And We're Back! What has happened since the last blog entry, Part 3

Before I begin to write about the next phase of our time in China, I must say that it saddens me that I cannot share photos of the people I met there who God put into my heart or even write their true names. I did not take many pictures of people, because I knew I could not use them here in the blog. There are also some things I simply don't write about here in the blog because it is too personal for just any and everyone to read; I would not want the people to whom I am referring to read about these thoughts here. No, I am not speaking of romantic feelings, if that is what you are thinking. I am thinking about concerns for souls and such matters that brings them before my face as I pray. There will be photographs to accompany the words I write, but these pictures will mostly be of places and things, not people. 

After checking out of our hotel and one last Chinese restaurant breakfast where, due to my total lack of knowledge of the Chinese language, I ordered what I thought was a bowl of plain yogurt and ended up with a bowl of warm soy milk, we went to join the group of brothers and sisters boarding the coach bus that would be taking us north to somewhere outside of Tianjin. I was joined by a young man from Kunming (I believe) who began falling asleep right away. I offered to give him my window seat and he accepted it, cracking a joke that with his small eyes, he's always looks almost asleep. He told me his friends joke and say, "How come you didn't bring your eyes with you today." He went to sleep after his long journey from Kunming and I read a book on my phone. When we got off the highway, I enjoyed the scenery of the Chinese countryside which was mountainous and starting to show some fall colors. 

There were many other vehicles on the road heading for some vacation time away from the cities, and horns were being honked often by drivers warning other drivers and pedestrians to watch out for them. There's lots of courtesy horn tooting in China (I wonder if they teach it in driver's education classes there?) as well as horn tooting of the annoyed "Get out of my way, you lousy driver (or mindless pedestrian)!" variety. It seems like the horn honking would be unnecessary if people just obeyed traffic laws and showed some common courtesy. I'm sure if I asked my friend F (one of my Favorite Chinese Friends, remember?), why people don't do those two things, his answer would be, "Because this is China." Whenever I asked him a why question about something I didn't understand about Chinese culture, that was his standard answer - Because this is China. He would know. 

We arrived at the road leading to the retreat center and faced crossing a narrow cement causeway that didn't look wide enough for our bus. I thought, "Oh, great. We're going over the edge into that little brook," but we managed to arrive intact. We hauled our luggage up a little street that opened into a cement courtyard where I pointed out the basketball to P (Piano Playing boy) who snatched it up and started shooting at the single netless hoop. Other buses arrived delivering precious Chinese cargo, and soon many other shooters were on the court or under an overhang where there was a pool table and a ping pong table. People went around having reunions with people they hadn't seen for a while, and children enjoyed running around after being cooped up on buses for hours.

A Chinese guy with a twinkle in his eyes and a smile on his face introduced himself to me, saying that many of his friends had told him to Friend me on Facebook. He hadn't done so, because he had never met me. I told him to add me now that we had met, and after a little more small talk about where we are from (he's from Kunming), he went to greet some other people. A few minutes later, we discovered that we were to be roommates during the retreat, so we went to find our room. It was small. There was room enough for two single beds, one nightstand, and room for our two suitcases. The bathroom had a toilet with the front half of the toilet seat broken off. The room was not so great, but the view was magnificent from our window,

Misty mountains
and the company more than made up for it. My roommate was a Bible college student with an enthusiastic, sunny disposition who likes to sing (I will call him S for Sunny Singing Student) and before I knew it he had a video of Pastor Scibelli preaching a message where the words, "But God" were spoken over and over. But God instantly became our catch phrase for everything that happened to us during our time together. It was hard not to like S, and I learned much about his life in Kunming and how he came to become a believer. I also learned that he knew parts of old songs like Moon River and Somewhere Over the Rainbow and that he was learning how to sing Jesus At The Center to sing at another retreat around the New Year. Along with "But God," "Jesus at the center of it all" came up spontaneously (and not so spontaneously) over the next four days of our lives.

After getting acquainted, we responded to the loud calls to come to dinner and joined the 200 or so others for country cooking at tables of ten. The big, glass lazy Susans turned around and around with simple, filling fare. There are no pictures of this food. You've all seen plenty of Chinese food in my past two blog entries, right? That night, we all gathered in a large conference room to have a rap, but it turned into a service with Pastor DeVries instead who started sharing a thought that became a complete message. 

There were incredible anointings at every session, and God was giving Pastor Steve great thoughts from the book of Philippians that directly applied to each of our lives as believers. One of the principles he spoke on in many contexts was that God has made being a believer simple, but the flesh, the world, and the devil want us to live complicated lives that draw our focus from the simplicity that is in Christ. He had begun speaking this before the retreat and he mentioned it everywhere we went. I had been thinking about this a lot, so when the Chinese pastor in charge of the retreat asked me to speak and introductory message the next day, this is what was my seed thought. When I mentioned that I was a little surprised to be asked to speak again, S said, "Oh, well. But God!"

The message I spoke the next day had to do with Philippians 3:7-10, counting things as rubbish and loss that I may be found in Him, having His righteousness, that I know Him. For an illustration, I was influenced by the many adorable, diaper-wearing babies and toddlers at the retreat, and I spoke of the passage in Ezekiel where the nation of Israel is pictured as the baby abandoned in the wilderness, still covered in blood and afterbirth. Only God loved that baby and made her a princess. We read about how while we were yet sinners and God's enemies, Christ died for us to give us His righteousness. My righteousness is like filthy rags or poopy diapers, and I acted out picking up a smelly, soiled diaper and holding it at arms length and running to get rid of it. What value is there in a poopy diaper? Paul equated his righteousness and all his gains in the flesh with a pile of poopy diapers. I have nothing worth more than a poopy diaper to offer God except my sinful heart, and He takes it and gives me something beautiful in its place. It was an unusual message to be sure, and I think my preaching is influenced by my years of speaking to elementary students; but the poopy diaper was mentioned in others' messages after that, so I didn't feel like a total idiot for having said it.

That night I left the service and walked down the back stairs where F found me looking disoriented, which I was. He showed me how to get back to the stairs up to me room, and as I climbed the steps I was suddenly overtaken by shaking and a chill down to my bones. It came out of nowhere and freaked me out. It took me forever for my shaking hands to guide the key into the door, and then all I could was go to the bathroom (my original intention for returning to the room) and then wrap myself in blankets and fall into bed trying to get warm. Eventually I shivered myself to sleep. The next day, I was weak, but not so weak that I couldn't function, so I put Jesus at the center of it all and but God-ed my way through the day, which was rather rainy and dreary. I rested between sessions, and by the evening I was okay. Which was good, because I was asked to speak again, to lead worship at a session and, my head spun at this one, be one of the speakers at the women's afternoon session. Since the theme of my time here has been to walk by faith and to let the One who called me here do the work, I agreed to all three requests.

The weather turned nice the next day, and I spoke that morning on Philippians 1:21 - For me to live is Christ - and Galatians 2:20 - Not I, but Christ. I put the emphasis on the word LIVE in the first verse, saying that if we want to truly LIVE, we must choose Christ as our life. Deuteronomy 30:19 was the other text, because it shows the simple choice God puts before us - life or death, blessing or cursing, God's voice or the voice of another? Adam and Eve had a simple choice - to obey God's command and eat of all of the other trees in the Garden and live, or to eat from the one tree He said not to eat from and die. The floor of the conference room was tiled in large black and white squares and I chose one black square to represent the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and pointed at it. We often act as if there were only two trees in Eden, but there was the one forbidden tree and many, many others to choose to eat from. Eden wasn't two squares on the floor, and our lives aren't either. God wants us to live in a large place of His grace where we experience real life and His blessing, but the devil, the world, and our flesh try to get us to focus on one small square and make it seem like it is everything. It is completely the opposite. In Christ, we have so much, so why imprison ourselves in one, crummy black square filled with poopy diapers? To really LIVE is Christ, and we have the choice for him to be our life every day. We have to say, not I and the crummy black square, but Christ and the infinity of life outside that square of death. I think maybe I had a little Pastor Scott Robinson anointing that morning, because I was rather animated.

After lunch, some vendors of local fruits and nuts sold their wares in the courtyard. I got lots of free samples in hopes that I would buy a something, which I did.

I set out to see a nearby portion of the Great Wall of China, a.k.a. the Fake Wall of China since it is not the original wall, but a restored part for tourists. Before I left, S told me to be back by three o'clock for the brothers' meeting. "What the heck is that?" I wondered. Something about the word "brothers" irked me and made me want to skip the meeting. 

You may have noticed that I have used the words "brothers and sisters" here and there throughout these blog entries. I picked it up after spending time with S and other Chinese believers who use the terms very sincerely, not in the cheesey, sometimes pious ways that Americans do. At first, I only heard S using these words, but then I heard other Chinese using them, and I realized that to be a brother or a sister in Christ is a beautiful thing. We are members of the same family. And for many Chinese believers, there are no spiritual fathers and mothers, no older members of their own families that they can look up to as godly examples. Sometimes there are no spiritual fathers and mothers in their local assemblies either, no mature believers for examples to follow. There are just other brothers and sisters, looking for guidance, walking by faith in what they know, but praying for someone to teach and disciple them. Many Chinese believers are young people who have come to Christ in this new era of digital connectedness. They need pastor teachers.

I walked down the highway, snapping pictures, getting courtesy honks from drivers on their way to the wall, wondering if I should get over my irksomeness and return for the meeting. Here are some of the things I saw along my way:

The nose-picking lion on our gate...

the rustic door I passed down the lane...

the narrow causeway I had thought our bus would fall off...
a gate to an apple orchard...
the faded glory of this three-wheeled motor coach...
and some fellow travelers out for an afternoon stroll.
I got off the highway and onto a street with little traffic and spied some autumn pumpkins

and then turned and saw William and Emily racing a laughing Chinese boy down the street during their run.

I arrived at the Great Wall parking lot and walked around examining the souvenir and snack shops, but I didn't go inside, because I felt convicted to be on time for the "brothers' meeting." I did snap some pictures of what I could see of the wall as it climbed up the sides of the mountains. Fake or real, it was quite a sight.

If you look closely, you can see the wall rising up the mountain on the right.
Here you can see the wall approaching a tower on top of a mountain.
When I got back to the retreat center, I took this picture of Pastor Steve and H (Husband Host from the last entry) from behind looking over the courtyard where you can see someone shooting a basketball.

I also took this picture of the area outside the conference room where we all gathered on another day to take a group photo. I liked the pattern of the floor.

In the brothers' meeting, Pastor Steve spoke to us all as men and challenged us to think about answering the call to ministry, to be discipled and trained and then sent out to disciple, teach, and train others in China where the need for pastor teachers is so great. I think that many men were convicted by his words, because he emphasized again the simplicity of the call as Paul explained it - to follow the example of a pastor teacher, to study The Book, and to do what you have seen your pastor teacher and the Lord do. I kept that in mind as I tried to think of how I would address the women the next day.

The next day, I went out walking again after lunch hoping God would give me some thought for the afternoon session. I saw some cool stuff:

Water, blue skies, mountains...
and sheep.
But the message had nothing to do with those things. Instead, I spoke on teaching by example. I told the ladies that I am not married, I have no daughters, and have limited knowledge of women, but that I am comfortable speaking to teachers, so they needed to imagine this was a teacher meeting and I was the principal and they were the women teachers on my staff. I tried to be short and simple and spoke about how much our lives witness to children under our care, our co-workers, our relatives, and our neighbors, and that often it is more how we live as believers than what we say that makes the biggest impression on unbelievers and draws them to Christ. And it is not works or superficial performance that makes a good example. That's too complicated and there's no life in it. To be an example is to follow Christ's leading as we had been hearing about all week, receiving God's love, grace, and mercy, not trying to be perfect, but reckoning on the truth of our perfect standing in Christ and allowing Him to perfect us in the way. The Chinese woman leading the session opened it up for comments and questions, and the it was lovely. It came out that many had had poor examples to follow growing up and wondered how they could be examples with such an upbringing. We spoke again about giving ourselves grace to grow and then looking for godly examples to follow in the body of Christ, people who could be our spiritual fathers and mothers. I was blessed to be able to give illustrations from my own family, and I could see that these ladies desired to be examples of godliness to their children and their unsaved family members especially, desiring them to come to know God and turn to Him for salvation. It turned out to be so much more than I expected. (I had no expectation of myself, really, and was hoping that the other speakers, Kikko and Eevie from Finland would make up for my lack, but they never ended up speaking.)

That evening, I think, was the one where I led worship with two women from Kunming and a pianist from Tianjin. Those ladies certainly made up for my lack and I was blessed that they were there to back me up. The messages were getting more and more powerful as the week went on. Pastor Steve was talking often of our old pig natures that love to exalt themselves and you could sense God's utter contempt for the flesh and why Christ had to die upon the cross to crucify and bury it. That night, both he and the translator wept as they spoke of Christ becoming sin in our place, identifying with our alienation from God when for three hours he had no intimate fellowship with His Father. It was powerful and the room was very, very still in reverence for God and His word. The next morning, Pastor Steve spoke the final message, and at a certain moment that several of us later all remarked upon, the anointing shifted from teaching to preaching and suddenly we were all on the edges of our seats, glued to every word as the two-edged sword did its work in our hearts and souls. I had never heard Pastor Steve preach. He's a gifted teacher, and now I see he can really preach when the Spirit leads. 

Our experience in China was that the people draw more out of you than you would have imagined. They were easy to speak to, and so it was a blessing for each of us who were asked to speak, which included some great Chinese men who also shared introductory messages during the week

After that morning service, we had to quickly vacate our rooms, say goodbyes, and board our buses to go our separate ways. I said goodbye for now to S and took a picture with him, and said goodbye to F, whose head I had been slapping that back of during the retreat to remind him that I love him, even though he couldn't figure that out. Our crew was heading to the airport for our final destination in China - Harbin...


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