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?

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?

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?

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?

Contextualization: Some More Thoughts

Okay, okay…I am getting back to this polarizing discussion on contextualization. It took a little longer than I hoped. I decided to wait until my class with Dr. Scott Moreau came, so I could get a little grounding into my musings.

When we contextualize our faith, we want to make sure we do not end up with something altogether different in the end. The key to this effort begins with scripture. All contextualization must stand firmly rooted in scripture.

So let me dive into a phrase that often says more than people intend in contextualization. Far too often I hear people say, we need to contextualize the gospel.

Some use this saying innocuously, while others clearly come with an agenda behind that saying. They say things like, we need to ask what is good news to these people. In beginning this way, they inadvertently say the good news can be changed to capture the imaginations of an audience.

If you cannot tell yet, I get uneasy with the term contextualize the gospel. Are they saying that the gospel can be bent, pulled, squeezed, or even twisted to fit into another shape? Does the gospel morph or have an opportunity to be reinterpreted? I dare say, no. The gospel that Jesus preached, the teachings that Paul passed on to Timothy that he implored Timothy to pass on to good men who could in turn pass it along, II Timothy 2:2 remained static yet found dynamic expression within each local context. The unchanging gospel of the unshakeable King Jesus gets lived out in our faith and worship in varying forms and customs. This is what we contextualize. I loved how Dr. Moreau framed contextualization. He put it as contextualizing our entire faith.

In his upcoming book on the contextualization as seen in the evangelical landscape, Dr. Moreau brilliantly describes the gospel as an anchor for contextualization. When we attend to contextualization, we must be anchored in the gospel. When we keep our anchor in scripture, we can begin on firm footing.

What do you think of when people say they are contextualizing the gospel?

Reputation in Society

I find an oft overlooked verse in Acts 19 descriptive of how we should conduct our life in view of watchful eyes. “You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess,” Acts 19:37.

I have been told since I was a youth that when people know I am a Christian, they will watch me like a hawk. They want to know that my life matches up with my belief system. Gandhi said, I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians. Somehow people judge our God through the window of our life. That is the present reality.

Some find an easy path to denigrating other religions in order to make Christianity look better. If they can show a weakness in the other religion, whether Buddhist, Islam, atheism or other religion, then Christianity will look stronger. If we stoop to anything approaching this idea, we will turn off the people we are aiming to reach before we can get our story out.

In Thailand, if we denigrate Buddha, we lose our chance to tell the story of Jesus. When we talk up the person of Jesus as the wonderful savior and the one who can take our karma on his back to give us freedom for an ongoing bondage to karma and reincarnation, we have a chance to speak about the one we love. When we speak with love and with a positive tone, people listen. Not everyone responds favorably, and some in positions of influence may work to make our mission more difficult. But we have stood on solid ground when we do so.

What Paul did in Ephesus and all we need to do is demonstrate the kingdom of God to people. We have the almighty God on our side. If we just allow him to be seen in and through our lives, who wouldn’t want that. When we have something fantastic, we just need to let people see the goods. We don’t even need to get into comparisons.  God will dwarf anything else with his amazing wisdom, goodness, love and power. If we merely show off our God and live a life worthy of our calling as Paul writes in Ephesians 4:1, we’ll make great inroads to society. The church turned the world they found themselves in upside down. People wanted what God offered so strongly than those trying to hold onto the status quo were passed by in the blink of an eye. Gamaliel said early in the life of the church that we can’t fight what is from God, Acts 5:38-39

38Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

The divine nature of the church and the kingdom of God can speak for itself. Luke allowed Gamaliel’s statement to sit as a prophetic and foundational statement to the beginnings of the church. Within 3 decades the church had impacted an entire empire, establishing local congregations throughout the Roman world. One reason the church went so far so fast comes back to the fact they didn’t set out to destroy other religions, but to let God and the message of Jesus take off with a bang. They lifted Jesus up, exalting him above other gods. They didn’t try to take down the other gods to put them under Jesus. We see Paul coming back to this in Ephesians as he reignites the love for Jesus that brought the Ephesians to follow God. The first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians reads like Paul putting the name of Jesus in a rocket ship to blast into the sky and hold the person of Jesus as high as possible over any other gods or religions as possible.

Maybe we have erred in making the religion too much about the doctrines. Don’t get me wrong, the early church fought to maintain doctrinal integrity, and what we believe holds importance. What I am saying is that in the west if we set up the premise around what we believe, then people can find fault with what we believe when our life falls short. We are inevitably going to fall short, and our aim is not a perfect life, but a life moving toward Christ. People saw in Paul and the early church a life changing affect of God coming into their lives. God should impact our world.

In the end, all we need to do is let people see God through our life. We don’t need to stoop to bad mouthing the way nonChristians believe. In this area, our reputation should be exemplary in the community. Our goal is not to be liked or popular. Jesus was not the most well liked person at the end of his life. He was contrarian and went against the grain. He said we would receive the same persecution in the world that they gave him. It’s just that our persecution should come from our faith in Jesus and not our behavior towards other’s faith.

The Story of a Conversion

The story of a conversion looks different in every context. Even as we look at Jesus’ model, we see people coming to him in various ways. Paul went throughout the Roman Empire becoming all things to all people that some might come to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. We see different approaches even in the same place. In Philipi, he finds Lydia along the water’s edge dying clothe. He shares Jesus with her. Later, after he was thrown in prison, the jailer comes to know Jesus after a crazy earthquake rocks the doors and shackles loose. The prisoner nearly took his own life knowing he would die for allowing the prisoners to get free, when Paul shouted t o him to stop. He said, we are all here.

In Thailand,  the story of someone coming to know Jesus looks different than in most places. The worldview of a Thai Buddhist tells them that they are born as the person they will always be. If they are rich or poor, smart or dim, diligent or lazy at birth that is who they will always be. There is no use changing it, because they are born into the life they will live. Take that one step farther, and you get the idea to be Thai is to be Buddhist. Therefore, Thai people are very religious and accepting of other religious people, but to change and become another religion takes a lot of effort. Often, a Thai person will meet some Christians, show interest, visit the church services, watch the Christians for a number of months while asking questions, and continue investigating truth. At some point along their journey, they encounter God as real in their life. After believing God is real, a Thai person might still wait a short while to build the courage to have God become the Lord of their life. They want to be ready to face the questions and even persecution from their own family for changing. Their family rarely understands. They think they are rejecting the core values of being Thai and adopting foreign values.

One Thai person we began spending a lot of time with just before our furlough accepted Christ last week after a Friday night service. He met us at Ramkhamhaeng University where we hold English Clinic as an outreach to the students. We started hanging out and building friendship with him by going to the movies and out to dinner several times with him. He then came to the English Camp, the annual major outreach for Our Home Chapel here in Bangkok. After being around the church for some time and watching the Christians, he decided to know God. I loved what he said in reply to  our facebook status update. We said how glad we were that two new people are now part of the family of God. He commented back saying, ‘It was because I saw God in you guys. Thank you.” The second person that night was his sister who he brought to the English Camp.

The journey to faith for people who know nothing of God and rarely see their friends change from being Buddhist takes time and relationship. Everytime we see someone come to know God, we are equally thrilled.