Thursday, June 30, 2011

Church Music: Kevin DeYoung Offers Insight

The "music wars" in church are one of the most God-dishonoring activities that has plagued the Body of Christ over the years, and our era is not the first time it has been one of Satan's tools to divide us.  Psalm-singing Christians hated Isaac Watts' "invention" of hymns; those who sang without instruments have labeled organs, pianos, guitars, and every other instrument as "satanic" in church.  And we all know the disagreements that rage today among Christians about musical styles, instruments, volume, etc.

I was blessed to read Kevin DeYoung's articles on his blog at The Gospel Coalition website, "Ten Principles for Church Song."  The first is here, and the second is here.  These well written guidelines can and should provoke some serious reflection for all, and I commend them to you.

One of the best quotes in the articles was from John Calvin, who said
But because he [the Lord] did not will in outward discipline and ceremonies to prescribe in detail what we ought to do (because he foresaw that this depended upon the state of the times, and he did not deem one form suitable for all ages), here we must take refuge in those general rules which he has given, that whatever the necessity of the church will require for order and decorum should be tested against these.  Lastly, because he has taught nothing specifically, and because these things are not necessary to salvation, and for the upbuilding of the church ought to be variously accommodated to the customs of each nation and age, it will be fitting (as the advantage of the church will require) to change and abrogate traditional practices and to establish new ones.  Indeed, I admit that we ought not to charge into innovation rashly, suddenly, for insufficient cause.  But love will best judge what may hurt or edify; and if we let love be our guide, all will be safe. (Inst. 4.10.30)

Follow the links if you would like to consider this more fully.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A great quote from Doug Wilson

I don't like to get into political matters very often publicly, for fear that my individual statements may be taken as the positions of either my church or Christians like me, but this quote from Douglas Wilson, discussing both secular conservativism and secular liberalism's fatal flaws was funny and pointedly correct about current thinking.
"Progressives think that if we get a big enough mob outside Isaac Newton's house chanting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, gravitation's got to go," that we can get our way with him, which will then enable everybody in the mob to float home, and why didn't we think of this before?"--Douglas Wilson
He had earlier said that secular conservatives talk sense without a foundation (they are often right but have no ultimate basis for their starting points), while secular liberals talk nonsense without one (they believe that whatever people want at the time is a starting point, which means positions change with popularity).

He's much more Reformed than I am, but his blog is often a good read and has a clever name:  Blog and Mablog

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Baptism: No Big Deal?"

This is a GREAT post by Craig Blomberg from Denver Seminary on the importance of baptism. Read it here.

Trevin Wax: "John Rice, the Sword of the Lord, and What We Should Learn from The Fundamentalists"

I don't want my blog to have too many links to book reviews, but this review is worth reading. Trevin Wax is a writer himself whose work I have appreciated, and his review of a recent biography of John R. Rice is probably more important for many of us than the book itself. When I read the title of the review, I wondered what it would contain. Having read it, I think many of us who grew up in fundamentalism, especially of the independent Baptist variety, will relate.

You can read the review here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday Morning Follow-Up on Genesis 6

Our brief return to Genesis certainly gave us (or at least me) a lot to digest.  The chapter sets the stage for the narrative of the Flood, but while Moses and his readers had some framework of understanding so that these words were clear to them, our distance from those moments leave us digging for clues.
1.  How long after the Fall was the Flood?  If one takes the genealogies at face value without assuming gaps, it is about 1,500 years.  There may be gaps, which would make the time period longer by however many generations you want to assume are skipped (there is no textual evidence of generations missed, and Enoch is called in the NT the "seventh from Adam" which is correct if they are without gap), but you cannot shorten the period without redefining in some way the wording of the text or the meaning of "years"
2.How many people were present at the time of Noah?  I gave a chart suggesting that there could have been as many as a billion!  Now, I'm not saying that there were a billion, but I would argue that there is no reason to believe that people would have had less children than many families today have, that people whose fertility may have extended over four centuries could certainly have considered sizable families "normal," and we should not think that the earth was not being "filled" as God had made possible through the way he created Adam and Eve for that purpose.  They had five children we can document, and Genesis 5 says Adam had other sons and daughters (plural).  Each of the patriarchs is listed as having other sons and daughters (plural).  Another clue--Cain built a "city" named after his son, Enoch (Gen 4).  Even if it is just a village, It is only Cain's family that would live there, and one would expect that it had more than Cain, Mrs Cain, Enoch, Mrs Enoch,  and a few grand kids!  The suggestion that sons of God chose as wives whoever they wished is believed by many to indicate polygamy and the establishment of harems--not implausible given the sinfulness and polygamy already mentioned in ch. 4.  We have sultans that have hundreds of children today, and that may well have happened back then.  Finally, why cover the world above the highest mountains with water, if we are talking about only thousands of people, especially in one concentration? 
3. Who were the "sons of God?"  I gave you three options--fallen angels who co-habit with women, the men of the line of Seth corrupting their godly heritage through marrying ungodly women (possibly in the line of Cain, but chosen only for their outer beauty), or a combination where they represent demons lusting after women, and then possessing willing men who marry and raise violent offspring.  I lean to the last view, but all are legitimately held and defended by conservative, evangelical, biblical scholars, so I'm not offended if you think another view is more tenable.
4. Who were the Nephilim?  We saw they existed before and after the flood, may have been giants, but most of all were a violent class of men who enforced their rule or their power by their violence.  They became famous, but not for good.
5.  What was the 120 years mentioned in 6:3?  The language is so unclear that I honestly am "stuck" between 2 views.  The more common is that this is a 120 year advance warning that judgment (the Flood) was coming because of man's wickedness.  We would thus translate "My Spirit will not always contend with (or abide with) man, for he is flesh--his days (before judgment) will be 120 years."  The OTHER view, which is equally sustainable, is that it is God's first step of judgment, declaring man's lifespan will be shortened from the lengths of Genesis 5.  So we would translate it this way "My spirit will not always remain in man, for he is flesh, his days (life) will be 120 years."  Either way, it is a divine judgment against man's sinfulness.

Why does all this matter?  That may be the biggest question! 
1. God gives us these details to establish His sovereignty, His plan, His nature, our history, our need, and His grace.  He believed it was important for Moses to record this for Israel, and for us.
This story tells us just how wicked humanity was, and is.  The witness of Adam, the possible continuing presence of the Garden and the cherub-guarded Tree of Life, and the testimony of godly men from Seth to Enoch to Noah did not win the day. 
2. The big picture is vital.  Humanity takes God's provisions and gifts (including life) and corrupts them.  There is no hope to be found in ourselves for goodness, let alone for righteousness to stand before the God who made us.
3. Deliverance is always a matter of grace.  After telling how bad things were, how sinful humans are, and how sorrowful and grieved God was, God shows that he is both just--he judges--and gracious as he sets his favor on Noah as the means by which humanity will have a future.  In the same way, your standing before God is never safe if grounded in your own goodness or ability to earn right standing before His perfect holiness.  It is always about grace--God offering you favor, forgiveness, and life, if you believe His Son's death was as your substitute and is alone sufficient to take your deserved punishment and if you call upon that Son to save you.

I'd encourage you to be reviewing your notes or listening to the message again between now and a few weeks from now when we return to the series.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

More “Radical” Isn’t More Radical—A Review of David Platt’s Radical Together

I read David Platt’s book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, and liked it well enough to put it on my “top recommendations” list for 2010.  While I had a slight concern or two with secondary matters, the book’s heart and soul were exactly what the church in America needed to hear.  I even reread it this week in preparation for reading Platt’s sequel, Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God.  The second book is good, but like many sequels shines most in its reflections on the first book, and has little that substantively advances the material of the original.

In Radical Together, Platt seeks to take the principles and ideas articulated in Radical and create an environment for applying them together within the context of the local church.  In the first book, the last step of Platt’s “radical challenge” had been to be committed passionately to a faith family, and this book argues that the life of radical obedience, while an individual decision, is not carried out alone. 
Platt presents six statements that he believes the church must grasp to guard and nurture a community of radical faithfulness to Christ.  Each statement is the core of one of the six chapters of the body of the book.
  1. One of the worst enemies of Christians can be good things in the church.
  2. The gospel that saves us from work saves us to work.
  3.  The Word does the work.
  4. Building the right church depends on using all the wrong people.
  5. We are living—and longing—for the end of the world.
  6. We are selfless followers of a self-centered God.

In these six statements I hear echoes of numerous very good books that I have read over the last ten years, from Piper (in statement six especially) to Rainer and Geiger (in statement one) and a host of others.  That is not to say that they are bad ideas, but they are not new—and to his credit, Platt is not saying they are new.

In brief, Platt argues that the church is often more committed to what it does already than to what it should do, and pleads with believers to stop justifying actions or programs by deciding there is nothing wrong with it—there are many things that are not wrong that nevertheless cannot be a priority.  He then calls upon us to realize both the life-changing and life-directing power of the gospel, rightly calling for a gospel life that bears the fruit that the root of grace assures us will come.  He emphasizes the importance of God’s message over any of our ideas, strategies, and plans, and calls upon us to trust what the Bible says.  He removes any thought that human ability or giftedness can produce the spiritual results God desires.  He speaks pointedly to living for the next world while in this one.  And the glory of God is shown to be the right focus not only of us, but of God, for our good.

I agreed with each of Platt’s assertions, and in many ways they were a helpful “fleshing out” of Platt’s theological underpinnings in ways that help you understand where he comes from in the first book.  I suppose no one book can capture all that any author wants to say, but I felt that this would have been better as a final chapter or section of Radical.   The first book needed more emphasis on the corporate element of living the life Jesus calls us to.  If this book were going to do justice to that subject, it may well have needed to be longer than it 120 pages of content.   Instead, we have a second book, offered at a fairly high retail price, that unfortunately proves to be less challenging, less creative, and—ultimately—just less than the first book.

To one and all, I say, “read Radical.”  Then, to church leaders who want to see how Platt begins to apply the corporate dimension of that book, I say, “Pick up Radical Together and see.”  You’ll be helped, but not as much as you were challenged by the first volume.

(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.  I thank them for the opportunity.You can read this and other reviews at their website.  Here is the link for this review:

Enjoy this video!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Heyuan to Zijin to Hong Kong

It was time to leave at 8:30, and after a good night’s sleep at the Emperor Court Hotel (a tribute to the Napoleonic era!) we had a very Chinese breakfast (that I topped off with a granola bar) and we hit the road.  The countryside drive from Heyuan to Zijin took us through traditional villages, rice paddies, and mountains; scenery that is not remotely a part of my normal life.  I’m so thankful for Timothy Lam’s work as our guide, interpreter, and driver.  He has given us so much insight, and he has kept us safe.
We parked our vehicle at the government building, and walked the streets of Zijin to the church building.  Like many of the churches we’ve seen, you entered on the first floor, which was a combination parking garage and kitchen, and walked upstairs to a sanctuary.  It looked much smaller than the main floor of GBC, but they normally have 1000 worshiping there and another 1000 who can only make the trip a few times a month due to work or distance.  Pastor Liu hosted training in the past, and now a generation of workers has been raised up there to go out.  30-40 trained workers, plus others, came this morning for further training.  I met one of the pastors who was trained one year ago, has been pastoring since, and has 1000 people attending his church, with 100 baptisms in the last year.  I greeted these precious brothers and sisters, and Pastor Lam shared instruction on starting family (small) groups—“study the Bible every time, pray for each other and for the government and the church, don’t gossip, and help the poor” were the main points. 
We then went to visit the construction site of this congregation’s new building.  It will seat over 1000, and they will keep the old facility as well.  Keep in mind, this is the “official” church that is evangelizing, growing, baptizing, and is receiving encouragement (and some funds in the past) from the government to grow.  And they are sending out more pastors, who are starting more churches.  This huge construction project needs $300,000 to finish, and the church has already raised and paid more than that for the land, the building structure, and the first floor.
Another banquet followed, with some things I’d eat (deep fried egg yolk in bread), and others I’d rather not—strangely, the mushroom soup tasted nothing like mushroom soup, but I opted for it over the duck blood.  Watching the Lams interact with the government officials was a lesson in wisdom, discernment, and the power of relationship and trust.  I’m learning much by watching my brothers here, and am reminded of just how much the various parts of the Body of Christ need each other—to help and to learn from each other.
Lunch came to an end, and Timothy drove us the 3 hours to Shenzhen, where we walked across a border and caught the Hong Kong subway back to the Salisbury YMCA—literally right there (this was after going through exit inspection in China, customs, and Hong Kong immigration first).  A few last minute chores needed to be done, and then it was time for a farewell dinner of sorts as Todd and Myron will head back to Beijing, and I’ll fly out tomorrow for the US.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Macau and Heyuan

We left Hong Kong by ferry at noon, arriving in Macau a little more than an hour later to an immigration hall that had apparently stopped working.  We found ourselves in a mob of hundreds (thousands perhaps) trying to get into the gambling capital of Asia.  It took 90 minutes, and the mob slowly morphed into “lines” at passport control, and we got through late.  A very rushed Timothy Lam happily met us, dropped us off at a hotel, and headed to the church where he had to lead a special baptismal service at 2:30!  We were met and brought from the hotel by Sam, the church’s administrator, and arrived as the baby dedications were ending and the baptisms beginning.  There were 46 baptisms!  It was amazing to watch, and as everyone was baptized, the congregation sang “Happy Day, happy day, when Jesus washed my sins away!”  44 of the 46 were adult converts!  Amazing.

Lam Ministries is the ministry of Pastor Lam, who came to Macau in 1971 to take over a dying church of 20 people.  They now have thousands in 14 congregations in Macau, 2 in Hong Kong, 2 in Taiwan—a multi-site approach.  Pastor Lam’s son, Timothy, pastors in the main church in Macau, assists his father in leadership of the ministry, and is our guide during our time here.  They have a vision for evangelism that is breathtaking.  They brought in Nick Vujcic last December and had 10,000 attend.  And they used the Venetian Hotel and Casino facilities to do it: they televised it through the region as well.  Timothy drove us around Macau, where we saw the famous fa├žade of the Catholic seminary that is a remnant of the work of Matteo Ricci, the first Catholic missionary to China.  We also drove by the cemetery where Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to China, is buried.  Morrison’s work was groundbreaking, but also problematic.  He could only come to China as a translator for the British trading company, and their notoriously rapacious practices were indelibly linked in the Chinese consciousness with the arrival of Protestant Christianity.

Timothy took us through Macau, where we saw the huge expansion of the territory through land reclamation from the sea, mainly to build casinos.  Gambling is Macau’s lifeblood, and each citizen received $7000 (Macau dollars) last year from the profits.  10% of Macau’s workforce are card dealers, and this city of 500,000 had 23 million visitors to the casinos—75% from mainland China!  The challenges to the spiritual life of the people are great, but we have seen evidence of God’s work going on here.  We had dinner with the Lam family and staff to celebrate the baptism of Timothy’s son in the service, then Timothy headed off to preach in the evening service (the third of three worship services on Sunday) and we headed to our rooms; exhausted but blessed.

The next morning, we had breakfast in McDonalds (Todd was rejoicing in American food, and I was pretty happy to see golden arches just around the corner from the hotel).  Timothy Lam picked us up and we headed to the border crossing—a simple affair as we made our way back into China’s Guangdong Province. 

Lam Ministries is actively training workers in Heyuan—a fast growing city of 6 million.  These local workers are being trained to be church planters throughout the area.  One example of the fast growth of the work: one church was started 2 years ago and that new church plant has started 12 new branches, the smallest of which is 25 members, and the largest being 150.  Workers are trained in a center for one year, then they go to Macau for additional encouragement and leadership seminars.  By coming to Macau, they get to see the way the Macau church organizes the conferences so that they can take the model back to their own locations.  It is a model to multiply both outreach and discipleship in the new churches.   

The Lams were trained by Campus Crusade, and began their work with house (unofficial) churches, but saw tremendous opportunities to meet needs in the officially sanctioned church.  So now, they work with the TSPM churches (official church), finding wide open doors for cooperation and outreach.  They will survey the church situation, locate local church leaders and government officials who are amenable to Lam Ministry’s presence, and then if the doors are open, they come in.  Timothy said that one of the greatest hindrances to the growth of the church is the relationship among church leaders—a sad but universal commentary.

They have come to 30 cities in China thus far, and GBC facilitated a grant to assist expanding this work through the training and support of new workers.  The goal is another 20 churches through this effort.

Once across the border, our drive was a three hour ride, arriving at Heyuan around lunch time.  Unlike breakfast, lunch was very “authentic,” which meant a bit more questionable than other meals.  South China eats a very different diet, some would say a diet built out of poverty, that is harder to embrace.  Lungs, intestines, stomachs, heads and feet; these are main fare, along with some other more normal dishes.  Myron offered the oft-quoted evaluation by others:  Cantonese (those of south China) will eat anything with legs except a table, and anything with wings except a plane.  I have to remember that whatever we grow up with is “normal,” but I’m thankful for my “normal” nonetheless. 

We met up with Pastor and Mrs. Lam at our hotel.  Pastor Lam is a 75 year old dynamo who has used strong vision and relationship building to open doors that few in the USA would dream are even possible to open.  Evidence of this was immediately seen as we were also greeted by the current deputy chairman of the local religious affairs bureau, and his retired predecessor.  Both would come to the graduation with us and celebrate afterwards.

We drove about a half hour to the church where the training was being completed.  20 graduates finished the one year program set up by Lam Ministries, and the service was a real encouragement to all of us.  As we finished, they sang the hymn that captured their vision and made me long for the same vision at home:

Rise up, o Church of God

Have done with lesser things

Give heart and soul and mind and strength

To serve the King of Kings.

These newly minted church workers will, in many cases, serve without salary.  Some will go where no believers are and build up a preaching point for the mother church.  And this will all be done with a certificate handed to them by a government official, in a region far from the metropolitan centers of the country.  You would be hard pressed to tell me that work in this country must be covert.  In times past, yes.  In some situations, care may still be called for.  But there are more opportunities available openly than are currently being met.  It requires integrity, wisdom, patience, flexibility, and respect of Chinese ways and culture.  But registered churches in this region are accomplishing every bit as much as unregistered churches here and elsewhere, and here very possibly much more.

As we sat and talked with Pastor Lam afterward, we asked what opportunities were next on the agenda.  He mentioned one province that is particularly known as “resistant,” but he has been invited to bring his ministry there by officials.  Other provinces are waiting as well. 

Our Chinese government hosts banqueted us in the evening, with much unfamiliar food, and then we went to another official church that has prepared about 20 people to go out to villages.  I was one of those asked to share, and it was humbling to call them to faithful service, when I look at how much easier my road is than theirs.  Again, the religious affairs bureau deputy praised the work, even as the pastor shared about “Happy Friday” outreaches that bring people into the church to share the gospel.  The church has grown and is looking to multiply itself. 

One great challenge for the Chinese church is the relative lack of male leadership.  Most of the church workers and pastors are women, and they are the vast majority of the church population.  Part of the problem is that Chinese culture relies heavily on sons to provide for parents; and this, combined with the one child policy, puts great pressure on a young man to find a good paying job to support both sets of parents and his own wife and child.  Parental pressure against ministry for men, plus having more women in the church to begin with, accounts for this situation.  Add to this the rapid growth of the church and desperate need for evangelists and teachers, and you can understand why the situation is what it is.  We should pray for more men to serve.  But in the meantime, we should pray for the women and men who are seeking to share and serve faithfully.  We are not changing our desire and commitment to be faithful to what we believe we should do in obedience to Scripture, but my thinking is that we allow the Lord to bring the same convictions and understandings as His Word is understood and applied and the church grows in maturity. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Hong Kong

Arrival in Hong Kong meant crossing a border (not officially “international,” but into a “Special Administrative Region” with its own passports—Hong Kong is under China’s “one country, two systems” policy and even Chinese citizens must get a visa to visit Hong Kong).  You see remnants of British organization, but it is now much different than my visit just prior to the handover in 1997.

If Beijing has grown into a rich and powerful commercial center, Hong Kong is still the capital of conspicuous consumption.  As you take the train into the city, you are arriving in what was once the purest system of capitalism in the world.  Much has changed, but there is still a LOT of money and spending here, and every upscale brand is visible on the streets and on the signs in the shopping districts. 

We arrived at our destination, the Salisbury YMCA on the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula at around 9 pm, and made our way to our rooms shortly after.  We arrived without Todd Rivetti, who was to join us here Friday night.  His flight from the USA was cancelled and his arrival put back to Saturday night.  This meant that we would take most of the day Saturday without agenda or commitments, which turned out to be a great blessing for the two of us.  Myron was able to catch up on work without having to show me around, and I was able to rest, wander the streets (I’ve been here before and have a slight familiarity with things, though by no means an expert), and enjoy being able to use some English and visit Starbucks, where I could get coffee and 20 minutes of free internet!  I was able to post my previous posts there—couldn’t access this host in China—check my email, use Facebook and Twitter (not available in China either), and do a little gift and souvenir shopping (more looking than shopping, but got a few things).  Myron joined me for late lunch and a walk through the port area, then he headed to the airport in the late afternoon to get Todd.  When Todd arrived, we went on a walk through Kowloon Park, and then the Temple Street Night Market.  We then came to one of Myron’s favorite “hole in the wall” restaurants (the entrance really was a door into a walkway and you would not see any evidence of the restaurant from the street).  A great meal was followed by a walk back to the hotel and a good night’s sleep.

A word about the YMCA where we are staying.  It is run by a management that has the desire to “put the C back into the YMCA”.  They continue to be a testimony and ministry to the community, in addition to operating an excellent hotel.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Beijing, part 3

Thursday was the last full day in Beijing, and it was full!  In the morning we were finally able to have a meeting that had been scheduled twice but postponed.  It was well worth the wait, and after meeting we understood why the previous appointments were rescheduled.  Our guest who we met at Myron’s office is connected with every aspect of the situation in China related to religious freedom and current situations.  As we said afterwards, we could not have had a more insightful briefing from a more knowledgeable and influential source.  There is much happening in China at the moment related to religious freedom in the larger context of seeking to maintain social stability.  Much has been reported in US and world news sources about one church’s decision to worship outside when their facility was closed to them by their landlord and a facility that they had purchased was  not made available to them upon its completion.  It is a very complex situation with a long history involving a number of parties and disputes.  Currently, five of the church’s senior leaders are under house arrest.  This has ramifications far beyond one church and it is occurring at  a time when any sort of “instability” is viewed with great threat.  Our guest offered background, insight, and possible ways forward for this and other non-“state” churches (churches that are a part of the TSPM, the state-organized and sanctioned Protestant body in China).  It was a fascinating meeting that transitioned into a lunch honoring our guest for his work and his time.

In the afternoon, we traveled to visit the Apple Tree Kindergarten, a private preschool, kindergarten, and center for homeschoolers in China (what a concept!).  Run by Hannah, the principal, and her husband, Max, Apple Tree’s goal is nothing less than to change the foundations of education in China, by being excellent examples of education using the morals, ethics, and values that are found in Scripture.   It is not a Christian school, but it does not hide the Christian faith of its teachers, and offers after hours opportunities for people who are interested to learn of the faith that is the underpinning of the school.  Max and Hannah’s passion for education stems from their love of their own three children and the desire for them to have a better education than is available through other channels.  The homeschool coordinator (a Ph.D. from Harvard in education) seeks to equip parents in quality education, and many families are seeking opportunities like this for their children.  Many parents, even non-Christian ones, are seeking ways to send their children to the U.S. to go to Christian middle and high schools, even living with host Christian families to do so.  Amazing.  Max and Hannah both have advanced degrees, but their love of children and their deep faith stand out most of all, even in the face of some adversity, such as Max being removed from a role of authority in a fellowship.  The reason: they had a third child, which is against government policy.  And it was a foreign worker from the US who urged this “discipline!”  I was embarrassed to hear this.  They also host teacher training for other schools, and summer English camps.  Volunteers can come from the states to help, and do!  What an encouragement this time was!

Our final meeting of the day was with a very good friend of Myron whose ability to interact with us on the theological needs of China’s believers was as insightful as any we have received.  Daniel is not a theologian, but a lawyer.  Yet he has studied much himself.  For example, he told me he prefers the English translation of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion over a Chinese one because the English translation lets you hear Calvin’s heart, but the Chinese comes off as more academic.  That is an insight I couldn’t even relate to, having only read them in English!  Daniel’s final words to me were to pray for his church, and pray for his fellow believers there.

We had a great dinner together, then headed “home”—the Blumenstocks to their hotel/apartment and Myron and I to his apartment, to start packing for our trip to Hong Kong.

[By the way, I let Myron read these posts for accuracy, and he was very concerned—that you might get the idea that we were eating “high on the hog.”  Well, to tell the truth, we have eaten a fair bit of hog—Doug Swaim, you would be the most popular man in town here, just like at home Smile), but our meals have generally been very inexpensive, especially compared to what you would pay at home for them.  And, any additional expense incurred has been to keep my very USA-accustomed digestive system, shall we say, peaceful.  Don’t want to border on TMI, but you get my meaning.]

Friday was our travel day, but there were a few things to accomplish yet.  Myron had a meeting with a former Chinese colleague about possible future projects (such must be continually done to secure resources for Kaifa’s continued ability to support its work in China).  Then a bit more personal work—Myron helped the Blumenstocks and me to navigate the markets of Beijing to find some gifts to bring home!

We parted ways at the market, as Myron and I had to go the apartment, pick up our luggage, and head to the airport for our flight to Hong Kong.  Unlike all other flights on this trip, this one was on time and there were no delays (unless you count our car not starting when we tried to leave for the airport—and our driver fixed it pretty quickly).  Arrival in Hong Kong meant another wholesale change in perspective, and one I’ll write about next time.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Beijing, part 2

Tuesday’s portion of my Beijing week began (after a rather relaxing start) with a trip to Peter’s Tex Mex Restaurant, next to the St. Regis Hotel in downtown Beijing.  We were there for brunch—which I seldom would associate with Tex Mex, let alone Tex Mex in Beijing!  We met Jamie, a Kaifa associate here to translate for ABTS work, and Joann Pittman, a China veteran, ELIC employee, and Desiring God’s China consultant.   Over a great American breakfast, Joann spoke to Jim, Karen, Jamie, and me on trends in China and how they affect ministries here (Ella quietly drew pictures of the Great Wall and other things).  Joann also discussed the rapid growth of Chinese social media and the strong and growing Christian presence there.  This may offer groups such as Desiring God great platforms for influence, and we talked about how ABTS might establish such a presence.

Following our brunch, Jim and Karen went shopping to outfit their temporary home, Myron and I went to our rescheduled appointment from Monday, which got cancelled again.  So we met up with Blumenstocks and went to see Thomas and Casey’s home church pastor.  Meeting with him was such a blessing, and he shared his heart with us.  We spent some time in prayer together before we left, asking God to bless and guide this godly pastor, his church, and others here at a very critical time.

Tonight, we dined at “Element Fresh,” a contemporary American restaurant frequented by Beijingers who want to have what we would consider “trendy”.  It was a very good meal, and a very “American” experience as our server identified herself by name, and gave the same kind of welcoming words you’d hear back in the good ol’ USA, except the grammar was just a bit different.

Then we went down to a street of shops from imperial days of Beijing, now refurbished, next to Tiananmen Square to walk down lanterned streets and past market after market.  We didn’t buy anything, but enjoyed the walk and the scene.

Wednesday continued our string of meetings.  Today it was a time with Pastor Chen, the leader of the church with which Myron has worked to bring ABTS to Beijing.  Pastor Chen has been a helpful advocate in  gaining approval for ABTS to be here.  The particular training ABTS is going to do is meant to help equip leaders for discipleship within this fast growing church, and other churches experiencing similar growth.  Pastor Chen has a great heart to see the church grow deep as well as in number, and this was a great opportunity for Jim to reestablish contact and for all of us to hear Pastor Chen’s excitement for the potential of this ministry.

Lunch was followed by the one “BIG” touring item I hoped to accomplish—we traveled to the Great Wall of China (not the restaurant, but the real thing).  What an amazing day, as the wind had cleared the pollution and haze, and Myron said he’d never seen it so clear.  This marvel of perseverance and monumental human effort can leave you speechless!  Our time was capped by a “bobsled” chute ride down the mountain!  We drove a few miles to a local restaurant (“The Schoolhouse”) for a great meal in the shadow of the Great Wall, and then traveled back to Beijing.  Myron set me up for a sequel—this time a full body Chinese massage (by the way, these experiences are so inexpensive that they are a regular experience for many Chinese).  It was—interesting.  It involved lots of pressure and more than a little discomfort; although I don’t want to make it sound bad—just very different from what most people might think of when using the term “massage.”  I liked the first one best, but could see the benefits of both (though truth be told, I’m not sold on the idea that massaging the arch of my foot will help my liver, but it can feel good).

China defies expectations and descriptions.  The old and new, the familiar and totally foreign (to me), the “way things are” and rapid change—all in the same place, and often in the same moment.  One thing is clear: China is tough to figure out (as was said to me, “If you are NOT confused, you aren’t paying attention!”), but well worth the effort.  The growth of the church has been exponential, and that means, as Paul wrote about his time in Ephesus, “a door for effective service” is opened wide.  But, as he said in the same passage, “there are many opponents.”  Sometimes, we think we know who the opponents are, but the reality is not always what is reported.  Pray for the God’s work here, and God’s blessing on His people here.