Life is Fragile

The frailty of life catches off guard, even when we see it plane in front of us. I was reminded of this reality once again as I attended a funeral this weekend.

Thailand’s national leader for Foursquare, Pastor John invited us to join with him as we remembered his father who passed at the age of 80. Yet this time, more than most, I realized how different a death can be. In the US, we presume Christianity on most and rarely wrestle with the questions of eternity. At least we do not outwardly struggle with the question of where someone is. At the least we hope to see them again on the other side.

On the other hand, In Thailand, the Christians in the church agonize over the never so subtle reality of where their relatives go. For the most part, they know their family is or is not Christian. Perhaps the abstract became concrete on Friday when we asked the church to pray for Pastor John and his family before I went north. The girl leading the announcements asked me if Pastor John’s dad was a Christian. When I responded that he was, she quickly replied, Oh good. That makes for a very different kind of prayer. The Christian faith which he found near the end of his life made for a different kind of ceremony too.

In the West, we avoid these questions of truth not wanting to cause excess grief. In a predominately nonChristian society, the truth smacks them square on the nose.

The gnawing feeling of death’s finality kept scratching away at my soul this weekend. So now what?

· I want to redouble my efforts to get the story out of what Jesus can do for people willing to turn their loves over to him.

· I want to maintain strong ties with my father, and extended family.

· I want to impart as much as I can into my daughter while I can.

· Finally, I want to live each day like it is my last.

How does death shape your attitude toward life today?

Prunes, and Pruning

Do prunes grow from a tree that is pruned? I don’t know but prunes help get the junk out just like pruning a tree helps keep things healthy in a tree.

I am no tree doctor, but I do know that trees need to be cut back from time to time to create opportunities for further growth, healthier growth. Sometimes, we just want growth, so we neglect sharpening our blades, and pulling out the clippers to trim back a few bad branches.

Still in further cases, we let sickness go unchecked so long that a tree needs to be cut back further and further.

A pruned tree and I am not so sure why I want to say prune as much as I do in this post, but it sounds pretty cool, can give off false perceptions. To an untrained or unattentive eye, a pruned tree looks awfully dead. Perhaps a parallel analogy could come from the winter season when a tree loses all of its leaves. Seasons come and go, but as long as the tree stays rooted in the right place, the fruit will come in the right season.

What is the point of all this pruning and season mumbo jumbo you ask?

Well, Jesus promised us that the father would prune us. Sometimes that gets interpreted individually. Yet, can I daresay that the passage in John 15 could also apply to the community of faith in a collective us as the people of God issue.

Sometimes, the church will go through season when God prunes and cuts out the branches that should not be there. And no matter what, as one who has led a church through a pruning from God…it is not comfortable. However, I am looking forward to the further fruitfulness this church and all others that hold onto as God shapes them into the healthy trees that he wants them to be will have.

Are there spirits all around?

A lady came rushing up to me needing help. She wanted someone with spiritual power to pray against the demonic.

The spiritual world is wreaking havoc on our little neighborhood in the eyes of this woman. As Westerners, we neglect the spiritual realm as affecting our physical world. In Thailand, people believe spirits are in play with everything. If they are not appeased through spirit houses, offerings and other traditional rituals, the spirits can bring turmoil into this world…thus people in Thailand live in fear.

The fear was all over this woman. Here is how the story went.

I was taking our puppy for her morning walk when this Thai lady came up to me saying, pastor, pastor. This was a twist to my morning ritual. I should say my rather new morning ritual the past couple months. Laguna, our Golden Retriever, helps motivate me up early for some strong prayer time. Oh boy, she loves to get up early.

I have begun using these walks to pray over our street. The morning walks give me an opportunity to pray for the church members who live on this street as well as those on this street that God is drawing to know him. The middle-aged, Thai lady came to me noticeably concerned. I thought, how does she know I am a pastor? Thailand never ceases to amaze me.

She told me that things have been difficult on this street and implored me to pray for the people. I told her that I was praying, but she insisted that I pray more. As she explained, I felt God confirming in me that he is watching over the street. To summarize, the concerned woman wanted me to know that basically, the happiness index of the street had gone down, jobs were not as good, problems in the lives of the people and so on. All of this was due to the evil spirits, she explained.

I stopped with her right there at that moment and prayed intentionally that god would be present with us in power.

The spiritual strongholds fighting to maintain their ground and prevent God’s kingdom from coming in are persistent. But God will win. I believe God wants to unleash his kingdom power on this city, beginning with our street in Bangkok in the near future. I continue to pray for an outpouring of his Holy Spirit.

When you observe problems in your community, do you blame evil spirits or circumstances…or something else?

An Example of Contextualization: A Look at Love

Let me take a side road for a moment in this ongoing discussion of Contextualization on the blog. When I sat in my MA class at Wheaton College with Dr. Moreau, my wife held down the fort with the church in Bangkok. Not only that, she was also taking care of our 16-month-old daughter and brand-new 4-month-old puppy while I spent two weeks taking intensive classes in the Chicago area. Probably not the best idea for us to get a new puppy a week before leaving, but Ellie was desperate to have a dog, and I wanted the extra protection while I was gone.

Not only was my precious wife carrying double, no triple, no triple-and-a-half load for over two weeks, Tina was left home alone on our anniversary. But she never held that against me, supporting me all along as much as any wife could do. She even sent me love notes every hour, scheduled on our Mail Chimp service used for newsletters. I kept getting emails from her throughout class wondering what she was doing up so late. Finally it sunk in when I kept getting Mail Chimp alerts. Mailchimp wasn’t sending me some update about their service or promotion for something new…my wife had a well-crafted and perfectly executed way to show me her love and devotion. I want to share one such letter here that perfectly illustrates contextualization.

Andy,

I hope your enjoying your class today. I was thinking about contextualization and how our lives, our love, themselves became contextualized when we moved to Thailand. No longer could we hold hands or show affection in public after we moved here. It didn’t change our love, just our expression of it. I think the Gospel is the same way. The message, the content, shouldn’t change when we bring it from one country to another but how it is expressed changes. The same base is there but superficially things have changed. Anyways, just a thought…

Love and kisses,

Your wife

Succinct and to the point…We cherish even little trips out of the country for a visa run where we can hold hands again. No holding hands in Bangkok also means no pecks on the cheek, no smooches in public, no arms around the waist…no public displays of any kind. Yet we love each other more now than ever even if some of the forms have changed in how we express and communicate our love.

Shouldn’t the love story of God with his people be able to transcend culture while at the same time inculcating itself within each and every people group?

What word picture would you use to describe contextualization?