15 January 2014

Happy Birthday, Honey!

Since it is now, in this moment, the morning of the 15th of January here at Handong in Korea, i am sending the Happiest of Birthday Wishes to the most amazingly grace-gifted woman, friend, wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, Registered Nurse, Physical-Therapist-Assistant, baby-sitter, elder-care giver, piano-teacher to her grand daughters, Sunday School teacher of the Deaf, home re-modeler, "pioneer-woman", and Sign-Language (both American and Korean) Interpreter (just to begin to describe her), i now know or will ever know. i love you, Honey!  

20 March 2012

Though He Fall, He Will Not Be Utterly Cast Down . . . . .

I have done my fair share of stupid things, but this past Friday afternoon will have to go down in the annuls of my life experiences as one of my stupidest.  Here's the picture of the "unbalanced man."  I was hurrying across campus heading back to my apartment.  In one hand, I was carrying an over-weight bag of groceries and in the other, my mobile phone.

My first mistake:  hurrying. My second: carrying too many groceries in just one bag rather than separating them out into two. My third: attempting to retrieve a text message while walking too fast and carrying too many groceries in one bag.  These three added together caused me to be distracted from the path I was upon and consequently, to completely lose my balance when I stepped-up upon a large rock that leads up a small hill along a short-cut to the faculty apartments.

In this unbalanced state, I fell back and to my left landing with a resounding thump upon the cold, hard Handong ground.  The mid-section of my left rib cage absorbed the brunt of the impact and pain immediately followed.  How more stupid could I have been?  That was the persistent question that pressed hard upon my dizzying thoughts as I laid there catching the breath that had been knocked out of me. In time, I rolled over and sat up, still a bit light-headed, though.

Eventually, I regained my footing, gathering up the groceries that had been strewn about by the fall, and resumed my journey, now walking much more slowly and deliberately along the sidewalk and up the road to my apartment.  I was able to prepare the lunch that I had been rushing to complete, but with a new found awareness of the realities of life -- a new thorn in my flesh for which I now need Christ's sustaining grace all the more to bear.

After heeding the wise advice of a caring colleague, I went later in the afternoon to the hospital and found from the doctor's exam and x-ray's that the fall had caused nearly inch-long cracks in two of my left ribs.  Now, four days on, the pain in my side persists reminding me night and day of my on-going need to slow down and give thanks for the goodness of our God.

That goodness has been lavished upon this poor miserable, stupid, unbalanced man by the gracious, tender kindnesses of his students, family and friends who have been attending to his care with many visits, thoughtful prayers, meal preparations, dish-washings, house-cleanings, telephone calls, and the sweetest text and Facebook messages throughout his days and pain-filled nights.

Through these and in so many other ways, I have been overcome by the love of our God who promises that, though I fall, and surely I do every day, I will not be utterly cast down, because the Lord upholds me by His hand.  Psalm 37:24

29 February 2012

Some might say . . . ."Well, its about time!!"

Here I am at the beginning of my fifth semester of teaching at Handong.  When I first was thinking about teaching abroad, (more than three years ago) colleagues who had done so strongly urged me to make the most of my experience by learning the language of my host country. 

But, I've never been very good at learning, and even worse at speaking, modern languages.  Give me Koine Greek or Classical Latin -- you know, those dead languages that no one speaks any more!!  "Semper ubi sub ubi!!"  I still remember that maxim from my high school Latin teacher at St. Paul's in Concordia.

So . . . I've resisted the counsel of my colleagues and the advice of my loving spouse, who, by the way, started her language lessons within two weeks of arrival here in the Spring of 2010.  
Within one semester, she had already excelled far beyond my "An yong ha se yo" and "Gam sa ham ni da!" -- which have been my main stays for the past two years! 

I've resisted that is, until now.  This evening, I experienced my first lesson in Korean!

And while I've been told that Korean is one of the most difficult languages to learn, and even with my built-in, hard-wired, left brain-right brain-disability with language-learning (primarily, I would contend, because I'm a visual rather than an auditory learner) I found my lesson this evening to be exceptionally fascinating as well as intellectually stimulating. 

Korean is a very "scientific language" -- that is, the formation of both the consonant and vowel sounds follow a very rational, logical progression.  
My tutor demonstrated how the vowel sounds progress from those made with the mouth wide open to those made with it increasingly closed.  As I saw the sounds being produced and heard them expressed, they began to make sense even to this lingua-dumbie!  

Now, I must confess that I find other Asian languages, such as Chinese and the Chin language of Myanmar, to be much more melodious.  But, the precision of Korean is beginning to rival what I had previously believed to be only the province of the ancient classical tongues.

There was, however, one very disappointing discovery.  I say disappointing, but it was also a very enlightening insight into how language shapes our view of the world.  I asked my tutor to tell me the Korean word for "dove."  The word is 비둘기 (pronounced "bi dool gi").  It means "pigeon."  

There is no separate word in Korean for "dove."  So if I were to quote the Song of Solomon to my beautiful wife telling her that she had "dove's eyes" (see Song of Songs 1:15), I would say  in Korean, "You have pigeon's eyes."  Not as romantic as Solomon's words to the Shulamite.

So, in this case, it might not work for me to advise my young male Korean students to master the poetry of Solomon as they make their preparations to woo the woman of their dreams.  Well, so much for Korean as a language of love; at least that is, in translation.  

I hear, though, that I still have much to learn both about and from the Korean language, which admonition I readily accept and yield to.  So . . . . off to start my homework! It is indeed about time that I started!

12 February 2012

“People of Yangon, I perceive that in every way you are very religious."

I've just returned to Handong after spending 16 days in Myanmar -- "the Land of the Golden Pagodas."  This photo was taken during my walk through the shines of Shwedagon Pagoda, the largest Buddhist pagoda in the entire world. I felt that I had a greater sense of what Paul experienced when he walked through the shines and temples of Athens (Acts 17:16-34).  I was invited to Myanmar to help teach and train pastors, church leaders and missionaries who serve among the ethnic tribes and native Burmese.  What I found, though, was a study in contrasts.

Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) was once one of the most well-developed countries in all of Southeast Asia.  Now, it is re-emerging from third-world status that has characterized it over the past 50 years.  As a result, contrasts between wealth and poverty abound. On one street, you may find a brand-new high-rise building under construction next to a derelict, dilapidated structure.  Rather than repair and renovate them, most buildings are left to deteriorate. On one side of the river, a modern city is rising, while on the other side, the people of a primitive village eek out an agrarian existence.

But the greatest contrast of all is a spiritual one.  The vast majority of people are cultural Buddhists and over 1.8 million are monks or nuns who daily walk the streets offering prayers in exchange for gifts of rice, fruits and vegetables.  There is, though, a substantial minority of Christians who are the spiritual children of such servants of God as Adoniram Judson.  While their numbers may be small in contrast to the followers of other faiths, the devotion of believers in Myanmar was a true encouragement and challenge to my heart.

Many of these believers gather in small home churches in the villages to worship and hear God's Word.  Others meet in well-established churches within Yangon and other cities.  Bible colleges and seminaries have been founded throughout the country to form and equip leaders for the churches and workers who take the Gospel to the un-reached Burmese Buddhist in the villages.  As I visited among the believers in Myanmar, I realized that the needs of the churches in this country are, in fact, the same needs that exist in churches in all countries, whether developed or emerging.

There is first the need for servant leaders among the churches.  The church in Burma, as well as in Korea and America, already has its fill of men and women who seek to dominate and compel the obedience of others not by their Christ-like example, but by an appeal to institutional position and title.  What is truly needed, though, are followers of Christ who seek to serve others according to the pattern of Christ's life -- by bearing the burdens of others.

Second, there is the desperate need for the teaching of God's Word. All too often, ministries are started and churches are operated according to human ideas and worldly practices.  There is a sad lack of Biblical teaching beyond the fundamental truths of the Gospel.  When church policy decisions must be made, most appeal to the intuition of men rather than to the principles of Scripture. And once decisions are made, there is a lack of willingness to subject those decisions to the scrutiny of Scripture.  These two needs, though, are no more prominent in the churches of Myanmar than they are in the churches of America.

In contrast to what I've found in American churches, however, Myanmar has in abundance among its believers those who desire and are willing to follow their Lord wherever He leads without attachment to this present world.  And it is the evidence of that desire in the words and actions of these dear brothers and sisters that compels my heart to remain open to future calls for further service to the people of this beautiful land.

17 January 2012

03 September 2011

I would rather Speak Five Words with my Mind . . .

One thing that I love about my life abroad @ Handong is the depth of spiritual devotion that I find in nearly all my students and faculty colleagues.  There are represented here a wide variety of faith traditions within the Church -- the Body of Christ.  Such diversity is, without a doubt, a strength of our university community.

With diversity, though, comes the potential for an unbalanced, over-emphasis on certain dimensions of spiritual life and experience.  I have recently become even more aware of this likelihood, and my heart is burdened by the possible harm that out-of-balanced teaching and practices may cause, especially in the lives of young people whose hearts are seeking after God and desiring to experience his presence and power in authentic ways.

This, however, is not the first time such a concern has arisen in my mind.  Early on in my walk with other believers, I encountered several brothers and sisters who taught that the only way to "know" that you were blessed and empowered by God to live a life following after Christ was to have a special spiritual experience where you spoke audibly in the hearing of others with ecstatic utterances -- what these teachers called "unknown tongues" -- that is, not an actual human language that one had not previously learned, but rather a series of sounds emanating from your mouth that they claimed were an evidence of God's presence and work through your physical body.

After first encountering this teaching, I asked my spiritual mentor to help me understand whether this was a pathway of spirituality that I should pursue.  As a wise mentor and guide, he pointed me to the Scriptures, and in particular to First Corinthians, chapters 12, 13 and 14.  He said this was the portion of the New Testament that spoke most directly to the exercise of spiritual gifts, including what the Bible calls the "gift of tongues."

He explained that the Apostle Paul was actually answering questions in this passage that had been previously raised by the believers at the church in Corinth.  Paul's main point in response, my mentor said, was to remind the Corinthians that all of the gifts of the Spirit of God were given so that followers of Christ might be enabled to build-up and strengthen others.  Their purpose is not individual benefit, but rather the benefit of the whole body.

He also stressed that whatever spiritual gift I may think God has given me that gift must always be exercised out of a heart of love for others.  He taught me that this is the main point of Chapter 13.  Speaking in tongues, whether they be the languages of men or of angels, is worthless unless it is an expression of love to others.  He then went on to show me that love is demonstrated when we speak in such a way that others who hear us understand what we are saying.

If I speak aloud in the hearing of others in a way that they do not understand, I am not loving them. I am not edifying them.  Only when the unknown language is interpreted and others then understand the message is there any potential for their benefit -- their edification.  My mentor also taught me that some Christians practice speaking in tongues as a private prayer language when they are alone.

He noted that there was even a mention of this type of private "prayer language" practice in 1 Corinthians 14, verse 2, where Paul describes the one who is "speaking to God and not to men."  Such a private practice of tongues, when not in the hearing of others, is consistent with the overall point of the instruction that Paul is giving in this passage, however, it is a practice that focuses the believer's attention inward rather than outward toward others.

In contrast to private expressions, in the cases where audible words or sounds are spoken in the hearing of others, my spiritual mentor said, those words and sounds should either be directly understood by the ones hearing them (that is, they should be spoken in a known, common, human language) or they should be interpreted immediately so that all may understand and benefit.  (See 1 Corinthians 14:26-33).

The aim of all audible expression among gatherings of believers should be mutual edification and common blessing.  In fact, Paul also warns that if this practice is not followed, then unbelievers who might happen to come in to the gathering would be confused and think that those speaking in expressions that are not understandable are out of their minds.  (1 Corinthians 14:23).  As followers of Christ, we are charged to pursue the well-being of others before our own individual spirituality. "So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church." (1 Corinthians 12:12)

At the conclusion of this passage, Paul reiterates the importance of doing all things that can be seen and heard by others in ways that will build them up.  He evens uses a proportional argument to show how important it is to speak in an understandable manner whenever what we say can be heard by others.  Five words that can be understood -- spoken with "my mind" -- are more important than speaking 10,000 words in uninterpreted and unknowable expressions.

The proper balance is struck when we pray and sing with both our spirit and our mind.  (1 Corinthians 14:15).  If we truly desire to be loving others as Christ loved us, then we should pursue practices that build others up with the clear and understandable proclamation of God's Word.  Let us press on to maturity as we seek to live our lives for others, even as Christ so lived for us!

Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.  Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.  (1 Corinthians 14:19-20)

19 August 2011

"Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder"

According to one source, the Roman poet Sextus Propertius gave us the earliest form of this saying in his Elegies: "Always toward absent lovers, love's tide stronger flows."  Personally, I thought it must have been Shakespeare or Guillaume de Lorris, but no matter.  Is it true?!?!?

Does spacial separation deepen authentic love? And if so, does the greater the distance and longer the time of separation prompt an even deeper devotion? I do believe it does, and I say this not just as an intellectual contention or an emotional aspiration, but rather, based upon lived-experience.

On the 26th of August, my wife and I will celebrate the 33d anniversary of our marriage.  We will, however, be half-a-world away from one another.  Sandy in St. Louis, and me here, once again, at Handong.  But in the most true sense, only space separates us.  I've just returned to begin preparations for another semester's teaching this fall.  The wonderful seven weeks of our time together this summer during my leave in the States passed all too quickly, but it did afford delightful times of refreshment and strengthening of our relationship.

Now, I'm looking ahead to the third semester that I will be here teaching in the absence of my Beloved.  But periods of separation from family are not uncommon in these present times.  Last semester, Sandy would often remind me during our Skype calls that the men and women who serve us so faithfully in the military are frequently duty-bound to lengthy times of separation from their loved ones.

Our good friends, Kurt and J.Sun, with whom we enjoyed wonderful visits in Seoul last year, are even now separated due to Kurt's one-year deployment in Afghanistan.  And just this past Sunday, I met Seth at our Pohang International Community gathering.  He has begun a six-month tour of duty here with the U.S. Navy and will be separated from his wife and three young children for that entire period of time.

When country calls, soldiers and sailors obey.  Would it be any less the duty of a follower of Christ to heed his command even though it meant parting from loved-ones for that time of service?   Jesus has promised his followers this: "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life." (Luke 18:29-30).

But he gives more grace, and by God's grace and mercy, I'm continuing to learn each day the truth that absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder.