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October 2014

Encouragement Of A Different Kind

“You can come with the students of the Student Missions Fellowship [SMF] and share with our young people,” Ying Jong Chen, the pastor of Shang Hsieh Free Methodist Church [SHFMC], shares to me. “Our theme for this year is ‘Holy Spirit’s Fire For Missions.’ We want our camp participants to hear your stories and encourage them to participate in your mission trip,” Ying Jong continues. I listen with great interest and promise to help him in this endeavor.

I have to back up a little bit and tell you a little background related to my meeting with Ying Jong Chen. He is currently the Director of Education and Youth Ministries for the Annual Conference here in Taiwan or CFMC. Every year he plans and coordinates a discipleship winter camp for the youth of the different Free Methodist local churches of the conference. So, next year’s winter camp will be the week before the Chinese New Year 2015. We usually get about 150 young people, junior high and college students, participating in this annual camp.

I want to come and join this youth camp. My problem is that I will be in another country leading a team from our seminary for a few days of mission trip. I suggested to Ying Jong that I will find other members of the SMF who are not going with our mission trip. These students will be the one who will share in this youth camp. Yesterday, I talked to Pam Huang and asked her if she can lead a group of seminary students to participate in this winter camp. They can share their stories, lead workshops, and encourage the young people to consider joining our SMF annual missions trip to another country. Pam accepted my invitation. Pam graduated from our Holy Light Theological Seminary. When she was at school, she led the SMF meetings. She took most of my classes at the seminary. Currently, she is volunteering her services to different churches and leads missions training for local churches in the Kaohsiung area. She has a heart for missionary work. I am so glad she is the one leading a team to come and share at this 2015 Youth Camp.

Next month will be the beginning of our 10th year here in Taiwan. I remember on our fourth year, I talked to Ying Jong Chen and shared to him my desire to provide mission education to our young people of the FM local churches belonging to the CFMC Annual Conference. Now, it is happening. God is answering our prayers. Moreover, seminary alumni, like Pam Huang, are offering their services and taking leadership in missions training for our Taiwan young people.

“I want to invite our other alumni to come and join us at this winter youth camp,” Pam relates to me her plan for this youth meeting in 2015. She mentions different names. I notice that most of the people she cites are Free Methodist pastors and church workers. I listen to her and silently thank my God for how our Lord is raising up leaders, Free Methodist leaders, here in Taiwan. God’s work in this country is slowly moving into the direction for mission education. I thank God for His leadership.

God Is Thinking Of You

(Below is the manuscript to the talk I gave at a retreat for the family members of the MAK, Morrison Academy of Kaohsiung, faculty and staff. This sharing reminds us that God’s love is eternal. The Father’s love is from the beginning of creation and continues to the present and shapes our future. God’s character as a loving Father defines our understanding of Christian community.)

Good morning. Our MAK community is represented by many different cultures and languages. Let us hear it from you all. How would you say “Our Father in heaven” in the languages that you know? Let us hear it from everyone. (Different individuals start to speak in Mandarin, Taiwanese, Cantonese, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Creole, French, Tagalog, Cebuano, and Samoan.)

What is Christian community? How is it defined? In our society, language is one way by which society defines its community. People call themselves Chinese because they speak Chinese. Others call themselves American because they speak English. Well, there are other ideals that come to explain the identity of an American. Language, history, political ideals, and other variables shape our understanding of community or of a specific group.

For Christians, our understanding and practice of Christian community and belongingness is founded on the character of God, His goodness, love, mercy, and God’s view of justice, holiness, and salvation. These are big words, aren’t they? Simply said, who God is determines what community is or ought to be among the people of God. Today, I want to share about the Fatherhood of God and how this shapes our understanding of Christian community.

In Deuteronomy 10:14-19, we see that Moses or the writer starts off with a declaration that God is the Creator. He owns the heavens and the earth (v.14). He is the God of all gods. He is not partial (v. 17). He is just and takes care of the powerless and the foreigners of the land. This declaration is the foundation for the calling of the Hebrew people (v. 15). They are a chosen race, a people, a community, because God is who He is, just, mighty, impartial, a Protector of the weak, and He cares for the helpless foreigners of the land. God the Father shows everyone what Christian community looks like.

Today, I want to focus on the character of God as our Heavenly Father. The Bible says that from before we were born He was already thinking of us. In His thoughts, in His deep inner parts of His being, He formed us and planned our coming to this world, even before the formation of the heaven and the earth (Ephesians 1:3-6, Jeremiah 1:5, and Psalms 22:31). There is a saying that captures this interpretation of God’s character. Have you seen the statement “God danced the day you were born” anywhere? This is one way to picture the joy our Father feels for us. We are special in God’s eyes.

We, parents, have a special place for each of our children. We all have a unique story for each of them. I want to share just one story about our family. In 2004, we had Carmen, who was then three and a half years old. We were expecting Jacob. At that time, while waiting for our missionary appointment, I was working at Amazon dot com, an internet company, driving a forklift and stowing boxes at a warehouse in Kentucky. One day in August, I got a phone from our warehouse office. It was from Sarah. She just came back from the doctor, and she said: “We are going to have a boy.” Our second child was going to be a boy. I was so happy. I went out of that office, drove my forklift, and singing at the top of my voice. Some of my workmates ask me what is happening. I told them the news. As I was telling them the good news, I stopped my forklift machine, jump off the vehicle, and danced in the middle of the warehouse aisle ways. Everyone saw me doing the dance and singing a song of joy. I did not care. I was celebrating the forth coming of our son.

Parents are a unique group of people. We always want to help our children become better persons, better than we are. But we are not perfect. So, at times, we falter. We try to learn what makes our child happy, to discover their interests and the fun things they do. But, for many parents, this is hard work. Although for some of us, this is a natural thing to do. Still, parenting is a demanding work requiring a lot of time and energy. My son, Jacob, loves to play with this video game called Minecraft. Does anyone here play this video game? It is amazing what he can do inside this Minecraft world. But at times, I have to be honest with you, I get bored. I do not have the patience to learn all the nuances of block building.

Our Father in heaven is not like us. He is patient and truly interested in what makes us happy. He is interested in the things that we like. He dances with joy when we first learned how to ride the bike by ourselves without anyone assisting us. As my mother would say: “How delightful.” Let me hear it from the mothers. (Mothers respond, “How delightful!”) God smiled when he saw a Filipino eleven-year old boy climb the very top part of a 50-foot tree. He said: “Awesome, David!” Let me hear it from the fathers. (Fathers shout, “Awesome!”) God was so happy when, for the first time, you wrote a poem. He was so elated that He ordered a star from heaven to shine in the sky in honor of your poem. And what would the children say? Can you say: “Epic!” (Kids exclaim, “Epic!”) Do you get the idea now?

Do our friends think they are special? Do they understand that God is their Father, that He is the Father of all the peoples of the world? The Bible tells us that God the Father is the Father of all humankind (Psalms 24:1, Ephesians 4:6, and Acts 17:15-17). Let us tell them that God our Lord is their Father. He is the Father of all the peoples of the earth.

Let us see what the children have made for us. (A few of the smaller children come up front to show everyone the drawing and coloring activity they have done with the handout “God Made Me.” The adults appreciate the work of the children.) With our eyes, we are to see people because God sees people. They are wonderful. With our mouth, we are to bless people because God blesses people. They are important people to Him. With our ears, we listen to people because God listens to them. God made them.

I have a suggestion. Find out what your friend likes. Do they like biking? Do they enjoy making music on the piano? Sing with them. Go biking with them. What does your friend do for fun? Do it together with them. Be with them. And you will see that, even without saying a word, they will feel your concern for them and they’ll see that they are special. This is because God has a special place for them. God the Father is reaching out to them and calling each one by name. Our Father in heaven is blessing them, walking with them, and listening to their dreams and their longings in life. God loves them. Thus, whenever you show interest in your friend’s life and activities, then God is pleased. God smiles when we spend time with people and we discover what makes each person happy. (For the older kids, I give each one a pencil and paper with the instruction to creatively draw a picture or representation of their understanding of God the Father.) Go ahead and draw a picture showing who God the Father is to you. And also, write on the second page about your friend. What does he or she loves to do? Would you have fun doing these things with your friend?

At this time, I want to speak to the adults.  What I am sharing is a Trinitarian understanding of Christian community. This is less of a church doctrine or systematic theology, but more of seeing community through the work of the Triune God. Our main question here should be: Does this understanding of community reflect the character of the Trinity? Christian community is inclusive because God the Father is the Father of all humankind. People will sense the leadership of the Holy Spirit. They will draw near to God in freedom and love. Membership to this Christian community is based on the person’s relationship to Jesus, and not to a person’s affinity to an organization or an assent to a set of beliefs. We want to give everyone the opportunity to follow Jesus, to say “yes” to God, because in the end people from every nation, tribe, and languages are included in God’s kingdom (Revelation 7:9-10).

We can take a look at the example of Jesus. He is always including everyone in his life and ministry. Can we give examples of when Jesus included people to his community, those who felt excluded or other people thought they should be excluded?

Okay. Now, let us compare our answers to the older kids drawing of God the Father. Let us see if there are similarities. Let us ask them to share. Any volunteer? (Some of the older kids and adults come up front and share their sketches and drawing.) God is thinking of you being with other people. Go therefore and be with people and tell them God the Father is calling their name and drawing them into community. He loves them and is ready to listen to all their stories. He delights in them.