Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reflections: The Value of Friendship

The end of the year is closing in, and as the new year approaches I have been reflecting on the events of the past twelve months. So much has changed in such a short period of time, and I thought it would be helpful to me, and maybe interesting to you to collect a few of the significant lessons that the Lord has taught me over the past year here on my blog.

In the beginning of March I moved from Chicago to South Korea. I had been invited to visit Juhyang Community Church in January and while I was there they offered me the opportunity to return and help them begin an English ministry. In addition to serving at the church, opportunities opened for me to serve with a campus group and a missionary training school. I had few expectations about what my experience in Chuncheon would be like, but God wanted to use my time there to teach me a valuable lesson that I didn't expect.

Within a couple of months in Chuncheon I was experiencing some significant culture-shock. I had attempted to set my expectations low, but there were many experiences that left me feeling jaded. During the first three months in Chuncheon I had spent my time exclusively with Koreans--many of whom had little or no English ability. My Korean was getting much better, but the lack of a shared language often led to miscommunication and misunderstanding. I felt like the rug was being pulled out from under my feet. Many times God uses hardship and suffering to get us to reflect on what is really valuable.

At the end of June I went on a three week long trip to Japan and the USA. Just before leaving for the trip a couple of visitors attended the English worship service at Juhyang Community Church. They were Pastor Eric Beck and Pastor James Lee of Harvest Time Community Church. After the service we went out to eat jjajangmyeon. I learned from them that there was already an English language international church being planted in Chuncheon, and they already had a well established core of people. It occurred to me that rather than I could much more fruitful partnered together with what they were already doing than I had been on my own. Henry Blackaby's maxim comes to mind; if you want to experience God, discover where God is working and join Him.

Eric and I post shabu-shabu. Nice haircut 'eh.
After returning in July I began attending Harvest Time and participating in their outreach to international students at Kangwon National University. It turns out that we had both been partnered with different people from the same organization doing virtually the same thing--like ships passing in the night. I started to spend a lot of time together with Eric. In addition to the time spent together in prayer and outreach, I found that he had a heart with a great passion for the Lord, and we leaned on each other as each of us sought to serve the Lord in Chuncheon. We also ate a lot of great food, watched movies, played board games and screen golf.

One thing that I hadn't considered before going to Chuncheon was just how much a strong friendship could affect the whole of my ministry in a place. I found that a lot of the things that I had been struggling with were suddenly much easier to bear. My bitterness and disappointment were replaced with joy and excitement. I feel that God even helped our friendship to be contagious. There is a great community at Harvest Time and it only seemed to get better week to week! I am so grateful for the time I got to spend there, because the Holy Spirit is so clearly at work in that community of believers.

Sometimes it takes a life experience for us to understand the Bible better--I had never had such a strong and encouraging friendship with another guy since coming to faith in Christ. The first thing that comes to mind is Jonathan and David--God knit our hearts together with a common vision and passion in a very short time. It was extremely difficult to leave Chuncheon in spite of the excitement I had about the opportunity God had given me to begin support raising to go to Japan with Converge Worldwide.

Even Iron Man is better with a friend.
God doesn't want us to serve him alone. We are better together than we are individually. The body is made up of many different parts and we need each other. I understand much better why Jesus sent out his disciples two-by-two. I am really grateful for the friendship I found with Eric Beck in Chuncheon. God used him to minister to me and help me to realize how much I needed community and fellowship with the body of Christ--it moved beyond a conceptual understanding to a real experience.

I would appreciate it if you would pray for Eric as he faithfully serves with Harvest Time International Church as the Outreach Pastor! He holds weekly Bible studies for international students at Kangwon National University and Hallym University. He is also responsible for weekly bible studies and men's fellowship at Harvest Time. Eric, his wife Elizabeth and daughter Clara live in Chuncheon by faith. He has a home in Joplin Missouri that he has been trying to sell from a distance. Please pray that they would find a buyer for their home as this would help them greatly with their finances.

Eric serves bi-vocationally and his wife Elizabeth works full time as an English teacher. Their time is very precious, but they give it away so generously. Pray that God would bless them and their family during this Christmas season!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Missions 101: Defining Missions

Reconciliation by Cindy Alsop 
A few Sundays ago I had the opportunity to speak on missions in a youth meeting at Shiloh Hills Fellowship in Spokane Washington. I was asked to speak on missions in a way that would be compelling for the youth. I only had a short time to prepare, and an even shorter time to present--but I liked the challenge.

There were so many things that I could have said--missions isn't simply a subtopic within theology, as the theologian Martin Kähler (1835-1912) once said, "Missions is the mother of all theology." That actually complicates the matter quite a bit. It's like being told, 'sum up the bible in twenty minutes.'

Never one to back down from a challenge I dived head in. Thankfully the Holy Spirit used me to articulate what I actually felt afterwards was something that might be beneficial to share with my readers here on JoyField (all three of you, thanks mom!).

I began by asking the youth if they could give me a definition for 'Missions.' I got a lot of great answers. The youth understood that it meant going to another place and sharing a message, that it included danger, but also excitement. There was some vagueness about the specifics, but there was a general consensus that it was important.

The word Mission actually comes into the English language from the Latin word missio, which means 'to send,' or 'to be sent.' This word was used to translate another very important Greek word from which we get the word Apostle, that is, one who is sent. One of the most important ways to understand missions is that it is the imitation of Christ in his incarnation and ministry of reconciliation.

Jesus was sent by the Father, and He sends us.

Missions is rooted theologically in the incarnation of Jesus. In John 20:19-21 Jesus appears to to His disciples after His resurrection from the dead. "On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”"

In Jesus' parable in Luke 14, He compares heaven with a banquet--unable to get the invited guests to come, the host sends his servants out into the roads and country lanes to invite in whomever they can find to experience the festivities. This is just one of numerous references to being sent in the New Testament, but it is a story that illustrates the very heart of missions. We have been commissioned by Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that Jesus taught (Matt 28:18-20).

This commission is a high calling--and one that is given to the entire body of Christ. It is not limited to a select group of highly trained religious professionals. Instead, as we see in the New Testament it was to be accomplished by fishermen, tax collectors, tent makers, soldiers, slaves, linen dyers, medical doctors, farmers--in short, everyone who belongs to Christ is given this command.

The great commission is a recommissioning of Adam's commission given in Genesis 1:27-28--to fill the world with image bearers. We participate in the mission of God both individually and corporately as the Holy Spirit works to restore the image of God in us.

In the book of Revelations we get to see the end of the story--all the treasures of the nations being brought into the heavenly city. Jesus' blood "has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation."(Rev 5:9) Jesus will be the center of the new heavens and earth--the glory of His face will be the source of its light, "The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it." (Rev 21:24)

Jesus' incarnation and ministry of reconciliation are the blueprint for missions.

There is very little disagreement in regards to the 'going' of missions, but there is great contention as to what the content of missions is supposed to be. Thankfully Paul gives us a good reminder:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:17-21)
God has entrusted us with this ministry of reconciliation--to reconcile people to their creator. He invites us to be part of this very exciting rescue mission. We join together with Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit to reconcile the world to the Father. Jesus crossed over the greatest  cultural divide when he became incarnate as a man, and He did it in obedience to His Father who sent Him. He came on a mission of redemtion, to go to the cross and defeat death and Satan through his suffering on the cross. He rose again from the dead victorious and invites us to partner with him in reconciling and restoring all the nations to God the Father.