Postmodern Parables

Parable of a Helper

One day, an 8-year old boy was playing on a beach somewhere in Florida. He was digging a hole and collecting the sand to make a sand castle. After a while, a man came by and talked to the boy. He said: “Little boy what are you doing?” But the boy just kept digging and storing up sand for his sand castle. “Let me help,” the man continued. “I can take a picture of you and document your progress. Meanwhile, I can play some music for you on my smartphone and encourage you while you work.”

After a while, a woman came by and talked to the boy. She said: “Little boy what are you doing?” But the boy just kept digging and storing up sand for his sand castle. “Let me help,” the woman continued. “I will give you some bottled water to quench your thirst. And if this is not enough, you can give me some money and I will go and buy you some more bottled drinks and encourage you while you work.”

After a while, a young person came by and talked to the boy. She said: “Ni hao? Ni zai zuo shenme?” But the boy just kept digging and storing up sand for his sand castle. “Help you?” The young person went down on her knees and started digging sand together with the 8-year old boy. The two of them kept working and after a few hours, a sand castle began to form from out of the sandy beach somewhere in Florida.

Who do you think helped the little boy? “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43).


Storming The Gates

"I come inside through the big wooden doors. These are elaborately decorated with religious symbols of dragons, monsters, and fiery animals real only to an Asian religious practitioner. I see many people with their prayer sticks. I smell the incense engulfing the whole prayer room. I come inside this beautiful temple and soak in the presence of spirituality that I cannot comprehend. To my right, a person whom I presume is an expert--not only because of his dashing robe and regal hat, but mainly because of his confident way of explaining things--is showing some visitors the way to use the prayer gong in their time of worship. Everyone is lost in their utterance, petitions for a need that I will never understand. I say a prayer to the Almighty God and Savior of all people to hear the prayers of these people."

One afternoon, I was in the streets of Kowloon and came into a Chinese temple. I went inside through the doors that were open to both tourists and worshippers. I went in, in a manner of speaking, "storming the gates of heaven" for the people who are seeking true spirituality and needing the answers to their supplications from the Creator of the universe. I went in and prayed with the Chinese people in that prayer room. I was engulfed in the smell of the incense. I was lost in the rhythmic sound of the prayer gong. I was shoulder to shoulder with them. However, I will never know the intent of their hearts. Nor will I ever come close to comprehending their religiosity. All I could do is say a simple prayer on their behalf, or as some of my friends would say: storm the gates of heaven. In that Kowloon temple, I asked God to listen to us. I probably would never witness the answers to these prayers. One thing I knew then that is still true now: God is moving in every place of worship and all the prayer rooms in the world, and He is drawing every Asian to Himself. 


Do You Know Mary?

When people look at Mary, what do they see? Do they see a helpless teenager pregnant with a child she believes is divinely conceived? Or do they see a struggling mother-to-be making sense of her life as a chosen one?

In the text, we see Mary receiving her blessings (Luke 1:48). People will call her “blessed” for many years to come. And yet, we still have to answer the first question: What do they see in Mary? I have some suggestions that relate to the whole Christmas narrative.

When people look at Mary, they see God’s inclusion of everyone in the Lord’s plan of salvation. When a derelict teenager or a woman with a child that is conceived out of wedlock hear Mary’s story, they say to themselves: “God is calling me to Himself. I am included in God’s plan despite my questionable situation.” When a poor man, who is struggling with providing for his family, sees God’s work in Mary life, he will understand that God will use the poor and destitute people of this world for His plan of salvation. He will say, “I am included in God’s plan.” When outsiders come to Mary, the foreigners, the non-Jews, and the unschooled in the ways of the Jewish religion, they will feel God’s inclusion. They will say: “If God can use a young woman who is not schooled in the Rabbinic religious ways, then He can also use me, an outsider to the traditions of the Jews.” All of them will perceive God’s inclusion because they see Mary demonstrating God’s salvation in her life.

When people see Jesus, they see him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). They see Jesus as the Light for all the nations, for all cultures and tribes (Isaiah 42:6). Everyone is included. When people look at Mary, they see the same inclusion. Everyone can be blessed, just like Mary. God’s blessing is flowing through Mary, the blessing that started with Abraham, is now available for everyone who comes to God in humility and trust (see Luke 1:55 and Genesis 12:1-3). God is including every person.

Some questions for you: When people look at you, do they feel included in God’s plan of salvation? Are they drawn closer to God? When they see you, do they hear God saying: “Come to me all of you. I am including you in my plan of salvation for the whole world, despite your situation and regardless of who you are.”


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.


The Parable of The Parrot

Once upon a time, a jungle parrot visited his friends, the narra tree and the cow, living on a farmland. He questioned them saying: "How will you love your Master?"

"Well," the narra tree replied. "Since I can not move about to follow him, I will give him comfort when he seeks the solace of the shade of my branches."

"Well," the cow answered. "Since I am lowly in nature and can not do mighty acts for him, I will give him milk for the nourishment of his children."

One day the landowner spoke to all his estate saying, "Would you like to help me?" Immediately all the inhabitants chorused in affirmation. "I will be hosting a fellowship for my visitors tomorrow and I will be needing beef for the preparation of the feast and a sturdy wooden table to entertain all my guests."

The whole estate suddenly became silent.

The feast, however, went on the following day, with great rejoicing and splendor. On the last hour of the celebration, the landowner stood up and cried out, saying: "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, he is the one who will save it."

When the parrot was ready to leave his friends for his jungle home, he asked them saying, "How will you follow your Master?"

The narra tree swayed and replied, "Ssshhh." The cow bowed and answered, "Mmmooo."

The parrot flew away into the far horizon, engulfed by the bright panorama of the sunset of that late cloudy afternoon.

(By: David W. Clemente / / Republished from: CIRCUIT RIDER, 1991 Year Book)


Quiet My Heart

“I pray that You, oh Lord, will quiet my heart.” (I wonder how the World Cup USA team is doing in its game against Germany.) “Grant me Your mercy as I continue to serve You and obey You all the days of my life.” (Did I lock the doors of the house before leaving? I am sure I left enough food and water for our dog, Emmy, before heading out of the city.)

I find it hard to stay focused whenever I say my prayers. I find myself thinking of mundane things that clutter my thoughts and distract my heart from communing with my God. I have come to this Personal Prayer Retreat to de-clutter and sharpen my focus during times of prayer and meditation. I started this four-day Retreat by reading Richard J. Foster’s Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey Into Meditative Prayer. Foster mentions that most people use icons or music to help them stay focused during their time of prayer and meditation. For me, what usually works is a close encounter with nature. I take long walks in the woods, spend an afternoon on long hikes on a mountain trail, or sit beside a beach by myself and watch the ocean come and go with its rising and falling tide. Nothing brings me closer to God Almighty better than a visceral experience with His creation. In Foster’s book, he calls these prayer activities as “Beholding the Lord” or in the language of other Christian mystics and prayer practitioners, these are times of Recollection or Practicing the Presence of the Holy Spirit. Whatever terms we use and however we describe these they help us stay focus in our prayers to our God.

I decide on Sun Moon Lake as the place for this four-day Retreat. I stay at a friend’s house inside Chi Nan National University, and take daily half-hour bus rides to Sun Moon Lake. I explore different nature trails around the lake, visit some mountain pagodas and temples, or sit on a bench overlooking the lake and watch the boats come and go. At random locations I open my Bible and read Psalms 63 to Psalms 69. I read God’s Word out loud and pray with the Scriptures. I soak in the beauty of God’s creation and ponder the reading of the Psalms.

"So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your steadfast power and glory" (Psalms 63:2). (How I wished I was inside a church cathedral gazing at beautiful stained glass icons of Jesus or at majestic steeples and captivating architectures.) As I was reading this chapter of the Bible in front of a Buddhist temple, it suddenly dawned on me that God is the Lord of the universe and God of all the earth. This mountain, this lake and all that is around it is God's sanctuary. I paused before the God of all creation, and quieted my heart. Even inside this Buddhist temple, God's glory is present because He is Lord of all. Every part of this earth is God's sanctuary. Glory to His name!

"I cried to Him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue" (Psalms 66:17). I was reading this verse on top of Ci En Pagoda, a 46-meter high pagoda located on a mountain overlooking the Sun Moon Lake. I yelled at the top of my voice, praising God and emoting with all my being all the adoration our God deserves. "Come and see what God has done" (Psalms 66:5). I wanted all my friends in Taiwan to hear me. I wanted all the people of Taiwan, even those foreigners who are living in this island, to see me praise God and glorify Him because He is God Almighty and worthy of all honor.

I need to quiet down. I need to realize that there is only that much I can share from my personal prayer retreat. My 4-day time in Sun Moon Lake is my time with God, with Him alone. I must remind myself that blogging about this experience will never capture the most intimate and intense communion I had with the God of this universe. Holy is His name!


Everyday Deeds of Ordinary Folk

Sitting in a living room with thirteen young people. Reminds me of Bilbo Baggins and the thirteen dwarves dining in his house. Do you remember the movie, The Hobbit? The dwarves were there because they were on a quest to reclaim their home. Oh well, I am not writing about J. R. R. Tolkien's novel. I am here reflecting about my time with these thirteen young men and women in their mid-twenties. Michael Chen, a student at the seminary, invited me to join this Friday fellowship of group leaders. Michael is leading a church planting work among students and young adults. These thirteen are his small group leaders. They meet every other Friday for prayer, fellowship, and consultation. He and his wife, Cindy, encourage these youth leaders to make a difference for Jesus.

"How do you know if God is calling you to be a pastor?" Jay asked me. "What should I do if my parents are going to disown me because I am a Christian?" Catherine shared with me her family situation. "How does one adjust to a new environment, especially one that is different from our own culture?" These were some of the questions that I tried to answer that Friday evening. I differed all the answers to Michael and Cindy. As far as I am concerned, Michael is the "Gandalf of the group," the leader of this group.

Many of the questions reminded me of my time in the Philippines in the early 1980s. That time I was involved in a church planting movement in Manila and some other areas in the island of Luzon. This movement grew miraculously. We started in 1979 with three congregations. In ten years, we multiplied to about 20 local churches and a couple thousand members. God was leading the way. That time, I was one of the youth leaders. Later, I received my ordination credentials under the new Annual Conference organized by the Philippine Free Methodist Church. It was an amazing decade. 

Now, I am seeing the church planting situation as a seminary professor. Michael's group has that same passion we had back in the Philippines. They need a lot of encouragement, especially because Taiwan church culture is so clergy-centered. This particular cultural background is not helpful to any church planting movement. Lay people need to see the urgency to share the gospel among their friends and families. They cannot wait on their local pastors to lead the way. These thirteen group leaders should be encouraged to continue the work. I am so glad that Michael is leading the way. He is one Taiwanese church planter who is not hampered by the clergy-centered culture of Taiwan.

What does the Bible say about everyday deeds of ordinary folks? In John chapter four, Jesus talked to a Samaritan woman. After she believed in Jesus, she became an instrument leading others to God's salvation. Many believed because of her testimony (John 4:39). She was not seminary-trained. She was never ordained. She was a "new" convert of Jesus. But still, God used her. A movement leading to the multiplication of many congregations will only happen when we empower "new believers" to start testifying and witnessing for Jesus. We should not wait for them to be "properly trained" before they can share the love of God to their friends and families. God loves to show the world His glory and salvation through the everyday deeds of simple people such as this Samaritan woman.

When I shared to Michael and Cindy's group of young leaders, I told them many stories of God's empowering simple people, using even the most difficult situations. One story I narrated to them was the story of Olga, a 92-year old grandmother from Michigan. Despite her age and lack of experience in traditional theological training, God used her to be a blessing to many young people in her locality in Michigan. God showed her the wonders of cross cultural ministry. God gave her the wonderful experience of worshipping with people of different background in a church among Haitians living in a city in Pennsylvania. "Now I know what cross cultural missions means," Olga concluded. The experiences of ordinary grandmothers became a source of empowerment.

Back to the movie, The Hobbit. There is one scene that always stays with me. This is the conversation between Lady Galadriel and Gandalf. Lady Galadriel asks Gandalf why he chose a Hobbit for this quest. Gandalf replies: "I do not know. Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I found it is the small things of everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and he gives me courage." (From the movie THE HOBBIT)

May we find courage from God's work among the ordinary people among us, the grandmothers and young students in our midst, and the many "Bilbo Baggins" of our generation.


Not Just Another Name

Last Sunday, we visited the Lakeview Free Methodist Church (LFMC) for its morning service. By 2:30 P.M., we headed out to visit Wayland Free Methodist Church (WFMC) for its evening service, a little further south, passing by the metropolis of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In both churches we shared about God's work in Taiwan and Asia, encouraging our Michigan brothers and sisters to continue participating in the missions work of FMWM. Although during these visits we talked a lot, we also had many opportunities to listen to people and hear their stories. These are their stories.

Caroline is a cancer survivor. She still struggles through medications and therapy, but through them she rejoices in the victory of prayer. She fights. She stands up for the many friends who pray for her. She testifies to me of the support of family members. I pray for her daughter who is growing closer to God because of this crisis. I pray for Caroline's husband who is considering membership to the local FM church as a result of this victory. I hear her story and I pray. She is no longer just another name that I read in a Lakeview church newsletter.

Joyce serves God in so many ways. She works as a nurse assistant and visits people who are experiencing medical crisis of extreme kind. She stays with them through out the night. Sometimes she misses church just so she can be with these people. "It is my mission field," she recounts to me. "I bring church to them since they cannot be physically present at any morning church service." I sense Joyce's passion for God. I pray for her family. I pray for my friends at Wayland church. I pray that their hearts will be open to God, and they will be obedient to Him and serve other people, just like the example of Joyce. I am glad I came to Wayland and heard Joyce's story. She will be not just another name that I will see in some pastor's report.

Yesterday, Carmen and Jacob visited the CLC meeting for children at Evart Free Methodist Church (EFMC). I was impressed with the big turn out of children joining this eight-month long ministry. Someone mentioned this year they have a lot of non Christian families participating. At that meeting, I saw one brother in action. Chuck was the volunteer driver for that night. He picked up kids from their homes and drove them back after the meeting. He was sitting in the driver seat of the church van when I approached him. I thanked him for his service to God. Now, I know, he is not just another name. His name will always remind me of God's ongoing work in this world. Chuck is an encouragement to me.


Postmodernity and Christian Missions in Asia: An Essay

One time a friend of mine from the USA came to Kaohsiung, Taiwan and visited my family. She went to church with us one Sunday morning. After the service, she remarked: “Except for the Chinese language, everything is just like our churches at home.” My friend was brought up in small-town America, very similar to my wife’s upbringing. Her comment about our Sunday visit to a Christian church in Kaohsiung was meant to be a compliment. However, her observation about our church service in Kaohsiung made me think of a few things. Do our local Christian churches in Taiwan look like the Christian churches in North America? Are they drawing in people to their activities because of their spiritual vitality? What challenges do these local Taiwan churches have for our contemporary world today, the world populated by postmodernist people?

Postmodern thinking is fairly new. It is mainly a reaction to and rejection of modern mind-set. We cannot give a full study of postmodernism here in this short essay. Stanley J. Grenz’s A Primer on Postmodernism (1996) is a good introduction to postmodern thought and history from a Christian perspective. Our focus in this essay is to answer the question “What challenges do postmodernist people have for our Christian churches in Asia?” My thesis is that a Christological understanding of community will help us discover new ways of including postmodernist people in our Christian gatherings. This would have great implication for how we prepare our local church activities and Christian missionary work in general. My hope is that this Christological approach will encourage Asian Christians to include postmodernist persons in their religious meetings and welcome them to come closer to God.

In the Western world, most especially in the USA, postmodern thinking is posing great challenges to missiology, church studies, and Christian theology. American church leaders are experiencing a declining growth in their local churches (Gibbs and Bolger 2005:19-21). Pastors are discovering that more and more young Americans are avoiding Christian activities and Sunday morning services. Neil Cole describes the problem as “a lack of life in the core” (2010:113). Every day, we are realizing our “old school theology” from our modernist churches that has worked for many centuries are becoming irrelevant to this new generation. As Grenz has concluded: “The shift from the familiar territory of modernity to the unchartered terrain of postmodernity has grave implications for those who seek to live as Christ’s disciples in the new context” (1996:162). Whether in Asia or in the Western world, the challenges are real. We need to face these challenges that postmodernist people have for Christianity.

In the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, we see a lot of Western young people visiting the island for a few years to teach English to many Taiwanese children and families. They come mostly from the USA, Canada, England, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and Germany. If my friend’s comment above is true, then we would expect most of these English teachers to be flocking towards our Christian churches in Taiwan. But, sadly, there are no Western people coming to our churches. I am afraid my friend’s comment refers to the obsolete, old-school, and irrelevant modernist churches in the USA. We do not want to blindly copy churches from another country and transplant them to Asia. We need to be a local church ministry that is relevant to its own people and meeting the challenges of the world at large, mainly the challenges of postmodernity.

Postmodernity is primarily a rejection of modern thinking. The biggest problem is that most postmodernist person rejects the Christian church not because of their beliefs in Jesus Christ, but because of the church’s modernist stance. A local church set in the doctrine of modern thought sets its standards of community in a very scientific modern way. This modernistic way states, for example, that only those who adhere to a set of doctrines or have receive the rite of baptism are included in the church community. Everyone else is second-class Christian. This second-class status will not allow them to participate in the Lord’s Supper, to hold any leadership roles in the church, or to let them give significant contribution to the life of the church. Simply said, involvement in community is clear-cut and precise. We can give more examples but the bottom line is that modernist thinking is limited to neat packages and quantifiable categories. There is no place for surprises. Church life is measured in scientific terms. Modern-thinking churches are very exclusive in their practice of Christian community.

But the Bible says that Christian community should include everyone. Jesus always included all kinds of people in his ministry. At one time, Jesus rebuked his disciples because of their exclusivist attitude. He reminded them that “anyone who is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:49-50). It did not matter what their race was or their religious background. They were all included. Experienced Jewish teachers or struggling tax-collectors, they both felt included in Jesus. They participated in Jesus’ life and mission to the world. There are two virtues I want to share in this essay that helps us understand Jesus’ concept of inclusion. One is the virtue of hospitality. People around Jesus always felt welcomed by him. Two is the virtue of humility. They see humility in Jesus and are compelled to participate in this spirit of humility. Below, I will explain these two virtues through the motif of pilgrimage in Jesus’ life and how they are relevant to missionary work among postmodernist people.

First, we see the virtue of hospitality as ever present in Jesus’ life and ministry. Whenever he came to a place, the local people felt welcomed and included in Jesus’ activities in the area. They would come from far and wide to witness his deeds and hear his words (Matthew 4:23-25). Of course, there were a few, mainly the Jewish leaders, who felt threatened and ostracized by Jesus’ actions (John 7:40-52). But overall, the local people wanted to see him and look what he can do with their problems. Jesus’ very presence in the area meant hospitality, a spirit of inclusion and welcoming everyone who would like to come.

In the present time, our local churches need to practice this virtue of hospitality among the local people in their areas. Non-Christians, including postmodernist people, need to experience the welcoming spirit of the Christians among them. Most persons with postmodern thinking are very eager to work with anyone who includes them in their agenda. One of the strengths of postmodernist people is their great abilities to collaborate with people of different backgrounds and beliefs. They are creative people. They love to find new ways of doing stuff and being challenged by different persuasions from different individuals. If the Christian churches can tap on this postmodernist strength and mind-set, then our local churches would be an inviting presence to postmodernist people. They would come and flock to our Christian gatherings.

Second, we see Jesus’ humility and people are drawn to him in his tenderness and quiet disposition. Nicodemus and other Jewish leaders came to see him. Many sinful tax-collectors followed him. Immoral prostitutes and murderers wanted his words of wisdom. Children played by his side. Of course, there were violent reactions to Jesus. Some people wanted to lash out at Jesus because of his controversial teachings. But these were person who had selfish agenda. In general, people who were hungry for truth and seeking spiritual meaning came to Jesus for counsel and healing. They knew he would accept them as they are (John 6:68-69). The humility Jesus showed them was a humility that allowed the people to stand side by side with him and together find their identity in God. In the words of Henri J. M. Nouwen: “Paradoxically, by withdrawing into ourselves, not out of self-pity but out of humility, we create the space for another to be himself and come to us on his own terms” (1979:91). Jesus “emptied himself” for our sake (Philippians 2:5-11). He humbled himself so that others will have the opportunity to give glory to God Almighty. Like Jesus, our humble acts should focus on people who are around us. When the postmodernist person sees this kind of outward-focused humility among our Christian fellowships, then they will be drawn to Jesus and find the opportunity to receive God’s salvation.

In our present missionary endeavors, we need to practice these two virtues of hospitality and humility. I am suggesting the motif of pilgrimage as the platform for practicing these two virtues. The motif of pilgrimage is replete in Christian history and popular among practical theologians. (See the different essays from Explorations in a Christian Theology of Pilgrimage, 2004). There are many merits to the motif of Christian pilgrimage. One great merit, however, that I would like to highlight is the principle of inclusion. Anyone who witnesses any kind of pilgrimage will experience a sense of inclusion and will feel the compulsion to participate in its activities. A pilgrimage is a communal activity. Some scholars equate it to religious rites of passage. (See chapter 7 of Symbols and Ceremonies: Making Disciples Across Cultures, 1997). Some describe it as a time for bonding to deep spiritual meaning. Still others, such as Martin Robinson, directly links pilgrimage to mission. The experiences of the pilgrim becomes the moment for introducing cultural changes and opportunities for missions (Robinson 2004:181). Whatever its academic significance, a pilgrimage teaches us the inclusive nature of community and human fellowship.

In the Bible, the Christian life is portrayed as a pilgrimage, a time of traveling through this temporary world and unto the glorious presence of our Creator God. (Compare, 1 Peter 2:11-12 and Hebrews 11:13-16). We are encouraged to stay focus on our destination. We are not there yet, but we are together in seeking for and going to a place of sanctuary and peace—which is the very presence of God. For a pilgrim he or she is always talking about the journey. Every day is an experience that is not complete, and yet there is fulfillment because there is a glorious destination. Each new day brings with it new discoveries. A pilgrim’s life is full of surprises. The encounter of life’s mysteries is always a welcome adventure.

Any postmodernist person is naturally drawn to a pilgrimage. One dominant characteristic of postmodernity is its revulsion to authority. A postmodernist person abhors the concept of authority because figures of authority represent finality and the end of creativity. However, in a pilgrimage, there is no sense of finality and every day is a constant discovery of new creative ways to live life.  What if we present Christianity through the motif of pilgrimage? What if we share our life in Jesus that is full of adventures and incomplete journeys, and yet filled with hope of our glorious destination? What if our local churches constantly portray the mysteries of the Christian gospel and the creative expressions of the Holy Spirit in their fellowship and church gatherings? If we do these things, and our lives are full of the virtues of hospitality and humility, then many postmodernist persons will highly consider the Christian gospel. They will be drawn to Jesus and feel the inclusion that the followers of Jesus give them.

A Christian pilgrim says “I am not there yet” but there is hope in Jesus who is our Great Shepherd leading us in our journey here on earth. This is the virtue of humility. The Christian pilgrim also says “Come everyone and join us!” We tell every postmodernist person that there is a space in our lives for them to enter and we will accept them as they are. This is the virtue of hospitality. Once they are included in our Christian community, then they will comprehend what the name of Jesus means and confess him “to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11).

In Taiwan, most of our Free Methodist churches hold a baptism service during their morning services of Easter Sunday. It is a glorious sight to see. It is a time to witness an 80-year old grandfather and a 14-year old teenager stand side by side together to declare their faith to everyone present. The ceremony itself is a confession that they are not there yet. We all are not there yet. Our Christian lives are not yet complete and final, and yet we are continuing in our faith, setting our sights for a city prepared for us, and rejoicing in the hope that it is Jesus himself who will bring us there (Hebrews 11:16 and 12:2). I am sure, if a postmodernist person is present in these morning services, they will sense the inclusion. “They will become aware at these sensitive times of the Lord’s desire to be their intimate companion” (Zahniser 1997:98). They will see that God himself is calling him or her to participate in this Christian pilgrimage and religious meeting.

Sources:

Cole, Neil. 2010. Church 3.0: Upgrades For the Future of the Church. CA: Josey-Bass.

Gibbs, Eddie and Ryan K. Bolger. 2005. Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Grenz, Stanley J. 1996. A Primer on Postmodernism. MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1979. The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. NY: Random House.

Robinson, Martin. 2004. “Pilgrimage and Mission.” In Explorations in a Christian Theology of Pilgrimage. Edited by Craig Bartholomew and Fred Hughes. England: Ashgate Publishing Co. Pp. 170-183.

Zahniser, A. H. Mathias. 1997. Symbol and Ceremony: Making Disciples Across Cultures. CA: MARC. 


What is the Question?

At the end of it all, what is the question that we will hear? What will our Creator ask of us?

We are made to please God. Our sole purpose in life is to glorify our Creator Almighty. (See Col. 3:17; Psalms 96:1-13; and Rev. 7:9-12.) And, the ultimate way to glorify God is to practice a life of "making disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:16-20). When ones life is becoming a blessing to others, then one is pleasing God (Genesis 12:1-3).

In the study of the Bible, Church, Theology, and Missions, there is a consensus that planting new churches is the best platform for making disciples. I believe this to be true. I teach this in my class, I share this with my friends, and I sing about this in my quiet moments. I always pray that God will send me to a ministry that multiplies new congregations through the process of disciple making.  At the moment, God is telling me to stay at the seminary and practice a life of making disciples and mentoring new leaders among our students and staff members. I am okay with that.

Making disciples is a life long process. It means helping a Christian to full maturity in Jesus, to a life of abundance (Eph. 4:13 and Jn. 10:10). It simply means blessing others so that they also can be a blessing to other people (Genesis 12:1-3 and 22:18). It means training new leaders to become multiplying "disciple makers." These are leaders who are able to train others to become mature Christians (2 Timothy 2:2). I know that this understanding of the process of disciple making can occur in a seminary setting. And, I am okay with that.

Some days, I still hope that God will send me to a "frontier missions" work; some place where the people have never heard the gospel before. In my personal moments, I pray for those Chinese people who follow the book of Islam. I pray that someday they will encounter Jesus in powerful and meaningful ways. Meanwhile, I am here in Taiwan, praying for these people groups and training our seminary students to be "multiplying disciple makers" with the hope that one of these students will go to that place so that God will be glorified among them.

So, back to the original question. In the end, what will our Creator ask of us? I think, our Lord Almighty will say: "Did you help someone become like Jesus?" (See Philippians 2:5-11.) In other words, God will ask each one of us whether or not we made disciples, or whether or not we blessed others so that in turn they also were able to bless others. I am hoping that when God asks me this question, I don't have to answer Him, and that one of my Taiwanese students will stand up on my behalf and say: "Yes, Lord."