Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Clothes

Last night as I was driving home from the Christmas Eve services I had attended I happened to be listening to the local classical music station. The station was playing a concert of Christmas scripture readings and carols. The scripture readings were remarkably theologically significant for being on a secular radio station--in fact, the first reading was from Genesis. Here was the passage I heard from Genesis 3:8-15:

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 
The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

The climax of the scripture reading was the prophetic promise by God that he would send a man to defeat the serpent through the seed of the woman--recognized by most as the first promise of the Messiah in the bible. That means, that within the context of the first sinful act committed by humanity, God had already pointed to the means by which He would save his creation; sending his own Son!

However, I was a little disappointed that the young woman reading the text did not continue through the passage--because one of the most profoundly significant passages to Christmas is contained just a little farther down the page in Genesis 3:20-21:

The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. 

In the midst of man's disobedience and fall--we are able to see the nature of God as a merciful and gracious Father. His first act after chastising them was to cover over their nakedness, their shame and their guilt. He made the provision; he gave the first Christmas gift. In order to cover over their shame, it was needful that animals give their lives. This points to one of most significant themes of the bible--the cost for forgiveness is the shedding of blood. There is no atonement for sin without blood. However, as we know from the entire biblical narrative, the shedding of blood would never be a perfect or permanent substitute for sin.

This is why just a chapter later we see Cain killing Abel out of jealousy of the Lord's favor--because Abel had given a costly gift, sacrificing the first fruits of his flock, while Cain had given the first fruits of his grain. It is for this reason that Abraham and Isaac were provided with a ram to sacrifice, and the nation of Israel instituted a sacrificial system, where each year a lamb was sacrificed that would take the sins of the whole nation upon its head. But even the writers of the Old Testament understood that God was not pleased with sacrifices, that something more permanent was needed to forgive and cover over sin permanently.

That is why, two millennium ago, God sent his own son, born as a baby to be that sacrifice. As you reflect on the day, consider that Jesus was born in a barn alongside 'ceremonial clean' animals, some of which were no doubt bound to be sacrificed in the Temple. His birthplace in that barn was just as significant as his birthplace in Bethlehem. There was no room at the inn according to God's plan, because his birthplace would point us to his purpose. He was rightly identified by John the Baptist as the 'Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world.'

Much has been made of Jesus' penal substitutionary atonement--and rightfully so. His mission in coming was to take our sins upon himself on the cross, and by becoming sin he bore the wrath of God against our sin upon himself on that cross; all sin, past, present and future! However, understanding justification falls short of the totality of what Jesus did--he came to reconcile us to the Father, but in an incredible turn of events, he went one step farther, inviting us to become adopted members, sons and co-heirs in the family of God!

Jesus told a parable about a great wedding feast in Matthew 22 in which the guests that had originally been invited declined to come, as a response the king in the Parable commanded his servants to go out and invite anyone they could find to the celebration.

And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. 
“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” 

Regardless of your theology on whether the atonement was limited or unlimited, this passage points to a truth, that some will reject God's invitation outright, and others will attempt to blend in with the crowd and ultimately will be sifted out.

For the sake of this devotional, I want us to focus on the way that Jesus uses the imagery of clothing in the passage. The dividing line, the demarkation between those guests was what they were wearing. The first gifts given by God in the garden were animal skins to cover over the shame and sin of Adam and Eve. To all those that respond to the wedding invitation of the Lamb, new wedding cloths are given--these cloths are in fact, himself.

In Romans 13 the Apostle Paul uses a figure of speech which I had honestly not until recently put much thought into, but has become the center point of Christmas to me. "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ" or as some other translations put it "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ."

Jesus has become, in his incarnation, life, death and resurrection our wedding cloths--he was the lamb that was slain to make us permanent garments, spotless and clean, so that when wearing him, and his righteousness we can stand as Sons before the throne of the Father. Praise the Lord! Thank you Jesus! And Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What Goes Unmeasured Gets Ignored

The other night I was out with some men from church at a local BBQ joint for a low-key 'guy's night out.' It just so happened that my friend Matt invited along his father-in-law who was visiting from California and currently works at Quicken, which runs the online website

One of the great things about using Mint is that it gives several different visual ways to look at your spending habits over different lengths of time. If most of your spending is input into Mint correctly it is pretty easy to figure out how much you spend on say Coffee month-to-month.

This functionality actually had a major impact on my tithing/giving a couple years ago when I looked at just what percentage of my spending it actually represented--in my mind I thought I was giving at least 10%, but being able to track it month-to-month for several years I saw that I was giving significantly less than 10%!

My theology was not matching my lifestyle--even though I affirmed that everything I had belonged to God, I was not living that way when it came to my wallet! This was especially challenging since at that time I was just beginning to serve as a support based missionary. How could I ask other people to give generously when I wasn't doing so myself!

Thankfully, God used this realization to help transform my giving habits--I realized that God had given me a lot of resources that I was wasting, and were better used in serving his Kingdom. 10% became the base-line of giving, and the lid was taken off to be more generous than I had ever been before with the resources the Lord had entrusted to me as his steward.

A couple days ago I was walking around a lake in Monroe with Pastor Jan Hettinga who has been mentoring me for the past year--he has challenged me several times to develop healthier habits with regards to my physical health (and spiritual health, because they are intertwined).

On the second lap around the lake he challenged me--"Weight yourself every day!" When we are consistently reminded of reality we are more likely to take seriously the changes we need to make. It is easier to eat that extra cupcake when I haven't looked at a scale in a couple of weeks.

This is true in many areas in life beyond just generosity and losing weight (both things that I am sure I am not alone in struggling with). What goes unmeasured generally gets ignored.

How much time have I been spending in prayer? How many people have I shared my testimony with over the past couple months? Is there any way to measure honoring one's mother and father (when was the last time I gave them a phone call, went out of my way to serve them?)

Recently I have wasted a lot of time playing an addictive video game--the game keeps track of how many hours it has been played. Frankly, I am a bit terrified to look how many hours I have spent on the game when I could have been doing something more productive!

I think deep down I am hoping to hear God say, "Well done, good and faithful servant," while at the same time ignoring ways that I can tangibly measure my spiritual health. Jesus is the only truly good and faithful servant, and it by his merit earned on the cross that we can stand before the throne without sin or shame--at the same time, there is some sense in that the bible teaches that we can do more for His Kingdom if we are intentional in the way we live in obedience to his commandments.

Being too presumptuous of the grace of God may be one of the biggest dangers facing the church today.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pastors, Thank You. Sincerely, a Missionary

This morning I had the privilege of sitting in on a world I am normally not privy to--the local pastor's breakfast. It was a blessing to see local pastors from different denominations and churches gathered together for prayer and encouragement. There was a spirit of geniality in the room. A visiting pastor shared his testimony and encouraged the others to pray for revival and a greater presence of the Lord. Before closing the meeting, the pastor that had invited me took the opportunity to introduce me and encouraged the other pastors to meet me and invite me to their churches to speak.

As I sat there I couldn't help but feeling like I was seeing something often spoken about, but rarely seen. Like those wildlife photographers that spend years trying to get sight of a rare animal doing something never caught on camera before. I am encouraged to know that this is a monthly gathering of pastors in my community--one of the least reached in the United States; and despite my feeling that I was stealing a glimpse of something rare and beautiful, it was, probably to them, something quite mundane and ordinary.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
    life forevermore.
(Psalm 133)

Since October is 'Pastor's Appreciation Month,' let me take a moment to express my genuine thankfulness for the ministry that you men offer to the body of Christ as under-shepherds. While at the meeting I flipped through my bible to the book of Acts to find the names of a few men, who while often overlooked were some of the most influential in the history of the world. Acts 13 records the meeting of the elders (pastors) of the church of Antioch for prayer and fasting--their names were Simeon, Lucius, Manaen and Barnabas. Many Christians know the name of Barnabas as it is attached to Paul, but few would recognize Simeon, Lucius and Manaen.

These men were the ones that stayed behind when Paul and Barnabas were set apart for their ministry to the gentiles. These were the pastors of the church at Antioch. They were instrumental in the sending of these missionaries who turned the world on its head. Often we consider that the missionaries have the greater honor--but I want to suggest that the sender has a greater glory than the one who is sent. Jesus said, 'As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.' (John 20:21) If the Father received glory in sending his Son, then those leaders at Antioch were recipients of higher honor as they listened to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and set apart Paul and Barnabas.

I don't know how often missionaries express their gratitude to local pastors--but as one missionary I would like to express my thanks to those countless pastors who have served, many times without recognition, like these men in Acts 13, and by doing so, freed up others to take the Gospel abroad. Thank you for your service to the Lord in the local church. Thank you for your faithfulness.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Missions and Unity; We are Better Together

Missions has a long history of promoting unity among Christians. The oldest Baptist denominations for example were organized to send missionaries. What was difficult for a single church to do, support and send long-term missionaries, was possible in partnership with other like-minded churches and Christians. Unfortunately, denominations, which I believe are capable of significant good in the cause of advancing the Kingdom through church planting and missions are often seen as divisive rather than unifying in their nature.

As a missionary, I have more than one ministry. I have a ministry that God has called me to among the unreached people of Japan--to plant the Gospel, churches and make disciples among them. In addition to this mission though, God has given me a second, equally urgent missions. That mission is to call Western churches and believers to unity in the cause of Christ among the Nations!

Very few churches are capable of sending missionaries themselves--there are thousands of churches throughout the USA and Canada that have less than 100 members. These churches are no less called to missions than churches of a 1000, that have million dollar budgets and designated missions pastors. In fact, from what I have found, the average person in a smaller church is much more interested in missions than a person in a larger church.

However, without thoughtful cooperation, it wouldn't be possible for a small church to intentionally send missionaries. They may be able to support a few parachurch missionaries that show up at their doors, and send their youth group to Mexico every few years, but that isn't the level of engagement in the advance of the Kingdom that God calls us to.

Denominations exist, and have existed primarily to plant churches and send missionaries. The Baptist General Conference, who I serve with, was formed from like-minded Swedish Baptist Churches with a desire to work together to send missionaries--in fact, it was the call, "53 Missionaries by 1953!" that became the rallying cry that unified the Baptist General Conference, Converge Worldwide as one denomination in the mid 1940's!

I have a ministry to diverse churches, inside and outside of my denomination. I have a message for them: we can do more together than we can do individually!

Even if a church is large and prosperous enough to send missionaries without cooperating with any other churches, is that really edifying to the body? I have been to a half dozen large churches that have a reputation (which is often indicative of reality) of not playing well with others. Rather than sending missionaries through their denomination, or even through parachurch organizations, they send them themselves. In effect, they are re-inventing the wheel in order to maintain control over their missionaries.

More than one of these churches is in decline, and visiting with the missions pastor I have heard that they are having a hard time being faithful to the commitments that they had already made. This to me is a tad ironic--when they were prosperous growing churches they stopped cooperating with others and took the entire burden (and blessing) of sending missionaries on themselves--and when the economy, or changing demorgraphics, or a retiring pastor affected the health of their church, they began to doubt the commitments they had made.

Had these churches instead continued to send their missionaries through a denomination, or a parachurch orgnaization, and insisted that they spread out the burden (and blessing) of their support to other churches and Christian individuals, the health of a single church wouldn't be putting the ministry of these missionaries in jeopardy.

Unity in missions promotes health in both small churches and large. I have the opportunity to cast this vision among the churches that I visit--that we are better together than we are individually.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Celebrating Reaching 33% of my Support Goal!

33% of my support goal is quite an achievement--especially considered that this time last year I was pretty much at 0%! The Lord has blessed me with many old and new friends who have partnered with my financially and in prayer. Hopefully with this momentum continuing in my favor I will have launched out to Japan before this time next year! Please keep me in your prayers!

I also did some fancy math earlier today and found out that in order to reach 100% (an additional 4,400$/month) of my support I will need an additional:

12 individual supporters at 30$/month
9 individual supporters at 60$/month
6 individual supporters or churches at 100$/month
3 individual supporters or churches at 300$/month
2 individual supporters or churches at 500$/month
1 church at 1000$/month (the cost of a single part-time youth pastor)!

You can visit the Converge Worldwide website to give directly (monthly or annually). All donations are tax deductible. Surprisingly, I did all that math without having taken a single math class since High School (I have the minor in the History of Science and Technology from the UW to prove it). Look at the beautiful symmetry!

Please continue to pray for me as I seek to partner together with others hoping to expand God's Kingdom among the Japanese. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Believing Thomas, Hope for You and Me

Whenever I hear the term 'Doubting Thomas,' I always get a bit frustrated--this term ignores the fact that Thomas moved beyond doubt into a robust faith in Jesus' resurrection and divinity. I don't know about you, but I feel like this is a significant injustice.

We remember Abraham as the 'Father of Faith,' Moses as the 'Most Humble Man That Ever Lived,' and David as a 'Man After God's Own Heart,' despite the fact that Abraham struggled with unbelief, Moses got angry and struck the rock and David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah. Why is it that we have so much grace for these Old Testament men, but so little for Thomas.

So I propose that we never use the term 'Doubting Thomas' again, instead replacing it with 'Believing Thomas.' John 20:26-29 it says:
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Thomas' exclamation here becomes one of the clearest statements of Jesus' divinity in the New Testament, "My Lord and my God!" In a way this statement represents the ultimate realization of Jesus' disciples of his true identity and purpose. 

Thomas did not continue in doubt, but put his faith in Jesus' resurrection and identity as God's only Son. According to tradition, as one of the twelve Apostles, Thomas took the Gospel as far as India--in the end he died a martyr's death, holding firm to his faith in Jesus' resurrection.

Encountering Jesus brings fundamental changes to a person's life and identity--I am no longer Ian the sinner, I am Ian the saint--beloved of the Father. Thomas didn't stay a doubter, he became a believer, and that is hope and good news for all of us today. "Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:13-14)

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Lonliness of Missions

You've probably seen the bumper sticker, "Christians aren't perfect... just forgiven." This article is not about whether or not this is a true statement, or whether this is a message we should be putting on the bumpers of our cars--however, it does have a sentiment that I would like to tackle briefely, namely, the idea that Christians, especially those in Christian ministry are perfect.

Here's the truth--we're all broken, sometimes significantly more than we are comfortable admitting. One of the things that many in full time ministry struggle with is loneliness. Despite being surrounded by people, a missionary can feel an incredible sense of isolation, abandonment and discouragement. This is one of the weapons that the enemy uses to keep those in ministry from being effective and fruitful.

One of the things that I have been thinking about recently is how much I need the full body of Christ. I need those with gifts of encouragement, gifts of generosity, gifts of teaching, gifts of prophesy, gifts of administration--as a missionary, I cannot function effectively without the rest of the body of Christ. God doesn't intend those in full-time ministry to be isolated from the rest of the body.

I am really grateful that God is teaching this to me while I am still raising support. I really do need your prayers, I covet your prayers--I covet an encouraging phone call, a text message, an e-mail from someone just wanting to see how I am. However, because of the image of 'having it all together,' often it is possible for me to go for weeks or months without any kind of healthy fellowship with other Christians. Whenever I am together with others, I am expected to perform, to do the missionary monkey dance and beg for a few coins.

I woke up this morning and realized it had been more than two months since a new individual or church joined my support team. I have given out nearly 800 prayer cards, but never received an e-mail or phone call from anyone who has received one.

I wanted to cry. I felt incredibly isolated and alone--but then I remembered that I am not; Jesus was alone on the cross so that I could be in perfect fellowship with God. God helped me to transition into praise and thanksgiving--thanks to God, and thanks to the dozens of individuals and churches that are supporting me faithfully.

I don't want to sound ungrateful, I am not, but I do need you--beyond just your financial support, I need your friendship, I need your prayers, I need your encouragement. I need the whole body of Christ to help to equip me to minister the whole Gospel to those that God has called me to.

"Missionaries aren't perfect..."

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Thursday Musings: 'There Was a Father' by Yasujiro Ozu (1942)

In what I hope to become an ongoing segment on this blog, each Thursday I would like to share a film, a book or a piece of art that I have recently been thinking about. Today, I would like to share with you about one of my guilty pleasures: the films of Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963), and particularly for this post, the 1942 film 'There Was a Father.'

Ozu is considered by many to be one of the greatest directors that ever lived. His cinematic style is instantly recognizable as are the reoccurring character types, often played by a small band of loyal actors. But probably even more distinctive to Ozu is his slow paced human focused films. Ozu's favorite subject is family relationships.

One of the most beautiful scenes in the film.
Much like the contemporary director Wes Anderson's preoccupation with familial relationships, particularly with estranged fathers, Ozu masterfully weaves human drama in the setting that we are all intimately acquainted with, the home.  His portrayals of families are archetypal, much like Platonist Idealism--there is something universal about them. However, despite the form of perfection, they are all rooted in real brokenness. They point to the ideal, but then bring us back to reality.

In the the film 'There Was a Father,' Ozu is especially concerned with the relationship between a father and a son. The main themes of this film are duty, sacrifice and estrangement--as the father Horikawa, played by Ryu Chishu, tries to provide the best life and opportunities for his son, they are increasingly separated.

As I reflected on the film, I realized that Ozu was painting a familiar scene for many in his 1942 audience. Japan was making significant sacrifices, and had for generations, to provide for a better future--but at what cost? Ozu, unable to point critically to the contemporary political and economic situation in his own country, alludes to questions that he doesn't ask and answers that he doesn't give.

Like Father Like Son
One of Ozu's frequent storytelling devises is to use off-screen events that are alluded to indirectly but are central to the narrative. Oftentimes in his films, what happens off screen is more important that what happen on screen. At one point in the film Horikawa and his son are having a conversation about their ancestral home which they had just seen in passing. The son asked his father whether it still belonged to the family only to hear that his grandfather had sold it to provide for his father's education. This conversation is easily one of the most significant exchanges in the film, and happens almost so quickly that it appears to be unimportant.

This conversation though, points to a larger narrative that these two characters are joining in. They are part of a vicious cycle. The father only wants the best for his son, feeling that he himself wasted the investment made by his father in him. So instead of listening to his son's wishes to live together, he sends him to a boarding school and moves to Tokyo to pursue a better financial situation. The unseen grandfather had been a teacher of Chinese classics, Horikawa at the beginning of the film was a middle-school math teacher, by the end of the film, the son is a college-educated chemistry teacher--there is a sense in which Ozu begs the question whether the sacrifices were worth the moderate gains in social advancement.

The emotions in the film were muted, but hopeful--this may have had to do with the need to pass wartime censorship. The only copies we have of this film we now have were edited to remove any patriotic content after the war, so there are a few unnatural transitions.

This story is still poignant and relevant for modern Japan (and the West)--today, more than ever, there is a generational disconnect between parents and their children. The desire to provide good things for their children often pushes parents farther away from those that they want to ensure the future of. This is true at a societal level also--is our pursuit of progress actually undermining the most fundamental human institution, the family?

Ozu is distinctly Japanese--and unlike the films of Wes Anderson or other Western directors, there was no epiphany or resolution by the final curtain. The story was one of self-awareness on behalf of the audience. In fact, I was left with a nagging desire for more resolution and reconciliation by the end. I think that by not offering us a happy ending, Ozu actually accentuates the desire for one.

Monday, July 29, 2013

On Receiving Wise Words From Others

Recently someone shared with me some very insightful words. He said, essentially, "Seeing a problem requires significantly less skill than solving one--even a child knows when one of his toys is broken, but he is unable to fix it and so takes it to his father. You have a gift for seeing things that are broken, the next step is to learn how to solve some of the problems that you see so clearly." Without having to go into much detail, these words were very humbling. I am still but a child.

Another wise man said something that same week that has stuck with me also, "Physical fitness is part of your Spiritual Discipline." I have to confess, that I have not treated my Spiritual life holistically--I have neglected the very clear reality that my spirit and body are interconnected--we are not gnostics that ignore the realities of the material world, we are Christians that assume the claims of the Gospel in regards to its regeneration. I have to confess that I have neglected to be a good steward of the good gifts that God has given me, especially of this body.

I am grateful for the men of wisdom and discernment that God has put in my life--but I have to admit that I haven't always had ears to hear them. I have been too proud, I have been too individualistic, I have been too 'smart' for my own good. The constant grinding nature of these past few years of ministry has turned some of the hardest parts of my pride into fine powder, as I have struggled with disappointment, rejection and failures. Rather than abandoning me in the midst of my trials, God has again and again shown his closeness and tenderness towards me. Thanks be to God that there is grace for a fool such as I.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Shattered Box--Pride and its Lies, a Confession

I am a judgmental person--criticism of myself and others is my default setting. What is the root of this critical nature? Pride, arrogance, vanity--my heart is truly a factory of idols.

However, one thing that I have learned is that anything, in the "right light," can be twisted from a vice into a virtue--instead of wrestling with my critical nature, I have found ways to use it as an asset. I'm not judgmental, I'm a 'problem solver.' I only judge others because I want to help them--or so I have often lied to myself.

There is no better place to masquerade the sin of pride as a virtue than in the Ivory Tower (followed closely by the church). We are taught in the academy to read critically, to deconstruct people's arguments, to analyze and review. Within the ivy covered walls, this is not just tolerated but expected--however, like many things, those trained with this outlook often take their tools undiscerningly out into the world with them.

Where is the recycling bin?
I am guilty of putting people in boxes, of trying to define them. Oftentimes I will evaluate a person based on their worldview, where they studied, what authors they are reading, their political views, etc. Once I have determined a person's pedigree, I can then decide whether their opinions are worth listening to or not--what a wretched man that I am, appointing value to people so arrogantly; despite espousing the view that all people are created in the image of God. I am guilty diminished their dignity by deriving it based on superficial things. Unsurprisingly, I found myself doing this with my professors in graduate school.

Professor A's views on women in ministry put him in this box, Professor B's views on the authority of scripture put him in that box. I have to listen closely to professor A, I agree with him on this position, so he must be worth listening to on others. I disagree with Professor B on this that issue, so everything he teaches must be suspect.

I only realized what I was doing when I met a professor who I couldn't put into a box, Jerry Root (Wheaton Graduate Chapel Video). He is a self-proclaimed five-point Calvinist Quaker, and according to him, the only one in existence. I found myself in sharp disagreement with him on some issues, but in the 'Amen Corner' on others. It was quite jarring. I wanted him to fit into the boxes I was making, but every time I thought that I had defined him, he would punch out a wall. Jerry Root is what I needed--he was a grace from the Lord to me, because he exposed this area of atrophy in my heart towards others.

This was one of the most significant formative realizations in my graduate studies. I realized that I had been partisan, a band-wagon theologian who was unwilling--probably even scared to deal with those of differing opinions. Studying under professors that have significantly different worldviews was easy while at a secular university as an undergrad--but I was unprepared to deal with someone who so clearly loved Jesus and yet was juxtaposed against my clean, well-ordered theology.

It is a lesson I am still learning. I enjoy reading books by authors that I agree with (or should agree with). I can even read books by those that have significantly different views than mine--where I have trouble though, is reading the views of those that are similar to mine, but different in significant ways.

One of these men, someone I hope to treat in more detail in a future article is the 20th century Japanese Christian thinker Toyohiko Kagawa (1888-1960). When I read about his life and ministry I see someone who is deeply in love with Jesus, someone clearly anointed by the Holy Spirit--passionate about evangelism and caring for others. He wanted others to know about the Father's love for them--however, his means and methods of going about this were significantly different than what I would have advocated, or even been comfortable with considering.

Kagawa, Toyohiko
Kagawa was a social activist, labor organizer, agriculturalist, social worker, counselor--he was the friend of the poor, the 'Saint of the Slums.' He was an avowed Socialist--he believed it was the Christian's responsibility to leverage all means to alleviate human suffering (both physical and spiritual). He was a pacifist, in his lifetime compared glowingly with Mahatma Gandhi, and because of his labor activism, socialist political ideals and anti-war stances he was both reviled and revered by the Japanese government and people.

Kagawa was a man of action, he put his beliefs into action in ways that I would never have considered--whether through land reform, establishing credit unions and cooperative ventures, by advocating what he called 'Brotherhood Economics,' all the while telling people of God's love for them, and at the same time demonstrating it, by living in their midst, in the slums. He lived for many years in a 6x15 foot house in the slums of Kobe, with no ventilation or light except through the front door--which he shared with a mentally ill man and a recently released criminal.

Disease, filth, hardship, prison, hunger--these were his food. He willingly left the Ivory Tower (Princeton in his case) and went into the darkest of slums. He suffered along with those he loved so much, because he loved God that much. He was motivated by his love for God to love with an abandon that the world rarely seen--and the world was not worthy of him.

My Christian walk seems incredibly comfortable and clean in comparison. Rather than being friends with God, I have been content to be a friend of the world. To parade my pride around as a virtue--but it must, like all my sin and selfishness be crucified with Christ. As Jesus said, 'If anyone would be my disciple, he must daily take up his cross and follow me.'

The Cross of Jesus is the sledge hammer that breaks the boxes that we put ourselves and others in. He calls us to awaken, to open our eyes to see ourselves and reality as it truly is. To see others with the dignity and worth that God gave them in creation. To let him be Lord and become channels of his love to this broken world. The answer for suffering in this world was God suffering on our behalf--the ability to love, renew, reconcile is found in the love of God living through his people.

My good works are filthy rags before the immense sacrifice displayed on the Cross. Kagawa had a way of either drawing men or driving them away, much like Jesus, whose presence changes those that he is with--who draws a line in the sand. In Kagawa I have seen Jesus' love and the need for radical discipleship much more clearly.

I am such a small, selfish, petty man--may my boasting be in the Cross of Jesus; and by his grace may I become more like him.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Pray for Japan's Political Leadership

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe swept the polls in Japan earlier this week--meaning that they now have a solid majority in both the upper and lower houses of the National Diet. Abe's surge in popularity has been in part due to his drastic economic measures, meant to help Japan recover from decades of stagnation--however, a significant part of his support comes from those on the right side of the political spectrum who are hoping that Abe will make significant changes to Japan's post-war constitution.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
It is without any hesitation that I urge you to pray for Prime Minister Abe and the leaders of the LDP. We are at a cross-roads for the future of East Asia, any changes to the current constitution would cause great friction with both of Japan's neighbors, Korea and China. Tension has been rising in East Asia over the past decade corresponding to China and South Korea's economic rise, and the destabilization of North Korea. Many in these countries have malignant feelings towards the Japanese for their wartime atrocities and failure to sufficiently apologize make acquitted reparations.

The Christian church has been growing in both China and South Korea--both of these countries have significant, but young Christian churches. Less than 1% of Japanese know Jesus as their Lord and savior. In order for the Japanese to be reached with the Gospel, it will take a alliance of Chinese, Korean and International Christians praying for and extending grace to the Japanese. However, with the political situation, many Chinese and Korean Christians treat Japanese as an unlovable enemy.

Jesus commanded his disciples to love their enemies, and those that persecute them. Please join me in praying for wisdom on behalf of the Japanese leaders, but also for a spirit of grace and mercy to extend from Chinese and Koreans Christians to the Japanese. Especially in this period of heightened tension, there is an opportunity for Christians in these nations to be a prophetic voice of brotherhood and peace, rather than continuing in silence while others rattle their sabers.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Instant Gratification and Missions

One of the men that discipled me in college once shared that he was an adult before he realized that he could heat up pop-tarts in a toaster. He had grown up on the beach, and among his fellow surfer friends pop-tarts were a go to snack while attacking the waves. Having been raised in a Korean household, breakfast usually included kimchi and rice--his parents had never bought pop-tarts as a breakfast food, so his only experience with them was on the beach among his Caucasian friends. 

Sometimes we can go through life without questioning the way things are--assuming that we understand them in full based on our limited experience. Just like my friend with those pop-tarts, we can look at traditions, institutions and precedents as if they were set in stone, without ever asking if there is another, better way.

I believe this is one of the biggest problems facing today's churches in regards to the pursuit of missions. We have, consciously or unconsciously, moved into a unhealthy and ineffective model of missionary sending that hasn't been challenged by most Christians in the pews. Much of this mission sending and the financial resources that go along with it has become increasingly selfish and foolish.

We live in a generation that cherishes instant gratification. Whether it is food, entertainment, relationships--even the way we worship God; we are an impatient people. Unfortunately, this has had a negative impact on the missionary enterprise around the world. Long-term missionary sending and support is in decline, while the Western church spends over a billion dollars a year on short-term missions. We have substituted substance and real discipleship, for flash-in-the-pan evangelistic campaigns and week long Christian vacation trips.

Too often I have visited churches who are only interested in spending money on missions when it directly benefits their church or members--they want to be majority partners with a minimum investment. They want their church members or youth to have a positive spiritual experience, regardless of the benefit or damage to the cause of the Gospel among the nations. 

Is it necessary for the church youth to go overseas this summer? How important are patience and waiting for God's timing in modern missions? How important is it for our churches that they invest in qualified and seasoned missionaries or effective faithful indigenous leaders? Is the way that our churches give towards missions really sacrificial--or are there selfish motives mixed in?

What are some ways in which we can promote a more balanced understanding of the Great Commission among today's generation?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Ten Virgins Meet the Boy Who Cried Wolf

Recently a well meaning acquaintance whose relationship I cherish asked me a question which took me off guard. On the eve of the Supreme Court decision to strike down DOMA, he asked me, and I paraphrase, "How important is it for you to get to Japan? If Jesus was coming back soon, would you forgo raising your full support amount and leave for Japan as soon as possible?"

I am not proud of the way that I answered--I immediately replied to him, without much thought, that the financial support that I was being asked to raise by Converge Worldwide was not excessive (in fact I recently had my support goal reduced by 30%!), and that in order to be an effective missionary in Japan in the long-term I would need to go through proper channels--having a sustainable amount of financial support, getting an appropriate visa, establishing good partnerships with local churches etc.

Before I could continue to unfold my answer, we were cut off, and I haven't had a chance to pick up the topic with this friend again since that time. However I could tell by his countenance and mannerisms that he was sufficiently disappointed in my attempt to address his question in a way which down-played the urgency which he felt given the recent political developments that, in his mind, pointed to an impending return of the Savior.

Right Answer for the Wrong Person 

In a different setting my answer may have been satisfactory--but I realize now that given the temperament of his metal state at the time it wasn't. In fact, my response wasn't emotionally neutral either. We are emotionally attached to eschatology--it is a hot button issue for many people. Everyone has their opinions on the end times: Premillennialism, Postmillennialism, Amillennialism... even Panmillennialism, the idea that 'everything will pan out in the end.'

Rev 6:9-11
As someone trained in the study of history, I have the benefit of perspective (which can also be a dangerous thing). When he asked the question my mind raced through the countless times that men and women in the church thought that Jesus was going to immediately return.

I thought of the suffering experienced by the early church and the expectation that Jesus would return in their lifetimes, the fall of the Roman empire, the rise of Islam, the passing of the first millennium after Jesus' resurrection and the anticipation that that marked that important date. I though of the fall of Constantinople, the Plagues that ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages, the destruction of the church in Japan during the Tokugawa era--Attila, Napoleon, Hitler. Quote-unquote Christian nations warring against each other.

I thought of Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses and their false prophesies, I thought of Christians suffering under Mao's Cultural Revolution, Tutsis and Hutus perpetuating genocide on each other. The looming threat of global nuclear annihilation during the Cold War. I remembered Corrie Ten Boom's comments on the topic of the rapture--with all that as the background, the passing of DOMA doesn't seem all that significant in the broader history of the Christianity and the church.

Pray for the Chinese House Church Movement
Unfortunately because of this predisposition towards caution based on historical president, my reply to this friend played down his feelings of urgency--something in retrospect that I should have acknowledged and affirmed. At the same time, that urgency needs to be channeled into the right directions.

Urgency based on the feeling that Jesus' return is imminent is great in the short-term for mobilization and fervent service, but in the long-term it leads to burn-out and disappointment.

Jesus' Return a Parable and a Fable

Jesus talks a lot about his return and the coming judgement. For someone who is often billed and 'meek and mild,' there is a sense in which some of his stories and parables can be a little bit scary--and should be. Christian leaders throughout history have pointed at the signs of the end times (we are living in the end times), and used this to motivate urgency and action in their followers. With anything, there is a proper and improper use--and the abuse does not nullify the proper use.

Wise and Foolish Virgins by William Blake (1822)
Jesus talks about being prepared for his return in several parables--but one of the most vivid is contained in Matthew 25:1-13, the Parable of the Ten Virgins.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. 
This isn't the only parable that speaks to this topic--in fact it is a re-emphasis of the Parable of the Ten Talents/Minas.  It fits in quite well with the Parable of the Vineyard Workers, and the Wicked Husbandmen.

The purpose of these parables is to establish an attitude of readiness on behalf of the followers of Jesus. Instead of storing up our resources for ourselves, we are to leverage them on behalf of the kingdom--but as in the case of the parable of the Ten Talents, we are to do so seeking the greatest return on the investment for the King.

I would like like to contrast this with the The Boy Who Cried Wolf, one of universally recognized Aesop's Fables.
A SHEPHERD-BOY, who watched a flock of sheep near a village, brought out the villagers three or four times by crying out, "Wolf! Wolf!" and when his neighbors came to help him, laughed at them for their pains. The Wolf, however, did truly come at last. The Shepherd-boy, now really alarmed, shouted in an agony of terror: "Pray, do come and help me; the Wolf is killing the sheep;" but no one paid any heed to his cries, nor rendered any assistance. The Wolf, having no cause of fear, at his leisure lacerated or destroyed the whole flock.
There is no believing a liar, even when he speaks the truth.
Harold Camping
You could replace the shepherd-boy in this fable with a preacher... "Every Sunday the preacher promised that Jesus would be coming soon, he pointed to the latest cover story heralding some victory for the political left. Initially this prompted his flock to invest themselves in evangelism and live boldly for the Gospel--but as time went on, the message became a little tiring. The zeal and passion left the congregation as they settled into their live. Despite the preachers repeated claims that Jesus would return in 1989, 1993, 1997... Jesus didn't return, some people eventually left the church, some even walked away from the faith. The louder the preacher yelled the more it seemed to put his congregation to sleep, except for a few conspiracy minded outliers who continuously debated about whether believers would be raptured or not. Some laughed and mocked, others simply tuned out.--and The Wolf, having no cause of fear, at his leisure lacerated and destroyed the whole flock."

Why Do I think that these two stories are such a strong juxtaposition? The Fable is not the inspired word of God, but it does help us to understand why we need to be careful about setting proper expectations when it comes to the Lord's return. Anticipating the Lord's return and telling others about it requires wisdom and preparation--in fact, this is the opposite of abandon and recklessness!

On the other hand, the fable of the boy who cried wolf shows someone who is not wise--he excites people to action and because the boy's early claims are proven false, the people are lulled into a false sense of security and jaded to the boys later cries for help. The pastor or preacher who cries wolf does a disservice to his congregation--and the broader body of Christ. The contrast between these two stories is the difference between wisdom and foolishness!

Do you think these Ten Virgins would have been well served if periodically throughout the day there had been a boy that came along announcing the Bridegroom's return in error? Just imagine if the five that had been prepared had lit their candles early rather than waiting for their Master's coming? Ultimately these stories break down when stretched too far, because they are just that, they are teaching aids--but this parable points us towards the truth.

Posture is Everything

Jesus is going to return--that is a given. He will return at an hour that we least expect him, yet all of the signs point towards his return. The signs were as true to the early Christians meeting in secret for fear of persecution as those meeting today in house churches in China for the same reason. Jesus did not fail those that had earlier trusted in his imminent return--he did not specify a date for his  coming but said it was in his Father's keeping.

Go Hawks.
The parables affirm his second coming and encourage us to be ready. The difference between the wise and unwise virgins was their readiness and preparation--not their urgency. This readiness is a posture, not an action (it does involve actions though, like the buying of oil for the lamps). I earlier said that having a training in history is beneficial and dangerous--because seeing historic precedent can also have the effect of lulling a person into a false sense of security, it can lead to a reclined posture, this is something I need to be careful to avoid personally--a posture of readiness is not an action, but it is active, it is a battle stance.
If there is one take-home point I would like to make from all of this it is that preparing for the possibility that Jesus will come back today means preparing for the possibility that he won't. This is something we need to hold in tension--both being faithful to this generation, but also planting seeds so that the next generation or one years from now will see a faithful stewardship of the Gospel to theirs.

Today's Christian institutions by and large owe their existence to past generations who in faithfulness planted seeds the are still bearing fruit today. They prepared for the possibility that Jesus would return immediately, but also for the eventualities that would occur if he did not. This is the difference between the wise and unwise builder--we are working to expand the frontiers of the Kingdom of God, and it does matter what materials we build with.


And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14

There is still a lot of work done until we accomplish the great commission of reaching all peoples with the Gospel--We need to live every moment as if Jesus' return is imminent, but also use discretion and wisdom to establish a legacy which will point others to Jesus for generations should he tarry longer.   That is going to look different for different people--it is going to affect how we perceive our callings, how we invest in building up the Kingdom, both in our local church and globally, it is going to affect how we raise our children and grandchildren.

This I think is the best way to understand the parable of the Ten Virgins/Talents in light of history. Not only should we be interested in our own individual Christian faith, and the faith of our generation, but also that it be preserved for future generations--through establishing and maintaining Christian institutions such as colleges and seminaries, charities; through the translation of the scriptures and publishing of faithful Christian literature; through an investment in global missions and reaching the unreached with the Gospel; and through a strong emphasis on imparting faith in Jesus to future generations.

For this reason, I think that it is wise to invest in the eventuality that I may have 25-35 years of fruitful service among the unreached peoples of the world, particularly the Japanese. It is worth spending an extra year now to make sure that I have a solid foundation on for the future of the Gospel's advance among them. This is why young men still go to seminaries to train for the ministry, this is why missions agencies by and large still require bible education and training. There have been many short-lived apocalyptic movements, let us build with materials that will stand the test of history. Carpe Diem is a distinctly pagan idea--we are to live every day unto the Lord, whether I live another fifty years or meet my Lord in the sky in the next fifty seconds. "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Phil 1:21)

Maranatha! (1 Cor 16:22, Rev 22:20)

Friday, July 5, 2013

Universal Priesthood and the Green Berets

I have had the blessing to fellowship together with Reality, a church in Olympia WA since returning to the States last fall. In spite of being in different churhes most Sunday mornings I am able to attend their evening service--which has allowed me to have a sense of continuity and community.

Late last year the Holy Spirit moved on the community at Reality in a gentle but powerful way. The result was changed lives, broken strongholds, saved marriages and new commitments of faith! It was quite powerful to observe Revival in person--although I felt like a bit of a fly on the wall as I was new to the church at that time.

One of strong emphasis of this period of sweet renewal was the desire of people to hear from God and to work from the gifting that He had given them. It even resulted in changes in the way that the Elders of the church understood their rolls in relationship to each-other.

From my perspective as a wallflower, I got to thinking a lot about Spiritual gifting and what those different gifts look like in the ways that the church functions practically. One unexpected result was a change in my understanding of the Priesthood of all Believers (also called Universal Priesthood)--something that I thought I had a grasp on previously.

Egalitarian vs. Complimentary Priesthood

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9

One misunderstanding I had of the Priesthood of All Believers, a central tenant of the Protestant Reformation is the idea that all priests are the same--New Covenant priesthood is much like the Trinity--there is a unity in substance, attributes and power, but with different rolls and responsibilities dependent on the persons. Likewise, a study of priesthood in the Old Testament shows that there are many kinds of priests in the temple worship of Israel.

The Spiritual Gift of carrying stuff.
The Levites, one of the twelve tribes of Israel were appointed to maintain the Tabernacle of God and to direct the worship of the people of Israel towards their God. They did not have a portion with the other eleven tribes, but their portion was from God. Each male member of the tribe of Israel took it in turn to serve in the Tabernacle, and later the Temple.

Even though every male among the Levites was a priest, not all of them had the same duty or responsibility--nor did their identity as a priest mean that they neglected seemingly secular pursuits like marriage, parenting, farming, business etc. Although they could not own land outright, they would lease land from the other twelve tribes.

When they were called to the tabernacle for their allotted period of service they served with all their heart, but once again, not all in the same way. There were men who worked in administrative positions, ones that handled the sacrifices, others that excelled in playing musical instruments. Each man served according to his gifting and allotted position--looking at passages like 1 Chronicles 9 helps us to understand the multitude of ways in which these Levite priests served in the temple:

Some of them were in charge of the articles used in the temple service; they counted them when they were brought in and when they were taken out. Others were assigned to take care of the furnishings and all the other articles of the sanctuary, as well as the special flour and wine, and the olive oil, incense and spices. But some of the priests took care of mixing the spices. A Levite named Mattithiah, the firstborn son of Shallum the Korahite, was entrusted with the responsibility for baking the offering bread. Some of the Kohathites, their fellow Levites, were in charge of preparing for every Sabbath the bread set out on the table. Those who were musicians, heads of Levite families, stayed in the rooms of the temple and were exempt from other duties because they were responsible for the work day and night. (1 Chronicles 9:28-33)

These men's gifts and rolls complimented each other so that all of the work of the temple could be done--no one's position was more worthy than another because each one's roll was instrumental to the functioning of the temple and the worship of God. "On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor." (1 Corinthians 12:22-23)

Although individual Levite priests were of the same worth in the eyes of God, the priesthood as it was understood by the Jewish people functioned in a complimenatian way when it came to rolls and responsibilities of those serving in the Temple.

The Body of Christ--The True Temple

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. Romans 12:4-6

As I have already alluded to, the complementary nature of the priesthood in the Old Testament has its direct corollary to the Priesthood of All Believers under the New Covenant. Paul works this idea out with a metaphor--the body. This is one of Paul's favorite metaphors, and shows up whether directly or indirectly in several of his letters to the church.

Believers in Jesus are the new priesthood, under the headship of Jesus, the true high priest. We worship in the new temple, his body, the church. That means that each one of us has a roll in that temple as a priest of the New Covenant. That does not mean that everyone is a pastor/elder, or a deacon--oftentimes we misunderstand the priesthood of all believers by elevating these rolls in prominence while ignoring the many ways in which individuals in the church make the worship of God possible in their families and community.

Not everyone can be first chair violin.
Paul is clear to assign to the body metaphor different giftings and callings--that is different parts of the body have different gifts: "If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully." (Romans 12:6-8)

Paul makes it clear that these gifts are not all contained in a single person, but that they are distributed throughout the body in order that different members of the body would work together to bring glory to god: And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. (1 Cor 12:28-30)

The Whole Church Taking the Whole Gospel to the Whole World

The following phrase is the motto of the Lausanne Movement--while the Gospel and the World have always been an emphasis in missions, the new emphasis on the whole Church is a refreshing clarification. As I previously shared in my blog post 'Is Every Christian a Missionary? Yes and No.' I believe that the church corporately is called a missionary--while individuals within the church work together to accomplish the global task of reaching the nations, each in the gifting and calling God has given them. In this late hour, much of the church has yet to become involved directly or even indirectly in accomplishing this task.

Not everyone is called to be a missionary, in the same way that not everyone is an Apostle in Paul's unpacking of the body metaphor--however there are people that are called to teach, prophesy, administer, show charity, encourage and lead, and each one of them has their role to play in the global expansion of Christ's Kingdom.

Missionaries need people who are living out their calling to be generous with the blessings that God has given them, they need people to teach on missions in churches so that the body has a proper understanding of the global missionary enterprise, they need prayer warriors and people with administrative gifts to help enable them to be effective. These are just some of the few ways in which those in the Body of Christ with different giftings can work towards reaching the nations with the Gospel.

How much easier would the job of a missionary be in preparing for the field if the church was better educated on missions and individual members understood their rolls in supporting the sending of missionaries--both biblically and practically!

Specializations as Another Way to See Gifting

Where there is no vision, the people perish. Proverbs 29:18

My friend Dan Basco, a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School wrote a critique of my blog post on the question of whether every Christian is a missionary.  I love Dan's insights and I think we agree on more than we disagree on. I like his analogy of missionaries with the special forces (one that I have also used before). He brings in another one of Paul's famous metaphors, the warfare metaphor of the Christian life, from which he makes the case that all Christians are individually missionaries (soldiers), but some of them are specialists (cross-cultural career missionaries).

Source: USASOC New Service
Dan writes, "A traditionally defined missionary is a highly trained operator with skills in language, customs, and culture.  He or she is sent into an Area of Operation (AO) with little support; but, he or she has a problem solving skill set to improvise and wage war against the Enemy with the material and personnel resources within the AO.  Moreover, his or her success is seldom contingent upon their engaging the enemy.  Rather, victory is secured when an indigenous fighting force who knows the land, customs, and people better than the operator is recruited and trained to combat the enemy.  Moreover, when victory is at last secured the operator’s role is seldom detectable because he or she trained the indigenous forces to lead their own."

Thinking of missionaries as a special forces group that goes in and helps to form guerrilla/insurgent groups among indigenous peoples to engage in the global conflict against the "rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places," (Ephesians 6:12) is a great way to help people understand the job of cross-cultural career missionaries better. This is a great way to contextualize the work of missionaries for a generation of Americans that has grown up with the global war on terror in the background.

A special forces unit cannot exist however without the backing of a powerful nation, a strong government, financial and strategic resources. This is also true of missions--the sending of missionaries is often a litmus test of the vitality and health of a church. If a church is paying someone else to do the job rather than sending their own sons and daughters, they risk becoming like the Late Roman Empire that increasingly filled its military ranks with mercenaries and foreigners--while at the same time letting their own children become complacent and comfortable. This is one of the most often cited reasons for the decline and ultimate fall of the Roman Empire.

The church that stops sending their sons and daughters will sooner or later stop sending their money also. We need to have skin in the game--and not just for a week or a month at a time, but we need to encourage and support specialists.


The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Luke 10:2

Heavenly Father, thank you for your Gospel, the precious word that you love us so much that you sent our only begotten son Jesus to die on our behalf--but that he didn't stay dead, but rose again to offer new life and a new relationship with you.

Thank you for your promises, that when we are engaged in your global mission to reconcile the peoples of the world to you, that you are with us until the end of the age. Thank you for sending the Holy Spirit, that your children do not serve out of their own limited strength, but that you supply limitless power to achieve what you have called us to--you provide what you promise.

Thank you that we get to be part of the expansion of your Kingdom and the reconciliation of the peoples of the world with you, their creator.

I pray that you would give your church a new vision for the mission that you have called them to--that you have called each of us as a nation of priests, but that each of us has a responsibility to serve in our own gifting and calling to accomplish the mission which your church was established for--to be ministers of reconciliation.

I pray that you would raise up more men and women to specialize in reaching the unreached peoples of the world--and that your church would make it a priority to see this happen. Lord, help us to invest yourselves in this great task, not just being willing to give our time and money, but even ourselves or our sons and daughters to this mission. In Jesus' name I pray.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Korean Missionary Mandate to the Japanese

Oftentimes I have been asked why Christianity has grown significantly in China and Korea while in Japan, their close neighbor, less than one percent of the population has a Christian faith. To answer this question requires a great deal of background in the history of East Asia, culture, politics, economics and spiritual matters--however, in this blog post I would like to add one more factor towards the numerous list of reasons why Japanese haven't responded to the Gospel message yet.

If I pretend like he isn't here, maybe he'll leave.
One significant reason why Japan has yet to be reached with the Gospel is because the Korean church has yet to make it a top priority. 

I hope to outline some of the reasons why Koreans and Korean Americans might be the key to reaching the Japanese with the Gospel, as well as some of the ways in which the Enemy is preventing this from happening.

Big Brother (Prepare to be Offended)

Korea and Japan have a long and storied history--before Korea was a 'dagger pointed at the heart of Japan,' the Japanese and Koreans shared over a thousand years of friendly and prosperous friendship as closely related peoples. With the exception of the attempted Mongol Invasions of Japan (launched from Korea), the Imjin Wars (1590's) and the Colonization of Korea by the Japanese in the late 19th and early 20th century, Koreans and Japanese have for the better part of their history been on friendly terms. In total, these three conflicts are an aberration in the overall peaceful and fruitful relationship between Japan and Korea that has existed as long as the Yamato (Yamatai) people have lived on the Japanese archipelago.

Confucius says, honor your parents!
In Confucianism (an ideology consciously or subconsciously affirmed by virtually all Koreans), one of the five key relationships is older brother and younger brother. From a historical perspective, one can say that the Koreans are the older brother of the Japanese. Chinese language, art, culture, science, agriculture and religion reached Japan via Korea. It was the Koreans who brought the Japanese Chinese writing, it was the Koreans that brought Buddhism and Confucianism, it was the Koreans that brought agricultural developments including tea cultivation.

There is some evidence: historical, linguistic, genetic, and archeological to suggest that the Koreans and Japanese are even more closely interrelated than most people groups in East Asia. Korean and Japanese are the lone Altaic languages in East Asia, Paekche and Kaya peoples freely traveled and lived in both Korea and Japan, members of the Paekche royal family even married into the Yamato royal family, meaning that the Emperor of Japan is partially Korean.

It is unpopular to suggest such a close relationship between the Japanese and Korean peoples--especially considering the icy relationship these two peoples have had for the past century. However it ignores the broader historical precedent of cooperation, peace and close ties the peoples once had.  Korea has a responsibility to the Japanese as the older brother (hyung), which they gladly embodied earlier when it suited them better.

Romulans and Vulcans

Evil Spock isn't Romulan, but you get the point right?
It is a dangerous mistake to play up the historic closeness of these two peoples without making it clear that they are also distinct from each other. Despite a shared genetic, linguistic and cultural history, the Japanese are not Koreans and the Koreans are not Japanese--they may have had common ancestors, but years of isolation from each other (Korea was known as the Hermit Kingdom for a reason, and Japan isolated itself from the rest of East Asia during the Tokugawa Period) have only exacerbated the differences between them. Korea's unique relationship with China and Japan's trade with SE Asia have also added to the differences.

One significant difference between the Japanese and Koreans is the idea of Han. Han is something like a cultural disposition of anger towards perceived injustices mixed with a victim complex. The flip-side of Han is a pride, arrogance and boldness that are unique to the Koreans among the people of East Asia. Koreans are passionate--and they tend to get passionate and serious about anything they engage in, whether that is business, religion or politics.

There is no doubt that among the younger Christian churches in the world--the Korean church is by far the most active in evangelism and missions. This is not unique to Christianity among Koreans though--the same zeal can be seen among the Communists in the North and among other religious and political groups in the South. Koreans are extremely proud of their history, while at the same time acknowledging that they have not always been a historically significant people--instead of being stuck in a state of dejection though, they have leveraged that national feeling of being slighted to achieve some great things over the past half century--the South went from being among the poorest nations in the world to being one of the top economies in the world in just under forty years.

Where Koreans are passionate and bold, Japanese have tended to be passive, pragmatic and indirect, with the supreme value of preserving harmony. One of the significant reasons that many Japanese will never seriously consider the claims of Christ is because of the culture of homogeneity in Japan--"if the nail sticks up, hammer it down." In this way, Japanese and Koreans are fundamentally different--while Koreans value harmony within community, the pursuit of truth trumps it. Japanese on the other hand are more likely to avoid conflict, choosing compromise instead of insisting on one way or another. Professor Kenneth Pyle once said something to the effect that to understand the Japanese, one must understand that they are a people living on an archipelago--living on an island with others means that finding compromise to work out conflicts is of utmost importance.

Why Koreans?

With that background established, I will list a few reasons why I think that Koreans, and particularly Korean Americans have the most potential towards reaching the Japanese with the Gospel.


DeShazer and Fuchida
One of the most powerful testimonies is of grace and forgiveness--the missionary and WW2 veteran Jacob DeShazer was used powerfully of the Lord in post-war Japan because he had every reason to hate the Japanese, but because of Jesus' love, he himself renounced any grudge he had against them and extended the grace of God instead. God blessed Jacob's ministry and he became one of the most beloved missionaries of the post-war period. God providentially used a tract that he had written, entitled "I was a Prisoner of Japan" in the conversion of Mitsuo Fuchida, the pilot that had led the attack on Pearl Harbor--he later became a Christian Evangelist! The two became friends and worked together to advance the Gospel among the Japanese.

Fuchida and Billy Graham
Not every American has such a powerful story of grace and forgiveness--both of my grandfathers fought the Japanese in WW2, but that has had little impact on my views towards them. However, most modern South Koreans have grown up being taught about the atrocities committed against them during the Japanese occupation of Korea. The animosity between Korea and Japan today runs hot, and frequently boils to the surface. A single mention of the word Dokdo is usually enough to bring about some anti-Japanese sentiment.

The average Korean today has a very negative view of the Japanese--I was astonished to find that this was true even among Christians! It was shocking to me to hear the things said about Japanese among professing Christians when I lived in South Korea. It was then that I realized how successful the Enemy had been in building animosity between these two peoples.

How incredible would it be, if every Christian in Korea were to commit to pray for the Japanese--and to renounce their unforgiveness and bitterness towards their Japanese neighbors! What an incredible witness that would be to the Japanese. It is clear that God extended forgiveness to us before we repented or sought His grace, "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

The reason that many Koreans have yet to forgive the Japanese for their occupation and wartime atrocities is because they have yet to receive a sufficiently contrite apology--however many times Japanese leaders apologize, it never seems to be enough. However, Jesus teaches that we are to love our enemies! "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:43-45)

My earnest desire and prayer to the Lord would be that the Korean church would extend unconditional forgiveness and mercy towards the Japanese! This I believe more than anything else would have a powerful impact on both the Japanese and Koreans for the legitimacy and power of the Gospel! 

However--while I was in Korea, I witnessed the reverse. A group of Japanese seminary students came to Korea, and in church after church they were confronted with the grievances of the Korean people--and in tears repented for the role that their ancestors played in the mistreatment of the Koreans. While these public repentance sessions seemed to be good--they only served to reinforce the divisions between the Japanese and Koreans. The Korean Christians were more than happy to watch a hand full of young men and women tearfully repent for their people, but it reminded me more of a scene from the Chinese Cultural Revolution than one from the early church. 

It would have been more powerful, if say, these young Japanese Christians had come to Korea and been received warmly by the Korean church and, while being told about the wartime atrocities (something many Japanese are blissfully unaware of) also being told that there was no ill-will or bitterness towards them--because they were made brothers and sisters through the blood of Jesus Christ!

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility...  that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace (Ephesians 2:14-15)

Language and Culture

The Korean and Japanese languages are both Altaic languages, meaning that they have a subject-object-verb (SOV) structure as opposed to the subject-verb-object (SVO) structure used in languages like Chinese and English.  In order for a native English speaker to learn Japanese fluently, it takes between three and five years of intensive study. For a Korean, this time is more than halved--for many Koreans it only takes about a year to learn Japanese to fluency! 

There is already a large minority of Koreans in Japan--and for a Korean fluent in Japanese it is possible to live in a much more incarnational way than for a Western missionary. The Japanese are a very xenophobic people--especially towards Koreans and Chinese. However, a Korean with perfect Japanese can in many cases pass as a Japanese. 

Korean and Japanese cultures are different--and so are the ways in which they perceive the world around them. However, different they are though, there is still much commonality between the two. Even though a Korean person may personally clash with many aspects of Japanese culture, they will be able to understand the motivations and thinking of the Japanese better than the average Westerner, because they are often working with the same cultural building blocks, even if assembled differently. 

Korean Wave

South Korea and Japan are close trading partners--for the first time in centuries the Koreans and Japanese are on mutually beneficial grounds economically. Beyond that, they are just close in proximity! Korea is a major sender of short-term missionaries; however many of these missionaries are going to far-flung places like India, Central-Asia, Africa and SE Asia. Very few of them perceive the strategically important mission field in their own back yard! 

Yon-Sama! Winter Sonata Video Game?! Only in Japan.
With the growing economic ties between South Korea and Japan though, more opportunities will open for missions minded young professionals to go to Japan. Unfortunately, missionary visas are only available to Koreans in limited quantities, and are restricted to ordained seminary graduates and limited to a one-year length. For this reason, many Korean missionaries tend to go to Japan with tourist visas, and are only able to stay in country for a few months at a time. 

I was surprised to find out how differently missionaries from Korea were treated than those from the West by the Japanese government! An American can get a missionary visa without ordination, and these visas are often given for periods of three to five years. There is definitely an element of discrimination towards Koreans--possibly because of the large illegal Korean immigrant population in Japan.

But the winds favor Korea--Korean popular culture and cuisine are becoming increasingly popular in Japan, especially among women. With the changing demographics in Japan (an aging society, low birth rate etc.) young Korean professionals will find an increasing number of open doors in Japan in the business world and beyond. Korea missionaries already have a strong Business As Missions (BAM) segment--and it would behoove them to concentrate on this further.

Michael Oh at the Desiring God Conference
Korean-American missionaries to Japan on the other hand can get the longer missionary visas--and their experiences as a minority in America may help to prepare them for service in Japan. Korean missionaries tend to use cookie-cutter approaches to missions (one-size-fits-all), however this is less the case for second-generation Korean American missionaries. They are much more likely to use contextualization and to appreciate the unique culture and context of the place in which they are ministering than their parents would. I am painting with a broad brush here, I hope you will forgive my generalizations.

One of the most influential missionaries alive today is Michael Oh, the current Executive Director of the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. This 42-year-old Korean American missionary to Japan has served as a church planter and helped to start the Christ Bible Institute in Nagoya Japan in 2004, sensing the need for a strong evangelical seminary in Japan. My hope would be to see many Korean American Christians follow in Michael's footsteps and invest in reaching the Japanese with the Gospel!

Some Possible Hindrances
Hate, Bitterness and Pride

The ongoing animosity between the Korea and Japan only serves to keep the Japanese from encountering Jesus. Hate, bitterness and pride on behalf of Koreans is a wall that keeps them from extending the grace of Jesus in a significant way to the Japanese. While a small segment of the Korean church has made a conscious yet inconsistent effort to reach out to the Japanese, this token effort will not turn into a tidal wave unless the broader church begins to imbibe the mercy and grace of Jesus and extend it to the Japanese!

Forgiveness is not easy--the offenses against the Koreans on behalf of the Japanese are real. The colonial history, war crimes, comfort women and forced conscription are not easy to forgive--Jesus never promised that forgiveness was easy, but he commanded it! He says to love our enemies, and in 1 Cor 13 it says that love keeps no records of wrongs. The Korean church needs to stop resurrecting the injustices of the past and start extending grace and love for today! We cannot expect non-Christian Koreans to extend forgiveness, but the Korean Church can show them another way than bitterness. 

A major hindrance to this happening is the Korean 'Han.' While it serves to promote zeal and boldness among Koreans, it also continually returns to the injustices of the past to prompt action in the present. Instead, a grace filled Christian response on the behalf of Koreans would look past the injustices of the colonial period and the Imjin Wars, and to the historic friendship held between the peoples of Korea and Japan--as the older brother, Korea has the opportunity to love Japan in a new way! 

The Gospel will prevail against this island of animosity!

Korean Methodology

Conformity--we know you're good at it!
Another hindrance to a successful missionary outreach on behalf of Koreans and Korean-Americans to Japan is the tendency to fall back on Korean methods of evangelism, discipleship and church planting. (Something which is a tendency of all peoples--what is familiar tends to be what we do). Japanese are not Koreans, and what works in Korea doesn't necessarily work in Japan.  New missionaries to Japan must be flexible and adaptable. 

Japanese culture, even with its foibles, is beautiful and worth affirming. In the same way that it was an injustice when the Japanese tried to erradicate Korea's culture during the colonial period, it is unjust for a Korean missionary to Japan to insist on doing everything in a Korean way. A Japanese church will look distinctly Japanese, and a Japanese believer will be distinctly Japanese--even if they have been discipled by a Korean missionary. 

Korean seminaries and missionary training schools need to strongly emphasize contextualization and incarnational ministry. Because of the numerous similarities between Japanese and Korean cultures, there is a tendency to play down the differences--but the differences are important, and beautiful to God. Because of that, all missionaries, not just Koreans, need to be sensitive to affirm what is good in Japanese culture.

Ease and Apathy 

Missions in Japan is hard! What has tended to happen when a Korean missionary goes to Japan is to gather together members of the Korean diaspora rather than making inroads among the Japanese. While there is a need for missionaries to the Korean diaspora in Japan (percentage wise, Koreans in Japan are some of the least evangelized and churched Koreans in the world--they tend to mirror the Japanese they live among in this way), missionaries from Korea must be willing to draw a line and prioritize the Japanese even if they do not see as much bang for their buck as they would reaching out to Koreans or internationals. 


Lord, I pray that the Korean Church would sense their responsibility to the Japanese people as their older brother. Koreans have been responsible for bringing false religions to the Japanese, would you use them to bring your Gospel to their neighbors.

I pray that you would help the Korean Church to repent of their bitterness towards the Japanese--help them to see that it is not Christlike to insist upon Japan's repentence, but that they are commanded to love their enemies (even the Japanese)! Lord, I pray that you would raise up within the Korea and Korean American churches men and women with a heart for reaching the Japanese--open the doors for fruitful culturally-affirming Gospel ministry among the Japanese on behalf of the Korean church.

I pray that you would raise up more missionary leaders and roll models among the Korean American church, so that young Korean American Christians would pursue your calling among the nations rather than settling for worldly, materialistic pursuits! I pray that a great harvest would be brought in among the Japanese by the Korean church.

Help us to repent of withholding your forgiveness from others like the unmerciful servant! Lord, we have been forgiven a far greater debt than anyone owes to us. Let us live with unhindered grace towards others since we have received so much more than we can every comprehend from you! In the name of Jesus I pray.