Time of Personal Spiritual Growth

Originally in my October 22nd, 2007 Journal [while ministering in eastern China]

In the afternoon I talked with one of the [visiting on short-term mission trip] Americans, Billy. He’s only about 35. He said that before he went into the ministry he had a 3-month period where he & his friend had no job & would just read the Scriptures together each day. He said that 3 months of preparation was huge for the next 10+ years of his ministry. This was further confirmation that I should be seizing all spare time this semester/year to be in the Word in some way. I shouldn’t be looking to be busy. This is a season of learning & preparation for future ministry.

[my prayer updates for that day]

Students to pray for this week: Emily, Sanya, Abigail, Jordan

*** I haven’t seen clear answers to last week’s prayers & I don’t know why I should expect anything, because my prayer life has been struggling. My mind gets so distracted after such a short time. I fall asleep. Lord, show me how to pray. I could split these things up & pray for them throughout the day rather than all at once.

Iron Sharpening Iron

Originally in my October 2nd, 2010 Journal [written at very beginning of long friendship with C.L. Harbor]:

From 11:15-3 pm we had Guys’ time and [C.L. Harbor] was there. I told C.L. that he challenged me greatly. My strengths [discipline & knowledge of the Word] are his weaknesses. His strengths [reaching the poor & afflicted] are my weaknesses. I’ve always been in churches that put much focus on knowledge of the Word, but not much on reaching the poor & afflicted. C.L. has always found churches that focus on reaching the poor, but not on knowing the Word. Since we are opposites, neither of us can be complacent, but we must constantly be encouraged by the other.

new article on China Source – ‘Language & Culture Learning — in Kindergarten’

Today I had an article on China Source titled ‘Language and Culture Learning — in Kindergarten’.

Here’s the link:




Or you can view the article below:

Education is a major issue for cross-cultural workers who serve overseas with their families. Most families choose to put their kids in an international school, a local school, or to homeschool full-time at home. All of these have their pros and cons.

Last year we decided to put our daughter in a local Chinese school. Here are some of the benefits we see in this choice.

Families we respect who were living in other cities and had put their children in Chinese schools for a while talked highly about it. They told us that sending kids to the local school would help them learn the language quickly and to make many local friends. When our daughter was born, we planned to do the same.

For the past year our daughter has been attending a nearby Chinese kindergarten. She started going to the kindergarten shortly after her third birthday. Though most of the other kids, beginning at age three, go to school all day, we wanted our daughter to go only for half-days.

Our daughter’s overall experience in the Chinese school has been great. She absolutely loved the school at first, but after about a month the school started calling us to come pick her up and bring her home. This lasted for a few weeks, but when her teacher told us that she’d been throwing temper tantrums at school we disciplined her at home. She soon stopped throwing temper tantrums at school and started enjoying it again. Now going to school is one of her favorite things to do.

Because she’s so young, she’s been able to pick up Chinese rather quickly—even though she’s only at her school in the mornings and has been going for less than a year. Before she started kindergarten, I’d try to speak to her in Chinese at home. While she could understand a bit, she would hardly use Chinese to respond to me or to others. Now that she’s been at the Chinese kindergarten for almost a year—communicating only in Chinese with her teachers and classmates—she’s able to converse easily with people in Chinese.

In the Chinese culture, it’s important for children to show respect to the elderly by saying “hello grandma” or “hello grandpa” to them when walking by. Our daughter has seen this modeled at her school, so it’s now very natural for her to greet elderly people while walking down the street. Sometimes she will have lengthy conversations in Chinese with people of many ages who live in our neighborhood.

Our daughter has made many friends at her school. Her teacher said that she was able to learn all of her classmates’ names, even though all of them are Chinese names and our daughter was only at school in the mornings. As I look with her at a picture of her whole class, she can tell me all the kids’ names with minimal difficulty. Every day when we pick her up or are at home with her, she tells us stories about what happened to her classmates at school that day. With some of the kids she has built a particularly tight bond.

When our daughter interacts well with the people in our neighborhood, it opens up many doors for us to more easily gain the trust of the people in our community. And our daughter is happy as she walks around chatting with neighborhood kids, parents, and grandparents. Everyone is excited to see her acting like one of the neighborhood girls. Indeed, the reason our daughter feels so comfortable interacting with our neighbors is because she has been going to the local Chinese school. If she weren’t going every day to the kindergarten, I think it quite unlikely that she’d feel so at home with the people around us.

We are blessed because our daughter has done well at the Chinese school. However, all thanks must go to God for helping her daily to do well. The glory goes to him, not to us. And because of our daughter, we have been able to walk through doors opened more widely into our community to serve. When she interacts well within the local culture, people notice. As a result, they are more interested in our family, our parenting, and what is important for us. We can share with them about how God is the anchor and center in our lives.

Today I had another article on Desiring God titled ‘Free at Last’

Today I had another article on Desiring God titled ‘Free at Last’.

Here’s the link:




Or you can view the article below:

Free at Last: My Surprising Liberation from Porn

Like far too many young people today, my adolescent eyes found pornography too early and too often. Soon the allure of cheap and easy pleasure constantly haunted me.

My struggle intensified in middle and high school when my mom’s health faltered. I turned to the empty promises of pornography to try to fill me up and help me cope.

Even after I became a true follower of Christ in college, I continued to struggle with sexual sin. My porn and masturbation patterns fueled impure relationships with girls. I tried to make headway fighting these sins, but I seemed stuck.

I felt trapped. I felt helpless.

Slave to Sexual Sin

Romans 6:6–7 declares that believers have been set free from sin and are no longer slaves to its power. But even as a believer, I felt enslaved to the master of sexual sin. Even if I could fight those sins off temporarily, it seemed like only a matter of time before I would give in again. My inevitable failure was constantly looming over me.

Fighting began to seem futile because any so-called victory was short-lived and soon would be overcome by my own sinfulness.

I shared my struggle with close friends who also were struggling, and we tried to hold each other accountable. But this just didn’t help me overcome my sins. Nothing seemed to work.

I needed a miracle.

A Breakthrough I Didn’t Expect

Then, ten years ago now, God worked a miracle in my life. He purged me of those sins in one day and has changed my life significantly since then.

I was back in my hometown for the summer after my first full year living in China. Although I was growing in my faith and serving as a missionary, I still struggled with the same sexual sins. And I still felt a heavy weight on my soul from those sins.

I had a good high-school friend who had become a believer at the end of college through an older fraternity brother named Jay. That high school friend came over to my house and brought Jay. A few nights later, Jay invited me to a nearby guys’ prayer night.

I attended the prayer meeting with Jay and a few other guys. We were praying in the hallway together, and I was confessing vague struggles. Jay stood up and interrupted me mid-prayer. He asked me to share more specifically about my sins. He said I should pray them aloud to God and to the other guys. Then Jay quoted James 5:16: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”

And that’s what I did.

In that moment — with a knot in my throat, feeling exposed — I knelt on the ground and confessed aloud in great detail my past and present sexual sins both to God and the other guys there. And they prayed for God to completely cleanse me of those sins.

I had made similar confessions before without having any transformation. But for whatever reason, God chose to do his miracle for me on that day. At that very moment, God took away my struggle with those sexual sins. For a while, I was haunted that I eventually would stumble back into sexual sin, but it didn’t happen. God gave me victory and has kept me from pornography and masturbation for over ten years.

One Prayer Broke Through

As John Piper has said, “I cannot tell you why a prayer that has been prayed for ten years is answered on the one-thousandth request when God has met it for the first 999 with silence.”

God met my thousandth prayer (so to speak) and unleashed a power that broke a deeply ingrained pattern of sin in my life. As a result, I was no longer weighed down by a constant feeling of slavery to sexual sin. God freed me, and I was able to focus more of my energy on pursuing and loving him. It was a huge turning point in my life. God also used that event to prepare me for marriage three years later. I was free, and so was my wife — I did not carry the baggage of those sexual sins into my marriage.

As I think about that day ten years later, I am incredibly thankful to God for his mercy. I wonder why it was that day in particular that God cleansed me, and I wonder why he chose to cleanse me at all. Since then, I’ve prayed for brothers for the same cleansing, but it hasn’t happened to the same extent that it happened with me.

God’s sovereign timing, of course, is key, and James 5:16 give us another factor to ponder. The verse not only speaks about praying for one another so that we can be healed, but the second part says, “The prayer of a righteousperson has great power as it is working.” I am not saying that Jay was perfect, but the person praying is a factor to consider. I can say that when Jay prayed for my cleansing, he legitimately believed that God would answer his prayers. He wasn’t just saying the words for show. He genuinely believed that God was listening to his prayers and would answer them. Such faithful intercession for others is a great example for all of us.

What About Today?

Whatever the explanation is, God freed me from a heavy burden on that day. When I think about obvious experiences in my life that clearly prove to me God’s existence and the power of his Spirit, I think about my liberation. I fought for so long to try to cleanse myself. And my efforts were mostly futile. For years, my prayers seemed to be met with silence. But in one moment — after countless pleas — God chose to do the miracle.

My experience often reminds me of how I should honestly and humbly confess my sins before God and others. I also should believe that God may want to cleanse me in a moment of certain sins with which I struggle even now. And I must not be afraid to boldly and faithfully pray that he would heal others around me.

Perhaps today is the day to pray that one-thousandth prayer for yourself or someone you love.

Rap for the Soul

The last year or so I’ve listened to a decent amount of Christian rap, so I wanted to make a ranking list & commentary as I see it.

  1. Shai Linne – he is #1 by a long shot at this point. His combination of catchy words and beats with theological depth put him at #1. All the lyrics in his songs are crystal clear. Some of my favorites of his: ‘The Glory of God (Not to Us)’, ‘Come Lord Jesus, Come’, ‘All-Consuming Fire’; ‘Election’; ‘The Hypostatic Union’ [Note* I listen to the original version of the albums, not the ones labeled ‘instrumentals’]
  2. Trip Lee – his songs have catchy choruses [‘hooks’]. Some of his songs I can’t really understand what he’s saying. But overall a reliable choice. Some of his best songs: ‘Sweet Victory’; ‘Take Me There’; ‘Lazarus’; ‘One Sixteen’
  3. Tedashii – he’s got some good ones, including ‘Dum, Dum’; ‘808’; ‘In My Life’
  4. Lecrae – he was the one who helped me get back into the rap scene last year. He’s traditionally known as the top rapper of this era. He’s got a handful of songs that aren’t really about God, but I think the reason he does that is to try to reach non-believers, which he has got some attention from. For some of his songs I can’t really understand the words well. Here are some of my favs: ‘Don’t Waste Your Life’; ‘Rebel Intro’; ‘Breathin’ to Death’; ‘Beautiful Feet’; ‘Messengers’
  5. Lil’ Dre – he was the one I first listened to several years ago. I gotta put him on this list because he’s from my hometown [Oklahoma City] & I’ve gone to his concert & had a meal with him. Very scripturally focused lyrics. Some top hits: ‘Fill Me Up’; ‘Who You Are’; ‘Romans 12:2’; ‘Strapped Up’

Conclusion: Sometimes listening to rap hits right on the spot. For some reason I’ve found that listening to the faster pace of rap help me lots when studying. Rap also is good backup music when we’re having a dance party at our house with my daughter.

*** Note*** I use Spotify to listen to music. It’s free and has a good selection.

Joyfully Accepting Confiscation of Property

Originally in my September 22, 2014 Journal [written while living in NW China]:

Yesterday morning I realized that my watch in the living room had disappeared during the night. When I saw that all my cash was taken out of my wallet, we concluded that a thief had broken in. I reported to the gate guy, who called the police, who came by around 9:15 am. We saw footprints on the window ledge & up the water pipe, [which the thief had used to climb up to our second floor apartment]. Thankful he didn’t take more.

I sought to ‘joyfully accept the confiscation of our property’, like Hebrews 10:34.

[Full verse: “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions”]

Knowing the Bible Well

Originally in my September 11, 2009 Journal:

I came back to the old campus and saw Jonathan [local house church leader] at his shop [a small supermarket]. From 9:40-11:40 am, I sat & talked with him. We opened the Scriptures and went back and forth, talking about the Scriptures and using verses to support our conversation. He has memorized much from both the Old Testament and New Testament. He seemed very familiar with the Scriptures overall. He knew exactly where each Bible verse we discussed was and also the verses surrounding it.

I’ve heard people say that the churches here in China put too much emphasis on knowledge of the Bible but they don’t live it out. I would disagree. I would say there’s not simply a lack of living out the faith, but more importantly a total lack of understanding or knowledge of the Bible.

They may go to church and Sunday school, but I’ve met very few “believers” here (or in the U.S.) who read their Bible daily, who have read through the Old and New Testaments a few times, or who can quote any Scripture at all. The problem is these people don’t know their Bibles. There is no emphasis on biblical knowledge, and it’s reflected in a dormant and lackadaisical faith. Too much knowledge is NOT the problem. I’m impressed with how well read local house church pastor Jonathan is.

Comments on Nik Ripken’s Desiring God article

Yesterday a great blog post titled ‘What’s Wrong with Western Missionaries?’ was written by Nik Ripken on Desiring God.

You can view the original article here: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-s-wrong-with-western-missionaries

The main thing that stuck out to me about this article was the idea that we as American missionaries have that we’re of greatest importance to the rest of the world. It’s easy for us to think that we will go and change the whole world. It’s easy for us to go into a new country with an attitude that we know everything, and that everyone there should just soak up everything from us. We have nothing to learn from the locals. They are just blessed to be able to learn from us.

But the point that Nik Ripken was making is that it should be mutually spiritually beneficial relationships with locals, not just us edifying them, and them not edifying us.

I liked the closing conclusion from Ripken:

“If I were to start my missionary life over, I would bury my pride and unpack some humility. I would become a brother, a friend, and a peer. I would care more about the names of my brothers and sisters on the “mission field” and less about the numbers of baptisms, people discipled, churches planted, and orphanages built.”

It’s about people that become your genuine brothers & sisters in that foreign land [& thus glory going to God not to us]; not about all the glory [home & abroad] that you receive through your missions accomplishments, going around with great pomp and clout.

Sharing Gospel with Powerful Leaders in China

Originally in my August 31, 2009 Journal:

Mr. Luo called around 4 pm & asked if my wife & I could meet him for dinner at 6 pm. So we met at a nice hotel near the new campus. Also present were three of his high school classmates: Mr. Gao (CEO of machinery company); Mr. Jia (government official); Mr. Ren (government official). And 3 of their high school teachers: Mr. Zhang (now an English teacher at the best high school in town); Mr. Yang (now retired); & Mr. Yu (now a middle school math teacher). When we sat down, Mr. Luo looked at me & said, “你要给他们传福音吗?” “Do you want to preach them the gospel?” Before I could respond, Mr. Zhang jumped in & introduced everyone at the table. Then again Mr. Luo said to me, “Do you want to preach the gospel?” Then he said he’d tried to preach to them before but they didn’t believe. He said I preached the gospel better than him.

So for the next 20 minutes I went through a full gospel presentation, beginning from the Creation, & going through Jesus’ death & resurrection. They sat & listened attentively. After I finished, they toasted me & that was it. The rest of the dinner was just hang out time. All of them are from Mr. Luo’s hometown, which has many believers. So I’m sure all of them have relatives who are believers. I pray that the seeds may fall on soft soil & sprout into new life. What a clear open door the Lord gave me! Praise God for Mr. Luo & his boldness in not fearing shame or losing face with his friends by asking me to share the gospel with them.

What influential people they are (teachers, government officials, CEO). If one of them believes, imagine the ripple effect it would have on the people below them. When the day began, we asked the Lord to salvage the day & have mercy on us, though we’d woken up ‘on the wrong side of the bed’. Wow, the Lord blessed us much more than we could’ve ever imagined. All glory & honor to Him!