Saturday, May 25, 2013

Studying Japanese

I wanted to study Japanese in college--but never got around to it. It was probably one of my biggest mistakes from those four short years (of which there was no shortage). I enjoyed studying Korean, I occasionally still have nightmares about Mandarin Chinese, but I feel a distinct tinge of regret whenever I think about the opportunity I missed to get a good foundation in the Japanese language at the University of Washington.

In preparation to return to Japan next year, I recently made a commitment to myself to spend at least an hour each day studying Japanese. I own a copy of Rosetta Stone Japanese, and am hoping to finish at least one or two units a week.

There are several other great online resources for beginners studying Japanese, including the NHK's Japanese Lessons, the Japan Foundation's Erin's Challenge, and for the nostalgic Let's Learn Japanese starring Yan-San as he explores Japan in the early 1980's! Nihongo Master is a great way to learn and practice Hiragana and Katakana, they currently introduced a pay-wall for the majority of their content beyond learning basic reading, but they are still a good resource.

I also recommend the online dictionary Denshi Jisho, however, I often end up using the free dictionary program Tagaini Jisho instead since it doesn't require an internet connection. I hope that you will pray for me and encourage me to take time each day to study Japanese! If you know of any other good Japanese resources online or worth purchasing, let me know--I am potentially interested in picking up a copy of the Genki Japanese language learning books, which are a little more formal that what I have been using so far.

There is a lot to be said for old fashioned flash cards, reading children's books and watching Japanese YouTube videos. I hope to be at a level soon where I can start to appreciate some of the vast amount of resources available in Japanese online.

What resources have you found to be helpful?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Creativity Needed; Help a Missionary Become Better at Communication

Hello friends--as you know I am in the midst of a season of raising prayer and financial support for my future ministry work in Japan. I have been blessed already to have many join together with me in this. However, not everyone can support me financially--so I am hoping that, if you are creatively inclined, you may consider helping me create more resources to get the word out about my vision for reaching the people of Japan with the Gospel.

My friend, a graphic-designer recently helped me make some very cool tri-fold brochures to share about my ministry!

This brochure is beautiful! I am really grateful that Christine took time to help me put it together!

Some Ideas

Update my website. I put together the layout of this blog using some of the pre-made templates available from blogger--I think it is rather nice, but I am not too proud that I wouldn't be willing to let someone create something better if they wanted to! I probably need a bio page that tells a little more about me, a vision page sharing about my future ministry in Japan, a link to where people can support me and a page that I can put my speaking schedule on (and even promote the fact that I can speak and share in churches).

Help me create videos to show in churches. I am hoping to make a few videos of varying lengths to show to potential supporters and supporting churches. It would be great if someone with a gift for videography could help me to put together something like that!

If you have been getting my monthly prayer updates you know that I'm not always great about adding new pictures from month to month. Having someone help me with editing or even giving me ideas on how I can be more creative would be a real help!

Any advice on how I can be more professional in my use of e-mail, print, phone and video communication!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Blogging Like Judas; Undercurrents of Motivation and Manipulation

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said,  “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:4-6)

In April, I attended a workshop for missionaries called Sharpening Your Interpersonal Skills. The workshop was quite challenging--and the fellowship together with missionaries from other agencies was very sweet.

Several times during the week long workshop individuals spurred me on to strengthen my gift of writing (even though these persons didn't know that I enjoyed writing). One veteran pastor even prayed over me that God would use my gifts of writing, communication and teaching (academically) to advance Christ's Kingdom overseas. I hadn't done or said anything to prompt these prayers, but I took them as affirmation and decided to reinvest myself in writing.

Prior to the workshop my frequency of writing had almost dried up--from January to March I had only written three articles for my blog. Afterwards I started blogging again with vigor and purpose--writing seven posts in April! However, even though the quantity of my writing increased, it was not done with prayer or discernment and the quality suffered.

These past couple of days I have been convicted about the content of several of my recent blog posts and the spirit they were written in.

These posts, while making valid points were written in a critical manner--I argued that some churches and Christian individuals were negligent in their stewardship of their resources, particularly in the area of short-term ministry. The underlying message of these posts had a less than subtle manipulative character--I wanted those reading to agree with me and support long-term missions instead, and by corollary support me and my work among the Japanese.

I realized how the undercurrent of my motivation was being communicated through my writing--and their spirit wasn't healthy or glorifying to God. In fact, it was sinful--my own selfishness was coloring the content of the posts.

Do I still think that some short term ministry can be wasteful, yes; am I still called to go to Japan as a long term missionary, the answer is yes. However, I want to make a commitment to myself and the readers of this blog that it will be used in a way that glorifies God.

My motivation for writing needs to be Gospel centered, with the purpose of encouraging and building up His body, the Church. Therefore, I will take more time to pray about what I am posting online, and pursue topics of a more devotional character.

My desire is that my writing is used to minister to others and help them to love Jesus more, rather than manipulating them. I hope that my future blog posts will be encouraging to you.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Justification by Faith and the Motivation to do Good Works

Almost every Sunday night I attend a church called Reality in Olympia. The church happens to have a set of the Early Church Fathers in their library at the back of the sanctuary. If I arrive early enough I will pick up a volume and read a chapter or two. I recently discovered something worth sharing while reading Clement of Rome's Epistle to the Corinthians.
Peter and Clement--buddies.
From him also [was descended] our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. From him [arose] kings, princes, and rulers of the race of Judah. Nor are his other tribes in small glory, inasmuch as God had promised, “Thy seed shall be as the stars of heaven.”All these, therefore, were highly honoured, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

What shall we do, then, brethren? Shall we become slothful in well-doing, and cease from the practice of love? God forbid that any such course should be followed by us! But rather let us hasten with all energy and readiness of mind to perform every good work. For the Creator and Lord of all Himself rejoices in His works. For by His infinitely great power He established the heavens, and by His incomprehensible wisdom He adorned them... Having therefore such an example, let us without delay accede to His will, and let us work the work of righteousness with our whole strength.  (Chapters 32-33)
It is quite interesting to read that the man who the Roman Catholic Church identifies as one of the first Bishops of Rome (i.e. the Pope) was adamant that justification was not by works, but by faith!

We do good works not in order to be made right with God--but we do them because God does them, and we desire to emulate him! I had never heard anyone discuss works in this way previously. Our motivation is imitation! "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10)

Monday, May 13, 2013

A lamb, a Coin and Two Sons.

While living in Chicago I had the opportunity to fellowship together with believers from South Asia. I was recently thinking about these experiences and remembered that I had preached at a Christocentric Satsung--and this had been posted to Youtube. The theme was 'Stories which Jesus Spoke,' and we looked at the three stories in Luke 15; there is Hindi translation also. Enjoy.

(At one point I referred to 'foreign gods' at as a contrast to the God of Israel, but for many of those listening, who had yet to put their faith in Jesus, the God of Israel was the foreign god--failure to contextualize).

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Is Acts 1:8 a Metaphor?

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

Almost every time I have heard this passage preached in a church setting or expounded in a bible study, it has always been interpreted metaphorically. What do I mean by this? I mean to say, that rather than properly exegeting the passage and explaining its historical context and how that affects us today--it is instead turned into a metaphor for Christian living.

Historic Movement--Not Metaphor for Evangelistic Priorities
Here's how that is usually done. Instead of seeing Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth as real places, we make them into categories. But that is not what Jesus is saying here! He is talking about real places. This isn't a metaphor that somehow means that we should first reach out to our family, then our community and then more broadly--this passage is actually talking about a real historical movement!

The metaphorical interpretation of this passage does injustice to both the proper understanding of the book of Acts, and our understanding of missions in the 21st century!

This verse, in many ways, is an outline of the book of Acts. The disciples of Jesus stayed in Jerusalem until they were filled with the Holy Spirit--that happened at Pentecost as recorded in Acts chapter two. They continued in Jerusalem until they were pushed out by the first wave of persecution after the death of the deacon Stephen in Acts chapter seven.

From Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria

Philip the Evangelist, a fellow deacon with Stephen, is most famous for leading the Ethiopian Eunuch (a gentile convert to Judaism) to faith in Christ. His greatest accomplishment however is often overlooked--he was the first of the disciples to step out in faith and start sharing the Gospel in Samaria! 
"Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.  Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.  And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did.  For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.  So there was much joy in that city. (Acts 8:4-8)
The Gospel jumped the first great hurdle, just as Jesus had commanded and prophesied in Acts 1:8. It was no longer restricted to Jerusalem, or the Jews--but had gone to their near neighbors, the Samaritans. The Samaritans were ethnically and religiously related to the Jews, but had more in common than different--it would be like trying to tell the difference between Norwegians and Swedes.

That was just the beginning though--the book of Acts is over twenty chapters long, and we're less than half way through the narrative. In the next chapter God commissions Saul as a missionary to the gentiles! By the power of the Spirit, he is turned from the most zealous persecutor of Christianity into its greatest apologist. Then Peter is given revelation that the Gospel is not just for the Jews, converts to Judaism (like the Ethiopian Eunuch), or Semitic cousins to the Jews like the Samaritans--it is for all peoples!

From Judea and Samaria to the Ends of the Earth

In Acts 12, we discover that the blood of Stephen is still bearing an eternal harvest even beyond Judea and Samaria!  The diaspora Christians driven out of Jerusalem in the first great persecution of the church settled as far away as modern day Turkey. It was there in the city of Antioch that--simultaneous to what God was doing through Peter with Cornelius--Christian disciples willingly and intentionally went to gentiles with the Gospel!
"Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.  But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus.  And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord." (Acts 12:19-21)
This verse begins the third stage of the movement that was outlined in Acts 1:8--the ends of the earth. We are still in this stage of the movement. Until Jesus returns, we have been commissioned to preach the Gospel to all creatures. This means that a proper exegesis of this passage will emphasize the ends of the earth! A preacher or teacher properly handling this text must impress upon those that they are teaching that we are in the midst of this third stage!

Instead, they are told to go to their family--they are not challenged with the big picture task of completing the third stage of this Kingdom advance. Acts 1:8 is a challenge to continue this advance in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion: The Ends of the Earth, the Big Picture and our Short Attention Span

If Acts 1:8 has a proper historical context--and even a literary context within the Luke-Acts narrative as an outline of the Kingdom expansion throughout the world, then why is our knee-jerk reaction to turn it into a metaphor which emphasizes the exact opposite of what a proper understanding of it would emphasize? Because it is uncomfortable, difficult and expensive.

It is easier to tell our congregations that they are responsible for their family and community rather than telling them that they are responsible to take the Gospel to people that are, for the most part, far away (linguistically, culturally, religiously, geographically), difficult to reach and resistant to the Gospel. As John Piper says in his article, How Much is Left to Do in the Great Commission, "I am not unaware that most of these... peoples are in places and under regimes that are hostile to Christian presence. So I am not saying it will be easy to reach them. It will be very costly."

For that reason, as he says, we need to become "radical, sacrificial goer[s], or... radical, sacrificial sender[s]." The task of reaching the Ends of the Earth--the most difficult and resistant to the Gospel-- is not going to be achieved without well trained and equipped cross-cultural workers that have a long-term vision for reaching these peoples. However, because of our short attention spans and growing desire for instant gratification we are increasingly emphasizing short-term solutions to long-term needs--we are trying to fight a war with toys rather than weapons.

I want to finish with these challenging words from a blog post by missionary Ben Stevens, "in every other field of human endeavor---whether medicine, accounting, or teaching---we think a person needs education and experience to do their job well. But it is increasingly popular to assume that everyone---no matter their commitment, education, or experience---can do equally well in explaining the gospel to people of a different culture. This is a kind of insult to the unevangelized. This view testifies to our belief that people outside our neighborhood or borders are somehow less sophisticated, or more easily appealed to, than we would be. Real work takes real time, and real people deserve our long-term attention."

This is the uncomfortable truth, if we properly read Acts 1:8, it should spur us on towards resourcing trained and qualified ministers of the Gospel to serve long-term among the unreached of the world! The elephant in the room is, that for decades now, long-term missionary sending and funding has been in decline. Maybe we have chosen to reinterpret this text to justify our complacency.