Observations of Traditional Religion Day 3

Yesterday, the Supreme Court gave a pivotal ruling in the case affecting a large amount of money seized by the government. The two groups that have been fighting back-and-forth over the past few years have been ramping up their disagreements as the ruling drew near. So far nothing major has happened.

That is what leads me to this observation. As we have been keeping my track of the news, we came across this story in the political section: Fortune Teller predicts a coup.

I expect to see stories about fortune tellers and predictions in Thailand because Thais use these methods to look into the future. However, when you see it as part of the political news, you get the idea that local people take fortune telling much more serious. There is a raised level of credibility and belief in what a person looking at the signs and stars would say.

God wants to be Known

I wanted to post the message from Friday’s service as I feel it can help us all know God more. I am looking at a story that gives a great picture of God’s heart for his people and being known worldwide. I am talking about the story where God comes close to rescue the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. God reveals his name for the first time…

The context comes when Moses is hanging out in the desert watching sheep. God finds him through the burning bush. A bush on fire but not burning up would catch anyone’s attention. Moses has despaired for his people and their plight. The Israelites are crying out under oppression from Pharaoh.

God comes close and shares his heart through these four chapters of Exodus, 3-6.

First, God is a personal and present God. Jeremiah 33:3 says we can call on him and he will answer. God tells Moses at the burning bush he has heard the cry of his people and has come down to rescue them through Moses. Moses begins a conversation with God on how and looking for credibility. God says he will be with him, but Moses says, what if I tell them, the God of your fathers has sent me to rescue you, and they ask for your name?

For the first time in redemptive history, God gives us his personal name. We know it simply as YHWH or I am who I am. Exodus 3:14-15. God is close to us, knowing where we are in pain and misery. He wants to know us and for us to then know him.

The response to God coming close and rescuing us should always be worship. Exodus, 4:29-31, the Israelites bowed down and worshipped YHWH.

However, knowing God comes with a cost. We need to count the cost of what God is asking before we take it so easily. Sometimes we do people a disservice by telling them how great and wonderful Christianity is without giving the full picture. Jesus told us to count the cost of following him in Luke 14:27-28. Moses felt this pressure when he went to Pharaoh, and Pharaoh rejected God straight away. Exodus 5:2 gives us a great picture of relationship and obedience. Pharaoh says, I don’t know your God, why do I have to obey him. God wants to be known in the world, this is the heart of all he does. This is why he sent Jesus, but he wanted to be known from the beginning. He acts through the mighty exodus and says all nations know me, because of what I have done. In Deuteronomy 4, he says who is like me. Throughout the plagues, God tells Moses that Pharaoh will know I am the Lord, or all Egypt will know I am the Lord, and even at one point that his name would be proclaimed among all the earth, Exodus 7:5, 8:10, 9:13-16. God’s heart is that all nations would know him, and he acts in such a way to make his name known. The obvious outcome of knowing God is following him and obeying him. Pharaoh doesn’t know YHWH and therefore doesn’t obey him. Obedience flows out of knowledge, and we who know God need to obey him fully. T

Here are several things that make following God difficult.

  1. We make poor choices and don’t live fully as he would want us to and thus pay the consequences.
  2. Satan makes things difficult.
  3. Others who do not know God make things difficult in this world.

Pharaoh then made life even more miserable. As if being a slave could get more miserable, Pharaoh increased the hardship and expected the same results. He claimed the people were lazy and coming up with ideas of needing a festival to worship their God. The people could not bear this burden and went to Moses, saying he made life worse not better, Exodus 5:21.

In Exodus 5:22-23, Moses goes to God thinking he must have missed the real reason God sent him. He couldn’t have been to rescue the people. There was a sick ironic reason to send Moses back to Egypt, and he accused God of sending him to make the Israelite people a stench in Pharaoh’s nose. God you haven’t rescued the people at all.

When we have problems and trials of life, we need to be intentional to remember God’s promises. It is too easy to be myopic and only see the calamity. God knew this and came close to Moses again. In a beautiful text of Exodus 6:2-8, he reminds us who he is, YHWH and that before now, we did not know him in such a way. He starts the monologue off with I am YHWH and concludes with I am YHWH. He says, I will rescue with a strong right arm. I will be your God, and you will be my special people.

2 God also said to Moses, “I am the LORD. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. 4 I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens. 5 Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites,

whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.

6 “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. 8 And I will bring you to the land I swore with upliftedhand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.’ ”

To conclude, God knows us and wants to be known by us. Obedience flows out of relationship, and God will make us his special people in the midst of difficult times.

Observations of Traditional Religion Day 2

Final exam time wraps up this weekend, and nothing gets the local university students anxious like a final exam. At the university near us, Ramkhamhaeng University, the academic context is very different compared to American schools. Students’ grades are based solely on the tests, a mid-term and final. They don’t even have to go to class, just read the books and absorb all the information.

Therefore, as final exams approach, whenever you ask a student what they are doing, they will say, reading my books. They also can purchase last year’s tests outside the campus from local street vendors. After all of this cramming and preparing, a large proportion of the students will not pass their exams and have to retake the class. This explains the anxiety.

Now, many students turn to the practices of spirit worship to help them achieve success in their studies. One example of this is running laps around a prominent idol at a central meeting place on campus. The idol sits atop a small hill in the main parking lot. Students believe that the more times they run around the idol, the spirit represented there will bring them good luck and success in passing their exams. Some students run around the idol time after time.

Before you think that Thais are completely strange, we do similar things in our culture. Students will sometimes bring a rabbit’s foot to an exam or another other lucky charm to help them pass.

Observations of Traditional Religion Day 1

I am beginning a new journal process for one of my classes with Wheaton College. My class, Folk Religions, will give me a better understanding of the pervasive mix of animism with Buddhism in Thailand. I want to post my initial and ongoing observations on the practices of folk religions I come in contact with here in Bangkok.

My initial observation on Folk Religions in Bangkok is that Thais practice a form of syncretism of Buddhism and animism. Thai people go to the temple for holidays, birthdays, and other times. On the flip side, Thais are very concerned about spirits. They walk around in fear of doing anything to offend a spirit that could be lurking around the corner. They talk about ghosts and love ghost stories. Pure Buddhism doesn’t address these issues at all.

In the coming posts, I will explore how the ancient practices of worshipping the spirits and appeasing the spirits are rooted deep into the current traditions of Buddhism in Thailand.

Burmese Outreach

Once a month, I spend a day with Tommy, the pastor for the local Foursquare Burmese congregation in Bangkok. We go just outside of Bangkok to reach out to the Burmese migrant workers who gather there. For some years Tommy lived in this community and worked odd jobs in construction as he pastored the church. Just after graduating college twenty years ago, he came to Thailand when the militant government in Burma took over.

Tommy is part of the Karen people group that has suffered greatly under the current regime in Myanmar. Many of his people have fled for their lives or for a better life. He comes from the Arowadi Delta which became infamous a year ago with Cyclone Nargis.

Many of these Burmese people come to Thailand to work at a chicken factory or car parts factory. They also work as maids, in construction and other odd jobs. We meet people who have come as recently as a couple of weeks ago to years of displacement in Thailand.

This man of God hopes to turn this gathering into another church in the coming months.

The plight of the Burmese is severe, but God is reaching into their lives and giving them hope.

The passion and depth of faith with the Burmese is remarkable. I often wonder what I would do if I came under such overwhelming suffering. How would I respond to God, or look to find his grace in the situation?

Chinese New Year

In 2010, Chinese New Year’s, which follows the lunar calender, comes on the same day as Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day has broken into Thailand the past several years with great fan fair. Many Thais love the idea of romance would like to make the romantic mood more prevelant in their country. However, Chinese New Year’s will overshadow the holiday for couples this year, at least for th ose with any ties to Chinese heritage. 2010 is the year of the Tiger.

Even though two holidays shared the same day, the church here was still able to put on a great outreach. Many unbelievers came to have fun and hear the gospel. Many of our students came for the first time.


Judson

For a while now, I have been working with Pastor Tommy, who leads the Burmese congregation that meets in our building. I have created a relationship with him that helps me know more about what is happening in Myanmar and with those displaced into Thailand and various other countries around the world. The Burmese still have an affinity for the namesake of my sister’s alma mater 200 years after he came to what was Burma.

In the early 1800s, the Karen, a Burmese ethnic group, were brought the gospel by a Baptist missionary, Adoniram Judson. They have held onto that Baptist heritage even today in Bangkok.

The story of Judson is one of missional idealism and incredible narratives are marked by his life and efforts to the Karen people. When he met them, they were waiting for a white man to return their Golden Book that had stories identical to those in Genesis of man falling out of relationship with God by eating the forbidden fruit, woman being created from man’s rib and an antagonist fallen from heaven to deceive the world.

Judson’s first Karen convert was a slave, hardened murderer with a worse reputation…but this man knew the legends and Karen poetry…his life was transformed by the gospel. Many years later, he was the Karen’s first missionary.

Today, the Karens, the largest ethnic group in Burma, are persecuted and fleeing the country. One might say they are under ethnic cleansing, but the world is blind to their plight. Many of the Burmese church I minister with are Karen refugees.

I am excited to be sharing the ongoing work of Judson, a hero for me in missionary work. We have heard many stories of poor missionary work the past few decades as what not to do in westernizing or colonialism issues. However, this guy got it right.  Judson was quoted after baptizing his first convert,”Oh may it prove the beginning of a series of baptisms in the Burman empire, which shall continue in uninterrupted succession to the end of time!”

Read these links above to find more incredible stories of Judson and the beginning of missional works to totally unreached peoples.

http://www.wholesomewords.org/missions/bjudson7.html

http://www.christianitymagazine.co.uk/engine.cfm?i=92&id=52&arch=1

BTW: His wife Ann was the first to translate a portion of the Bible into Thai, then known as Siamese, when she translated the gospel of Matthew.