Five Days in Korea

It’s crazy the places that church planting will take you. I just came back from a five day trip to Seoul. I was invited by SaRang Church (SaRang means love in Korean, by the way) to their missions conference because they want to partner with Redeemer. I met Pastor Sam Ko, SaRang’s Director of Global Ministries, in Manchester this past November and he was very enthusiastic about partnering with Redeemer.

A photo/essay overview:

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Top Three Reasons American Missionaries Leave the UK

Americans have not always had the easiest of times moving to the United Kingdom. One would think the transatlantic move would actually be somewhat of an easy transition, given the similarity between the two cultures. It surprised me to hear that the average stay of an American in the United Kingdom, in any type of industry, was about two years. That’s hardly any time at all. Why is this the case?

Weekend BusLet me start right from the top and say this post is not a result from a large scale survey or replicable experimental model. It comes from my conversations with Brits who have experienced Americans in their culture, Americans who have lived there and moved and Americans who have been able to reside there long term. Basically, anecdotal evidence. So this really is just my perspective but I’ve had quite a few conversations with people from the above three categories (due to an obsession to learn as much as possible from them), so hopefully this information is somewhat on track. Either way, here’s what I have found. Continue reading

What does it mean to support a missionary?

A big part of my current role as a missionary is raising and maintaining support. That word “support” gets thrown around a lot, what does it mean? And more than that, what does it look like?

To find the answers to these questions we can look to another missionary who had a church that supported him. Paul, the author of Philippians (and many other New Testament books for that matter!) wrote a support letter to a church. We can learn a lot about what it means to support a missionary in this letter, especially in the last verses, verses 14–23 of chapter four. Paul outlines what it means to support a missionary, here are some takeaways from that text.

1. Support is a partnership in God’s mission.
In 4:13 Paul says he can do all things through God who strengthens him, but in the very next verse he writes, “yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.” God could have provided for Paul is any way He wanted, but He chose to do so through a community of believers who believed in his mission. The Philippians shared in Paul’s trouble. They were truly partners, not just in name only. They were active sympathizers. I’m sure this meant they shared prayers, encouragement, affections, time, money…everything that a real community shares together.

These partners, Paul and the Philippians, were participating together in God’s mission. Verse 22 throws a side glance at this mission, where Paul writes that believers from Caesar’s household greet them. How could people of Caesar’s household become believers? Through Paul’s mission work, the same work the Philippians are a part of. God is doing something and we get to be involved, some in going, some in sending. Both roles are necessary and need each other.

2. The practicality of support doesn’t make it any less spiritual.
Paul is in prison when writing of this letter. That meant he needed clothing, food and money. These are really basic needs and don’t feel very “spiritual”. But this is what Paul needs and this is the trouble that the Philippians shared in. Most of the time writing a check or sending gifts don’t feel very “spiritual” but they are necessary. But this everyday kind of living is how God normally works, isn’t it?

Baptism, the sign of a spiritual re-alignment and God’s adoption is simply the submerging in or pouring of water. The Lord’s Supper, the symbol of Christ’s broken body and his blood, is merely bread and wine. Christ’s parables of the kingdom of heaven were agrarian based, literally earthy.

Support is practical, yes, but support is more than a euphemism for money. There’s clearly a spiritual aspect. Paul calls is a sacrifice and offering to God in verse 18. Giving to Paul was a way the Philippians could give to God. This is no less true today.

3. Giving is how we grow.
In verse 17, Paul isn’t so much concerned with the actual giving as much as he is concerned about their growth. This pastoral turn teaches us that supporting a missionary isn’t just about the missionary, it’s about the supporter, too. Remember, this is a partnership is every sense of the word. The generosity of the Philippians is evidence of the Spirit’s work in their lives. Generosity is hard because it requires faith and trust in God. Generosity isn’t hard because we have to give up stuff. The giving up of stuff itself isn’t the issue, it’s the underlying question: will I be provided for? Paul anticipates this question in verse 19 and gives us God’s promise that He will supply our needs.
The Christian, perhaps more than anyone else, has the foundation to be the most generous. Because our supply is according to Christ’s riches, we know we will always be cared for. To live as if that’s true means to live generously with all God’s given us. Not just money, but our time, our prayers, our affections and relationships, everything.

This letter to the Philippians doesn’t just teach about support, it also gives encouragement to the support they have already given. He praises the generosity of the Philippians as he teaches them about it. I can imagine Paul’s heart swelling with love and pride over this church that supported him when nobody else would. I can imagine Paul running through his head the names of the people in that community, and as he does so he feels the love of God. These people have shared in my trouble, they have given to someone who will probably never see God’s work through Paul with their own eyes.

I can imagine Paul’s situation because I often find myself there. When I think of everyone who supports us through prayer, finances, places to stay when visiting, etc., I am truly overwhelmed. The line I often use is you all believe in me more than I believe in me. Thanks to everyone who is sharing in our trouble, who share in God’s vision of seeing more churches planted, who want to see people come out of the darkness and into the light.

We are in this together and it’s a joy to be here with you all.

As Paul wrote years ago in verse 20:
To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

On Insulation

A group of tornados are swirling within 15 minutes of me while I sit at my computer. The rain sounds heavy outside and the town’s disaster siren is sounding while I watch the local weather updates. I find this situation as an unfortunate metaphor for my life in  seminary at times. Inside my dry house, as I wait for the coffee to finish brewing, I listen with unsettling ease to news anchors recite names of unknown small towns full of unknown people in distress.  The seminary life can have a comparable insular feeling.

Sometimes this way of life is a shirt I try on and choose to wear, while other times it feels more like a uniform handed out, like a mechanic’s jumpsuit, protecting myself from the dirt and oil and grime that I would otherwise pick up.

This uniform can be made up of academic requirements, of hours upon hours of reading or of papers that don’t seem to be much more than mere busy work.  Now I shouldn’t fault the seminary or faculty, after all, it is a graduate school and academics should be rigorous.  The seminary I attend, though not perfect, is definitely good.  But instead of being made of something, maybe this uniform is made of a nothingness, a void that feels just as substantial as its physical counterparts.

stormLest this be another bitter diatribe against “the system” I need to face the fact that I am more than willing to accept this uniform, and more than that, I choose my own clothes to wear that help me avoid the messiness that real life offers.

In confronting the groans of creation, I retreat and choose to put on a Hazmat suit. I am oblivious to the cries of this world and refuse to struggle and toil amidst Adam’s thorns and thistles. This refusal to fight has an air of faux spirituality: how can studying the Bible be a bad thing? Getting good grades is always good, right? At least temporarily, this mystical facade allows me to avoid the curse put upon Adam and all men after him.  I will not sweat, I will not eat in pain. Though I know I’m not really undoing anything, there’s still a familiar feeling of false comfort to be found.

So as the storm is now dying down, I realize how fleeting our experiences really are.  And I feel the pressure of actually living life versus living something lesser.  There may be pain and chaos outside of my control and it may never truly be “easy”, but I cannot deny the desire inside to characterize my existence over a something instead of a nothing. This desire won’t always offer me pleasure, and I will probably curse it for its impression of betrayal.  But I’ve found that there is meaning to be discovered in things other than pleasure, though they be painful and undesirable. And the more I come to this realization that life is a messy mixture, the more I refuse that uniform, the more I deny myself those clothes that comfort me at the expense of finding true comfort. Maybe this is the “putting on of the new self” Paul talked so much about.

Right relationships and diagrams

During the sermon yesterday, Curt brought up Luke 10:17-20:

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

and Matthew 9:35-36:

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

There were some main points that I was thinking about and being convicted of.  Here are some of those thoughts.

Jesus putting us in our rightful place

Jesus putting us in our rightful place.

The disciples are maybe thinking too much of themselves in these verses.  They are excited, yes, as anyone would be, but something in them prompted Jesus to remind them of who He really is.  He is the one who threw Satan out of heaven and our supposedly great things we do are still lame and small and half-hearted.  We can’t do anything, even the slightest good thing without God moving us to do it.  By the way, that goes for any good thing from anyone, if you are a believer or not.

The right order of things

The right order of things

This brings up another point, that Jesus seeks relationships from us, not works. He doesn’t need our works, they’re just gifts he gives us for our sake.  He wants us. “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Don’t rejoice in what you think is an awesome thing that you did, but first rejoice in the fact that He has brought you to Him- because that is the incredible thing.

Our false idea of people

Our false idea of people

Then moving to the Matthew verses, I couldn’t help but think how the church really does believe that we are better than those who do not believe, or at least those who have outward signs of unbelief. We want to feel comfortable and those who have disease and affliction and those who are harassed and helpless aren’t good enough to hear our message of hope. As a professor of mine once said, you don’t have to have messy lives, just don’t love anybody. We want squeaky clean and sanitation. We don’t want to get on our hands and knees with the dirt and the grime because we truly think we’re better than that.
Rarely have I seen the church believe that the message of Jesus is for everyone. The message of Jesus- who He is and what He’s done is not for people who smoke, drink, curse, or hang out in bars. We believe that salvation is for those who are good. As much as we say “It’s not what you do, it’s who you know!” we actually believe and live the opposite.

Again, the right order of things

Again, the right order of things

And this is where Jesus comes to rearrange us. In these sections of Luke and Matthew, we learn the correct relationships and learn more about our Savior. It’s not us over them or even Jesus over us and them, His desire is to be with us. And them. He calls us brother. The incredible thing of the incarnation was that He became like us, lowly humans, to take us out of darkness and into morning. To create something beautiful out of our cacophony. And this is the model we are supposed to emulate. We should embrace foolishness and dirtiness, not to be foolish or dirty in themselves, but recognize that we are foolish and dirty people and Jesus had compassion on us. And those that we don’t think deserving of the message of life are diseased, afflicted, harassed and helpless, needing the hope just as much as we do.

And maybe that’s what we’re so afraid of, that we really see ourselves in the gospel-untouchables. It brings out the fact that we really don’t deserve life (because we always think we do) and that we can’t do anything to gain it (because we always think we do). And Jesus comes beside us, with all of our shortcomings and failings and calls us one of His own.