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June 2016

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.”