Monday, December 31, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea # 25: Mild Summers

Unlike the 3 month long scorchers in the US midwest, Korea approaches the high heats of summer more gently.  Korea's season tend to change slowly.
We kind of warm up to summer, and then it's moderately hot for a while.  Then the summer rains come and cool things down.  Then, it's the normal ridiculously hot summer weather that makes you sweat your whole shirt out just walking down the street.  But the good part is that this crazy hot time, doesn't actually last very long.  It's only about a month.  Then, Korea returns to just moderately hot, and then, before you know it we're back to the beautiful just-right weather of fall.
(Because of this gentle slope upward to the uncomfortable summer highs, many Koreans simply opt out of home air conditioning. They figure that they can just tough it out for a month or so.)
Summer is hot, but not too hot - at least most of the time.  I love this about Korea.  

Sunday, December 30, 2012

By Gracious Powers: A Poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
And confidently waiting come what may,
We know that God is with us night and morning,
And never fails to greet us each new day.

Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
Still evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
Oh, give our frightened souls the sure salvation,
For which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare.

And when this cup you give is filled to brimming
With bitter suffering, hard to understand,
We take it thankfully and without trembling
Out of so good and so beloved a hand.

Yet when again in this same world you give us
The joy we had, the brightness of your sun,
We shall remember all the days we lived through
And our whole life shall then be yours alone.

By gracious powers so faithfully protected,
So quietly, so wonderfully near,
I'll live each day in hope, with you beside me,
And go with you through every coming year.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Letters and Papers from Prison."

100 Things I Love About Korea # 24: Bath Houses

Last night, our family went to the local bathhouse (aka sauna) and soaked in hot-tubs and generally relaxed.  Korean bath houses usually have a variety of tubs.  There are different temperatures (from almost ice to scalding) and different flavors.  I've seen green tea baths, a plethora of herbal baths, wooden edged, and even a soju bath, which is the most popular Korean alcohol.  There are also often a variety of saunas or hot rooms - wet, dry, and Sahara desert- melt your face off - hot.
Some of the nicer bathhouses even have out door hot-tubs.  One of my favorite Korean memories is of sitting with Michael Palmer in the outdoor hot-tub at Paradise Spa with thick snow flakes falling on our heads and feet.
For the small price of about four dollars, you can pamper yourself and ease your tensions for a few hours.  We all love it, but John David's favorite part is always the movable shower head without any limitations about getting water all over the place.
Oh, and by the way, everyone's naked - men and women in totally separate rooms.  

Fragrant Offerings (Philippians 4:10-20)

This is a guest post by + Ron Knickerbocker, who preached in our church this past Sunday.  But skip past his self-efacing intro.  It's golden.
I apologize this morning if the exegesis is not up to Josh’s standards, but it was a pretty busy week with Christmas and finalizing my grades. I was going to apologize for the short length of this sermon – but, who am I kidding, “you’re welcome.”
Now, let’s look at Philippians, Chapter 4, verses 10-20
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
20 To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
When Josh asked me to preach, he told me the verses for today were 4:14-23.  When I looked at that, I thought to myself, “Wow, I’ve got nothing.”  (I wish I could preach on verses 10-13, but you’ve probably all heard that sermon before.) So, I kept reading those verses over and over, and I kept getting stuck on vs. 18 – “a fragrant offering.” 
A fragrant offering. In the Old Testament, this is the language of temple sacrifice. (For example, we can look at Exodus 29.)
Exodus 29:15-18, 23-25
15 “Take one of the rams, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on its head. 16 Slaughter it and take the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar. 17 Cut the ram into pieces and wash the internal organs and the legs, putting them with the head and the other pieces. 18 Then burn the entire ram on the altar. It is a burnt offering to the Lord, a pleasing aroma, a food offering presented to the Lord.
23 From the basket of bread made without yeast, which is before the Lord, take one round loaf, one thick loaf with olive oil mixed in, and one thin loaf. 24 Put all these in the hands of Aaron and his sons and have them wave them before the Lord as a wave offering. 25 Then take them from their hands and burn them on the altar along with the burnt offering for a pleasing aroma to the Lord, a food offering presented to the Lord.
 The Israelites were to bring animal and grain offerings to the Lord and the priests would burn them on the altar and they would make “a pleasing aroma” to the Lord.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea - #23: People: Kim IlHyang

Dear Friends at KNU International English Church,
I am so sorry that I couldn't fully commit the things I had to do.  I am in Seoul now.  As you know, I am pursing being a lawyer.   Unfortunately, I didn't get admission to law school.  So I had to go to plan B.  I'm working with my friend, helping her in her business.  This will help me to be fully independent of my family and acomplish my dream.  That's why I had to leave town all of the sudden.  I am working and studying now.
Meeting you guys in Cheonan was a total blessing for me. Just like you who are leaving for your country, my time at KNU was a precious journey to help me learn to live like Christ.  I belive you can expect blessings in your new ways too because God always leads us.
Merry Christmas and happy New Year.
- Il-Hyang

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Because of the Prince of Peace - Philippians 4:1-9

"Prince of Peace" by Wendie Thompson
One of the most famous texts about Jesus’ birth is Isaiah 9, where it says, “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us,” and then it goes on to list all of these amazing names, but one of these names for Jesus is “Prince of Peace.”  Something about that name has stuck in the memory of Christians.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  
This little baby, born in a shed for farm animals, was born as a royal peace giver.  This little baby - so innocent, so vulnerable, so fragile - is yet the Ruler of that Peace for which we desperately long.  Somehow, even though we struggle to believe it, this little baby is the answer to all our questions.  Jesus, Prince of Peace.

Now, hold that in mind, as we listen Stacy Keene tell her true story about how a coming baby impacted her world.  (Click here to listen.  You can skip to 1:00 and stop at 6:00.  Or you can read the text below)

So my first true love was my Grandpapa, and he really set the precedent for every other man I ever considered loving.  He was clever but modest, and brave but quiet.  So when I was an adult, and I found out the great news that I was pregnant with my first child, the first person I wanted to tell was my Grandpapa.
Except that he had just found out a week before that he had four weeks to live.  

Friday, December 21, 2012

Lenard Cohen's "Hallelujuh" Remixed

Check out this incredible remix of Lenard Cohen's classic song, "Hallelujah."  Kelley Mooney has rewritten the lyrics to correspond with the story of Jesus' death and resurrection.

100 Things I Love About Korea - #22: People: Wayne Arrellano

   How do you share what God is doing your life in just one page? It's quite hard. So rather than sharing what is happening now, I'd rather share the lesson I am continually learning.
   Unlike many of my friends and colleagues, I didn't grow up in the church, and although I had two parents, only one was biological but both were real. I knew nothing of God and in many ways I didn't know much about happiness. I'm half Filipino and half American. I lived in the Philippines until I was 7, at which point I moved to California and learned how to speak English. I mention this only to say that I never really felt accepted anywhere and so I never felt at peace. 
   I  eventually grew up to be a California Kid but it wasn't until I moved to the hills of West Virginia, when a very cute girl in my class asked me to go to her youth group did I ever step foot inside a church willingly.  From that moment on, life changed. I was sixteen years old.
   Among many things, what changed in me was this. (Cheesy, I know) I felt like I found a home in God's heart and in mine there was peace. This peace has become my most closest companion. 
   I had peace when I started living alone and had to pay rent when I was only a sophomore in high school. I didn't know enough about doubting God to be afraid or to be worried. God's peace was ever present in my life.
   When it was time to choose which university to attend...the inexpensive state schools or the very expensive private Christian schools and then finding a way to pay the costs, I had peace.
   When time came to decide what kind of future I wanted. And when the time came to decide if I wanted to answer a call from God to work with the youth in some form. I knew my answer when my heart felt that certain yet mysterious peace that can only be explained as God's. I like to say when I can sleep at night about a decision I've just made, then I know that is the right decision for me.
   And when time came to decide to come to Korea, and then remain in Korea, that's right. The same peace was there. (Actually, a funny story about I was praying about what is up next, Pastor Josh asked to meet with me and so we went to the gym together to work out. During the workout, we made small talk but mainly we just focused on lifting weights and running on the treadmill. Afterwards, in the community shower, he shared the the reasons why I should stay in Korea. It was then I felt the peace I was so certain of...strangest place to find.
   Everyday I wake up knowing that I am right where I need to be. Despite the current circumstances surrounding my work, I know that KNU is where I belong right now. How do I know. In my heart, there is peace and a certainty that God is with me.
   And that my home and acceptance belong in God's heart and among God's people.  So, let me leave you with the Scripture I live by.  Philippians 4:6-7:
6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
And Luke 12:25:
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life (and there is a footnote that reads "or an inch to his height"). If I could do that, I would be a giant. 
God bless.
Thanks +Wynn Arellano!

Monday, December 17, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea - #21 - People: Bruce Kim

Goodbye's are a regular part of our church.  To help us say goodbye well, I've been posting people's goodbye letters here.  This time, Bruce turned the tradition around and said goodbye to my family, but along the way he tells a lot of his own story too.  Enjoy.  

   I hate goodbyes. 
   I'd rather not get to know someone new than say goodbye. That's not the best quality in someone who decides to live abroad. When you leave your home country, you meet new people and they become as close as family members here on this life raft of expatriates. Then you or they go home and you never see them again except for facebook updates. When I meet someone new I usually ask how long they expect to live in Korea as if I'm anticipating their departure. I should stop doing that. I should meet a new person thinking he or she could potentially become a lifelong friend and not someone to say hi to and forget. It's certainly not the best quality in a Christian.
   My wife and I moved to Korea in 1997. That's before the Clinton impeachment, before 9/11, right before the Columbine shootings. The internet was embryonic. We've been attending this church since 1999 when we moved to Ssangyong-dong. My mom worked in the same Cleveland school as Pam, Bill and Gail Patch's daughter, and they recommended we visit if we wanted to see an English worship service. Back then, it was mainly the Mitchell family and a couple teachers. 

   We've seen hundreds of new faces come and go since then. It's impossible to remember them all. We've seen weddings, babies being born and people eulogized. It's so much more fun counting the babies. We tried to remember all the births of members since we started attending and we stopped at 21. We're in the middle of another baby boom. Soon that'll be closer to 30.
   When the Browards arrived in 2004, I liked them immediately. There was something infectious about their smiles, especially Emma's. In one of his earliest sermons in the old sanctuary, Josh mentioned his admiration for Daunte Culpepper, a pro football player known for explosive bursts of speed. Watching Josh re-enact his excitement complete with arms waving and jumping behind the podium, I remember thinking, 'I like this guy.' His energy was impressive, but then I realized that was just one facet of his devotion and commitment to the church and community. 

   Previous pastors for KNU International English Church haven't always agreed on the inclusion of non-English speakers in the service. Josh seemed to embrace the diversity here, and that's something I came to admire and greatly appreciate. Older members remember when the entire congregation would clear out during summer and winter vacations leaving the service feeling skeletal. 
   Now membership is consistent year round and the body of the church has filled out like a growing baby. That's healthy for a church spiritually, emotionally and financially to stand on its own. Josh and the leadership teams deserve credit for making sure this church became a home and didn't remain a supplementary service.
   I once read an article about how expatriates collect friends in a similar way to prehistoric people gathering new members into a tribe. I'll miss the Browards immensely. It was nice knowing they were here these past 8 years, going out for dinner together, playing cards, just being in each other's company even knowing this day would come when we would have to say goodbye. It was nice watching the kids grow up. It was nice going through childbirth with them. Josh set a good example for me as a father, friend and spiritual leader. I know he will do a great job in his new church assignment. I'm not sure how close I'll allow myself to get to know the new pastor's family. But if they're anything like the Browards it'll be hard not to love them.

100 Things I Love About Korea - #20 - People: Shannon Smith

This month our church members are sharing testimonies during the worship service.  This is Shannon's testimony from two weeks ago.

Anyone who knows me well will know that I am not a person who likes change. I came to Korea 4 1/2 years ago with the intention to stay here one year and go back to the U.S. I didn't want to come to Korea, but after living here a few months, I made many friends, learned to love Korean food, as well as love Korea's people and culture. As I said though, I hate change and I have experienced a lot of change while living here. Since moving to Korea, I have worked at 5 different schools, lived in 5 different apartments, and said goodbye to so many friends. It hasn't been easy for me. Part of the reason is because when I care about people, I care about them deeply, so it’s hard for me to let them go. It’s good because it means I genuinely love others, but it’s bad because it means I am often easily hurt. 
For most of my life, my self-worth and acceptance have come from what other people think about me. I am a people-pleaser. I often feel like I can't say "no" to people, because I worry about whether they will still love me or care about me. And even though I have been a Christian for almost 20 years, my relationship with God was the same. I never felt good enough or worthy enough for God to love me. No matter how many times I asked God to forgive me, I never felt like I was really forgiven. I believed God could heal and forgive everyone, except me. I walked around with so much guilt, shame, brokenness, and negativity. I felt so lonely, even though I was rarely alone. 
Most people didn't know this though, because I was too afraid to share it with others. I cried almost every day for months and it was even hard for me to pray. I just felt so heavy and burdened by all of it. I wanted to fix it, but there was nothing I could do. Throughout this whole time of struggle, I was so focused on what "I" should do, that I never really surrendered it all to God. I was never really honest with God about all of my angry and hurt feelings. Just like my fear of telling people about my struggles, I was even afraid to tell God. It wasn't until I simply said, "God, I need you. I need you. I need you", over and over through my tears that I began to really experience God's love and grace in my life. There never would have been anything I could have done to heal my brokenness and pain. I needed God to heal me. I needed God to reassure me that no matter what my past looks like, He still loves me and forgives it all. I needed God to give me peace where there was so much despair. And I needed God to give me hope that no matter what my future holds, He is with me and will never leave me alone. 

100 Things I Love About Korea - #19: People: Dianna Kriegh

This month our church members are sharing testimonies during the worship service.  This is Dianna's testimony from last week.

I came to Korea with a specific plan. I was going to stay one year, improve my Korean language skills while teaching, and then leave for a graduate degree in East Asian history. Soon after the 12-month mark arrived for me, I was telling people that I felt like God was laughing at me—good-naturedly of course—because everything I had said about where my life was going to be that fall was wrong. By that time I was living in Cheonan and teaching at the school where I still am today.
I knew before I ever arrived that God’s hand was guiding me in this and that he had plans beyond my own, and yet I’ve still found it extremely difficult to surrender my future to his keeping. Every fall I have once again pulled out my old grad school applications, reconsidered my goals, and begun the arduous mountain of paperwork necessary for entrance into highly competitive programs and the scholarships that would make them possible. Yet, every spring I have found that it’s not time to leave and as you can see I’m most definitely still here.
This fall the application process seemed more important than it ever has before. The Fulbright program, which brought me here to teach, is technically a graduate fellowship and a multi-national government grant, and it allows participants a maximum of three years in the program. At the same time that I was sure I had no choice but to leave I felt God calling me to become more involved and to invest more of myself in my students and my life here. As I was spending spare moments in the teachers’ office trying to write personal statements and essays for scholarships, I was also becoming involved with the students’ lunch-time bible study, being asked for advice and guidance, and connecting with parents who only see their sons on rare school holidays.
In the middle of all this I began to get angry with God. I felt like he was telling me to stay when both he and I knew that was impossible—even if I could stay in Korea with another teaching program I couldn’t stay at my school because it is and has been a Fulbright school for many years. As a result of this stress, by the middle of September my normal struggle with hormonal insomnia had turned into a continuous cycle of so little sleep that I watched my health deteriorate and everything in my life come to a standstill; nothing was getting done. 
On the last Thursday in September I had a meeting with Josh. I desperately needed an outside perspective on my problems, and I got it. I walked away from that meeting with advice that I was determined not to follow—the suggestion to just talk to my school about staying without Fulbright and see what they said. I of course knew that Josh had no idea how impossible his suggestion really was because it was Fulbright and not my school that would stop something like that from happening.
Less than 24 hours later a completely disconnected conversation with our school’s head English teacher led to a request that I stay past my Fulbright contract. By the following Monday, I was officially asked to sign a contract for three more years at my school pending Fulbright’s approval and promise that at the end of that time our school could return to the program. Throughout October things with my school continued to progress as we considered appropriate ways to approach Fulbright with our request and began filling out paperwork and tracking down documents for the change of my visa status that would necessarily come with the change in my contract.
I continued to have so many doubts and to worry about what would happen, but finally on the day after Thanksgiving I had a meeting with the director of Fulbright Korea. In the hour long conversation I had with her she not only agreed to allow my school to temporarily leave the program with the promise that they could return when I leave, but also she offered to help me obtain the Korean government scholarship for graduate school in Korea three years from now. Objectively speaking, there are still many things that could happen between now and July that could cause all of these plans to fall through, but I have faith that as God started this he will also complete it. I think I have finally reached the point where I can stop making my own plans, because I’ve learned to really trust that God’s are better.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How Dangerous Is Bangladesh? (Talk Back Series)

Talk Back Question:  I wonder how dangerous it might be to live or stay in Bangladesh?
[This question can in on a Talk Back card at our church.]

Well, visiting Bangladesh is pretty safe (or we wouldn’t be doing it).  However, we have to take some precautions.  For example, our teams are limited in size - so as not to attract too much attention - and we are careful to stay in safe places. Bangladesh is not a radical country.  There are almost no terrorists and few fundamentalists.  Overall, most of the dangers come from its poverty not from its religious situation. However, it sounds like your question is more related to a long-term stay.  Actually a few people from our church have contemplated a stay of 3-6 months in Bangladesh.  Our partners in Bangladesh said they would welcome longer term volunteers (as long as the visa can be obtained).  They could stay in Dhaka and volunteer at the national ministry center, or they could stay in Birganj (the town closest to the Village of Hope).   The main things for safety are not traveling at night and avoiding spending the night in isolated places.  Otherwise, it should be safe for a long-term stay.

Monday, December 3, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea - #18: Green Growth

Korea was one of the first nations to make environmentally friendly economic development one of its key governmental philosophies.  This is a bit surprising in that (a) Korea has just recently emerged from developing nation status, (b) Korea has a history of being an environmental abuser, and (c) the initiative for the green growth project came from the right-wing conservative president Lee Min-Bak.
At a time, when other countries were cutting back on their environmental regulations to make room for easier economic growth, South Korea bucked the trends and doubled down on environmental sustainability.   80% of Korea's economic development package went toward companies promoting what they have dubbed "green growth."  They are investing heavily in research and infrastructure that will make the whole nation more efficient.
One of the benefits of being a mid-sized nation with a history of autocracy is that nationalized policies are easier to implement.  South Korea's style of environmental regulations and benefits would be nearly impossible to duplicate in the fractured federalism of the USA.  However, every nation should take their cues from Korea's basic philosophy of investing in environmentally friendly business and in the up-and-coming industry of environmentalism (alternative energy, recycling, etc).  It's not only good for the globe.  It's also good business!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea - #17: Coffee Shops

There is a coffee shop on every corner, sometimes two, literally.  Coffee has to be the single fastest growing consumer good in Korea.  The boom of coffee shops is a well recognized trend.
There is a new coffee shop in our neighborhood almost every month.  First the coffee shops replaced the bars, but now they are taking over the clothing stores and regular restaurants.  Many of the shops have their own mini-roasteries, as well as unique menu items like homemade baked goods or sandwiches.
Not that I'm complaining.  I love coffee, and I love variety, and I love supporting mom-and-pop stores. All of this makes Korea surprisingly utopia-esque for coffee aficionados.  They're ubiquitous.*  

* In case you're not a native speaker in Korea, this word usage is tongue-in-cheek.  Ubiquitous (a rare word in English) is a very commonly used word in Korean's public signage, in which companies or programs say how wonderful they are.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wise Love - Philippians 1:1-11

The church in Philippi began quietly, turned into a roller coaster, and then proceeded into a slow plod of active waiting.  Paul and his missionary team arrived in Philippi and just kind of hung out for a few days.  On the Sabbath, they went to the river bank - a common place of prayer for Jews when the city didn’t have synagogues.  
That’s when the action started to pick up.  A rich business woman, named Lydia became a Christian right there on the spot.  They baptized her right there right then in that river.  Then, being a woman used to getting her way, she insisted that they come and stay in her home.  
Things went on fairly normally for a while.  It seems that Paul continued his normal missionary pattern of preaching at gatherings of Jews and interested gentiles.  But then Paul cast a demon out of a slave girl who told fortunes.  Without her demonic connection to the spirit world, the slave girl lost her fortune telling powers.  Her owners were furious, so they stirred up a riot and got Paul and Silas arrested.  
Then, God rocked the jailhouse with an earthquake and set Paul and Silas free.  Except they didn’t leave.  They stayed to convert the jailer and his whole household.  But the next day, the city officials begged them to leave so they’d stop causing trouble.  After a mob riot, a beating with rods, and a night in jail, Paul and Silas understandably decided it was time to move on to another city.
But that left a group of brand new Christians in Philippi.  They came from all walks of life.  There was Lydia, the elite fashionista ... the unnamed slave girl ... and the jailer who was so limited in job options that he worked in a dungeon babysitting criminals.  This motley crew of baby Christians not only survives but thrives.  

Friday, November 30, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea - #16: Funky Seafood

I'm honestly not big on seafood.  But Korea has expanded my seafood tastes 1,000 fold.  I'll now try just about anything.  
A meal like this - with a whole octopus intentionally displayed as the eye-catching feature piece - is very common.  Once at a meeting of Cheonan pastors, we had a spicy seafood soup with just about everything that lives in the ocean: all sorts of shell fish, shrimp, crab, actual fish pieces, fish innards (including intestines and ovaries full of eggs), and all sorts of other sea creatures that don't fit into easy categories.  
One of Korea's prime delicacies that I haven't tried yet is Saeng Nakji - or fresh octopus.  It's so fresh that they bring it to your table fresh out of the tank.  Then, they chop it up, and everyone digs in.  The tentacles will wrap around your chopstick (even after the chopping), and you have to eat it quickly or the suckers will get stuck in your throat.  Apparently, every year a few people die from this.  I actually want to try it before I leave.  How could you not?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Do We Ever Get Forgiveness, Or Are We Always Sinners? (Talk Back Series)

Talk Back Question:  You said we are sinners looking for God's forgiveness.  Do we ever get forgiveness, or are we always to see ourselves as sinners?

[This question can in on a Talk Back card at our church. Answered by Shannon Smith and Josh Broward.]

I believe we get forgiveness, but we are always sinners. Martin Luther said we are “simultaneously saint and sinner.” We have been forgiven, but we are sinners who have been saved by the grace of God. “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23). 
Yet at the same time, ”He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).  We are forgiven when we confess our sins to God and ask Him to forgive us and cleanse us.  But we still remain sinners.  
We don’t have to worry or think about whether or not we are truly forgiven. It’s easy to doubt, especially because we all know how much we have personally sinned.  But we serve a God we can trust to purify us from sin and wholeheartedly forgive us. 
And while we have this faith in a God who saves us by His mercy and grace, we are still faced with the temptation to sin daily.  Even though we are made new in Christ, we still have the capability to sin.  This is why confession and prayer are good spiritual disciplines to practice regularly. “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9).
The real issue here is a balance between humility (recognizing that we are broken, wounded, sinful people) and confidence (trusting in God’s love and mercy).  We are also balancing contentment (resting in God’s forgiveness) and progress (pushing on toward more holiness and Christ-like-ness).   These aren’t always easy to balance, but that’s pretty much like most things in life.

100 Things I Love About Korea - #15: Reciprocity

This was hard to get used to at first, but I'm starting to see the beauty of Korea's culture of extreme reciprocity.  There is something helpful and community building about a cultural norm of mutual support.
At every wedding and funeral, the friends and acquaintances are usually expected to give between $50 and $100 - more if you're family.  And it's always, always cash - no shopping necessary.  We saw this boomerang in our favor at John David's first birthday party.  After being a recipient of generous gifts, I'm now much more inclined to be generous as well.
If someone helps you out, a little thank you gift is the polite response.  I recently received a set of handkerchiefs for attending a funeral in a city about an hour away.
If you go to someone's house, even for a few minutes, you never go empty handed.  People usually stop at the store to pick up some fruit or baked goods.  Sure it's a cultural obligation of sorts, but it also kind of warms the heart.
Often, especially when I'm dealing with issues inside the complex political network of KNU, I am very aware of the culture of reciprocity.  A favor paid now will "earn points" for a favor needed later.  Although there is always the danger (or the reality) of mixed motives, there also seems to be the practical result of making most people a little more generous and pliable (at least if your "account" is on the positive side).
Slowly in my eight years here, I have stopped fighting this culture of reciprocity, and I'm still learning to embrace it - albeit with my own Western twist.  It's different, but it works.

Monday, November 26, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea: #14 - Korea Nazarene Univeristy

(Today in the Korea Nazarene University faculty chapel, I am giving this short farewell address.  I hope to do the first few paragraphs in Korean and then switch to English with the translation on the screen behind me.  KNU is one of the things I love most about Korea.) 

Our family moved to Korea 8 years ago in 2004.  However, in a few months, our family will be moving back to the USA.  As I say goodbye, I would like to share 8 thanksgivings from our time here and 8 prayer requests for the future of KNU.

First, I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn Korean.  However, my biggest regret for my time in Korea is that I did not learn more Korean.  
So my first prayer request is that KNU will become more effective in helping our international faculty and students learn Korean.  (However, because I didn’t study enough, I have to change to English now!)
Second, I’m thankful that KNU welcomed my wife, Sarah, as your first international exchange student in 1999.  
My second prayer request is that God will help KNU to see the great potential of KNU’s international students.  Your investment in them is an investment in God’s work around the world, but it’s also an investment in the future of KNU.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Goodbye Letter # 07 - Deborah Antle

Many of you don’t know me, but I arrived in Cheonan in November 2008 and taught at one of the high schools until January 2011.  I attended KNU International English Church during that time.  When I left Cheonan, I didn’t leave Korea.  I went to Gwangju (the little one in Gyeonggido, not the big one down south) and taught at another high school.  So, to me, I wasn’t really saying “goodbye” back then.  It’s time to say it now, though. In January, I’m going home to America and, as far as I know, I’m not coming back.

I’ve been attending a Korean church while living in Gwangju, but KNUIEC has remained, in my heart, my home church in Korea.  I wasn’t there at the beginning of the church, but I was there for many beginnings.  I was there when Josh quit working as a professor and became the church’s full-time pastor.  I was there when the youth group began.  I was there when the first babies of our "baby wave" were born into our church.  I was there when the church voted to start the long-term partnership in Bangladesh.  I was there when Shannon and Adam were voted in as our first Youth Pastors.  I’m grateful for the privilege of being part of you, and I’m SO proud of you!

My life is richer and wiser for having been a part of you.  I remember when, one Pentecost Sunday, we had about 10 or 11 people read Scripture in different languages, and something like 9 of those people were reading in their native languages.  That was an extraordinary moment for me, realizing I was experiencing the “many nations, one family” concept of the Kingdom of God, and I didn’t have to wait to be on the other side of the grass to see it.

God’s sending me back to America now, but I’m going back better.  Korea and KNUIEC will remain a part of me, for the remainder of my life here, and I’m certain that influence will stretch into eternity.  I truly, deeply, and eternally love you.

Your sister in Christ,

Deborah Antle

Monday, November 19, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea: #13 - Spring

Spring is my favorite season, and spring in Korea is breathtaking.  From weeds to shrubs to trees, flowers are everywhere.  Spring in Korea looks like God lined up every color of paint in the world and then closed his eyes and just started throwing it all over the place.  Whole hillsides turn flaming pink with azaleas.  Streets are lined with white cherry blossoms.  Every meadow and every sidewalk are dotted with starbursts of color.  
Although these pictures from my friends Taylor Ford and Andy Phelps are beautiful, perhaps the best tribute I can pay to Korean spring is in this poem.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea: #12 - Fall

Korea has the most spectacular fall I've ever seen.  Not is our neighborhood chock full of dazzling yellows and blood red maples, but some trees even put out unique fall berries and buds.

This photo is by my friend Taylor Ford, and it shows the view from the sidewalk where I walk with John David 3-4 mornings a week.  Amazing.  Absolutely amazing.
Korean falls are long (a full three months), and they are awash with color.  The trees are luxuriously staggered so that they don't all shed their leaves at the same time.  Instead, the eyes have a steady feast of gently changing colors.  It keeps the apartment maintenance crews busy sweeping up all the leaves, but oh is it worth it!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Goodbye Letter #06: Nikki Muyskens

[This is part of a series in which departing members of our church write a letter to say goodbye to our church.  Nikki left in the summer of 2012, so this is coming a little late, but nonetheless, it's still good!]

Dear KNU International English Church,
I write to you from my home in Colorado (USA) now, on vacation before I go back to my new home in Daegu for the next year.  My stuff is no longer in Cheonan, but it still feels like a home to me.  It’s the place where I have lived and grown for the past two years, and it’s the place where you, my church family, still live.  It was a surreal experience last month to be packing up my things and saying goodbyes, because I couldn’t quite believe that chapter in my life was coming to a close, even though I was looking forward to my future plans as well.  I also find it a little strange to say a lot of emotional goodbyes, because I am not actually leaving in the same way as our friends moving to other countries.  Daegu is not that far away, and I plan to visit relatively often.  I am not severing connections here by any means--- rather, I hope they continue and grow--- but this chapter of my life, nevertheless, will look different.  I love how Michael Palmer uncovered the beauty of saying goodbyes in his blog ("The Beauty in Goodbye"), because it really is the transitions of life that make us appreciate the true significance and tremendous value of what we have, and God has richly blessed me.  “I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3).

I cry at beauty, at grace and thankfulness, at the significant, at the inexpressible--- at something that has left an impression on me in ways that I may not be fully aware.  That’s why words aren’t coming to me so easily right now, because this loving community has truly shaped me, encouraged me, strengthened me, and sharpened me in more ways than I am aware of, yet am deeply grateful for.  To all who are part of KNU International English Church, whether we knew each other well or not, thank you for creating this community, for welcoming me, and most of all, for seeking to love God with all your hearts.  I am blessed to be part of this loving community that changes our world.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea: #11 - "GangNam Style"

"GangNam Style" put K-Pop on the global map - or at the very least enlarged its presence to a household word.  As of this moment, "GangNam Style" has more than 700,000,000 Youtube views, and is on pace to overtake Justin Bieber's "Baby" within a few weeks for the most viewed Youtube video of all time.
What does GangNam Style teach us about Korea and our world?
1. We are living in a visual age.  Without a doubt, the video made the song (and the singer!).  Without the video, Psy, his song, GangNam, and - to a lesser extent - K-Pop would still be in global obscurity.
2. Social media changes global marketing.  Youtube made this possible.  The most often sited statistic relating to "GangNam Style" is is meteoric rise in total Youtube views.  Youtube is what spread its fame.  Psy simply launched his video for free viewing, and through shares, facebook likes, and tweets, it spread around the world like wildfire.  Also, the ability for people to upload interesting memes (copy-cat) from their own contexts magnified the impact of social media.  User participation added fuel to the GangNam flame.  I'm not sure this point can be underestimated.  Follow the train of events.  Earlier this year, Psy was almost completely unknown outside of Korea, and inside Korea he was a satirist, jokester, and oft censored musician.  Within a few months of releasing a new music video for free - charging absolutely nothing - he has become a global phenomena and has made hundreds of millions of dollars in global sales and local endorsements.
3. Humor is an effective tool for social critique.  "GangNam Style" is a genre breaking song.  Its humor and hilarity are the sweet chocolate coating the hard nut of social commentary.  Psy relentlessly mocks the super-rich, materialism, competition, luxury, and upward mobility.  The simple message of "GangNam Style" is actually very similar to the biblical book of Ecclesiastes: "Meaningless, meaningless, all of this is meaningless ... All of this crap you're working for is just cotton candy.  It's not real, and it won't satisfy you."  Psy doesn't offer an alternative goal, but disillusionment is the first step toward change.  But the humor is the real key for getting us to deal with that bitter nut.
4. Personal authenticity trumps the attempt for mass appeal.  K-Pop is awash with pretty-boy bands and skinny, sexy girl bands.  And despite their relentless efforts and huge spending to break into the music market beyond Asia, K-Pop has consistently failed to make significant inroads in Western cultures.  Until "GangNam Style" and this middle-aged, pudgy outsider musician threw caution to the wind and made an authentic, catchy song expressing one of his deep heart-felt concerns.  This is a message to everyone who strives to be "beautiful" and "popular."  Simply be yourself and letting your creativity flow from the depths of your heart, and that will result in the best possible message and product for our world.  We probably won't experience billions of youtube views, but we can still make a more meaningful contribution through authenticity than we can by trying to measure up to false standards of beauty and "coolness."
5. Success and change can come from any corner of the globe.  "GangNam Style" is proof that our world is increasingly "flat."  Unknowns can become global phenomena overnight.  Anyone can get their message out if it catches fire on the social media network.  The gates are down.  The curbs have crumbled.  The world is wide open to anyone with internet access ... and that will soon be everyone.

Monday, November 12, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea: #10 - Learning Korean

Korean is a fun language.  It is a mixture of complexity and simplicity, formality and hilarity.  Many Koreans will tell you that the Korean language is the greatest and most scientific language in the world.  They even have a national holiday celebrating HanGuel - the Korean alphabet, "invented" by King SeJeong the Great.
I don't really buy all of the nationalistic propaganda, but they are right about a few things.  The alphabet is surprisingly simple to learn.  With a few flash cards, you can memorize all the letters and their basic sounds within a week of mild study.  Also, in terms of pronunciation, Korean is mostly regular.  There aren't seven different ways to say one vowel, as there are in English.  There are a few special rules, but they are fairly easy to master.
I have to admit I'm not fluent - not even close.  But I can carry on a stumbling conversation for a good while.  And I haven't mastered the complexities of Korean grammar and levels of formality, but I'm getting there.
One of my biggest regrets about my time in Korea is that I didn't invest more time studying Korean in my first year or two.  I wish that I had done intensive programs in the winter (when I wasn't traveling or teaching) and serious weekly classes.  If I had done that, by now I'd be truly fluent.
About a year or two ago, I finally crossed the threshold for learning Korean.  I now have enough critical mass of vocabulary, grammar structure, and listening comprehension to have real conversations with people.  Now, I can learn Korean more easily simply by participating in what is going on around me.  If i had crossed this threshold years ago, my Korean would be light years beyond what it is now.
So for those of you who are still in Korea or are coming soon, let me recommend my favorite Korean teacher.  Her name is Choi JeongYoon (최정윤), and she is a graduate of Korea Nazarene University's speech therapy program.  Since then, she has earned a certificate in teaching Korean as a second language.  She is reliable and effective.  She has three years experience, and she speaks English very well.  She usually runs a variety of classes - from true beginning to intermediate.  Every semester she does some special events - including a Korean cooking lesson and a Korean market day.
She also schedules private lessons for those who are more advanced or need a special time.  For the group classes, the price  is a very reasonable 15,000 an hour.  Check out her brochure here, or contact her directly: (010-2774-6526 or fflssa[at]  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea: #9 - Old Stuff

Walking around Korea, you never know what you're going to see.  Most often in my area, you'll be in the midst of sky-rise apartments and bustling shopping areas.  But one turn to a side street - especially in Seoul or some of the "old cities" - and you could run into literally anything.  
Korea has a knack for preserving its history while rushing headlong into the future.  Folk villages go all out in this respect.  And while they are definitely valuable, they are also obviously contrived and artificial.  What really captures my attention is the seemingly random ancient door knocker or the quaint Buddhist temple nestled among restaurants and bars or the side alley that looks like it's straight out of the 1800s.  
Oh, Korea, how I will miss both your plethora of well-planned and well-preserved relics but even more your forgotten and fading fragments.
(Once again, a big thanks to Andy Phelps for the use of his beautiful photographs.  Check him out.)

Hamish, Shamish, Zephaniah, God, and Us - Zephaniah 3

I listened to a sermon by Peter Rollins this week, and he told a story that I’ve heard before, but he’s from Northern Ireland, so he has this great accent, and accents are lots of fun, so I’ll try to tell it in his voice.  (How’s that for a run-on sentence to start out a sermon?)
There was this guy named Shamish who was traveling by sea.  His boat sank, and he ended up on a deserted island.  He lived there all alone for twenty years, but his brother Hamish never gave up looking for him.  Hamish bought a plane and flew all over the ocean looking for his brother.  One day, he saw some buildings on a small island and decided to go down and take a look.  He was amazed when Shamish met him at the beach.
They hugged and cried and celebrated that Shamish was finally rescued.  But Hamish said, “Before I take you back, why don’t you show me around this place where you’ve been living for the past 20 years.”  
So Shamish took him to his “village” where there were three small buildings.  Hamish said, “What are these?”
Shamish said, “Well, this is my house.  It’s really quite comfortable, considering.”
Hamish looked pointed to another building, “Then, what’s this one?”
Shamish beamed with pride. “Ah, that’s my church.  I go there every Sunday for services, and I say prayers there on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.  It’s a wonderful, holy place.  I love it.”
Hamish nodded and pointed at the third building, “And what’s that one?”
“I don’t want to talk about that.”
“Oh, come on.”
“No, really, I don’t even want to discuss it.  Let’s go.”
“Come on now Shamish.  You’ve been living here for twenty years.  The least you can do is give me the full tour.”
“Oh, all right, that’s the church I used to go to.  Terrible place.  Just awful.”

Friday, November 9, 2012

100 Things I Love About Korea: #8 - Palaces

Just a few generations ago, Korea still had kings.  Throughout the country, there are a variety of beautiful palaces that are either ancient or authentically restored.  Touring them is like stepping back in time.  You can almost feel the vibrations from trumpets and horse hooves.  Sometimes you can literally hear banners flapping in the wind or gigantic symbols gonging in tribute to the ancestors.
Perhaps because their architecture is so different from Western styles, perhaps because their color schemes are so striking, perhaps because there is some mysterious truth to the feng shui spacing of buildings and open spaces ... I'm not sure why, but Korean palaces give me a deep sense of awe and peace.
To explore this in two dimensions, check out my friend Andy Phelps's phenomenal photography.  Thanks to him for permission to use his pics here.  (And if you're so inclined, you can even buy a few prints for yourself.  Sarah and I are thinking of doing this for Christmas presents this year.  We've given just about everything else Korea-related already.)

How Do You Know If God Is Saying, "Yes," "No," or "Wait"? (Talk Back Series)

Talk Back Question:  I believe that God answers all prayers, and no prayer is left unanswered and unheard.  However, how do we know God's answer - if it's a Yes, No, or Wait?
[This question can in on a Talk Back card at our church. Answered by Matt Banner and Josh Broward.]
It sounds like you already have a strong faith in God, and a true belief that God hears and answers our prayers. But all Christians struggle with this question of how to discern God’s voice and how to know what God is saying.
It would be really easy if God just spoke to us in loud, booming voice and told us what was going to happen. But, unfortunately, that has never happened for me. It takes, time, patience and maturity to learn how to discern God’s voice. But Jeremiah 29:12-13 says "Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." First, we must make sure that we are seeking God and praying to Him sincerely.
Next, we must be sure that we are praying for God’s will and for things that are part of God’s guidance in our lives. It’s okay to ask for jewelry or a new wallet, but these are things that we are asking for in our own selfish way and not things that are for the glory of God. John 14:13 says “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” This is not simply invoking Jesus’ name to get what we want, but instead, it says we should ask for things in the same way that Christ would ask and in the same spirit that Christ would pray.
Thankfully, there are many guides to help us figure out how God is answering us.
  1. Scripture ~ The Bible is the inspired Word of God and often when we read the Scripture, we will remember or read something that helps us know the answer.
  2. The Holy Spirit speaking to our heart ~ Sometimes, we can feel God’s Spirit in our lives and in our prayers.
  3. Godly Counsel ~ Talking with people you know and trust in the church can help you see where God is leading
  4. The peace of God ~ Sometimes, when you are really struggling with an issue or decision, your heart will become calm and peaceful, and you know what to do or where God is leading.
  5. Circumstance/Timing ~ The actions and events around us can confirm what God is saying and sometimes those circumstances are the answer.
God sometimes speaks to us using two or more of these ways. It is important to seek out God’s answer as much as possible.  But we must also be aware that we are imperfect beings and we will make mistakes.  If we sincerely seek God and pray to God, then we can discern God’s voice.  
But sometimes, the only way to know the difference between "No" and "Wait" is to ... wait.  Sometimes, "No" and "No for now" sound exactly the same and require the same basic response from us.  We just have to release the issue to God and allow him to make his plan clear over time.