Friday, May 24, 2019

The Wastefulness of Missions

Missions by its very nature is extravagant. God in the greatness of His love was the first missionary--in the Trinity there are both the sender and the sent. The lengths to which God was willing to go to save his creation are without measure.

In the same way, contemporary missions continue to be a costly venture--both in human capital and financially. The command to make disciples of all nations entails great sacrifice by the body of Christ.

When considering this cost, some respond, unfortunately, like the disciples did in Matthew 26 when the sinful woman poured the jar of alabaster ointment onto the head of Jesus. The responded indignantly, suggesting that it was being used wastefully and that the cost could have been used to meet a more tangible immediate need. In the case of Judas, his protest was motivated by his own selfish greed rather than any real altruism.

In an article recently posted to the Gospel Coalition website, 'Five Things Every Pastor Needs to Know About the Church Budget,' Pastor Jamie Dunlop writes, "Your budget is probably the best record of what your church really values. More than your website, more than your glossy brochures, more than what you say you value." 

Churches often have missions or the Great Commission prominently featured in their values or mission statement; but all too often, it gets the short end of the stick in the church budget. There are of course outliers, some amazing churches that give 30, or even 50 percent of the church budget to missions, but these churches exception rather than the rule.

In fact, when looking at all the money that ends up in church offering plates--only 2% of it, according to reliable sources, ends up ever leaving the United States. Of that 2%, only 2% ends up being used to reach the lost in the 10/40 Window, where 90% of the world's Unreached Peoples reside.

Unfortunately, when times get tight, the mission budget is often the first thing to be cut or curtailed. With all of the immediate needs in the church--the long-overdue roof repair, summer camps, that sound in the church van's engine--missions doesn't just seem like a far away concern, and all too often it is.

For that reason, missions giving appears to many a luxury; and I would suggest that it is. There are a million other things a church could spend its budget on, and giving to missions is a sacrificial act of worship on behalf of the entire body, committing to setting aside a tithe to minister to people who are far away from Jesus in a different place, who speak a different language, from different cultures and backgrounds.

I cannot tell you how many times I have had well-meaning people suggest to me that rather than encouraging people to give sacrificially to the Lord's work among the nations, that I should instead just get a job in Japan. While Paul took the initiative to be a tent-maker, he also pointed out that a worker is worth his wages.

In many cases, I have often wondered what motivates another person to make this suggestion, whether they really think it is a good idea, or whether they are prompted by their own selfishness or greed, because they know deeply in their hearts that they are not trusting God with their finances. Ultimately, thankfully, I am not the Judge; but more often than not, it seems, these people are disinterested in missions as a whole. This becomes a convenient excuse--I know, because I used to be the person making it.

One of the things that kept me from taking the plunge into faith missions as long as I did is because I assumed that most people were just as greedy and selfish as I am in my flesh; thankfully God has proven that not to be the case too many times for me to count. Again and again I am awed by the generosity and sacrificial character of God's people.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Returning to Japan

In less than a month I'll be returning to Japan. As of the time of writing this post I have returned to being at 98.8% of my support goal. Once I have reached 100%, my mission will clear me to purchase plane tickets and I'll be able to give an exact date for my departure/return.

God has been incredibly faithful in providing for all of my needs over these past few months and I am grateful for everyone's prayers and support. This past year has been a time for reconnecting with friends, family and supporters; and sharing about the spiritual needs of the Japanese people. Thanks to your prayers I am feeling much healthier than when I arrived back in the States a year ago--mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

There are some logistical things that have to happen between now and my return to Japan--and a lot more considerations once I hit the ground. Please pray for the final 1.2% of my support. Please also pray for wisdom regarding my living situation and language refresher once I return to Japan.

One of my hopes is that I will also be able to develop a better rhythm for writing updates regarding my ministry and communicate better with my supporters and supporting churches. Hopefully these aren't just empty sentiments, but I will be faithful in these regards.

More updates soon!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Chasing a Specter

While attending Japanese language school I stopped publicly journaling my thinking on this medium. Partly I felt that any time spent writing and reading in English was detracting from my language studies, but as time went on, I found it harder to articulate my thoughts, deep thoughts, in English or otherwise.

Writing... and for that matter, deep thinking, seems to be like a muscle; one that unfortunately I have let atrophy with neglect of use. I feel like a ghost, a shell of a person, like a part of myself is missing. I look back at things that I wrote years ago and catch myself thinking, who is this person, what happened to him, where did that nativity and passion go?

It might just be the reverse culture-shock talking, but as I continue to engage with my supporting churches, I am coming face to face with a specter, a version of myself captured in the memories of others that is now incongruent with who I am. It breaks my heart, because I am not the person they think they are meeting, I feel like a counterfeit.

In another way, it is bittersweet, because I really want to meet the man that so many people seem to think that I am. He seems like someone I would really enjoy being around, a much better version of me. Instead when I look in the mirror I am confronted by reality, hypocrisy, failure.

Hopefully while I'm on home assignment until the middle of next year I can rediscover that person again. I can't go back and change decisions I made... those decisions form who I am now, but sometimes we need to go backwards to go forward.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Abusus Non Tollit Usum

While studying at Wheaton College I learned a quote that has helped to clarify my vision on a lot of things, that quote in Latin is Abusus Non Tollit Usum, or as translated by Dr. Jerry Root, 'The Abuse Does Not Nullify the Proper Use.'

Recently I had the opportunity to have a long conversation with someone who had grown up in a church, but because of the generation and culture he grew up in, shunned all organized religion. As we talked, it was clear that he had a very negative view of the Church, while holding a very positive view of Jesus.

He was apparently quite challenged when I pushed back by affirming that the church was a God made organism, and not a man-made institution. The Church's charter, mission and backing all come from the Lord.

The Church, despite its trappings of buildings and leadership structures, at its very core is people--and the Church is made up of broken, sinful people, at varying stages of sanctification and maturity in the faith. It often reflects the brokeness of the people rather than the abiding Spirit of the Lord. Understanding this has helped me to have a lot of grace and and patience for the Church.

God loves the Church, Jesus died for the Church, and part of His plan for the Church is that it, like a family, have leaders--Jesus demonstrated the servant leadership he desires to see in his Church, and appointed Apostles. The Apostle Paul gave instructions for local churches to appoint elders and to maintain regular times of fellowship and instruction.

Leadership has been abused in the Church, the freedom and flexibility of the New Testament Church has often been replaced with man-made traditions and rituals; but all of these various abuses are not an adequate reason to quit the Church altogether; in fact, they are quite the opposite, they are challenges to lean in more.

Just like an individual, the Church needs to be sanctified--there are various ways that people have attempted to go about this in Church history; sometimes it has been bloody and at others it has been beautiful. But I have been challenged, that if I really want to see the Church begin reflecting the Glory and Character of God, than it has to start with me.

The Church certainly has its problems, and it is easy to point at external issues as the source of those problems; but as an sojourning community, an outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Church is an alien to this world. We need to recapture that alien character not by separating from the world, or putting up higher walls, but by living as sojourners ourselves, by being transformed the power of the Gospel--that can only truly happen in community with other Christians.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Christian Dysphoria

I have an identity problem. Regarding my identity, as a believer, God's Word says that I am His child. Christ's atonement gives me a a new identity as an adopted son of God. The power of sin over my life has been destroyed by Jesus' finished work on the cross. The problem is that most days I have a hard time believing this--because I just don't feel like a child of God. I continue to sin; I don't see the overcoming life that I want to have, and feel that I should have.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

The Apostle Paul at his Writing Desk by Rembrandt
Recently the news has been filled with people that are confused over their identities. Rather than embracing what we feel we are, we should embrace what we really are; what God has created us to be. I was born into sin, but I was born again into righteousness through Jesus' blood shed on the cross. As a disciple of Jesus, born of the Spirit, I have a new identity even if some days it doesn't feel like it. Rather than embracing the sinful nature, I am told in the Word to cast off my sin and to run with reckless abandon towards Jesus. 

We need to embrace who we really are. As a Christian, I need to have my identity transformed by the Gospel; to daily live reckoning myself dead to sin and alive to Christ.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Jesus; Eternally Begotten of the Father

Baptist traditionally are 'non-creedal;' but that does not mean that we ignore the historic creeds of the Christian faith. Rather, it means that we hold the Bible to be more authoritative than the creeds. Many Baptist churches in fact regularly recite the Apostle's Creed during Worship--I for one would love to see more of them teach on it regularly. The Apostles Creed contains, like a grain of wheat, the essence of the Christian faith, distilled. I am convinced that many Evangelical Christians would benefit from being taught to understand and use the creed to strengthen and share their faith.

A couple of days ago I had a short conversation with two Mormon missionaries outside of a train station. My heart was breaking for both them, and those that they were seeking to reach--because of the error that they were going to lead them into. My emotions got the best of me, and I pleaded with them to renounce their false prophet and turn to Jesus.

After the conversation, it was impressed on my heart again of how important it is that I be rooted deeply in prayer, the Scriptures and good doctrine. Thankfully, yesterday I was able to spend time in Hebrews, Mark and Galatians. I was even able to participate in a bible study where young Japanese believers were digging into Galatians chapter 1--super encouraging.

Today, I have been meditating upon the Nicene Creed, which I do believe is an accurate and concise statement of what the Bible teaches about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; 

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spake by the Prophets. And I believe one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Helping Without Hurting in Japan (Part One)

Apology: By necessity of speaking to a topic as broad as the health of the Japanese Church I must unfortunately make sweeping generalities--we can all think of examples that contradict parts of the following post (and the upcoming series), but I hope you will hear me out and deeply consider whether there are deeply rooted dependencies in the Japanese Church stemming from the past and current shortcomings and failures of missionaries. 

A lot has been written in recent years about unhealthy dependencies in global missions. Usually when this topic comes up it primarily has to do with finances. Books like 'When Helping Hurts,' 'Toxic Charity,' and 'When Charity Destroys Dignity,' rightly point out that the way that affluent, mostly Western churches often seek to help the Global Church through financial charity frequently leads to more brokenness than it alleviates.

However, finances are only one way in which the Western Church and the way that it does missions actually serves to weaken the Global Church rather than strengthening it. In the late 19th century, John Livingstone Nevius, a prominent Presbyterian missionary to China identified three ways in which an indigenous church must be self determining in order to truly be considered a mature church--the church must be Self Supporting, Self Governing and Self Propagating (Evangelizing). Later, another missionary theologian, Roland Allen pointed out that to be fully mature, the indigenous church must also be Self Theologizing.

Roland Allen clearly shows in his book 'The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, And the Causes That Hinder It,' that at his time, many missionaries and missions organizations that claimed to be pursuing Self Supporting, Self Governing and Self Propagating indigenous churches were often doing so only in theory, but not in practice; 'they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.' In fact, many of them were, and still are, facilitating dependencies in order to maintain power, influence--and many cases out of fear of the potential dangers associated with fully autonomous indigenous churches; namely, syncretism.

The recent interest in financial dependencies in missions and their unhealthy impact on the Global Church really only deals with a quarter of the problem--there are much deeper ways in which Western Missions continues to hamstring indigenous churches, their leaders and their health.

Why so few missionaries grapple with this... [source]
This has been a topic that I have spent my last five months in Japan dwelling on; and one of the main reasons I haven't written much,. It has been rather difficult to write about something that could easily be seen as undermining my very call to ministry here in Japan. However, that has only convicted me further of the importance of grappling with this topic.

Now some people might be wondering why this topic is relevant to Japan--Japan is a first world nation, and apart from the recent influx of finances from the Global Church to deal with the impact of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, the Japanese Church for the most part is financially independent of the Western Church. It supports its own institutions and clergy; and therefore on the surface would point to being a mature church.

However, the Japanese Church's dependencies are not quite as easy to point to as the financial dependencies in the churches of many developing nations. The unhealthy dependencies in the Japanese Church are primarily dependencies of Propagation, Theology and Methodology (Governance). 

In upcoming posts we will look at some of the dimensions of dependency within the Japanese Church.

(1) Namely, that the Japanese Church continues to maintain an unhealthy dependency on missionaries for evangelism, discipleship and church planting;

(2) the Japanese church continuously has failed to cultivate indigenous Evangelical theologies that lead to further maturity and effectiveness but are instead reliant on contextually incongruent Western theological voices (this is still an area where, because of my lack of fluency in Japanese I am not able to fully substantiate);

(3) and probably most importantly, that the Japanese church continues to be reliant on Western paradigms of church leadership and vocational ministry that hinders the maturity and growth of Christian lay people--meaning that the greatest potential catalyst for reaching the Japanese with the Gospel, the Japanese Church, is largely unequipped for the task of sharing the Gospel with their own people.

What is the role of the missionary in Japan? How does a missionary help without hurting? Probably one of the main reasons that these dependencies are so deeply ingrained within the Japanese Church is because of the effectiveness of Western missionaries (and increasingly missionaries from the Global Church). Has our short-term effectiveness resulted in long-term ineffectiveness for the average Japanese Christian? Are our evangelistic and discipleship methods reproducible by Japanese Christians? Does our reliance on English ministries, the 'Westernness' of Christianity and outreach events undermine the ability of the Japanese church to reproduce similar efforts? We will look at all of these questions and more in upcoming posts.