Friday, April 29, 2011

Living the Hospitality of God

    The big news this week is the wedding of England’s Prince William and Kate Middleton.  Some 2 billion people watched the wedding on live TV.  That’s nearly a third of the world!  One of the things that has caught my attention is the sheer number and variety of people involved in making this wedding happen.  People from every sort of career and genre are involved in this massive procedure.
    Just think about musicians as one example.  First, there’s the choir of Westminster Abby, which includes 20 boys, 12 adult singers, a choir director, and an organist.  Then, there’s the Chapel Royal Choir, 10 more boys and 6 more adults.  Next is the Fanfare Team from the Royal Air Force.  The reception will include traditional music from the Prince of Wales’s Official Harpist and a performance by Ellie Goulding, a British pop star.  Finally, after all the formal stuff was over, a celebrity DJ was expected to fill Buckingham Palace with the sounds of classic and modern rock, ranging from The Monkeys and Johnny B Goode to Bon Jovi and Queen, all the way up to Beyonce, Black Eyed Peas, and Lady GaGa.
   And that’s just the music.  Think about all the other people helping. ...

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Korea Tip 106: Subway Schedules

Public transportation is one of the best thing about living in Korea.  However, one of the most frustrating things about taking the subway is rushing to the station - only to wait 30 minutes for the next train.  I've learned a few tricks to deal with this problem.
1. Pick up the train schedule at the office of the stations you frequent.  (To ask for one, just say: 시간표 주세요 or shee-gan-pyo joo-seh-yo.)  The attendant will give you a little card with the train schedule.  Sometimes, it's just a computer generated table for the schedule of that particular station.  Sometimes, they'll give you a folding schedule of all the stations in your area.
In Cheonan, the schedule on the left is for north (or Seoul) bound trains.  The schedule on the right is for south (or Asan) bound trains.  The # on the far left is the hour of day.  Next are the minutes of each hour the trains come on weekdays.  The next number is the schedule for weekends and holidays.  Sometimes there are additional notes in parentheses after the number.  These usually indicate that particular train stops at an unusual station.

2. A lesson learned the hard way: The schedule changes slightly every month or two.  Make sure to pick up the new schedule every so often.

3. When you're traveling to a new place - say PyoungTaek - make sure you check the departure schedule when you arrive.  Then, you'll know what time you need to get back to the station without waiting around forever for the next train. 

4. When traveling south-bound from north of Cheonan, make sure to look for trains with (신) or (신창) marked after the time.  Or, sometimes these may be marked in red.  About half of the southbound trains stop in Cheonan - rather than going all the way out to the end of the line which is ShinChang.  If you want to get to the Ssang-Yong-KNU Station, you have to take the ShinChang train.  If your train stops at Cheonan station, and EVERYBODY gets off.  Your train is stopping in Cheonan.  Just get off and wait for the next train bound for ShinChang.

Happy riding.

Korea Tip 105: Anki - Free (Language) Flash Card Program

Anki is Japanese for memorize.  Originally developed in Japan, for learning the Japanese language, now Anki has evolved into a multiple use learning program.  It is basically an advanced flash card system. 
You input (or download) the flash cards.  Then, upon review, Anki shows you one side of the flash card.  You mentally or orally recall the answer.  Then, you grade yourself on how well you answered: (1) incorrect, (2) difficult, (3) good, (4) easy.  Anki records your answer and brings that card up again quickly or slowly based on your self-evaluation.  Cards which you have learned extremely well only return for review about once a year. 
I use Anki to study Korean 3-4 times a week.  I have a few thousand cards entered.  Because, I input both single words and complete sentences, Anki has helped me to build my vocabulary and grammar. 
One of the hardest parts of language learning is that the ocean is so vast.  However, if you practice your Anki cards regularly, you'll only get a bite-sized chunk of cards for review each day.  This really helps with the motivation factor.  I keep myself going by alternating between Anki and email. 
Anki is an internet based program, so it automatically syncs between computers and phones.  If you do 10 cards at the office, 20 cards, and home and 30 while on the bus, none of them will be repeats - unless you missed them.
I highly recommend Anki.  20-30 minutes a day will make a big difference in your language ability.  You can download Anki for free here.

Easter Stories of Resurrection

For Easter this year, we had five people tell their stories of how God has changed their lives.  Their stories were very personal and vulnerable, so I don't want to post them on the internet.  However, hearing all the stories was deeply moving for many of us.  After the last story, I gave this conclusion.

    Simon of Peraea was a slave of Herod the Great.  In the year 4 BC, he put on a crown and declared himself the Messiah king.  A large group of fighters joined him and burned down many of the royal buildings.  Herod’s soldiers killed most of the fighters, captured Simon, and cut off his head.  That was the end of his movement.
    Athronges was a shepherd.  In about 3 BC, he declared himself Messiah.  Together with his four brothers, he led a military revolt against Herod’s son Archelaus.  They had many military victories, but they slowly became more and more cruel.  First they killed for freedom.  Then, they killed for greed.  Finally, they killed for sport.  They were defeated, and that was the end of his movement.
    Judas of Galilee was called the Messiah.  Around 6 AD, he led a revolt because of the Roman census and higher taxes that would follow.  His revolt was brutally crushed by the Romans.  This guy is actually mentioned in the Bible, Gamaliel, one of the most famous Jewish teachers is quoted as saying, “He got people to follow him, but he was killed, too, and all his followers were scattered” (Acts 5:37).
    Theudas called himself a prophet and probably Messiah.  To prove his claims he told people to walk with him to the Jordan River, where he would split the waters just like Moses split the Red Sea.  He never made it to the Jordan River.  The Roman cavalry caught up to them, killed most of his followers, and brought Theudas’s head back to Jerusalem.  Gamaliel talked about him too, “About 400 others joined him, but he was killed, and all his followers went their various ways.  The whole movement came to nothing” (Acts 5:36). 
    Jerry Rabow wrote a book called 50 Jewish Messiahs: The Untold Life Stories of 50 Jewish Messiahs Since Jesus.  Many people have claimed to be the Jewish Messiah.  They made big promises.  They said amazing things.  They did or pretended to do miraculous things.  They gathered a group of loyal followers, people who will bleed and die for them.  They were in different places around the world and in different times throughout history. 
    But one thing unites them all.  When they died, their movement died.  When the Messiah figure died, everyone went home sad.  When the Messiah died, the movement died. 
    Except for Jesus.  When he died, his movement exploded, went viral, spread around the world.  Within 20 days after his death, there were 20,000 Jesus-followers in Jerusalem.  Within 20 years, there were Jesus-followers all around the Roman Empire - many who weren’t even Jewish.  2,000 years later, there are 2 billion Jesus-followers scattered among every nation on earth.
    What happened?  Why did the other messiahs disappear but Jesus didn’t?  Why did their movements fade and die but Jesus’ movement grew like crazy?  Why is Jesus - who died 2000 years ago - now the most followed, most loved, most well-known human being in history?  Two reasons.
    First, God raised Jesus from the dead.  Jesus came back to life.  Jesus really died.  Jesus was really raised.  When the other messiahs died, they were gone.  It was over.  Three days after Jesus died, he came back.  He appeared to some 500 different people.  He explained to them why he had to die, how the Bible prepared them for this moment, and how this all fits into God’s greater plan to redeem humanity.  Then, Jesus sent his followers on a mission to tell people everywhere how they can find forgiveness and new life through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  (See for example Luke 24.) 
    That leads us to the second reason, Jesus is different from all the other would-be-messiahs because he still gives life.  Jesus still moves people from death to life, from darkness to light.  Jesus changes people.  After Jesus was raised from the dead, he sent the Holy Spirit to his disciples, and the Holy Spirit filled them with a spiritual fire and passion that changed the world.  They went around telling people everywhere how they too could make a fresh start and have a new life.  And it worked!  People were changed!
    And it’s still happening.  Gina and Arnold and Susan and HyunSu and Amy are living proof that Jesus still changes people.  Jesus is alive, and he gives us new life.  This is Easter.  This is why we sing.  This is why we celebrate.  This is why Jesus is The Messiah. 
    Your pain, your suffering, your sin, your brokenness, your darkness, your depression, your addictions, your wounds, your dead places are not the end of the story.  They do not define you.  They will not end you. 
    Jesus is alive, and Jesus offers new life.  Put your trust in Jesus, the true Messiah, who has stood the test of time.  He lived a perfect life.  He died for our sins.  God raised him from the dead.  Through Jesus, God can raise us from death to new life.
    In a minute we’re going to pray.  I want to challenge you to make this prayer your prayer.  Ask God to give you new life.  Ask God to make this a day of change for you.  You are not stuck.  You are not fixed in your past.  You can become new.  Jesus can make you new.  Confess your brokenness.  Confess all those dead and destructive places in your life.  And ask God to forgive you and to give you new life.  This is your day of change.  Let’s pray.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Follow Me to Freedom - Review

When my friend Shannon showed me a book on leadership co-authored by Shane Claiborne, I knew I had to read it.  I was entranced with Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution, and leadership is one of my favorite subjects.  Follow Me to Freedom did not disappoint.  
Beautifully, this book is a conversation about both leadership and following.  Shane Claiborn and John Perkins (a 70+ year old, civil rights activist, who marched with MLK) joyfully banter back and forth on all kinds of issues related to leadership within the Kingdom - especially in the areas of community development.  The book is actually written in conversation form, with Shane and John sharing "speaking" time and going back and forth, feeding off each other.  It was beautiful to read their affirming words of each other - a young white radical learning from an old black activist; and an old black leader joyfully lifting up an upcoming white leader.
This book reminded me again of the crucial importance of community and relationship in the leadership process.  It reminded me of the importance of mentoring and being mentored.  It reminded me of the humility and joy inherent in healthy living and leadership.  It reminded me that we give our lives to God, not to a cause, and that we work in the cause as working for God - leaving the results up to him.
This book was not as earthshaking as Irresistible Revolution, but it is a good quiet reminder of many of the things we know about life and leadership but are so likely to forget or to ignore.  I recommend it.  The Josh rating: JJJJ.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bresee's Sermons from Matthew - Review

As part of an effort to reconnect with the founders of our tradition (in the Church of the Nazarene), I’ve started reading through some of the works of Phineas Bresee and John Wesley.  Phineas Bresee started the first church to bear the name “Church of the Nazarene” in the late 1800‘s, and he was a key mover in the mergers of 1906 and 1908 which pulled together the various “holiness” groups around North America into one unified body, which also took the name Church of the Nazarene.  (Actually the first name was “The Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene.”)
In the winter, we were preaching through the Sermon on the Mount, so I read Bresee’s Sermons from Matthew's Gospel, most of which is based in the Sermon on the Mount.  I mixed reading it as my devotions and reading it as sermon study, when the texts overlapped.  Here are a few things I learned by reading this book. 
About half of Bresee’s sermons were not expository, and might not pass the muster with some modern fundamentalists.  About half the time, he picked a small text (1-2 verses) and then went off on a topical tangent.  It was all good stuff - don’t get me wrong - but it wasn’t an exegesis of the text.
Bresee reminded me again that it is possible to blend social justice and the traditional evangelical emphasis of personal transformation through Christ.  I think I always knew this, but reading his sermons encouraged me to  keep making personal transformation an important part of my preaching.
Bresee might not be so popular in many churches today.  For someone who preached at the turn of the century, he was a surprising mixture of liberalism and conservatism.  On one hand, he was a prohibitionist.  On the other hand, he affirmed female preachers.  On one hand, he was firmly committed to the primacy of personal transformation, which empowers even the most unlearned with Spiritual Power.  On the other hand, he affirmed the need for the highest level of scholarship.  On one hand, he was firmly committed to the Church as an institution.  On the other hand, he was deeply critical of the common shape of the Church in his era and was deeply open to structural and stylistic changes.
Reading Bresee encouraged me to view sermon crafting as an art.  He employs beautiful images and well-shaped phrases.  He clearly invested great time and care into his sermons.

Although some of his words or points seem a bit out dated, I see much in Bresee that I want to emulate.  I hope to find more of his works to read.  The Josh rating, partly because of its own merit and partly because of its value to anyone in the Nazarene tradition: JJJJ.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Hunt for Red October - Review

This was my first Tom Clancy book, and I can see why he is so popular.  Usually action-suspense novels like this one build slowly until about half-way through the book, you can't bear to put it down.  I felt like that from the first page of this book.
In the first chapter, Clancy reveals that the captain of the USSR's latest, greatest nuclear submarine plans to defect to the USA.  Instantly, I was drawn into the social, political, military, scientific, personal drama of the story.  The Hunt for Red October is a compelling story as well as an inside look to international subsurface politics and a social commentary on communism (albeit from the outside). 
The bulk of the book is based on Captain Ramius' attempts to avoid the Russian Navy and make contact with the American Navy so that he and his officers can defect.  The Russians have orders to sink Ramius' sub.  The Americans are more than a little freaked out by all of the Russian naval activity off their east coast.  In between it all, there is a spy game going on as well.
I loved this book.  I'll definitely be reading more of Clancy.  Clancy is like John Grisham mixed with the military.  Also, I want to watch the movie.  Itunes here I come.  As for the Josh rating, Red October barely misses the 5 Js.  It doesn't have overwhelming moral punch, but it was an extremely entertaining read.  (If you're following along with my reviews, you might notice, I'm getting stingier with the 5Js rating.  I'm trying to reserve it for truly exceptional works.)  Overall: JJJJ.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Great Exchange - 1 Peter 4:1-14

    This week I’m going to do something I don’t usually do.  We’re going to walk through this passage slowly verse by verse.  It really builds on itself, so we’re just going to talk about it bit by bit.  Here’s verse 1:
So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin.
    Back to suffering again.  I’ve never preached so much on suffering in all my life, but this was an important topic for Peter and his people.  Peter uses a really interesting word here.  “Arm yourselves.”  This is a battle.  Life is a battle.  The Christian life is a participating in a great, global warfare.  “Arm yourselves.”  Prepare yourselves for the battle.  Don’t go into battle without a weapon. 
    But what is this weapon that is so important?  “Arm yourselves with the same attitude that [Jesus] had.”  Our weapon in this battle of life is the attitude of Christ.  Remember this is the same Christ who “suffered for our sins once for all time.  He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring [us] safely home to God” (1 Peter 3:18).  This is a battle, and get ready to fight, but here is your weapon: innocent, suffering, love. 
    And once you suffer with Christ, that changes things.  It seem that the more we suffer for Christ, the stronger we grow at resisting sin. 

Then: 2 You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires ...

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Kings Speech - Review

Sarah and I finally made it out to watch a movie in a movie theater.  (It's hard to do organize such a long date with baby sitters.)  And we were not disappointed with King's Speech.  It deserved every Oscar it won. 
The lead character is the soon to be King George.  He struggles with terrible stuttering, especially when speaking in public.  Naturally, this is a huge problem for a would-be king of the United Kingdom.  If you've watched any of the trailers, you already know this, and you know that he overcomes his stuttering enough to rule effectively.
Here are a few things I loved about this movie, which you might not already know.
1. The king's speech difficulties stemmed from childhood wounds.  Learning to speak well required going back into his own past to find healing for long forgotten scars.  The king learns that he has to put down his mask - at least with Lionel - if he is every going to find healing.
2. Lionel, the speech therapist, is a classic example of someone living honestly, avoiding all pretensions, following his passions, maintaining his courage in the face of difficulty, and making a difference in the world by helping others.  I absolutely loved his character!  I also loved that he demanded authenticity from others - and got it.
3. Queen Elizabeth (surprisingly the same lady from Knight's Tale, a few years older!) shows unwavering support for the king.  She supports him when he rejects ridiculous methods of healing and relentlessly pursues an effective speech therapist.
4. And of course, I love that someone overcame his difficulties to become the person he is supposed to be.  (And more than one character does that - or doesn't do that - in this story!)

This movie gets a joyful JJJJJ.

Monday, April 4, 2011

KNB Interview

Korea Nazarene Broadcasting recently interviewed me and Park MoonShik, the director of Cheonan Migrant Shelter, which our church sponsors.  You can watch the interview here (which has a Korean voice-over), but you'll probably have to have Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player to view the link. 

Heidi - Review

Emma and I just finished reading Johanna Spyri's classic Heidi.  Heidi is a little joyous girl who finds herself in daunting circumstances and yet still gives life and hope to all around her.  The story is set on the Swiss Alps (and a little in Frankfurt).
Heidi's parents both died in quick succession.  Her maternal aunt unceremoniously dumps Heidi at the doorstep of her gruff paternal grandfather.  Heidi seems to be the picture of perfect childhood innocence and wonder.  She engages life with amazing joy and resiliency.  One of the most beautiful parts of this story is how Heidi's joy is a healing force in the lives of those around her. 
First, Heidi softens the hard shell and bitter heart of her grandfather.  After losing his wife and daughter and experiencing some untold rejections, he turned inward retreating to his hut on the mountain and shunning the company of others.  But with Heidi's advent, he begins to have hope again - partially because he experiences the joys of loving and being loved again.
Second, Heidi is "hired out" as a playmate for Klara, a rich handicapped girl in Frankfurt.  Heidi is altogether too unsophisticated for the liking of the housekeeper and nanny, but her joyful innocence wins the day and adds life to the dreary household.  Eventually, when Klara returns with Heidi to the Alps for a visit, the mountain environment and hopeful air actually works a healing miracle in Klara as well.
Third, mixed into this story is a healing that Heidi's friendship works on her doctor.  He has recently lost his wife and daughter and has a great weight of sadness always about him.  However, his time with Heidi, her unfiltered affection for him, friendship with Heidi's grandfather, and time in the beauty of the Alps work healing in the good doctor's soul.  He eventually retires from Frankfurt to live near Heidi and her grandfather and the Alps. 
At times the story is overly simplistic, and at other times the language is archaic or stiff.  However, the overall story is heart-touching.  Heidi is a beautiful story of the power of simple love and appreciation of the wonder of life.  Emma loved it (once she got into it), and I really enjoyed reading it to her. 
The Josh rating: JJJJ.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Ghosts, Zombies, Hell, and Jesus - 1 Peter 3:13-22

    Today is survey day.  I have three questions, and I want you to vote your opinion on each of these three questions.  You can vote: yes, no, or I don’t know.
    First question: Do you believe in ghosts?  Do you believe there can be contact between the dead and the living?  I want you to actually raise your hands.  It’s OK.  Nobody’s going to judge you one way or the other. 
    Everybody who believes that there are ghosts and/or contact between the dead and the living, raise your hand. 
    If you don’t believe in ghosts or any contact between the dead and the living, raise your hand.
    If you don’t know, raise your hand.
    OK, let’s go to our Old Testament Lesson: 1 Samuel 28:3-18.
 3 Meanwhile, Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him. He was buried in Ramah, his hometown. And Saul had banned from the land of Israel all mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead.
 4 The Philistines set up their camp at Shunem, and Saul gathered all the army of Israel and camped at Gilboa. 5 When Saul saw the vast Philistine army, he became frantic with fear. 6 He asked the Lord what he should do, but the Lord refused to answer him, either by dreams or by sacred lots or by the prophets. 7 Saul then said to his advisers, “Find a woman who is a medium, so I can go and ask her what to do.”
   His advisers replied, “There is a medium at Endor.”
 8 So Saul disguised himself by wearing ordinary clothing instead of his royal robes. Then he went to the woman’s home at night, accompanied by two of his men.
   “I have to talk to a man who has died,” he said. “Will you call up his spirit for me?” 

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