Monday, August 28, 2006

Miscellanious

- CHBC is now podcasting. Here is a wealth of sermons that will enrich your soul for you to listen to on your commute to work. I would personally recommend Mark's latest sermon on Ruth, Mike Gilbart-Smith's sermon from Philemon, and Michael Lawrence's series on Biblical Theology from this summer.

- This past Saturday, I was hanging out in Mark's study writing while he's working on his sermon and it gets to be about 10:45PM and he asks me, "Do you want to go downstairs and play a video game?" So we go down and we play this game on Xbox which is a 1st person shooter where you control these robots and go around trying to destroy each other. And he absolutely demolished me all night. He said he's had Al Mohler, Lig Duncan and even Iain Murray down there playing the game (supposedly Lig was the best). The following night, after service review, two more interns joined us and we went at it again. This time, I was barely able to win one match, but Mark still pretty much dominated.

- Every week, a few of the interns help out in Mark's archives, where we sort and organize books, magazines, journals and other documents that can't fit in his study. This past week, I got to file some of his old correspondence. It was cool to see how much communication and mutual encouragement there is between the different pastors and theologians. I even got to see Piper's first letter to Mark way back in the mid 90's.

- The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges is excellent... easily my favorite book of the internship so far. If anyone feels the Lord leading him into full-time pastoral ministry, this is a must read. It might make you re-consider whether you are really called to the ministry, but better that you ask those sorts of questions now than later.

- Anybody check out the T4G blog lately? =)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Road trip to Cary, NC

This past weekend Mark taught in Cary, NC at a conference for Shepherd's Theological Seminary and preached on Sunday at Colonial Baptist Church. A few interns had the opportunity to go with him. But first, we took a 4 hour detour to Newport News, VA, to visit Jack Hamilton's house:


Jack Hamilton is a retired Baptist preacher, who owns and sells a huge collection of Christian books. His books aren't cheap, but you'll find rare books that you won't find anywhere else. We found an early 1800's copy of Pilgrim's Progress, still in good condition. His price? $150... time to carefully put it back on the shelf.






The books above with tags are particularly older books. These are shots of just a few of his rooms. The basement in particular is just lined with books. It is a veritable book lover's paradise.


Next stop was Durham, NC, at Duke University, which has probably one of the prettiest (if not the prettiest) campuses I've seen. The chapel alone is sets it apart from anything else i've seen on a college campus in America.








Duke Divinity School's chapel. I liked the open and airy feel of it and I bet the Puritans would've too.


We found one door open and though we weren't able to take a picture of the court itself because it was being waxed, we were able able to take some other pictures.


We got to run a table at the conference. It was great to meet and talk with pastors, seminary students, elders, deacons, and faithful church members about what God was doing in their ministries and teaching them.


There were many great things discussed at the conference relating to church polity, church membership, church discipline, etc... Can you imagine taking a whole Saturday off to talk about these things? Doesn't sound too exciting... yet, it was a real blessing to see and hear how much the pastors and leaders and seminary students were encouraged and excited to learn not only about what these practices are, but how biblical and do-able they are and how they reflect the glory of God. MP3s from the talks should be made available shortly on the Shepherd's Seminary website. A snippet from my notes from Mark's talk on elders and congregationalism:
Elders should be marked by a careful use of authority, understanding the church belongs not to them, but to Christ. We are undershepherds. Authority given to humans is to reflect God's ultimate, good authority over us. Yet, throughout all of history is the theme of authority given for good, and the temptation to abuse it. To abuse God-given authority is particularly evil because it terribly undermines the gospel and God's authority. Authority was a gift given to be a blessing, but when it is turned into an evil, self-serving thing, it is particularly heinous and Satanic. This abuse has led to our distrust of authority, but it was meant to be a gift to us, to reflect God's good authority over us. Authority and love are supposed to be tied together.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Two fundamental mistakes of liberalism

On May 21, 1922 in First Presbyterian Church, New York City, Harry Emerson Fosdick preached one of his most famous sermons, entitled, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?" This sermon is a great example of classic theological liberalism. Read his arguments and then take some time to consider what he's saying. This kind of thinking and reasoning is rife in our culture and even many of our churches. Below is my response:
After reading Harry E. Fosdick’s sermon, Shall the Fundamentalists Win?, I am much more inclined to be sympathetic towards the fundamentalists’ attitude regarding biblical separation! In this sermon, Fosdick presents his case against the “intolerant” spirit of the fundamentalists by explaining the progressive nature of liberalism’s teachings and arguing for the supremacy of the subjective. There is so much in this sermon that can be (and should be) refuted, but I want to focus my critique on these two major themes, which he draws on repeatedly, namely the theme of progression and the supremacy of subjective feelings over objective truth.

Throughout his sermon, one theme that Fosdick continually repeats in order to defend liberalism is the theme of progression. He argues, “Jesus had not simply a historic, but a contemporary God, speaking now, working now, leading his people now from partial into fuller truth. Jesus believed in the progressiveness of revelation” (p. 1). He claims this is what is going on in liberalism, namely “new knowledge has come into man’s possession” (p. 1-2) and this has led to a fuller revelation of what Christianity really is all about. There are a couple things wrong about this assumption. First, it is based on a wrong view of the nature of man. Fosdick bases the current progress of revelation on the progress that science has made in his day, but in doing this, he is assuming that science is an objective and reliable source of truth, always working for the good of man. He describes scientists inviting young men to think and explore the universe, “for science is an intellectual adventure for truth” (p. 7). Moreover, in countering against the physical second coming of Christ, he states, “Development is God’s way of working out his will” (p. 6). He describes how human development of God’s grace working out in life and institutions will ultimately bring about Christ’s reign. In all this, Fosdick naïvely assumes that humans are innately good and have the ability, reasoning, and understanding to make the best choices for the good of mankind. Clearly, this sermon was written before World War II, which ended up destroying much of liberalism’s confidence in human goodness. The very same sin nature that resided in the cruelest soldiers and most wicked leaders also resides in the brightest modern scientists and most upright mayors. Humans will never be able to progress towards utopia apart from the supernatural work of God because we will always be corrupted by sin.

Second, this theme of progression has a misunderstanding of who Christ is. When Fosdick repeats this theme, he implies that we must improve on what has been revealed to us in history. What he doesn’t understand is that Jesus Christ is the climax of all history. When he quotes Heb. 1:1-2, he is using this verse to support the idea that Christ is an incomplete past revelation relative to the fuller present one, which is the exact opposite of the intended message! What we see taught in Scripture is that God’s decisive and final word to man regarding who He is and how we are to know Him is Jesus Christ. Therefore, to speak of a progressive revelation is to misunderstand who the Bible says Jesus Christ is. Fosdick tries to illustrate this by pointing to the Muslims as being chained to a fixed revelation (p. 4). Interestingly however, the Muslims have made the exact same mistake as the liberals in that they claim their Koran is a fuller revelation of God. They believe God first revealed Himself in the Old Testament to the Jews, then in the New Testament to the Christians, and finally in the Koran to the Muslims. What is wrong with Islam and liberalism is that though they both generally acknowledge the New Testament as being from God, they fail to understand its central message of the supremacy of Christ in all of history.

A second major theme throughout Fosdick’s sermon is the supremacy of the subjective over objective truth. Throughout the sermon, he justifies liberal Christians by describing the sincerity of their hearts. He describes them as “reverent Christians”, desiring “intellectual and spiritual integrity, that they might really love the Lord their God…with all their mind” (p. 2), “who may make us… ashamed by the sincerity of their devotion” (p. 6). Because of their sincerity, Fosdick argues that it would be a tragedy to “shut the door of the Christian fellowship against such” (p. 6), regardless of what they believe. When proposing a new view of the virgin birth, the only requirement that Fosdick makes is that “anybody has a right to hold these opinions, or any others, if he is sincerely convinced of them” (p. 3). The mistake Fosdick makes in all this is that sincerity is no substitute for truth. One can be truly sincere in their devotion and truly desire to accomplish what is right and good, but if their zeal is not informed by truth, they will be sincerely wrong. We can see this powerfully illustrated in the Jews, who had “a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge”. And when Paul prays for them, he’s not simply praying for their maturity or growth, but he is praying for their salvation (Rom. 10:1-2). Surely, having pure and sincere motives can be good, but sincerity apart from true knowledge will not save anyone.

Another area in which we see this theme is in the primacy Fosdick gives to love over objective truth. Fosdick pleads with his hearers for “the cause of magnanimity and liberality and tolerance of spirit” (p. 1). He acknowledges that there are many opinions out in the world regarding the truth, and more important than all of these opinions are “courtesy and kindliness and tolerance and humility and fairness… Opinions may be mistaken; love never is” (p. 7). He bemoans how the church is caught up in this controversy rather than showing love to the many who are “perishing for the lack of the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy and faith” (p. 8). On the other hand, “the worst kind of church that can possibly be offered… is an intolerant church” (p. 7). He immediately dismisses the actions of the fundamentalists as being un-Christ-like (p. 5) because of their intolerant and unloving spirit. Now, it might very well be true that the fundamentalists are not acting in accordance with Christ’s will. But what is wrong with Fosdick’s thinking is that love cannot be separated from objective truth. It is not enough to say that love is never mistaken. Rather, in the most powerful description of love, the apostle Paul writes, “(love) does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). True love will not show tolerance towards what is unrighteous or false or harmful. It would be unloving to be tolerant towards a lifestyle of drug addiction and alcoholism. It would be unloving to encourage people to believe in lies. It might be true that the fundamentalists are being overly divisive in their separation, but the liberals have taken to the opposite extreme in accepting all opinions as good in the name of love and tolerance. In doing so, they also have been divisive, in that they have separated love from objective truth.

The two major themes of liberalism presented in this sermon, namely progression and subjective feelings over objective truth, clearly fail to accurately represent the teaching of the New Testament and in fact, present ideas that are foreign to the counsel of Scripture. This inclines me to think that J. Gresham Machen was right when he wrote, “Liberalism on the one hand and the religion of the historic church on the other are not two varieties of the same religion, but two distinct religions proceeding from altogether separate roots.”[1]

[1] Ned. B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), p. 342.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Pragmatism in the church

Is it okay if I make some broad generalizations here based on some of my observations?

Mark Dever asked me last week what I thought the advantages/disadvantages of a Chinese Church over an American church were and vice-versa. I mentioned that one of the things I could see being improved in the Chinese church was how our actions were measured more by pragmatism than by trying to be deliberately Biblical. But he responded, "But isn't pragmatism also a problem of the American church?"

So I thought it about it some more and I realized that though American churches and Chinese churches can both be very pragmatic, but this pragmatism will look very different, because Chinese congregations and American congregations will look very different. Think about some of generalizations we can make about Chinese culture (particulary among overseas born congregations):

- more submissive and respecting of authority
- disciplined and consistent in performing what they consider their duty
- place a higher value in performing public duties, in order to save face
- prefer avoiding public controversy

What about American culture today?

- more individualistic and assertive
- proactive in either fixing what they consider to be problems
- enamored with new and exciting technologies and entertainments
- higher expectations of leaders to earn their trust

So with such different congregations, pragmaticism will look very different among Chinese and American churches. For Chinese congregations, pastors will tend to employ a minimalistic approach. As long as they keep the status quo, as long as church gets "done", then people will keep coming because they are supposed to. On the other hand, for American congregations, pragmatic pastors will need a very active approach. It will involve keeping up with the latest fads, creating new programs every month, fashioning worship services to suit people's tastes, fitting the church with the latest technologies and conveniences, and so on. Both are opposite approaches, yet both come out of pragmatism. Interestingly, as more and more American-born Chinese grow up influenced by American culture, the minimalist approach to church will be increasingly frustrating for them. The results of this can usually be seen in ABC youth growing up in a Chinese church, heading off to college and experiencing an exciting, dynamic church, and then coming back to their home church and feeling alienated and frustrated by it.

The solution to all this isn't more pragmatism, but rather to repent of pragmatism and to pursue Biblical faithfulness in our ecclesiology. God intends to display the glory of His holiness and love through the church and I believe that Scripture actually teaches church leaders how to build churches that display God's glory.

For more info on a biblical vision for Christ's church, visit www.9marks.org

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The incompatibility of the gospel and race prejudice

Francis J. Grimke was a Presbyterian, African-American pastor that preached powerfully against race prejudice in the early 1900's. One of our assignments in the internship has been to read a very powerful sermon that he preached in 1910 regarding Christianity and race prejudice. Although I very much agreed with his message, I regret that he did not rightly emphasize the importance of the gospel in fighting race prejudice. Below is my response to his article:
Dr. Francis J. Grimke’s sermon is a powerful message regarding the incompatibility of Christianity and race prejudice, and a call to all Christians to fight against this evil. Grimke does a great job in describing the wicked nature of race prejudice. One of the more interesting things to me about his description of race prejudice in 1910 is just how overt, and yet deceptive, it was. Race prejudice caused white Christians to segregate their churches, reject blacks from church memberships, and refuse to live with any blacks in their communities. These are clear demonstrations of race prejudice, and yet, at the same time, there were “meetings by day, and meetings by night, preaching services, prayer meetings, revival meetings, religious conventions…” and even “great missionary meetings for the conversion of the world, for carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth” (p. 12). In other words, even while living in such seemingly obvious sin, they continued to practice their religion as if nothing was wrong. It is astonishing to think of how these Christians could have had a passion for missions and longed for conversion of the heathen (perhaps even those in Africa), yet while being deceived by sin into maintaining race prejudice in their lives! Sin can be so deceptive in our lives, even when it is blatant, and this was certainly the case with race prejudice in 1910.

I strongly agreed with the main points of Grimke’s sermon regarding the evil of race prejudice, the incompatibility of Christianity and race prejudice, and the need for Christian action. This is a message that still needs to be sounded today, not only for race prejudice, but also for many other forms of prejudice. However, I do think that Grimke’s message could have been made more powerful on a couple of points.

Grimke is absolutely right to press the fact that Christianity is utterly incompatible with race prejudice. You cannot live in unrepentant race prejudice and claim to be a Christian at the same time (p. 5). However, the reason he gives for why this is true does not hit at the heart of the matter. He claims that everything about the character of the Christian religion is opposed to race prejudice, namely “the character of Jesus Christ, and… the great principles of the Christian religion, such as the Fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, the Gold Rule, loving one’s neighbor as one’s self, following things that make for peace and edification, and the unity of all believers in Christ” (p. 1). All these things are true and certainly do oppose race prejudice, but Grimke fails to mention an even more fundamental truth to the Christian religion that strikes to the core of race prejudice, namely the gospel of grace. The fundamental reason why racial prejudice does not accord with the Christian faith is because of the message of the grace of God in the gospel. This gospel declares to us that all of us at one point were separate from God because of our sin and the only thing we have earned for ourselves is everlasting wrath. Yet God, in His mercy, sent His Son to die and bear that wrath of God in the place of all sinners who will turn from their sin and trust in Him. Additionally, God freely and graciously provided the Holy Spirit in order that we might be able to do so and keep doing so. On top of that, we have been given pastors, Christian friends, Bibles, opportunities to hear the gospel, healthy minds to understand the gospel, and thousands of other graces that were purchased by Christ’s blood and have worked together to bring our sinful souls to God. In light of the infinite wickedness of our sin and the infinite grace of God shown in our salvation, how can we look at anyone who is lost and not feel compassion? God has saved us from everlasting judgment into everlasting joy not according to our race, or our riches, or our righteousness, but freely and unconditionally. Having received God’s grace in this way, can we then deny someone fellowship in our churches or put up barriers to the gospel because of the color of one’s skin or the appearance of his clothes? It would be as ridiculous as strangling a debtor who owes you ten bucks when you have been forgiven of a million dollar debt (Matt. 18:28). Race prejudice, or any other kind of prejudice, is ultimately non-Christian because it is utterly incompatible with the message of the gospel. Therefore, a life that has truly received the grace of God in the gospel cannot, and ultimately will not, live in race prejudice.

Clearly, this has great implications for how we should respond to race prejudice. Grimke is right about the need to speak out against race prejudice as Jesus spoke out against it and to fight against race prejudice as Jesus fought against it. However, I don’t think that is the place to start. If a Christian or a church is struggling with race prejudice, you begin counteracting this by preaching the gospel to them. If they are living in prejudice, then there must be some aspect of the gospel that they have not fully grasped. Perhaps they haven’t grasped the unconditional nature of grace, or what it means to repent and believe, or how the lordship of Christ affects our everyday lives. Regardless of where the deficiency is, the first step must be a continual and thorough instruction of the whole gospel, because the Holy Spirit most powerfully works to transform people to Christ-likeness through their beholding the glory of God in the gospel. It is only when we have been transformed by the Spirit that we will be enabled to speak as Christ spoke and to love as Christ loved.

How should we think about the role of the church in social activism and fighting race prejudice? Grimke emphasizes the impact that Christianity should have on the world. He writes, “Christianity is not clay in the hands of the world-spirit to be molded by it; but is itself to be the molder of public sentiment and everything else… The mission of the church, of Christian men and women is to mould, not to be moulded by encircling influences of evil” (p. 12). I do agree that Christians have a role to play in this world in fighting for social justice and living out the kingdom of God through their public involvement. However, we must be careful to recognize that our mission is not simply to influence the world to behave in a way that is loving and peaceful, even though that would be a good and gracious thing. Rather, the mission of the church is to proclaim the gospel and to call people to repentance and reconciliation with God and this is the only way race prejudice can truly be overcome. Therefore, even though we will fight injustice and exert our influence in the world in order to overcome race prejudice, we do so recognizing that this evil will only be truly overcome in the invisible church, where the kingdom of God has been manifested in the lives of sinners saved by grace. Christianity as an institution cannot bring about the sanctification needed to defeat race prejudice, but only the Holy Spirit working through the gospel of Jesus Christ in the lives of individuals.

Today, race prejudice is no longer as blatant as it was in 1910. By God’s common grace, many reforms have been made in this culture to oppose race prejudice. Yet there still remains a need and a longing among many (both inside and outside the church) for greater racial reconciliation and social justice. What this tells me is that though race prejudice might not be as blatant as it once was, it still continues to harm lives and communities, and to deceive people into thinking everything is fine. The danger for us in the church is to think that the battle has ended, but Grimke’s challenge, combined with the message of the gospel of grace, is as applicable today as it was a hundred years ago.
Note: Grimke's sermon is out of print, but Lord willing, it will be included in a volume of sermons called The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors (Crossway) next Spring.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Gracious promises

This fall, I will be taking a semester off from my seminary studies in order to take part in the internship program at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. In addition to the many great books I get to read, papers I get to write, and time I get to spend with the pastors and elders and brothers and sisters here at this church, one of the things I'm most looking forward to is simply sitting under five months of solid, Biblical preaching every Sunday. If this morning is any indication of what is in store, then I am in for a treat.

Michael Lawrence finished his series on Biblical Theology this morning, ending with the theme of Promise in the Bible. My favorite part was when he highlighted the fact that when God makes promises, He always makes them by grace and unconditionally. When He made the promise to Adam that the seed of the woman would crush the seed of the serpent in Gen. 3, this was a promise made in grace, right after they had sinned and rebelled against God. When God called Abram out of Ur and promised to bless him and make him a blessing to all nations, Abram was an idolater. When God called Moses and promised to make him into the human deliverer of His people, Moses was a fugitive and a murderer. When God called the people of Israel to Himself as His chosen nation, they were a rabble of helpless slaves. When God chose David to be His anointed, and promised that through him the Messiah was to come and rule forever, David was a mere shepherd boy, the youngest of many brothers, and would go on to one day be a murderer and an adulterer. And what about you? Did God choose you and make His promises in Christ to you because of your goodness or your works? No. God's promises are made to undeserving sinners by His grace, unconditionally. All we deserve from God is everlasting ruin because of our sin. Never presume that God owes us salvation, nor despair in unbelief because of your sinfulness. Rather, believe in the amazing gracious promises that He has made in Christ... Very, very good stuff. You can download and listen to the entire five-part series here. It will edify your soul.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Reading list for my CHBC internship this fall

If you are looking for some reading to help you grow in your understanding of the local church or of reformed worship or of pastoral ministry, there are several good places to start in this list.

- When People are Big and God is Small by Ed Welch
- Princes, Pastors and People by Doran & Durston
- Theology of the Reformers by Timothy George
- Biblical Separation by Bob Jones University (article)
- Shall the Fundamentalists Win? by Harry E. Fosdick (sermon)
- Christianity and Race Prejudice by Francis J. Grimke (sermon)
- A Display of God's Glory by Mark Dever (booklet)
- 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Dever (booklet)
- Reformation of the Church by John Murray
- Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges
- The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes
- Polity by Dever
- Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Dever
- The Worship of the American Puritans by Horton Davies
- Deliberate Church by Dever
- Worship by the Book by DA Carson & others
- Give Praise to God by Ligon Duncan & others
- Engaging with God by David Peterson
- 9Marks Worship Interview w/ Bob Kauflin and Lig Duncan
- Growing Health Asian American Churches by Cha, Kang and Lee
- Transformation: How Glocal Churches Transform Lives and the World by Bob Roberts Jr.
- Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000 by Iain Murray
- Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications by DA Carson

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Follow up letter for my East Asia mission trip


As you know, I had the opportunity of spending the past two weeks in East Asia teaching English and sharing the gospel with students. In the end, we had the blessing of seeing a few students respond positively to our message, along with many others willing to listen. It would be easy to write a report describing the success we had, but it would also be an incomplete picture. The truth of the matter is that God worked out things for good not because of our skill and strength, but in spite of our weaknesses and sinfulness. During my time over there, I read through 2 Corinthians and was reminded of the sufficiency of God’s grace and how His power is made perfect in weakness (12:9). Because of this, Paul made up his mind to only boast of the things that show his weakness (11:30), so that the power of God might be magnified. My hope is that in sharing about my trip, you also would see that it was the power of God ultimately at work.

Weakness in teaching – As one who has never really taught English before, I was expected to go in and teach a class of sixteen middle–high school students. These parents had paid a substantial amount of money for their children to take this class, so there were high expectations. In the end, by God’s grace, my partner and I were actually able to plan lessons that were educational, interactive and fun for the kids, which allowed them to learn about the language and culture, as well as make friends. The principal who hired us ended up being very pleased with our work. This was certainly an answered prayer and hopefully will open the door for future ministry opportunities.

Weakness in patience – Our days were very long. We woke up at 7, had group devotions at 8, taught from 9-12, had lunch with students from 12-2, taught again from 2-4, hung out with students from 4-6 (sometimes later), then had evening de-brief from 7-8 (sometimes later), and then after a shower, began lesson planning for the next day, which usually took at least a couple of hours. This, compounded with jet lag, stomach problems, record-high temperatures, and inconsistent times in the Word, tested the limits of my endurance. Often times, I found myself grumbling and complaining in my heart. Sadly, this resulted in a less willing heart for serving my team and my students. As I look back on the trip, I am greatly humbled and realize that I still have so far to go in my sanctification. In spite of all my theological and ministry training, much of my contentment is still dependent on earthly comforts rather than on God. Knowing this, I am particularly grateful to God for what little ministry He accomplished through my efforts.

Weakness in sharing the gospel – My teammate Dan shared with me in the beginning how he has never had a gift for evangelism, and this is something also true for me. I am often timid and at a loss for words when it comes to sharing the gospel. In addition to my personal weaknesses, I was given the younger class, which meant that their English wasn’t as good and it would be more difficult to start spiritual conversations. However, I ended up having the opportunity to impact them through a couple of ways. First, I had many opportunities to hang out with my students outside of class. We roller-skated, went to the video game arcade, played ping-pong, played basketball, and ate together a lot. As a result of these times, we were able to discuss many things, from church, to life in America, to their future aspirations, and occasionally, even share the gospel. Most significantly though, God used these times to develop a mutual friendship, which gave them their first first-hand, real-life relationship with a Christian. By the end of the trip, it was clear that part of our impact was not only our message but the life that we shared with them. Second, one of our lessons was on Christmas, so I wrote a Christmas pageant, with different parts for all the students in my class to act out. As I introduced to them the Christmas story, how God sent His Son to be Savior of the world, it was amazing to see how engaged the students were. They were especially interested in the wise men from the East. I was able to explain to them that this was my favorite story in the world, because I believed it to be a true story that actually happened in human history. Therefore, I concluded, it is important that we come to understand who this child really is. This changed many students’ perspectives on what they once considered an Americanized holiday. Finally, before we left, we were able to pass out Bibles and children’s Bible storybooks to every one of our students. Because I was able to build relationships with some students from the older class, I was also able to hand out many Bibles to those students. Many of the students received the Bibles with much excitement and shared with their friends, resulting in more coming to me wanting Bibles. One of the students recently emailed me, writing, “I have begun to read the Bible. It's really a long story, isn't it? Maybe after reading this, I'll have a new understanding of Christians and Christ Jesus.” My hope is that all my students will open these books and read and understand that the reason we loved them is because God first loved us in Christ. The work is now left to the local Christians and missionaries. May God give them wisdom in following up with these students.

Weakness in the church – One of the advantages of working with a long-term missionary is that we got to meet local Christians. In the past, when I have met local Christians, I have often been amazed at their perseverance through sufferings, their passion for God, and their discipline in the Word. Yet this time, I saw a different side to the local church over there. I met young Christians struggling with immorality, relationships and abuse. I heard older Christians bemoaning the lack of leadership and adequate teaching, and the danger of cults. But in spite of all this, I also saw in the lives of these few Christians that Christ is still being preached and the Holy Spirit continues to work. I had the privilege of hearing one Christian lady share the story of how her husband was recently converted after a long time of prayer for him. I saw missionaries working together with local ministers to discipline and care for the local congregation. And in meeting these Christians, the biggest blessing was to experience the immediate, mutual love we had for one another because of our unity in Jesus Christ. These are our brothers and sisters, with whom we will spend eternity. Let us ever be praying Eph. 3:14-21 for Christians all over the world.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul encourages the Corinthian church in their prayer, ministry and giving by pointing them to the thanksgiving that will result to God because of their faithful labor (2 Cor. 1:11, 4:15, 9:11-15). As I have shared, there is already so much that we have to be thankful for as a result of this trip. But oh, may the thanksgiving not end there! My prayer and hope is that through the ripple effects of our ministry, giving and continued prayers, many more students would turn to God and be saved, resulting in overflowing thanksgivings to God. To God be all the glory.