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?

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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?

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?

Seing with Fresh Eyes

Last week, three travel wearied children and their parents stepped off of a plane in Bangkok beginning a new journey as missionaries in Bangkok, Thailand. For our part, we get the privilege of helping them get settled as they learn the language and culture in seeing God’s kingdom expand in this country.

With good things like new cool friends always come unintended benefits.

One such benefit for us comes as we see Thailand afresh through new eyes. So often, we grow accustomed to the ways of Thailand and the Thai people that we miss subtle nuances that have changed over the five plus years we have lived and served in Bangkok. We get to see this place once again through a new lens.

I love all the fresh excitement bubbling over in their kids even as they grapple with living in a new place where few people speak English. Things that have become commonplace to us, jump out to the newest members on our team as they see a band clump lying tossed in a field. I didn’t even remember banana trees grew in this concrete jungle known as the city of angels, the literal meaning of Thailand’s capital.

The new experiences and observations bring memories flooding back to us of our first days in a new country. Memories of pure joy, and sometimes thoughts of what were we thinking coming to live in such a strange place. Now this strangeness seems so normal. Yeah, normal to ride a motorcycle taxi sidesaddle with a baby strapped to your back as my wife recently tweeted. Oh yes, normal eat tasty food off of the street vendors carts. We just don’t ask how long the meat has been outside. Yep, this milk tastes normal. We forget how it took us over a year to be able to drink it plain.

As we are reminded of our initial bumps on the road and uncomfortabilities with the new life we took on, we have had a chance to reflect and see how we processed change and transition. I remember long nights lying awake in bed debriefing with my wife about observations and experiences. I remember asking our friends and other missionaries to describe and articulate what was happening around us. Another tool that helped us assimilate came in the form of a super friendly older man in the church who also taught in the school. He loved sharing his joy and passion for his homeland with all of the foreign workers that came to Thailand. He helped us take excursions around Bangkok and the surrounding area to see the traditional and ancient sides of Thai culture. We rode elephants, ate in restaurants built from bamboo on stilts over the Gulf of Bangkok, shopped in the famous floating market, visited Tigers, and a host of other activities. We fed off of his joy in seeing us soak in the beauty that is Thailand. Our friend, no adopted elderly uncle, loved prompting us to take pictures. I think he was almost as excited as we were to catch a glimpse of the monitor lizard on the side of the river bank. No, maybe he was more excited when he saw our love for his country grow.

Even as we reflect on our initial impressions of Thailand, we also see anew how culture continues to shift in Bangkok. This city is in hyper flux as it bounces from one fad to another led through such mediums as Youtube and Facebook. Bangkok recently became the world’s No. 1 city for Facebook with over 8 million users. But other things have changed as girls dress far more risqué than five years ago. Couples might be seen holding hands in public when that was a big taboo, even five years ago. Meanwhile the foundation of Thailand’s political stability continues to be fluid.

As we come along side our new teammates, we get an added benefit of reflecting on our own understandings of Thailand. I always hope to be a person that reflects and learns from my experiences. It is good to have a new perspective to Thailand again.

I must say, we love this place and the sweet people here.
(Andy)

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?

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?