Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Jack's Big Day

This has been a GREAT week. We have seen five people come to call on the Name of Jesus and take the Lord into their heart! Five people have chosen, publicly, to be called "Christian" and to follow the Lord. More and more people are asking us about the Good News and more and more Bible Studies are getting started. The Holy Spirit is active, I pray that I am obedient to His call.

I have written about Jack for a long time. I have prayed about Jack for a long time. I don't have to worry about Jack anymore. Something has happened... something wonderful.

I met Jack the very first time I came to Taiwan back in 2002. He was not interested in Jesus at all. But he loves music and wanted to hear the Christians singing their songs. He seemed a very pleasant man, quiet and with a constant smile. I lost track of him after that. I did not see him on the two subsequent visits that I made to Taiwan the following summers.

Then, after I moved to Taiwan, I was sitting at a 7-11 having a morning tea before class when Jack showed up and reintroduced himself. We have meet weekly ever since. Jack is a music teacher, holds a masters in music, studied under the father of Yo Yo Ma, and owns a Bed and Breakfast in Meinung. He is an avid mountain hiker and the two of us climb a mountain every week. When the weather is bad, we go swimming at a local sports pool.

I have shared the gospel with Jack on numerous occasions and he has translated my English into Hakka, Taiwanese and Mandarin as I witnessed to others on many more occasions. Yet, he has never chosen to accept Jesus. One day he toyed with it... he and his wife asked Jesus to live in them, but the next morning they did not feel any different so they assumed they were still Buddhists. Oh, the door he opened that day! Some people worry about if they are or are not within God's Will... once you ask Him in, I dare you to TRY and get out of it!

Jack was never happy with Buddhism. All his life he has searched. The writings of the Tao and of Buddha never gave him comfort. He tells me that they are not able to answer the really important questions of sin, forgiveness and mercy. They play at them, demand them, but offer no cure that is lasting. He sees no hope in Taiwan's temple worship culture as it is so self-centered on luck, money, health and personal glory. He is hungry for a faith that not only saves, but reaches out to the world and heals it... not in works that fall short, but in a healing balm that is universally curative.

Christianity seemed different and attractive... but he was never sure. Catholic priests, Mormon missionaries, Baptist evangelists, and various campus ministries all touched his life through High School and College but somehow they fell short of answering his questions. The work of Wes Thrush, Dana Smith and myself came the closest to helping him understand Christ than any other, but still something nagged at him and kept him from obeying Christ as Lord.

Last week, after some sessions of intense Bible studies that our Friend Rolland had started with the help of Dana Smith... Jack was faced with the dead end, the cross road; now is the time to choose, there is nothing else to know or learn. Still, he could not. he said, "I would be a liar to say I could follow Jesus as Lord."

Two things happened the next day that changed him.

He had a dream in which his family were facing judgement, lost without hope, and with no answers. He woke to hear that this day was the day in which they had to exhume his mother's body from the grave. In Taiwan, bodies can only be buried a short time and then they must be exhumed and cremated. The dream, the exhumation of his mother, seeing his family's lostness in all of this... changed him.

For years he assumed that he could not escape the culture of being Chinese, of being Hakka. He assumed that he could not have Christ and give up these things. He assumed, as many of us do, that when we gain Christ, we give up too much. And he is right. We do give up too much! We give up our life!

Jack saw that his life was already lost. Giving it to Jesus and losing it fully was the only way to gain life abundantly.

He called Dana, Rolland, myself and others and said, "I want to be baptized now."

On Saturday, November 17, 2007, Jack and another man, James, both were publicly baptized in the Meinung Municipal Swimming Pool with their families and friends in attendance. Both men offered their own confession of why they wanted this. They asked their families to consider the Good News.

This week Jack gave me his own lesson that he had learned from all this. With a joy I have NEVER seen on his face, he told me how he can now see how God was at work in his life. All the Catholic priests, Mormon missionaries, Baptist evangelists, and college ministries all worked together to bring him to the growth and fruition that allowed him to be affected by Christ "at this time." He praised God for His faithfulness and tenacity in loving His children and calling them to His kingdom.

Jack has a lot of new questions, but I don't have to worry about him anymore.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I Am a Cheap Plastic Doraemon Bookbag

I love an aspect of Taiwan that many other foreigners can't seem to get past. There is a pop-culture mindset here that plasters cute cartoon figures on everything. You can see a big muscular Taiwan guy with a $50 haircut and $100 sunglasses step out of a store in his new muscle shirt and leather jacket only to sit upon a pink motorcycle with the "Hello Kitty" logo on the side... and he looks cool doing it.

This aspect of Taiwan culture is nowhere more evident than it is in bags, purses, backpacks and briefcases. I have seen teachers come to class with all of their tests, lecture notes and text books in a cheap, falling apart, Pokemon vinyl bag. I see business men and women going to work and their briefcase is nothing more than a Snoopy & Woodstock bookbag from a 7-11 give-away years ago. I have seen guys carry valuable art work to exhibitions held in nothing more than a plastic bag printed with Doraemon's face all over it. I have even seen people carrying their precious laptops in old, cheap plastic and vinyl bags with nothing more than a weak strap and an open top... but they like it because it has Gundam or Doraemon or Pokemon all over it.

My buddy Jack goes mountain hiking with me... and he carries a valuable ceramic tea set in his old army surplus back pack with no padding and with straps broken off. He ties them down with old shoe strings. It works.

You would be wrong to judge the value of the contents of a bag in Taiwan by only noting the outward appearance.

Great treasures are being housed in those cheesy bags. It is a matter of practicalities. These bags are given away for free in many places, they are very cheaply had in stores, and by golly, they are just so cute.

We Westerners would never transport our laptop computer in such a bag! We need the executive, double-platinum, mega bag with wheels and doohickies that cost almost as much as the laptop itself. Then we feel we have come into the world, we are of means!

The Taiwanese just want to carry their stuff from one place to the other. The look of the bag has nothing to do with the value of what is inside.

Jesus told a story about a man in Matthew 13. This man found a treasure that was buried in a field. The man wanted that treasure but it was not his field... he could not claim that treasure. So he went and bought the whole field to obtain that treasure. The field was nothing to him, and clearly not so big a deal to the original owner. But what the field held inside was of value.

You would be wrong to judge the worth of a treasure by looking at the dirt it was buried in.

Jesus wanted those people who would love and trust him... but in order to do that, he had to buy the entire human population with his own blood. He got them all... but frankly, he is after only those who would love and trust him. Oddly, we can never judge just how much of that field is dirt and how much is treasure. We don't have the eyes to see past the dirt.

So much of the world today rejects the message of Jesus because it is delivered to them by slimy, offensive, failure-in-life, nerdy, pushy (the list goes on) Bible Thumpers. They look at the Church and rightfully judge that the Church is full of hypocrites who can't live up to the standard of perfection that the law of a just God would give. So they won't look at the message of Jesus because they see his messengers and find them to be cheap plastic copies of something that is valuable.

They are wrong to judge the value of the message based upon their opinion of the worth of the messenger.

2nd Corinthians 4:7 tells us that Jesus hides his treasure, or rather trusts his message to be delivered by, nasty clay jugs. This is to show that the excellency of the message is independent from the vessel that delivers it. He puts his message in fallen, sinful, imperfect people who will break your trust and hurt your feelings... to show that his message is better than the ones who carry it and receive it.


Because his very message is that the vessel is only made valuable BY the value of what is put into it by the owner. We broken, fallen humans are not made valuable by covering our clay jar exteriors with bling-bling and paint and color. We are made valuable to God by what HE PUTS IN US. It is the grace of God, his gift to us, so that no one can boast of their own works of perfection.

That cheap plastic Doraemon bag at the lady's feet at on the bus... is not a cheap plastic bag to her... it is a store house for her valuables. It is worthy to her because what is inside is worthy. She judges the cheap bag as worthy because it at least is able to carry the things she does find worthy. In that act, the bag gains value-added worth. To her, the collective "IT" that is the bag and its contents is precious to her. She would never leave the bag behind as long as it holds her precious things... and by that the bag itself becomes valuable.

I am a fallen man, a cheap plastic copy of the Maker who made me. I have lost all objective worth because by image is cheap, my seams are weak, by handles are falling off and my material is thin. But into me, God places the Spirit of himself. When I trust and obey him for the first time, he judges me as useful to carry his valuables. He puts himself into me. In so doing, I become his valuable vessel no matter what I look like on the outside.

You would be a fool to judge the value of Jesus and his message based upon me.

Though you could see some wonderful things about God by watching me, it is only because of how he holds me close and how that affects my life! It is not because I am special or perfect. I can tell the cheap vinyl Hello Kitty bag is valuable to the man at the 7-11 check out desk because of the way he holds it, the way he keeps an eye on it, and the way he protects it from others. Its look alone is of no second glance, but the man's claim on it marks it as valuable. I am not worthy of your second glance. But watch how the Lord claims me, holds me, protects me, and lifts me up. You will see that the cheap plastic Doraemon bag holds something dear inside it.

Don't judge the message by the worth of the messenger... you will miss the most important thing of value in your life if you do.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Here's Your Card

Sure... it has been a while since I last bogged. Summer is over, time to get back to work.

Cards. I am sick of cards. It seems like that every store in Taiwan requires you to have a card.

From left to right starting at the top: Office supply store, art & office store, home DIY store, computer store, McCafe' club, book store, second computer store, hobby store, arts & crafts store, pharmacy. These are just half of the cards I have to carry to shop. It is getting maddening. These are not cardboard cut outs, these are credit card style I.D. cards that ONLY give you a membership to their discount services. Hey! Just give the discount and save the money from making these dang cards. My right hip is killing me from sitting on a wallet that is four inches thick.

I FULLY expect to get pulled over by a Taiwan Police man, to hear him say, "May I see your card?" Then, after giving him my Drivers License, hearing him then say, "No, your Driver's Club Card." After explaining that I do not have such a thing, he will say, "Oh, that's too bad. Now I will have to enter your information into the system by hand and you will not be eligible for the Traffic Ticket Discount until your next violation."

Lord, save us from plastic and databases.

Sandy and I were in a town near us called ChouJou (say Chow-Joe) and were buying drinking water when a man stopped to talk to us. His English was pretty good and he wanted to ask some foreigners some questions. In the course of the conversation we of course told him we were Christians and wanted to talk about Jesus. He said he was a Christian and suddenly took on a very serious facial expression. "What church do you go to?" he asked. When I said that I was not bound to a building or a denomination, and that I only wanted to talk about the Bible and about Jesus he became even more serious. He pressed the issue. No answer I gave satisfied for the longest time.

He was asking to see my card.

Taiwan culture is very big on labeling people. People fall into groups. School children even have their level of accomplishment embroidered on their school uniform so everyone can look and see if a child is smart or stupid... no kidding. This man wanted to label us, thus the label "Christian" was not enough. We were not going to get his "premium serivce" of listening and valuing our words until we showed him our membership and repeated relationship with a particular "Flavor" of Church.

When we share Christ we must strive to never share "Christianity." We are not to tell people about how "our" church does it... we are to tell the world what Jesus said and did - and then let them respond to Him in their manner. We use the Bible to teach, we use the Church to fellowship. Cutting people off because they do not carry the card of our own flavor of Church is to deny the most ardent prayer Jesus ever spoke, the one that caused him to sweat blood, "keep them united in love."

-The Haggard

Friday, June 15, 2007

Swimming In Busy

Wow... seems that I haven't blogged in a long while. Well... ya see... I been busy! Yeah, that's the ticket! I have been very busy. First off, I have been dealing with kidney stones and I think the drugs have made me loopy and lethargic. Second, I have been churning out paper models for Teacher Ker at an unheard of rate these last 6 weeks. Lastly, I was stressing over some Master's Degree papers I have been working on. So... I just kinda... well... you know... slacked off.

Aside from all of that; it is the end of the school year and we are often involved in graduation parties, cook outs, get togethers, and a major weekend holiday trip. We went to Taitung, on the east coast, and sent the weekend with some adult learners who are graduating this year. We had a blast.

So, I really have nothing deep or insightful to write about at the moment. Perhaps a jump start is just what I needed to get back on track.

I have often teased the wives of friends of mine back in the States about giving their husband "the look." When the husband does something wrong in public and the wife cannot openly argue or debate him without further damage to the situation, she will give him "The Look." Some of you know EXACTLY what I am talking about.

Some things are just FULLY cross cultural...

I was eating lunch with my friend Teacher Ker. He was telling me that he has turned in his resignation and will be leaving the academic life of college. As a dean of a department and as he is only 45 years old, it is a shock. He wants to become a farmer and have a "simpler" life. (I have told him that farming is not all that simple) So, I was teasing him, "You will retire and just sit with your friends and play Mahjong and drink tea all day!" No, he said, I have to work hard to avoid the look. A little shocked, I asked for clarification. "I have to work hard so that my wife will not look over the top of her glasses and glare at me and say nothing."

It must be inate in women.

More later,
-The Haggard

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Most Important Day

My birthday was observed recently. I am not a big fan of my birthday. Not that I am aging... more that I don't like the attention. So I celebrated by going to the big city of Kaohsiung alone for the day and hanging out in my favorite places (Sandy was at work). That is how I am with most holidays. Leave me alone and I am happy.

Not so this day.

I don't know what day it was that I realized that the whole story of Jesus was real and that I would have to deal with him on his terms... but I know the day that I died to myself and let him take over. It was Resurrection Sunday. His day. The day that he came out of that tomb and showed that he was just exactly who he said that he was. That anniverary is also the day that I came up out of the tomb of my life and started walking in the new life of his love.

It is especially a great day for me today, because one of the Hakka men that Sandy and I helped lead to the Lord has now become a bold teller of Jesus' love. Now Mr. R. is telling everyone who cares to hear about Jesus. He is telling people who don't care to hear about Jesus. He is telling people today that this is the Lord's Day of Resurrection, that Jesus is alive and has power over death and the Grave.

This week was tomb sweeping week for Taiwan. This was the week that people got off of work to go and clean the tombs of their ancestors, to worship their spirits, burn spirit money, and remind each other how scared they are of death and of dead spirits. They clean tombs and burn money and worship in this manner out of respect, sure... but mostly out of fear that dead ancestors will bring them bad luck and haunting if they are not worshiped.

Mr.R. is telling people what Jesus showed him... that there is power over death. That life comes from losing your own. We can let the dead bury the dead as we are walking around with new life in Jesus.

This is a great day.

So today, unlike my other enforced holidays, I will celebrate this day! Sandy and I will spend the morning with our Hakka friends at church, and then we will spend our afternoon with the English speaking Church in Pingtung. We will all talk about how Jesus has changed us and we will show that He has made us into something different. We will not be resurrected when we die... we were resurrected on the day we believe. Our body will die someday. Our spirits have already been renewed and they will received new bodies on that day.

What a day!

Photos of The Pingtung English Language Fellowship at dinner in Meinong:

Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to the Lord. Do not greive, for the Joy of the Lord is your strength! Nehemiah 8:10

Monday, March 05, 2007

Take a Pill

There is an interesting emotional response to waking up. When one wakes up there is a joy at facing a new day with all its potential, and a dread that I have to get up out of the comfort of a good bed and sweet dream. This is not just true of literal beds and wakings.

I have been waking up to a problem of language in the church. It is one of those problems that some will say is just nit-picking... but I think it is truly deeper than just semantics. However, waking up to this knowledge brings me both the joy of knowing God’s heart and the dread of having other’s resist the observation.

I am sick of, and becoming offended by, the ideas “accept Jesus” and “allow Him” and the ever present question to struggling believers “are you letting Him be in control?”.

Jesus is God. Jesus is King. Think on that for a bit before you read on.

Do you accept (ask in, invite) the police to search your home when they execute a warrant? Do you allow the judge to pass sentence on you? Do you let the government authorities enforce laws over you? I am sure that some of you may argue that in a free society that we do allow, let, accept these things... but stop the theoretical and work in the reality. Those in authority exercise their authority without our assistance. In fact, applying the rules of a free society to the actions of a dictatorship will bite you in the gluteus every time.

Jesus is the King. He will go where ever he wants and do as he wishes. He has already died for all your sins. He has already invaded your mind and knows what is in there. He has already taken hold of history and WILL work out his plan to the end no matter what you do. You have only one option. You get to submit. Those that resist are brushed aside by history and those that submit join the parade of victory.

Oh! How distasteful that idea is to us! That is the VERY POINT! Our sinful nature wants to say that I am free, I am in control, I get to choose my own destiny.

There’s the rub!

We have turned Christianity into idolatry. We choose our own life as the focus of God’s work. We “accept” him into OUR life, then we “allow” him to make OUR life better, then we “let” him answer OUR prayers. No matter how you slice it, we have placed ourself on the alter as an idol that we want the will of God to bow down to. We have all the control in that language. It is all on us to have the right kind of faith or the right kind of knowledge to get what we want out of him.

Look at the church today. It is more a human-potential movement than an army of servants. The best selling Christian books and the most popular Christian speakers tell you how to get rich, get happy, get well, get ahead, get the Spirit, get the gifts, get, get, get, get.

We even go to church to GET Jesus, and our evangelism focuses on telling people that they need to get faith and get Jesus.

Jesus went to the Cross and died, doing two great things. First, he paid for all sin for all time in all people and became the deed holder to their souls, the lien holder of all our hearts and minds. We OWE him. He is not a choice, he is the King who will have his way no matter what we do. The fact is that the bill is so high that we can’t pay it back, so it is his free gift to us... but we understand this and walk in faith of this only by being bound to him, owing him all that we are and can be. Therefore, we must die to ourselves so that he rules us. The only thing we can do towards salvation is to get out of his way, to let our own will die, and submit to his control.

The second thing he did was to show graphically that his faith is one of giving. We don’t imitate Christ by going to Church to GET anything. We show the faith by GIVING. We start by GIVING up our idols and our will. We live by continuing to give up to Jesus so that he can use us to give to others. We should be people so wrapped up in giving (time, money, effort, concern, love, forgiveness) that we seem to hate all those NORMAL obligations of life (job, personal comfort, or as Jesus says: wife, child, father, mother).

It is no wonder the Church is sick. So much about the Church today is “feel good.” People come to learn how to stop hurting and stop suffering and stop worrying. A great line from a recent TV show I was watching comes to mind: "You want to feel good, take a pill. You want to get right, deal with the truth." We have Churches full of people that want to feel good. Sin makes you feel good! The whole problem is people trying to feel good. Do you really think that following Jesus FEELS better than drugs, sex and Rock-n-Roll? Jesus isn’t in that business! Look at how bluntly and (lovingly) frank he spoke. He wants you to be right. You are here to get fixed from your problem and the cure can be quite painful at times. And the only reason you are getting fixed from your problems is so that he can use you the way he wants to.

No one of the faith in scripture felt good about what they were doing. It was madness! It was frightening! The church should not be marked with a line of successfully “normalized” people who are comfortable and stable now that they have accepted Jesus. The Church should be seen as a terribly destabilizing force that drives people mad with unbridled forgiveness and indiscriminate love that crosses so many cultural taboos and mores that no one is quite sure what “rules” these people live by other than the love and forgiveness.

The Roman solders, professional and orderly above all other forces, broke ranks and ran at the site of Celtic warriors coming at them. The Celtic tribes ran into war with abandon, disorderly and wild. They were naked and painted blue, woman and men fought together, all thrust into the battle with NO FEAR of death because they were already dead to the NEEDS of the tribe.

We need that abandon! Rushing into the danger of loving and forgiving people that are enslaved to their own flesh and to the world. Teaching them that Jesus is already here and in control. They just need to strip off the clothing of civilized selfishness and paint themselves as dead men with no concern for their own needs and feelings. The King is in control and we are here to do his will, and his will is that we love others more than ourselves. If you are not willing to do that simple thing, then no amount of belief will save you... because you have rejected the lien that the King has against your holdings and you are rebelliously trying to take that which you do not own.

You cannot ask Jesus into your heart. There is not enough room. You can only die so that Jesus can finally control what he has bought and paid for! Then you will have a life of danger, adventure and power. You just have to sit back and watch what he does with you.

If you love your life, you will lose it... but to those that die to the self, there is everlasting life.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Day at the Hospital

With my odd and varied history, I have some experience with working in hospitals. Having been a patient in many of them as well, I know them from the service side and the working side pretty well. With my personal politics, I am morally opposed to Socialized Medicine. There are many anecdotal evidences the Political Right and the Libertarians point to in order to show Socialized Medicine does not work. With the Libertarians I agree, but only in philosophy... no longer in simply by examples.

When something works, it simply works despite the moral or political motivations behind it. A well made gun works no matter how you use it, for hunting or self defense, or for intimidation or murder. Taiwan seems to have a system that works fairly well at the moment regardless of how ones views socialism. However, the Westerner might have some cultural problems with it.

Last month I went to my local doctor for something pretty minor. In Taiwan you make no appointment, you just drop in. Typically, you have no more than 10 minutes to an hour wait... much better than most Stateside doctor’s offices even WITH an appointment. The first time we went to the doctor here, Sandy had the flu and we did not have our nation health cards yet. The receptionist told us that it would be “very” expensive without the card, but that we could bring the card in later and get a refund. The total price for the visit without the card? $10us. We got $9us back later.

Anyhow, my little checkup last week turned up some lab problems, so the doctor gave me a referral to a Urologist. Unlike the states, He just hands me a letter and I get to choose where to take it.

I chose E-Da Hospital. It is clean and new and has some good english speaking doctors. I walked up to the info desk with my referral letter and a nice volunteer (of which there are dozens throughout the hospital) guided me to the Urology Department. There I just take a number and wait for the first urologist available. Soon I was consulting with a Doctor Lim. He gave me a dozen receipts, numbered in order. I was to take these to the different departments and get labs done. One receipt got my labs done; one got my x-rays; the next my ultra sound; the next my EKG; so on and so on. It is up to ME to find these places, to get the work done, and then to go on to the next one.

Some cultural troubles for an American were [1] in X-ray, I was to disrobe and put on a gown. No gown fit well. Typical. But then I was to walk down a busy and public hallway to wait in front of the X-ray room door, in the hall, until the next radiology tech was available. Kind of embarrassing. But, hey, everyone there was doing it. Then [2] if the doctor wanted to give me an injection, I have to go get the med for him. I take a receipt down to the pharmacy and get my med. Most of the time, I can just go around the corner to Chemotherapy and the nurse there will give the injection.

After all this... I went back to the Doctor’s waiting room thinking it would be a while for him to get the results and review them. I was in a chair 2 minutes when the nurse noticed me and flagged me to come in. The doctor had ALL my labs, x-rays and results there with him on multiple computer screens, complete with radiologist and consulting doctor’s findings. Start of process to this step, one hour.

It was decided that I had a 5mm kidney stone! Ouch. So it was off to the sonic zapper to try and shatter the invading irritation. After 30 minutes of being hit with an invisible hammer, I was done. The let me rest there a while to make sure I was okay, and then an hour later I was let loose with a referral to come back in a week for further tests and x-rays.

So, from cold call - seeing the doctor for the first time, to diagnosis, advanced treatment, to prescriptions and on my way home was a total of 6 hour. That includes an hour of rest in the doctor’s office with a nice lounge music set piped in through cordless headphones.

Cultural trouble [3] is: though it is speedy and convenient, some westerners might think it is TOO speedy and convenient. I was being seen, moving rooms, looking for rooms, getting labs drawn, and getting invasive treatment all in the short time span of the day. I like that! But I can see that some people want time to absorb it all. Westerners are more used to a doctor making a diagnosis and then scheduling a day later (perhaps much later) for a procedure. They like time to think. Not here. The plan here is to get it done now, after all, you are HERE now.

The doctors and nurses were all quite helpful and concerned. The doctor listened to all my signs and symptoms. He personally would show up at labs and treatments to make sure I was okay and understood what was going on.

The total price with a national health card? $10us. Without that card would have cost me a whopping $75us. No Kidding.

Now, despite my moral opposition to stealing money from people (taxation) under penalty for non-compliance (which most laws call extortion)... I have to admit I was impressed. I have been billed tens of thousands of dollars for similar tests, consultations, and treatments in the USA and not had NEAR a quick and human a response as this.

Historically, socialized medicine falls apart everywhere it has been done. The nature of red tape enters in and human touches turn to flow chart medicine. Some of that is evident now in the over-worked general practitioners in the cities that may see well over 100 patients a day in their office. But for now, Taiwan is doing an interesting job of it.