Monday, March 29
God's way just doesn't make sense.
Sometimes we try to incorporate biblical messages in our classes, just to see if we get a bite or a reaction on which we can follow up. Last week I wrote a proverb on the chalkboard for my Chinese majors to read, put in their own words, and contemplate:
"If your enemy is hungry, give him bread. If he is thirsty, give him water. You will heap burning coals on his head and you will be rewarded."
After hearing some of my students try to explain the meaning of this proverb, I asked if they liked it. Most of them said yes, it was a good saying. I asked what they thought of putting it into practice by showing kindness to people who had hurt them. They said that they would try it in some cases.
Then I wrote on the board the more famous maxim,
"An eye for and eye, and a tooth for a tooth."
They immediately recognized this saying and even told me the Chinese version, which also has a catchy ring to it. Then I asked them which of the two attitudes was better-- "bread and water" or "eye for eye"-- hoping there would be a breakthrough. I was careful not to insert my own opinion, because I wanted them to be genuine in their response and discover which was better for themselves. After some discussion, the class decided that it would be best to offer bread and water after the first offense, but if the person continued to hurt you, you should adopt the "eye for and eye" policy.
Finally, I decided to show them the way of Christ and see how they responded. I asked, "What would you think of someone who was hurt, but showed kindness in return? Then they were hurt again, and they continued to show kindness, over and over again forever?"
There was silence. Processing. Pondering. I had them thinking! I was excited. What would they say? Would a light bulb come on? Would they get it?
Then the silence was broken by a 90 pound Chinese girl in the back row (pictured above), who raised her fist in the air and shouted, "RUBBISH!"
Then the whole class joined in agreement. Anyone who allowed themselves to be run over time and again was a fool indeed.That's the thing about the gospel. If obeying God's way made sense, everyone would be doing it. Let people hurt me without seeking revenge? Give my hard-earned money? Take the lowest seat at the table? I'd have to be a fool to do that!
I was shocked at my student's response to God's way, but when I think about it they're right. From their perspective, someone who follows God's way is a fool. Maybe the ultimate challenge is to show people the eternal perspective. From that point of view, rather than being counter-intuitive, God's way is the only way that makes sense.
Monday, March 22
Jesus' standards were much higher than mine. That raises two questions:
One, should I demand more from would-be followers of Christ?
Two, do I live up to his standard for a disciple?
Jesus traveled countless miles teaching and preaching about the kingdom of heaven for three years, at the end of which his following had waned to a measly eleven disciples. How did this happen? He healed incurable diseases, raised the dead, outwitted the religious geniuses, spoke words that amazed everyone who heard, fed thousands and cast out enough demons to require drastic expansion and renovation of hell.
Yet Jesus ended three years of ministry with only eleven disciples because they were the only ones willing to pay the high cost of following Jesus. Many would-be followers attempted to join him, but the price drove them away: "Sell everything you have," "Let the dead bury their own dead," "No one who follows me can look back," and so on.
If someone came to me and said they wanted to become a disciple, but they first needed to bury their father, I'm afraid that in my mind I would think, "Here is someone with an interest! I should do whatever it takes to bring this person to Christ!" I would spend hours with this person until they became a disciple. But that's not the way of Christ. He had no time to waste on those who were not immediately ready to follow him. Jesus' time would be better spent maturing the faith of the devoted.
What would history be like if Jesus, at the end of his ministry, had produced hundreds or even thousands of semi-devoted disciples instead of eleven disciples so devoted that they would go to their deaths for the sake of the kingdom? I don't think Christianity would've made it. So...
Should I demand more from would-be followers of Christ?
Other important questions: What about me? Do I follow Jesus without hesitation? Do I obey without question? Am I faithful in adversity?
If not, can I call myself his disciple?
Thursday, March 18
March has really been blessed.
Kris and I have been overwhelmed with the way God has moved this month. We have enjoyed more success in the past three weeks than in the three months of last semester. Relationships are deepening, new relationships are progressing effortlessly, confidence is building, goals are being achieved. But why? What is so different about this term? I can only guess:
1. The Big Man is in it. It can't be denied that what we're experiencing is the work of his hand. He's moving the mountains. I'm just glad we have a front seat to watch the action.
2. Big prayer. Kris and I both have people thinking about us every day. Not only thinking of us, but of the people we are trying to reach, our students, our friends, all of the work. I know that is playing a huge role in what we're seeing. Thanks to our prayer networks, dozens of people pray for us. Some are praying for us one day a week. Others bring us before the Father every day. On any given day, there are 25 people praying specifically for us. In a week, that's 175 prayers. In a month, the number goes up to 700. Think that goes unnoticed Upstairs?
3. Hard work last semester. The majority of our work last semester was relationship-building. We tried to spread our influence and by our actions let people know what we were about and that we cared about them. I believe all that invested time and effort is paying dividends this spring.
4. Now-or-never-all-or-nothing-we-only-have-a-few-months-left-so-pull-out-all-the-stops Attitude. The clock is ticking on our time in China and we have no reason to hold cards. July is coming, like it or not, and all that will remain in August is regret. We have determined that we will leave China regret-free this summer. With this attitude, we can be more aggressive and that leads to more opportunities.
5 . Yes. This three-letter word is power-packed. We use it all the time. Want to eat together? Want to work out together? Want to play basketball? Want to walk together? Yes, yes, yes, yes. "No" gets you home early and extra time in front of the TV. "Yes" gives you a chance to make a new friend and maybe a chance to plant a micro-seed of the Gospel.
So praise God for March Madness in Hangzhou, even if it has nothing to do with NCAA basketball. For the record, though, I'm still hacked that Calipari went to Kentucky.
Tuesday, March 2
Today after class I was standing in front of building 10 waiting for Kris to meet me. As I stood there at lunchtime near the center of our campus, there was a mass exodus of students coming from the classroom quad to the cafeteria block. Standing just a few feet off of the path, I began counting students. They were coming so fast that I had to count them in twos. Kris arrived after only a couple minutes, but I had already counted around 300 university students. All studying on my campus. All living on my same square mile. And this was only a fraction of them!
As I counted the students, I thought about their hearts. How many of the 300 would be open to a Good Word? How can I recognize which of these students is good soil and which is not?
Our strategy is to always speak with loaded statements. They are open invitations to talk about spiritual things. With creativity, these loaded statements can become second nature. As we become more and more accustomed to speaking this way, our speech changes from useless banter to purposeful communication.
"It's a beautiful day," becomes, "God has given us another perfect day."
"This food is so good!" becomes, "God gives us all we need."
"Goodbye," becomes, "God bless you."
"I'm sorry to hear that," becomes, "I will be praying for you."
Sometimes these micro-seeds of the gospel lead to conversations and future opportunities for sharing. Other times, they fall on seemingly deaf ears. However, I believe that His word will not return to Him empty-handed. At the very least, everyone we speak to will know where we stand. And they will know who to come to the day the Big Man finally breaks through to them.