Friday, November 30, 2007

Emma's Piano Debut

Tuesday night, the KNU English community hosted an English Christmas concert. Many thanks to Cathy Williams the visionary, organizer, and door-prize-collector extraordinaire. About 200 people turned out for the event, a packed house. There were lots of different singers and songs. The feature of the night was Adam Smith, one of the best pianists I've ever heard. (Our church is blessed to have him almost every week, and Emma and Brett get to take lessons from him.)
Emma has been practicing Jingle Bells for this event, and she did a great job. (not actually her in the picture.) Unfortunately, she wasn't listed in the program, and I missed her spot. I was setting up for the bake sale (which would raise money for Tanzania during intermission). Someone came out and told me that Emma just finished. I almost cried. I was so sad to have missed her first performance. I was picturing her telling stories to her friends as a college student about her workaholic pastor father who even missed her first piano recital.
Gratefully, I got to talk with Adam about it all when some other people were performing, and he decided to invite Emma up for an encore as the finale to the show. I was delighted. Emma did a great job, even singing along. You can listen to the audio track at Adam's website.
By the way, Sarah also sang a beautiful duet of "Winter Wonderland" with our friend Amanda Highsmith, but I don't think that track is on the site.
One more note, the bake sale and donation baskets brought in over 900,000 won (almost $1,000) for our mission trip to Tanzania.

Matthew 1:1-17 - Revolutionary King

Here is a short quiz for you. Who is this person?

- He was sometimes painted as though he was a living star, with rays of light coming out from his face.

- His people believed they would be the fountain of divine justice (or righteousness) flowing out to the entire world.

- His followers believed he was sent from heaven to renew the earth.

- His followers believed he could set them free from their sins and guilt.

- His kingdom was based on faith, faith to believe that he would bring peace, health, security, and wellness to the world by uniting all peoples into his kingdom.

- One popular saying about him was: “There is no other name under heaven by which people can be saved than that of ______.”

- His messengers spread the “gospel” (the good news) that he is bringing peace and security for the world.

- He claimed to be god incarnate – God in human form.

- His followers built buildings to worship him and developed liturgies and various kinds of art worshiping him as God in the flesh.

- His followers celebrated a season called “Advent” to celebrate his birth, his “coming” to earth from heaven.

- When people gathered as a group and committed to worship him as Lord, they were called his ekklesia (or church).[1]

- He was called:

o “Prince of peace.”

o “Lord.”

o “Savior of the world.”

o “Son of God.”

o “King of Kings”

o “Lord of Lords”

This is easy, right? I could have stopped a long time ago. You all know who I’m talking about, right? I mean come on: Advent, Savior, Son of God, Savior of the world, church. This is too easy. Of course, I’m talking about Caesar. … Come on. … Is anybody awake here? Is my mike on? … Caesar Augustus! The ruler of the Roman Empire! His genius was the well-spring for the entire Roman system, the Roman economy, the Roman roads, and most importantly the Pax Romana (the Roman Peace).

If you were taking this quiz 2000 years ago, in 07 AD, you would have naturally answered, “Caesar Augustus,” and you would have been right.

The Roman Empire covered the entire Mediterranean world. All heads bowed to one man: Caesar. (You either bowed your head or lost your head.) Caesar Augustus was worshiped throughout the Roman Empire, but especially in the east. In the eastern half of the empire, whole cities petitioned Rome for permission to build temples in honor of the great god Caesar Augustus. People gathered in the temple, offering sacrifices and singing songs to Caesar, the provider of all their wealth and security and peace. The Roman world was a deeply religious world, and that political religion was dominated by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Caesar Augustus.

But the Pax Romana was not all peaches and roses, peace and prosperity for everyone. The Roman Peace had a dirty underbelly of injustice, corruption, violence, and oppression. In many places, people wanted to be free from Roman rule, Roman taxes, Roman prisons, and the whole Roman system. The Jews looked for a Messiah to come and set them free, but others also looked for a fearless leader to rise up against Rome to bring freedom, peace, and justice.

With all of this tension, Rome had to have a plan to maintain authority. They did. The Roman Peace was upheld and maintained by two Roman instruments: the coin and the cross.

Romans maintained peace and prevented rebellion by making the local rulers rich. Rich people don’t rebel. People made wealthy by the Roman system were very unlikely to rise up against it. Golden coins directed to the right people prevented chaos. The rich got richer, and the poor got poorer. And because the system was rigged against the poor, they didn’t have the resources to stage an effective revolution.

But when the coin didn’t work, and fools tried to be revolutionaries, Rome had another option: the cross. Anyone who directly challenged the rule of Caesar was challenging the very fabric and foundation of the Roman Empire. Throughout the Roman Empire, people guilty of treason against Rome, rebellion against the government, revolt against the empire, these people were nailed to crosses – or if time was short, to a tree. They were left there to hang as a living or dying testimony to the foolishness of revolution against Rome.

Jesus was born into this context. He was born in Israel as a Jew, among a people who longed for a Messiah King to set them free from Rome and a Roman King who claimed to be God.

When Jesus died and rose again, his followers preached and taught in this context. They lived in a world where Rome was a god and the Roman Emperor was the god-King of the world. They preached a “gospel” of a new King, a better King, the perfect King, who was sent by the one true God, who lived the very life of the one true God. The followers of Jesus were starting a revolution. (No wonder the Romans killed them!)

Jesus came as a Messiah to the Jews, who were longing for the Messiah. For centuries, the Jews had been oppressed and conquered and taxed by outside armies and Gentile kings. David was the best king Israel ever had, and God promised that one of David’s descendants would always be king. So the prophets were always reminding the people that a king like David would come, and this king – the Messiah – would make everything right again. Listen to Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah in Isaiah 11:1-10:

1 Out of the stump of David’s family[2] will grow a shoot—
yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.
2 And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 He will delight in obeying the Lord.
He will not judge by appearance
nor make a decision based on hearsay.
4 He will give justice to the poor
and make fair decisions for the exploited.
The earth will shake at the force of his word,
and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked.
5 He will wear righteousness like a belt
and truth like an undergarment.

6 In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
and a little child will lead them all.
7 The cow will graze near the bear.
The cub and the calf will lie down together.
The lion will eat hay like a cow.
8 The baby will play safely near the hole of a cobra.
Yes, a little child will put its hand in a nest of deadly snakes without harm.
9 Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,
for as the waters fill the sea,
so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord.

10 In that day the heir to David’s throne
will be a banner of salvation to all the world.
The nations will rally to him,
and the land where he lives will be a glorious place.

So the Jewish Messiah King was often called the “Son of David.” After Jesus healed a man who was blind and couldn’t speak, the people were amazed, and they asked, “Could it be that Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah?” (Matthew 12:23). Several times when people want Jesus to heal them, they cry out, “Jesus, Son of David!” They were saying, “Jesus, you are the Messiah King. Heal us like the Messiah is supposed to do.” The “Son of David” was the “heir to David’s throne,” the King of healing, the true King who would bring salvation (which meant healing and peace) to the Jews and to all the world. The “Son of David” was a direct challenge to Caesar as the King of Kings and Ruler of the World.

That leads us to another important point. The Messiah King was coming to Israel to restore Israel, but the promises were for more than Israel. The promises were for the whole world. The Messiah reconnected people to God’s promise to Abraham. “I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others … All the families on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3).

Isaiah understood this. The Messiah would come to Israel, but the Messiah would be for everyone. The Messiah would be the healing, peace-giving King for everyone everywhere: “He will give justice to the poor and make fair decisions for the exploited. … Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for as the waters fill the sea, so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord. In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world” (Isaiah 11:4, 9, 10).

Paul understood this. Let’s read Romans 15:8-13.

8 Remember that Christ came as a servant to the Jews to show that God is true to the promises he made to their ancestors. 9 He also came so that the Gentiles might give glory to God for his mercies to them. That is what the psalmist meant when he wrote: “For this, I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing praises to your name.”

10 And in another place it is written, “Rejoice with his people, you Gentiles.”

11 And yet again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles. Praise him, all you people of the earth.”

12 And in another place Isaiah said, “The heir to David’s throne will come, and he will rule over the Gentiles. They will place their hope on him.”

13 I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul and all of the first Christians were asking people everywhere to believe that the promise of Abraham was coming true through Jesus the Messiah. Christians preached that Jesus came as the Jewish Messiah to bless the whole world, to heal the whole world, to save the whole world. They were asking people to worship Jesus instead of Caesar. Jesus, Son of David, the promised Messiah of the Jews, has become the King of Kings and Lord of Lords for everyone everywhere.

The book of Matthew was written in this context to this message. We will be preaching through the book of Matthew for one full year. The message of Matthew is simple, dangerously simple. Jesus is King. Caesar is not.

So we begin our journey through Matthew today with Matthew chapter 1. The beginning of Matthew is often considered the most boring passage in the Bible, but this is simply because we read this passage through our 21st century glasses.

In fact, this is how we approach most of the Bible. We read the Bible like it’s yesterday’s newspaper or a history of World War 2. We import into the Bible our expectations and our way of thinking. Sure we understand that their technology and their clothes were different, but we expect those people to think and to feel pretty much like we do.

When we come to the Bible like this, it’s like we are wearing tinted glasses. We see everything through our worldview, our experience, our culture, our history, our context. It’s as though the Bible was written to us in our time, not to a completely different people in a completely different place in a completely different culture. The Bible is different from us, very different. If we are really going to understand the Bible, if we are really going to understand Jesus, we’re going to have to learn how to take off our 21st century glasses. We’re going to have to learn to see the world through Jewish eyes, through Roman eyes, through 1st century eyes. We will never really understand what Jesus was saying until we understand the context in which he said it.

We need to re-learn who Jesus is and what Jesus did and what Jesus wants us to be and to do today. The only way to do that is to go back deep into the Bible and to begin to take our glasses off to see the text through 1st century eyes. We’ll never be perfect at this, but we have to keep trying.

Let’s start taking off our glasses by trying to see Matthew 1:1-17 through 1st century eyes.

1A record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
4Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
5Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
6and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah's wife,
7Solomon the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asa,
8Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,
Jehoram the father of Uzziah,
9Uzziah the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
10Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah,
11and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
12After the exile to Babylon:
Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
13Zerubbabel the father of Abiud,
Abiud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
14Azor the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Akim,
Akim the father of Eliud,
15Eliud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
16and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

17Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah who has become the King of the universe! Worship him, not Caesar!

We are going to sing some worship songs that celebrate Jesus as King. These songs were written within the last 350 years, but the wording of these songs is very similar to the theology of the early Christians. As we sing, as we worship Jesus together, pay attention to the words, and ask yourself some questions.

- What it would have been like to sing these songs with the first Christians, in the Roman Empire, say in 50 AD?

- What it would mean for us to worship Jesus as King with the same passion and commitment as the first Christians?

- Who are our Caesars?

- What does it mean for us to say, “All hail King Jesus?”

- What kind of revolution does King Jesus want to start today in our world?

“All Hail King Jesus”

All hail King Jesus. [[Hail = greet with honor, as to a king.]]

All hail Emanuel, [[Emanuel = “God with us”]]

King of Kings, Lord of Lords,

Bright Morning Star.

And throughout eternity,

I’ll sing His praises,

And I’ll reign with Him,

Throughout eternity.[3]

“All Hail the Power of Jesus Name”

All hail the power of Jesus name!

Let angels prostrate fall. [[Let angels bow down with their faces to the ground.]]

Bring forth the royal diadem, [[Bring out the royal crown.]]

And crown him Lord of all.

Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race, [[You chosen people of Israel]]

Ye ransomed from the fall, [[You who are saved from sin]]

Hail him, who saves you by his grace,

And crown him Lord of all.

Let every kindred, every tribe [[Let every family, every nation]]

On this terrestrial ball [[On this earth]]

To him all majesty ascribe, [[Say that all majesty (kingly glory) belongs to him.]]

And crown him Lord of all.[4]

[1] These come in mixed order from: Rob Bell and John Dart. Rob Bell, Velvit Elvis, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 162. {Bell cites Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (London: SCM, 1952).} John Dart "Up against Caesar: Jesus and Paul versus the empire", Christian Century. Feb 8, 2005. 28 Nov. 2007.

[2] The Hebrew reads: the stump of the line of Jesse. (Jesse was David’s father.)

[3] Dave Moody, 1979.

[4] Edward Perronet, 1779.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Coming Soon: Matthew 1:1-17

This week, our church is beginning a year long study on the book of Matthew. Our worship planning team has set three goals for this year: 1) Re-learn how to follow Jesus (hence the study of Matthew), 2) Increase creative participation in our worship services (give people more opportunities to get involved in the service), 3) Help people develop boundary-crossing relationships through telling stories (get out of our social ruts to get to know people who are different from us).
This journey begins with what some people call the most boring passage in the New Testament, or even the Bible. It's the "begats" - to use the King James Version language. This is the genealogy of Jesus.
I'm just getting started with the study, but so far there seem to be a few possible lines of connection:
1. Jesus is the King. That seems to be the overall point of the genealogy. (The three units of 14 generations is a reference to Hebrew numerology. 14 is the sum of the numeric value of David.)
2. God can work through the messes and mistakes of our lives to bring out something good. Notice all of the people with messed up histories in this genealogy. If you don't know, try looking up each name on
3. Jesus comes as a historical person. He enters into history, lives in a time, in a place, among a particular people. This earth, this world, this history, our actions, our cultures, what we do - all of this really matters.

I'm also thinking that I might try to dig out some of my family's genealogy, as an illustration. Another idea I had is that I might try to get one of the Korean family history books. Some of those have family records going back 500 years. The Hebrew system would have been similar, but oral.

Questions: What is the basic message of this genealogy? How do we connect that with our lives today? I may need to get into some scholarly and unfamiliar territory. How can I bring this back home to our modern/postmodern tech-filled lives?

Don't Just Read, People! Post Something!

So lots of people out there have told me you are reading this blog (well maybe not lots, but a good strong handful, anyway), especially the house church discussion.
Don't just read! Post something!
I know that some of you are introverts, and you need time after you read to process the information and think about what you would like to say. Not everyone has diareah of the mouth, like me, where whatever you are thinking just comes right out.
But come back to the discussion after a few days or a few weeks. Put something up there. Even if you've talked to me personally, post it on the blog so that others can hear what you have to say, too. And make sure to read the comments from other people, too. I hope this can be a wider discussion.
Looking forward to more feedback from you out there, whoever you are.

Monday, November 19, 2007

House Churches Today?

This is a call for theological discussion.

A hand full of people at our church here in South Korea have requested some radical changes in the way we do church. These are mostly postmoderns who are discontent with ordinary church, especially with the Sunday morning worship service.

Complaints from this group often come along similar themes:
- monotony (the same thing every Sunday: some singing, some Bible reading, a speech, some announcements, and we go home)
- lack of participation (When do we get to participate? Maybe the lecture style just isn't working any more. How can we actually respond to what we hear or sing? We talk about the gospel, but when do we actually do the gospel together?)
- lack of community (most of these people just come on Sunday morning and go home; we don't really know each other.)
- feels like a waste of time (I don't really get this one, but some people feel strongly about this. And to be honest, no matter how hard I try, no matter how much I want to be open and accepting, I feel defensive when I hear this.)
- feels like just a habit or a tradition without significance or living meaning (We just go to church on Sunday morning because that's what Christians do, and we would feel weird not doing it. Do we have to 'put in our time' like this every Sunday for the rest of our lives?)
- not open to a diversity of opinions (You are expected to accept whatever is said w/o disagreement or discussion. But what if you consistently feel dissonance with the messages or with the underlying assumptions? Where do you take that feeling? Where can you have that discussion?).

So, some of our people have proposed an alternative solution: once a month, cancel "church" - the Sunday morning worship service. Instead of a corporate worship service, for that Sunday, they suggest that we have alternative events: service projects, discussion groups, meals in each other's homes, activities (like bowling or hiking), or house churches.
The rationale for this change goes like this.
1) It would bring some variety to the Sunday morning service, possibly helping us to appreciate the regular Sunday morning worship services.
2) It would break us out of our routine, helping us to think of church in new ways.
3) It would be a dramatic statement that "church" is not the Sunday morning worship service but the people who are the church.
4) We need to really get to know each other, to develop community, and this would help a great deal toward that end. Here in Korea, where many men (and some women) work 70-80 hours a week, participating in a small group is very difficult, and maybe even not a good idea for some. This could help them form community without burdening their schedules even more.
5) It would make church more participative and interactive.
6) The service project idea could help us put our ideas into action more easily. It could really help us to become "doers of the Word."

I confess to you that I find these ideas exciting and terrifying all at the same time. On one hand it seems like a really creative way to do church in an increasingly post-modern world. On the other hand, it feels threatening to me (You mean you don't like what I do every Sunday?). I also have a lot of questions about how it would work. It also seems to me like participation in a small group might solve most of these complaints. I am not very comfortable with canceling the corporate worship service in favor of social activities like hiking or bowling or general discussions. I am much more comfortable with service projects or house churches in lieu of corporate worship.

So here's the call for dialog.
Please help me think about this. What do you think of this idea?
Help me think through this theologically. How does this fit with the Bible and with a good theology of the church?
Help me think through this methodologically. How could we make this work? (For example: Do we pick the groups, to mix up social groups? Do we let the people for their own groups? Should we start by just having groups meet at the regular place of worship for the first few months?)
Why do I (and why might most long-time Christians) feel so uncomfortable with the idea of not having a corporate worship service every week? (I don't really care if it's Sunday morning. Saturday night or Sunday night, or whenever, are fine with me, but something within me just says we need one every week.)
Please leave lots of comments.

How to Eat Bulgogi

Bulgogi is a perennial favorite for international folks in Korea. It is basically a steaming hotplate of sauteed with mushrooms (of the long stringy variety) and onions in a sweet sauce. It's pretty tasty. So here's a step by step for those of you out there less familiar with Korean cuisine.

Step 1: Gather some friends to enjoy the feast. This is not usually a one person ordeal. Across from us here are our friends Joe, Ian, Elena, and Brett Willey.

Step 2: Order the pot of steaming goodness.

Step 3: Take a lettuce leaf in hand. As you can see, this is not your ordinary iceberg lettuce. It's more of a romaine or something like that. Various kinds of leaves are used. One of my favorites is sesame leaves.

Step 4: Pick up some of the steaming goodness. The real trick here (the part I'm not very good at) is portion control. It's very easy to get too much at this stage, which can make the lettuce leaf overflow or burst, spilling the steaming, juicy goodness all over your hand. That long thing hanging down on the left is a mushroom - tastes kind of like not fully cooked spaghetti.

Step 5: Add the steaming goodness to the leaf. Leaf is to bulgogi as tortilla is to fajitas.

Step 6: Add SamJang (a moderately spicy sauce made from red peppers, garlic, and soybeans). This is a definite must for me. I go through several bowls of samjang every time I sit down to a meal of bulgogi or galbi (a similar and even tastier meal).

Step 7: Add some kimchi. Kimchi is basically Korea's national food. Koreans are probably prouder of Kimchi than their national flag. Kimchi definitely has a longer history than their flag, going back thousands of years. Kimchi is cabbage mixed with peppers and garlic and other spices, and then the whole mixture is (traditionally) buried in the ground in clay pots to ferment for months on end (similar to the German sauerkraut). It is definitely a learned taste. Most foreigners hate it when they first arrive in Korea, but if they keep eating it, it grows on them. Sarah and I actually like it now. Some foreigners have kimchi withdrawals when they return to their home countries.

Step 8: Close up the wrap. This is the tricky part if you tend to overload like me. One wrong move, one too tight squeeze, and you get hot, juicy, sugary juice running down your hand and wrist.

Step 9: Enjoy the steaming, flavorful goodness. Ahh, mission accomplished!

Emma - Artist and World Citizen

Emma's drawing abilities have improved dramatically in the past few months ago. 3 months ago, she was drawing Mr. Potato Head/ Picasso style stuff, with eyes, ears, mouths, arms, and legs emerging from all parts of an odd shaped oval. Now, however, all parts are in the right places, and there are discernible bodies and background objects.

Exhibit 1: Emma and I colored together a copycat picture from one of her books, Jonah and the Big Fish. I had to help her figure out how to actually draw such a complex picture (with instructions like "Make a red rectangle here"), but she did all the actual coloring.

Exhibit 2: Emma's self-portrait. We were particularly impressed by the addition of the hair band. (By the way, Korean girls almost always wear something in their hair: bows, clips, bands, ties - something!)

A few weeks ago, we selected a new child to sponsor. (Sarah and I have been sponsoring a boy named William from Guatemala, but he is 16 years old now and almost finished with school. We will continue sponsoring him for 2 more years until he graduates from something like a teacher's vocational school.)
We wanted Emma to choose a child that she can "grow up with." We went to, and we selected a 5 year old girl named J. Santhiya. She's from India, and our $25 dollars a month will pay for her school tuition and school supplies. Here's a picture of Santhiya. (We aren't really sure if this is her given name or family name, but it's more fun than "J.")

Exhibits 3 and 4: Emma has been pretty enthralled with the idea that we are somehow helping this little girl with black hair and brown skin. She has been drawing lots of pictures with Emma and Santhiya playing side by side. The first picture has both girls with their pets (a dog and a cat), but as far as we know neither girl has a pet. The second picture is the two of them enjoying a beautiful day together. (Simply the fact that you can make out the trees, rainbow, flowers, and clouds is a big improvement for Emma!) We love these pictures.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Baptism Service

Sunday, we had the great privilege of baptizing 4 people: two teenage girls, the mother of one of the teenagers, and one of our Chinese students. All of them have become Christians within the last year.

Two of them shared absolutely beautiful testimonies. One, the mother, explained that when she met our friend Elena Willey about a year ago, she realized that something was different about Elena. She saw God living inside Elena and wanted God to live inside her also.

Our Chinese student explained that when he started attending our church, also about a year ago, God began to change him from the inside out. He noticed that some of his bad habits started to fade away and his attitudes started to improve. Seeing this internal change as a direct result of his involvement in Christian community, he decided that he wanted to commit his life to this God who was already transforming him into a better person.

Last fall, when we had our baptism service, we went to a nearby church with a baptistery in their basement. It was a nice place for a small service, but the room was completely packed with 30 people. Our church has grown quite a bit since then, so we wanted a larger place.

The pastor of True Love Baptist Church contacted me early in the fall to explain that they had built a baptistery on the roof of their church. (Most roofs are flat here.) After I got out there to take a look at the situation, we planned a baptism service for as soon as possible, November 11. I was concerned about the weather because the baptistery is in open air on the roof. It has been steadily progressing into fall, with highs in the 50's and 60's. But the pastor assured us that the water would be heated. I was still nervous. If it were cold or rainy, I was prepared to change the whole thing to a pouring (instead of immersion) service right in our own sanctuary.

But November 11 came, and the weather looked nice, so we went ahead as planned. There was just one catch. The heater system didn't work. They had set it up on Saturday night, expecting it to be ready for Sunday afternoon, but something went wrong, and the water was kind of cold. They brought up pots of boiling water from the kitchen. That helped, but it was still pretty cool.

All in all, though, we had a beautiful service celebrating the new life of Jesus in these four people. This is definitely one of the best parts of being a pastor!

Nathan, who is just visiting Korea for a few weeks, took a slew of pictures. He said his philosophy is quality through quantity, so I'm sure you'll see enough to get a good feel for it all.

Emails to IMF Help Cause Change

Many countries in Africa struggle with overwhelming debt relief. For decades they were ruled by dictators who borrowed money recklessly and siphoned off that money and tax money for their own personal gain. Now these countries, with new governments, are still paying for the sins of their ancestors. For many countries their annual interest payments are larger than their total budgets for education or health care or social services. I remember a quote from one African president, saying something like this: "It is simply not just that we should have to choose whether to feed our children or pay our debts."

Several organizations have arisen in support for debt relief in Africa: DATA (Debt, Aids, Trade, Africa) founded by Bono and Dikembi Mtumbo (NBA star), ONE, Jubilee USA. Also the International Monetary Fund (like a huge global bank) has started the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) Initiative. This initiative offers poor countries a very complex system of debt relief requiring them to spend the savings to benefit the poor in their countries. Here is what the IMF says about the success of this program: "Before the HIPC Initiative, eligible countries were, on average, spending slightly more on debt service than on health and education combined. Now, they have increased markedly their expenditures on health, education and other social services and, on average, such spending is about five times the amount of debt-service payments." In other words, this program has allowed these countries to care for their people instead of paying interest on old loans.

If I remember my facts, about 18 months ago the International Monetary Fund promised a similar package to Liberia (an African country founded by former US slaves). However, due to a variety of red tape, that promise still had not been fulfilled as of October 2007. ONE asked me and millions of others to email the IMF asking them to work through the bureaucracy and find a way to give this important relief to Liberia as soon as possible. I sent an email.

It worked! Our collective support overwhelmed their systems and turned up the heat on the administrators. This week, the IMF posted a public letter on their site announcing that they have secured all necessary pledges and worked through the bureaucracy to give Liberia much needed debt relief.

I used to think that letter campaigns like this were a waste of time, but through the ONE organization, I have seen this work several times. Writing our polititians and leaders can really make a difference. To be sure, it doesn't always work. But to be equally sure, it sometimes does, especially if enough of us write on the same issues. You have a voice. Use it! Sign up to participate in ONE, or an affiliate organization in your home country.

You have a voice. Use it!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Free Rice Site Grows Exponentially!!!

I am amazed and blessed by what is happening at This is a simple website with an English vocabulary game. It asks multiple choice questions. When you click an answer, the next screen has four elements: 1) the correct answer, 2) a new question, 3) some very small ads by sponsors, and 4) the total grains of rice you have "earned" during this playing session. You "earn" 10 grains of rice for every right answer. 2,000 grains of rice add up to one adult size serving. This rice is then distributed through the United Nations Food Program, probably the world's largest hunger relief agency.
10 grains of rice might not sound like much. Why bother? If you play for 20-30 minutes, you might "earn" a total of 1 serving of rice. Not such a big deal. It's even less of a big deal if you only play for 5 minutes.
But consider the collective effect. started on October 7, and gave away 830 grains of rice that day, not even enough for one serving. However, by October 11, they were already up to 4,000,000 grains of rice a day. By October 17, they were giving away more than 10,000,000 grains of rice a day. By November 10, they crossed the 100,000,000 mark. Now, just 4 days later, they are poised to give away 200,000,000 grains of rice in just one day. That's 200,000 free servings of rice EVERY DAY! To date, has given away a total of 1,712,371,750 grains of rice. That's 856,000 bowls of rice ... for free ... in just over a month!!

The potential here is amazing! With this site alone, we could feed millions FOR FREE. This is a beautiful example of creatively merging business and charity!
Put this information in your church bulletin. Put a link and/or a banner to on your website. We can change the world for free just by playing a game!

(By the way, if anyone knows the details of blogger, I could use some help. I couldn't get free rice banner on the right to become a hyper link to the site. Any ideas?)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Demand a Discussion about Poverty

This is from the ONE organization:

In the last two presidential debates, Republican and Democratic, global poverty didn't rack up a lot of air time. In fact, it got mentioned a grand total of zero times. The presidential candidates will only do better and the plight of one billion people trapped in poverty around the world will only take center stage, when you stand up and demand it.

That's why ONE Vote '08, our initiative to make extreme poverty and global disease central issues in the debate over American foreign policy, is launching a new campaign.

We're calling the campaign just that, On the Record. It's a simple idea—asking the handful of people who are vying to lead our country for the next four years what they plan to do—that could have a big impact.

That's because ONE is asking the presidential candidates to go On the Record in two very important ways. First, we'll ask them to tell us in writing where they stand on eradicating malaria, improving child and maternal health, reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, achieving universal primary education and providing access to food and clean water for all.

At the same time, the On the Record petition asks the candidates to speak on camera directly to ONE members about their commitment to fighting extreme poverty and global disease.

I've just signed a petition to the 2008 presidential candidates asking them to go on the record and tell us exactly where they stand on fighting extreme poverty and global disease.

You can take action on this important cause too by visiting


Monday, November 12, 2007

Emma's PJ Prayers

This one comes by way of Sarah:
Just a funny story. Emma was looking over her new heavy pajamas and noticed that the inseam doesn't go all the way up. So, she prayed, "God, these pajamas are too small, could you make me some new ones?" I laughed and said, "Emma, God didn't really make your pajamas. Nana got them for you." Her response was, "Well then, God, can you tell Nana to get some new ones for me? These ones don't fit right!" Thought I would share it before I forget.

-- By the way, the pajamas fit fine. The zipper just stopped at the crotch instead of going down one leg, like her other pajamas.

All Saints Day Celebration

All Saints Day is an ancient Christian holiday, usually celebrated on November 1. (Halloween - on October 31 - is actually an unfortunate perversion of an All Saints Day Eve prayer vigil.) All Saints Day has quickly become one of my favorite holidays.
We have celebrated it almost every year since I've been pastor here at KNU International English Church. Every year is a little different. One year, Ken Dixon preached an excellent sermon explaining how saints are windows into a better way of life. Another year, people from our church told stories about saints who had impacted their lives in person or through literature.
This year, Adam Smith (our resident political scientist and thinker of all things deep) planned and organized our All Saints Day Worship Service centered around the theme of ancient martyrs, contemporary martyrs, and the church's ongoing call to live out God's compassion for the poor. He has graciously posted the entire service with stunning artwork included on his website. You can read through it here.
If you are new to All Saints Day, this summary (by Adam) might be helpful for you:
All Saints Day is an opportunity for the Church to remember the many saints and martyrs of Christian history. It began in the 4th century and was originally called "All Martyrs Day," a time to reflect on the martyrs who helped build the early church. It was later expanded to include all the saints, not only martyrs. It's a kind of Memorial Day for the church - a chance to feel our connection with those Christians past and present who have given their whole lives, sometimes even their physical existence, for the gospel, and to learn more of what the gospel means by looking to their example.

For another helpful introduction, read "All Saints Sunday" by Robin Stephenson-Bratcher and Dennis Bratcher, on the ever helpful site.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

We Can Change the World

Last week, I was riding the subway and reading about how leadership teams need to create a culture that lives out the vision of the team. The author explained that music is an extremely important component in the formation of culture. As I thought about this, I decided to try to write a song expressing my vision for our church. Here is my first attempt. (The first line of the chorus sounds kind of like Eric Clapton's "If I could change the world.")

We can change the world.
We aren't just passing by.
We aren't here for ourselves.
We aren't here by ourselves.
We are part of something bigger.
We are part of something broader.
We're the church of Jesus Christ,
the Revolutionary King.
We're the church of Jesus Christ,
the Revolutionary King.
We can change the world.

Verse 1:
Our world is broken and torn.
Our world is so rich and so poor.
We seek; we cry.
We fight; we die.
We starve; we spend.
Oh, when will it end?
Oh when will it end?
It doesn't have to be this way.
No, It doesn't have to be this way.


Verse 2:
The Creator of the universe
is living in us.
The Very Breath of Life
is breathing in us.
The winds of the Spirit
are filling up our sails.
He lives and breaths in us.
He moves and works in us.
He heals and loves through us.
He feeds and clothes through us.


Verse 3:
We come from north and south.
We come from east and west.
We are young, and we are old,
looking for a hand to hold.
We are learning how to follow
Jesus, learning as we go.
It's a dance; it's a work of art,
arm in arm, and heart to heart.


So let's change the world.
Oh God, here we are.
Help us change the world.
Oh God, here we go.
With your help,
We'll change the world.

So there you have it. That's my vision for the church, and for our church in particular, roughly stated. I believe we can change the world, and if we do any less or aim for anything less than that, we are being unfaithful.
If there are any musicians or poets out there reading this, feel free to play with the lyrics or to put this to music and send it back to me. I know that - as a rough draft - it's fairly rough!

Random Funny English

In Korea English is vogue. (I think it's kind of like the trend in the USA a few years back with Chinese characters.)
English words or phrases adorn clothes, hats, books, bags, pencils, storefronts, menus, and just about everything else. Sometimes the English words make sense and seem appropriate. Sometimes they seem completely random and nonsensical. Sometimes a notebook or a shirt will have a few lines from a random English poem, song, or story.
Today, as my students were writing in preparation for a speaking assignment, I stopped to read the cover of a student's notebook. It was so randomly hilarious that I wrote it down. It also expressed a cultural idiosyncrasy for younger Koreans. They have this thing for poo. (Someone gave Emma a very popular Korean book in which the main character is a pile of dog poo trying to find its identity in the world. No kidding! The dog poo eventually fertilizes a dandelion and feels self-actualized as part of the circle of life.)
Anyway, without further adieu, here's the story I read today on the cover a notebook, complete will graphic illustrations:
One day a little tortoise met a hedgehog.
The little tortoise said, "Hello Mr. Nice to meet you."
"Hi little fellow. Where are you going?" Mr. Hedgehog said.
"I'm on my way to poo-poo. It's a sort of Emergency situation."


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Preventative War with Iran??

My friend, David Brush, recently made a post on his blog about the possibility of war with Iran, and what a bad idea that would be. You can read it by clicking here: "Headlong into War."

David references an article by Brian McClaren, one of my favorite authors. You can read it here: "Waking Up to War with Iran."

Today, I read a post on John Edwards' website on the same theme, and I want to pass it on to you. Here is a summary quote:
"There is a difference between doing everything in our power to keep America safe and a reckless, belligerent policy that actually makes us less safe. The preventive war doctrine was a stunning departure from the policy that had kept America safe during both world wars and during the Cold War. It is wrong on the merits, wrong on the morals, and wrong for America."
Read the whole article here: "Learning the Lessons of Iraq and a Plan for Iran."

While we're on this topic (and putting out links to other articles), you might also want to read this article by Jim Wallis (a Christian advocate for social justice): "A War Pitched with a 'Curve Ball.'" Imagine former high level leaders of the United States, including possibly a president, convicted of war crimes! Amazingly, this is probably exactly what should happen because the U.S. government willingly and publicly rejected international rules (e.g. the Geneva Conventions) banning torture and a variety of other rules for fair war.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Great Pie Auction (and annual meeting)

Sunday night was the annual meeting at our church. Usually, these have been a lot of business, with one report after another, and not very much fun. This year we tried a different tact, thanks to the ideas and leadership of our new assistant pastor, Julene Tegerstrand.
We decided to make this a celebration event, focused on telling the stories of the year. We started with a catered dinner, which gave a reprieve for our fellowship team from the efforts of potluck. The dinner was in the beautiful new dining hall at the top of KNU's newest building. This setting has several great advantages for us: round tables, a large attractive room, audio-visual equipment, and an accompanying kitchen.
As people entered, a PowerPoint slide show was rolling with pictures from different events throughout the year. You can view this at the church site:
At each table were markers and a large piece of blank paper. The people at each table (at least those who cooperated) drew pictures of events within the church or their lives throughout the year. Then, the people discussed their pictures with the others at their table. Then, we had someone from a few different tables stand and explain their pictures.
The different leadership teams on the board issued written reports, but in the meeting, each team told one story of a significant event that happened that year with their team. Not all of the leaders got the message here, but for those who did, it made the reports more interesting. I tried to follow suit by telling a story of how our advisory council dealt with conflict and learned how to work together as an international team.
While the votes were being counted, we auctioned off 4 pies made by our resident Canadian matriarch, Patricia Clark. That was lots of fun, and it was my first time to serve as an auctioneer. The money all went toward our church mission trip to Tanzania (2008). The first pie went for 100,000 won (about $110). The last pie (a lemon marange (sp?)) was purchased by a coalition of westerners for a grand total of 200,000 won. There were laughter and cheers all around, as the bidding went up and up and as I tried to convince people to bid more. At one point, as I was pumping the bidding on the last pie, my mind went blank in mid-sentence, and I said rather questioningly, "150,000 won for ... a pie?" I don't know if I've described it well, but that was a hilarious moment.
The total for all for pies was 525,000 won, but an anonymous donor volunteered to match up to 500,000 won. That means the total money raised was 1,025,000 won (about $1,100)!! That's not bad for 4 pies! But maybe best of all was the fun that it added to the annual meeting.

We also elected a great crop of new leaders, and we brought back a record 5 returning Advisory Council members. We have never had more than 1 returning Advisory Council (at least not in my time as pastor) until this year. This is a great step forward for our church, and we expect this to really help us make progress. We don't have to start from scratch with this year's council. Most of our teams will have at least one person who was on the team last year. We also have one person who served 2 years ago.
Another big thing is the international character of our Advisory Council (aka church board). We have people from 6 different countries: Korea, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Australia. We really do have an international church.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

KNU Gives Computers to Philippines

Here's a great story from You can read it at the site by clicking this link: .

I'm glad that KNU is investing in the global Nazarene community. This is one example of Korea beginning to own its role as a developed nation (something that surely seemed impossible 50 years ago).

Friday, November 2, 2007

Annual Report 2006-2007

This week is our annual meeting for the church, so I thought you guys might like to read my annual report to the church.

Tonight our focus is on telling stories, so I want to start by telling a story. This story begins a few years ago. During my first year here, we said goodbye to leader after leader, as people moved back to their home countries. After about a year, I began to realize that we need more stability, and I also began to realize that stability was only going to come by having more Korean leaders involved in our church.
I remember praying one day when I was walking home. I was thinking and praying about this problem of rotating leaders in our church. I thanked God for Dr. Cho. (Some of you might not remember Dr. Cho. He no longer attends here because he is preaching regularly in the Sunday evening service of another church.) I prayed, “God please give us 25 people like Dr. Cho. Give us 25 committed and passionate Korean leaders.” I figured that would be enough to give us a stable core group, year in and year out.
This year, we have seen this prayer begin to be answered. This year more than 60% of the Advisory Council was Korean. We celebrated this with great joy, and rightly so. It is right for an international church to have international leadership. Also, this was a great answer to our prayers and a great step of progress toward becoming a stable, enduring church.
Well, like they say, be careful what you pray for. Sometimes God answers our prayers in ways we don’t expect. And sometimes God’s answers bring their own challenges.
After we elected the 2006-2007 Advisory Council, I felt like we were “off to the races.” Our Vision Team had just finished establishing our mission and vision statements. Our people seemed to agree that this is what God was calling us to do and to be. I felt like everything was finally coming together.
Within the first few months of the 2006-2007 year, we decided to become an official Church of the Nazarene on the Korea National District. We also welcomed our first official church members, and we went on a Work and Witness Trip to Indonesia. And as a great surprise to me, the Korea National District worked out the details for me to be ordained here in Korea. We were also experiencing our highest attendance ever, with an all-time high of 139.
I was ready for our church to explode with growth and momentum. I was pumped and read to go. But I was probably a little too pumped.
Being on the Advisory Council with me was hard in the first half of this church year. Our meetings were too long. I tried to make us do too much too fast. It was far too much about me and not enough about the other people leading our church. People usually left the meetings exhausted and frustrated.
But I was pumped and ready to go, so I kept pushing on. One of the big issues for me for the past several years has been: When can we get a full-time pastor? Well, on our big momentum surge, I pushed hard on this full-time pastor issue. I felt like we really needed to have this “nailed down” when we took in new members to our church.
I pushed and prodded our Advisory Council to set a goal of having a fulltime pastor by the beginning of the 2008 church year. I knew there was some disagreement and discomfort, but I felt like we needed to push ahead and step out in faith. Several of our members felt differently, though. Even though they voted in favor of setting that goal, many of them questioned the wisdom of it later when they were quietly thinking of it in their homes.
Another issue was also developing. It was becoming harder for Mei-I to continue as our worship leader. It was just too much for her with school, too. She had been asking me to find someone else to lead worship. Well, English worship leaders are not so easy to find in Korea.
When Young-Min said he would be willing to serve our church as worship leader, I was excited and pumped and ready to go. In fact, I was too pumped and ready to go. Most of the people on the council didn’t know YoungMin well. And because Young-Min would be relying on income from our church to help support himself, we would have to pay him more than we had ever paid anyone else. And it was all very fast. Most of the council didn’t even know things weren’t going so well for Mei-I, and in one day I asked them to switch to YoungMin. I later learned that most Koreans don’t like to make decisions that fast.
Unfortunately, despite all of the discussion and complaints and requests for more time, I pushed on. I insisted that we needed to hire YoungMin right away, regardless of the reservations or questions. The council reluctantly agreed.
But that was when our Korean members decided that they couldn’t take it any more. They had had enough of my being “pumped up and ready to go” and my heavy-handed leadership style that went with that. They had a meeting and gathered their complaints. I met with each of member of the council one on one or in small groups. We devoted the April Advisory Council meeting to sorting out of problems and complaints.
We learned a lot in April and May. I learned a lot in April and May. We learned that I’m not very fun to work with when I’m “pumped up and ready to go.” We learned that being a multi-cultural leadership team is hard. We learned that we have to do things differently to involve people of different cultures. We learned how to write down more things, how to move more slowly with decisions, how to give more information to help us make better decisions, and how to involve more people in the leadership process. I learned that what our church needs most is not more of me, but more of you and more of our leaders.
Our candidates for our next Advisory Council will be glad to know that being on the council was a lot easier in the second half of the year than the first half. We learned that nothing good happens in a meeting after two hours. We are really starting to learn how to work together as an international church. We really feel like we have laid a foundation this year (by learning how to work together), a foundation that will help us accomplish a lot next year and in the years to come.

Speaking of the years to come, let me tell you about a few things that are coming soon.
In October, our Advisory Council approved a new form of membership. We will now have two membership options. You can be a full member of the Church of the Nazarene here, or you can be a “Community Member.” We recognize that people in our church come from many different backgrounds, and we are all at different places in our spiritual journey. But we invite you all to commit yourselves to engaging in that spiritual journey here in this place with these people. To become a Community Member, you only have to commit to The 10 Commitments:
To strengthen the community of our church, I will:
(1) Act in love toward others (especially those of other cultures).
(2) Faithfully participate in worship services.
(3) Try to participate regularly in a small group.
To join the ministry of our church, I will:
(4) Find a job in the church that fits me.
(5) Give faithfully.
(6) Invite and welcome new people.
To increase the passion of our church, I will:
(7) Develop my relationship with God.
(8) Pray for our church and our pastors.
(9) Deal with conflict biblically.
(10) Do my best to live like Jesus.

We hope that this change will help us to be more open to people of all backgrounds. We hope that this will help us more fully follow Jesus together.

Also, we are finally doing something we should have done at the beginning of last year. We are forming a Planning Team. Our Planning Team will include respected leaders in our church, a mixture of younger and older, Koreans and Westerners, clergy and laity. Here are the goals of the Planning Team:
1. Clarify our vision/mission (specifically to include evangelism)
2. Short (1~2yrs)/Mid(3~5yrs)/ Long(5~10yrs)-term plan
a. Clarify (meetings and contract) our relationship with KNU (and other
b. Make a plan for pastoral leadership
c. Make a budget (What do we need? What can we expect? How will
we get it?
d. Coordinate our ministry teams
e. Make a plan to increase lay involvement
Every goal must have an Action plan

I have high hopes for our Planning Team. Our mission as a church is to be an international Christian community through worship, discipleship and hospitality. Our Planning Team is going to dig into the heart of this mission and ask if we need to say this differently or better. Then they are going to flesh out what fulfilling our mission will look like for us, here in this place. Please support our Planning Team with your prayers and encouragement.

Another big thing coming for us is our Mission Trip to Tanzania. This is the single most expensive and most ambitious event our church has ever planned. We are going to one of the poorest countries on earth to help them build a building to train their leaders. Please support this trip with your prayers, your resources, and yourself. (I hope we’ll have so many people who want to go that we’ll have to convince the missionaries to enlarge the group!)

What do we need most from you this year?

1. The most important thing we need from you is your passionate prayer. What we need most of all is to draw close to God as individuals and as a church. This year I encourage you to seek the heart of God. Get serious about following Jesus. Really try to live like Jesus in your daily life, and pray passionately that God will help us to do this as a church. That is what our Planning Team is all about anyway, not crunching numbers, but passionately seeking how we can follow Jesus better together.
2. Get involved in relationships. Join a small group. Form a small group. If we are really going to be a community, we really need to spend time together. For our Koreans out there, we really need one of you to volunteer to be a small group leader. We really need a Korean-language small group. And if we are really going to be an international church, then we will have to have lots of international relationships. This year I challenge you to find at least one person who is from another culture and become that person’s friend. Really become friends.
3. We need your service. Join a ministry team. Today we’ll be electing Advisory Council members to serve as team leaders for different ministry teams. They need your help. Join one of these teams and help them do the work of our church.

What our church needs most is more of you, more of your prayers, more of your following Jesus, more of you building friendships with each other, and more of your time in service to others. If we get more of you in these ways, we will certainly get more of God. God is here. God is working among us. God is pouring out his Holy Spirit all around us. What we need most is more of us ready to be open to what God wants to do in us and through us. Then we will truly be a loving community that changes our world!

Financial Peace 5: The Joy of Giving

A few months ago, I heard a sermon by Shane Clairborne. The sermon was great, but there was one part in an interview afterward that was just incredible. It was so good, in fact, that I want you to hear it in Shane’s own voice.

I think that what’s so exciting about giving is that … it’s beautiful. It’s life giving. It’s not just something we do out of duty, but something we do out of great joy. And there’s a lot of people who have taught me that.
I was on this radio show the other day, and the guy was telling me, he was like, “So are you saying that all suburban people have to hang out with poor folks?” I’m like “What a terrible way to say it!” I’m like: We all have an invitation to be with people that struggle and to bear those burdens with them, and there’s something healing that happens in all of us when that happens. Isaiah 58 says: “When we spend ourselves on behalf of others, our healing comes.” And so I think that’s something that I’ve learned. When we’re doing this, it begins to come naturally because it’s what we’re made for. You know, we’re made to love and to be loved.
I remember when I was in India, and there was one kid, that it was his birthday, and so I got him an ice cream cone. I figured that was a good idea, you know, it’s 120 degrees -give a kid an ice cream cone, and he gets this ice cream cone, and he’s so excited about it, he starts licking it, and he’s just shaking. And his impulse is: “I’ve gotta share it!” He rounds up all of his friends, and he’s like: “I’ve got an ice cream!” He goes around and has each one take a lick off it – you know – right around the circle, and then he gives it to me, and he’s like “Your turn.” I kind of faked this like – you know I’ve got this spit phobia thing going. But his impulse was, “This is such a beautiful gift that I can’t help but share it.”
And I think, what if that were our response – that the best things to do with the best things in life is to give them away or to share them. And people that have done that, they know the secret of that, that it’s incredible. So a lot of times, I think, when we think of blessing, we think of it just as something God is showering on us. But when so many people haven’t experienced those gifts and we get to share them, like there’s no greater joy than that, you know seeing somebody else get to experience the goodness of God.

OK, now, before I really get started talking about the joy of giving, I want to let you guys talk first. One month ago, we gave you the 5,000 Won Challenge. We gave everybody here that day 5,000 won, and we asked you to use it bless someone else. It’s time to give your reports. Turn to someone around you and answer these three questions:
- What did you do with your 5,000 won?
- How did they respond?
- How did you feel?

We’ve been talking about money and finances for a full month now. Let’s do a little review.
Week 1: The basic message of the Bible concerning money is that God wants to bless us so he can bless the whole world through us.
Week 2: God’s basic desire is that everyone everywhere will have prosperity, security, and equity, but our world isn’t going as planned.
Week 3: We live in a global culture of consumerism. As part of this culture, we are spending way too much. We need to let God slow us down and help us get out of debt.
Week 4: It’s hard to wait. But by saving and investing our resources now, we can become financially free to serve God without concern about money.
Now we’re on to week 5, The Joy of Giving. You knew it was going to come to this, right? Me asking you to give more money. Why are churches always asking for money?! Like most of you, I think some churches ask for too much money, too often, too loudly, and with too many promises of God’s blessing in return.
I certainly don’t want to be one of those pastors in one of those churches. I’ve been pastoring this church for more than 3 years now, and I have never preached a whole sermon on giving money. But we just can’t escape this. Money is an important part of the Bible’s teaching, and giving is the most important part of the Bible’s teaching on money.
Think of it like this. Look at this picture of the Triumphal Arch in Tyre, Lebanon.[2] What is the most important stone in this large structure? It’s not at the bottom. It’s at the top. It’s the keystone. The keystone is the one at the very highest point of the actual arch. Without the keystone, the whole structure will collapse into a pile of rubble.
OK, imagine that the stones on the left side are right beliefs about money. Some of these right beliefs might be:
- God wants to bless us.
- God wants to bless the world through us.
- God owns everything. We are God’s money managers.
- God wants us to help make a more economically just world.
- God wants us to give to our church and to the poor in the world.

Now imagine that the stones on the right side are right actions concerning money. Some of these right actions might be:
- Making a budget or a plan for how to use our money.
- Spending less.
- Getting out of debt.
- Saving more.
- Investing our money wisely.

If these are stones we are using to build our Arch of Financial Peace, then the keystone is giving generously. Without giving generously, the stones on the left are just a bunch of empty religious talk. Without giving generously, the stones on the right are just an organized strategy for selfishness. From a Biblical perspective, financial peace is impossible without generous giving. Without giving, the whole structure just collapses into a pile of trash.
This is the climax of our series on Financial Peace. If we get this wrong, we’re just wasting our time, and we’ve missed the whole point of everything we’ve been talking about for the last month. If we really get this right, God will change the world through us.

OK, so what does the Bible say about giving? The Bible talks about at least 4 different kinds of giving: worship events, building projects, caring for the poor, and tithe.
Let’s talk about worship events first. In the Bible all giving is a worship event, and almost all worship involves some form of giving. Nearly every kind of worship event has a special kind of offering that goes with it. Worship is giving. Giving is worship. (See Leviticus 1-7.)
There are also a few special building projects in the Bible, and God’s people usually respond by giving generously. I love the story of when the people are preparing to build the first tabernacle (or tent) to worship God in the desert. God has given Moses instructions to build the tabernacle, and Moses asks the people to give the materials. Listen to how the people respond:
So the whole community of Israel left Moses and returned to their tents. All whose hearts were stirred and whose spirits were moved came and brought their sacred offerings to the Lord. They brought all the materials needed for the Tabernacle, for the performance of its rituals, and for the sacred garments. Both men and women came, all whose hearts were willing. They brought to the Lord their offerings … (Exodus 35:20-22)
But the people continued to bring additional gifts each morning. Finally the craftsmen who were working on the sanctuary left their work. They went to Moses and reported, “The people have given more than enough materials to complete the job the Lord has commanded us to do!”
So Moses gave the command, and this message was sent throughout the camp: “Men and women, don’t prepare any more gifts for the sanctuary. We have enough!” So the people stopped bringing their sacred offerings. (Exodus 36:3-6)
Have you ever heard of a leader saying that? “Stop giving! We have enough!” The people gave with great joy, and they gave in abundance.

The Old Testament talks a lot about giving to the poor, but the most famous passage about this is probably Jesus’ story about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.

But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life. (Matthew 25:31-46)
The last type of giving discussed in the Bible is the tithe (ship il jo). A tithe is giving 10% of our income to God. One of the best passages to explain tithing is Deuteronomy 14:
Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.
At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year's produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (Deuteronomy 14:22-29)
This passage shows us the 4 basic purposes of tithing:
1. Tithing teaches us to honor God. “Be sure to set aside a tenth” of your earnings “so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always.” Tithing is a spiritual practice. It reminds us every time we do it that everything we are and have comes from God. It also teaches us to honor God in everyday life. Giving helps to heal our selfishness and materialism. Giving money away breaks money’s hold on us. Giving actually gives us the freedom to honor God more fully in our every day lives.
2. Tithing is a worship act of celebration. Did you notice what the Israelites were supposed to do with their tithe? They were supposed to get their families together and have a feast in the presence of the Lord. Our weekly worship services are acts of celebration. Our gifts come together to pay the rent, buy the equipment, and gather the food. This is our family celebration in the presence of the Lord.
3. Tithing provides for the religious leaders. Some people (like Levites, full-time pastors, or missionaries) devote all their time to helping others worship God. Giving a tithe makes it possible for these leaders to focus on helping the people of God instead of on making a living. The New Testament carries this principle forward:
Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
4. Tithing provides for the poor. Part of the tithe was stored up so that the people of God could always meet the needs of the migrant workers, the fatherless, and the widows.

About a year ago, my Mom said that I need to preach on tithing more. I said that everybody hates to hear churches talk about money, and I said, “Besides, tithing is an Old Testament idea. Tithing is not even talked about in the New Testament, not one time.” Sarah is always telling me that I should not make such drastic statements. I was wrong.
Tithing is in the New Testament also. In fact, Jesus himself says we should tithe. Jesus was really mad at the Pharisees for missing the point of tithing (and religion in general):
You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness! Fools! Didn’t God make the inside as well as the outside? So clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and you will be clean all over. What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. (Luke 11:39-42).
The Pharisees were careful at tithing, but for Jesus giving 10% of our income is just the minimum standard. We need to go beyond that to the more important things of love and justice and caring for the poor.
The New Testament doesn’t say we don’t have to tithe. The New Testament actually says that giving 10% is probably not enough for most of us. The point is not meeting some minimum standard of giving: “OK, I’ve given 10%. That’s enough. Now I can do what I want with the rest.” The point is responding to the hurting world around us with the love of God. The point is remembering that we are all God’s children and that every poor person is part of our family. The point is loving God and loving people with everything we have.

Here’s the thing. If you have a problem with giving, you have a spiritual problem. God asks us to give him 10% of our income as a starting point, a regular act of worship. Then, he asks us to respond to the world around us with his love and our resources. If you have a problem with that, then you have a problem with God. If you have a problem with that, then you have a problem with Jesus because that’s what Jesus taught.

But here’s the other thing. If you have a problem with giving, then you are missing out on the great joy of giving. Giving is an act of celebration! God has provided for us! We get to be partners in God’s mission of blessing the whole world! Our giving changes the world! That is worth celebrating!
Give freely. Give regularly. Give joyfully. Give out of worship. Give out of thanks. Give and be glad! Give and be free!
[1] Shane Clairborne, “Finding Your Calcutta,” sermon at Mars Hill Bible Church, March 21, 2007,, downloaded on 9.6.07. From 45:50-48:08.