God Moves, And We Move With God (A Sermon)

(The following is the manuscript of a sermon I gave at a Missions Rally in Kishinosato Free Methodist Church, Osaka, Japan, last June 26, 2016)

Good afternoon. I would like to thank everyone for coming here and giving me this time to share with you all God’s message for all of us. I thank you Bishop Honda for receiving our Taiwan Team. I thank you Rev. Shigetomi for scheduling our many visits. And I appreciate all the pastors and church members who have helped us so much, by driving us to many places, sponsoring our meals, and preparing the instruments and other equipments. Arigatou gozaimasu!

Let me introduce myself. I am David Clemente, a missionary with FMWM, USA. I was born and raised in the Philippines and migrated to the USA in the 1990s. I am married and have two children. My eldest daughter’s name is Carmen and she is 15 years old. My son is 11 years old and his name is Jacob. My wife is Sarah, and I am not telling you her age. If I do, I will be in trouble. She is from Illinois. We are residing in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. We have been there since 2005. I am teaching at Holy Light Theological Seminary, and also leading different mission teams to different Free Methodist (FM) work in Asia.

Let me tell you my story. God called me to be a missionary in the 1980s. I was already a pastor of a small church in Manila. I struggled with God’s call because I felt I was needed in the Philippines. For a year and a half, I said “no” to God. I did not want to go. I did not understand that God is on the move. He is calling people to join Him. God is moving from one place to another, from one community to the next. Later I said, “I am willing, Lord.” I now realized that when God moves, we also need to move with Him.

Today, we are not going to talk about my life. We are going to talk about Jonah. Remember the prophet who got swallowed by a whale? Well, maybe not a whale, but the Bible says it was a big fish. This is the story of how God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach a message of judgement to the people there. Jonah did not follow God. Jonah moved, but he went on a different direction. He took ship to Tarsus. God sent a storm to warn Jonah. He ended up being thrown into the sea, and that is when the whale showed up to swallow him. Okay, it is not a whale, rather a big fish.

There are two things I want us to focus on here in our story about Jonah. One is that Jonah understands God with his head and not with his heart. The Bible says that Jonah knows the Lord is the God of all creation. (Jonah 1:9) He knows the Lord is the God who gives salvation. (2:9) He has knowledge of God in clear cut ways. Jonah, the prophet, understands his God. 

Most Christians know God. They think they understand God. They put Him in a box. They describe God in clear cut ways. They make out beautiful words to explain what God can do and what decisions He is going to make. People’s tendency is to put God in one place and in understandable ways. In the same way, humanity’s tendency is to limit God into one location. When we experience God’s grace and truth, we usually respond in fear and reverence. We build temples. When God blesses us, we put up shrines. We comprehend our God with our head, through our human understanding and philosophical categories. We put God in a box. 

Allow me to tell you a story of God’s movement we can say is outside the box. In Kaohsiung, Taiwan, I teach at a seminary. Sometimes, I would go to other ministries to help out. These ministries in Taiwan are involved with people from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the USA. In one Filipino Church, I go once a month to preach. There I would meet different Filipinos working in the city of Kaohsiung as factory workers, caregivers, or restaurant workers. All their stories are very similar. They are missing their families. They are in Taiwan for 6-9 years, and they get to go back home and see their families only once a year. A few of them see their children once every two years. They are lonely and in need of love and care. Can we ever comprehend their dire situation? I do’t think so. However, it is in the middle of these sad situations that they were able to receive God’s salvation. At one Filipino Church, half of its members became Christians while they were residents in Kaohsiung as migrant workers. God found them in Taiwan. 

God is moving among the migrants and refugees of the world. God is not in a box. He is moving. We need to understand God, not with our heads, but with our hearts. God is out there. Yes, God is inside the church.  But He is also outside the walls of the church. He is calling many people to Himself. In Taiwan, He is calling Filipinos and people from Asia to His salvation. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. When He moves, we move with Him.

Second thing is that Jonah sees God with his eyes and not with his heart. In the biblical narrative, Jonah saw that God forgave the people of Nineveh. Although, only a third of the residents of the city heard the preaching of Jonah, and yet, everyone repented of their sins (Jonah 3:5). Somehow, word spread around. Even the King of Nineveh repented, and he proclaimed a decree of fasting for all people and animals. (3:6-10) This development should make Jonah the prophet happy, right? But, no! Instead, he became angry. (4:10) He saw God with his eyes and not with his heart. He responded with anger and resentment.

Jonah, after his preaching, went outside the city, and “he waited to see what would happen to the city,” to see the judgement that is coming to the people (Jonah 4:5). He is looking at God’s work with his eyes. If he only listened to his heart, he would see that God is moving among the people of Nineveh moving from one person to another and calling each one to His salvation. God loves all the people of Nineveh (4:11). God is moving from the threat of judgement and destruction to an action of forgiveness and healing. Jonah is looking at the city the wrong way. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. When He moves, we move with Him.

Around 600 AD, the early Christians of Europe found a way to understand God. They would go on a pilgrimage by buying a boat and setting sail for the open seas. They would leave everything behind and entrust themselves to the elements of the water and the wind, knowing that God will guide them to a place. They spend this time on the boat in prayer and meditation. And when they find a place and land on the beach, the first thing they do is share the gospel to the inhabitants of the area. Many of these Christians never reached dry land. They perish at sea. Some of them end up being murdered by violent local tribes. A few become missionaries and settle in the country to continue God’s work. These early Christians see God with their hearts. They leave everything behind. They move from one island to another. They do not know where they are going when they ride their sail boats. They go where ever the Spirit of God leads them. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. When He moves, we move with Him.

What does this sharing time from the Book of Jonah mean to you? What implications does this story from Bible has for us? It means that when God moves in our midst we need to see His movement with our hearts. When your pastor comes to you and say he or she wants to be a missionary in another culture, please do not get angry. Do not follow the response of Jonah. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. I say: “When He moves. . .” You say: “We move with Him.”

When your local church decides to give big amounts of church funds to support missions work outside of Japan, please do not worry. When your children come to you and want to serve other churches in another country, please do not be sad. Celebrate with God’s movement around the world. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. I say: “When He moves. . .” You say: “We move with Him.”

In my life, God is calling me to serve our Free Methodist work in Asia. This means I will be traveling to Myanmar, Philippines, and other Asian countries for a time of teaching. (I lead workshops and training modules for our Free Methodist pastors and church leaders.) This means I will be meeting with Filipinos, Vietnamese, Americans, Japanese, and other people of the world while I am in the city of Kaohsiung, or perhaps, in some other urban center. This means I will be crying with Filipinos and migrant workers who are lonely and missing home. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. When He moves, we move with Him.

(By: Rev. Dr. David W. Clemente, 2016, Osaka, Japan)


Taiwan Mission To Japan: A Time of Learning.

We are enjoying excellent care and accommodations here in Osaka, Japan. We all think Japanese hospitality is the best in the world. If not, it is definitely one of the best. We are a music team from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on a mission trip here in Osaka. We are here for about two weeks, sharing at many different Free Methodist churches, and learning about what God is doing in this country. We come and serve. We share songs, testimonies, and short reflections from God’s word. We bring our voices and our guitars. And we play the piano and the drums. Also, during this visit, we listen to the stories we hear from the pastors about God’s work among the people of Japan.

“We are supposed to serve them,” one of our Taiwan members says to me. “But instead, they are the ones serving us.” I hear these words a few more times from several of our team members. God is moving in our midst. (This is a good sign.) God is helping our Taiwan Mission 2016 members see the work of God among the Free Methodists of Japan. (This reciprocal experience between the Taiwanese visitors and Japanese hosts is an indication of a healthy mission trip.) God is leading us to a place of discovery. (We are learning from our brothers and sisters here.) God is opening our hearts so that we can receive His many blessings during this mission trip.

A few days back, we had a concert at Osaka Christian College (OCC). Also, we visited Kansai Biblical Seminary and Sakurai Free Methodist (FM) church. Yesterday, the team led in music and worship at a missions rally in Kishinosato FM church. I shared from the Book of Jonah on the topic: “God Moves, And We Move With Him.” (The sermon manuscript will be posted soon.) Today, we will continue to serve our God by visiting with some Chinese university students from Nara Gakuen University. The next several days, we will go to other FM local churches and share at their prayer meetings. We will continue to listen to our God and see what God is doing here in in Japan.

From The Outside

“She cannot come in here and tell us what to do. She is an outsider. She does not belong to the selected Twelve. She has no place in our fellowship. Look! She is pouring out expensive perfume. That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Stop her! We do not want her to show us what we should do. She is not one of us.” (These words, most probably, were uttered by the disciples when they saw Mary come into the room to anoint Jesus’ feet. I think John 12:5 and Mark 14:5 suggest this scenario. The disciples were offended because Mary was showing them things, spiritual truths that were hard to comprehend.)

One time in Manila sometime in the late 1980s, I was in a seminar listening to a speaker talk about culture.  He gave this illustration about Manila traffic and showed everyone what Filipinos were thinking and why they were not following traffic rules. I was offended with was he was sharing. I was not sure how many of us in the room felt the same way. But my discomfort was not on the speaker’s words, but more on who he was. He was a white American, a foreigner telling brown Filipinos how to live their lives in Manila. I felt offended because I was hearing an outsider telling us all insiders how to live life. Anytime a person comes from the outside and starts introducing change, then the level of discomfort and offense will definitely go higher.

Mary’s act of anointing Jesus is a precursor of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. (Mark 14:8-9; John 12:7) Jesus affirms Mary’s vision of the incarnation, his death on the cross and the resurrection that followed. Mary’s vision is offensive because of the scandal of the cross. How could the Savior of the world bring salvation to everyone through a death on a tree? Many Jews could not accept the message that the Messiah is coming to suffer and die a common criminal’s death on a cross. The story of the cross is offensive. More so, in this narrative, the bringer of the story is also offensive. Hearing the message from a woman is discomforting to the 12 male disciples. Moreover, she is an outsider. She does not belong to the Group of Twelve. Her vision of the cross is offensive because it is from the outside coming in.

In missions work, change is usually from the outside coming in. And this is where it becomes discomforting to many church members and even offensive to us Christians. Can we bless missions work when it means that we send our local church pastor to become a missionary in a foreign land? Can we financially support missions work when it means meeting with people different than us, people with nose rings, tattoos, and with different orientations? Can we pray for missions work knowing that the stories we will hear will be offensive to our church’s ears? Can we look beyond our offended feelings and see Mary’s vision of the incarnation, the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ? In missions work, it will always involve the meaning and practice of the incarnation of our Lord. Missions work will always bring change.

Until now, I still do not know exactly what Jesus meant when he said: “And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mark 14:9) One thing I am certain is that we all need to embrace missions work even when it is from the outside coming in, coming to our local churches and into our personal lives.

Prayer For A Student

“So, how are you?” I never realized a casual greeting could turn out to be a question of deep significance. But, Jane Hsieh, one of our seminary students, responded with a lengthy telling of her current family situation. I listened and we prayed. Right there at the motorcycle parking area, we bowed our heads together and I put my hands over her shoulders and we prayed.

Right about the same week, I bumped into Pastor Lawrence, one of our seminary alumni and a recent graduate. So, I asked the same simple question: “How are you?” And he responded with a long explanation of their local church’s condition, its move to a new location. He also recounted some of his struggles with pastoral life and the joy of expecting a second child. So, right there and then, in the hallway in front of the main entrance of the seminary bookstore, we prayed. I placed my hand over Lawrence’s shoulder and asked God for more blessings and guidance for this new local church pastor.

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2) I have to confess I haven’t been praying with all steadfastness, as Paul has reminded us. However, I am grateful that “being watchful” in prayer is not an individual endeavor. My prayers for our seminary students resonate with the prayers of our faculty and staff. Prayer is a community thing. I give thanks to God, because whenever I pray for Jane and Lawrence, I know that many friends in Michigan and Illinois are also praying together with me.

At our graduation day, right before the ceremony started, Jane Hsieh came to me and we both had our selfies taken together with our cell phones. She graduated this year. I was so happy for her. Honestly though, when I first met her and had her in my class a few years back, I never thought she would make it. I saw a lot of hardships and trials that might keep her from reaching graduation. But, she made it. To God be the glory! This year, she finished with an MA in Christian Studies. In between our selfie photo snapshots, she repeatedly thanked me. I felt a little embarrassed. I did not do much. All I did was encourage her with her reports, coached her on some writing assignments, and some other small stuff that any teacher would do for one’s student. Obviously, she did the hard work to get to this point. I took her hand, and together we smiled. I whispered to her and said: “God’s grace is sufficient.” 

Feeling The Pain

She prayed. And the angels sang. She sat with fellow believers in earnest prayer and God spoke to her and welcomed her to His eternal peace. That was the second week of March a few years back when my mother was taken into God's glory. And yet today, I still feel the pain. I walk around the house remembering that fateful day when my Mom passed away. I go about my day with this emptiness that I cannot explain. All I could do is pray. 

I told this story of my mother's passing to one of my friends here in Kaohsiung. My friend responded: "Many Chinese would like to have a death like that of your mother. They would like to breath their last while they are sleeping, or even better, while they are talking to God in prayer." I appreciate my friend's listening to my story. And yet, today, I still prefer my mother to be with me right now. I want her to be in my house here in Kaohsiung talking to my daughter and son, playing with them, talking with my wife, Sarah, and joining me when I am working at my potted plant garden. She would like that. She loves gardening. She likes singing. She loves so many things. And I know my mother would enjoy life here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Every time March comes, I remember my mother. I have shared with you about the details from another time here in my blog. (Click this LINK to read my story of my mother.) And yet, I still taste the freshness of that experience. This morning, I run around the Art Museum Park here in Gushan District, to commemorate my mother's passing on March 11, 1990. This was not just another exercise run, but a moment to be by myself and to find time to feel my pain in its deepest level. It was a hard run. I think I prayed more than I ran. Really, that is all I can do; pray. I prayed for Jesus to run with me and feel my pain. I did not want him to take away my pain because I still wanted to remember my mother. Until now, I feel the pain and I remember.

A Song of Glory

Singing in beautiful harmony. Solo bass in descant. Clear soaring sopranos resonating in this church building. This is a song not from a 50-member tabernacle choir. This comes from three Lahu people singing in a Chinese (GuGan Tribe) church here in the mountains of the Shan State of Myanmar. I stand transfixed with my video camera glorifying God for this short moment of seeing my creator Savior through the lives of these tribal people, a minority group here in ThaLwin Village of 40,000 people.
This morning, my devotions is on Psalm 99. “God is exalted over all the peoples” (Ps. 99:2). I pray to see God’s exaltation in the lives of the people I will meet today. Our creator Savior is using these three Lahu persons to shine His light of glory into my heart. He is answering my prayer.
Lahu tribal people are a minority group here in the Shan State of Myanmar. Here, we have  the Chinese, the Burmese, the Liso tribal people, and many other cultural communities who are located in the mountainous regions of this part of Myanmar. Our missions team from Taiwan is ministering to people, members of a Chinese church belonging to the GuGan group, a sub-tribe of the Han Chinese from Mainland China. GuGan people are a dominant people group residing in the Shan State. They trace their heritage to the Yunan Chinese of China.
“I care for this tribal group,” I hear God speaking to me. He chooses the least from among the people groups of this locality. He shows me His glory for all the nations through this Lahu song. I do not speak the Lahu language. And I am very sure they do not understand my Chinese. God is declaring His presence right now in the Lahu tongue. I wish I knew Burmese so I can ask them for a translation of their song. But I also do not know Burmese. And yet, I hear God say: “From among the weak and the helpless, I will declare my glory for Asia.” Holy is the Lord!

Breaking News! -- Taiwan Missions Team in Myanmar

Six people from Taiwan are here in Yangon, Myanmar. They come to represent the Holy Light Theological Seminary (HLTS) and is led by Dr. David Clemente, a missions professor from this seminary. They are going to visit the Glorious Light Church (Rong Guang Tang), a Free Methodist congregation located in Yangon. Rev. Esther Huang, the GLC pastor, have invited the Taiwan Team to visit GLC and its various ministries around the city. The Team will visit the Hope Student Center, and speak to its group of youth. Rev. Huang have also organized a Couples Retreat and is inviting Dr. Clemente to speak. Later, the team will visit the Dala congregation, the PingAn Church, the Grace church in NayPhiDaw. Michael, Hannah, and Jane are preparing to speak, taking turns in leading songs, sermons, and testimonies. The other members, Steven and Tzuan are also assisting in various roles.
Newsflash! The Taiwan Team will also go up north and ride the bus for a 16-hour trip to the Shan State. Rev. Huang have arranged a meeting with a congregation in ThaLwin Village, namely, the Nu Jiang Church. The Team will speak at its children’s meeting, youth group, and Sunday sermon. There are no hotels in this rustic village of 40,000 people. The team will reside in the homes of the leaders of NuJiang Church. This report comes to you with a prayer for a successful missions trip experience and an inspiring partnership with this local GuGang community here in the Shan State.

"Is It Enough?"

I come to Yangon to teach at a Bible college. There are thirteen students (13), most are in their first year. They say, "Thank you," but I do not know how much they are receiving from my teaching. Pastor Solomon, one of the professors of this college, is doing a great job of translating for me. I am sure a lot of the materials is lost in translation. Most of these Myanmar students are taking a missions course for the first time. Is it enough to introduce missions concepts to these students? I think not, but we have to start somewhere.

I come to Hakha, the capital city of the Chin State, to lead a Bible seminar on missions. There are about twenty (20) pastors participating. After three days of sharing, I still am not sure how these pastors understand the implications of missions practice in their local churches. Pastor Pakep, the Superintendent translates for me. He is doing a great job of taking my words and making them more interesting. "This is our first time to have a pastor's seminar on missions," Pakep tells me. I am honored by these pastors' enthusiasm. I wonder if they really know what a local church looks life if it is engaged in world missions and sending its own missionaries. Is this three-day seminar enough to help them become a missional church? I do not know. However, I have to try sometime.

I come to Myanmar, to Hakha, Kalay, Falam, and other cities of the Chin State with Paul Lo, a graduate of Holy Light Theological Seminary (HLTS) where I am teaching. The Chin pastors of the Free Methodist (FM) churches of Myanmar have invited us to come and lead a seminar in missions, as well as visit their churches, orphanages, and childcare centers. Paul is here with me with the blessing of his home church in Pingtung, Taiwan. I am encouraged at the many ways this Pingtung church is connected with the FM work here in Myanmar. This church is sending Paul, one of its lay pastors (ChuanDao). A year ago, a few of its young people participated in a missions trip to Yangon. I am grateful for their help. However, is this enough to bring a missional movement of local churches praying for each other and sharing resources across cultures and bridging different traditions? I do not think we can even call this a movement. Nonetheless, people are praying, churches are sending, and individuals are answering God's call to go. Is it enough? I do not know. Maybe.

When the day comes when Chin pastors from Myanmar go as cross-cultural missionaries to different regions of Asia bringing the gospel with them, then we can all look back and say, "God's grace is sufficient." The small things we do are enough in the eyes of God. 

Hakha Pastors Meeting A Filipino-American in Chin State

"I want to talk to you and ask you many questions," one of the lady pastors speaks to me through an interpreter. The other pastors, mostly men, nod their heads in agreement. "But I do not speak English." I motion with my hand coming from my heart moving towards her and say, "That is okay. Our hearts meet together even without our words." The group are smiling and affirming my motions and explanation.

I am in a mountain, 2000 plus meter above sea level. This is the city of Hakha, the capital of the Chin State in Myanmar. We are taking a break from one of my lectures on missions, a three day seminar training for 21 pastors from the Chin community. It is freezing cold this morning. At ten o clock, it is still around 40 degrees (F). So, we all huddle close to an open fire for warmth and some relief from the cold. There are no heaters here, no hot water, no insulated houses or rooms for us to run to. We opt for the open yard beside the church to form a ring around this open fire. It is the best place to received some comfort and rejuvenate our cold hands. Also, it is a perfect place and time to share some thoughts and ask each other question of importance or even mundane things.

"Missions can happen in your local churches, even among poor Asian churches who do not have much financial resources," I keep saying this to everyone in the sessions. Many of them agree and openly repeat the concept to each other. At the end of the day, we have a short period of feedback and sharing time. "Even though we are poor, we can do this mission thing," some of them encourage each other. I see their Superintendent smile and nod in agreement. I pray that this vision of Asian FM workers crossing cultures and reaching to other Asians will start here in the mountains of the Chin State. God is moving among the Chin people and so, we move with Him.

Happy New Year !

We started the New Year with a visit to our favorite Chinese restaurant, Wu Hua Ma, with dumplings, noodle soup, and other delicacies that we missed so much. Life in Kaohsiung is good! God is good, all the time!!!

Carmen and I