Monday, March 31, 2008
Friday night Sarah and I escaped to Seoul. We went to Itaewon - the central spot for all things foreign in Korea. We had a great little hotel - which we never would have found without Seth and Ann's recommendation, and we went to a nice Italian restaurant. After supper, we delighted ourselves with a little walk and then some luscious ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery - possibly the best ice cream in the world.
This was our first real venture into Itaewon. Before this, I had always kind of scoffed at how the foreigners flock there. I had made a brief trip in before, and it just didn't seem like all that much. However, this time with hours on hand and no kid to drag along, my eyes were opened to the great - um - beauty? - or at least attractiveness of Itaewon. I was consistently amazed at how many foreign restaurants were there, one after the other: maybe a dozen Italian places, African cuisine, Middle Eastern, Indian, Thai, Japanese, etc.
Itaewon is also the home of the best English bookstore in Korea: What The Book. Sarah and I made a little venture into that mecca, and she had to pry books out of my hands.
After that, we picked up some cheddar, sour cream, and green beans at a foreign food store. That will stave off another trip to Costco for at least a month. Before we hit the subway stop, though, we shared one last bowl of Cold Stone sweet-God-has-definitely-blessed-this-stuff ice cream.
All in all, this was the best anniversary trip since we've been in Korea. Definitely gets the 5J rating.
Friday, March 28, 2008
KNU International English Church
March 30, 2008
I am a reject. I am an outcast. I am an exile.
When I was growing up, I was never one of the popular kids. I was always a little awkward socially, and I was overweight.
I remember one time in the 5th grade when our school was having a carnival. Some of the kids in my class got into a water fight near the dunking booth. I had a crush on a girl in my class, so I did what most boys do in 5th grade who like a girl – I attacked. I poured a big bucket of water on her head. She shrieked and laughed and turned to run after me – which is, of course, exactly what I wanted. I got the impression that she actually liked getting soaked in water and might actually like me.
In true 5th grader style, I took the great courageous step of asking a friend to ask a friend to ask the girl if she liked me. I sent off my messenger. I watched him have a short meeting with the female messenger. Then, a group of giggling girls - armed with female intuition - smelled the drama in the air, and a flock of geese laughed and whispered their way into the girls’ bathroom.
After a minute or two, there was an explosion of girls going every which way, and one was making a B-line for us. She got a few meters away from me and said with snorts of laughter, “She said, ‘I wouldn’t go out with that fat slob!’” I was left to skulk away on my own, knowing that this story would be retold countless times around the school.
When my family moved to
Once, the community tough guy started a fight with me – simply because I was white. When we were fighting, I was surprised to find that other people on the bus were also hitting me – taking their cheap shots while I wasn’t looking.
Often, when I got off the bus at my bus stop, the kids would look out the window and shout racial slurs at me. Sometimes they would spit at me as the bus pulled away. I learned to walk quickly to get out of spitting range.
Most of my childhood and early adolescence was a longer replay of these basic scripts, usually with much less drama. All of this caused me some problems with my identity as I was growing up. It might have sent me into a depression – as I have seen happen many times. I might have become a racist – as several of my classmates in the “
But something saved me. As a young teenager, I became a Christian. God’s love for me began to override my peers’ rejection of me. But just as importantly, I experienced love and acceptance and community through the Church. Through my church and other churches in our area, I developed beautiful relationships with people with every color of skin. In a very real way, God saved me and healed me – through the church.
For the past two months, we’ve been studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. This is Jesus’ most famous teaching. He is explaining the way of the Kingdom, and he calls his followers to live in radically different ways in the world: loving our enemies, showing mercy, speaking with humility, keeping our promises, trusting God, and not worrying about money. Jesus summarizes all of this in one simple sentence: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you” (Matthew 7:12).
In chapters 8 and 9, Jesus begins to live out this Kingdom way of life. He meets three people who are rejects and outcasts, people on the margins of society. Jesus gives healing to these people, and, in the process, he gives healing to their communities as well.
Let’s read these three stories in Matthew 8:1-17.
Let’s take a look at these three stories. Who were these people? Why were they outcasts or marginalized?
The first person was a leper. Leprosy was the most-feared disease of ancient times. If you got leprosy, your body would literally rot away piece by piece until you were all gone. There was no cure, and the only known way to prevent it was total isolation. Leviticus explains the life of a leper: “Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, “Unclean! Unclean!” As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp” (13:45-46). Jesus broke the rules simply by touching this man.
The second contact was actually with a pair of people, a Roman officer and his slave. These were gentiles. This word is similar to the Korean word weigookin, but it is much stronger. They were ethnic outsiders – not Israelites, and they were religious outsiders – not Jewish. Even worse, this man was a leader in the Roman army which was occupying and oppressing
The third story is about a woman – Peter’s mother-in-law. Women were considered second-class citizens, maybe half a step up from slaves. They were not considered a valuable part of society, and a good Jewish man didn’t talk to women. Jesus broke the rules again just by touching her.
Imagine with me for a few minutes what kind of community this would have been. A righteous Jewish man of Jesus time probably prayed this prayer every morning:
Blessed are You, Eternal One our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who did not make me a woman.
Blessed are You, Eternal One our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who did not make me a Gentile.
Blessed are You, Eternal One our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who did not make me a slave.
Give me some audience participation. How would you describe this community? What adjectives describe the life of this community? … arrogant, isolated, fragmented, fearful, hostile, shaming, lonely, unloving, broken?
What we see here is a basic rule of life. When people are broken and rejected, the community is broken. When people live in unhealed brokenness, the relationships and systems of the community are fundamentally broken. Broken and rejected people are evidence of a problem in the community.
When the community rejected those lepers, they were making brokenness and separation a permanent part of their communal life. When the community rejected and condemned gentiles, they were cutting off contact with the outside world, limiting themselves to their own perspectives, and limiting God’s love to themselves. When the community pushed down their women, they were cutting their society in half, institutionalizing hostility and oppression and injustice.
When Jesus brought healing to all of these people, he was breaking through his society’s walls of hostility and rejection. He was restoring those rejected people to the community, and he was restoring the community to include the rejected people. By bringing healing to individuals, he was also bringing healing to the community.
But what about us? Do you know anyone with leprosy? None of us are practicing Jews, so we don’t have a problem with gentiles. And most of us are pretty comfortable with women playing an equal role in society. What do these stories have to say to us today?
Maybe we can get inside these three stories. Maybe we can begin to see these three people as living breathing people in our lives.
Maybe Peter’s mother-in-law could represent people in our families or in our churches who are marginalized or suffering or sick. Who is pushed to the edges around here? Who might feel unwelcome or lonely here? Who might be feeling unloved in your own home? Mother Theresa said, “The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”
I got an email this week from someone, who is a conservative Christian, and she is wrestling with how to be a good friend to her friend, who is gay. This is her first time to have a gay friend, and she isn’t quite sure what to do. She wrote,
Do I tell her she’s wrong if she asks? Do I engage her in philosophical/theological debate? Do I just let her be and be a friend if she needs one? Or do I go the opposite extreme and tell her that everything she’s doing is A-OK and natural (as some of her close friends do)? Or a mixture of all of the above? Or nothing?
I’m not sure exactly how to answer my friend’s questions, but I’m impressed with her commitment to be a faithful friend and to keep the relationship going. In the process of trying to figure out how to be a good friend, she has become an active learner. She has read a book about homosexuality and watched a reality TV show about a conservative Christian guy who lived with a gay roommate in
Even when community is hard, Jesus calls us to do that hard work of friendship and to learn to genuinely love each other. Who is your “mother-in-law”?
If we really get inside this story, maybe the man with leprosy can represent for us the people pushed to the edges of our society. Who is our leper? Who are the people we feel uncomfortable just being around? Are they orphans? Are they the migrant workers? Are they the homeless? Are they the hard-drinking, hard-smoking, hard-joking, hard-partying crowd?
I’m excited that some people in our church are reaching out to all of these groups of people. On Monday mornings, Stephanie and some other folks go to an orphanage here in Cheonan, just to play with the kids. Every other Saturday, Chris, Isabel, and the other folks from Compassionate Hearts Ministry go to Cheonan Station to give out kimbap to homeless men. Many of you have donated your old clothes, and this week several people from the
If we are followers of Jesus, we need to go with Jesus to the margins. We always need to be looking for the people our society or our church has pushed aside. We need to find those people and restore community by restoring the bonds of love to them.
If we really get inside this story, then maybe the Roman officer and his slave can represent someone in our lives too. Who is our “gentile”? Jesus healed this gentile’s slave without even going to his home? Who needs long-distance healing through us?
A 40 year old woman sat by the door of her hut in
This pain of the future was her greatest pain of all. It was the pain of a mother infected with HIV, facing her last days. She knew that in a few months her children would be orphans.
This courageous woman turned to the team from the Nazarene Compassionate Ministries AIDS taskforce who was visiting her home. She spoke very softly, trying not to cough: “Who is going to take care of my children?”
More than 12 million children in
Some of you have already taken up this challenge by sponsoring a child. For only 25,000 won a month, you can make sure at least one child has enough food and a good education. Talk to Amanda to sponsor a child (or go to www.ncm.org).
Our church has also taken up this challenge. We are going to
What will you do to answer the cry from far away? Will you just turn up the sound in your MP3 player? Will you toss a little money their way so you’ll feel better? Or will you get involved? Will you give your time, your energy, your heart to bring healing and to restore community?
Who is your suffering family member? Who is your leper – rejected by people in your social group? Who is your “gentile” far away asking for your help?
Here’s the key part. If we really get inside this story … if we see these three people as people in our lives, then who are we in this story? If we really get inside this story, and if this story really gets inside us, then we will be the Jesus who reaches out and loves and helps the people whom everyone else rejects or ignores. We become the people who break social barriers for the sake of love and healing. We become the people who restore people and develop a restoring, healing community.
Are you ready for this? Are you ready to live like Jesus?
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
The United Nations estimates that the cost to end world hunger completely, along with diseases related to hunger and poverty, is about $195 billion a year. Twenty-two countries have joined together to raise this money by each contributing 0.7% (less than 1%) of national income. Some of the countries have already met this goal. Others are being a little slow, but this can be fixed. You can see how the countries are doing here. You can print a letter to support your country’s participation here.
Did you get that?
If all of these 22 countries give just 0.7% to international development aid, we can completely eliminate world hunger and all diseases related to hunger and poverty. ALL of these countries promised to meet this pledge.
If you click on the link above to "see how the countries are doing," you'll see that the USA next to last among the 22 countries who have promised to increase their international development aid to 0.7%. My home country (USA) is currently giving a meager 0.17%, while 5 smaller European countries are leading the way by already surpassing the 0.7% goal. Come on USA! Get your act together! Politicians and citizens need to come together to say that we will carry our weight in the international community, not just in military support but also in straight international aid.
Sweden, Luxemborg, Norway, Netherlands, and Denmark have already reached the 7% goal. 11 other countries (all European) have scheduled to reach the goal within the next 7 years or sooner. Switzerland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and USA still have not scheduled a year when they plan to reach their pledged 0.7% giving to international aid. What's the hold up? If you live in one of these countries, please contact your representatives, and ask them to help our nations fulfill our promise to the world.
South Korea, where I live, has the 11th largest economy in the world. South Korea is so new to being a developed nation, that they are often left out (or opt out) of discussions like this. No more! To any Koreans out there, please ask your government leaders to engage in the world community to by giving 0.7% of your national budget to international aid.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.
– Mohandas Gandhi
Our World’s 4 Great Crises:
- The Prosperity Crisis: Our global economy is producing great wealth for one third of the population, but this same global system is leading us to an environmental breakdown.
- The Equity Crisis: The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. While one third of the world experiences amazing wealth, two thirds of the world struggle in (or near) poverty.
- The Security Crisis: Increasing anger, fear, polarization, and advanced weapons make wide scale destruction (through war or terrorism) a real possibility.
- The Spirituality Crisis: The world’s largest religions (Christianity and Islam) have failed to provide a framework for healing or significantly reducing these crises.
(Brian McClaren, Everything Must Change, pg 5.)
- WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THESE FOUR CRISES? DOES THIS FAIRLY DESCRIBE OUR WORLD?
- WHAT DO JESUS’ LIFE, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION SAY ABOUT THESE CRISES?
- HOW CAN YOU WORK FOR THE GOOD OF ALL PEOPLE (See Matthew 7:12.)?
March 23, 2008
Read Matthew 7:12-29.
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you” (Matthew 7:12). Without a doubt, this is the most famous thing Jesus ever said. This short saying earned the title “The Golden Rule” when Roman Emperor Alexander Severus had this rule written on his wall in gold.
Let me give you a short quiz on the Golden Rule. I call this Elevator Ethics.
Question 1: You are on an elevator with several other people. Someone you don’t know gets on. He’s wearing one of those plastic nametags showing that he’s participating in a conference of some kind. He also has a long piece of toilet paper trailing from his shoe. The elevator door opens at his floor. What do you do? Do you tell him? Do you just let him walk out into the crowd of people?
Question 2: You are on an elevator. Earlier in the day, you had a wonderful but very spicy lunch. The spices are beginning to work through your system. You can feel your stomach rumbling. You try to hold it in, but suddenly you pass gas right there on the elevator. It’s one of those silent-but-deadly types. Everyone is making faces, and people begin to point to the slightly overweight, poorly dressed man standing next to you. Everyone thinks it’s him. What do you do? Do you speak out and take the blame, or do you walk away the as the secret farter?
Question 3: You are on an elevator, and a young woman gets on the elevator with a very cute T-shirt that has an offensive English phrase on it. This has actually happened to me. One of my theology students wore a shirt with a picture of a motorcycle and the words, “I wish my boyfriend was as dirty as my bike!” No kidding! What do you do? Do you try to explain that the shirt is not so good? Or do you let her walk on in ignorant bliss? OK, we all know what Patricia would do, but what would you do?
How do we apply “The Golden Rule” in these situations? Is this what “The Golden Rule” is all about?
In the generation just before Jesus, there were two famous Jewish rabbis: Shammai and Hillel. Once, a Gentile man went to Shammai and said, “I will convert to Judaism, but I have one condition. You must teach me the entire Jewish law while I am standing on one leg.” Shammai was so angry that he beat the guy out of the area with a stick: “Heathen! Gentile! How dare you insult the Law of Yehovah!”
Later, the same guy went to Hillel and said the same thing: “I will convert to Judaism, but first you must teach me the entire Jewish law while I am standing on one leg.” Hillel said, “What is hateful to yourself, do to no other; that is the whole law, and the rest is commentary. Go and learn.”
Jesus seems to agree with Hillel. As Jesus closes the Sermon on the Mount, he gives a one line summary his whole sermon: “Ask yourself what you want other people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get” (Matthew 7:12).
That is very close to what Rabbi Hillel and many other ethical teachers have said. However, Jesus’ statement is different in several important ways.
First of all, Jesus’ statement is positive: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do for you,” not just “Don’t do what you don’t want done.” This might seem like a small difference at first, but it turns into something big.
A negative ethic – a philosophy of not doing harm – is very limited. It is focused on the do-not’s. It is enough not to steal; we are not required to help someone who has been robbed. It is enough not to commit adultery; we are not required to give assistance to prostitutes or to help people escape from addictions. It is enough not to hurt someone; we do not have to help those who are hurt by others.
A negative ethic is all about avoiding sin and avoiding evil. It isn’t about actively being good or doing good for anyone. We tend to live a negative ethic. We go our way and live our own life and try not to hurt people and try not to make the world any worse, but we do not go out of our way to make the world radically better.
Jesus says simply: “That is not enough.” Goodness involves real action. Goodness involves actively doing good things, not just passively avoiding wrong things. The way of Jesus is to actively work for the good of all people.
Jesus’ Golden Rule is different in another way. It is unlimited. The Greek actually says: “Everything whatever that you would like others to do to you, you yourselves do to them.” Everything whatever! In every last thing! Always and at all times! In every situation, in all your actions, in everything you do, from the big stuff to the little stuff, do it all as you would want someone else to act toward you. This is unlimited.
Jesus’ Golden Rule is also unlimited in scope. We normally interpret this rule to mean that we should be nice and kind to the people around us – Elevator Ethics. But Jesus doesn’t limit this to people near us. Jesus says, “Every last thing you want people to do to you, do the same things for them.” People are all over the place, all over the world, not just in our neighborhoods. This is getting more radical. The way of Jesus is to actively work for the good of all people.
Jesus says, “This IS the law and the prophets.” Everything written in the Law of Moses, every word from God spoken by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and all the prophets, every command, every promise, every warning – they all come down to this: “In every last thing, work actively for the good of all people.”
Then, Jesus warns us about people who talk big and act big but don’t live up to this Golden Rule (Matthew 7:13-23). Jesus says that simple unselfishness counts for more than big miracles or great church programs. You can tell if people are good or bad by their actions.
Are they just living Elevator Ethics, being polite and maybe even generous on occasion, but basically looking out for themselves? Are they involved in church, do they know all the Bible answers, do they smile and say Amen, and then go out and live their lives as if no one else really matters? Those are the fakes. They are rejecting God’s way in their daily lives. They’re going into the fire.
Are they actively working for the good of all people? Are they thinking about how they live and how they interact with the world? Are they asking how they can help the people who most need their help? Are they taking action based on these questions? Those are the real people. They will be welcomed into the
Jesus concludes his sermon with a famous parable. There are two builders. The smart guy builds his house on the rock, and his house stays strong even when the storm comes. The stupid guy builds his house on the sand, and when the storm comes, his house falls down in a mighty crash.
What’s the difference between the smart guy and the stupid guy? Only one thing. The smart guy actually lived Jesus way, and the stupid guy listened to Jesus but kept living his own way.
When we keep this parable in the context of the overall Sermon on the Mount, we get a startling message. Remember, Jesus’ summary of all his teaching (and all of God’s teaching ever) is very simple: In every last thing, actively work for the good of all people, just like you would want them to work for your good.
So, the smart guy did this. He built his life on these words. He actively worked for the good of all people in every last thing he did. And he experienced God’s true life.
But the stupid guy didn’t do this. He was a good listener, but not a good doer. He listened to Jesus, and then went his own way, maybe being a nice guy, but generally ignoring the needs of others. In the end, his life came crashing down around him.
A paraphrase from The Message, helps us apply this to our lives: “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach.” Going to a Bible study doesn’t do much good unless we actually live what Jesus says.
Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, says that in his church, at the beginning of every small group Bible study, the group checks to see if the people actually lived out what they studied last week. If most people didn’t put it into practice, they stop right there and talk some more about how to live out what the Bible is talking about. They don’t study another chapter until most people in the group can honestly say that they are putting into action what they studied the week before.
How would that change your Bible study? How would that change our church? How would that change our world?
“Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it” (James 1:22-25).
What is this “perfect law that sets you free”? Jesus says it very simply, “In everything, do to people whatever you want them to do to you.” In every last thing, work for the good of all people.
You and I might say: “But this is very hard. Everything is … well … everything! And that’s a lot. And all people … well … there are a lot of people. There are a lot of people in our world with a lot of needs, a whole lot of needs, starving people, poor people, sick people. There’s a lot of people. It’s one thing just to not hurt them, but to actively work for their good in everything I do? Well, that would take … my whole life! It would be … um … hard!”
Exactly! It will take your whole life. It will be hard. “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. … The way to life – to God! – is vigorous and requires total attention.” (Matthew 7:13-14, The Message). “You can enter God’s Kingdom only by the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
The way of Jesus is actively working for the good of all people in everything we do. This is hard! Let’s not pretend. It’s difficult. In fact, sometimes it will even feel like dying. That’s why Jesus talked about taking up your cross and giving up your life. This is the way of the Kingdom. This is the way of Jesus. With all of our life, we actively work for the good of others. We give our lives for those who most need our help. This is the way of Jesus.
This way leads us to the cross, to our own cross. But it is only possible because of the cross of Jesus, and even more, the resurrection of Jesus. Today is Easter, and today we celebrate that Jesus lived his own philosophy. He actively worked for the good of others wherever he went, and in the end he gave up his life for the good of all people. Jesus paid the highest price so that he could share with us the highest good – new life, God’s life, the Holy Spirit of God living and breathing in us, giving us the power to live in new ways, helping us to love our neighbors as ourselves, giving us the imagination and the determination to work for the good of all people. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God is creating a new world in us and through us.
Easter is the day of global transformation. And this global change starts with the local action of one changed life. One person dies and experiences new life with Jesus. One person actually shapes his life around Jesus’ teaching: in every last thing, do what you want others to do for you. This local change starts what Shane Clairborne calls an Irresistible Revolution.
Our death is our life. Our unselfishness is the best thing we can do for others and ourselves. The Dalai Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26).
Easter is the day of resurrection. Easter is the day that we lay down our lives again and experience Jesus’ resurrection again.
The way of Jesus is to actively work for the good of all people. Elevator ethics is not enough. This is a life or death choice. What do you choose?
 Michael J. Wilkens, Matthew, NIV Application Commentary, (
 This is a “double entendre.” The word “dirty” has a second meaning relating to immoral sexuality.
 William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, (
 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church – International Conference,
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
On Tuesday, I tried to visit her class, but I went to the wrong one. When it was empty, I thought she must have dismissed early.
But I caught her on Wednesday. She asked me to bring something to her class that she had forgotten at home. When I walked in, I wrote on the board a shortened version of a little poem I wrote in our first year of marriage: "I am the luckiest man in the world ... She chose me. I am the smartest man in the world ... I chose her."
Later in the day, Sarah and Emma surprised me in my class. Sarah had a notebook with the same poem (adapted to emphasize that she was the lucky one) written out page by page - in the style of Love Actually. Emma had a box of candy to share with the class. It was beautiful. Unfortunately, Emma stole the show when I told her to start sharing the candy before Sarah was done flipping the pages. I should have known that would happen. She's like Princess Di over here. Anyway, it was beautiful even if I do disagree with who is the luckiest and the smartest.
We had a foretaste of celebration by having a quiet dinner together under a small pavilion near our house. Joe and Elena took care of Emma, but after an hour it was time to go to small group. We'll have our annual anniversary trip next weekend. We are eager to try out a new Italian restaurant and Cold Stone Creamery (possibly the best ice cream in the world), both of which are in Seoul now. Our friends Seth and Anne have volunteered to watch Emma overnight as payment for my doing their wedding in February. I can hardly think of a better way to say thank you!
This year, she started her second year of preschool. (In U.S. terms this year would be the equivalent of Pre-K.) On the first day of school, I went to an opening day celebration. All of the parents gathered downstairs in a large room and sat on tiny chairs in neat little rows. After about half an hour of prep time with the teachers upstairs, about 100 little kids came downstairs and sat on the front group of tiny chairs. Next came a 10 minute motivational speech for the children to work hard, study hard, be kind, and learn a lot. Then the director introduced the school and the teachers. Next, the students all went upstairs and the parents had a 20-30 minute orientation. I was really wishing I had brought a book or something to read. My Korean is definitely getting better, but it's still hard to stay focused when I only understand about 10% of what is being said. Finally, we went up to the children's classrooms to meet the teachers and see the kids in the classrooms.
Over all, I am very impressed with Emma's preschool. They offer lots of special activities, field trips, and after school activities. This year Emma decided to drop out of ballet and take up art instead. She loves drawing, so I'm sure she'll enjoy that. The thing that impresses me most about Emma's school, however, is the kindness of the teachers. I think they have really done an excellent job hiring and training their teachers. They are overwhelmingly kind and loving to the children. It's beautiful to see them interacting.
Emma is also continuing her piano lessons with our friend Adam. She loves going to piano and is progressing well. Right now she is learning to read music. The song she is working on now is "Ode to Joy, " or "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee."
Emma has started working through a math book for the pre-K level. It is teaching her to match things, to recognize which has more, and to write her numbers. She really likes it. She considers it something fun to do. Thanks Nana!
Here's a funny story to wrap things up. Like the rest of us, Emma was getting tired of winter. About a month ago, whenever we would go outside she would start talking to God, "God, please make winter go away forever. Please let spring come!" Surprisingly (to me at least), we have had an especially early and mild spring. It has been in the 50's most of this week. It seems like God has answered her prayer.
Monday, March 17, 2008
And, yes, we really do have flower design classes. We actually have a flower design major. I know it sounds a little like "basket weaving," but flower design is a big deal here in Korea. Some church boards actually have a position for the flower design trustee. Any major event will have racehorse style or funeral style huge 7 foot tall (2 meters) flower arrangements. It's quite amazing really. It's not uncommon to walk past the opening of a large business or the entrance to a hall where a big celebration is happening and see large banks of flower displays, which must total several thousand dollars in cost.
Sarah is also teaching at Emma's preschool. This turns out to be a great deal for us and for them. Sarah teaches there two hours a week, and Emma goes to school for free. I think last week Sarah taught them some simple songs like, "Where Is Thumbkin?" She said it's pretty fun.
Other news on the Sarah front, her ladies Bible study is starting up again. She has found new energy for this because of learning how extremely important the Bible study has been for one of the members who has been going through a difficult time. She is really starting to develop some good relationships with the ladies there. After the Bible study, there is a play group for the children.
Sarah is still trying to get adjusted to her new schedule at the university. It is a little more demanding than her middle school schedule, so she's still trying to figure out how to shuffle her time to make room for exercise, prayer, and household stuff. You could pray for us all about that.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Our latest book was The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett. This book won the Carnegie Award for Children's Literature, and it came to us on loan from Elisa Sutherland, who is doing a Masters in Children's Literature.
The back cover describes this book as "excruciatingly funny." That might be a bit of an overstatement, but it definitely had us laughing out loud again and again. It's an odd satire with a dry but strong sense of humor.
Here's the basic premise. The book is apparently set in Europe, roughly in the late 1800's, but neither are particularly important to the book. The main characters are a clan of rats and a wily alley cat, named Maurice. These animals initially lived in a garbage dump outside a school for magic (think Hogwarts). After eating some of the magical refuse of the school, a large group of rats were suddenly Changed. They became self-aware and rational. They learned to read, to write, to plan, to disarm traps, etc. Maurice, the cat, joins the thinking world when he eats one of these Changelings. Somehow Maurice and the rats form a peace and set off into the world to make their fortune and/or a better life for themselves. Hilariously, the rats all have names from food labels: Nourishing, Peaches, Dangerous Beans, Ham-n-Pork, etc.
With their newfound ability to think and analyze their world, the rats - thanks especially to their resident philosopher, Dangerous Beans - have an increasingly profound ethical code.
The rats have a copy of a children's book, which seems to describe an idyllic relationship between animals and humans, one of peace and mutual respect and equality. They are in search of such an utopia, but alas it is not to be. Eventually dark forces collude to crush their idealism. However, what emerges is a beautiful - and very funny - drama of beings of extremely different cultures and perspectives learning how to live together with synergy and mutual respect.
This book is of value simply for entertainment. It's a good story guaranteed to keep your interest (especially after you give yourself time to get into this alternative world drama), and it's guaranteed to get you laughing.
However, this book is also of value for several other reasons. It is a beautiful description of a community's attempts to deal with change and to reinterpret themselves and their world in the light of a steady stream of new information.
Also, as the book moves toward it's close, it offers a description of the beauty and difficulties of living in multicultural community. Perhaps because of my job as pastor of an international church, I particularly appreciated this.
Lastly, we get a few picture of the difficulties of leadership from the various perspectives of the different leaders who help to guide this book and their communities to the successful conclusion of this chapter of dealing with overwhelming change. Again, I resonate with this because of my role in leading a changing congregation in a changing world.
I'm torn between 4 j's and 5 J's. However, for the sake of keeping the 5J rating for books that are extremely good and/or profound, I'll give this very good book 4 j's.
Friday, March 14, 2008
Here's the basic premise: MacPherson (Jack Nicholson) is a small time criminal and general rebel. The movie opens with him being admitted into a mental institution. Apparently, he has faked insanity to be relieved of the hard labor involved in his latest prison sentence. He believed that he could simply finish out the remaining months of his sentence at the mental institution and go on his merry way. The problem is that mental institutions are not obligated to release you at any particular time. They can keep you until they believe you are "ready."
"Mac" eventually becomes friends with the other patients and develops respect and empathy for them. From his perspective (which seems to be partially correct), the institution is oppressing them and suppressing their natural moves toward health and individuality. In a wide variety of ways, Mac helps the patients resist the system and functions as an alternative (though not always effective or healthy) counselor for them.
If there is any "point" to the movie, it is recognizing the humanity of the mentally ill or social oddities. The humanity of the patients shines through with great poignancy.
Another possible point is that we as humans tend to like the safe confines of the "known" even if we don't like the "known," even the "known" is killing us. The vast majority of the patients are "voluntary," but one of the emerging themes is that they are too scared to face the outside world. They would rather be "crippled" than venture into the unknown. I wonder how often we are like that.
Sadly, in the end, Mac himself becomes a victim of the system. I won't totally spoil the ending, but I will say that is deeply weird - even if poetic.
Over all, I'll give it a rating of 4 j's, and that's surprising to me. Going into this blog entry, I was planning to give it 3 j's. I think reflecting on the point of the movie brought out it's extra "j" for me.
Pastor Josh Broward
March 16, 2008
[[We will start by watching a series of short commercials by Ameriquest Mortgage Company. Each commercial ends with this line: “Don’t judge too quickly. We won’t.” You can view some of these commercials at YouTube by following this link. ]]
Read Matthew 7:1-5.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote the famous lines, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach…”
Maybe we can change the wording a bit today: “How do I judge thee? Let me count the ways. I judge thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach.” We are so judgmental! I hardly know where to begin.
This week, I asked Sarah, “How do I preach against being judgmental without being judgmental?” In classic Sarah style, she said, “Very carefully.”
First, I need to say this very clearly. I am guilty. I judge others harshly far too often in far too many ways. I am a perfectionist. I tend to expect perfection from myself and from others. Since none of us are perfect, I find lots to criticize. In fact, part of my psychological difficulty is that I tend to judge others harshly to help me feel better about myself.
I am guilty, and if any of you feel offended because of what I say today, please remember that I offended myself first! I myself need more of God’s grace, especially on this issue.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the text from Matthew 7.
Verse 1 is the most famous, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged,” or in the old King James Version, “Judge not, lest ye be judged!” Your voice just has to get deeper when you say that verse. This whole passage has lots of connections with Jesus’ other teachings. “God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12). “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15). The list could go on and on. This is a big deal for Jesus.
Verse 2 increases the intensity through repetition. This isn’t really clear when we translate it into English, but in Greek it’s pretty striking. The Greek root word for “judge” is kri, and the Greek word for “measure is” metr – as in “meter.”
With the krimati krinete krithesesthe
judgment you judge you will be judged.
With the metro metreite metrethesetai
measure you measure it will be measured to you
Jesus is saying, “Hey folks, you’re going to get it just like you give it. God is going to measure other people with the same stick you use to measure others. Be hard on them, and God will be hard on you. If you judge others harshly, they and God will judge harshly right back at you.”
Verses 3-5 are actually pretty funny. Jesus has quite a sense of humor. It might help us understand this if we look at a few pictures.
Step 1: We notice that our friend has a problem, “a speck” in his eye, maybe a speck of sawdust – a tiny piece of wood.
Step 2: We offer to help, “Here let me help you get this speck out of your eye.” So far it all sounds reasonable enough.
But then comes Step 3: Jesus says that we actually have a huge log (or plank or beam) in our own eye. This is where it gets funny. Can you imagine walking around with a huge log sticking out of your eye? And, then we have the nerve to try to help someone else with a speck of sawdust! “Excuse me buddy,” wham! – we hit them in the head with our plank. “Well that was uncomfortable, but at least you won’t move now while I’m working on your eye!”
Some of the commentators point out here that the sawdust and the plank are made of the same thing: wood. So often when we criticize others, we have the same problems in ourselves, only in larger measure. “Quit judging me! You are so judgmental!” “You know that Sally girl? Ooh, she’s such a gossip! I can’t stand gossip.”
Jesus pushes us to Step 4. Stop pretending. Take the log out of your own eye first. Deal with your own issues first. Face up to your own sin and bad attitudes first. Before we do this, we have no right to say anything about whether someone else is right or wrong. Our vision is impaired. We are blind. We can’t see clearly about what is right and wrong in others until we sort out what is right and wrong in us. One pastor I listened to this week said, “Look at yourself first. You may not like what you see!”
The point here is humility and honesty. We are only ready to help others when we are being honest with ourselves about our own sinfulness and weakness. Only from a point of humility, can we move on to Step 5: helping someone deal with a problem in her life.
There is a key point here that is often overlooked. Step 5 is helping someone deal with a problem. Step 5 is not talking to person A about person B’s problem. Step 5 is not throwing out an insulting criticism. Step 5 is not cutting off a friendship. Step 5 is going to someone humbly and having an open, caring conversation – with the goal of helping that person. If you are talking to someone about a problem someone else has, there is a very good chance that you are in the wrong. If you’re so concerned about the other person, do Step 4 (check your own heart) and then do Step 5 (talk directly with the other person).
Now it’s time to get specific. How are we likely to judge others? This is the point in the sermon when you are likely to get mad at me. In fact, there is a very good chance that I will be mad at me when I’m done with this.
How are we likely to judge others? How are we likely to condemn others and to be ungracious to others? Here are some of the most common ways.
1. We tend to judge others wrongly when they judge us. As soon as someone starts criticizing us, we get on the defensive. We defend by counter-attacking. We immediately notice 100 things that are wrong about the other person: “How can he say that when he’s this and he’s that?!”
Arthur Boer wrote a book with a great title: Never Call Them Jerks. The way we respond to criticism says more about us than the actual complaint. If we join in the judging game, we’re just as wrong as they are.
2. We tend to judge others wrongly when they have a different perspective. We Westerners have a real problem with this in
We also run into a similar problem here in our church. Our church is a beautiful and painful mixture of people from many different perspectives. We have young and old, conservative and liberal, modern and post-modern. We are naturally going to disagree about a whole lot of things. That’s OK. But if we increase that disagreement to judgmentalism, we will destroy our community.
We have people here who think absolute truth is the most important thing ever, and we have people here who think absolute truth is a foolish and impossible ideal, and we have everything in between. We can get into a lot of trouble if we start judging each other on these issues. And this judging can go both ways. Sometimes the liberal folk can feel like the victims even while they judge “those narrow-minded, bigoted, fundamentalists.”
We have got to learn to live with each other and love each other. We can’t write people off or send them to hell in our minds because they disagree with us – even if the issue seems very important to us. We need to find the grace to embrace our diversity as God brings us together through Christ.
3. We tend to judge others wrongly when they lack something. She is out of fashion. He dresses too casually. Her personality is a little rough. He doesn’t have very good social skills. His mind doesn’t work quite as quickly or as logically as ours. She doesn’t have a very good job. We can look at what people lack and decide that they are worth less because of what they lack. We naturally tend to distance ourselves from these people. We don’t want to hang around them. We might even make jokes about them. This is wrong. This is judging.
We all have “issues” we haven’t dealt with. We are all lacking something. We need to embrace each other, and we especially need to work hard to embrace those who don’t seem to fit in. This is a core part of being a loving community.
4. We tend to judge others wrongly when they have debatable ethical positions. In our epistle lesson, Paul says we should accept each other “without passing judgment on disputable matters” (Romans 14:1). There are many disputable matters. In Paul’s time, one of the big issues was what kind of food was OK to eat. Over the last 50 years, some big issues have been what kind of clothes are OK, what kind of entertainment is OK, and what kind of drink is OK. These are debatable issues, and we should not condemn or judge others because they debate the issue differently from us.
Let me speak to another big issue: homosexuality. You might think this is not a “disputable matter.” Wake up! This is probably the most disputed and debated issue of our time! It is definitely “disputable” or “debatable.”
So what do our texts today say about this issue? A paraphrase from The Message might help us here: “It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, 'Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt?” So often, our disagreements about homosexuality turn into contempt and judgmentalism. We’ve got to stop this.
No matter what we believe about this issue, or other issues like this, we’ve got to love each other as people. I feel so sick when I see how many people are driven away from God because of the judgmental attitudes of Christians. Way too many Christians go out of their way to reject “the gay lifestyle” and gay people. If you know someone who is gay, you need to go out of your way to show them love. This is the way of Christ. Love your neighbor as yourself.
My prayer is that we will be a church where everyone is welcome and feels welcome –conservative or liberal, fundamentalist or post-modern, straight or gay. My prayer is that we will be a community that invites all people to be renewed by God’s love so that we will love God, ourselves and others. My prayer is that everything we do will draw people to God and God’s people, not push them away from God and God’s people.
When we start talking about homosexuality, or any other hot topic issue, we need to be humble. We need to remember that people smarter - and maybe even holier - than us have honest and heart-felt opinions that are different from ours. Whatever we believe, we just might be wrong. Whatever we believe, we can still kneel together before God who is our final Judge.
Let me wrap up here. “Do not judge” does not mean don’t think. It doesn’t mean don’t evaluate whether something is right or wrong or good or bad. It doesn’t mean don’t criticize anything at any time. Jesus does a lot of thinking and evaluating and criticizing in the right context.
“Do not judge” means that we judge issues critically, but we judge people mercifully and humbly. Remember the limitations of your knowledge. You don’t know everything there is to know, and you don’t know that person’s history or current circumstances. And remember that you are a sinner, too. You just might have a plank in your own eye. I just might have a plank in my own eye.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
God, have mercy on us all.
God, show mercy through us all.
 You can view the pictures at: http://www.thebricktestament.com/the_teachings_of_jesus/on_hypocrisy/mt07_03.html.