Archive for the US church
So I’ve been in Ghana for a week now. It’s been a great trip, not because it has been “exotic” or something like that (I think we, including myself, can talk about traveling to certain places with that sort of exotic/vacation/tourist attitude, which ends up minimizing the real lives and realities of complex and tough places like Ghana). But it’s been great because of:
1) the friendships I am developing with various African leaders (15 total)- from a former Ugandan soldier to a pastor who endured the war in Sierra Leone, from a former engineer to a regional director of parachurch ministries in East Africa, etc. The discussions have been enlightening; the friendships, fun and encouraging; the future dreams and possibilities together, inspiring.
2) the time I get to hang out with world-renowned scholar/strategist/statesman Ray Bakke (google his name and try to discover as much as you can about this guy). He’s courted people like King Hussein and the Pope, but I (along with other students) get to have one-on-one conversations with him while we spend hours driving around Ghana. Pretty cool.
3) the validation and continuation of the vision of church/church planting I have- global/multicultural/multisocioeconomic churches in all the cities of the world (note: there are 500 cities around the world that have over 3 million people). Accra needs a global/multicultural/multisocioeconomic church reaching out to the diverse pockets here. Anyone interested?
Be sure to visit my flickr site for daily pictures from ghana.
Over the last few months, I’ve had the chance to personally meet and spend some time with some well known Christian authors. These authors include:
Tim Stafford, author of numerous books including the NIV Student Bible
William P. Young of The Shack
Larry Osborne of the forthcoming Sticky Church
James Choung of True Story
I am amazed at their earthiness and humility, and am glad that God has them where they’re at; these are some truly Jesus-focused people who don’t care too much about themselves. Good stuff.
Here we go. Gay marriages are officially “on” tomorrow in my state. There’s been a lot of talk, obviously, about it all. I don’t think I need to (or want to) go through my take on all the different issues on the table. I did want to contribute an article, however, that gave an interesting perspective, one that I don’t seem to hear too much. Here it is. Let me know what you think.
In my previous post, I noted the negative and sinful feelings that would arise from my “flesh” when dealing with Celebrity Christianity. In this post, I am not too sure if what I feel is morally sinful (you can help me figure it out).
As mentioned in my previous post, one of the things that really gets to me with Celebrity Christianity (in the West) is how we think that what we see is reality- the recognition someone gets is also the same recognition God gives to that person. In other words, if we as the Western Church think that a certain pastor/model/ministry is amazing, God thinks the same.
I want to nuance my concern in this post to the idea that many times, when we do this, we also give in to the fatal error that what is true of what we see here is true for the Church worldwide. In other words, when a Western pastor has a big ministry, publishes books, has iTune sermons, and gets the Western Church’s attention, we think to ourselves- “Wow, this is what good, proper, effective, and powerful Christianity looks like! ” Now, we don’t actually verbalize the next step because of our sensitivity to ideas of colonialism and imperialism, but my impression is that what we end up thinking from there, in the subtlest of ways, is that everyone, in every country, should have what this ministry has in some way, shape, or fashion. I may be wrong (and simply projecting my sinful flesh on others- I apologize), but this is what I feel.
I was reminded of this personally a few weeks ago. A friend of mine said that a seminary in Indonesia was thinking about inviting the two of us to go and teach there for a week. Exciting stuff, especially for a person who loves to travel (and who also struggles with ungodly recognition!). But as I thought about this, it dawned on me how utterly foolish the situation was.
According to my friend, this seminary was one in which every student had to plant a church before they could graduate. If you think about it, this is simply amazing, not because they have to plant a church, but because of the fact that they have to plant a church in Indonesia– a country that is predominantly Muslim, a country Christians are persecuted and die because of their faith, a country that is so not like the West (for info, see here).
And if you think about it, the idea of my friend and I being able to offer something to them is pretty foolish. I mean, sure we may have some insight into some organizational skills for church planting. But let’s get serious- who’s living the call of Christ in more real ways? Who’s setting an example? Who’s gonna have the bigger rewards in heaven? Who’s more equipped to teach about planting churches in our global world? I really don’t think it’s me or my friend.
So I’ve been absent for a bit on this blog. There are a number of reasons for that, many of which we don’t need to get into here. But one of the factors that have prevented me from posting has been my personal struggle with what I am calling “Celebrity Christianity”- a Christian faith that gets the accolades of other people. It comes about in a number of different ways, but more often than not it follows a pattern like this: I see a peer- a pastor or Christian leader of some sort- get the limelight of the Western church world, and feelings of lust (for that sort of limelight) and judgmentalism ensue. Now, it doesn’t happen all the time, thank Jesus. But it happens enough where I am disgusted with myself, and I cannot properly put myself before the public without wanting the glory only God deserves. (It should be noted that I am in no way criticizing my fellow peers who get these accolades. They are amazing people, and I am glad for who they are and what they do).
It’s a sad thing, though, Celebrity Christianity. Because as I’ve been thinking about it, I think Jesus sees things in a radically different way. I mean, it’s pretty blatant in some of his teachings, for example:
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matt. 6:1-4
God, I don’t want to be duped. Help me remember what reality is.
I love the diversity of the church I’m a part of. Recently, my wife and I hosted three interns and a staff member. There we were- Latino, Filipino, Caucasian/Malaysian, Latina/Arabic, and Chinese. Loved it.
Part of what helps us get along is the reality that we are all strong in the English language, we are all “native” English speakers, and communicate together with English.
Recently, though, we’ve been having a number of non-native English speakers come, mostly first generation Chinese immigrants. What I find interesting is that many of them have been to the Chinese speaking/immigrant churches in the area, but wanted a more multicultural experience. And so they’ve been coming, bringing their children and all. It’s good to see that the desire for multiculturalism is not just a postmodern, Gen X and Y, college-educated desire…
We were on a rather wide and fairly remote bike trail. Our older daughter was sleeping in our jogging stroller, the younger in the baby sling on my chest. The wheel of our stroller had just broken off, and so we were trying to somehow manage with two wheels- slowly weaving our way back home, stopping every so often to rest, figure out this tire, and redirect our course.
We had stopped, trying to figure out this tire when all of a sudden:
“One way, this is a one way road!” an irate biker coming toward us yelled. (It was not a one way road)
“Get out of the way! This isn’t Japan!” he hollered as he zipped past us with his female biking companion. He continued his complaint as he rode away.
I was simply stunned. Actually, I was laughing out loud as he said that- I just couldn’t believe it. Here, in my supposedly educated and progressive corner of the US, my family and I were getting our first dose of racist hate.
Now I know racism is still a reality in our country, even in the world of Christianity- some recent blogs and articles have discussed this (make sure you read them- they’re pretty sad). And I know all of us are racist somehow (hopefully we’re getting it out of us as Jesus followers, surely but slowly). I guess I just haven’t been a recipient in a while.
My thoughts, however, turned to the fact that it was Good Friday as I struggled with how to respond and feel. What would Jesus do? My wife was ready to give the biker a stick in the spokes and watch him flip. Obviously, that wasn’t the right answer. But not doing anything?
Then it hit me. Jesus didn’t walk away from those that accused him before his death; he didn’t “not do anything.” He faced them… but with silence.
I began to picture myself back at the parking lot with the biker there, still yelling at us. And I pictured myself walking up to him, and just looking at him, looking deep in his eyes, not saying a word. Perhaps he’d be yelling still, or perhaps he’d start threatening me. But I would just look, hopefully with Jesus’ eyes- full of compassion, yet full of strength.
And I pray the message would be communicated- you cannot demean me or my people. And you are in need of grace.
Ah Good Friday… Thank you Jesus for your grace.
(by the way, I’m not Japanese. I’m Chinese. Just in case you were wondering.)