Friday, September 28, 2007

Community/Church Membership Proposal

At our September Council Meeting, I made a proposal that we make some changes in how our church does membership. Here's the text of what I gave the council (church board).

Church Membership Requirements:

Background Information: Current rules on church membership: Option 1 – Full Membership in the Church of the Nazarene. Requirements: A) Commit to basic beliefs from the Church of the Nazarene. B) Commit to helping our church fulfill our mission and vision through 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.

Option 2 – Associate Membership. Requirements: A and B above + C) Must be a member of another church in another city and plan to return as an active member of that church. (Our current plan is not to report Associate Members to the District Office, so as not to create statistical confusion by having one person be registered as a Baptist and a Nazarene.)

Some people have expressed a reluctance to join our church because of one or more of the following reasons: 1) They do not want to commit to the Church of the Nazarene long term, and do not meet requirement C. 2) They do not agree with some of the ethical stances of the Church of the Nazarene (ex: no alcohol, no gambling). 3) They are not able to commit to the basic beliefs of the Church of the Nazarene.

If we could somehow officially include these people in our community, we might see the following results: a) increased membership, b) increased commitment to our church and mission, c) becoming a more welcoming, more inclusive community, c) unity in mission rather than division around doctrines, denominations, and unessential ethical stances, d) more people actively engaging in the spiritual process, e) becoming a church that understands that we are all seeking God (without full understanding).

Sometimes people need to belong before they believe.


1) Change “Associate Membership” to “Community Membership,” only requiring commitment to our mission through the “10 Commitments.” There would be no faith requirements or ethical commitments outside this simple list.

2) Give all “Community Members” the option of also becoming a member of the international Church of the Nazarene (according to Nazarene rules).

I am very interested in hearing your thoughts and ideas about this. In our September meeting, we only raised the issue. We did not have time for a full discussion. In our October meeting, we will devote more time to discussion, and we might be ready to make a decision on this.

Dealing with the Changes of Postmodernism

My friend Darci said this in an email to me: You bring up a good point about post-modernism... and I completely agree with you about the changes that it will bring about - that it's already brought about. The pastor of the church we were at on Sunday was talking some about change - and how strongly people are holding onto what they think church should be like, and how it's causing so much dissension... What is to be done about that? Why do people argue so much about things that don't matter eternally? I've been trying to think about things (like music) that we do now, that I would feel quite strongly about if they were to change? I haven't really come up with anything... Any ideas?
I just finished reading Humble Leadership by Graham Standish. In his chapter, "Spirit-Led Leadership," he refers to the thoughts of Bill Easum in Leadership on the OtherSide. I'll try to summarize Standish's summary of Easum: "Our culture and our churches are caught in a wormhole." The basic idea of wormholes is that one can enter one (in outer space) and suddenly transport to a far away part of the universe. "Acclimated to our own galaxy, we would enter the wormhole and exit into a galaxy whose very fabric was different and difficult to understand. This is the realm of the church today. We are leaving an age of Christendom in which the rules for church, religion, and faith were fairly well known and accepted. We are moving toward a new realm of life and faith, one that also has certain rules and requirements. The problem is that because we are not there yet, we do not know what to expect."
Then a direct quote from Esaum: "You and I are part of something big. Our world is plunging head over heels through a remarkable period of history. The epistemological, philosophical, ontological, and metaphysical structures underlying all of our belief and values systems are coming apart and being reassembled. As a result, the way people process knowledge is undergoing a profound metamorphosis of mind and heart. Something of this magnitude happens only once or twice a millennium."
Back to Standish: "The changes occurring today are rapid, and they ... require the development of new approaches to congregational life - some of which renew old rituals and some of which create new rituals. ... As leaders of congregations in the wormhole, we are responsible for leading the church through a time of transition in which the old ways no longer make sense and the new ways are not yet clear."
Back to Esaum: "Effective leaders today reside somewhere between absolute order and absolute chaos. The trick is to ride the wave of chaos to its crest without becoming engulfed in it. Instead of seeking order, leaders court chaos. The worst thing a leader can do today is avoid the chaos of the moment for the order of the past. To do so signs one's death warrant as a leader and consigns the organization to death."

So basically, we are in a tough spot, where the past doesn't work and the future is unclear. We don't know what does work (in terms of method or foundational philosophies). We are sort of feeling our way forward, taking tentative steps out into the unknown. Sometime we will go in the wrong direction, but we won't know that until we are already several steps out there. Humility and true leadership amid all of this worm-hole type change involves embracing the risks of moving forward and also embracing the possibility that we might be wrong and have to retrace our steps and start again.
Is this helpful or frustrating or both?

Description of pictures

A big thank you goes out to Sarah for getting some pictures posted for her low-tech hubby.

Picture 1: This was our Chuseok (Thanksgiving) dinner on Tuesday night. The couple on the left are Adam and Elisa, good friends who work for KNU. Emma is probably drawing on the ground with her sidewalk chalk.
We stayed at a small, family-owned condo about a block from the beach. This is the same place we visited last year with Joe & Elena and Mark & Naomi. The owner, Mr. Cho, speaks English pretty well, and he is super nice and accommodating. He loaned us all kinds of beach equipment and gave us the charcoal for the grill.
There were grills and picnic tables spread all over the patio, filled with guests and Mr. Cho's family. People began to share their excess food with the other tables. It was a very fun atmosphere.
We first grilled about 10 brats - quite a bit for four adults, and a rare treat for us, loot from a CostC0 trip. 5 of the brats were genuine American ones; the others were Korean knock0ffs - similar, but have an odd texture. We also celebrated the delights of Elisa's homemade applesauce - also a rare treat in Korea. When we were fully stuffed, someone from another table brought over a tray of HUGE shrimp. I'm not kidding these shrimp were 6-8 inches long and almost an inch thick. These are on the grill in the picture. They are laying on a bed of large-grained salt - a very creative and flavorful way to grill. I'm not much of a seafood eater, but these were delicious!

Picture 2: One of the benefits of vacationing on Korea's West Sea is the great sunsets. Sarah's hat was her graduation present. You might notice some unusual shading on my upper lip. This is my meager attempt at facial hair. On a lark I started growing a mustache and a "soul patch" or "flavor saver" a few weeks ago. Several of the younger guys at church have joined in the senseless fun, and we are now starting an unofficial mustache club - which we only expect to last for about a month. They are pretty hilarious. One of the Korean women in our small group was expressing her displeasure with my face and said, "You're the face of our church!" I guess I hope my face is saying that we like to have fun. When everyone's mustaches get good and full - or at least as full as they're going to get - we'll take a nice picture.

Picture 3: This was our last meal at the beach. Sarah and I ate dulsut bibimbap - rice and vegetables served in a hot stone bowl, so that it's still cooking right there at your table - probably the best bibimbap we've ever had. Emma is eating seaweed soup (mi-yok guk). That's a big spoon full of seaweed. It's a little slimy, but she loves it! (You should see her with the squid jerky.)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Beach vacation pictures

Thanksgiving SPAM and Sand

"Happy Thanksgiving! Here's some SPAM."
Tuesday was Chuseok (chew-sock) here in Korea (and China - I think). This is a fall harvest festival, sometimes called Korean Thanksgiving. For Chuseok, nearly everyone around Korea travels to the home of a high ranking family member (oldest living member, oldest son, something like that). The roads are packed with cars, and the cars are packed with food and gifts. Near the beginning of September, the stores start to fill up with these gifts.
We westerners are always amazed at the gifts that Koreans give for Chuseok and Lunar New Year (in February). Some of the more popular gifts include: seaweed, liquor, spam, tuna, toiletries, socks, lotions, cooking oil, and fruit (huge boxes of pears, apples, peaches, or grapes). Sarah and I have always laughed at the popularity of SPAM here - you know the pressed meat in a can.
We have been blessed to have free babysitting for several months now. A woman connected to our church has both her children studying in the USA, and she is lonesome for children. Emma loves her, so ever Friday night, we take her to "Imo's" (Aunt's) house. We decided we would get into the Chuseok spirit, so we bought her a $35 gift pack of spam and tuna. That's a lot of spam!
We also picked up some bathroom gift packs for our neighbors (shampoo, lotions, toothpaste, body wash, loofa, etc.). When we dropped by with our gifts, they looked surprised, and the women of the house disappeared into a bedroom to scrounge up a return gift for us. It was good fun.

We also took advantage of the 3 days off from school and took a long awaited trip to DaeCheon beach (about 2 hours away). It's not the best beach in the world, but we had a great time. The weather was wonderful. We had the company of Adam and Elisa, who are becoming good friends. We played games, talked, swam, played soccer, rented 4-wheelers, grilled brats, and had an all around good time.
Hopefully, Sarah will be able to get some pics on here. But I'm sure Adam and Elisa will post some on their blog, so check the link at the right to see their pics.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

More Thoughts on Politics

Thanks to Dave and Roy for your comments about Democrats and Republicans. Both of you had good things to say.
Yes, of course, I was describing both parties with a very broad brush, but in some ways that is necessary. Candidates do tend to vote along party lines.
And yes, Christian Republicans do make a big argument that the church is supposed to care for the poor, not the government. In fact, Focus on the Family's politics magazine, Citizen, makes exactly this point this month in a scathing (and somewhat illogical) article on Barak Obama. However, this argument fails on two points.
1) The Bible never makes this claim. The Bible only says that the church should care for the poor, not that the government should not. In fact, the biblical picture of the ideal (often Messianic) government (given in the OT) is one in which government makes sure that the poor are given justice and resources to have a dignified life. The article I mentioned from Citizen Magazine cites (with horrible biblical scholarship) the parable of the Good Samaritan as justification for the government not playing a significant role in alleviating poverty or human suffering. This parable was a definition of loving action, not a description of how society should engage poverty.
2) As Christians, we should support any and all moral means to help the poor - even through the government. The argument that the church should care for the poor falls flat in the face of the fact that the church is not caring for the poor. The church is (with wonderful exceptions) more concerned with evangelism and bigger, "better" churches and church buildings than with serious care for the poor which would involve sacrificial giving (something far beyond mere tithing) and sacrificial service (something far beyond a morning in Sunday School). The fact is that some crises are so large that the government (if it is to be faithful in the least to its power and potential for good) must get involved. Imagine what would happen without FEMA, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, disability payments, unemployment benefits, HUD, etc, etc, etc. The church should (and is increasingly) involved in relief in all of these areas, but the government should also be involved. Moreover, we as a society should empower the government (through our tax dollars and votes) to do what we as individuals and churches cannot - lift large groups out of poverty and into more dignified lives, provide universal health care, etc.

Also, some are concerned that the liberal left might lead us into socialism. Perhaps we need to go more in that direction. The Old Testament seems to offer a socio-economic system of capitalism tempered by socialistic remedies. (See for example, the permanent possession of land by family lines and the forgiveness of debt every 7 years at the time of jubilee.)
For more reading on these issues, I highly recommend Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Snider and (where you can read regular posts under the heading: "God's Politics").

Friday, September 21, 2007

Why I'm Voting Democrat

I've been a Republican all my life. I've voted straight Republican in almost every single election in which I've cast a ballot (except for two times when I knew for sure the Democrat was a good guy and the Republican was a sleeze ball). This is probably due to three basic reasons:
1. My parents are Republicans.
2. Conservative Christians in America widely (some would say blindly) support the Republican party. Republicans tend to jive with conservative Christians on hot-topic ethical issues like: abortion, gambling, and homosexuality.
3. I'm an upper-middle class white boy. Stereotypically, that aligns me with the Republican party.

But those reasons don't mean very much to me any more.
Here are the reasons, I recently registered myself as a Democrat and plan to vote (almost) straight Democrat in the next elections.
1. The Democratic party is more concerned about helping the poor. The Republican Party's emphasis on decreasing taxes and decreasing government spending (while cutting out some waste) also cuts out a great deal of assistance for the poor. When my wife worked in the social service sector in Johnson County, all of the old time social workers said that any time Republicans are elected to office, government social programs are slashed across the board. At that time, the wait for housing assistance was years long in some cities, and in Johnson County the program was closed - no new applicants - tough luck, hope your car is cozy. Poverty is a moral issue just as much as abortion or gambling or homosexuality.
2. The Republican Party seems more and more out of touch with the needs and desires of every day Americans.
3. Abortion is simply not the only voting issue. I think abortion is terrible, and I would like to see every kind of limitation possible imposed on this crime against humanity. However, that cannot blind me to the ongoing crimes against humanity which happen in our inner cities day and around our world day in and day out.
4. Democrats are more concerned, by in large, with contributing to global health and poverty assistance. Republicans, by in large, tend toward giving aid in the form of weapons and military training. Hmmm. Let's see, what's going to help more people, rice and books or bullets and bombs.
5. Democrats seem to understand that America is not perceived well in the global community because of our aggressive militarism and willingness to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries. Republicans seem to be willing to continue living as an American cowboy on the global range. As one US citizen who has lived outside America, I can see that this style of policy is simply not working for us.
6. I don't think the fight against rights for homosexuals is beneficial for our country, nor do I think it represents Christians (who are key players in this fight) in a positive or Christlike light. I just don't think Jesus would fight this fight.
7. I love the way Edwards and Obama (along with lesser known Democrats) are refusing to accept campaign donations from lobbyists. I think this is a small step toward reforming our grossly deformed campaign system which favors the rich and gives undo influence to large corporations.
8. Republicans tend to disregard or fight against any and all moves to care for our environment. This is actually an antiChristian stance. At the least, we are supposed be good stewards of our resources and to care for the poor. Destruction of our environment is wasting a precious, unrenewable resource (not to mention terrible long-term business). It also causes a disproportionate amount of harm to the poor who do not have the resources to avoid the negative impact of a harmed environment.

That's probably enough controversy for now. I just thought I'd put this out there to let some people know what I'm thinking on this.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bubble Boy Religion: Luke 15:1-2, 11-32

In 1971, David Vetter was born with severe combined immune deficiency syndrome (SCIDS). This disease functions like a super-AIDS. Little David had virtually NO immune system. The slightest germ or virus could kill him. David Vetter’s older brother had died at the age of 7 months from a similar disease. This time his parents weren’t taking any chances.

After lots of consultation and planning with the people at Texas Children’s Hospital, they had a plan. Less than 10 seconds after David was born, the doctors put him in a sterile plastic bubble. Everything that ever touched David after that had to go through a very long sterilization process to get rid of any possible germs, bacteria, or viruses. David’s parents fed him and held him and played with him through plastic gloves which allowed them to reach inside the bubble with out making actual contact.

As David grew, so did the bubble. Eventually, the bubble was the size of an entire room. This gave David the freedom to move around, read books, and watch TV.

NASA even became involved in David’s special case. They created a tiny, child-sized, perfectly sterile astronaut suit for David, at the price of US$50,000. This gave him more freedom for trips to parks or zoos.

But despite everything the doctors and scientists and psychologists tried to do for David to help him adjust to this unusual way of life, David still felt what was missing: real human contact. By the age of ten, David had still never touched another human being. He was isolated from the real world by his plastic bubble.

We hear this story, and we think “How sad! How tragic! How awful to be isolated from friends and family! How terrible to never feel the touch of another human being! How difficult it must have been to never experience reality!”

Yet, the truth is we live in a bubble, too – the Christian bubble. We have a bubble boy religion.

As soon as we become Christians, well-meaning Christians usually come along and suck us into the Christian bubble. It is as if we are “reborn” with out a spiritual immune system, so that any contact with sin, sinners, or sinfulness will corrupt our spirits and cause us to fall away from Christ. Everything must be sterilized: Christian music, Christian TV, Christian leadership books, Christian radio, Christian kids’ videos, Christian t-shirts, Christian jewelry, Christian everything, and most importantly Christian friends.

So we walk around inside our little bubble of the church, where we think everything is sterile and safe. We have our Bible studies and our fellowship dinners and our church activities. We live our little lives in this false reality of Christian fellowship, which has become the church.

And whenever we have to venture out into “the world,” that scary place filled with sins and temptations, we put on our Christian spacesuits. Of course we have to spend time with sinners when we shop or work or exercise, but with our handy-dandy Christian spacesuits, we don’t have to have any actual contact with them. Just a polite nod or a “thank you,” but no actual contact. And of course, with our protective Christian spacesuits, we never need to become friends with any of those germ-carrying non-believers! We never have to hear their doubts or feel their pain. We never have to get our lives messy, or God-forbid, contaminated with their messy lives. We are successfully sterile. We have successfully isolated ourselves from the world.

We sound a lot like the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. They really believed verses like this: “Therefore, come out from among unbelievers and separate yourselves from them says the LORD. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you.”[1] So they developed a bubble boy religion.

Their philosophy was holiness = separateness. We are called to be holy. God said, “Be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). How is God holy? Well, he is completely separate from us. He is God, and we are humans. He is pure, and we are sinful. God is completely without sin or anything relating to sin. So, they reasoned, if we want to be like God, holy like God, we must be separate, too. We must separate ourselves from anything and anyone that is sinful or unclean.

For these religious bubble people, holiness meant getting as far away from sin and sinful people as possible. For them holiness = separateness. This was as clear and obvious as 2 + 2 = 4. Holiness = separateness. It was part of their bubble boy religion, and they were proud of it.

Then, Jesus comes along and changes the equation. Jesus comes along and advocates a new way of doing religion, and they just can’t take it. Of course, 2 + 2 = 4. That’s an undeniable mathematical fact. Of course, holiness = separateness. That’s an undeniable religious fact.

Luke 15 tells the story:

(1) Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. (2) This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!

Now Jesus is pretty upset. This is the third time in Luke that the religious folks have come to Jesus complaining about his sinning friends. Up to this point, Jesus has given them short answers, but now Jesus tells three full stories to explain why he hangs out with “sinners.” Last week we read and talked about the first two. This week, we’ll read the third story, which is probably the most famous story Jesus every told.

11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

We usually call this the story of “the Prodigal Son,” and “prodigal” means “recklessly wasteful or extravagant.” The younger son “wasted all his money on wild living” (Luke 15:13). He might have said something like, George Best, the Manchester United soccer superstar of old, “I spent 90% of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted.”
But this story is not really about the “Prodigal Son.” It’s about the “Prodigal Father,” the recklessly extravagant father.

This recklessly loving father gave his son his inheritance early, so he could find out what the world is really like. This recklessly loving father welcomed his wasteful son back into the house, back into the family, back into “son-ship,” by throwing an extravagant and wasteful party. This recklessly loving father left the party to talk to his older son who was angrily boycotting the party. This recklessly loving father claimed no ownership of his own things, “Everything I have is yours” (15:31).

This father loved both his sons. But both his sons were lost. The straying son was lost in a far away land where he did all the wrong things. The staying son was lost even while he lived right at home and did all the wrong things. Neither one really knew the father’s love. The father loved them both equally, with an undying reckless love. When they were in the wrong, he went to them. He went out of his house, out of his place of comfort, to both of his sons. He welcomed the “sinning” son home, and he welcomed the bitter “righteous” son to come back and claim his home of grace.

The scandal is that God loves us all the same. God loves the stray-ers and the stay-ers just the same. He loves us all.

But perhaps the greatest scandal is that God comes to us. God goes out looking for the lost sheep or the lost coin. God comes out of the house and finds his lost children. God goes to us in our sinfulness and lost-ness. He stands together with us there in our lost place, and from that point of togetherness, he brings us home.

Jesus’ point in all of these three stories is often missed. The religious bubble crowd had been criticizing Jesus for being together with the “sinners.” They were saying, “Hey, holiness = separateness, so why aren’t you separate?! Why aren’t you separating yourself from sinners? You’re way to close to them to be holy.”

But Jesus is saying, “No, you’ve got it all wrong. Holiness is living like God, and God loves everyone. God is going to these lost sinners, like the wasteful son. God is together with them, asking them to come home. And God is going to you, the good kids who’ve stayed home and are bitter about the sinners. God has even entered your lost-ness, and there, together with you, he’s inviting you to come home to the party of grace.”

Holiness isn’t separateness. Holiness is togetherness. Holiness isn’t being separate from the world, separate from people, separate from sinners. Holiness is being together with sinners in a new way, being together with people in a way that draws us all closer with the Father. Holiness is a radical togetherness. Holiness is recognizing our togetherness with all of humanity, recognizing this so deeply that we live in a different – even separate – kind of way loving all people (the sinners and the self-righteous), being friends with all people (the churched and the unchurched), getting down and dirty with the reality of people’s lives.

And really, we are all sinners, so what are we hiding from? It’s just a different style, variety, or quantity of sin, but we’re all sinners. I think facing up to our common sinfulness is part of our togetherness, and therefore, part of our holiness.

Following Jesus out of “bubble boy religion” means taking some risks. We might get dirty. We might be exposed to some temptations. The pain and mess of other people’s lives might disrupt our nice, neat little lives, our nice neat little church. But here’s the thing. This is reality! This is where God is. When we live our lives insulated by our bubble boy religion, and we wonder, why we aren’t experiencing God more, maybe the answer is that we aren’t looking in the right places or living in the right places. God has set up camp with the outsiders, the poor, the broken, the lost. If we want more of God, that’s where we’ll find him.

It’s time for us to get out of the bubble church. It’s time for us to start following Jesus.

[1] These words are from 2 Corinthians 6:17, which quotes the Greek version of Isaiah 52:11 and Ezekiel 37:27. The Greek version of these passages is significantly different from the Hebrew, from which our Bibles are translated.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Visit to my Spiritual Director

So yesterday, I made the journey into Seoul to see my spiritual director. Father Sean is an Irish priest. He's been in Korea for decades, and he's a recovering alcoholic. He became an alcoholic as he hung out with university students working on truth and justice issues as a young priest. He entered AA and is now an advocate for all sorts of recovery programs here in Korea.
There was nothing particularly stunning about our discussion. However, I realized once again that many of the problems I had in leading our church this spring ... um sprung from the fact that I was "too busy" to visit my spiritual director and "too busy" to do much waiting on God's Spirit to guide and to reshape me. With the official organization of our church and my ordination, I felt on fire to make radical growth steps as a church. Unfortunately, I think that was mostly my own ambition speaking and not the fire of the Holy Spirit. I think that, if I had been listening more closely to the Spirit, I would have had more patience to move forward with the people instead of running over the people.
So I'm back to slowing down and making space for God to speak to me. I read two more chapters of Humble Leadership, and I'm really liking this book. In this last chapter, he talks about "mystical intelligence," like IQ or EQ (emotional intelligence), but indicating our ability to tap into and discern what the Spirit is doing in that mystical transcendent/immanent realm. I want to become more aware of the Spirit in my day to day life.
Along these lines, I think I'll have to change my sermon topic for this week. Sunday's Lectionary text is Luke 16:1-13, but the point of this passage is almost exactly the point I want to make in my first sermon in the Financial Peace series in October, so I think I'll save this text till then. Instead, I'll probably preach on the prodigal son/prodigal Father at the end of Luke 15. I guess I'm thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a community of people who live out the radical, open, seeking grace of God.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Emergent Nazarenes

I'll post more on Emergent church stuff later, but in the meantime, anyone who is reading along with the discussion Dave and I are having, might want to check out this site: If you're into podcasts, you can scroll down and find the G7 podcasts in which several different Nazarene leaders talk about the emergent church. Also, FYI, at this site, a prof from NTS posted and said that NTS is developing an emphasis within their MDiv program for "the missional church" or something like that, "missional" is kind of a code word synonym for "emergent."

We're going to Tanzania!

Yesterday, our church advisory council (aka: the board) voted to authorize our missions leader, Chris Hodam (SNU grad) to begin planning a mission trip to Tanzania. Actually, Chris has already been in deep dialog with the Nazarene leaders in East Africa for several months, but now we have the go-ahead to make it public, announce the trip to the church, start raising money, and recruit volunteers.
I'm really excited about this. We'll help build a Spiritual Training Center, which will be used to train pastors in Tanzania. It will have at least 3 basic functions: convention center, extension for Africa Nazarene University (in Kenya), and site for a local church.
In Africa, when we talk about training pastors, we're not just talking about teaching them theology and the Bible and such. That's definitely part of it. But churches in Africa are leading the way in the social service fields. They are front-line people fighting poverty and AIDS and caring for people neglected by the rest of society. So churches become holistic centers of ministry with the goal of improving the health of their communities in every way. When this center trains pastors, they will be teaching them how to help their churches be centers of Christ's healing grace in places and among people desperately in need of healing.
I'm excited. More info will come soon.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Replies - especially Velvet Elvis and emergent church

Thanks for the comments everyone.
I don't know when we'll get pictures up. Maybe I can talk Sarah into posting some now that our home computer is fixed.
Dave, I just bought Velvet Elvis. (Your recommendation was the straw that broke the amazon camel's back.) I look forward to reading it and maybe discussing it here.
I agree that the emergent church and postmodernism are not just a new way to do "contemporary worship." This is becoming a radically different approach to Christianity. As a globe we are (unevenly) in the midst of a revolution of thought parallel to the Renaissance/Enlightenment/Copernican Revolution. This causes huge questions about theology and practice. What is orthodoxy? What is orthopraxy? How do we even make these decisions? Should we even try to make these decisions? If the old way of doing church isn't working, what is the new way? How do we change our whole way of thinking and remain faithful to the gospel? (After all, we have only known it in our old way of thinking.) I guess that is the big question surrounding all of this - How do we proceed through these changes and remain faithful? What must change? What must never change? What is optional? How do we decide?
At this point, I have WAY more questions than answers.
However, I am beginning to get a sense of one thing. Possibly the single most underrated part of Christianity is following Jesus. I mean, actually following him, living life like him. I wonder if the "Postmodern Reformation" might be a return to truly following Jesus instead of just talking about it. This might be something that could unite all Christians and even all people.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Land of Up and Down

There's not much space in Korea, lots of people packed into not very much land. So everything goes up instead of out. Our apartment building is 15 stories high. The KNU dormitory is 9 stories tall. At the beginning of this year, KNU built a new building between my office and my apartment which is 7 stories tall. (It has a really nice banquet hall with a beautiful sky-light on the 7th floor. I'm hoping we can have a church dinner there sometime.)
With the advent of this new building, I now have a short-cut to my office. So I leave my apartment, take the elevator down 9 floors, walk across the street, go up 2 floors, walk across another small campus street, and go up 5 more floors. So in the horizontal distance of about one block, I go up and down 16 flights. Kind of crazy for a kid from the US suburbs, where everything goes out instead of up. The highest building in my hometown was 2, maybe 3, stories high.
When the weather is nice (not too hot and not rainy - some of the stairs are outside), I'm trying to force myself to walk all of those flights up the stairs to my office. That leads to walking up 7 flights of stairs in a row. I can kind of feel it in my legs as I'm getting near the top, but I figure that's a pretty easy way to get a little exercise. (Today, I was lazy and took the elevator all the way.)

Living the Scandal (Luke 15:1-10)

Psalm 1

1 Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.
2 But they delight in the law of the Lord,
meditating on it day and night.
3 They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do.

4 But not the wicked!
They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind.
5 They will be condemned at the time of judgment.
Sinners will have no place among the godly.
6 For the Lord watches over the path of the godly,
but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.

Ezra 9:1-4

1 When these things had been done, the Jewish leaders came to me and said, “Many of the people of Israel, and even some of the priests and Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the other peoples living in the land. They have taken up the detestable practices of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. 2 For the men of Israel have married women from these people and have taken them as wives for their sons. So the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages. Worse yet, the leaders and officials have led the way in this outrage.”

3 When I heard this, I tore my cloak and my shirt, pulled hair from my head and beard, and sat down utterly shocked. 4 Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel came and sat with me because of this outrage committed by the returned exiles. And I sat there utterly appalled until the time of the evening sacrifice.

Psalm 104:33-35

33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
I will praise my God to my last breath!
34 May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Let all sinners vanish from the face of the earth;
let the wicked disappear forever.

Let all that I am praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!

Proverbs 1:10 & 15

10 My child, if sinners entice you, turn your back on them! …

15 My child, don’t go along with them! Stay far away from their paths.

Luke 5:27-32

27 Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. 28 So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.

29 Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. 30 But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”

31 Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. 32 I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”

Luke 7:33-35

33 For John the Baptist didn’t spend his time eating bread or drinking wine, and you say, ‘He’s possessed by a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ 35 But wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it.”

Luke 19:6-10

6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. 7 But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.

8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”

9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

John 8:1-11

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, 2 but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. 3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11 “No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

Special Song: “Words on the Ground” by Adam Smith

[Verse 1]
God came down from the mountain in the morning time
Sat like a man at the scene of an ancient crime
Crowd took its place as the lawmen's bright faces looked hard at his 
        eyes for a sign
And the girl on the ground with her red hands went down the parade ground of reason and rhyme
There are words on the ground
There is rain coming down
There is life for the dust of the earth
[Verse 2]
God stooped down made no sound save for a steady hand
marking the dirt with some words none could understand
lawmen persisted and justice insisted and need made its righteous 
so the man on the ground broke his silence and sounded the sentence he'd set in the sand:
[Verse 3]
God stood straight up and waited on the crowd of hands
broken stones for her bones stolen up from the land
They all heard his question and saw their reflection in the girl fallen 
        down on the sand
so the stones were returned and sweet justice was spurned and the 
        lawmen left hungry and sad
[Verse 4]
God stood alone with the girl on the broken ground
spoke in the stone-breaking rain that was falling down
the Girl heard his question and saw her reflection in the man with the 
        thorns in his crown
and the crowd and the lawmen the red-handed woman made a song from the 
        silence they'd found:

No wonder they killed Jesus! You can’t just go around blurring the lines between right and wrong. You can’t mix religious folk and “sinners.” That’s like oil and water, acid and base. There’s bound to be an explosion somewhere. And that explosion hit Jesus in the face.

Read Luke 15:1-2.

1 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. 2 This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!

Back in Jesus’ time, people used to say: “I saw them eating, and I knew who they were.”[1] For righteous Jews, eating a meal with others was a religious event. When they ate together, they celebrated their faith together. When they ate together, they were affirming the other person, saying something like: “You are valuable. We are united in life together.”

And there were some very important rules about religious eating. Cleanliness was very important: only clean food, only clean dishes, only clean hands, only clean people.[2]

That was Jesus’ big problem. He didn’t eat with the right people. The religious folk might be able to excuse the fact that sinners came to hear Jesus teach. “Those sinners could use a little religion – of any kind!” But what they could not forgive was Jesus sitting down at the dinner table with out-and-out sinners. They just couldn’t understand. It did not compute. They thought that anyone who unites himself with sinners must be a sinner too.

See, they lived their whole lives trying to move away from sin and sinners. They had long lists of rules to make sure they never, ever got close to doing something they considered sin. There were five kinds of people who were “on the outs” with Pharisees, five kinds of outsiders: people with dirty jobs, people with dirty sins, people who took the easy religious road, half-breeds (half-Jews and half-Gentiles), and Gentiles (weigookin).[3] Then, in a special side category, were the tax-collectors. They were the Jews who collected taxes for the Roman government, kind of like Koreans who helped the Japanese during the Japanese Occupation of Korea. The Jews hated the tax collectors.

So when Jesus was hanging out with tax collectors and sinners, this was like religious rebellion, maybe even treason. People would question whether he was a real Jew, a loyal Israelite. Had he no standards? Had he no morality? How could he eat with people like that?

To really get the picture here, maybe we should substitute some of our own outsider categories. Imagine a busy, popular restaurant.[4] At the center of the restaurant, there are several oddly shaped tables pulled together to make one central mess of a table that attracts everyone’s attention. There are lots of of people, roars of laughter, bags all over the place, lots of empty glasses and plates and bottles of different shapes and sizes, maybe a few too many bottles – if you know what I mean.

Sitting around that table are a strange assortment of people. There is a poor, single mother with four children gathered around her, running in different directions. There is a gay man with AIDS. There is a homeless guy, who still smells like last night’s beer. There’s one of those old men with the bent over backs who pull those carts to collect the cardboard. There’s a factory worker from Sri Lanka. Then, on the other side of the table are: an illegal arms dealer, an abortion doctor, a Muslim who looks very much like terrorist, and a child molester.

Right at one of the center chairs is Jesus. He is putting back a glass of wine, laughing at someone’s off-color joke, and passing the abortion doctor some cream for her coffee.

How do you feel about this picture? Do you feel uncomfortable? I do, but that’s exactly the point.

Read Luke 15:1-10.

1 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. 2 This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!

3 So Jesus told them this story: 4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

“There is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” (Luke 15:7).

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).

Watch this video: “Mercy Street Stories Part 1” at:

Have you ever noticed that most people like Jesus? Really, most people, whether they are Christians, atheists, agnostics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, whatever – most people, if they know anything about Jesus, they like him. They respect him as a teacher. They think he had some good things to say. They think the world would be better if most people kind of lived like him. Around the world, most people like Jesus. Have you ever noticed that?

Have you ever noticed that most people who don’t go to church don’t like church? Even a lot of people who do go to church, don’t like church! Have you ever noticed that? Really, most people all over the world, if they don’t go to church, but they know anything about Christians, think there’s something seriously wrong with the church. Have you ever noticed that?

So people like Jesus, but they don’t like the church. Hmm, do you see a problem here? People like Jesus, but they don’t like the one group of people who claims to follow Jesus. Why is that? What’s going on here? What happened to us?

Could it be that we – as the church – aren’t doing such a good job of following Jesus? Could it be that we, the church, are not so much like Jesus as we want to think we are? Could it be that we, the church, have become something far different from who Jesus is? Could it be that we have begun to live – and, in fact, have been living for many centuries – a kind of life that is far removed, far different from Jesus’ life? Could it be that we, the church of Jesus Christ, don’t even want to follow Jesus’ way of life any more?

Are we simply worshiping Jesus, instead of following Jesus?

[1] Fred Craddock, Luke, Interpretation, (Louisville, 1990), 78.

[2] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Table Manners,” Christian Century, March 11, 1998, page 257, downloaded 9.13.07

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Trouble: Luke 15

So, every week, when I'm preparing for a sermon, I ask these two questions (among others): What is the basic human trouble in this text? How am I in trouble? I thought I'd just type in what I'm thinking about for these two questions this week:

We value righteousness more than repentance. We value getting it right, doing it right, and looking right, incredibly higher than admitting that we've gotten it wrong.

This leads us to value "righteous" people over "sinners." This leads us to create lots of rules to decide who is righteous and who is not. This leads us to spend our time with the righteous folk. If we really want to be right, we easily slip into the self-defeating trap of pursuing right rules and rule keeping instead of pursuing people. God asks us to pursue people. This is righteousness.

Maybe the trouble is that we've misunderstood righteousness. Maybe the thing we are pursuing, the thing we think is righteousness, maybe this is not righteousness at all. Maybe repentance is the heart of righteousness. Maybe true holiness is no more than to be a repentant sinner who inspires repentance in others.

Maybe we've missed the boat with this emphasis on holiness and righteousness. I think holiness should drive us closer to sinners, not farther from them. Maybe holiness should make us more like the world on the outside and more like God on the inside. Maybe we've got it all wrong - like God on the outside, but like the world on the inside.

Maybe the basic problem is that we've separated righteousness and Jesus. To be righteous is to follow Jesus. Righteousness is not a list of rules. Jesus might have broken the rules anyway. Maybe what we really need to get back to is simply following Jesus, following Jesus to the poor, to the broken, to the lost, to the hungry, to the Pharisees, to the Father.

But for this text, there is no talk of following Jesus - just righteous and sinners, Pharisees and judgment, repentance and joy. What is the problem here? The basic problem seems to be a misunderstanding of true righteousness as separateness. The Pharisees thought true righteousness meant withdrawing from any sinful act and any sinful person, to be holy and without fault. True righteousness is (or may be) moving toward all people, recognizing our attachment and commonness with sinners, and from this place of togetherness, inviting a return to God. The problem is viewing righteousness as separateness rather than togetherness.

I'm in trouble here because I'm pretty isolated from the unchurched. I don't have a single close friend who doesn't go to church. If righteousness is "togetherness" with all people, then I'm not very righteous. I need to get together with more sinners.

Another part of the trouble is that the religious stuff and other activities of life still scream for attention and demand our time, so that it is really hard to actually get out there and form relationships with people who aren't in our Christian circles. I really struggle with this as a pastor, but I don't think this job offers me an exemption to following Jesus in every way, including following Jesus to the lost and to the broken. I'm in trouble.

Too Much Like Church

So this week I'm preaching on Luke 15, the stories of the lost coin and the lost sheep. Jesus tells these stories (and the more famous lost boy - or "Prodigal Son" - story) in response to getting ripped (criticized) by a bunch of religious folks for hanging out with the sinners.

I've had 2 weeks off from preaching, thanks to Jackie and Julene, so I've been thinking about this passage for a while. Today, continuing these ruminations in the John, I had a mild revelation. We're too much like church - "we" meaning us in the church. The church has become too predictable, a religious institution with all of our religious ways, churchy songs, churchy words, churchy sermons, churchy handshakes and greetings, churchy bulletins - everything is churchy.

This may not seem like such a big deal, but I think it is. Jesus got into a lot of trouble with the religious folks of his day because he didn't follow the institutional rules. He wasn't "churchy" enough. He didn't wash his hands at the right time. He didn't do the right things on the Sabbath. He drank too much alcohol. And worst of all, he hung out with a bad group of people. Even the Bible says, "Bad company corrupts good character" (look it up!).

So Jesus was running in the face of many, many years of tradition. He was a living scandal. He ate and drank with tax-collectors and prostitutes. He was a religious leader who frequented the ancient equivalent of bars and night clubs. He was equally comfortable teaching the Bible to "church" folk or downing a glass of wine with a hooker.
How did we get so churchy in this process of following Jesus? If we're really following this guy, this Jesus, who lived and breathed scandalous relationships with religious outsiders, how did we get to be such insiders, propagating and furthering insider focused religion? What happened? What went wrong?

And I'm not just throwing stones at those other churches out there somewhere. I'm painfully aware that over the last 2 years, I have slowly withdrawn more and more from my "secular" relationships into the cocoon of the church. I have become way to churchy. I don't think the answer is a tattoo or an earring or even a beer, but maybe the answer is something in that direction, at least in the direction of actually having some genuine friends who seldom go to church.

We're too churchy. Maybe we need to be more like a bar. Anyone is welcome. The music is good. Come as you are. Get a drink (or some coffee). Find a table, and start talking.

Maybe we need to go out of our way to get out of the old "church" molds. Maybe those old molds are getting moldy and crusty. Maybe we need to create a different "feel" for church as part of the process of actually doing church differently.

I'm still thinking about this. Any comments before I write the sermon on Thursday?

Always an Outsider, Sometimes Included

I remember one of my first staff meetings for the foreign English teachers at KNU. Bill and Gail Patch, long time missionaries to KNU, then president and matriarch of KNU, explained that as foreigners we will always be outsiders here. No matter how long we live here, no matter how well we speak Korean, no matter how adapted we become to the culture, we will always be outsiders. (30+ years hasn't been enough for them to become insiders.)

Korea is one of the most homogeneous nations on earth. In a way very similar to the Jew/Gentile divide, you are either Korean or Weigook (the Korean word for foreigner, which literally means outsider). There is no in-between - in or out.

Interestingly, this creates lots of interesting problems or dilemmas for children with only one Korean parent. Are they Koreans or weigooks? Who decides? Are they some of both? Surely this pure Korean/Weigook divide cannot last for many more decades, as more than 1/7 of all marriages in Korea in 2006 had 1 international partner (one Korean and one Weigook). This growing trend is leading to lots of kids who don’t fit in the current cultural boxes.

We hear this word, “Weigook,” almost every day. As we walk down the streets, stand in the elevator, take a bus, sit in a restaurant, go about our normal, every day life, a child (or sometimes even an adult) will say “There’s a weigook!” It’s like it’s a great shock to them, and I guess it is a small shock to see a nonKorean outside of an English classroom. We’re still a bit rare in Cheonan.

Still, I find this open declaration of my outsider-ness incredibly rude and annoying. I often respond to the children with equal pointing and mock shock, “There’s a Korean!” (Sarah is nobly trying to break me of this nasty little habit.) They are usually pretty surprised and embarrassed that I understood them, so they turn a way and resume their conversations with their friends or occasionally even apologize.

Usually, being an outsider is not so disturbing, just part of life in a different culture. Occasionally, however, it feels really bad.

I had one of these bad experiences on Sunday. Since our church officially joined the Korean District of the Church of the Nazarene, we have received a flood of mail in Korean from the district office, notifying us of this or that district event or program. I had been lax in seeking translation help, but I finally got one of our church folks to volunteer to translate summaries of each piece of mail. I was delighted to discover that the district was hosting a soccer tournament. I talked with our youth leader, who is an excellent soccer player, and we began to make plans to join the tournament.

On Sunday afternoon, I went to the KNU soccer field to try to join a pick-up game of soccer. Unfortunately, I found instead, that the Nazarene tournament was already underway without us. Also, it was too late for us to join. I was really disappointed.

To the credit of the district, they did their duty in notifying us of the event in plenty of time. Unfortunately, our church was late in understanding the letter they sent. That’s our fault. The really frustrating part is that I play soccer on weekday mornings with many of the pastors involved in the tournament, yet none of them said anything about it to me.

We are the first international church on the district, and this is our first time being on any district. Everything about this relationship is new to all of us, and we are still working out the kinks. I understand all of that, but I have rarely felt more like an outsider than I did sitting on the sidelines of the soccer field on Sunday afternoon watching my friends play in a tournament I was too late for.

Later in the afternoon, after I went home and sulked, I went to a smaller field near our apartment. There I found a group from another Nazarene church (who was either not in the tournament or already eliminated). They eagerly invited me to play with their team every Sunday afternoon.

That was a healing moment for me. We will always be outsiders here, but sometimes we will be intentionally included. And that – that intentional inclusion into the community – is worth a lot.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

30th Birthday

Well, last week was my 30th birthday. I know, I'm getting old. On the other hand, it doesn't feel so much like getting old as growing up.

We actually had my party in August. Korea is hosting the Under-17 World Cup (for Soccer) this year, and Cheonan was able to host several games. Our church took about 30 people to the USA vs Belgium match, and we had my birthday party at halftime. It was great. The US won 2-0, and we had lots of friends to celebrate my party. (A few rebels from New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, and other such places cheered for Belgium - anybody but the USA - but we still allowed them to sit with us.) We even got to see the USA play again later in the week, but they lost a great game to Germany to be knocked out of the tournament.

Sarah had a great idea for my birthday. She asked lots of our friends and family to donate to charities in my honor as a birthday gift to me. We were overwhelmed by the response. People gave a total of well over US$1,000 to a wide variety of charities. I got gifts from around the world:

- supplies for missionaries in Turkey

- relief for flood victims

- relief for 5 families recovering from the Lima, Peru earthquake

- seedling trees for a poor family in a developing country

- support for Nazarene Compassionate Ministries

- food and education for needy children

- food for hungry people in Africa

- private support for a family in need

- support for “Home Alive” - self-defense classes for women

- 2 hens, a wheelbarrow, and medicine for AIDS orphans in Africa.

- support for Madagascar Street Kids Ministry, NCM

- a beehive for a poor family in Uganda

- support for Mercy Street, possibly the coolest church I've ever heard of,

- other unspecified charities

This is so cool! What great gifts! I am really thrilled. This is so much better than a sweater or some socks! The creativity and variety of these gifts is really overwhelming. Also, many of these gifts, like the trees, the chickens and wheelbarrow, and the beehive will keep on giving for years to come. This round of presents is collectively the best birthday present I've ever received!

On the actual day, Sept. 5, we went out to the Pink Beacon in the Night (Baskin Robins) for some ice cream with our good friends, Joe, Elena, Brett, and Ian. That was nice, but we had to brave another night of endless rain from our strangely extended rainy season here. (The rainy season finally seems to be over now. I actually got to play soccer yesterday!)

I have heard the calls for pictures, but I'm afraid that's Sarah's department. I'll ask her if she could post something or at least some links.