What is the meaning of 復活?

“So now you can talk about your faith in Chinese?”

It was a question I desperately wanted to answer yes to, after all that’s why I’m here – but saying yes felt a little like plunging off a cliff when I had no idea what questions would follow and if they would really be things I could explain in Chinese. (Resurrection has yet to come up in our Practical Audio-Visual Chinese textbook series. I’m sure it’s just in a later lesson.)

Easter worship was over and we were finishing up a love feast (aka potluck) andDSCN3291 chatting over fruit and dessert. Once again my Buddhist former Chinese tutor and her husband drove down from Chiayi to worship with us and now her husband was sitting across from me, looking expectant and ready with his first question, “What does resurrection mean?”

“Well, you know. Jesus died and then he was alive again – really alive, with a body that people could see and touch.”

“But what is its significance? I know you believe when you die God will give you everlasting life. But what about right now? We still live in a world of problems. Isn’t God rather far away?”

“When Jesus rose and then went back to heaven, He promised to send His Spirit to live in us. God’s not far away at all; He’s with me in every circumstance.”

“You have to raise money to come here, right? What if you don’t get enough?”

“Well, God is good. I’ve just finished fundraising for this year. And I’ve seen so many times in my life and my parents’ lives how God provides exactly enough. That’s what we prayed in the Lord’s Prayer this morning – ‘give us today our daily bread’ – enough for the day. Tomorrow will worry about itself. But if I don’t get enough funding . . . there’s something Paul said – ”

(It was time to take out the bilingual Bible. There’s no way I’m paraphrasing Scripture in Chinese!)

We read together from Philippians, Mr. Lin prompting me on each Chinese word I didn’t know, “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. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13)

We talked about how different Christianity is, how God’s greatest goal is not to give us a comfortable life or physical blessings but to draw us close to Him and to make us more like Him. That’s when I remembered a message I watched this week entitled “A Message to Those Who Kill Us” from a Coptic priest following the recent church bombings in Egypt. (If you haven’t seen that video, watch it! It’s a powerful testimony of what it means to be a follower of Christ.)

I explained that this priest’s two main points were: Thank you and we love you. And suddenly I felt like the Chinese vocabulary came so easily (“the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say”) as I explained how he could say these things to those who wanted to kill him, how the resurrection gives us hope and courage in the face of death, how Christ’s victory gives us love to forgive those who would harm us. This is what resurrection means.

By now my former tutor had also joined the conversation and a Friday Bible study student and a church member, and the questions just kept coming. Why does it matter if Christians really believe Jesus rose? (Pastor had mentioned in his sermon the number of Christians surveyed in the UK who said they no longer believe Jesus really rose from the dead.)

We talked about human logic and God’s Word and how desperately Satan wants Christians to stop trusting God’s Word and turn to our own thoughts. We looked at 1 Corinthians 15. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith . . . If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

“But why does that make your faith vain? Buddha had good teachings and I want to follow them. But he never claimed to die and rise again.”

Ah yes, only Jesus claimed that. Because Christianity is not about following good teaching, it’s about God’s powerful work to redeem the world, it’s about a victory over death, it’s a faith for eternity. The Bible says when I die I will rise again, but everything I see in this world says the opposite. So how can I know? Because God put a piece of the end of the story of history into the middle: He raised Christ for all to see and gave that to us as a certain promise of what’s to come.

Everyone started to chime in. My Bible study student explained Christianity’s hope for eternal life in clearer terms than I even knew he understood. My church sister (who’s also very fluent in English) got so excited talking about Jesus conquering death that I had to keep reminding her to use Chinese not English so everyone could understand. Resurrection means peace in the face of death, joy in the face of tragedy, hope for tomorrow and hope for eternity.

Lord, give us faith to have assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things unseen!


As my roommate and I played in a flute-viola duet this morning and no doubt many of you will sing:

This joyful Eastertide,

away with sin and sorrow!

My Love, the Crucified,

has sprung to life this morrow.

Had Christ, who once was slain,

Not burst his three-day prison,

our faith had been in vain;

but now has Christ arisen, arisen, arisen

but now has Christ arisen!

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Sometimes God Says Yes

We all know that sometimes God answers prayers with no. Or wait. But sometimes He says, “Yes, now!” And how is it that after 24 years as a baptized daughter of God that still surprises me?

I road the bus to school today rather than riding my bike since rainy season is suddenly upon us and it was pouring rain this morning in that way only tropical places do, the sudden, torrential downpour that always reminds me I live on an island. After settling into a seat on the bus, I spent a few moments praying for the day and particularly asked God to open my eyes to those around me who are struggling and to give me grace to reflect His love to them.

Exactly one bus stop later, a women got up from her seat, moved to sit across the aisle from me, and asked, “Are you American?” When I confirmed that I am, she proceeded to tell me her life story: left Taiwan at age 10, spent 18 years in California, just moved back six months ago out of fear of what America will become with Trump as president. She said they felt it was no longer safe to be an immigrant in the US . . .

(Politics aside) She shared with me feelings of loneliness, not belonging, isolation, fear, frustration at suddenly returning to the place she came from and finding that it’s no longer home – an adult with an American college education but the Chinese of an elementary school student. She shared family strife and the burden of having a brother who’s been in and out of jail in the US and can’t return to Taiwan because he doesn’t want to fulfill the obligatory military service.

And then she pulled a cross necklace out from under her shirt and told me she’s Christian, that she reads her Bible at home and keeps praying, “God, I don’t know what to do.”

It was a lot to take in on a 20 minute bus ride, but I gave her my name card, invited her to join us for Easter worship this weekend, affirmed that I understand her feelings of being caught between cultures and I can imagine the struggle of doing that culture shock in reverse.

Sometimes when we pray, God answers right away. Coming from a God who’s proven faithful since earth’s dawning day, why does that surprise me?

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(I didn’t even catch this woman’s name yet, but please join me in praying for her. Pray for God to fill her with His peace and comfort and “be the stability of her times” (Is 33:6) even when nothing seems stable. Pray for her family. Pray for her to find a church family in Tainan – whether it’s our congregation or another. Pray for God’s Spirit to free her from all of the fears she talked about and give her an abundant life in our resurrected Lord. Amen.)

Hospitality and Healing

I was talking with a friend from the language center recently about ways that living overseas had changed us, and he was surprised to hear me say I’ve come to know God better from my time in Taiwan. Of course this isn’t surprising at all to those of us who believe that every place and every person is God’s creation, that only a world of such vast diversity as ours could begin to reflect the creative power of our God, and that God is with us and at work in us in every time and place. But for so many people that I meet, Christianity is the world of the West, the historic God of America, a fragment of foreign culture that I’ve carried with me to Taiwan along with my taste for cheese and my direct manner of speaking.

But our God is the God of this place, too. And lately I think He’s been using Taiwanese people to teach me about His heart for hospitality.

Anyone who’s been to Taiwan or met a Taiwanese person will tell you how warm and giving they are, how much value they put on relationships, and how thoroughly they anticipate the needs of others and serve before cause has even been given.

Today is the first day of the new lunar year (the year of the rooster in this case) and this 16298430_10209679950449488_2542961959920006888_nseason is the pinnacle of Taiwanese hospitality. It’s a season of reunions with friends and family, treating people to nice meals out or snacks and tea at home, giving red envelopes of money and blessing, and constantly exchanging four-word phrases of well-wishes for the coming year. The past couple of years, I’ve traveled over Chinese New Year, but this year in staying put I’ve been blessed to be included in some of these gatherings.

Last weekend my former Chinese teacher and her husband came for church again (praise God!) and then took me and another family out for lunch to celebrate the New Year. They graciously put up with me attempting a pre-meal prayer in Chinese (and clapped afterwards – so it must have sounded like a strenuous endeavor), and then warmly shared conversation and reminiscing and plans for the future as we ate together. Both families gifted me with red envelopes of blessing and well-wishes, and my former tutor even teared up as she told me they consider me their daughter.

I also got to share a Chinese New Year meal last week with some of the extended family of the friend whose wedding I was in recently. It was quite a gathering of relatives – distant 16142735_10209679074427588_8019452241662333100_nenough that we spent a fair amount of time discussing what all of those family relations should be called since none of us were sure of the proper terms in English or Chinese – but it was a gathering tightly knit together by shared love and faith. We started at a restaurant, but then progressed to two different homes to see some of the relatives’ art studios and share additional time together. Even though each of the home visits was relatively brief and we had just come from a very filling meal, each host set out an elaborate spread of fruit and snacks and tea and nearly tripped over each other to refill glasses and urge everyone to 多吃一點 (eat more!). This was one of the first opportunities I’ve had to spend time with a family of all Taiwanese Christians (so many of my friends are first-generation Christians), and it was a gift to see their love and care for one another and to be included as their sister in Jesus.

Then last night I got to share Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner with my grocery store friend and her family. It was a very different gathering with a family that doesn’t yet know the Lord, but the hospitality was the same – a huge spread of dishes which the six of us could barely make a dent in, constant urging to eat more and 不用客氣 (don’t be polite), and
fastidious attention to anything I might need. (My friend’s mom even kept telling her daughter how worried she was that she couldn’t properly take care of me since she doesn’t speak English – I kept replying to her concerns in Chinese but she still seemed unconvinced that I could really understand. 🙂 )

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After dinner the table was only bare long enough to wipe it off and then it was covered again with fruit and nuts and tea. It was at this point that everyone seemed to relax enough to stop urging me to eat more or faster or slower but instead to just talk. And as God has a way of doing, the conversation quickly turned to faith. My friend’s brother has a girlfriend who’s Christian, and all it took was someone mentioning that I’m a missionary for him and his mother to begin talking about who Jesus is and how He was born and what the Trinity means and so many other matters of faith . . . It was a lot to keep up with in Chinese which limited what I could contribute but it was moving to listen to her brother speak about everything he’s learned (although he was insistent that he only goes to church to accompany his girlfriend). And listening gave me time to silently pray for fruitfulness from the seeds God continues to sow among this family.

And for fruitfulness from the seeds God’s been sowing in my heart through Taiwanese hospitality.


I have a lot to learn about servanthood. Perhaps in part from timidity and in part from selfishness, I’m rarely the first to act when there’s a small opportunity for service. I admire many people I know who acutely anticipate the needs of others and move immediately to serve or to speak words of praise. And as much as I may not do this quickly at home,  in Taiwan culture and language only make it more challenging for me to respond promptly and appropriately.

I’ve just started reading Cross-Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer, and I can already tell it’s going to be a personally challenging read – but immensely worthwhile. The book challenges Christians to a kind of servanthood that “inhabits our being” and becomes our “deepest identification with Christ” so that “servanthood is not only what we do but what we are” (pg. 22).

Thus far the section that has most deeply caught my attention is Elmer’s explanation of the word ‘hospitality.’ He ties it back to Greek words meaning to love the stranger as well as to the word ‘hospital’ which is derived from the same root. And so he concludes that showing hospitality is “connecting with strangers in such a way that healing [takes] place” (pg. 43).

This means Christ-like hospitality is more than the perfect appetizer to “wow your guests,” a spacious and meticulously clean home, or an entertaining personality. Christian hospitality even goes deeper than Taiwanese generosity and attention to guests’ needs. To live hospitably is to love even the stranger in a way that freely imparts the healing grace we have received from God.

Lord, grant me first to know “to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be” and then to know and enter into the hurts others carry with them. As Your Spirit lives in me, may I carry Your healing to others. Carry us all to the cross where there is welcome and healing for every soul. 

Amen

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Hong Bao and Grace

Last weekend I had the opportunity to be in a friend’s wedding. It was a wonderful honor to not only attend my first Taiwanese wedding but also get to be a bridesmaid for a dear 15909721_120300001437280991_99804039_nChristian sister! I wore a white dress and carried my friend’s long train to and fro and stood for 90 minutes of a wedding in Taiwanese during which time I understood about ten words (with two of those being the bride and groom’s names) – and I got to witness two Taiwanese Christians joined as one and faithfully testifying with their wedding to the great marriage of Christ and His Church.

One of the trickiest parts of the wedding though came before the weekend started – preparing a red envelope. In Taiwan for special occasions like weddings and Chinese New Year, people don’t exchange gifts. They give red envelopes of money called 紅包 (hong bao). In some ways this is a much easier system – no time spent searching for the perfect gift, no fear of buying something the couple doesn’t really want or already has. However, it’s a complicated process to determine how much money to put inside the envelope. The amount of money needs to accurately reflect the closeness of your relationship as well as the relative expense of the wedding venue and how much you expect they will spend on your meal. As an added consideration, the amount should be an even number but it can’t include the number four since this number in Chinese sounds hong-baolike the word for death and so is considered very unlucky. And in my case I had been told that the bride would also be giving me a red envelope for serving as her bridesmaid – and I would have been very embarrassed if she had given me more than I gave her. (Fortunately this didn’t happen!) I really think there needs to be an app for this.

I had another conversation a few days ago with a Taiwanese friend about this gift-giving etiquette. We were meeting for coffee, and I brought her a small Christmas gift since we hadn’t seen each other during Christmas. She immediately began apologizing that she hadn’t brought me something and promised she would bring something the next time we met. Since we have a pretty close relationship, I was able to guess what her brain was thinking and call her out on keeping score of who’s given what and what’s owed back. She laughed and nodded. So I assured her that my American brain doesn’t think that way. I’m not keeping count. I simply wanted to give her a gift because that’s what Americans do at Christmas time.

In practical terms this is a facet of culture I’m trying hard to adjust to. Taiwanese people are prolific gift givers, and while this isn’t my first thought in relationships, I’m working hard to be more cognizant of it since I know gifts are really important for building friendship in Taiwan. (Although gifts given at the wrong time or in the wrong amount can also create a sense of guilt or indebtedness.) However, I think this cultural habit can have some difficult ramifications when it comes to understanding the Gospel.

I was first made aware of this by a blog post I read titled, “Why Grace Is Hard for Me as an Asian American.” The author, a Chinese-American Baptist pastor, explained how the common Christian explanation of God’s grace as a gift to us doesn’t communicate the same idea of “freely given and freely received” that the word gift might imply in American culture. I’ve heard the illustration so many times – you can’t earn a gift, you don’t deserve it, you don’t pay for it, it’s given freely out of love. But in Chinese culture if someone gives you a gift that means it has to be repaid. Social interactions are a give and take with a careful mental record of what’s owed to someone else.

But that’s not what grace means.

 

Last night in English Bible study we talked about the parable of the workers who are called at different times of the day and suffer through different amounts of work and yet receive the same pay at the end of the day. We talked about gifts throughout the lesson, and I coin.jpgasked them to brainstorm good and bad gifts as well as how to choose the amount of money for a red envelope. We then compared this to our relationship with God. I asked facetiously how much you would need to put in a red envelope to pay God back.

And yet one man who was in Bible study for the first time said, “In Taiwan we try. We burn money for gods to pay them back.” We talked about how to choose that amount, and he admitted that there is no way to know when you’re even. He said you just give enough to make yourself satisfied. And so we talked, too, about how counter-intuitive grace is, how disarming, how it can feel sometimes unsatisfying to not be able to repay our own debts.

And yet I told them that there is great freedom in living under grace.

For those of us who are in Christ our debt is paid. God has given us everything and in return deserves perfect worship, perfect obedience, perfect submission, a perfect life and death. And yet only God could do that. So Christ Himself took on flesh to be the perfect penitent, Son, and follower, to return to God what He had given to man, and to cement our relationship with God forever.

But if I’m honest . . . I’ve never tried to burn paper money for God, but how many other ways do I live as if His salvation is free but I’m working hard to earn His favor? How often am I guilt-driven rather than Spirit-led – burdened by the obligation of the law rather than joyfully walking in the freedom of the Gospel? There is nothing we need do to earn more of God’s favor – and nothing we do could take that favor away. Because we are in Christ.

There’s no complicated system – and no app needed – to determine what we owe God in a red envelope or in life. It’s been paid in full – given and repaid.

Amazing grace how sweet the sound!

Fear Not

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people! For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

“There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out fear.” 1 John 4:18

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately. Sometimes I get frustrated and burdened by how much fear I see in the Church. I see pastors who live in fear of false teaching or wrong practice or their congregation’s disapproval. I see congregations who fear their pastors or fellow members. I see church bodies that fear dissent or disagreement or missions or other church bodies – and missionaries and congregations who fear their leaders.

America right now is a country ruled by fear. I told many aghast Taiwanese people who wondered why my country elected Donald Trump that I thought he played well to the fears of many Americans – fears about immigration or jobs or the economy – and he appeared to be tough enough to fight some of those fears on our behalf. Now I think many Americans are in fear of what a Trump presidency will mean – and I hear from many of my classmates that their own countries are afraid of what will happen to their relationship with the US.

I live on an island ruled by fear – fear of gods and spirits who need to be appeased, fear of academics and tests and the way that one score can shape a person’s identity, worth and future, fear of angering or disappointing family, fear of losing face.

And I wrestle with fears of my own. I fear being lonely; I fear not being accepted; I fear failing; I fear the cost of humility and selfless giving. I fear people more than I fear God.

But the angel’s words in Luke’s Gospel mean the end of fear.

The angel wasn’t just telling the shepherds to stop being afraid of this great multitude of heavenly hosts who suddenly lit up the sky. The angel was announcing the birth of the Prince of Peace – the baby who would free all people to never fear again.

The angel’s news of great joy is for all people – all countries, all languages, all tribes, all races, all sects and denominations.

The baby is born to you. Yes, you – little shepherd boy and mighty king and everyone in between.

The baby is born in the city of David. He’s the king of all kings; a king from David’s line but a king infinitely greater than David – greater than any ruler who ever lived or ever will hold power in the years to come. A King who will sit on David’s throne forever and who will make all of us who trust in Him part of the eternal Israel, a people pleasing to the Lord, a people for God’s own possession.

He’s a savior – the Savior. He has come to make us safe from everything that threatens or destroys. Safe from sin, death, hell, fear, guilt, shame, the power of the Devil. What is left to be afraid of with a Savior who is victorious over the grave?

He is the Christ – He’s the child of the promise, living proof that Yahweh saves, that our God keeps His promises. He’s the Messiah whispered about and prayed for and waited for through the centuries – and somehow even greater than the prophets ever dreamed He would be.

He’s the Lord. He’s God with us. He’s Yahweh come to tabernacle among and rule over His people.

And so in this Advent season, and on every day as we abide in the Savior, we are free from fear. There is nothing in heaven or on earth or under the earth that can separate us from the love that bridged heaven and earth on a Bethlehem night. There is nothing in the past or the present or the future that we need fear because the God promised of old kept His promise to come and He will keep His promise to come again.

Fear not. Be at peace. God is Immanuel – He is with us.

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To Listen as One Being Taught

I make a lot of mistakes in Chinese; it’s just that some of them are more obvious and more awkward than others.

A week or two ago, I went to night market with one of my roommates who doesn’t speak any English. We spent a couple hours walking around and eating food, and we communicated fairly well using my Chinese and my dictionary app so I was feeling confident as we were coming home. Then I remembered that I’d been meaning to ask her if it ever bothers her when I shower late at night since her room is right next to the bathroom in my room. It seemed like an easy enough sentence; I knew a word (麻煩 mafan) that roughly translates bother that Taiwanese people use all the time. However, once I asked my question, she looked a little bemused and quickly suggested another word that means too noisy.

That’s when I remembered that 麻煩 while it could be translated bother, really means “put you to trouble,” so I was suggesting that I needed her help showering late at night . . . Oops!


Last weekend I returned to Chiayi to celebrate Thanksgiving with the American teachers dscn2029and many Taiwanese friends. In all we had 75 for Thanksgiving dinner as we shared two turkeys, pies, casseroles, potatoes, bread, and many Taiwanese dishes as well as prayer and thanksgiving to God. It was wonderful to see many old friends and celebrate together God’s goodness. A special highlight was singing bilingually “Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart” and reading Psalm 136 responsively in Chinese and English – “His love endures forever.”

There were also conversation cards on each table to encourage sharing and personal thanks giving. One of the suggested questions was, “What is one thing you’ve learned this year for which you are most thankful?” The answer I gave at the time was – Chinese.

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Students from a college Bible study I helped lead last year

Learning to speak more Chinese, to read and write more, and most of all to have more confidence in speaking (even if it does sometimes get me into trouble). On Friday I took my last final to finish my first quarter of classes, and I am so grateful for this opportunity to learn and be challenged in a formal classroom setting – and I’m excited to see all that I will learn in the coming sessions. But I think I need to add to the answer I gave at Thanksgiving dinner because these past couple months have been all about learning more – and learning what I don’t let know.

I’ve learned to live more like a Taiwanese person – to wear a mask when I’m sick, to carry my garbage to the curb on the prescribed day at the prescribed time when I hear the truck coming with its music playing, to wear house slippers around my room (the slippers my roommate bought for me within 10 minutes of my arrival because she was so horrified that I didn’t bring my own), and to close the bathroom door when no one’s in there so it doesn’t mess up the 風水feng shui of the room.

I’ve learned from watching Taiwanese Christians witness and from hearing the questions people ask – learned how much I don’t yet know about Taiwanese religious assumptions and how different God is from the gods people make for themselves. In particular a couple of conversations with my grocery store friend (the woman I ran into buying fish who asked if we could meet up and talk about the Gospel) come to mind. At one point she was interested in moving into the dorms at the church which unfortunately isn’t possible right now. I was encouraged to hear her say that she was seeking peace and security and knew the church was the place to come. Yes, I thought, this place is a refuge; Jesus called the weary to come to Him for rest! But as she talked with Pastor Bruce, he asked her, “Why are you so insistent on living here?” and she replied “Because God is here!” And suddenly I saw that what I thought was an encouraging striving toward faith was actually a deep misunderstanding of who God is and how He works. It was a blessing for me to listen to Pastor explain to my friend how the church is not a temple. God dwells with us and within us – not in one specially blessed building – and God comes into our lives to redeem them and to reconcile people – not to take us out of difficult situations so we can escape to a holy place.

DSCN1888.JPGMy grocery store friend and I have had interesting conversations about prayer too – conversations that have taught me how painful it can be to pray without knowing God, that for her it feels like an exercise in self-reflection that leaves her only more lonely and aware of her own pain. We’ve had conversations about the purpose of prayer, when she told me she was ready to give up – or to just ask me to pray for her – since her prayers weren’t accomplishing what she wanted. What good is this God if he can’t fix what she wants fixed? And so I shared with her that God’s primary goal isn’t to make us happy and comfortable in this life – it’s to redeem us, to make us like Him, to draw us into relationship with Himself! Like all the people who came to Jesus for bodily healing and found much greater grace and salvation – like David who learned to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord” and to “seek His face” (Psalm 27) not only to pray for God’s hand of blessing – God is too gracious to give us only what we ask for. And there no gifts that God gives apart from Himself – every good thing is found in trusting and abiding in Christ. And I continue to pray that my friend will find this life of abiding in God through faith in Jesus.

I’m learning more about how an emphasis on collective honor and shame rather than individual innocence and guilt shapes Chinese thinking and culture – why traffic rules are irrelevant since there is no social shame in running red lights or ignoring turn lanes when you’re an unidentifiable driver merging with the chaotic flow of traffic, why the punishment for doing wrong or the public shaming of a student is a more powerful motivator than a private conversation about the offense or the personal knowledge that one has broken a rule, why a cultural seeking of honor and approval creates such intense pressure that one of my roommates who’s preparing for an exam can study twelve hours straight and forget to stop to eat. But I’m also learning to appreciate how gracious God’s gift of honor is – how He not only pardons our offenses but also bears our shame, how He marks us for inclusion in His Kingdom and clothes us with the imputed honor and purity of Christ, how His glory declares His blood-bought children to be glorious as well. (And I’m learning how much I don’t yet know about communicating the Gospel in this context which is why I’m thrilled to be registered for a summer conference at Wheaton College called “Honor, Shame, & the Gospel.”)

I’m also continuing to learn the same thing God’s been trying to teach me as long as I can remember – that I must decrease and Christ must increase (John 3:30). In recent weeks our 15055764_1364542210223094_2832291743530883559_nFriday English Bible study attendance has been dropping. I’m not sure if it’s the time of year, the rhythm of school exams, busyness, boredom, something we’ve done wrong . . . but it is disappointing. After one week when we had only four attendees after dropping by one or two each week, I came back to my room and started praying and told God in frustration, “I can’t work any harder!” And that’s how we began one of those conversations, the ones where God tells me things I don’t necessary want to hear, things my head knows but my sinful heart struggles with.

“It’s not about you working harder. This is my Kingdom. This is my Word. This is my Church. It’s not about the numbers you can report or the success you experience; it’s about my Kingdom come. Pray for that. Pray for Me to be at work here through My Word – whether you speak it or someone else does doesn’t matter. Submit to me. Seek first My kingdom and My righteousness.”

I don’t presume to speak for God, but I do remember thinking in this moment, “That’s not even what I wanted God to say. Isn’t this conversation in my head?” And of course that’s the moment that the verse “Quench not the Spirit” (1 Thes. 5:19) came back to me – such an annoying verse when I’m trying to ignore God’s truth . . .

All that to say, I’m not sure what the answer is – if this is a natural part of starting a new outreach venture or if it is a sign that we need to adjust something or try a different approach. Please pray that God will draw people back who’ve come in the past and not returned and that He will draw new people to this Bible study. Pray that He will give me and Pastor Bruce wisdom in planning and teaching. But also pray with me that God will give us humility to submit to Him and seek Him first, and that His grace will draw people from Tainan into His family through whatever way He chooses.

In this post-Thanksgiving Advent season, I’m thankful to be learning – to have a God who is rabboni, master teacher – to be a student of God’s grace.

“Morning by morning, Lord, awaken me. Awaken my ear to hear as those who are taught.” (Isaiah 50:4)

I Shall Not Want

I’ll never forget reading Psalm 23 with my Biblical Traditions class in Hong Kong. It’s always a unique experience to read something as familiar as this most beloved Psalm with people who’ve never encountered it before. But what struck me this time was one student’s comment about the psalmist. I asked the students in their presentations to imagine a person today who would pray their particular Psalm. What kind of situation would a person be in that would make this the cry of their heart?

This particular student began his presentation on Psalm 23 by saying, “Obviously the person is very rich.” I pictured little David shepherd boy calling out to God or bereaved families whispering this Psalm as a word of comfort in the dark of the shadow of death, and I wondered what this student had missed, until he completed his thought – The person doesn’t want anything. Obviously he’s rich and has everything he wants.

It’s easy for me to chuckle sadly at this commentary and chalk it up to secular materialism in the life of a rich Hong Kong kid, but then I have to stop and wonder, how would my heart complete that thought? I shall not be in want if _________. What have I made the terms and conditions for contentment?

shall-not-want


In the past month and a half in Tainan God has overwhelmed me with His goodness and with the conviction that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’ve been considerably blessed in my past two years in Taiwan, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. But this is the first time I’m been completely convinced that God has been preparing me and calling me to Taiwan for such a time and such a place as this.

I love being a student. As my mom reminded me, Chinese might not be my native language but school is. I can already see how much I’ve grown by constant practice and targeted instruction. My character writing is growing by leaps and bounds (funny how that works – apparently practice makes a difference), and I’m slowly correcting the haphazard grammar I’ve adopted by immersion.

I survived midterms this last week – speaking and listening tests, a grammar test, and a full two-hour exam which included writing a conversation at the end. I’ve been working my way through weekly dictation tests, putting together the radicals that make up characters and slowly committing to memory 15 or 20 or 25 stroke characters. (I have some friends for whom this is easy, but I struggle much more with reading and writing characters than with speaking.)

But much more exciting – and infinitely more important – I can tell my confidence and fluency is improving. I can talk with the kids at church in Chinese; I’ve started conversing in Chinese with a worker at the tea stand by our church; we had a visitor at church yesterday morning and our whole conversation after worship was in Chinese (other than one moment where he said in Chinese that he understood and I had to exclaim in English, “I get so excited when people understand my Chinese!”).

Thanks be to God!

14657321_1337760126234636_7006625406764028117_nWe’ve also had three classes now of our Friday night English Bible study – a new evangelistic venture for this church – and I’m thrilled with how God has blessed that. We’ve had around ten people every week, some college students, some young adults, some middle-aged adults. Each week we’ve had new people and started forging new relationships – Christians, non-Christians, people who’ve never set foot in a church, nearly fluent English speakers, people with little or no English ability. We sing, pray, play games, study a parable, and apply that parable to life in Taiwan today.

The most exciting thing for me is to be able to connect people – to introduce Taiwanese Christians and non-Christians and offer up questions that will allow them to share with one another how God has changed their lives or what they are still searching for in life. It’s exciting to hear people share with one another how this character in a parable is really like their next door neighbor or how they are Christian but don’t know how to share that faith with others or how they struggle to understand this Gospel in the context of a Buddhist upbringing in a culture of fearful polytheism and superstition. This week after class a few students even stayed to discuss the resurrection and how Christians can believe it’s true when it flies in the face of all we know and experience about death.

Thanks be to God!

Saturday was our fifth week of Saturday school – a children’s class which we split into an 14657351_1338408316169817_2186088945303023184_nhour of Chinese praise songs and Bible stories and an hour of English vocabulary and games. We have a core of six or seven kids who come regularly along with two moms, and it’s been fun to watch the children open up to Pastor Bruce and I, to hear that they go home and keep repeating the songs we sang, to see their wonder and hear their questions when Pastor teaches them about creation and the Exodus and the battle of Jericho, to receive their smiles and hugs, and to hear that their mother can bribe them to do homework by promising that if they finish they can go to church afterwards.

Thanks be to God!


Audrey Assad has a beautiful song about Psalm 23 and contentment in Christ in which she sings:

I shall not want. I shall not want.

When I taste Your goodness I shall not want.

I listened to this song while sitting with my parents around a fire on my last night in the US, not knowing when we would be back together next. I hummed it while I moved all my things to Tainan to a new church, an unknown roommate, a challenging language program, a new position not as part of a team but as a solo foreigner. And I’m singing it now, too, with the sure conviction that it’s true.

From the need to be understood (in language, culture, or spirit)

From the need to be accepted (by others, by the world)

From the fear of being lonely (with or without a roommate, with or without close friends)

Deliver me O God

Deliver me O God

From the fear of serving others (in time and energy and presence)

From the fear of death or trial

From the fear of humility (the losing of myself)

Deliver me O God

Deliver me O God

And I shall not want, I shall not want

When I taste Your goodness I shall not want