God”. God disappears to lust-glazed eyes.

Whenever we succumb to sensuality, we forget the holiness of God. We forget about the consequences of sin. We forget about our witness to others. We forget about the commands of Scripture. Kent Hughes uses the fall of King David to drive this point home. Staring at a naked beauty from his rooftop, David lost all awareness of God. In that moment, David who was once called a man after God’s own heart became a dirty, leering old man. He could never have imagined the destruction that would follow this one act of indulgence. “David’s progressive desensitization, relaxation, fixation, and rationalization set him up for one of the greatest falls in history”.

He broke the 10th commandment in coveting his neighbour’s wife which led him to break the 7th commandment; committing adultery.

Then in order to steal his neighbour’s wife (breaking the 8th commandment) he committed murder and broke the 6th commandment.

He then broke the 9th commandment by bearing false witness against his brother.

This all brought dishonour to his parents, breaking the 5th commandment.

In violating these commands he transgressed the first 2 commandments; not honouring God and choosing to worship the idol of self.

David forgot His God and he fell…he fell hard. Sadly, his life went downhill from there:

His baby died. His daughter Tamar was raped by her half-brother Amnon. Amnon was murdered by Tamar’s full-brother Absalom. Absalom hated his father for his moral depravity and led a rebellion under the tutelage of Bathsheba’s resentful grandfather, Ahithophel. David’s reign lost the smile of God and his throne never really recovered.

Do you think David would have given Bathsheba a second look if he knew all this disaster would result from that one night of passion? 

My intention for writing this is not to sound self-righteous. I struggle with sin as much as anyone else. But in reading this chapter I have been challenged to look at my life through a fresh set of lenses. In what ways am I entertaining impurity? In what ways are you entertaining impurity? Let’s be quick to repent and with God’s help, strain towards the holiness that we are called to.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;
that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8

Does Prayer Work?

In 2 weeks time I will be preaching at my home church about prayer from James 5:13-20. I have been thinking about the effectiveness of prayer a lot these days as we prepare for missions in Japan. Today is Wednesday the 15th of November and in order to have clearance to go to Japan in February 2018 we must have our support raised by Monday the 20th of November (6 Days!). We have already sold our stuff, I quit my job, and we moved in with friends. We have trusted God for our support but we are still only at 60% So, if we miss this deadline will it mean that our prayers, and those of others on our behalf did not work?

Now this is where theology meets practice. I am sure you have been in a similar situation. Praying for healing, protection, or any other need. What do we do “if” those prayers are not answered? Does it mean I did not have enough faith? Does it mean we are not really “called”? Does it mean I made a mistake? Is there perhaps sin in my life preventing an answer? Is God even hearing me?

Listen to this touching story. One of my friends went to a massive Christian prayer meeting this year where the speaker declared that God was going to do miracles. My friend was there to pray for healing over his mom…how can God not hear his prayer? All these people praying, surely God will notice, surely his prayers will be answered, even the main organizer and spiritual leader of this event said so! Well, my friend returned to Pretoria encouraged and filled with hope, first thing he heard from his sister – “Mom has died”. The timing of her death was the biggest blow of all – it happened during the prayer meeting. What does this mean? He was broken as you can imagine. As his friend what could I say to help? Questions started running though my own mind…does prayer even work?

One of the saddest prayers in the Bible is in Psalm 13:1 – How long o LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? In light of these questions, how do we make sense of James 5:16, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working”.

In light of seeming unanswered prayer, some have come to sad conclusions. (i) There is no God, (ii) God is absent, or (iii) God is not all powerful. I can’t fall into any of these options. I feel the urge to fight the good fight of faith. I believe that God is there, God is involved, and God is able. Bear with me a short little while as I try to harmonize this with the apparent lack of answered prayer for the believer. Bear in mind, this is me trying to make sense of it in my own heart and mind.

(i) God is not a pawn. If prayer was simply a tool to be used for our human ends, then God would simply be a pawn that moves according to our will. Take this to the logical, frightening conclusion. If God ultimately bends to do the will of people, it will couple human sinfulness with God’s power; and this will lead to disaster.

(ii) God is all sovereign, wise, and good. I remember a talk from a Church camp where a friend of mine spoke about suffering. He said something that stuck with me, “If we had God’s power, we would probably want to change everything in this world. But, if we had God’s wisdom along with that power, everything will continue exactly as it is.” God is working out his own purposes that will ultimately bring glory to Him, and God glorifying His name is our ultimate good. I have to believe by faith, that God’s purposes will end for good and that He has the power to achieve it.

(iii) Prayer by itself should be a blessing. I remember another incident where I lead a prayer group and as an introduction asked “Why do you pray?” There were the usual answers, “I believe in the power of prayer”, “We are commanded to pray”, but one answer stuck out and touches me to this day “I enjoy it”. This seems to be something we forget about prayer. Consider that through prayer we get to commune with God, we get to enter His throne room and actually speak to Him. That by itself should be awesome! Too often we act like brats before a father, thinking we can manipulate him to give us stuff and we get angry when he doesn’t. This is not prayer that pleases God, nor is it good for us. Prayer should be practiced out of our sheer enjoyment of God. 

(iv) Remember Jesus’ model prayer. It started with what? “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done”. This must be the Christian’s attitude in every prayer. We don’t come to God with a sense of entitlement, we come with a sense of awe and humility.

(v) God sees from an eternal perspective. We might see a page or two from the book called “my life”, but God sees all of it. We are often occupied with our here and now needs. I want relief now! I want an answer now! I want healing now! But God is not only concerned over your here and now, nor is he concerned about answering all your selfish needs. He is concerned about your sanctification, your character, your eternity. Think of any “unanswered prayer” as God teaching you a lesson, God is working for your good in all things. Our own hearts desire to be serving in Japan next year February, but we must trust that God is working for our good in ALL THINGS, even delayed departures. Rom 8:8

(vi) Consider all God has already done. If you are reading this blog that means you have access to the internet, probably from your phone or computer. I am sure you can think of many more blessings that you enjoy so stop and consider these right now. For my friend who lost his mom he could remember her faith, he could remember her example, he could remember her love and this was a beautiful thing. We seem to focus on our “have nots” instead of focusing on all our “haves”. 

In the case of our personal situation in raising support, I can get discouraged about the 40% of support we are still short, OR praise God for the 60% we have raised. We have 58 individuals and 5 churches on board with supporting us, we should praise God for that. 

(vii) Prayer is exciting, powerful, yet mysterious. I’ll end on this one. None of us can say that we know exactly how prayer works, especially in light of the sovereignty of God. This is why prayer must be accompanied by faith. Not necessarily BIG faith to ensure we get our prayers answered, but HUMBLE faith to ensure we trust in the loving purposes of God. I can’t explain why God allows certain things to happen, I cant understand why He should listen to any of us at all, I cant explain why some people have their prayers quickly answered and for others it takes longer, if at all. All I can say is that prayer DOES work, because it draws me into relationship with God, what a tremendous privilege.

 

P.S. Whenever I blog it is actually to help me work through my own trials, disappointments or lessons. Pray with us as we continue to trust God to get us to Japan and that we will be seeking His kingdom first during the process. 

Overwhelming Kindness (Thank you Berean Baptist Church Livonia)

I don’t know about you but I almost never cry in front of other people. I remember on my wedding day shedding a tear when I saw my wife walking down the isle towards me. The dam walls around my eyes could no longer hold back the overflowing river of joy that I felt. I believe that tears are a wonderful gift from God that helps give expression to our feelings. For some the waterworks open easily, for others it tends to be a bit harder – I am the latter kind of person. So, whenever I do cry, it can only be because something incredibly moving has happened. Well, that happened for me yesterday (25 Oct 2017). Aven and I have been blessed to be part of a missions conference hosted by Berean Baptist Church Livonia. I don’t think I have ever experienced this level of generosity and kindness. Let me explain.

So the church invites 5 missionary families to be part of their annual conference. Sunday to Friday night missionaries get to share their work to the church and then we get to sing praise songs and listen to a sermon. Pastor  Bob Johnson from Cornerstone Baptist Church Roseville Michigan is the keynote speaker. We have enjoyed exceptional preaching focused on missions being the heartbeat of God. These sermons have been a tonic for my soul. 

On top of the great preaching, the church has welcomed us with open arms. Each night we are treated to meals, our host family has been a tremendous blessing to us, we are given so many words of encouragement and kindness…and then came the gifts. Aven was at a ladies meeting and sent me a message: “Come help carry”. Huh? When I got to the church to pick her up I saw SO many gifts from people in the church! People who don’t even know us. Its hard to put these feelings into writing. After we packed the car, as we were driving back to our host family, the weight of it all just became too great. The waters  of emotion surged again, the dam walls collapsed, I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the tremendous generosity, kindness, and unconditional friendship offered by people I hardly knew, people I can never pay back.

At this conference I feel like one of the Old Testament characters in the Bible; Mephibosheth. Know him? He was the son of Jonathan who was the son of King Saul. Jonathan was killed in battle when Mephibosheth was 5 years old. Fearing that the Philistines will also kill the boy, a nurse rushed to try and get Mephibosheth to safety but in her haste she dropped him and he became a cripple for life. 

Some years later, David conquered all of Israel’s enemies and in an effort to show loyalty to his friend Jonathan – David called for Mephibosheth. This guy must have been quaking in his sandals, it was well known that kings destroy any trace of the previous king’s descendants in order to wipe out any competition to the throne. So imagine, Mephibosheth standing before one of the most powerful kings…oops, he was probably sitting; remember he was a cripple! He is from the house of Saul, and he has absolutely nothing to offer David as a way of negotiation. But David responds in the most incredible way. David commits to showing Mephibosheth covenant faithfulness. David honors this man, he gives land to this man, he gives him a place in the royal palace, he showers him with grace, upon grace, upon grace! I am pretty sure the waterworks were flowing as Mephibosheth listened to David’s kind words. I am pretty sure this man had an incredible feeling of being overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by kindness. 

I relate to the story in the way I have been treated by this church. I have been given far, far, far more than what I deserve. I am a ordinary South African, I am by no means a superstar missionary, I am not much known to the people of this church. Yet they decided to shower us with such kindness. For that reason I feel like Mephibosheth. 

But far more than this, I relate to the story on another level. God has decided to give me far, far, far more than what I deserve. I have been spiritually and physically crippled by my own sin. I cannot stand on my own feet, I cannot live in a way that glorifies God. I am broken, shamed, and condemned to a hopeless existence. BUT GOD! He stepped into my world to rescue me from the crippling affect of sin. Isaiah 40:31 – He makes me rise on wings like eagles, he makes me run and not grow weary. 

Like Mephibosheth I am from the wrong house, a descendant of Adam. Yet through Jesus I am brought into friendship with God. Colossians 1:22 – I have been reconciled back to God through Christ. Like Mephibosheth I had no home, I had no family. But Jesus right now is preparing a place for me. John 14:3. 

I have nothing in my life that I can use to bargain with God. Nothing to negotiate with. I am a cripple, poor, homeless, enemy standing in the presence of a Holy King. But this king is infinitely compassionate, kind and gentle. He is full of covenant faithfulness. He is a king worthy of my worship. This king exchanged his crown of glory for a crown of thorns. He exchanged his throne for a cross. He gave himself up for my sins so completely, how can I not be overwhelmed? 

I hope that you will also be overwhelmed by this love and grace that God offers us through his Son Jesus.     

Showing the need for church planters in Japan.

japan-no-church-prefects

#Notjustmycity #Heart4thenations #Heart4Japan

You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe

Today I came across an interesting quote coined by a Canadian strength coach of all people “You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe”. He was referring to your body needing a stable core that enables a strong production of force.

Nope….I have not taken up body building BUT, I think this gives pretty good perspective on ministry too. Every gospel worker longs for strong, lasting, and deep impact. Church planters want to see healthy, vibrant churches. Youth leaders seek growing, passionate and Christ centred youth groups. Preachers want to stir a passion for God in the hearts of their listeners. Missionaries want to communicate good news effectively. Deacons want to serve efficiently. Sunday school teachers want to see Christ like character develop in the children they teach. If you are a Christian involved in any kind of ministry, in the church or outside, your desire should be for powerful impact BUT, you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe. You can’t be effective unless your ministry is rooted and made stable on a rock solid fortress. The canon of ministry needs to be fired from a position of strength.

This rock solid fortress is daily, personal, soul feeding time with the Lord. We call this our spiritual disciplines. It’s the reading of Scripture, spending time in prayer, confession, thanksgiving, praise, turning our gaze toward the God of heaven and earth. There is no substitute for this. Without this your ministry will be firing from a weak position and will not have lasting impact. Even worse, over time the canon of ministry will become burdensome, heavy and cause you to sink.

A.W. Tozer said “The highest accomplishment of humanity is entering the overwhelming presence of God. Nothing else can satiate this burning thirst”. Paul put it like this in Phil 3:10, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”.

Real ministry power is to be intimately connected to the source of all ministry. Remember Jesus’ words…“Without me you can do nothing” John 15:5

It’s not the size or success of your ministry that is important; it’s whether your ministry is grounded in a rock solid love, commitment and reverence for Christ.

Fire your ministry canons from a fortress, not a canoe.

Japan Focus Event

Anyone Welcome

Please RSVP

Partner Churches in the Great Commission

A while ago I posted a blog about sending churches like Antioch in the New Testament sending Paul and Barnabas. This time around I want to share about partner churches, looking at the Philippian church as a model. This church was planted by Paul and Silas and had converts like Lydia, the seller of purple goods, a demon possessed slave girl, and the Philippian jailer. Paul helped to establish this church and his epistle to the Philippians is a kind of thank you letter for how this church treated him. Paul is full of optimism in this letter, which is kind of amazing since he is writing from jail and not a penthouse suite. There was something about this particular church that filled Paul with exuberant joy. Let me highlight a few things about this church that makes it stand out as a model partner church.

  • Partner churches brings joy and encouragement to gospel workers

Listen to Paul’s introduction; “I thank God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the Gospel”. Even in the midst of trial, Paul is encouraged by this church, they were a blessing to him. Phil 2:19, “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you”. Encouragement is something very necessary and practical that partner churches can do for their missionaries. 

  • Partner churches have concern for a missionary

In chapter 1 verse 12 Paul tells the church not to be concerned about what has happened to him regarding his imprisonment because God was using it to advance the Gospel. It shows that this church was genuinely concerned for Paul. Phil 4:10, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity”. Partner churches have real concern for a missionary. I am sure this church prayed for Paul, they eagerly awaited news from him, their partnership was deep. This is another way a church a can be involved as a partner.

  • Partner churches contribute financially

Phil 4:14-15, “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only”. Their encouragement and concern was not only sentimental, it was genuine and practical. It affected their bank accounts, they gave materially towards the needs of Paul. It is sad that other churches did not partner in this way, the Philippian church sets the better example. This is just another practical way in which a partner church helps in advancing the Gospel among the unreached.

  • Partner churches are just as much part of the work as sending churches AND the missionaries themselves

Phil 4:17-18, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God”. Paul says that when a partner church invests resources in the work of a missionary, the fruit is shared. They have direct involvement through their partnership. They are equal partakers in the blessing that comes from advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They can rejoice as though they did the work themselves. 

And then finally. Philippians 4:19 gives us an amazing promise, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus”.

What a wonderful promise! BUT…its not for everyone! If we are faithful to context, this promise is for the Philippian Christians who were cheerful givers. Often we see this verse printed on a coffee mug or cross stitched on a pillow, everyone wants to claim it for themselves, even when they contribute nothing to the kingdom of God. No, No, No. I had to learn this personally, I cannot seek God’s provision and riches, if I am not personally being generous. This has convinced me that even as a missionary, I must live willing and prepared to help others. Consider HOW you can live generously and enjoy the promise of being rich in Christ.

In our own preparations for Japan we are in need of partner churches like Philippi. Our sending church does not have the resources to support us fully. If you are able to link us to a potential partner church please contact us. We would love an opportunity to share our vision as we trust God to provide for our needs.