Fan Club for Jesus

The other day, we were showing our directors of Foursquare Missions International, Jim and Melinda Scott around Bangkok when we walked into a classy mall, Terminal 21, themed in travel with every floor decorated to look like an exotic city around the world. When we entered off of the Sky train platform, we heard ear piercing screeches from 100s of teenage girls. Why? Well, this occasion for the enthusiastic crowd came as a Korean singer was performing in the middle of the mall.

In Bangkok, fan club takes fanatic to new heights. They change their dress, vocabulary, manners and more to express their adoration of the latest pop star or pop group.

Teenage girls are the same around the world

This picture jumped out to me when we were talking to some of the people in our church here in Bangkok. We were talking about what does a disciple look like in Thai understandings. How are disciples thought of from the Thai perspective?

They answered first with the idea of sticking close to Jesus, following him and similar descriptive language. As they explained a little more, they blurted out  like his fan club. At first, I wanted to discard this comment as flippant. But  I came back to fan club again in the conversation and they agreed wholeheartedly.

That is when I started to remember how passionate a person gets as a member of someone’s fan club. They go all out in following their celebrity. Isn’t that what we should do in following Jesus?

Can I be a groupie for Jesus? Can you be a groupie for Jesus? How do you define disciple?

Anatomy of a Calling

Callings from God leave us with so many questions. Namely starting with how do I know what my calling is?

Well, I want to start with a generalization to calling. We are all called to Jesus in discipleship. Part of discipleship means we are to serve: serve the church, God, and our neighbors. Yet, the Bible gives narrative examples of calling which lays out more of a particular purpose of life for God. Hmmm, do these examples mean that all of us should have a calling to a specific place, people, or task? Maybe not, or maybe. But God does call us all to himself, and at times he calls us to a season of something as he did with Paul seen below. He does call some if not all to a particular thing. Let’s unpack some of the callings through scripture before unpacking my own story.

Here are some of my favorite narratives. We see the narrative of Samuel hearing a voice calling him. He mistakes that voice for the priest in another room of the temple. After the third time, finally Samuel learned to hear the voice of God and step into his calling to lead God’s people.

In another setting, Moses met God by a burning bush. Perhaps, one might say, he was really missing the subtle calling impressed on his heart. David’s calling came through a prophet. A prophet who wasn’t sure who he was going to enlist as the next king of Israel, yet finally, the youngest boy, huffing and puffing as he ran in from the sheep pen, becomes the new leader for the nation of God.

Then we have the calling of Paul with this strange vision in Acts 16. Paul sees the Macedonian man calling him to his region to preach the gospel. This calling gives the understanding of temporal and specific callings. I am not sure if we all have a specific calling such as this or not…but I expect that God has special designs for all of our life.

Ellie’s learning new things

I love watching my daughter, Ellie, grow and learn new things. She is a watcher, an observer. She loves to go for walks and peak out of her carrier to see people and everything else go by. But while she loves getting out and being a part of the busy-ness of the world, she wants to be a part of it also. She wants to be like the people around her. If she hears talking not addressed to her, she will join in and try to drawn you out. When she sees us eating, she tries to grab and eat also. She is constantly trying to do new things.

Recently, she figured out how to balance herself so she can sit. She went from being able to sit for 30 seconds one day, to sitting for over 10 minutes the next day. When I saw her just sitting there, I ran and got my camera. Ellie was so proud of herself that it was easy to get a good picture. She had the biggest smiles, smiles that said, look at what I can do.

The day after learning how to sit, Ellie wanted to learn new things. She is all about trying to crawl now. She gets so frustrated that she can’t propel herself forward. So right now, it is a fussy, but determined baby. Soon it will be one of excitement as she proudly moves across the room.

Watching her has made me think about how we view ourselves. Ellie is so proud over something that is so easy for us to do. She couldn’t be more excited when she gets to hold a spoon, or place her feet on the ground and pretend to stand. I think that we do the same things in our lives. We get so excited, even proud, when we can do something good for God. We want God to join in our excitement and praise us. Praise us he does, but he really wants us to be doing things much greater than “sitting” or “crawling” around in this life. He is happy when we gather for Christian fellowship and read our Bibles every day, but he is looking forward to seeing us do much greater things. Just as Ellie can’t yet conceive of jumping and dancing around, I can only imagine how awesome our lives will be once we have matured fully in Christ. Until then, I will keep striving to grow. Just like once Ellie learned to sit, she started trying to crawl, I want to keep growing in my walk with Christ. I never want to grow content to just sit or crawl and think I have reached maturity in Christ.

What do you think makes God smile?

Defining Maturity

If you ever overheard a girl talking about what she wants in a man, you probably have heard one thing above all others. She says she wants a man and not a boy. To which in my single years I would respond, how can you call an alligator a lizard?

This thing of maturity long has been an ambiguous and difficult term to nail down. What exactly does maturity mean, and how do you know when you see ‘maturity’?

Let’s take a look back to see when we might have said we were no longer a new Christian.

The concept of a new Christian has haunted me recently as my Thai friends refer to being a new Christian for two or three years. One of my friends helping us with the church plant wanted us to meet his good friend and a professor at the university we reach out to. In the words of our friend, “he is a new Christian who has only known God for two years.”

Another similar example sprung to mind during Thai class when our Thai teacher shared a story of when she was new Christian, only about three years. Her story gave insight into how Thai people see Jesus. She was so angry at Jesus for being mean. As a gentle and kind hearted Thai, she couldn’t understand why Jesus was so mean and destroyed that fig tree (Mark 11:12-14)

I gained insight for how we see Jesus through our cultural lens and often miss the bigger picture as we get stuck on who Jesus is or is not. Now she went on to explain that her pastor explained that Jesus was not mean, but fig trees were common in his country. Moreover, he was showing his disciples that if they do not bear fruit, they are worthless.

Coming back to the idea of maturity, I am struck by the fact Americans are never prone to say they are a baby Christian or new Christian after two or three years. After a few years, we are often seen as potential leaders or council members at our church. We become influential as we are seen as mature.

In Thailand, and much of the world, the idea of maturity differs drastically. The idea of being mature in one’s faith comes back to the Thai understanding of coming to faith. As seen above, the young Christian who teaches at university has known God only two years. You see, when a Thai person comes to faith, they say I know God.

This understanding coupled with the collectivist culture concept of a shared history helps me understand maturity in a whole new light. Let me explain. Shared history is the idea that you are not a part of the community until you have walked together through many seasons and situations. When you begin to have a set of shared experiences and memories that you can hold onto together, you then are welcomed into the community as an insider.

With this in mind, a Thai person will not say they are a mature Christian until they have shared many experiences with God. They want a shared history as they journey in faith together with their God.

In this context, here is a verse that deals with maturity that might now hold deeper meaning to us. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2 ESV). Perfect and complete carry the same connotation as mature, so other translations use mature in this verse.

Now we cannot apply cultural definitions of maturity into different contexts. Just as it might be dangerous for us to impose understandings of maturity from our American context into the church we plant in Bangkok, we cannot expect Americans to slow down their understanding of maturity. However, it makes me wonder, what is the right pace for calling someone mature?

When do you think someone in your context is no longer a baby Christian? 

The Easy Yoke

This weekend, I was in Denver visiting a good friend and sharing about the ministry in Thailand. As I have been convicted this summer of the concept of rest, buffers on the ends of the things we do in order to refresh and reconnect with God, I catch the little things that help me gain perspective on the why and what of life. Sunday, the pastor was preaching on the subject of rest, beginning a new series. I love the title, refreshing our faith and recharging our batteries. He spoke out of a familiar passage, Matthew 11:29, but one thing he said stuck with me from the message.

One of his points was we need to learn from Jesus in order to attain the rest we desire for our soul. In our society this rest is so necessary as we do and do, and even struggle with finding our identity in the doing. I wonder how many pastors struggle with their identity when they are no longer in the pulpit. Anyway, let me get back to his point on learning from Jesus taken from this text. Jesus invites us to put on his yoke. We often get confused at what Jesus is even talking about. Peter said the point is leverage. I loved that idea. Let me explain.

We might instantly think of the picture Jesus was referring to with an ox or oxen strapped into a yoke. They get the yoke in order to pull and till the land. However, there is even a yoke that a man would wear. If he was going into town to pick up water or food, he could hook it to each end of the yoke and carry more than without the yoke. The key was getting a yoke fitted to him. He needed the right size yoke in order to gain that leverage and carry all the more weight. The ox had to be hooked into the right size yoke to pull as much as he could. If you had the right yoke, you could do the work without feeling that much of a pull. This is why we may have read those passages of not yoking an ox with a donkey. You wouldn’t get the same leverage and work accomplished. Secondly, there is the picture of not being unequally yoked with an unbeliever. The right sized yoke is essential in accomplishing the thing Jesus calls us to. More than accomplishing, it is the ability in Jesus way to be the person Jesus wants us to be.

Jesus is not suggesting a new system or program to live our life. This is a way of life with Jesus to grow into the person he wants us to be.

A Desolute Volcano

Volcanoes leave destruction in their wake as the lava pours over the earth. Northern Arizona bears that mark on its landscape. This week we visited sun crater and the lava rocks left from a volcanic eruption nearly 1,000 years ago. Shockingly, all that stood in the wake of the destructive lava were trees, even after 1000 years. Our first thoughts were why were trees the only things growing among the molten rock. Lava rocks carry a richness of minerals that often produce more plant life. Why didn’t plants grow like in Hawaii with the lush vegetation around the lava flow?

As we read the signs around the park, we found that the dry climate doesn’t allow for the minerals to be released into the ground. As the sun beats down on the rocks, the hot dry air dries up the rocks, prohibiting them from becoming a source of life for the ground under them.

This made me think of our spiritual growth. Why are some people growing in their walk with God while others are becoming stagnant and dried out? The environment around us plays such an important role in our spiritual development. We need a healthy community around us in order to grow. We can have all the riches of God’s word and relationship with our creator, but if we are laid on baron ground separate from other necessary ingredients for life, we can dry up. Our potential can disappear like the ash cloud that floated away from the volcano.

We must be immersed in a healthy community of faith in God. We cannot journey alone. The necessity of healthy community became apparent to me as I thought on the landscape we visited. Our growth is not independent of other materials. We need each other. As God plants the rich minerals of his word into our life, we get to live them out in community and grow as he intends. Not only do we need to be in community, but the others in our churches need us to be in community for their sake.

Thoughts while Visiting the Grand Canyon

We visited the Grand Canyon on Monday with my parents and family friends, the Mihalik’s. My dad was looking forward to this trip for a long time as he had never seen this wonder placed in our country. In fact, I had never taken a trip to enjoy the marvel myself.

Our church, New Life Christian Fellowship, blessed us with a new Flip Video to make little videos to capture life in Thailand.

As we entered the Grand Canyon, I wanted to make a short clip or two about our experience to share with you. I made two, and the first relates to spiritual formation.

God works in us to shape and mold us into the person he wants. He takes a flat, hard surface and breaks it up, pulling back the layers of a hard heart, selfish attitude, deceit and much more to create a something even the Angels marvel at, as it says in Psalm 8 and Ephesians 3.

I am amazed by God’s work in the canyon carved out by his handiwork as well as his amazing work in the lives of his people who work out their salvation.