Author Archives: Mark

Weekly Mind Dump: Blessed

✪ I went to the doctor this week with my wife and I asked the doctor if she would be willing to tell us the gender of the babies since we are foreigners. Normally, it is illegal for them to tell you. For foreigners though, it is a little confusing. Anyways, she agreed to let us find out…and as my wife wrote on Facebook: “Latest update on the twins: Baby A revealed his gender to us during yesterday’s ultrasound. Baby B is still a mystery.”

✪ Good news on our renting/remodeling situation. First, the homeowner of the two main apartments we rent agreed to sign a three-year contract and approved our remodeling plans. He is also hoping he can sell it to us in the future. Second, we are remodeling the main two apartments by putting in a nursery and then remodeling the newly rented room into a kids room. Lord willing, everything will be done by the end of this month.

✪ This past Friday was our ten-year wedding anniversary. I am blessed to have been married for ten years. God has been good to us. I also enjoyed the day (alone) with my lovely wife. On Friday, we had three families from the church each take one of the children to spend the night at their house. The children had a great time and two of families asked if the kids could stay over another night. It is Sunday afternoon now, and two of the kids are still out with friends playing and the smallest is home taking a nap. We are blessed to have such greats friends that love on our family and children. My wife has done a wonderful job training our girls.

✪ I was thinking about Chinese…and we know there are four main parts: listening, reading, writing, speaking (maybe grammar can be added as a separate grouping). Each grouping is separate from the other (although they are connected) and one doesn’t automatically help you build up the other. Thus, practicing speaking all day doesn’t help you improve the other three. Only practicing those other three will make you improve. Now, there is always a little influence and overlap in each area, but not to the degree that it is useful. Listening will help you with listening and not speaking. Speaking will help you speak, but doesn’t’ improve your listening. Reading characters will help you read but it doesn’t help you perfect writing. Each area needs to be equally studied if you want to equally perfect each area. One more thing that came to mind concerning writing…there are two types…pencil and paper and then typing. You could easily be able to type characters, but not able to write them with a pencil. So this is two sub-categories of writing. If I was grading myself from best to worst, according to how I studied, then it would be as follows: Speaking; Writing-typing; Reading; Listening; Writing-pencil.

✪ One of the American families that have been working in our church for the past few years is working towards starting their own church. This past week they hosted VBS in the housing complex that they bought a house in. They hosted it in their new house and the Lord blessed. They had a great turnout with over 30 kids and many parents. So far they haven’t had any problems from authorities or neighbors…since they have been building relationships in the community. I am very proud of them and the work they are boldly doing. We pray the Lord continues to bless them.

Remodeling: Adding a nursery on to the main auditorium.

View from 38 stories up overlooking the harbor.

Matthew: Jesus Calls And Ministers

Memory Verse: Matthew 4:19-20

4:12-17 Jesus, The Great Light

  • 4:12-13 When Jesus heard that John was cast into prison, He left Nazareth and departed for Galilee. He lived in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim. Matthew doesn’t record everything that Jesus did before He came to Galilee, but we know there was more from the other Gospel accounts. Therefore, we are told, “Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison,” so that we know where in the timeline of events that the following story took place.
    Matthew 14:1-12; John 1:29-4:42; Luke 4:14-30
  • 4:14-16 Jesus moved to this specific location to fulfill scripture. Isaiah (Esaias) the prophet said, “The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness…”—This area had suffered from an invasion by Syria (their time of darkness). But the prophet continues saying they “saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.” Even though they had suffered in the past, there was hope in their future. Matthew tells us that this hope is going to be fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus is the Great Light. Just as light causes darkness to cease, Jesus will cause the captive to be free. If today you are living in a “dark” place, there is good news for you because Jesus brings the light of change. He is here to free you from your chains of bondage.
    Isaiah 9:1-2; 2 Kings 15:29
  • 4:17 The light was Jesus Himself and the message that He brought. From that time, Jesus began to preach. He came with a message for mankind, saying, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is the same message John the Baptist was preaching. Repentance is the change of mind that produces a change in behavior. The reason they needed to repent was because the kingdom of heaven—God’s rule over the life of believers is at hand. Jesus was here to establish God’s kingdom in the hearts of mankind. He is preaching salvation and the victorious life. Will you listen?
    Matthew 3:1-2

4:18-22 Jesus’ Call To Full-time Discipleship

  • 4:18-20 Jesus is walking by the sea of Galilee when he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and Andrew. We know from the Gospel of John that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. Therefore, we know that these men have heard of Jesus. They know that He is possibly the promised Messiah. We can assume that they received John’s baptism and their hearts are ready for the Christ according to all that John the Baptist taught. These two men were also fishermen. As they were casting a net into the sea, Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus had greater plans for their lives than they did. He called them out of their profession to “follow Him”. Every disciple of Jesus is called to follow Him wholeheartedly, but some will be called to leave their profession to serve Him full-time. Jesus’ plan for their lives is to make them “fishers of men” instead of “fishers of fish”. He is going to train them to take the message of the “kingdom of heaven” to the world. These two brothers immediately left their nets and followed Jesus. These men didn’t take the time to consider the implications of leaving their full-time occupations to follow Jesus, but they exemplified the faith needed to step out and follow the calling of God. God is calling some of you men to do the same.
    John 1:19-42
  • 4:21-22 Jesus went on from there and He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John. They were mending their nets in a ship with their father Zebedee. Jesus called them. He probably called them in the same way that He called the two other brothers. These two brothers immediately left the ship and their father, and followed Him. Not only did these two brothers leave the family business to follow Jesus, but they left their father. Jesus didn’t ask if their parents approved of them being in full-time ministry, but as men He knew they were to make a decision of their own. Today, the calling is the same, every man must make the decision about serving Jesus. It will cost you leaving your occupation. It will cost you leaving your parents. There is a price to pay, but it is worth it. God is looking for men today to give their lives to serve Him full-time. Will you?

4:23-25 Jesus’ Full-time Ministry

  • 4:23 Jesus went about all Galilee doing three things: (1) Teaching in their synagogues—these were places where the Jews congregated for worship and instruction, therefore Jesus would go there and cause them to understand the true meanings of the Old Testament Scriptures. (2) Preaching the gospel of the kingdom—Jesus would publicly proclaim the good news of the kingdom. Everything was going to change because of everything He was going to do and He was preaching this new way. It was a message for all to hear. (3) Healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people—Jesus also preformed works of compassion and mercy. He didn’t just focus on the rich and comfortable, but His message and healing power reached the lowest of the low among societies order of importance.
  • 4:24 Jesus fame went throughout all Syria, therefore, the people brought all the sick people that were taken with divers diseases, torments, possessed with devils, lunatics, and those who had the palsy unto Him and He healed them. Jesus didn’t turn away those who society would deem as crazy and not worthy of the time of such a leader who is quickly becoming famous. Jesus took time to minister to these people. He performed miracles that couldn’t be denied. The sick people were immediately healed every single time. It wasn’t like today’s false teachers who claim to heal people and it doesn’t work or the person wasn’t really sick and they claimed to be healed to cheat others into believing something false. The power for Jesus to heal also wasn’t based on the faith of the people He was healing, but was based on Him, the Healer. Today’s false teachers do the opposite, blame their failures on the lack of faith of others.
  • 4:25 The response to Jesus’ constant teaching, preaching and healing caused great multitudes of people from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judaea and from beyond Jordan to follow Jesus. Things were really happening and people were responding to Jesus. They wanted to know more about who this person was. I am sure their mind was filled with questions: Was He really performing miracles? Where did His wisdom of the Scriptures come from? What was this gospel of the kingdom He spoke of? Could this really be the Christ? They followed Jesus to find these answers and we will find them out as well.

Review Questions

  • Why was it important for Jesus to go to Galilee?
  • Who is the great light?
  • What did the first two brothers have to give up to follow Jesus?
  • What did the second two brothers have to give up to follow Jesus?
  • What three things did Jesus do as full-time ministry?

Weekly Mind Dump: 5

✪ We had another great Sunday. Because of our moving and remodeling and the lack of space during the transition, we have just been having the Sunday morning service for the last two weeks on Sunday. But we were given the key to the new place we rented today, so we should start getting back to our normal Sunday schedule next week and re-start the kids club next month.

✪ This has been a long week. I have done a lot of counseling and working through different problems with those in the church. It isn’t always fun, but it is always needed and always worth the time to invest in someone else’s life…even if you don’t get anything else done that day.

I went to the US embassy this week. During the train ride, I wrote a post and many seemed to enjoy it, if you missed it, you can read it here.

✪ I heard someone say you become the sum of the 5 people you are around the most. This made me think about how this applies to learning the language? Let me give it a go: Your language will become the sum of the 5 people you talk to (or communicate with) the most. So in China, if you are learning the language, you need to ask yourself, who are the five people I talk to the most every week (excluding spouse and kids)? Do you talk to 5 people within a week? Do you talk in Chinese or English? (Includes all forms of communication, face-to-face or Facebook.) If the 5 people you talk to the most every week aren’t talking to you in Chinese then you probably won’t learn the language. If some of the 5 people you talk to the most every week are talking to you in Chinese then you might learn the language. If the 5 people you talk to the most every week are talking to you in Chinese then you most likely will learn the language.

✪ In the quote below, there are three areas that are mentioned as problems for missionaries adjusting to a new culture during their first term on the field. The three areas mentioned are relationships, ministry, and expectations. I would agree with this. Relationships are hard to form under the stress of a new culture and we become self-focused and forget to love one another. Ministry is often harder to do and many don’t know how to go about it or they get so busy with surviving their new life that they don’t have time to serve. Expectations are set really high before arriving or one thinks others have set these unrealistic expectations for them and the weight of the language and new culture often causes them not to live up to it. Whatever aspect the author is looking at these three areas from, struggling to adjust to new relationships, not finding fulfillment in ministry and failing expectations all can crush one’s spirit. Missionaries can easily fall into the trap of thinking about how much better their relationships, ministry, and ability to fulfill expectations were in America. It is a struggle of the mind and a missionary needs encouragement and ultimately connect these three areas with his true identity in Christ. Only after this is done can we work through the practical problems that arise on the field.

Quote from Culture Shock by Myron Loss

Matthew: Jesus Resists The Temptation Of Satan

4:1-11 Jesus Resists The Temptation Of Satan

Memory Verse: Matthew 4:4

4:1-2 Temptation: Darkness That Follows The Light

  • 1:1-3:17 So far, everything we have studied about Jesus has been glorious. We studied His genealogy that pointed to Him having the right linage to fulfill the prophecies of the coming Christ. We then studied His miraculous virgin birth as He was declared the One who would save His people from their sins. Wise men brought presents to worship Him—the only one worthy of worship. The king was threatened by this young child who was born in a manger, and tried to have Him killed, but He was protected. He grew older and at the right time He found John the Baptist and received His baptism to fulfill all righteousness. Finally, the heavens opened, He received the Spirit of God and God declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
  • 4:1 Now, the glorious story turns dim and Jesus is tempted to do wrong. We have heard that He is the Son of God, and now we will find out as Jesus is led by the Spirit up into the wilderness (a desolate place) to be tempted of the devil. God does not tempt anyone, but He allows it to happen and uses it in our lives. God does test us. The difference between the two is in the motivation: one who tempts another hopes that he will fail and do wrong. The one who tests another hopes that he will succeed and do right. For believers, we need to realize that our salvation is a glorious experience, but there will be a time after we are saved that our new reality will be tempted and tested. Just like Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit to help us. We also have the promise from God that He will not allow us to be tempted above what we are able to bear and He will make a way to escape.
    James 1:2-6, 12-15; 1 Corinthians 10:13
  • 4:2 Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights. Fasting is when you choose not to eat or drink for a certain period of time so that you can focus on spiritual disciplines like praying. When He was done fasting, He was hungry and physically weak, but spiritually strong
    Luke 4:2

4:3-4 The First Temptation: “Prove Your Identity”

  • 4:3 The First Temptation: The Devil, who is the tempter (hoping people fail), came to Jesus and said, “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” The Devil might have been there when God from heaven declared Jesus as His Son, because now he is challenging Jesus’ identity. He says, “If” which introduces a condition clause and cast subtle doubt on what was already stated. The Devils point is that Jesus turning stones into bread would prove His identity as the Son of God. He also knew Jesus is physically weak and hungry, so he uses food or nourishment to tempt Him to prove His identity. The devil will use things in our life that we crave or when we are weak to cause us to doubt our identity in Christ.
  • 4:4 The First Reply: Even though Jesus was physically weak and hungry He was confident in His identity as the Son of God—because of the very Word of God. Jesus answers the Devils temptation saying, “It is written” and then quoting the following scripture: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Jesus didn’t need to prove who He was by doing a miracle to provide Himself bread at the Devils beckoning, but could rely on the very word of God that proceeds from God’s mouth—meaning everything from the declaration of heaven to the entirety of scripture. Thus He is rejecting the miracle as needed proof and trusting in God’s Word as proof. Physical food is important, but so is trusting God at His word.
    Deuteronomy 8:3

4:5-7 The Second Temptation: “Prove Your Trust”

  • 4:5-6 The Second Temptation: Next, the Devil took Jesus up into Jerusalem (the holy city), and set him on a pinnacle of the temple. He then said to Jesus, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” Since Jesus quoted scripture and declared its importance, the Devil decided he would try to use scripture to tempt Jesus this time. It is like the Devil is saying, if you really live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, then prove it. He knew that if he was really the Son of God that the angels would take care of Him and He should test it to prove His trust in the scriptures. The devil will even use the Bible (out-of-context) to cause us to doubt our trust in God and His Word.
    Psalm 91:11-12
  • 4:7 The Second Reply: Jesus knew the scripture that the Devil used was true, but that He used it out-of-context and for Jesus to needlessly throw himself of the top of the temple just to test if God would save Him was unnecessary and wrong. Jesus quoted scripture back, that counteracts the devil’s motive, which says, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” We are not to tempt God and put Him to the test. It shows our lack of faith, trust and dependence on Him and His word. Jesus knew this and would not play the Devil’s games. This scripture was given to protect Jesus, not for Him to live a reckless life.
    Deuteronomy 6:16

4:8-11 The Third Temptation: “Prove Your Allegiance”

  • 4:8-9 The Third Temptation: Again, the devil took Jesus, this time up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them. Then the Devil tempted Jesus saying, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” It’s as if the Devil concludes that Jesus isn’t going to do a miracle at his bidding, and so he ask for something more subtle, yet more costly. He wanted Jesus to pledge His allegiance to Him as God by falling down and worshiping him in exchange for an earthly kingdom. The devil will try to tempt you with fame, wealth, power, authority etc in exchange for your allegiance to God.
  • 4:10-11 The Third Reply: Jesus quickly replies to the Devil, “Get thee hence, Satan.” He refers to Him as Satan (adversary, accuser), tells him to be gone and then quotes the following scripture: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Jesus knows that only true worship and service should be given to God—the Supreme Being. Satan wants to be God. He wanted Jesus to treat him like He would treat God. Jesus was unwilling to trade His allegiance in for anything. He pledged His allegiance to God. Finally, the devil left Jesus and angels came and ministered unto him.
    Deuteronomy 6:13

Review Questions

  • What happened before Jesus went to the wilderness?
  • How many days did Jesus fast?
  • What was the first temptation? Jesus’ response?
  • What was the second temptation? Jesus’ response?
  • What was the third temptation? Jesus’ response?

Overwhelmed

Today, I just want to write some honest thoughts about living in China for seven years. I try to always write honestly and openly, but today I will be a little more transparent.

I am riding a speed train currently traveling 303 km/h (about 188 mph) through Northeast China on my way to the US Embassy. I need to get some paperwork notarized for our upcoming visas. I am typing my thoughts down on my MacBook Air that I bought several years ago. I don’t use a pencil or journal like missionaries of the past. Everything is typed. It helps me think. My phone is plugged in and charging on the train. I have 4G cell service even though all I can see out the window is rolling hills and greenery. China has modernized at an incredibly fast rate and is still growing. It is incredible how China is growing. Today, missionaries can get almost anything they want (especially through the internet importing services) if they have the money to afford it. Most missionary biographies you read about China are completely irrelevant and don’t represent the lives the we missionaries today live in China. This, of course, can be seen as a blessing and a curse.

Today, seven years ago, I took my beautiful wife and our two-year-old daughter and left on an amazing journey for China. When we were on deputation, we set a date by faith to leave for the field and, praise the Lord, we were able to leave for the field on that date. But it didn’t come without hardships. Less than two months before we left for the field, we lost our second child, our son was stillborn. This meant we landed on the field still grieving. We knew our son had a condition that was “incompatible with life” as the doctor put it and we had a long period to prepare ourselves for the inevitable, the Lord even gave us a special peace when it all happened. (There is an incredible story here.) But I didn’t realize how much my wife was still grieving. I didn’t realize how much culture shock, spiritual warfare (that hits you once you land on the field) and the process of grieving would attack my precious wife. The city we moved to had extremely cold and long winters with short days and little sunlight. An environment that doesn’t help a grieving heart and has its own physical and emotional challenges. (A combination of these factors, mixed with the task of learning Chinese made our first couple years on the field hard and probably not the most pleasant to host.) Looking back at it now, I think I failed at leading and protecting her like I should have and being the spiritual comfort and leader that she needed. It was a dark period for her but I didn’t give it much attention. To this, I apologize, my wife.

Out of past seven years, I have spent about 2,368 days in China and 189 days in the USA. That is a lot of days. I use to think about what my life would look like at this point. Here is a quick summary of what it does look like: Language—I have learned to speak Chinese well and have preached more in Chinese than I have in English. I am currently preaching and teaching in Chinese multiple times a week. I am slowly learning characters and am probably about 60% of where I need to be with reading them. I cannot write characters from memory besides the common things I use, such as my name. Family—Thankfully, I am still married to the wonderful lady that I married ten years ago this month. She has been such a trooper. We have been through so much together. Each year brings us closer and makes me more thankful for her. We have been in the war together when everything seemed like the sky was falling—we came through the other side together. This doesn’t mean our relationship has been easy—it has been hard work, but hard work that is worth it and aims to bring God glory in it. I have three beautiful daughters all with unique personalities. All of them constantly brings a smile to our faces as we watch them grow up and get to know them better. We are also expecting twins…so our family is still growing. Also, adoption still isn’t out of the picture. Ministry—after language school we pioneered our ministry in a new city. Getting things going and improving in the language took longer than I expected. But we have now planted one church and have started training two men who have surrendered to full-time ministry. We plan to pour our lives into these two men (and other men the Lord gives us) and see more work done here in China.

The title of this post is “overwhelmed” because I am overwhelmed at the goodness of God in my life and what He has allowed me to do and allowed me to become even though I am not worthy at all. Anyone who knows us knows that everything that has been accomplished has been because of God’s grace. I have grown so much in the past years and I am in love more with Jesus today than I was seven years ago. My identity is solely found in Him and not in being a missionary or in the opinions of others. To this, I am forever thankful.

Another purpose this post is called “overwhelmed” is because of two reasons (1) I live in a mega city doing intercity missions; (2) the thousands of houses and villages I am passing on the train right now. I am overwhelmed by the work here. People often misunderstand China as having no churches or they understand it as having an incredible revival. I haven’t seen either. China does have a TON of churches. Most cities I know about have some churches, some gospel witness, most universities I have heard of have Christian foreign teachers, etc. (not to say the type of these, but at least Christian in name). We have lots of unbelievers visit our church and we also have a lot of Christians visit our church. China is a weird place when it comes to religion. We have had teammates kicked out for church planting but just a couple of weeks ago I walked in a restaurant and every waiter had a shirt on that says, “Jesus loves you” in Chinese.

Let me explain (1) I live in a mega city doing intercity missions—our city has six million people in it. How many churches is enough? Can we plant that many? Could I spend my whole life within just this small radius? You never really feel a sense of accomplishment because you can’t really “canvas” areas with gospel literature. Although we have tried that in certain areas. Everything is always changing and the people are always rotating. You never have the small town feel of every time you go out it is the same people and you are building a relationship with them. People come and go–the turnover rate is high. We are intercity, we are illegal, we don’t have traditional church buildings, we cannot compete (with the government churches like you could compete against in a free society, thus they become the standard)…we are the black-sheep—living in a margin of society that isn’t fully accepted and if too abrasive and open could get you into serious trouble or expulsion from the country.

Let me explain (2) the thousands of houses and villages I am passing on the train right now—when will they get the gospel? Do they have the gospel? Do I go? Do I pass up a few hundred thousand people to go reach a village with just a few families living there? What about that one single house I saw on the side of the mountain and looked like someone was actively living there? How do I advance the gospel forward to all people? It is one thing when you see a picture or read a blog post, but what about when you are living among them? And just like the city seems like an endless sea of people, the villages continue to appear out the windows.

I have arrived at my station….overwhelmed.

Weekly Mind Dump: After the Rain

✪ We had a great Sunday today. At the end of the morning service, we prayed over one of the young men who is moving to the south of China for work. He was invited to our church by an intern. He then studied the Bible with one of the Chinese men in our church, working through the discipleship lessons. He believed, was baptized and became an active member in our church.

✪ As I had mentioned, we are losing one of the three apartments that we rent for the church because the homeowner sold it…so we started remodeling when another neighbor was willing to rent their place to us, giving us some of the lost space back. After talking it over with everyone, we decided to rent it. It will save us some money and the remodeling we started will also help us change the space to better fit our needs. Praise the Lord! (Also, the homeowner knows we are a church and is still excited to rent to us and help us out. Amen! —this is rare in China—)

✪ We halted the kids’ club for the month of August. A lot of families are traveling for the summer vacation. We will start back with the club, Lord willing, in September.

✪ We changed our day off from Saturday back to Monday. This will help match out new schedule going into the fall.

✪ Last week I mentioned the story about the dog…today the dog came to church. The girls were excited and I am thankful for these little blessings.

Moved the auditorium as we change things up.

Praying over a church member before he leaves the city.

A view of the sky after the rain.

Matthew: Repentance, Baptism And The Kingdom Of Heaven

3:1-17 Repentance, Baptism And The Kingdom Of Heaven

Memory Verse: Matthew 3:2

3:1-6 Repent, The Kingdom Of Heaven Is Near

  • 3:1-2 When Jesus was grown (around age 30) there was also a man named John. He went around preaching in the wilderness of Judaea. He called for people to repent. Repentance is a change of mind that produces a change in behavior. It is more than feeling sad for doing something wrong or getting caught doing something wrong. It is realizing the truth, agreeing with the truth and choosing to live out the truth. The reason they needed to repent was because the kingdom of heaven is at hand. This refers to God’s rule over the life of believers. It meant that Jesus was coming to establish God’s kingdom in the hearts of mankind. It foreshadows the future eternal state when all believers will live in the eternal kingdom of God. The time for this is near, the Christ, Jesus, is coming.
    Luke 17:20-21; Romans 14:17
  • 3:3 John’s preaching was another prophecy and fulfillment of the coming Christ. The prophet Esaias, prophesied saying, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” This means: (1) The Voice—the message being proclaimed is the important part, not necessarily the messenger himself. His message is that of repenting because the rule of God is about to be made known through Jesus. (2) Preparation—in old times they would send someone to make a path for the important person to travel on, making sure the road was straight and smooth. This is exactly what John was doing spiritually. He was preparing the way for Jesus. (3) The Lord—In the Old Testament, this verse refers to Jehovah, but Matthew uses it to refer to Jesus, making Jesus equal with Jehovah.
    Isaiah 40:3-5; Luke 1:16-17
  • 3:4 John’s appearance and lifestyle to us may seem strange, but to those who knew the Old Testament, he seemed like a prophet (similar to the prophet Elijah). John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair. He wore a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey as his food. He lived simply and didn’t try to impress anyone through elaborate dress or fancy foods. He focused on the message and task at hand.
    2 Kings 1:8; Malachi 4:5
  • 3:5-6 John’s appearance as a prophet and the message he proclaimed caused a lot of people from Jerusalem, Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan to go out where he was. Many responded to John’s message by confessing there sins and being baptized in the river. We need to note four things: (1) John’s baptism and believers baptism are different. Believers baptism (what we do today) represents when a person has believed in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus for salvation. John’s baptism represented repentance and a desire to life a righteous life while anticipating the coming of the Christ. (2) Baptism originated when the Jews had the Gentile proselytes baptized as a type of ritual cleansing ceremony—probably getting the idea from Old Testament laws about cleansing. John used this ceremony of baptism to show the Jews it wasn’t just the Gentiles who needed to turn to God, but even the sinful unrepentant self-righteous Jews. (3) Therefore, the initial action following repentance was baptism—an outward symbol of the inward repentance—an action of sincerity. (4) Today, the initial action of a person who repents and believes in Jesus is baptism—identifying with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus for salvation and their desire to live for Him.
    Leviticus 15:13; Acts 19:4; Romans 6:1-10; 1 Peter 3:21

3:7-12 True Repentance Will Produce Good Fruit

  • 3:7-10 John noticed there were some people who weren’t getting baptized: the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees (legalist) are a religious sect who hypocritically try to follow the law, making their own rules and regulations, and who are proud of their own righteousness after the tradition of man. The Sadducees (liberals) were also a religious sect who denied supernatural things. John scolds them and we learn several things. (1) Vipers—He calls them a deadly snakes because of their message and hard hearts can only kill. (2) He warns there is wrath coming for them and all who live unrepentant lives like them. (3) He calls them to truly repent, the kind of repentance that will produce fruit. Their works were proof that they never repented. Repenting is not a work, but it will produce works. (4) It doesn’t matter who you are related to, your heritage can’t save you. Just like them claiming Abraham as their father couldn’t do anything to save them, our Christian parents or family can’t do anything to save us. (5) Judgment is coming (the axe is laid unto the root of the trees) and those who don’t produce good fruit as a result of repentance will be like a tree that is hewn down and cast into the fire.
  • 3:11-12 John continues to explain the truth to the religious hypocrites and uses three types of “baptism” to explain it: (1) John baptized those who repented with water as a sign of their repentance. But there is one, the Christ, that will come after John and is mightier than John. John is not even worthy to bear His shoes. It is the Christ, and (2) He will baptize those who repent with the Holy Ghost. Today, every believer is baptized with the Holy Spirit at salvation. (Although John doesn’t mention it here, believers’ baptism is when a new believer is baptize in water as a symbol of their salvation—this shouldn’t be confused with the others.) (3) The Christ will also baptize with fire—which represent the final judgement for those who don’t repent—they will be immersed with fire. The Christ has a fan in his hand which is used to throughly purge his floor, separating the wheat (believers) from the chaff (unbelievers). He will gather his wheat into the garner but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

3:13-17 The Only One Who Doesn’t Need To Repent

  • 3:13-17 Jesus came from Galilee to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. At first, John forbade baptizing Jesus, realizing He was the Christ—thus sinless and not needing to repent. John felt Jesus should baptize him instead. Jesus responded saying let it be because it will fulfill all righteousness. Therefore, John baptized Jesus. We aren’t really sure what Jesus meant, except He was being obedient to God’s plan. Nonetheless, we can note a few things: (1) It is possible Jesus who was sinless was baptized to identify with the sinners He came to save. (2) It marks the start of Jesus ministry because he received the Spirit of God. (3) It confirmed Jesus as the Son of God, because God from heaven, said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (4) It testifies to the trinity—God was speaking, Jesus was being baptized, and the Holy Spirit was descending. (5) It authorized all that John said and did as a prophet. (6) It could represent Jesus mission to come, died, be buried and rise again so that He could make us righteous.

Review Questions

  • What was John the Baptist preaching?
  • What was John’s appearance and lifestyle like?
  • True repentance will produce what?
  • John baptized with water but Jesus will baptize with what?
  • Why did Jesus get baptized?

August 2017 Prayer Letter

We had another wonderful month serving the Lord in China. We are excited about what God has been doing over the summer.

Couple’s Retreat: We hosted our first couples’ retreat this past month. We want the church and leadership here to know that healthy marriages are a top priority for us as believers and that we are always working at making them better for the glory of God. (My wife and I are celebrating 10 years of marriage this month! Praise God!)

Twins: As we announced last month, we are expecting twins around January of this coming year. Please pray for my wife as she carries these two blessings from the Lord.

Furlough 2018: Also, as we announced last month, we are planning, Lord willing, to take our first year-long furlough on August 10, 2018. Our home base for our time back will be near our home church in Alpharetta, GA. Even though this is more than a year away, if you are interested in booking us, please contact me via email.

Renovations: We currently rent three apartments on the 25th floor for the church. One of those apartments was sold. Thus, we have to be moved out of it before the end of this month. We are in the process of remodeling the other two apartments so that they are more suitable for our needs and signing a longer contract so that we can continue in this location.

Visas: August is also visa renewal for us. Every year we have to renew our visas and see if the Lord grants us another year to work in the country. We are working on getting a new visa type this year. Please pray for another smooth transition this year.

There is a lot going on, make sure you subscribe to our blog at chinaramblings.com to follow all of the updates.

Thank you! We know that we couldn’t do anything without the help of God’s people. Thank you for giving, praying and being a part of our team, Project China. We are especially fond of you!

Weekly Mind Dump: Summertime Fun

✪ We are in the middle of the summer roller-coaster—meaning our attendance is up and down each week as people are enjoying the summer weather and time off from school or work. Even though attendance was low yesterday, we still had a first-time visitor! Amen!

✪ We had a great couples’ retreat this past week (Thursday-Saturday). We took the group about an hour north (by car) and rented a four-story villa for us to stay in. We had a great time studying truths and principles about marriage from God’s word and spending time eating and fellowshipping together. Please continue to pray for the couples in our church—that we can build strong, healthy, and God-honouring relationships and families.

✪ Two interesting stories. First, during our couples retreat, we went to a restaurant and all the workers in the restaurant we wearing shirts that said: “I Love Jesus” in English and in Chinese it said, “Jesus Love You”. Then each of the private rooms you can use to eat in had different names that was biblical virtues or fruits of the spirit. I ask them if this was a Christian restaurant (for as much as a restaurant can be Christian?!) and they said it was, that the owner and workers were Christian. I guess that explained all the Christian decor. This isn’t something you are expecting to see in communist China!

✪ Second, a while back we got the girls a dog. The girls were extremely excited and loved the dog. But caring for the dog wasn’t going to work with our current life style and the busy-ness of our life. We ended up giving the dog to someone we knew. After a short time, they realized they couldn’t keep the dog either and passed it on to someone else. A few weeks ago (or so), the young couple who received the dog, unknowingly, visited our church. They are a young Christian couple who didn’t have a church and were looking for one when someone recommended our church to them. We put all the puzzle pieces together and the girls were happy to know they could see the dog again. And it seems that this young couple might become members soon!

✪ Lastly, we were informed that one of the three apartments that we rent for the church has been sold by the homeowner. Specifically, it is the one we use for the kids’ space. Thus we have about a month before we have to be out. We are working with the homeowner of the other two apartments to see about signing a longer contract (5 years) and then doing some remodeling to make it fit out current specific needs. Although this would still be smaller than we now have, we are hoping that it will be able to work with the new setup or that we can find a larger space in the same building or a similar building in the same area. We would appreciate your prayers as we go forward with this within a limited time frame.

Villas where we stayed on the couples’ retreat.

The back of the shirt all the workers were wearing.

Matthew: The Search For The Only One Worthy Of Worship

2:1-23 The Search For The Only One Worthy Of Worship

Memory Verse: Matthew 2:11

2:1-2, 7-12 Seeking To Worship: The Wise Men

  • 2:1-2 In the days when Herod was king in Bethlehem of Judaea (a small village south of Jerusalem) Jesus was born. After He was born there came wise men (not sure how many) from the East to Jerusalem. These men were believed to be a type of magician or astronomers of their time period—those who were searching for answers and curious about the world around them. As they scanned the sky looking for answer, they saw a supernatural star in the East. With their knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures, they somehow believed this star to be the star of Him whom would be the King of the Jews, and the Christ promised in the Scriptures. It was a star announcing that He was born—we don’t know much more about this star than what is recorded here in Matthew. Thus, these wise men who were looking for answers came to the city of Jerusalem searching for and asking anyone they came across where this baby could be found. They had come to worship Him, Jesus the Christ—the only one worthy of worship.
  • 2:7-8 Herod called the wise men who entered his city to a secret meeting where he found out what time the star had appeared to them (he will use this information later). Then he sent the wise men to Bethlehem to search diligently for the young child. He also requested that when they did find him that they should return to tell him so that he could also go and worship the child. Two thing need to be noted: (1) Instead of referring to Jesus as a “baby,” they started to refer to him as a “young child” which would mean that some time had passed and this wasn’t immediately after Jesus was born. (2) Therefore, many “manger scenes” that we see around Christmas that include the baby Jesus, a star, wise men and shepherds all together are wrong in their timeline of events.
  • 2:9-11 After the wise men heard the kings orders they departed. Then all of the sudden the star they originally saw in the East appeared again. The star actually went before them leading them to the young child they were searching for, eventually standing still over the house where Jesus was. At this point they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. Next, they entered into the house and they saw the young child Jesus with his mother. Upon seeing him, they fell down and worshipped him. Finally, they opened the treasures they brought with them and presented to Jesus gifts of: (1) Gold—the currency of a king’s treasury; (2) Frankincense—incense used to worship God in the temple; and (3) Myrrh—used to anoint a human corpse before burial. Each of these give us a glimpse into who this young child really was. It represents Jesus as King and God, but also as one who was born to die; born to save us through His sinless life and sacrificial death; born that we might have life. Are we worshipping Jesus for who He really is? What gifts are we giving him?
  • 2:12 Before the wise men left, they were warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod because he had evil plans instead of plans to worship. Therefore, they departed into their own country another way and didn’t return to tell Herod the king.

2:3-4 Seeking To Be Worshiped: Herod The King

  • 2:3-4 When Herod, the reigning king at the time, had heard that these wise men came searching for a baby that was born to be King of the Jews he was troubled. Even the whole city of Jerusalem was troubled with him. Apparently, the search by the wise men was very public and believable—otherwise why would a baby cause a king to fear? Herod the king decided to gather all the chief priests and scribes of the people together (these were the spiritual leaders of the Jews), so that he could find out where Christ would be born. He wanted to find the Christ, not because he wanted to worship him, but because the Christ threatened people from worshipping him. Herod wasn’t seeking to worship the One worthy of worship, but instead he thought that he himself was worthy of worship and was seeking to be worshipped. His motives were the complete opposite of the wise men. He was blinded by pride, like many of us today. Mankind was created to worship, we will worship something or someone. What or who are you worshipping?

2:5-6, 13-23 The Only One Worthy Of Worship: Jesus The Christ

  • 2:5-6 The rest of the story tells of the fulfilled scriptures that all points to Jesus as the promised Christ of the scriptures—the only one truly worthy of worship. The first prophecy and fulfillment of the Christ (Micah 5:2): “And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.”
  • 2:13-15 When the wise men left the house of the child Jesus the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him to get up and take the young child Jesus and his mother, and flee into Egypt. They were to stay there until the angel brings him word again. The reason for the departure to Egypt was that Herod the king is going to seek the young child Jesus to destroy him. When Joseph got up he did as the angel said—staying in Egypt until the death of Herod the king. The second prophecy and fulfillment of the Christ (Hosea 11:1): “Out of Egypt have I called my son.”
  • 2:16-18 Herod was an evil king. When he realized that he was mocked of the wise men—meaning they didn’t return to tell him where they found Jesus, he was extremely angry. He wanted Jesus killed. He didn’t know Jesus exact age so he calculate an age range based on the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men (from two years old and under). Also, he knew the location of Jesus birth was in Bethlehem so he order all male children in this age range to be killed there and in all the coasts thereof. It is hard to image, but even this was foretold. The third prophecy and fulfillment of the Christ (Jeremiah 31:15): “In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.”
  • 2:19-23 Finally, time passed and Herod died. Then the angel of the Lord appeared again in a dream to Joseph who was still in Egypt. This time he told him to  get up and take the young child Jesus and his mother, and go into the land of Israel because those who sought the young child’s life had died. Joseph obeyed the angel and went to Israel with his family. But he heard that Archelaus reigned in Judaea in the room of his father Herod. This caused Joseph to be afraid to go here, plus God also warned him about it in a dream, therefore he went to Galilee and lived in a city called Nazareth. The fourth prophecy and fulfillment of the Christ (Isaiah 11:1): “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

Review Questions

  • Why were the wise men seeking Jesus?
  • What were the gifts the wise men brought? What did they symbolize?
  • Why was Herod the king looking for Jesus?
  • What did all the prophecies being fulfilled point to?
  • Who are you worshipping?