Archive for November, 2011

Culture

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

“We believe that the principal key to persuasive Christian communication is to be found in the communicators themselves and what kind of people they are. It should go without saying that they need to be people of Christian faith, love, and holiness. That is, they must have a personal and growing experience of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, so that the image of Jesus Christ is ever more clearly seen in their character and attitudes.

Above all else we desire to see in them, and especially in ourselves, “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1), in other words, the humble sensitivity of Christ’s love….

First, there is the humility to acknowledge the problem which culture presents, and not to avoid or over-simplify it. As we have seen, different cultures have strongly influenced the biblical revelation, ourselves, and the people to whom we go. As a result, we have several personal limitations in communicating the gospel. For we are prisoners (consciously or unconsciously) of our own culture, and our grasp of the cultures both of the Bible and of the country in which we serve is very imperfect. It is the interaction between all these cultures which constitutes the problem of communication; it humbles all who wrestle with it.

Secondly, there is the humility to take the trouble to understand and appreciate the culture of those to whom we go. It is this desire which leads naturally into that true dialogue “whose purpose is to listen sensitively in order to understand.” We repent of the ignorance which assumes that we have all the answers and that our only role is to teach. We have very much to learn. We repent also of judgmental attitudes. We know we should never condemn or despise another culture, but rather respect it. We advocate neither the arrogance which imposes our culture on others, nor the syncretism which mixes the gospel with cultural elements incompatible with it, but rather a humble sharing of the good news—made possible by the mutual respect of a genuine friendship.”
Quoted from Bill Walsh, desiringgod.org

Sunday mornings have a surreal effect on my ethnic and cultural consciousness. At about 11.30am, I watch as people of every colour dance around each other, making small talk over a handful of biscuits and a cup of coffee. Never with each other, but around each other.

“A man who has friends must himself be friendly” says Proverbs 18:24, so I try often to break into these groups of black, white, yellow and brown. Every Sunday, a different group. Every Sunday, an awkard moment of conversational incompetence. What else can you say about a subject that you don’t care much about to a person you don’t understand?

The more I wrestle with it, the more I am humbled. Humbled to learn what I do not know. Humbled to appreciate what I don’t care about. Humbled to love what I don’t like (sometimes).

Maybe kingdom identity does not transcend ethnic culture in a multicultural community? The best we can hope for is a multicultural community with a kingdom identity. To be directionally the same but distinctly different. To accept different cultures as they are, but not necessarily blend in. To intersect their pathways, but not merge.

I am blown away by the truth that sits behind Bill Walsh’s quote. The evidence of Christ’s transforming power in humility and sensitivity is transcultural. I might not speak the slang or hold an engaging conversation, but I can still communicate humility and sensitivity. While my conversations fail, I pray that my character does not.

My cultural identity gives way to His kingdom identity.

Year one

Friday, November 18th, 2011

He who finds a wife finds a good thing, And obtains favor from the LORD.
Proverbs 18:22

A year ago, I got me a good thing.
A year ago, I got me some favour.
A year ago, I got me a wife.

A year on, it’s the best thing about life.
A year on, the favour just keeps overflowing.
A year on, she is still, and will always be, my wife.

Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of one’s house for love, 
it would be utterly scorned.
Song of Solomon 8:6-7

I love you Sara. You are the most amazing and beautiful woman, and everyday I fall more and more in love with you. You make every ordinary day magical and I look forward to coming home to you every day. You meet my needs exactly as you are, just by being you. I know that sometimes it isn’t easy, but you try anyway and I appreciate everything that you do. Thank you for being generous with your love and always being considerate of me. When I look at you, I still melt to a puddle. I am always in awe of how beautiful you are. You are God’s most incredible gift to me (right behind Jesus, of course). I look forward to our years together as we grow in God, walk through every struggle with Him and run after His call. Thank you for praying for me and with me when we need it. You are my constant reminder of how good our God is.

In the years ahead, I want to love you and serve you more and more. I’ll be your biggest supporter, your muse, your stalker fanboy and your shelter. I’ll try my best to lead you with strength, wisdom and gentleness. No one said that marriage would be easy, but I know that with you, it is worth it and with God, it is possible.

Love,
D

Working class Christianity

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Working class Christians. You don’t see them at church events held during the week. Some of them might be serving once a month in a low involvement ministry. Many of them used to be fervent Christians in their teens but seem to be caught up with their own life now. Work, houses, cars, children and hobbies seem to take up so much of their time that God takes the backseat. Church is thrown in the boot.

The working class Christian is often disregarded as unspiritual. They are labelled as bench warmers or sleeping christians. They are shunned as worldly, uninvolved in the work of the church and overly comfortable in life. They seem to have lost their first love for Christ and are more concerned with secular work.

The story sounds different when you ask many (not all) working class Christians. They would say that they are trying to glorify God in their workplace, reach out to their collegues and be a positive influence in their various companies. Some of them are workplace evangalist and pastors, spreading the good news over cups of coffee and email. Their main contribution in the church might not be time and effort, but finance. 

So why aren’t some in the church more thankful of people like that? What is this disgruntled mumbling about working class Christians not doing their bit?

Churchianity

Wiktionary defines it as “Any practices of Christianity that are viewed as placing a larger emphasis on the habits of church life or the institutional traditions of the church than on theology and spiritual teachings; The quality of being too church-focused.

The church is God’s vehicle of choice for advancing His kingdom, but we forget that the church is God’s people. The church is ordinary people, in their ordinary lives, doing their ordinary jobs but with the extraordinary Spirit. Church happens when people come together on a Sunday, but also when they go out on a Monday.

I was speaking to a pastor friend of mine months ago and he shared with me a problem in his church. “No one wants to go out and work in the secular job, too many young people want to serve the church”, he says. What a strange phenomenon. It isn’t hard to see that working class Christians have a place in the church – right beside the pastors who work in the church, the students who make learning their work, retirees who enjoy the fruits of their work and housemakers who work in their homes.

So are we Christians or Churchians?

The Body

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Romans 12:3-8

What Paul says there, he says to each person individually. I am not to think “I am everything”; I play a part in a bigger picture. I am not to think “I am nothing”; I have a gift and function in the body. These verses explain themselves. It sounds like a simple solution to a complex problem in the church. But that is exactly what it is. Do what it says and we will start to see others in a whole new light.

What strikes me about this passage is when he says “each member belongs to all the others”. 

Think about that.

When we say that something “belongs”, it depicts possession, natural affinity and acceptance.

We belong to each other.

Simple truths

Friday, November 11th, 2011

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Matthew 17:24-27

It is that simple huh?

The Sermon On The Mount demands a response. The Living Word demands a response. Make no mistake about His last teaching in His sermon, it is a call to obedience, not interpretation, nit-picking or critical analysis. He demands that His words be put into practice. Period. No fluffing around.

It seems that the older I get, the harder it is. I am plagued by a greater number of “buts” than ever before. I am held back by analysis paralysis. But I have to learn, again and again, that it really is that dead simple. I must do to His Words what they were meant for – action.

Listen, obey, repeat.

“The Hebrews learned obedience through obedience, not reason and analysis.”

I read an interesting article that looked at the difference between the Greek learning and Hebraic learning systems. The Greeks learn by analysis and reasoning. The Hebrews learn by experience. Its easy to see how we have inculcated the ability to seperate ourselves from our learning through our education system. Relearn learning.

Disney Theology

Friday, November 4th, 2011

“The reason religious leaders seem so variously drawn to and repelled by Disney’s work may be the striking presence of Judeo-Christian values, juxtaposed with a complete absence of any call or need to submit to God’s will. Walt’s religion is at the same time selfless and selfish. ‘Providence’ at my disposal; the infinite obligated to make my dreams come true. Perhaps only the rampant optimism and ambition of turn-of-the-century frontier America could inspire a belief system simultaneously virtuous and self-absorbed, values Walt derived from that idyllic portion of his childhood spent in Marceline, Missouri.

Disney’s target market – and it has proved to be a large one – is an audience of people who want to believe in something that doesn’t require anything of them. Thats the religion that we’ve all been dying for. So it’s a powerful thing. It engages kids very deeply and it offends no one, except the intellectual elite. Amazingly, Christians were some of Disney’s biggest fans because he held on to the values that were important to them. So they forgave the fact that God had gone missing somehow along the way, but that everything that God set up was still there.”
Phil Vischer, co-creator of VeggieTales (Quoted in Mark Pinsky’s book, The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust)

Vischer has articulated perfectly my take on much (not all) of Christian culture in this day and age. These days we’re seeing less Jesus centered theology and more Disney theology – all the values of Christianity without Jesus.

Apparently, Jesus is offensive but Christian values are appealing. I can get into schools to talk about the value of community and friendships, but not to talk about Jesus. I can tell people how unique and special they are and how they should be just what they are, but not mention the God who created them or the Jesus through whom all things are created.

The challenge is that the value of Christian values lies in Jesus.

“But just what is this Disney gospel – this blend of “faith, trust, and pixie dust”? It’s American cultural religion: belief in the ability of the self to overcome adversity, faith in faith itself, adherence to the American ethic of morality and hard work.”
Religion journalist Marcia Ford on Mark Pinsky’s book, The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust and Pixie Dust

I think one of the most clichéd existential Disney motherhood statements has got to be:

Be yourself.

Be just who you’re meant to be.

Be your own special and unique person.

It features as the moral of the story in many children’s shows and movies. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We have different gifts, preferences and quirks that make us exactly who we are (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12). It teaches us not to seek man’s approval (Galatians 1:10) and affirms the value of seeing one’s self as being “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) – just without acknowledging the Creator. Essentially, it builds confidence in one’s self (self-esteem). The world sees self-esteem as the answer to the problem of approval addiction, timidity and position/status envy. The Christian version sounds like this: “be who God meant you to be”. Sounds like modern individualism? It isn’t. St Catherine of Siena wrote that in the 1300s.

“God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus.”
Max Lucado

Interestingly, the bible says little about loving ourselves but much about God’s love for us and our love for others. Self-esteem doesn’t feature much in the bible. It would seem that who we are just isn’t that important!

But really, that isn’t the case. What is important in the bible is God-esteem. There is much to be said about how God sees us and the place (present and future) that we have in Christ. Numerous verses speak of His love for us (Romans 8:31-39), his actions of affection towards us (John 3:16) and our privilaged position in His eyes (Galatians 3:26; 1 John 3:2). Even Paul, who we can identify as incredibly special and unique refuses to esteem himself. He does so in 2 Corinthians 11:17-30 to show how ridiculous it is.

Our relentless pursuit then is not to be “who God has made you to be” (as Rob Bell’s counsellor puts it), but to pursue God Himself. The result of that pursuit is the person God has made me to be. He who makes you who you are, also makes you who you’re meant to be.

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
1 Corinthians 3:6-7 (See also Galatians 5:22-23)