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.