What Sort of Relationship Do You Have with God?

I have traversed the two China’s for enough time to now to make some simple observations of people’s different views of God.  I cannot continue to write this without making some generalizations however so please forgive if the broadness if my words unfairly depicts your individual experience.  What I wish to communicate not only has implications for those who wish to serve in a missionary capacity but for any Christian who wants to know the God of the Bible.

God indeed is a person, and He has discoverable traits that can be known to those who have a relationship with Him, but what kind of relationship? Granted an infinite God cannot be fully known, and thankfully that is so, because I would imagine that in the course of eternity we would become rather bored with a finite god that can completely understood in every minute detail.  Our God always has more that can be discovered and each discovery points to His goodness that fills up the hearts of His people.  If you are on this path to know God, you are busy reading His story and thankful for each discovery you make.

In China and Taiwan, perhaps more so in Taiwan, exists a view of God that is common in poly-theist societies, a belief in many lesser finite gods.  The main idea here is that god enters a bargaining relationship with you, because he is finite, that must mean there is something that god lacks.  It is therefore an opportunity for the worshipper to produce whatever it is that god needs in return for a supernatural blessing from that particular god. The greatest thing of value in this relationship to the gods are not the relationship itself but the material blessings one hopes to achieve.  All throughout Taiwan are these temples dedicated to this and that god known for some particular interest they have.  People can be seen worshipping in hopes to earn the blessing from the gods.

The sad thing is though, this is how many people view God of the Bible, wanting material blessings more than wanting God.  This leaves the worshipper in a self-centered view of the world and frankly unrepentant.  In Athens, Paul teaches a very strange message about a God who has no needs, an infinite Creator that cannot be reduced to a temple or bartered with.  The God of the Bible doesn’t need our worship, therefore there is nothing we might give in exchange for some blessing we want. How does one approach a God like this?

In our life we have different degrees of relationship with people.  With your grocer you may have rather common bartering relationship.  As long as your grocer offers good deals and convenient service, you’ll continue your business there.  But perhaps someone opens up a closer shop with better deals, better service, and better quality.  Our loyalty easily sways to the better deal.  On the other hand we have intimate relationship with people such as our spouses and children.  The success of those relationship depends upon a type of sacrificial love and promises to fulfill the needs of the other.  The most fulfilling of these two is the latter.  The most joy, happiness, and sense of fulfillment exist when we uphold a promise to meet the needs of the other, even at the expense of what is best for us.  This best explains the dynamics of a covenant relationship.

As you read the Bible, one should take notice which sort of these relationship God desires with the people He deals with.  An example of this is the “covenants” God makes with Abraham and David.  Here I will only discuss God’s dealings with Abraham however. The culture of our day struggles to find something similar to describe the Biblical covenants we see played out with Abraham.  I would appeal to the covenant of marriage, but suffering of marriage of our day cannot guarantee a close understanding of the biblical concept of covenant.  Unfortunately, marriage has been replaced by a contractual agreement where the “promises” go from
“no matter what” to “as long as you are this, then I’ll be this”.  But rest assured, the relationship God wants from us is a full -on, all-in covenant relationship with God.

Genesis 15

When we refer to the Old and New Testaments of the bible, the word “testament” actually means “covenant” and they both describe the commitments God made to Israel and Christ’s church. In Genesis 15 we see a bizarre scene between God and Abraham play out, a kind of ceremony for finalizing a covenant.  Abraham wants a little more legal proof from God that He’s going to hold up His end of the bargain by provided Abraham with a son despite he and Sarah’s old age.  Abraham is told to prepare the ceremony by butchering a calf, a goat, a ram, a turtle dove and a pigeon.  The animal pieces were placed facing each other in two bloody piles on the ground.  Abraham seems to be preparing the ceremony with the understanding of what is about to happen.  He is about to enter a formal agreement with the Almighty.

The intention is for two parties to make promises to each other that are to be fulfilled no matter what the consequence, and regardless of the other parties behavior.  The fundamental value of a covenant like this one is faithfulness to one’s word.   Along with a covenant are pronounced curses that exist if one should fail to uphold their promise to the other. In this case, the bloody pile of animal carcasses serve as the background imagery for these curses, as though they are saying, “If I fail to uphold my word to you, let me be cursed, let me be butchered like these animal carcasses.”

But this is where something miraculous happens.  God’s intentional delay leads Abraham to fall in a sleep.  God’s presence is represented by a “smoking furnace and a burning lamp”.  One should fight the temptation to get lost in the details of what exactly is representing God’s presence here.  The extraordinary thing is that as God is walking between the halves of the animal pieces, Abraham is absent from the ceremony!  One would assume the ceremony was to be an exchanged of promises between God and Abraham, but what we see here is God substituting Abraham’s place.  This means two things:

First, it means no matter what God will bless Abraham and if God should not keep His promise, He will accept the curse of being ripped apart.  But secondly it means, if Abraham, who has been substituted by God Himself, should fail in remaining faithful to God, then God, not Abraham, will take on the curse for him.  The rest of the Old testament depicts the continual betrayal of Abraham’s descendants against God, but when was God ever ripped to pieces?  How can a transcendent God die? God became a human to died on a cross.  Jesus kept His promise to Abraham. Recall Jesus saying the Pharisees, “Before Abraham was, I AM”

The New Covenant 

If the kind of relationships in our life that give us the most satisfaction are those covenant like relationships such as marriage or parentage, then this is what we must have with God.  This is the purpose of the “New Testament”, the “New Covenant”.  Unlike the many rules and regulations of the Old Covenant, all its conditions have been reduced to one work, “that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29). God sent His Son into the world that through believing all He said and did we might enter in a covenant relationship with God.

In any covenant relationship the greatest thing of value is the relationship itself and not what external blessings there may be.  With our grocer though, the most important is the groceries, but with God it should be God.  Jesus makes impossible things possible, a covenant relationship with God, apart from our belief He fulfills all conditions on our behalf.  With this in view, Christians may view the world with all its temptation in a proper perspective. Just like in marriage, we must fiercely defend against all things that might damage the intimacy of the relationship, and so we have the same attitude with God.  When selfish desires become more important to us than our spouse, the relationship suffers and intimacy is broken, so we combat these things with a promise.  The promises we make give stability and value to the relationship much greater than the value of the kind with our grocer.  How much more value should we give to God who sealed His promises with His own blood?

We are not waiting to find out if God is faithful, He has already proven it!  Anyone may enjoy God now through believing His promises He makes to us, this means believing Jesus is Who He says He is.  

The Taiwan Ten

5 updates from John
5 updates from Alisha

His: I’m blessed to report that Leo, the young man I baptized just after our arrest has come forward to begin a formal internship at the Branches Church in Harbin. I will be continuing training with him over Skype.

Hers: Language classes have started back up once again and I’m excited to share that my language learning is increasing. My tutor, Amy, speaks no English which forces me to use Chinese and learn quick.

His: “Throne Baptist Church” will Lord willing have its first service on the 28th of this month. Praise God for using us this way after our expulsion from the mainland.

Hers: I have personally made 8 contacts and while be meeting with each girl this week for coffee, volleyball, having our sons meet, and baking banana bread. Please pray the Lord will begin to work in their hearts and they will be open to study the bible.

His: A second church plant follows tentatively for July 2015, Lord willing. Both church plants are great giving opportunities that will lead to people getting the Gospel!

Hers: Every time we head out to meet new people Ian draws a lot of attention. Thus giving us the opportunity to invite people to church or have an one-on-one meeting with them, to personally ask about studying the bible.

His: pray for our Chinese tutors, they are first time hearers of the Gospel. They hear the gospel everyday in class, and are indirectly seeing how God reveals Himself in the Bible verse by verse. We have been invited to their home for dinner this Sunday, presenting us with our first opportunity with them outside of class.

Hers: Dec 21st we will once again have dinner with our tutors family at our house. We will celebrate an early Christmas with Thanksgiving turkey and with all its fixings. During this time we will ask the question about studying the bible with us. They are a Buddhist family.

His: We are working hard each day to fill out 25 personal contacts needed for our first church service. Each team member is responsible for 25 personal invitations before first service begins. All Harbin churches had their start this way, we just pray the Lord will bless the effort.

Hers: Please pray with us in finding a babysitter for Ian.

The Taiwan Initiative

The events of our arrests from China have led us on this emotional journey into Tain, the republic of China. We plan Lord willing to not waste any time saturating local communities with invitations to our first church service. It is my personal goal within a months time to be holding multiple bible studies in our home or elsewhere. I look forward to sending reports of the first fruits of our ministry.

Set Up Costs

In October, we will begin rolling out plans to canvass doors and saturate media with our church plant initiative. God willing this will be the first church plant of many, but this one will represent the first of our ministry and your investments into Chinese souls. Several of our partners have asked for details of what is needed. These are some suggestions for a tangible way for folks to invest:

Needs:
Canvassing Materials $430
Media/Advertisement Costs $1800
Chairs/Pews (to seat 100 people) $2000
Chinese Bibles $200
Nursery Furnishings $500
Office Furnishings $400
Children’s Class Furnishings $280
Church Signs $1200
Home Furnishings $2400
Car $19,000
Moped. $300
Plane tickets $3,000

By Faith

We will trust the Lord with whatever we have as we set off on our own next month. Pray with us as we enter into this new exciting work. Here are the break down of some of the needs if you wish to have a part in getting it off the ground.

A Missionary Tale: There and Back Again

Jake and I left from Detroit Monday morning to Taiwan with a short layover into Shanghai. It was a 13 hour flight from Detroit to Shanghai, but we never made it to Taiwan… Before leaving for this trip, I could imagine that Chinese authorities would possibly forbid us leaving the airport, but what actually happened is more than what I had anticipated. Once we landed in Shanghai, two police officers boarded the plane and removed us before letting other passengers off. Even though we showed them our trip to Shanghai was just a transit stop to Taiwan they detained us, searched through our stuff and finally boarded us on a plane headed back to Detroit, another 13 hours. By the time I got home it was early Wednesday morning.

We weren’t detained for a long time. For two hours we were placed in a small room with other officers waiting for certain ones to make decisions. They assumed that we could not understand them speaking to one another as I heard two men speaking, “they can’t understand Chinese right?”, “no” the other replies. Even though they had an officer who could speak some English, we were never given a reason for why we were being detained.

We were escorted by four police officer throughout the airport and it drew a considerable amount of attention from other travelers. There seemed to be a certain amount of confusion and indecisiveness as we maneuvered through the airport. At one moment we are treated as though dangerous criminals another the situation relaxed considerably. Jake remembers their superior officer saying to one of them, “stand facing towards them, don’t take your eyes off them.” This reminded me of Harbin police sending a swat team of armored police to one of the churches Easter morning, severe overkill.

On the plane, Delta seized my passport and didn’t return it until we landed in Detroit. I asked why they did this and she said she didn’t know the reason, it’s was just policy when the Chinese police escort somebody onto a plane. It was a little embarrassing to be looked at and treated like a criminal in public, and even by an American company Delta.

Jake and I are definitely disappointed that China seems out of reach for now., we will trust the Lord’s leading in this. We still anticipate trying for visas into China later, but now we can say with some confidence that Taiwan is on our immediate horizon this October Lord willing. Saddened about China, we are still very excited about Taiwan. We visited Taiwan shortly after we were deported the first time and we were surprised to find the mission field that exists there.

Pray with us going into Taiwan, seeking the Lord’s council above all others. There are certainly many things besides loss of liberty that threatens the ministry. We ask The Lord to protect us from all schemes the devil uses to complicate the Gospel message.

We Ought to Obey God Rather than Men

The high priest and the sect of the Sadducees were filled with indignation against Peter and the apostles for preaching Christ, a crime against the judgement of their lawful council. The officials of government converged on Peter and the apostles throwing them in prison to wait till the morning when they should be questioned according to the laws they had broken. But before the night was over, God opened up the doors of the prison by means of an angel, instructing the men to return to the temple, and again proclaim the words of Christ boldly.

After doing so the officers came to the prison to find it empty and discover the men had not fled, but have returned to “the scene of the crime” preaching the name of Christ Jesus. Being brought again before the council their accusers question them, “Did we not straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name?” Peter’s response to the authorities would forever set in motion a principle for the ministry of the Church, saying, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”

“We Ought to Obey God Rather Than Men”

Throughout the history of Christians in the face of persecution, Peter’s example has been a pattern for all to follow. It concerns us to avoid using Peter’s words in the wrong attitude but in the manner as a harmless dove. But what is more concerning in modern trends of missions is to deny this principle altogether; to turn it on its head and say in effect, “We ought to obey men rather than God.” Somehow either because of fear or ignorance of where man’s authority comes from, we stop proclaiming Christ when its “against the rules”.

In Acts 4 and 5 we see both the command and the approval of God to preach Christ in places where it is illegal. “Go and speak in the temple” God said to the disciples as He divinely opened the prison doors for them. Where human government in their earthly authority closes doors to the proclaiming of the Gospel, God’s authority remains superior to keeping them propped open. Christians have to decide who they will obey, and who’s wrath will they suffer, God’s or man’s. May we be reminded where authority of men ultimately comes from (John 19:11). Men do overstep their God given authority when they forbid the preaching of Christ. There is no decree of men, king, or emperor that may overrule the absolute authority given to Christ Jesus, and therefore Christ’s people have all authority to proclaim its message anywhere and everywhere.

Because we are so far culturally removed from the early church, lets unpack the scene a little more. Backing up to chapter four, the thing that impressed the rulers was the boldness of the apostles proclaimation. The rulers then devised a plan to directly threaten them that the Gospel would “spread no further”. In spite of the threat, the apostles returned with the same message and same boldness they were warned to cease preaching. The result led to their arrest, incarceration, and beating, but is that all? It wasn’t the end for these missionaries. Before their lives would be taken from them, the church multiplied and so did their boldness in their converts. Bold Stephen preached, bold Philip evangelized, James slain for boldly preaching Christ, persecutor Saul became the persecuted Paul boldly preaching in council after council appealing to Caesar himself.

These men hazarded their lives for Christ not with mousy voices but with bold proclaimations. Certainly these men knew precautions could have been taken to avoid persecution, but the goal isn’t do all that you can to avoid persecution, there is plenty of scripture that teach the inevitability of persecution for anyone living godly in Christ Jesus.

“Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”

I’ve often heard this verse misquoted by a few to somehow defend a more cautious preaching of the Gospel–as though wisdom somehow means for us to be less bold with the Gospel, so we cave into man’s rules not wanting to offend the beast. Nay, the wisdom alluded to is the same that disciples exhibited while boldly taking the Gospel into often hostile territory. The wisdom the Lord Jesus referred to is not to avoid persecution so as to preserve one’s life a little longer, but to preach the Gospel in the most effective way possible. We are to use wisdom to broaden the scope of our preaching to the most hearers as possible. Sometimes this meant for Paul to get back up after being stoned and returned into the very same city, or other times claim Roman citizenship, a move which made certain his death, but brought the Gospel to heart of Rome.

On Tent-Making

Falling under the “wise as serpents” category we consider the modern tent making ministry. I can imagine some situations where business and the gospel might be joined together so my comments here have to be carefully chosen. Too often in my opinion is tent making chosen as the primary form of missions strategy. The strategies we utilize should exhibit the wisdom Jesus spoke about, and so whatever is the most effective way to preach the Gospel is valued as viable strategy.

With that being established, there is no substitution for the straightforward full-time ministry in the word, prayer, disciple making missionary. This is the model of Acts first demonstrated by Jerusalem and again by Antioch. The church agreed that “serving tables” was not the best use of time for the apostles who had the responsibility of getting the Gospel to the world. Their main objectives and greatest strengths rested in the preaching of the word and prayer. In action produced disciples, spending hours privately together reproducing strong Christ like leaders for the multitudes to follow. This isn’t to say serving tables is beneath full time Christian workers, as I am sure the foot washing Christ did for them made lasting impressions on their future work.

There can be no substitute for the ministry of starting churches to train disciples of Christ that will reach future generations, far beyond the life-span of the missionary who began it all. So often tent-making becomes exactly that, a substitute. I’ve spoken to a number of future missionaries in seminary whom present to me a grand plan of starting a career in a foreign field doing some professional service for the people there. Like these young hopefuls I have done the same things planning my service into China far in the future with grand schemes of English teaching, Martial arts, and Karate for Christ tournaments. I intended to be loved by Chinese students and families far and wide all for the Gospels sake.

But the method of missions does not have to be re-invented, and I found within my own schemes a certain amount of sinful pride which perverted the message of the Gospel. Just as we submit to Christ in everything, we need to submit to His way of doing missions. I needed a Paul to come and tell me my hypocritical way of living did not coincide with the Gospel given to me. While no missionary admits a job is more important than the gospel we begin to live hypocritically, sacrificing a bold witness for Christ to protect the career we’ve built in the name of missions. For example as an English teacher in China we would refrain speaking Christ’s name and preaching Him to students because it was against the rules as an English teacher–church planting was simply out of the question, as I couldn’t risk my teaching job, or my visa being revoked. Missions is not an accessory to a prospering career. If indeed the tent making becomes more important than proclaiming the Gospel itself, then missionaries often take measures to protect the tent making at the expense of bold Gospel proclamation.

The question isn’t whether or not the New Testament believers possessed boldness while proclaiming the Gospel, but do we? Boldness comes from inside the soul that has a fierce love for the Savior, grateful for His goodness and ready to avenge against all former disobedience. Zealous for the name of God, bold proclaimers are ready to charge into foreign nations or when our actions do not coincide with the Gospel, make seasoned judgements within the camp, all for the sake of God’s great glory. Don’t let somebody tell you can’t go and preach Christ boldly, directly, effectively. And if they do simply say, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye”. Just know there may be a high price to pay, so count the cost.

“For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”

There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus and being made right with God we escape the eternal wrath of God. Shall we not endure the temporal wrath of the beast for Christ’s name sake? Being completely converted by the Gospel that ensures our salvation no matter what men do to us, how can we do anything beside proclaiming it? We do not fear the one who has the power to kill the body, but the One who has power of the body and soul.

Paul says, “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.” When you are consumed and converted by the Gospel, then boldness comes naturally as an outpouring charismata of the Holy Spirit in times of need. Your converts will need to you be an example of boldness when its their turn to face the wrath of the beast.

Dear Missionary Candidate

There are many skills and tools a missionary in China or elsewhere  can utilize in the discipling of men for the ministry. When talking about the tools however, its important to acquire the right tools for the job. I recently met a young lady who was genuinely excited about the report I had just given in their church. I explained in the report that one of the tools of ministry in China is using English to make contacts with people that will lead to bible studies, gospel presentations, and one on one discipling relationships. Many young people like her come up to me with joyful expressions telling me how they’ve heard of english being this wonderful tool to use for the Gospel. This young lady and many like her are so enthused about this one tool, they spend four years in college honing the skills and later achieving the proper certifications to teach English as a Second Language.

I admit the idea of using English as an inroad into places for the Gospel seems like the sensible thing to do, but allow me to make some adjustments to this thinking. Let’s say I have just completed my four year degree in ESL and now have been ministering in China for several years. I have seen the beginnings of a Chinese believer’s life and how it forms into maturity even into leadership of a church. Assuming that my efforts has been the primary role in discipling this believer to maturity, how much of a part did ESL play in this young believers life, in his pastoral training? The answer is, it wasn’t worth the four years I spent training in ESL.

The point of using English or any other “platform” is just to make the initial contact. After the contact is made, I never use English with the new contact again. The young man is then trained in his own language, his heart language.

It is said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” This is a true statement in the world of missions. Bringing an ESL degree into a church planting ministry is like bringing a sledge hammer when you only need a tac hammer, or maybe just your shoe. Assuming your understanding of missions is correct, that is making disciples of Christ is your ultimate goal, then you will find the right tools you need for the job. You will find some tools are too heavy or too light, others are just not necessary, but some can’t be done without. I’m afraid the most necessary tools of bible literacy, foreign language, and ability to teach are the most lacking in modern missions especially in China.

Now you could become an astronaut and spend all the years in school and training just for the noble goal of witnessing to the handful of astronauts that live in the space stations that orbit the earth. And after all the hard work you manage to train one of the astronauts to take the leadership of the space station church you’ve spent years and years of schooling, money, and efforts into building. The story would be legend, but not because your work was effective or fruitful, but for it’s novelty. Now as absurd as this sounds, this is just want some folks amount to doing with platforms like English.

Pragmatically, anyone with the goal of church planting and discipleship would not go about it this way. Experienced church planters know that the platforms they use are just ways to connect with people, and not means to an end in themselves. Our English clubs were very dispensable, and they served us well when we needed to make a few new fresh contacts. We never signed contracts with schools or entered agreements that would burden us further than the usefulness of the platform.

I am definitely not a survival expert but I do love studying and practicing the skills in wilderness survival. When you are all alone out in the wilderness nearing evening hours, shelter is a priority. If your food source is low then you can’t spend the calories erecting a palace to sleep in for the night, but rather you want to conserve energy by making a simple shelter using what nature has already provided. It may be a over-hanging rock, cave, or fallen tree, but the survivalist knows that the shelter is not the main thing, being rescued is. Spending unnecessary energy on a grand shelter could be a fatal mistake. Over emphasizing a platform in missions is like building a castle out in the wilderness when you are only going to stay a night or two. In China, it is super easy to begin an English corner whenever and wherever you like, no ESL degree necessary. You make contacts very quickly and then can move on to more important things from there.  The quality of the English corner that you host is irrelevant, especially if your first a language is English. The English corner becomes no longer necessary after you’ve filled your contact list with people to invite for bible study.  It will only become an unnecessary burden if what you really want to do is make disciples.

Experienced church planters and men trainers will give you a much different picture of what to prepare for and what tools are better suited for the job. The majority of the work in missions is not fine tuning the platform, although it is important to have effective platforms, but majority of work is loving the people you are discipling, and teaching them the Bible as well as how to study it. In the case of training leaders for church, they must be taught the doctrines of the Bible and learn the guidelines for the New Testament Church so they can continue to protect it from heresies after the missionary is gone. My recent trip revealed the fault of many past well-meaning missionaries that failed to pass on the leadership and doctrinal grounding. Many of the churches left behind have now been infiltrated by cults and “another” gospel.

For serious church planters who pattern missions after the works of Paul, the tools they would say to bring with you are the most practical ones intended for teaching, training, and loving disciples until they are mature and able to make disciples of their own. The platforms we use are often so over emphasized, they steal the spotlight of missions for their novelty and romanticism. They make a good story a lot of times, but lack any fruit that remains. For church planters, fruit isn’t seen immediately and people like seeing fast results. Persecution can often be a catalyst for maturity in believers as we have experienced, but either way, a young disciple needs time of mentoring in the Word of God before they bear true spiritual fruit.

My advice to young people or anyone praying about serving as missionaries is to speak with experience church planting missionaries before making decisions that will affect the next few years of your life. You may find in their wisdom a more direct and practical route to the joy of serving Jesus Christ in missions.

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Skype-a-Missionary

There is a trend in missions using Skype that provides a new inexpensive way for both churches and missionaries to get connected.

My wife and I are seeking to return to China or Taiwan by September the first, which does not give us a lot of time to visit new churches and raise the additional support we are recommended to raise. A simple solution is Skyping with churches who have the ability to do so. With the pastor or staff member’s help, we could share our burden, speak with teens, adult classes, small groups, show videos, answer questions, and even preach. We would be able to continue to schedule meetings even after we’ve returned to the field. For our provision, we will pray and trust the Lord like its all up to Him, but we also work and use our resources like it is all up to us.

So if you are a pastor reading this contact us and we’ll see about scheduling a meeting in the near future. We would like to get back to China fully supported, but willing to go with whatever the Lord provides us with.

walzinchina@gmail.com
740 407-4942