This trip to the Philippines was my first venture with TLI. As a seminary student half way through my MDiv, I wanted to travel overseas to take theological education to places with limited access to pastoral training. I also desired to ascertain if God may be calling my family and I to long term missions. My prayer for this trip was that God would bear fruit through the teaching of Ruth and Jonah, and to give clarity to my long term vision.
As to the first prayer, God graciously used an inexperienced seminary student like me to open the Scriptures to Filipino pastors. I witnessed these pastors reading their bibles and deeply studying God's word. They sought to base their teachings, not on experiential testimonies, but the perfect and powerful word of God. When it came time for the students to preach, some of them had never delivered a sermon based on God's word. Some had never even preached before. I'm so thankful for the wonderful privileged to have heard these students preach from God's word and to see them pour over the Scriptures so that they may teach faithfully.
My second prayer centered on God clarifying my long term vision for pastoral training and theological education. I know I want to teach at a seminary and invest my life in the training of pastors for the church. Yet, I didn't know if that meant overseas or staying in the States. After this trip, God answered mightily and revealed to me this truth: the need is too great. I saw the great theological famine in only one part of the world. I also experienced an incredible and different joy in teaching my Filipino brothers and sisters. Thus, I'm convinced more than ever that my family and I will move overseas to take theological education to the ends of the earth. The need is too great. I witnessed first hand the truth from our Lord's mouth, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few."
I'm so thankful for what God accomplished and will continue to accomplish through the work of this team to the Philippines. I also thank God for sharpening my vision to see his church around the world built up in the truth of his word. I look forward to more opportunities to serve while in seminary, and by God's grace, the privilege to take theological education where it's most needed.
MDiv student at SBTS in Louisville, KY
Jonah is more than the story of a man running from God and winding up in (and out) of a fish. After that
divinely-orchestrated encounter with the fish, Jonah, seeming quite reluctant, delivers a message of
judgment to the wicked city of Ninevah. Ninevah was the capital of the brutal empire of Assyria, a nation
responsible for much suffering in Jonah's country.
On Wednesday afternoon while our four classrooms were engaged with studying and preparing to preach
sermons from the book of Jonah, I sat down with Levi, our host here. He brought up a picture on his
phone of an elder in a church on the eastern side of Mindanao. Just recently this man had been killed for
his faith in Jesus and leadership of a local Christian church. Levi and other local leaders were still grieving
the death of this colleague and friend.
Earlier in Mike's class, I listened as one of the students explained the tension on Mindanao between
Christians and Muslims. Most of the participants in our class tell stories of friends and family members who
have suffered or were martyred for their faith. As Mike faithfully taught the story of Jonah, one student
responded with how hard it was for him and the rest of the participants to hear this story of a man called
to preach to his persecutors.
When I've taught Jonah in the States, the application is hypothetical: "What if God called you to go to
North Korea or ISIS?" Here the application is real and immediate.
Like Jonah, we love God's mercy when it's given to us.We love God's judgment when it rains down on our
enemies. But like Jonah, we're much more hesitant to embrace God's judgment when it's directed at us and
God's mercy when it's directed at our oppressors.
"God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we
have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if
while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that
we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life" (Romans 5:8-10).
Something unexpected happened today. But it was not strange. I sat in a warm classroom in Digos City earlier this afternoon with my pen on a pad of paper and with my eyes on one of my students, a young man who pastors a small church in the mountains. I was taking notes on the sermon he was preaching and jotting down my evaluation of what he did well and what he could improve. This often feels odd to evaluate preaching, because it is so much more than a human act. But it is not less than a human act. For this reason, we must always seek to improve our role in communicating the Word, all the while trusting God to sovereignly step in to do his role of making it effective in minds and hearts.
Normally I jot down notes throughout the course of the sermon to prepare my feedback for them. But something unexpected happened. When this young man finished his sermon, I realized that I was no longer holding my pen. In fact, I had completely stopped taking notes for the last 5 minutes of his sermon. I had jotted a few things down as he started, but at some point I stopped. I had not stopped looking at this preacher and had not stopped thinking about his words, but my eyes and thoughts became fixed on someone else in a moment. He was pointing me to Jesus with such clarity and conviction that I forgot myself and even my task. I worshipped. I wondered.
When the sermon ended, I was jarred back into the reality that I was in a classroom in Digos City and that I had to give feedback. What did I say? Well, rather than making it up, I was just honest and used it as a teachable moment. A good sermon is not only judged by human standards: did he have a clear outline? Was it directly from the text? Was it Christ-centered? What makes a truly good sermon is that God uses it to connect men and women to his Son. And this is exactly what happened to me today as my brother preached the gospel to us in Digos City. This should be our prayer everytime we preach. We should hope that at some point, when God swallows up our act with his own, that all pens will drop and all but Jesus will be forgotten. I am currently sitting in the airport, and am so encouraged by the mission that is being advanced in Digos City and the larger region of Mindanau, Philippines. I’m encouraged not because we taught well (which I pray we did), and not even because the men are so sharp there (which they certainly are). I’m encouraged because God has chosen to act through his Word when anyone preaches it, regardless of age, region, or season.
The question teachers often
ask is, “Are they getting this?” We wonder if we are coming across, if we are
getting through. We wonder if our questions are helpful, if we are facilitating
the right discussions. I wonder about these things as I teach the book of Ruth,
not because my words are so important, but rather because we are talking about
the most amazing and life-changing truths in the universe: the Word of the
eternal and all-powerful Triune God and the gospel of his beloved Son, Jesus
Christ. I must get this. We must get this.
I try to reflect on every lesson I teach and consider
this question: Which part of the discussion was most lively? At which point
were they most excited and engaged? As I reflect on the first day of teaching
in the Philippines, the answer is clear to me. In Ruth 3, we see Boaz was
willing to redeem Ruth and provide an offspring for her dead husband. But there
was a closer relative who must first be consulted. In Ruth 4, Boaz asks this
man if he would redeem Ruth. But the man refused. He would have to sacrifice
his own inheritance; it would be too costly.
Redemption always, always has a price. This is what makes
Boaz’s redemption of Ruth so amazing. His decision to redeem Ruth is a decision
to bear a massive personal sacrifice. The typology to Christ is clear. If
redemption always means sacrifice, consider how great the redemption of the
Gospel of Christ is for us today. If the sacrifice of the gospel was the death
of the infinitely valuable Son of God — the most beautiful, most glorious being
in the universe — how infinitely precious is the redemption we have found in him.
How amazing is the reality that Christ himself has wrested us from the clutches
of Satan, broken us free from the power of sin, assuaged us from the fear of
death through his once for all sacrifice. This was the high point of our class
yesterday. This was what the pastors in the Philippines are most excited about.
This is what makes the careful and painstaking exegesis and biblical theology
we do worth it — it leads us again and again, on new avenues of God’s Word, to
the same hill on which we have seen the clearest expression of God’s love for
us. As one of the older Filipino pastors said, this is where we see the “extravagant
love of God”!
NOTE: This post was originally scheduled to go up 24 hours ago, but due to internet issues is coming a bit late. Second post to go up soon.
It's not easy to get to Digos City. Our team took relatively short flights on Friday morning Minneapolis,
Denver, Chicago, Louisville, and Madison to gather in Detroit for the long trans-Pacific flight. Josh and
Jesse's flight from Minneapolis landed just in time for them to be the final passengers to board the big 747.
Eleven long hours later we landed in Tokyo, spent a few hours in the lounge, and then boarded again for the
five hour flight to Manila. We spent the night in a nearby hotel, had a great morning getting to know each
other a bit more, and then boarded yet another plane for a short flight to Davao.
Our national partner,
Levi, met us at the airport, and we drove down to Digos City.
On Friday morning, I arrived at the Minneapolis airport, excited for this trip. Approximately 36 hours later,
our team was finally in Digos City, gathered at a table. That excitement needed to be paused as we endured
long flights, layovers, and time changes.
As I write this, it's 4:30 am local time. In our room, Mike, Jesse, and I are wide awake (and have been for a
while). We have yet to completely adjust.
This is an awesome team to lead. I (Josh) served as a pastor on the west side of Madison, WI for 11 years. Mike
was a pastor on the east side. Craig and Russ were part of a supporting church in SW Wisconsin and now
pastor churches in southern Wisconsin. Reed was a part of our church in Wisconsin. Jesse sits twenty feet
from me at TLI's offices. I met Cory for the first time on the plane between Detroit and Tokyo. It's a
privilege to serve alongside guys like this.
We're excited. We've been looking forward to this trip for months. In about five hours, we'll sit down with
our classes and open up the small books of Ruth and Jonah. Our goal on this trips - the fifth of a planned
nine trips - is to show how these Old Testament narratives point to Jesus, to develop their love of studying
God's Word, and launch them into ministries based on expositing the Bible.
On Thursday and Friday, these students will preach mini-messages from Ruth and Jonah. I can't wait for
In late October of 2015, I had the privilege of being part of TLI's initial trip to Digos City. One
of the great joys in this trip is the chance to see and hear these students progress in their understanding
and exposition of Scripture.
Pray for us this week. It's a busy week of teaching.
We're tired on the front end, but praying that we'll be
"strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 2:1)
Director of Short-Term Ministry Strategies, TLI