Comprehending Short Term Missions

In many things, I have learnt not to be too caustic towards other people. I often adopt this tone when I really dislike something–under the guise of sarcasm, I make very disparaging remarks, and the lines between where I’m being serious and joking blur. Unfortunately people get offended easily, especially when something as sacred as the modern pilgrimage to overseas countries, is questioned. It is certainly something that is important as being born again for many Christians today.

A lot time has to be spent at the beginning of any conversation exerting that I was generalising. I wasn’t talking about all missions trips, and I wasn’t judging any specific one. It was a general trend that I’ve been assessing and thinking about, not any specific trip I was thinking about.

Read more of this post

Pornography and Our Insufficiency In Discussions

In this post, I am mainly referencing this post by RELEVANT Magazine.

I tweeted a few days ago (a few weeks ago now) that the natural conclusion from a post from RELEVANT Magazine on pornography was to never have sex again because it could cause us to become addicted to dopamines. The post is centered around the idea of the brain producing dopamines when we are stimulated by various activities. In this particular post, Internet pornography was targeted as producing dopamines, and through repetition, we slowly are wired into a routine in our mind.

To break out of this routine is increasingly difficult, as the brain “learns” to act a certain way, causing compulsion and addiction.

Read more of this post

The Invention of Truth

I’ve been catching various fragments of the Invention of Lying

My brother has been watching it on the hard drive recorded off the television. It is a relatively old movie and was released quite a while ago, but I haven’t mustered up the inspiration to sit down and view the entire movie.

The premise of the show is set in a world where no one knows how to lie, and this is fraught with philosophical impossibilities that I don’t really understand. The idea of the movie is that “telling the truth” is limited to speaking frankly, and without restraint. This limits the idea of truth to an impossibly small circle, whereas people are not allowed to be genuinely mistaken. Moreover, what if people know the truth, but are not compelled to voice the truths? Is that not considered lying, unless we are all naturally gossipers and to not gossip is to lie to our human nature (I could live with that).

Anyway, Ricky Gervais lives in a world where everyone tells the truth, no one has discovered how to lie yet.  Read more of this post

Shane Claiborne Post-9/11

I thought in the weeks following 9/11 this quote was especially relevant about the world we live in.

“I saw a banner hanging next to city hall in downtown Philadelphia that read, “Kill them all, and let God sort them out”.

A bumper sticker read, “God will judge evildoers, we just have to get them to him.”

I saw a T-shirts on a soldier that said, “US Air Force…we don’t die; we just go to hell to regroup.”

Others were less dramatic–red, white, and blue billboards saying,”God bless our troops.” “God bless America” became a marketing strategy. One store hung an ad in their window that said, “God bless America–one dollar burgers.” 

Patriotism was everywhere, including in our altars and church buildings. In the aftermath of September 11th, most Christian bookstores had a section with books on the event, calendars, devotionals, buttons, all decorated in the colors of America, draped in stars and stripes, and sprinkled with golden eagles.

This burst of nationlism reveals the deep longing we all have for community, a natural thrist for intimacy that liberals and progressive Christians would have done much better to acknowledge. September 11th shattered the self-sufficient, autonomous individual. and we saw a country of broken fragile people who longed for community–for people to cry with, be angry with, to suffer with. People did not want to alone in their sorrow, rage, fear.

But what happened after September 11th broke my heart. Conservative Christians rallied around the drums of war. Liberal Christians took to the streets. The cross was smothered by the flag and trampled under the feet of angry protesters. The church community was lost, so the many hungry seekers found community in the civic religion of American patriotism. People were hurting and crying out for healing, for salvation in the best sense of the word, as in the salve with which you would dress a wound. A people longing for a saviour placed their faith in the fragile hands of human logic and military strength which have always let us down. They have always fallen short of the glory of God.” [1]

[1] Page 198. Claiborne, Shane. The Irresistible Revolution. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.

Talking About The Cross

There seems to be two differing extremes when people talk about the cross.

There are some who speak nothing of the cross. Granted, it is something of an oxymoron to be a Christian and to say nothing about the cross. It is something of a misnomer to assign the title of Christian to someone not be totally constantly in awe of the cross.

Yet, some people exist that are of that disposition, entrenched in either emotionalism or knowledge-ism. A lot of them are so far entrenched in this cross-less Christianity because I believe that they have not experienced what true love and regeneration there is in the cross and how it impacts us daily. Through this ignorance, there is no growth, but further and further retreat away from Christ. The reality is, if really Jesus did die on the cross for the world, then surely we would be changed. Moreover, if Christ did rise again from the dead, this is surely a hope that one day we would all be rescued from the ultimate death.

Charles Spurgeon says of Christ:

The motto of all true servants of God must be, “We preach Christ; and him crucified.” A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching. [1]

We are preaching nothing if it is not of Christ. We are living for nothing, if it is not for Christ.

On the other hand, some people can totally over-emphasize it in a way that the cross is cheapened. I find that the idea of the cross is cheapened when people use it merely as a word, not as a invasive, weighty act that is concurrent with all of your life. People throw around the words “cross” and the “resurrection” with much too ease and care, that it loses its sharpness and offense after a time. Perhaps, it is intentional to not make the Gospel a less painful cross to bear, but it is avoiding the basic commands of Christ. Moreover, what comfort there is in the burdens we carry daily is lost, because we forget that Christ would carry his own cross to death. I think we can speak so much about the cross that we make it something taken lightly–there is a certain flippancy about the way some people would use the word, as if they were not addressing the Most High constantly with every word.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 (English Standard Version)

The song that comes to mind is one by a certain Jeremy Camp, where the chorus goes:

“Sing it out to let all the world know
That Jesus saves
Raise a shout to let all the world know
That Jesus saves” (youtube)

The lyrics are undeniably correct, but the song comes across as just repetitive–how, I think Bob DeWaay termed a “7-11” song, with a chorus of eleven words repeated eleven times. Now that I think of it, the two extremes are somewhat two sides of the same coin. If the cross does not drive us to reverential awe everytime we are speaking of it, then we have failed in our understanding of it. The comprehension of the cross escapes me constantly as I try to contain how much love there is within this act that Jesus accomplished. It is that lack of knowledge of Jesus that leads to these two extremes. The failure to realise that He is neither a weightless Jesus, nor a weighty Jesus that our sins, His love could never cover. It says in Eccelesiates to us:

“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.” Ecclesiastes 5:2

I think there is some great truth in those words. People often ask, if we were to meet God today, “What question would we ask?”. I am not so sure if we would ever be able to stop being in awe to have time to take out our notebooks from our back pockets and ask questions about creation/evolution. How purely idiotic, I would imagine us to be, to be asking things that utterly pale in comparison to what worship the cross deserves.

I cannot imagine a life without the cross, and though the memory is constantly embedded within our souls, how we show this love is more embodied within what we would do, instead of what we would say. Our life with the cross is marked by the meaningfulness of our worship, not our frequency with which we would proclaim it. 

[1] Spurgeon, Charles. Exposition of Acts 13:13-49. 1904.

[2] I struggle with not pointing fingers at exactly who I’m talking about.

King of the Hill on Christianity

I used to watch King of the Hill a lot.

There is something quintessenially American about the television show–the perfectly arranged front yards, men grouping together around the beer, the women looking out their kitchen windows over their children with careful eyes. There is something about that show that describes the life of working class family, in a wonderfully stereotyped kind of way that is. Actually, TIME magazine have gone so far as to say that King of the Hill was one of the “most acutely observed, realistic sitcom about regional American life bar none”.

Because of this, I watched with interest an episode on Youtube for how it interpreted Christianity. It actually was a slimcast, which condenses the episode into 10 minutes instead of the original 25–which is probably why it was on youtube legally. Anyway, it was illuminating in how they present an image of the Nu-Christianity that has taken over a youth group that Bobby (the son) has joined. In many ways, it is not very much different from the Christianity that is given in churches today.  Read more of this post

Seeing People Saved

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” Romans 10:1-2 (English Standard Version)

Here in the writings of Paul to the Roman church addresses a heartfelt love for the unsaved—the “they” that he is referring to is the people who have a zeal for God but not according to knowledge. The context of the passage reveals that he is in fact referring to the Jewish people who had resorted to Pharisee-ism in an attempt to earn their own salvation.

The context to the passage also reveals that Paul was praying for these people that he was preaching against. In the previous chapter he says of Israel, “who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.” Romans 9:31a (English Standard Version) In the height of all his arguments against the Jewish legalism, he also was quick to point out how much desire he possesses within his heart toward them, and the desire that they might be saved.

Furthermore, it is not merely a sentiment towards the unbelieving Jewish, but a desire that he would see the whole world under God. This pattern of redemption occurs again in 11:11–12, 15 — we can see that this is a prayer not only directed at Jewish unbelieved, but of all peoples, in this mirroring God’s own desires that all may be saved, and none would be cast into hell.

In this passage he is not arguing here for a superficial saving—but a full salvation with justification, sanctification, and glorification. The word used for saved is soteria, translated literally means to save both physically from the fires of hell, but also in a moral sense. He is arguing more than a sinner’s prayer to save these, but a complete life change to bring them back. More than church attendance weekly to appease the human conscience, but a daily surrendering of everything to God, that He would increase and we would decrease.

Moreover, he does not merely desire, but he is praying to God—of whom He is the master of all souls. The commitment of the desires of his heart translates specifically into prayer to God. I wonder how often that we would take things into our own hands, instead of giving it up to God. There are few people who would give up their whole lives to save the world, but even fewer like Paul would give up their lives to God.

I am reminded of the hymn, “Rock of Ages” that we sang in church the other day that has stuck in my mind for quite a few days. This particular stanza was the one that stands out to me:

““Not the labour of my hands/

can fulfil Thy law’s demands;

could my zeal no respite know,

could my tears forever flow,

all for sin could not atone;

thou must save, and Thou alone.”

(Toplady, Augustus. Rock of Ages.)

There is a wonderful helplessness that is translated through to the lyrics of this song. The story for the inspiration is interesting too, where he was travelling along a cliff-face when a storm quickly approached and starting pouring down. Upon finding shelter in a gap in the gorge—the rock that was protecting him gave the inspiration and he scribbled down lyrics on a playing card.

Therefore, when Paul says that the Israelite has a zeal for God, what he is saying here is no mere compliment, but a whole-hearted yearning for souls. Matthew Henry states that: “The unbelieving Jews were the bitterest enemies Paul had in the world, and yet Paul gives them as good a character as the truth would bear. We should say the best we can even of our worst enemies; this is blessing those that curse us.”

I am continually reminded and convicted of how we should approach those who disagree with us—it is an important dialectic between voicing out our disagreements, but also love. I find in Christianity today, there are commonly only 2 positions: one that does not mention sin, and one that emphasizes only sin. We have the Westboro and the Crystal Cathedral–both of which are disastrous to the Gospel because they cannot injure nor mend. They have not the Gospel within them, only a personalised Jesus who cannot save.

Paul points out that the sin of the unbelieving Jews was that their zeal was not according to knowledge. God gave them the Law and they hung so tightly to it without understanding—so much so that when the Messiah came onto this earth, they did not recognise him. When he came to fulfil the very Laws that they were following, they did not know him, and even disowned him.

 Where does the line between what we preach against, and what we remain silent over and pray occur? How honest are we in our dealings with those that disagree? Do we desire that they be saved for merely another debate to occur?

Katy Perry: Growing Up In Sheltered Christianity

Sometimes I want to whack parents as much as their children.

Not to excuse the human responsibility, each person has a responsibility to conduct themselves in such a manner, no matter what their upbringing. Saying you were born a homosexual, give justification to act on those impulses, just as all of us were born sinners from the mother’s womb. That being said, the platform of homosexuality being genetic is arguable as well. Nevertheless, the point is the nurture has a important function in how we turn out in this world. There are a multitude of people that I wish had the joys of God-fearing parents, or at least pair of parents that cared for them in their distress – and in the absence of this, their hearts are broken and in need of repair.

Katy Perry recently talked out about her upbringing in the June issue of Vanity Fair.

Growing up in a strict evangelical family with many constricting ideals – among other things, the only book she was allowed to read was the Bible, and listening to secular music was a no-no. Even the term, “Dirt Devil” referring to vacuum cleaners was banned in her household. To me, her parents sound like hypochondriacs, that she would catch the “devil” disease of some sort. I’m not arguing for a parenting that is totally ecumenical and open to all things, but I am arguing for a sound parenting ideal that doesn’t encroach on understanding.

“I didn’t have a childhood,”

Perry said in the interview. Now, she’s somewhat a far fling from that strictness, embracing all kinds of interesting things, to put it lightly. For one whose hit single is called, “I Kissed A Girl”, the apple has fallen very far from the tree indeed. In many ways, I see Katy Perry as a personification of many teens growing up in Christian homes today and losing their faith later when they see the world, giving the confused a voice. Growing up without doubts and challenges leads to lethargic Christianity, I found this the case for me personally. Without constant troubles and suffering, I would not be the same person I am today. I have said many times before that suffering removes the false faith we have in ourselves and brings out the faith in Christ. For this reason, it pains me when pushing people to youth group meetings is all the form of Christianity evident within a household. The hypocrisy begins to show. But don’t doubt my admiration for the dedication and faithfulness in bringing up children in the Lord, but the ambitions are somewhat misdirected.

In the book of Deuteronomy, the LORD speaking through Moses says:

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.”You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (English Standard Version)

Notice the order that the Scriptures go from primarily the Scriptures within the parents hearts first, then a holistic embodiment of the Word in life. I truly do not believe that Christianity is summed up by laws and rules, rather law and rules sum up what is good and true Christianity. God commanded the Israelites to write His Mosiac Law as “a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:8-9 (English Standard Version)

Now those verses come straight after that God has said that His words shall be within their hearts, but God puts a physical manifestation to these words in place.  But especially when God says that His words shall be a frontlet between the Israelite’s eyes, a headband of sorts – Moses, I believe, is referring more to the way we see the world tempered by God’s perspective and His victory. Perhaps, the Israelites took what God said about writing the Laws on their heads a bit too literally when they attached these boards onto their heads as a means to applying these words, they would only be useful to people looking at them. Similarly, law within context have only an exterior effect on our hearts to convince us that we are deserving of salvation, but only true love of the law would bring internal change because the Holy Spirit can awaken such liberty in our hearts.

So, that is what my humble word on parenting is – Christianity is not tabulated within a bunch of oppressive laws. That is what the Israelites did, and they faltered and petered off into legalism as evidenced by the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. Lasting conversion lives within the confines of understanding, that is, understanding what the law point to, give us a meaning to the law and we can joy in taking up our crosses following Christ. On the outside of the Perry household, I can understand why the parents would have instituted those rules in their household, but I don’t understand why Katy Perry called it strict, unless she did not understand.

In many ways, Christianity is not laws, it is Jesus. Laws are useless if they are not pointing to Jesus, and Jesus is useless if we do not follow his laws. It is a mutual relationship between religion and relationship, I don’t believe they are incompatible and none can exist without the other.

How Emergent is Your Christianity?

At the moment, I’m working through the book, “Why We’re Not Emergent” by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. To be honest, I’m only picking it up because David F. Wells wrote the foreword, and he’s a fantastic theologian, one of my favourites.

I’ve only finished the first chapter so far, so I have no particular opinion on the book so far. In the introduction though, there was something fascinating with how much of my form of Christianity is similar to the emergent Christianity described within the book. I admit I’m a bit of a hipster, but the correlations to emergent Christianity is interesting, almost when alternativeness is taken to an extreme and applied to theological epistemology.

DeYoung gives a long list of attributes which are somewhat generalised, but such measures are important when describing a diverse and somewhat undefined movement in Christianity. Then again, it is all the more dangerous because there is no single proponent of it, but a collective message of many pastors who are more subtle in their change. It is difficult to combat because there is no Le Corbusier, no Jean Paul Sartre, no Thomas Hardy, no one  pushing ambitiously the movement forward.

Anyway, the following quote is a checklist of sorts that I seem to somewhat fulfil most, which is kind of disparaging to me, for all my efforts to be not one of this group:

“You might be an emergent Christian:

If you listen to U2, Moby, and Johnny Cash’s Hurt (sometimes in church), use sermon illustrations from the Sopranos, drink lattes in the afternoon and Guinness in the evenings, and always use a Mac; if your reading list consists of primarily of Stanley Hauerwas, Henri Nouwen, N. T. Wright, Stan Grenz, Dallas Willard, Breannan Manning, Jim Wallis, Frederick Buechner, david Bosch, John Howard Yoder, Wendell Berry, Nancy Murphy, John Franke, Walter Wink and Lesslie Newbigin (not to mention McLaren, Pagitt, Bell, etc.) and your sparring partners include D. A. Carson, John Calvin, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Wayne Grudem; if your idea of quintessential Christian discipleship is Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, or Desmond Tutu; if you don’t like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism or Left Behind Christianity; if your political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and oppression and not so much abortion and gay marriage; if you are into bohemian, goth, rave, or indie; if you talk about the myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty; if you lie awake at night having nightmares about all the ways modernism has ruined your life; if you love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant; if you search for truth but aren’t sure it can be found; if you’ve ever been to a church with prayer labyrinths, candles, Play-Doh, chalk-drawings, couches, or beanbags (your youth group doesn’t count); if you loathe words like linear, propositional, rational, machine, and hierarchy and use words like ancient-future, jazz, mosaic, matrix, missional, vintage, and dance; if you grew up in a very conservative Christian home that in retrospect seems legalistic naive and rigid; if you support women in all levels of ministry, prioritise urban over suburban, and like your theology narrative instead of systematic; if you disbelieve in any sacred-secular vide; if you want to be the church and not just go to church; if you long for a community that is relational, tribal, and primal like a river or a garden; if you believe doctrine gets in the way of an interactive relationship with Jesus; if you believe who goes to hell is no one’s business and no one may be there anyway; if you believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker; if you believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living the right way; if it really bugs you when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us; if you disdain monological, didactic preaching; if you use the word “story” in all your propositions about postmodernism – if all or most of this torturously long sentence describe you, then you might be an emergent Christian.”

How emergent are you? Does it worry you that your favourite blogger is seesawing on the fringes of emergent churchery?

An Exhortation for Unity from Psalms 133

King David mused in the Psalms about the usefulness of unity among brothers:

Behold, how good and pleasant it is

when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
"It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
 For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore." 

Psalms 133 (English Standard Version)

He compares unity here to two things: running down the beard and robes of Aaron and also, the dew of Hermon which falls on Zion. With these two things he concludes that unity among brothers is what God has commanded, moreover he even calls it a blessing! In this blog I want to discuss the two things that David compares to the unity among brothers and some thoughts on their importance.

Firstly, the oil that was applied to Aaron is an image of what unity is like. The holy anointing oil would have had been a great fragrance, strongly perfumed and its odor would have been diffused in the space around. This would work with great pleasure to the bystanders when it was poured upon the head of Aaron. I wonder what fragrance we are giving out today. To our brothers and sisters in Christ, are we showing the love of Christ and diffusing a heavenly smell. Moreover, are we open to what our brothers and sister are diffusing, are our noses open to the wonders of God as well? In a sense (no pun intended) if we are only experiencing God through our ears, but not smelling, we are missing out so much on God’s fullness in our lives.

The second thing to take from the precious oil running down Aaron was that it was plentifully. So excessive that it ran down the face to his beard, and even down his collars of his robes! How plentiful is God’s grace to us, and how much should God’s grace indwell in us when we experience him, that it should flood our souls. Furthermore, he describes the oil as precious, something not ordinary. And indeed what great love that God has given us, not only for Himself, but as each other as well. The oil that David is describing here is an anointing oil that was only given to an select few among the whole nation of Israel. It says in Exodus:

“You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them will become holy.”You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests.” Exodus 30:29-30.

To link it back to this passage, David is linking the consecration of these priests to a brotherhood that is a consequence of this. In other words, we are celebrating our salvation when we are united with one another. When we are saved and Holy Spirit is indwelt in us in a greater measure, we become like Aaron covered in Christ’s blood and part of God’s priesthood, there is no greater joy to us than fellowship with brothers and sisters!

Secondly, David compares unity to the dew of Hermon. Mount Hermon which David is referring to here is a prominent mountain, reaching a height of 9230 ft on the northern border of Israelite territory. The important thing here, is the height of the mountain is the highest within the whole Israel territory, that brings about a sense of the awesomeness of the mountain. David uses dew of Hermon as the source of water that rains on the mountains of Zion, or Jerusalem which we are more familiar with. To truly appreciate this, we have to look at a map to see what David is referring to:

Mount Hermon is the square in the top right, and Jerusalem the one in the bottom left.

The map shows us the source of water for Zion, coming down from the mountain, running down the River Jordan and to the Salt Sea. The water was a way of sustenance for the whole of Israel, bringing livelihood to the whole nation. Without this source of water, the whole nation of Israel couldn’t have continued operating. It makes you really think of what reliance we have on God that we so often forget, that we could have all our dreams destroyed swiftly by a natural disaster. What then is the power of man, if he cannot predict when the next earthquake is going to strike? David here is applies this reliance on God to unity, the need to be in synergy with the whole body of Christ. For what brother can live without fellowship and congregating frequently? What would a sister pursue if not continually communing with other believers?

Here also we have to be careful, when Hermon is within the Promised Land that Israel was given by God, so too does unity only apply to our brothers and sisters. As to who exactly are our brothers and sisters, I think it is orthodoxy is my primary measuring stick. For example, I would not consider polytheists, pantheists or atheists brothers and sisters, on the basis that they are not in Christ, though love them always. Divine love will always trump human love, notice that both examples that David uses, they are of God’s work, not ours. We do not anoint ourselves with oil, God does consecrate us with His Son’s blood – Man does not control when the ground is flooded or parched, but God brings the dew that refreshes us daily. Unity is not a human reaction to others, it is a natural working through of the Holy Spirit in our lives, that we should seek fellowship with one another.

The last two lines of this Psalm prescribes the greatness of this unity between brothers and sister. Unity is said to be a blessing that is coming from God himself, therefore it speaks of excellency. It speak of the “life forevermore”, therefore it is eternal blessedness in this state of God’s love. The Psalms is an argument for the excellency of brotherly love, if we are not continually united as a body, then we are not loving God. Simple as that. “As the perfection of love is the blessedness of heaven, so the sincerity of love is the earnest of that blessedness.” Matthew Henry

map source: http://www.netzarim.co.il/Shared/Temunot/Map%20Israel%201000%20BCE%20(Hammond)%20980×1427.jpg image source: http://www.colehardcash.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Unity.jpg