Thursday, September 25, 2008

Matthew 19:13-30 - Leap of Faith

KNU International English Church

Josh Broward

September 28, 2008

Funny Kids Video (Feel free to watch all of this, but we'll only watch about 2 minutes of it together.)

Aren’t kids great?! We’re going to start out with some audience participation today. Turn to your neighbor and answer this question: What are two things you love about kids?

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OK, what were your answers? What do you love about kids? Just shout them out.

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Now, just hold on to that for a minute. We’re going to keep going with our journey through Matthew. Try to keep all this great stuff about kids in mind as we read Matthew 19:13-30.

“The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these little children” (19:14). The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are bold, humble, playful, trusting, loving, forgiving, honest. “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16).

When Matthew makes the transition from the little children to the rich young man who wants eternal life, it feels kind of abrupt to us. “Be like kids. … Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” It feels like a left turn out of nowhere, but I don’t think it is. Let’s get into the passage, and maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Right at the beginning, you’ve got to understand one thing. This guy isn’t asking Jesus, “What do I need to do to go to heaven?” He says, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life” (19:17). “Eternal life” does not mean “going to heaven when you die.” This might be kind of a tough one because we Christians have really messed up with this phrase over the last century or so.

For starters, listen to how the conversation keeps going. The rich dude wants to know how to have eternal life. Jesus answers. The rich dude walks away. Jesus says, “It’s hard for rich people to get into the Kingdom of Heaven.” We’ll talk about what all that means later, but for now I just want you to pick up on this. Jesus just did some math-type logic: eternal life = Kingdom of Heaven. They’re the same thing.

The disciples add to the equation, “Then, who in the world can be saved?” … So eternal life = Kingdom of Heaven = being “saved.” They’re talking about the same thing using different words. To understand what’s going on here, we need to think a little about how Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Sometimes Jesus talked about the Kingdom of Heaven as something in the future that hasn’t happened yet, something we will one day “enter” or “get into.”

  • “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter” (7:21).
  • “And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world – from east and west – and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven” (8:11).
  • “Mark my words – I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom” (26:29).

But other times, Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven like it is right here among us, a living reality in the present tense.

  • “Change your life. God’s Kingdom is here” (4:17).
  • “God blesses those who are poor and realized their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs” (5:3).
  • “God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs” (5:10).
  • “But if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you” (12:28).
  • “So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” (18:4).
  • “For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children” (19:14).

For Jesus, the Kingdom is both future and present. Maybe we can get a clue from a difficult verse in chapter 11: “And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing …” (11:12).

For Jesus, the Kingdom of God, the eternal life of God, was breaking into the present. The old lines between present and future, heaven and earth, are no longer valid. Future is now. Heavenly reality is here. So Jesus taught us to pray: “May your Kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” (6:10).

So remember the equation that Matthew is putting forward here: Eternal Life = Kingdom of Heaven = Being Saved. “Being saved” is living an eternal life. “Being saved” is entering the Kingdom of Heaven right here in the present. “Being saved” is allowing God’s will to be done in you as it is in heaven. “Being saved” isn’t saying a prayer to ask for forgiveness. Sure that’s part of it. Forgiveness is always part of it. But “being saved” is just as much about forgiving others as it is asking for forgiveness for yourself. If you can’t forgive, you can’t live in the Kingdom because the Kingdom is all about grace and mercy. (See 18:21-35.) So remember, this passage is not about how to go to heaven. This passage is about how to live in a heavenly way now and into the future.

So the rich dude – is it OK if I call him that? – the rich dude wants to know what he’s got to do to have this eternal/heavenly/Kingdom-of-God/being-saved/life.

Jesus says, “Live it out, man. Live it out. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The rich dude says, “I’m there, Jesus. I’m doing it. I’m taking care of business, but something’s missing, you know? I can feel it. What else is there?”

At this point, when Mark’s telling the story, Jesus looked at the man “and felt genuine love for him” (Mark 10:21). Jesus can tell this guy’s sincere. The rich dude is for real. He’s trying to figure it out. He wants to connect with God. He wants more out of life.

Jesus takes a long, slow look at him. He sees his shiny, new clothes with the nice little gold hems. He sees his slick leather sandals with beautiful embroidery. He sees the rings on his fingers. Jesus looks at his smooth, rich face. Then, he looks into his eyes … deep into his eyes … way down into his soul. Jesus sees what the rich dude is all about. Money and wealth are really important to this guy. He has taken great care to make sure that his clothes are of the highest quality, showing his rightful place in the upper class, a respected member of society.

Wealth has taken on some basic functions in the rich dude’s life.

  1. Wealth defines his worth. He feels like a valuable member of society because he has money. He has made it. He deserves respect. He gives to the poor because he can and he should and because it shows his value. He is valuable because his house, his clothes, his businesses are valuable.
  2. Wealth provides his security. He’ll never be hungry. He doesn’t need to worry about tomorrow because he has enough saved up for several years’ worth of rainy days.
  3. Wealth guarantees him power. He knows the power of money. He doesn’t abuse it, but he’s glad it’s here. He can get make things happen. A little push here, a little movement over there, and things will work out OK.

Jesus looks into the rich dude’s heart, and he loves him, so he calls him out. Jesus says, “Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness. You’re looking to your wealth for stuff only God can provide. God’s love gives you your worth. You don’t have to do anything or have anything for God to love you. God’s love gives you your security and the only kind of power that really matters. If you’re really going to understand that and live in God’s loving kingdom way of life, you’re going to have to get radical. You’re addicted to wealth, so you need to go cold turkey. You need to sell everything. Then, you’ll be ready to come and follow me.”

Wealth is like prescription painkillers. People start taking painkillers for good reasons, but after a while the pill becomes more important than the pain. The pill can become more important than lots of things: our friends, our values, our jobs. The news stories are littered with people who screwed up their lives because they were addicted to painkillers.

Wealth is like that. When used properly, money is a good thing. But it can become an addictive drug for us. We want more and more. We can’t live without it. We base our lives around it. We are addicted.

We all have a potential drug in our lives. Yours may not be wealth. You may wish it was wealth! Wealth is at least a potential drug for all of us, but your big drug may be something else. It may be a real addiction like alcohol or pornography or tech-tainment, or it may be something more subtle like: pleasing people, being a high achiever, looking good, being in control, being the critic of everyone and everything.

So imagine yourself standing there before Jesus like the rich dude. Jesus is looking at you, really looking at you. What is he feeling? What’s the first thing Jesus feels when he really looks at you? Love! We’re all like that rich dude in one way or another. Maybe we want to do right but we’re addicted to money or affirmation or success or whatever. We may look good on the outside, but we’re just as screwed up as anybody else on the inside. But when Jesus looks at us, he feels nothing but love. He accepts us just as we are. He loves us just as we are.

Jesus looks deep into our eyes, deep into our souls, and he sees our addictive drug. He still loves us, but he sees that thing that we’re holding onto. He sees that other thing that we’re turning to instead of to God. Jesus loves us so much that he says we’ve got to give that up. Jesus says, “Hey man, hey sister, that junk is messing you up. You’ve got to turn it loose. You’ve got to let it go. Give it up. Toss that aside and the treasures of heaven are yours. Then, you’ll be free to come and follow me on the adventure of a lifetime.”

We’re standing there – you and me. Jesus is looking at us. Jesus is loving us. Jesus is looking way down into the deep places of our hearts: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” (Hebrews 4:13). Jesus sees all we are, everything we are. He sees our good stuff. He sees our secret stash of heart-level drugs. And Jesus understands. He gets it. He gets what it’s like to be here on this earth and to have those heart-drugs calling out to us. “He understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do” (Hebrews 4:15).

And Jesus says, “Focusing on money will make you poor inside. People-pleasing will never please you. Drinking will always leave you thirsty. I’ve got something way better for you. I’ve got the eternal/heavenly/Kingdom-of-God/living-saved/full-of-love/LIFE. Give up all that crap and follow me.”

What are you going to do?

The rich dude had a lot of stuff. He liked is money-drugs. He walked away sad.

What are you going to do?

This is where it comes full-circle. Jesus is asking for a child-like faith. Jesus is asking us to jump into God’s arms. We’re standing there on the edge of choice, holding onto our old security, our old self-worth, our old power structures. And God is holding out his arms and saying, “Jump! I’ll catch you.” Jesus is there standing next to us. He says, “Look, I’ll show you how to do it. Follow me. Just like this!” (Leaning and holding arms like a cross.)

The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children and jump to the Father. (Leaning and holding arms like a cross.)

What are you going to do?

I’m jumping. I’m so jumping. I’m not missing this!

What are you going to do? Let’s jump together. Ready?

"Dive" by Steven Curtis Chapman.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


My friend David Brush tagged me with a blog game.
Here are the rules:
  1. Tell us eight things about yourself on your blog.
  2. When you are done writing these eight things about yourself on your blog, you tag eight people and list their names to do the same thing.
  3. Leave them a comment informing them they have been tagged, and to read your blog so they will know they have been tagged and are now "it."

So, here are 8 random factoids about me.
1. Today my primary task has been working through my back emails. This seems to be a never ending task for me, but it is particularly acute now because of my summer travels.
2. I get lots of free clothes. My mom buys lots of stuff at garage sales at amazing prices. My dad used to give me his old clothes. Lots of my friends share their stuff with me when they leave Korea. The bonus here is that my wardrobe has a nice rotation without spending any money.
3. I got up at 6am this morning to play soccer. Kind of crazy to most of you, but a group of 30 something Korean men get together every morning to play near my house, and this is one time when I can play without disrupting my schedule.
4. I just got a new computer. My desk top computer has been acting up for almost a year. I'm still using it now (until I can get an English operating system on my new laptop, second hand from SuJin), but it has random technical farts which are really frustrating. Sometimes programs won't load. Other times I can't open documents. Other times, it is outrageously slow for no particular reason.
5. I'm reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
6. I was 25 minutes late to my 11 am class today. For some reason I thought it was Wednesday. I do this about once a semester. According to Sarah, I'm an "absent minded professor."
7. I'm taking a spiritual retreat October 2 to October 5. I try to do this twice a year, but I haven't done it since last summer. Now I'm long overdue.
8. Emma's favorite game to play with me is "Gettin' Time." We learned this game from the Willey family, and it involves chasing the kids around the house and "attacking" them with tickles.

I'm not going to do the tags because it feels like one of those email forward things to me, but if you want to do it, feel free to post your own 8 random things in the comments, or give me a link to your blog.

Family Silliness

If you think I'm goofy at times, you might like this picture. It runs in the family.
This is my dad and his brother in the 80's. My aunt asked them to get "dressed up" for a nice family dinner at Christmas time. This was their answer.
Nice hair!

Political Forwards

You know what I'm talking about. But I know for sure that in the USA and in Korea (think mad-cow), email myths get forwarded around as facts.
Be careful people. Being in an email is not evidence of truth. Emails are notorious for passing on bad information.
A nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization called checks out email forwards for "urban legends" or common myths.

A political, non-partisan, truth-checking organization, publishes this article about chain emails. After describing the rush of emails with false facts about Barak Obama, they write:
Again, for the record, he is not a Muslim, his middle name is not Mohammed, and he placed his hand on a Bible when he was sworn into the Senate. And he puts his hand over his heart when he says the Pledge of Allegiance. We even have pictures to prove it.

As of today both sets of US presidential and VP candidates are victims of some of the hottest urban legends. See the list of myths and the truth at
Seriously, BE CAREFUL people. Don't believe everything you read, and definitely don't forward it without checking it out first.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (#7) - JJJJJ

Early this summer I read Harry Potter #6. Normally, I rotate the books I read for fun: light fiction, classic fiction, nonfiction. However, after #6 ended in such a suspenseful way, I just couldn't go on to another book. I borrowed #7 from my friend Helene, and I took it with me to Tanzania. I read it almost nonstop on the airplane, in the airports, on the buses, etc. I finished it about half way through our trip, and I absolutely loved it.
I hope I don't give everything away, but here are a few of my impressions.
I enjoyed how some of the minor characters came into their own. The upswing of Neville and Luna preached a great message of not picking on the uncool people.
I enjoyed the movement of the story beyond the scope of Hogwarts. Seeing Harry, Hermione, and Ron trapse about the country was delightful.
Harry, of course, had a variety of wonderful scenes, but to describe them and even why I liked them would cause a spoiler.
I can also say that I was completely surprised by Snape; shocked is not an understatement.

I gladly give this book 5J's. J.K. Rowling is a master story teller. The Harry Potter series might not be classic literature, in the sense that sometimes the dialogue is lacking, and there are occasional plot weaknesses. However, she has woven nearly 5,000 pages of gripping story which has involved millions around the world in the world of a handful of kids and adults growing up and coming to terms with themselves and their world. I have thoroughly enjoyed this journey.

Puddinghead Wilson - Review - jjjj

With my Mom and Dad's online book business shutting down, I loaded up on fiction books to bring back to Korea. The first one down is Puddinghead Wilson by Mark Twain.
This is a biting satire about racism. It had me laughing out loud all the way through. It is witty and sharp and an excellent social commentary about the pointlessness of racial prejudice. I loved it.
I'll give it a strong 4j's.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Marriage Books

This week I'm preaching on marriage and divorce. I intended to put this list of recommended books in the bulletin, but I forgot. If you're from church, thanks for checking in. It would be great if you would leave a reply and let me know you've been here.

Getting the Love You Want - Harville Hendrix
The Five Love Languages - Gary Chapman
Sheet Music: Uncovering the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage - Kevin Leman
Redeeming Love - Francine Rivers
Romancing Your Husband - Debora White Smith
Romancing Your Wife - Debora White Smith and Daniel W. Smith
His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair Proof Marriage - Willard F. Harley Jr.
Every Man's Battle: Winning the War on Sexual Temptation One Victory at a Time - Stephen Arterburn, Fred Stoeker, and Mike Yorkey

I know there are many other great books about marriage, but these are just some of the ones that have helped us the most. Happy reading!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Matthew 19:1-12 - "Broken Beauty"

KNU International English Church
Josh Broward
September 21, 2008

Nothing is more beautiful than a beautiful wedding. Two people love each other and commit to live in whole-hearted love for each other.
When Sarah and I are renting a movie, Sarah always looks for the love stories. And what always attracts her most is a story that has a wedding. She loves watching weddings.
Sarah and I have been married 7 years, 6 months and 3 days. September 18 is our half-versary. I know that’s kind of cheesy, but we like to celebrate. We write it on the calendar; we look at each other with a special smile, and I buy her flowers. It helps us remember all of the love and commitment and dreams of our wedding day.
Will you have this man to be your wedded husband, to live together according to God’s plan in holy matrimony? Do you commit to love him, comfort him, honor him, cherish him, and care for him in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, keep yourself only for him, so long as you both shall live?
And then:
I, so-and-so, take you, so-and-so, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better – for worse, for richer – for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy plan. In this way, I pledge you my faith.
When I was performing Mark and Naomi’s wedding, Emma was about 3 years old. When I got to this part, Emma said out loud, “No matter what!”
When people get married, they expect it to last forever, no matter what. They expect to stay together, through thick and thin, through problems and crises of life. They expect their love to be enough to carry them through.
But the honeymoon beauty of a marriage doesn’t last forever. There is always conflict. There are not many guarantees in life, but there is one certain, 100%, fail-proof guarantee: If you get married, you will have conflict. There will be times when being married will be hard.
When the problems mount, when conflicts go unresolved, when the love tanks are empty, when betrayal breaks your heart, when people get tired of fighting, tired of wishing for more and getting less … then many people start to say the “D” word.
It starts with a quiet thought on a lonely day. Then, maybe there’s a conversation with a friend, “Maybe it’s time to end this.” And, finally, it comes out in a fight, “I want a divorce.”
In ancient times, women were like property or slaves. If a man grew tired of his wife, he could just kick her out of the house. She was often forced to choose between starvation and prostitution.
Moses put some limits on this mistreatment: “Suppose a man marries a woman but she does not please him. Having discovered something wrong with her, he writes her a letter of divorce, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house” (Deuteronomy 24:1). At least, this gave the woman rights to remarry and avoid prostitution, and it forced the man to take the time to think about it long enough to go to a scribe and get something written down.
However, Jews began to wonder what exactly this verse permitted. What does it mean not to “please him”? What does “something wrong” mean? Jewish teachers basically divided into two groups on these questions.
One group said that the Hebrew word “something indecent” could only mean a sexual sin. This group said that a man could only divorce a woman if she was caught in adultery.
Another group took a much more liberal view. They said that a man could divorce his wife if she displeased him in any way. If she was a bad cook, or even if he found another woman who was more beautiful, he could send her away with a letter of divorce. This view was more popular among the men!
The Pharisees came to Jesus with this hot-topic issue. Listen to the story in Matthew 19:1-12.

The Pharisees want to know where Jesus stands on divorce, but Jesus answers by explaining marriage. Jesus says, “You guys are looking at this all wrong. You’re wondering what it takes to get out of a marriage. That’s backwards. The real point is what happens in a marriage.”
Then, Jesus goes back to the very beginning of the Bible, by quoting two lines from Genesis. To really get what he’s saying, we need to read those passages in context. First, let’s read. Genesis 1:26-28.
The first thing to notice here is that God says, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like ourselves.” From the beginning God was community. God was loving Trinity. Relationship is within the heart of God.
Second, humans – as male and female – are made in the image of God. The interaction between husband and wife demonstrates in a real way the life and heart of God.
Third, humans participate with God in creative management of the world. They are to make babies and take care of the earth. Both male and female are needed for this God-like creative leadership.

OK, now let’s read the second passage from Genesis 2:7-8, 18-25.
Verse 18 reads, “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.’” However, “helper” is probably a bad translation. It implies inferiority or less power or less worth. This word “helper” is usually used of God. God is the helper when he rescues his people out of trouble. Joseph Coleson, one of my seminary professors says a better translation of the total phrase is: “a power like him, facing him as equal.” She is “bone from my bone and flesh from my flesh” (Genesis 2:23) “She is just like me, made from the same stuff I am. She is my equal.” (This should make up for the quarrelsome wife crack last week.)

Jesus quotes verse 24: “This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are one.” This is a counter-cultural statement. In ancient culture, the wife belonged to the husband’s family. She was a servant and child-producer in the husband’s family. But the Bible teaches a different plan. Husband and wife are equal, and when they marry they are united into one. They are a new family together. They are the image of God together, male and female, sharing mutual love and support.
So Jesus says, “Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together” (Matthew 19:6). Marriage is not just a human arrangement. When two people are married, God fuses them together as a representation of his character to the world.
The basic goal of marriage is for two people to join God in mutual love and creative power. They love and support each other. They give pleasure to each other. They make each other stronger to do the work of God in the world.

But the Pharisees are not content. They bring up Moses again: “But Moses said we could get a divorce as long as we do the proper paper work” (Mt. 19:7). Jesus said, “Aghh, Men! You are thick-headed and hardhearted. Moses was just trying to keep you from abusing women by kicking them out without papers. That’s not what God wanted originally. If you toss your wife out and get a new one, you’re committing adultery unless the marriage covenant is already broken because of her adultery.”

At this point, the disciples say, “If marriage is that hard to get out of, it’s better to not even marry!” Again, Men!
Jesus turns this into a teaching moment. “Actually it is best for some people not to get married. It gives them more freedom to work for the Kingdom of God.” This is a shot out to all the single people out there. Don’t feel bad about being single. You don’t have to get married to be a good Christian. Singlehood worked out pretty well for Jesus.

Paul explains more about singlehood, marriage, and divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:1-16, 32-35.
So, on the question of singlehood or marriage, Paul says, “Do whatever will help you serve the Lord best” (1 Cor. 7:35). Either way, the goal is to join God in creative work in the world. Parents, don’t push your kids to get married. Just encourage them to join God’s work in the world.
In terms of marriage, Paul affirms basic equality here. The wife belongs to the husband, but the husband also belongs to the wife (7:3-4). They live in mutual submission and mutual support.
For divorce, Paul carries forward Jesus’ basic rule, “A wife must not leave her husband … and a husband must not leave his wife” (7:10-11). But Paul adds another provision. “If the husband or wife who isn’t a believer insists on leaving, let them go” (7:15). It seems like Paul is saying, Christians should not initiate divorce. In fact, Christians should always work toward reconciliation. However, if the other spouse is dead set on getting a divorce, even after you’ve done all you can to reconcile, then it’s OK to let the marriage end.
But Paul quietly points out another option between marriage and divorce: long-term separation: “A wife must not leave her husband. But if she does leave him, let her remain single or else be reconciled to him” (7:10-11). There may be times when the couple can no longer live together, usually because of some kind of abuse. In these cases, a middle ground is long-term separation. Before giving up on the marriage, they take time apart to seriously work on their individual and mutual problems that make it so difficult to live together.
There’s another important point here. Paul does not cast shame on people who get divorces. He doesn’t kick them out of the church. He doesn’t say they are bad people. As Christians, we ought to do all we can to prevent divorce AND all we can to support divorced people. Divorce is hell! Maybe it was a bad choice. Maybe it was their only choice. Either way, it’s done now. There’s no going back. People who have been through a divorce don’t need us to shake our fingers at them. They need us to love them and help them heal.

To sum this up, the basic point is that God intends marriage to be a beautiful, permanent blessing to the couple and to the world around them. Divorce is never part of the plan. Christians should always patiently work toward reconciliation. However, in a few limited circumstances, divorce may be the best choice available.
I think we all agree that we’d rather avoid divorce, so here are three basic divorce preventatives.
1. A great marriage. “The best defense is a good offense.” The best way to prevent divorce is to maintain a great marriage. Spend time together. Take care of each other. Celebrate each other. Keep those love tanks full. Read books about marriage and romance together, maybe one a year. (Look in your bulletin for some recommendations.)
And let me just be honest here. Have good sex together, and do it on a regular basis. That’s great for a marriage! (All the married men are going, “You heard the pastor.”) Honestly, though, not having sex is very bad for a marriage, and it’s usually a sign that something else is wrong.
2. Get counseling. If you plan to get married some time in the future, make sure you get premarital counseling. It won’t solve all your problems, but it will help you enter marriage with more awareness of what the problems will be and how to work on them together.
If your marriage is struggling, don’t ignore it. Don’t wait until you’re desperate. Get help. Come talk to me. Call up the KNU Counseling Center. If you can’t afford it, our church will pay half the expenses. There’s no shame in going to a doctor when you’re sick. There’s no shame in calling a plumber when you’re toilet is stopped up. There is no shame in getting counseling. Sometimes we just need outside help.
3. Long-term separation. Many divorces could be prevented simply by slowing down. If you or someone you know is ready to call it quits and get a divorce, a long-term separation is probably a better choice. Simply living alone is often enough to convince people to try again. Never get a divorce with out trying this middle step first.

Most of you have met my parents, but most of you don’t know most of their story. My parents were married for 40 years, and about 9 or 10 of those were happy years. I’m not kidding. Their marriage started falling apart 6 months after their honeymoon. My dad was working, going to university, and pastoring a church. Throughout most of his life he was a workaholic, and he had secret addiction on top of that. My mom had her own issues as well.
By the time I came around, my parents had been fighting for so long that they were both bitter and not very nice to each other. I grew up seeing and hearing some really ugly stuff. They lived on the edge of divorce for decades.
While I was in university, my mom filed for divorce. My dad moved out. He joined a 12-step program, and God began to heal and transform him. Then, they started going to a new counselor together. God used the combination of separation, a 12-step program, and counseling to completely transform their marriage. They decided to reconcile and went to Paris on a second honeymoon. The last 8 years of their marriage were by far the happiest. There is always hope. No marriage is beyond hope. God can raise the dead. I have seen it in my family.

So, I’ve been thinking … maybe there is something more beautiful than a beautiful wedding. Lots of people have beautiful weddings and ugly divorces. Maybe the most beautiful thing is a beautiful marriage, a marriage that survives the tests of time and conflict, a marriage that shows God’s love and grace to the world. Yep, that’s it. Nothing is more beautiful than a beautiful marriage.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Piranhas in the Love Tank - Dealing with Conflict Biblically

KNU International English Church

Josh Broward

September 14, 2008

Take a look at this fish. It’s kind of cute, huh? You might even say it’s beautiful. But this is one of the world’s most feared fish. This is a red-bellied piranha, native to the rivers of South America

One piranha doesn’t look all that scary. But every piranha has extremely sharp teeth. Not so cute! But … still not so scary … if you’re only talking about one piranha.

The problem is that piranhas often live and eat in schools, large groups. 100 little bites add up to big trouble. I wanted to show you some video of piranhas eating, but I was afraid I’d scare the women and children. It’s pretty gross! Just to give you an idea, though, look at this skeleton of a cow that was eaten up by a school of cute little piranhas.

They are small fish. They take little bites. But they cause great damage.

OK, just hold onto that thought for a moment, and let me shift gears. Gary Chapman wrote a book called The Five Love Languages, where he says that every person has a “love tank.” Every person has an emotional tank inside of us that needs to be filled with love. If that tank is full, life is good. We get along with others; we contribute to society; and we share love easily. But if our love tank is empty, then we tend to have problems. We get irritable; we say harsh words; we act selfishly; we try to get love in unhealthy ways.

Every person has a love tank, and every church has a love tank. Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, says that the single biggest drain on a church’s passion is gossip. I think we can broaden that out. The one thing that will drain a church’s passion and love faster than anything else is: poorly handled conflict.

One little piece of gossip, “Did you hear what she said?” One little buried injury, “I can’t believe he didn’t even say thank you!” One little angry email.

One is not big. One is not going to destroy the church or destroy a person, but bad conflict is like having piranhas in our love tank. Each little bit of conflict takes a bite here and a bite there, and before you know it, all the love is gone. All the passion is gone. All the energy is gone. Before you know it, we are asking ourselves why we are here. Before you know it, many people just aren’t here.

Conflict. It’s a big deal. Conflict is part of life, part of our church, part of our families, part of our jobs. If you grow and change, you are going to have conflict. If you put people from different cultures together on one team, you are going to have conflict. Well, we are growing and changing and multicultural, so it’s natural that we’re going to have conflict as a church.

I have to be honest with you. This is one of the most important sermons I’ve ever preached. If we get this right, we’ll be OK. We’ll figure the rest out together. If we get this wrong, we’re screwed! Those conflicts will become piranhas that eat us up inside.

Every member here makes 10 commitments. Commitment #9 is: “To increase the passion to increase the passion of our church, I will deal with conflict biblically.”

We’re going to continue with our Matthew series today by reading two passages that talk about conflict – Matthew 5:23-24 and 18:15-20.

So Matthew 5 says, if you do something wrong to your brother, you need to go to him and restore the relationship. Matthew 18 says if someone does something wrong to you, you need to go to that person and try to restore the relationship. It doesn’t matter if you are innocent or guilty. Either way, it’s your job to take initiative to resolve the conflict.

And Matthew 5 says something really shocking: “leave your sacrifice there on the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” Resolving conflict well is more important than going to church. Resolving conflict well is more important than giving your offering.

Healthy community is one of God’s highest values! Almost nothing is more important to God than healthy, loving community. If we’ve got a piranha in our tank, we need to deal with it!

Our church’s mission is to be a loving community that changes our world. That means we need a whole lot of love right here, flowing among us. If we’ve got a piranha in our tank, that’s priority one for God.

Before we go on, let me clear up one myth. I’m not saying conflict is bad. Conflict can be healing. Bad conflict – or poorly managed conflict – can be deadly. Listen to Proverbs 27. (Read Proverbs 27:4-6, 14-17.)

I love Proverbs. “A loud and cheerful greeting early in the morning will be taken as a curse!” I had a roommate like that. “Good morning!” “HUMPH!”

“A quarrelsome wife is as annoying as constant dripping on a rainy day.” I’m just not going to say anything about that one – because of course I don’t know anything about that.

“Wounds from a friend are better than kisses from an enemy.” Have you ever had a wound like that? A friend comes and talks to you about something. It hurts, but it makes you better.

“Iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens friend.” That sounds nice, but how does iron sharpen iron? Iron sharpens iron through conflict – friction and striking. Conflict can tear us apart. But conflict can also sharpen us, make us stronger, and bring us together as a community – if we do conflict right.

OK, so how do we do conflict right? The easiest way to start is by talking about how we so often do conflict wrong. I want to talk about 6 ways we often go wrong with conflict, but first I have to make a confession. I have done every single one of these wrong ways. As I’ve worked on this sermon this week, I’ve been realizing that I need to get better at dealing with conflict, too.

The big problem, though, is that all of us go wrong with conflict. More than 200 years ago, John Wesley preached a sermon called “The Cure of Evil Speaking.” He said, “And how extremely common is this sin, among all orders and degrees of men! How do high and low, rich and poor, wise and foolish, learned and unlearned, run into it continually! … And the very commonness of this sin makes it difficult to be avoided.” Not much has changed in 200 years.

OK, so how can we avoid sinning when we have conflict? How can we avoid doing conflict wrong?

1) Don’t ignore it. It won’t go away if you pretend it’s not there. Ignoring conflict is like ignoring cancer.

2) Don’t just pray. This sounds like very spiritual advice: “Don’t talk about it. Just pray about it. Just suck it in and push it down and deal with it within yourself.” There are two problems with this advice. First, it’s not Biblical. Jesus doesn’t say “Just pray about it.” Jesus says, “Go and be reconciled to that person” (Matthew 5:24). The second problem: IT DOESN’T WORK! Praying doesn’t heal the relationship. It might make you feel better, but it doesn’t heal the relationship.

3) Don’t talk to other people. There is a biblical word for talking to other people about someone else’s problems or conflicts you have with someone else. It’s called gossip. It’s a sin. American’s talk about “venting” or “venting your frustrations.” Be careful. Venting in public or in a group is one sure way to turn piranhas loose in our community.

4) Don’t make a public statement. One person has been coming late to meetings, and at the end of the meeting, someone says, “Um, ughm, I just want to remind everyone how important it is to come to our meetings on time.” Either talk to the other person, or don’t say anything.

5) Don’t pick a fight. Don’t try to resolve the conflict when you’re boiling with anger. If your attitude isn’t right, it’s just going to get messy.

6) Don’t write an email. You know the kind of angry emails I’m talking about. You’ve gotten them. You’ve sent at least one or two. Here are four never’s about emails. Never send an email when you’re angry. Never send an email about conflict to a big group of people. Never send an email to your pastor (or boss) about a conflict with someone else. Never send an email when you can talk in person or by phone. Emails are for chickens.

OK, so we’re all pretty much guilty as charged for handling conflict poorly. How do we do conflict right? Jesus gives us 5 steps for dealing with conflict the right way.

1) The first step is not actually in the passages we read today. It’s way back in Matthew 7: “First, get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will se well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” “Just pray about it” is bad advice, but we should start by praying and reflecting. When you pray, you’re trying to get to two basic attitudes: humility and forgiveness. Remember, you’ve done lots of stupid stuff, too. And remember, God has forgiven you for lots and lots of stuff, so you can forgive this guy or girl. You aren’t ready to talk until you are ready to talk with humility and forgiveness.

2) Go to the person directly and privately. Here’s a hint. Don’t try to have a conversation like this right before church. Make an appointment, and talk about it later.

Here’s another hint. If the conflict is really big or really emotional, it might help to write a letter first. Then, you can read the letter to the person or have her read it while you are sitting there. This way, you are more likely to say what you really need to say, and the other person is more likely to actually listen.

Remember, the goal of this conversation is not to make the other person feel bad. The goal is to restore the relationship. “If the other person listens and confesses it, you will have won that person back” (Matthew 18:15).

3) If the one-on-one conversation doesn’t work, take 1-2 others and try again. You should choose these people carefully. They should be people who have integrity, people who will not gossip, people who will speak with gentleness and honesty.

In Korean culture, you might need to start with a mediator. Korean culture is so much more indirect. But you still have to deal with it. You can’t just complain to someone and hope that maybe the other person will hear about it. You need to choose a mediator and deal with the conflict.

4) If you still can’t find resolution, take it to the “church.” It’s probably not a good idea to stand up in the middle of the worship service and talk about your complaint against Frank. The “church” probably means representative leaders, like the pastors or elders. In a school or business, the “church” might be a supervisor, a leadership group, or the working team. The point here is to take it to a group with some authority over both of you.

5) Finally, if everything else fails, treat the other person as a “tax collector.” This sounds really bad at first, but we have to remember that this is Jesus talking. Jesus loved and accepted the tax collectors and “sinners” with all his heart. I think Jesus is saying, “If all else fails, just love them and try to win them with love.”

Now, you might be thinking, “This sounds really hard. This goes against my culture. I don’t want to go have difficult conversations with people, especially not with my boss or with a leader. To be honest, I’d rather gossip or ignore everything.”

Remember what Paul said to Timothy: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). Confronting conflict well is the strong thing. It’s the loving thing. It’s the self-disciplined thing to do.

As I think about us as a church and our lives outside this room, I know that all of us have done conflict wrong many times. Maybe we need some more courage and love in our lives. Here are two challenges.

1. Maybe you’ve done conflict wrong. Maybe when we were talking about what not to do, you thought, “Oops. That’s me. Been there. Done that.” If that was you, maybe you need to apologize to the people involved in the conflict. Maybe you can start right here in this room or out there during snack time. Apologizing is like taking medicine. It sucks, but it helps. It helps make us better.

2. Maybe you have an active conflict. Maybe there is some wrong or some broken relationship that is unhealed in your life. Maybe today you can take a step of courage and ask that person to meet with you to talk about that conflict. It may hurt, but it will help.

Remember, bad conflicts are like bad piranhas. They take little bites here and there and drain our love tanks. They suck away the passion and love that we have together. Let’s work together to get the piranhas out … and to keep them out. Then, we will be a loving community that changes our world.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hurricane Ike Coming to Texas

I don't like IKE. Hurricane Ike is a storm as big as Texas, literally, and it's heading straight for my home town, Houston. This is one of the biggest (but not strongest) hurricanes in modern history.
The governor of Texas said that anyone near the coast in a 1-2 story home faces certain death. That's a pretty dire warning, but it's because of the "storm surge."
When a hurricane travels over the ocean, it literally sucks up the water into itself. The level of the sea under the hurricane is significantly higher than the level of the sea outside the hurricane. This creates something like a slow tsunami. It doesn't come crashing in as one wave. The water level just keeps rising as the hurricane comes in. The storm surge for IKE is expected to be 20-25 feet (7-8 meters). That will only affect the areas within several miles from the coast, I think, but still it's huge. The island beach where I played almost every summer is already under 8 feet (2.7 meters) of water.
So, my Mom is packing up and heading out of town pretty soon. She is well out of harm's way now - on her way to Arkansas to visit her parents. My sister, April, is down in MacAllen, in south Texas, with our cousin Twila. They should be safe, but any prayers for people and homes in the path of IKE would be great.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Seeking Normal

Well, I'm starting my second day back in Korea, and I feel like I'm trying to find "normal" again. It doesn't help that I'm already a week behind and facing a completely new schedule. I've never had night classes before, but I've got 3 this semester. I also have 6 classes, one more than I've ever had before.

I had a blitz of meetings planned for the month after I was due to return from Tanzania. One of those went ahead without me (an Advisory Council Meeting), but the rest are on hold. For right now, I'm not even planning to reschedule them until next week.

Matt said I'm walking around in a daze. Sarah said that's pretty accurate. I guess that's mostly the jet lag talking. Yesterday, I had 5-6 cups of coffee, and still felt tired. I guess flying 2/3 of the way around the world in 40 hours will do that.

I also feel a general haze of sadness. It's not a sharp pain, but it's just kind of there like a cloud or a fog. It doesn't stop me; it just kind of slows me down. I don't even notice it most of the time, but when I stop, or when I'm just walking, or when I think of it, then I can see that it's there.

It feels supremely weird to be the person being consoled by others. I've never been in this position before, but I guess I'll get used to it about the time everyone has finished saying their condolences.

This all sounds kind of sad and like I'm taking it really hard. I'm not sure how to explain it. it's not like I'm devastated, not like I can't function. It's more like being dizzy when you first stand up. I feel a little disoriented, like I just need to take some time to get my bearings again.

So I guess I'm searching for normal or the "new normal." It will come.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Coming Home

Sarah and Emma left for Korea this morning. They are now flying westward over Texas. They'll stop in LA on their way to Korea. They will arrive on Sunday night.

Right now, I'm at my sister April's apartment, 20 minutes from the airport. We took the girls to the airport, got some coffee, visited my Dad's gravesite, and went to the grocery store, and we were home before 8am!

I am leaving Houston at 6:50 this evening (Saturday). Unfortunately, the ticket agent made a mistake when planning my two tickets. I will arrive in Korea on Monday night, not Sunday night. Thankfully, Steve has volunteered to teach my Monday class.

Yesterday, we got the last major financial issues settled for my Mom. We'll be working with their local bank to manage their finances and retirement packages. The bank can also help sell her house if she decides to move to Korea or somewhere else. We feel really satisfied with the banking team who will be working with us. It feels good to know that there will be some people looking out for her.

Yesterday was also my birthday - 31. It was kind of stressful day with finishing up final details and packing, but we were done with all of that by supper time. We enjoyed "lip smackin', finger lickin'" barbecue at Dickey's Barbecue Pit for my birthday supper. We got the family pack with a full pound of both sausage and beef (almost a kilo of meat), plus great sidedishes. It was absolutely some of the best barbecue I've ever had. We also had great service from the Dickey's crew. I was also surprised with some great birthday gifts: hotwheels from my sister (bringing back old memories), a "kiss the cook" apron from Emma (and Sarah), Friday Night Lights Season 1 (from Sarah), West Wing Seasons 3, 4, & 5 (from my Mom). That ought to be enough TV to keep us occupied for a very long time!

I have mixed feelings about returning to Korea now. I'm ready to be home (which in many respects is now Korea), but I know things will be very busy there as soon as I get back, and probably very busy for a long, long time. Also, I know my Mom and sister still have a lot to sort through back here. I know our church is ready for us to have us back, especially since I've been gone 9 out of 12 weeks in a row.
Thanks to everyone who has expressed condolences. Please keep praying for us as we get adjusted back to life in Korea and for my Mom and sister as they get adjusted to the "new normal" of life without my Dad.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hardest Day

Monday of last week was the hardest day of my life. That was the day I saw my Dad's body for the first time. I knew that would be hard going into it.
Public visitation was scheduled for later in the evening, and family visitation started an hour before that. However, Sarah, April (my sister), and I came several hours earlier to see Dad's body in more privacy. As soon as I entered the room, I sat down as far away as I could and started crying. Slowly, slowly, step by step, I moved closer to his coffin. With every major step closer, I had to stop to cry and grieve some more. It was so hard seeing his body there dead. Finally, I was able to go to his coffin. Sarah and April went out and gave me some time alone. I cried like I haven't cried since I was a little boy, and maybe not even then. Often, it was more of an angry cry than simply sadness or pain. It just doesn't seem right for him to die this soon.
At the end of the visitation on Sunday night, when everyone else was out of the room, the funeral home worker helped me close the lid on Dad's casket. I cried some more and said goodbye. I think I literally got "closure" by doing this.
Surprisingly, Tuesday, the actual funeral day, was not nearly as difficult. I felt like I had already done my grieving. Because of a mix-up at the cemetery gate, the hearse with Dad's body and about half of the funeral attendants were 5-10 minutes late arriving at the funeral chapel. When I realized that Dad was late to his own funeral, I laughed and laughed. That's just like Dad. The funeral was simple but meaningful. Several people shared memories. We laughed and cried, and the pastor's sermon included a series of "I see David ..." memories.
On Tuesday night, most of the extended family came over to our house. We ate and played games together. It might seem kind of odd to play games, but that's just what our family does when we get together. It seemed to give some normalcy to the occasion, and it helped to lighten the grief. But doing something so normal kind of helped me miss Dad less and more at the same time. I kept thinking that Dad was going to walk in the door or call on his cell phone.

Since Tuesday, we've been working on getting Mom's affairs in order. I've been sorting through old mail and trying to figure out their finances. We will hopefully meet with the bank and the investment counselor today or tomorrow.
On Thursday, we celebrated Emma's birthday. That was good for us. We (along with Sarah's parents) went to April's apartment for some cake and swim time. Many American apartments have private swimming pools. (I wish Korea would pick up on that trend!) Then, on Saturday, we went to the Houston Aquarium, which has a few amusement park rides around it. That was also fun. It has helped us to do stuff like this to find joy again.
We are all planning on leaving Houston for Korea on September 6. It will take me a lot longer to get home than it will take Sarah and Emma. I have to go through Dubai because I bought a round trip ticket from Houston to Dubai to get over here.

I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has sent your condolences and to all of those folks who are helping out with our classes this week at KNU. May God bless you for helping us in this time of need.