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.

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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.

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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?