Public Worship: Worship as Mission 2

The edict went out via courier with great haste. The riders carried the new law to all corners of the empire. Soon everyone would be clued into the king’s grand new aim for worship.

See the king of this vast land set up a 90-foot image of gold on the plain of Shiner. The edict now decreed that all inhabitants of the empire would bow down to this idol when the music began to play. The king even offered strong incentives to insure all the people would participate in his new ritual.

The incentive was that the people got to keep their life if they worshipped in the way the king now prescribed. That is if they didn’t, they would be thrown into a fiery furnace.

We know this famous story from Daniel 3 as the one in which three young Hebrew leaders in scripted into the service of a pagan, conquering king of Babylon stood up to the king. Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego refused to bow down to any god other than the almighty God, the one with a capitol G.

It is not just in this story that people worship in broad view, in the public eye. No matter whether we are talking about traditional religions at a tribal level, or modern day faiths, I do not see the people of the world being as private as we have become. I think of walking through the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, aka the temple of the emerald Buddha, only to watch person after person show honor and worship to the image of the Buddha. They aren’t being showy with their faith, well, most of them aren’t. But they aren’t worrying about others as they come forward to burn incense, offer coins in the donation box, or place food in front of their spirit house.

Should worship be a private matter?

Communication Learning from a Toddler

Often, we find communicating across cultural barriers crippling. Fear, hesitation, or simple uncomfortability paralyzes us. Most of us have the desire but lack the boldness to communicate the story of God’s love to strangers, especially strangers who are different than us. Will they understand, will I be clear, will they think I am weird, or will I even make sense to them are simple questions we have that prevent us from stepping out and sharing Jesus with someone. This someone can live across the world in another culture altogether like what we experienced by living in Thailand for six years. Or this person can live across the street as an increasing immigration population moves into the US. How do we help people draw near to Jesus?

My observations come from parenting a toddler. As a blind father, I worry how she will communicate with me her wants and desires. Her words are few at two-years-old. She uses nonverbal communication to the best of her ability to let us know what she needs or to explain what happened.

My daughter learned that gestures don’t work the same with me. When she was younger, she tried to show me she was hungry and point to the food she wanted. Now, she takes me by the hand to the refrigerator. Then I ask her if she wants milk. She says, no. I point to another food, she says no. I point to the Goldfish. She says, yeah!! With pure excitement. She is thrilled that her daddy figured out what she was saying.

When she gets a new toy, she loves to come and take my hand, so she can lead me to the toy. She puts my hand on the toy. She loves when I get to enjoy her toys in my own way.

Still another example comes when she hears one of her favorite songs come onto the Itunes playlist. She grabs me by the hand and runs to the middle of the room. She starts moving my hand to say she wants to dance.

When she really wants to get her point across, she knows exactly what to do. As she is held in my arms, she will put both hands on my cheeks to turn my face to hers. She wants me to look her in the eye, so to speak. This way, she knows I am listening straight to her plea for ice cream, playing games, watching a movie, going to Nana’s house, or whatever she determinedly lets me know she wants.

When we want to communicate God’s love across cultural lines, our best approach is to be humble and find people where they are. Come to them, ask about their story, and start to learn their culture. We can show them Jesus better when we approach them in humble love, than if we expect them to come to where we are. My daughter doesn’t keep using nonverbal gestures to me hoping one day I will figure it out. No, she finds what way best communicates to me as quickly and naturally as possible. This is what we must do with our neighbors. What speaks to them? What can we do to build friendships, and thus create space for us to share about Jesus?

What do you find difficult in communicating with people from another culture?

Worship as Mission

I remember a time when our church went to a park for Sunday service. I felt like there was something freeing and missional about being outside. We did what we normally do inside of the church building, but this time we were outside, in the local park. We were not weird, or fanatical. We were regular, everyday people singing songs to our maker as we gathered in his cathedral, the great outdoors. Yet to many gathered, worship in the park felt unnatural. Still others stayed home thinking it was not real church.

Today, we think of worship as something for believers to offer God. Worship becomes a private act between Christians and the Almighty. Sometimes we even bring it down to a personal, personal level as we turn on our favorite worship music in the privacy of our car or bedroom. Do we ever consider that worship was intended for something different? Could worship be more public?

We have heard the common mantra in mission circles, “Mission exists where worship does not” as an oversimplification as to the necessity of mission.

I want to begin a short series over the next weeks in which we flip that statement upside down. I will unpack the idea of worship as mission with its implications as seen through the whole of scripture. .

As I reflect on some of my favorite innovations in church, they often are hinged on worship. The reformation was deeply rooted in music and hymnaty. Luther wrote songs to the tunes of popular bar melodies. The singing of the Anabaptists and others pushed their movement forward. Jack Hayford and Roy Hicks Jr. pressed the edges with choruses in the 1970s as church moved from traditional forms of worship to newer ways of connecting with God. I remember one time at the Cornerstone Music Festival Martin Smith from Delirious told stories of how their music (keep in mind this was the late 90s) drove revivals in the UK.

As I consider motifs of mission that weave through scripture threading together a tapestry of God’s action with God’s people to draw all nations to know him, I think of worship as a picture we have narrowly left as something inside the church with little thought to missiological implications. In this series I will show how worship reflects God and our relationship with him to outside observers. I will look at three case studies from scripture with modern illustrations. These case studies will draw from the life of Abraham, Paul and Jesus to illustrate how worship plays a role in revealing God to all nations. For the purpose of this series I will confine worship to the acts of worship seen in the life of God’s people without wading through the broad definitions of worship in the Old Testament and New Testament, nor the understanding of worship as a lifestyle.

Waiting for Others

“Let’s go, Ellie. We are ready to go to the next attraction now. You wanted to go before, but now you don’t?” That’s what we were saying to our daughter as we wandered around the Littleton Historical Museum (best part, it’s free).

We thought she was losing focus, but really she hadn’t at all. Our little girl knew exactly what she was doing. We soon realized that Ellie had seen another little girl a few months older than her and her family. She wanted to wait while they finished looking at the school house before going with them to the next site. We traveled around with the family for the next 15 minutes, all the while they didn’t know why we kept so close to them. In Thailand, where Ellie was born and spent her first two plus years, she learned life in a collective culture. In a collective culture, people wait for each other and travel together. The collective works on shaping the individual, while in America, we are quite the opposite. The individual works on shaping the collective. Secondly, time is totally different in Asia. They have no problem waiting for the group. While we are wrestling through issues of reentry, but Ellie is learning to live in a new culture.

In America waiting goes against our nature, right. We go when we want to go, and wait when we want to wait, but our individualistic society rarely has us waiting for others. We just thought Ellie was being a burgeoning individual.

But in fact, she was being the collectivist she was brought up as in Thailand. She learned we do things in groups. We share memories together. We live life together. When she spied out a new friend and family to join on our fun day out, she took them on as her own.

At one point, the family even told her that she didn’t have to wait for them. Ellie would have none of that. She went ahead only when they caught up to her. Sometimes she lagged behind as she got distracted with history, but she ran to keep up with the group.

Processing culture happens for us all at a different pace. It is fun watching how our little girl processes life at her young and impressionable age.

How do you do in waiting for others? What is hard or easy about it?

Reentry and Friends

Returning from cross cultural work brings so many emotions and culture to process. As I muse on one aspect of change, I love one analogy that helps us figure this deal out about reentry. It goes like this. You leave from a Green culture to live in a Yellow culture. When you return you are blue. After working to fit into another culture, you don’t realize how much you have changed no matter that you won’t fully become like your host culture.

When we returned after six years, it is hard to anticipate the changes, mostly in us. But let’s not diminish the fact American culture changes too. Many people do not realize the way culture changes. It is like when you visit a relative or long distance friend’s child you haven’t seen in years. You notice the change much more drastically than the family does.

For us, all of our friends in America became long distance friends for six years. As we landed back in the States, we wondered what it would be like to reconnect with friends. Friends who have continued maturing and growing in the path they walked while at the same time, our life was completely changed through our experiences and development in another culture. For me, I started thinking of some of my best friends and peers in ministry; I started to realize how they moved on. The realization struck me as Christina and I were walking around LA. We started talking through the friends we looked forward to reconnecting with as we noted how many moved to a new part of the country. We had more than a few of my friends move out of the area. We look forward to redeveloping friendships from a new foundation. We have time as we process who we are and how we fit in this place. We are taking time to make our move process slowly.

I am also so glad to see how God is orchestrating the taking of acquaintances to deeper friends.

The Fourth of July and Identity

Recently, I mused on traditions and family holidays as we celebrated Halfway to Christmas. Now, comes the big, mid-summer bonanza topped off with fireworks.

One thing that ties people together as a people much more even than blood and ethnicity is a shared tradition and shared story. Our story becomes a part of us as we stop on those important days of a year to commemorate and remember who we are. Our identity as a people gets instilled into us as we grow up year after year celebrating together as a nation, reminding ourselves that we are a people.

Some holidays like Christmas and New Year have a global call even as Australia might celebrate different with poolside BBQ. Other holidays might have commonality like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Another holiday like Thanksgiving gets celebrated by both Canada and the US; albeit Canada thinks they have the right date in October. These days come each year to remind us of who we are.

Yet each people will have certain days that only they celebrate. These days remind us how our identity stands distinct from another people. The Fourth of July is one such day for Americans. Many nations have a day to celebrate their freedom, but only the United States of America claims the Fourth of July as their day when independence rings out. We are reminded all day long with patriotic songs, BBQ’s, flags waving, and fireworks of one of our key values as a nation. This is one day that gets celebrated much better in the US than out of it.

As missionaries, we get that the day means something to who we are. We never made it to the US Embassy in Bangkok for a celebration with dozens of other ex-pats. However, we always found a way to eat American food and remind ourselves who we are as Americans. Usually the celebration comes with its own set of hurdles in a foreign land.

For me, Liberty stands strong as a value for who we are as a people, and the Fourth of July sticks out as one of my favorite holidays. I love the fireworks, hanging out with friends, and baseball.

What holidays do you love for their meaning and significance in shaping your identity?

Photo credit

New Life From a Dream

In my trip to Malaysia in March, I met many amazing people. Sometimes you unexpectedly meet someone that is just a gem, a story worth sharing everywhere. It is all about being ready and open to hear people’s stories. This wonderful, humble man’s name is Luke, and his life was changed by a dream.

Luke, a Nepali man, works as a security guard 7 days-a-week, 12 hours-a-day to support his family back in Nepal. My Malaysians friends couldn’t stop talking about what hard workers the Nepali people are. Yeah, that is quite hard working I would say. And they clarify by saying these security guards don’t fall asleep. That should go without saying, but I know some that routinely fell asleep at our apartment building in Bangkok. Luke, the dedicated guard, is also preparing to begin a Nepali church here in KL. Why? Because he has been impacted by Jesus in a real way.

He came to know Jesus nearly 30 years ago when his mother was deathly ill with TB. Luke’s family spent 9 months and the family’s life savings working to find help. After all of that time in the hospital and money spent, his mom was sicker than ever. At this point, she began to prepare for Luke and his siblings to be taken care of by other people after she left. Luke’s mom began having dreams that caused her to think death was coming to get her. She saw a man in white reaching out to grab her. To her, this certainly meant her time was short.

Luke did not know what to do. When Luke told his teacher, the only Christian in the village, what was happening, the teacher asked more about this dream. Luke’s mom said the man was reaching out to take her hand and calling her to come with. The man in white said, “Come with me and you will never die”.

The teacher immediately knew the man in the dream was Jesus. The teacher explained to Luke that Jesus wanted her to live. The teacher went to find her pastor and an elder in the church from another village away. The three of them went with Luke to visit his mom. When they talked to Luke’s mom, she said she wanted Jesus. And more than that, Jesus fulfilled the message in that dream as he healed Luke’s mom completely.  . The TB was gone with no side effects. She is still living today in her 80s. I love these stories where God shows himself real. In a place like Nepal where the Buddhism has prevented people from knowing Jesus, he is still reaching down and intersecting their world.

I am reminded of the More Than Dreams series and love that God speaks to people in dreams, including people in the Buddhist world.

What dreams have you had that you know came from or maybe wonder if they came from God?