A Short Visit Home After a Long Time

In my newsletter to supporters I noted my visit to the USA after an absence of many years and some of my thoughts of the changes I have seen. Some liked this, so I am sharing it here, with some additional stuff that did not go into the newsletter for the sake of length.

Being the first time to visit the US in 6 years (not counting a 5-day quick-trip in 2013), one gets a chance to see how things have changed in the US. It seems like changes in the US are less extreme than in the Philippines. Still, some things are noticeable. Some of them are positive or neutral:

  • People are more focused on health and exercise than they were before. Fitness centers appear to be quite crowded a lot of the time, and less people heavier than me I see walking around. (6 years ago I felt quite small with so many BIG people walking around… much less on this trip.)
  • More food choices are available for those with food allergies. So many types of nut milks are available in the stores now, as well as gluten-free products. We were shocked to have great gluten-free pretzels on the plane ride over to the US, and even more shocked to taste a wonderful gluten-free chocolate cake at Wiltsie Community Church. Who knew? I visited Yoder’s Market in Madison, Virginia. What was once a small little store has now become like a Mennonite “Whole Foods” with all sorts of healthy foods and products (with just enough unhealthy foods to make it interesting to me).
  • In some level of conflict with the health food thing, we were thrilled to discover that Mallo Cups are back in production at Boyer’s Candies in Altoona, PA, and we had the wonderful treat called “Sponge Candy,” a Western New York specialty for the first time at Peterson’s Candies in Busti, NY.
  • Lots of help-wanted signs all over the place, even though mostly for entry-level jobs. Even places that are very economically depressed (like where I was raised) had lots of entry-level jobs available. My friends there told me it was because “no one wants to work.” I am not sure if that is reality or not. My son, who decided to live in the United States for awhile, quickly found a job as a server in a Filipino restaurant in Virginia Beach, earning low wages, I suppose, by US standards, but would be a dream come true for many from the Philippines. Of course the cost of living in the States is HUGE compared to the Philippines… but still Joel should be able to save money if he sets his mind to it.
  • Much greater use of credit cards and debit cards in transactions. Some people appear almost surprised when one pays with cash. This was the first time I had ever used a credit card utilizing chip-technology. I had to admit to a couple of store clerks lacking a skill that every American over the age of 8 or 9 knew— but soon I figured things out. I also had to websearch how to use a car with keyless ignition that I rented. I did not want to tell the clerk that I did not know how to start a car.
  • Most people I met were quite friendly. Even the lady who took care of me at the DMV when I renewed my driver’s license was nice. I told my son Joel to expect less friendliness in the US than what he was used to in the Philippines. Friendliness is a cultural characteristic in the PI. But Joel and I were surprised at the general friendliness. It seems like a bit of a different form of friendliness than we find in the Philippines, but haven’t quite figured out to identify the difference. It is much like the issue of families. The Philippines is known for a strong family-orientation in contrast to the US. And this is quite true. However, Philippine families will often do horrible things to their own members that would be shocking, and sometimes criminal, in the US. And this behavior is considered rather normative. I haven’t quite figured out how to resolve this seeming contradiction.

There were some more negative things I saw as well.

  • The biggest thing I saw was a much greater level of FEAR wherever I looked. Sometimes that Fear was shown with the more obvious symptoms. At other times, it was seen disguised as Anger or stylized Patriotism. There was a clear fear of losing (individual or group) power. I am hoping that by the next time I visit, more people understand that power is something to be eschewed, not hoarded.
  • News coverage in the US is abysmal. People I talk to in the US fully agree that news coverage there is bad, but then add that their own favorite source of news coverage is good. But they are wrong. They are all bad. The “badness” is not just due to spin or perspective, but lack of coverage. I live overseas so I wanted to listen to international news. There is no international news on TV in the States. On TV they have two types of news– American news that occurs in the States and American news that occurs outside of the States. News that is not directly related to American political or military interests is simply not shared. While I was home, the only news on TV that I saw that was International and not directly related to American interests was the volcanic eruption in Guatemala. The only major exception to this was on radio where NPR (national public radio) did actually have International news. Some of my friends would probably disapprove of NPR because of its “political slant.” But if providing a political slant is problematic, it is much less problematic than not reporting news at all. I struggle to reconcile this with news in the Philippines where its International news coverage is often quite excellent, and often far better than its home coverage. (Of course being a local journalist in the Philippines can be a dangerous thing.)
  • It seems as if Memorial Day (a celebration much like Undas in the Philippines where one honors friends and relatives who have passed on before) has now become another Veteran’s Day. I am a veteran of the US Navy so perhaps I should feel good about that… but there already is a Veteran’s Day. I cannot see why we need two. I juggled my schedule to make sure that I was not preaching on Memorial Day, and I attended a Filipino church in Virginia Beach (ICCVA) that did not confuse faith and patriotism. That was nice.

Regardless, it was a joyful trip, meeting a lot of old friends, and even a few new ones. It also had its bittersweet moments— cleaning the stone monuments of relatives at the cemetery, being unable to visit people who have died over the previous 6 years, being struck by changes in places that make them feel less like home. A couple of churches I visited appeared to be struggling not to die having lost much of the younger generation. I also visited some churches that are full of vigor and growing. The stories of the death of the church in America is clearly exaggerated, but I suspect that Christians may have to learn to adapt to trends where the church will lack the honor it has had in the past (much like in many other parts of the world). I think this is part of the fear of many I met during my visit… but the church has commonly been stronger when operating in an atmosphere of dishonor.

It was nice to be home for three weeks. Home, however, is a tricky thing. I recall the gospel song, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through…”. But our home is still here… and in missions I have several homes. Ivory, NY was my first home, then Virginia Beach, VA, then Charlottesville, VA, and finally Baguio City, Philippines became my fourth. Having more than one home can make one feel a bit rootless— always a stranger in a strange land— and yet, it also gives one connections in many places. It is, in some ways, a joy to have several homes.

Advertisements

Sure Seems Like Everyone is a Snowflake

Image result for snowflake

Apparently the term “Snowflake” as a derogatory term was first popularized (not coined) in the movie Fight Club (1999, drawn from the 1996 novel of the same name) with the line, “You are not special, you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.”

Many embraced using the term to deride the Millennials. The presumption is that this group is made up of individuals who are too focused on their own uniqueness, are hypersensitive, and are emotionally fragile.

That may or may not be true. I have lived in the Philippines for over 14 years where those aspects of the so-called Millennial generation don’t seem to be so prevalent. I can’t really say about other places.

But as one who works in ministry, does some counseling, and spends aimless moments in social media, one thing has become pretty clear:  It sure seems like everyone is a snowflake.

We actually are all unique. Uniqueness is not in and of itself a basis for special status. Our “special-ness” really comes from the fact that we are designed by God. We have in some way or another the Imago Dei. Still uniqueness is important. Decades ago I worked at a Christian Summer Camp, and the Director, in a state of pique, put up on the bulletin board, “No One is Indispensable.” Certainly true, but I told others at the time, “No One is Indispensable, but No One is Replaceable Either.” I am not always proud of my thinking that long ago, but I am still proud of that. Our uniqueness doesn’t necessarily make us indispensable, but it does make us irreplaceable… since no one is an exact substitute for anyone else.

We actually all are hyper-sensititized… but about different things.  When a person uses the term “snowflake” in a derogatory manner, it may not speak to the fragility of the speaker, but it certainly points to the sensitiveness of the speaker. The people who look with derision on people concerned about the issue of gender-insensitive language, suddenly get freaked out when one questions the character of their favorite politicians, or the wisdom of a broad interpretation of the 2nd amendment. I suppose if one really wanted to demonstrate their own lack of sensitivity, they would best show it by not being sensitive to the sensitivity of others. But that brings up the question: IS IT REALLY A VIRTUE TO BE INSENSITIVE?

Fragility is actually the problem.  We all are sensitive— too sensitive on some issues that frankly don’t matter all that much. We all are unique… and that is perfectly fine. But we do need to be less fragile. We need to be able to handle that others are different.

Ephesians 4:2 says Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

Essentially it says that we should “graciously express love to other Christians, putting up with their own stupid and annoying words and behavior, as they put up with our own as well.” Of course, as Christians if we are to love our enemies and our neighbors as ourselves, it seems that Ephesians 4:2 may provide good wisdom for how we should treat non-Christians as well.

Like it or not, we are all snowflakes. We are each unique. We are too sensitive about things that simply don’t matter very much.  Maybe we can at least learn to be considerate and resilient snowflakes.  

Reflections and Midrash on Mark 9:14-27

<My most recent sermon>

Mark 9:14-27

  When they came back to the disciples, they saw aImage result for jesus father and demoniac son large crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. Immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him, they were amazed and began running up to greet Him. And He asked them, “What are you discussing with them?” And one of the crowd answered Him, “Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.” And He answered them and said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!” They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. “It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” And Jesus said to him, “ ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” When Jesus saw that a crowd was rapidly gathering, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.” After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, “He is dead!” But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up.

This is a fairly ordinary story that happened immediately after the Transfiguration. We go from a divine, sublime, experience, to an all-too human, mundane experience.

This story is repeated in Luke and Matthew. But I like this version for one reason. In the Mark version, is recorded that Jesus says “All things are possible to him who believes.” The father responds, “I do believe, help my unbelief.”

When I read this story, I want to fill in the blanks. We all do this. It is part of interpretation. For millenia, Jewish scholars would create what are called midrashes. A Midrash is a story that expands on a Biblical story— it involves a creative and speculative interpretation of the Biblical text. As such, it makes some guesses, fills in some blanks, but still must be faithful to the Biblical text.

The problem listed is that a boy has an evil or unclean spirit. Today, that term could only mean a supernatural being… a demon. However, in the Bible the term is used broadly. In many cases it means an actual demon, while in other cases it can mean any power beyond human control. In the Matthew version of the passage the boy is described as “moonstruck” which was the Greek way of describing insanity or epilepsy. So did the boy have a demon, or epilepsy? I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter… because Jesus had power over both.

In this story, I connect with the father. Understandable, I am a father. I like to think of this father is a good man. There are reasons that some may think he is not. His son has an evil spirit. That sure sounds like a curse to some, Also, according to the account in Luke, this boy was their only child. At that time, having only one child could be seen as evidence of God’s disfavor.

But I think he was a good man. Many times in the Bible, God blesses a godly family with just one child. Abraham and Sarah had just one child together. Hannah, a devout woman, had just one child, Samuel. Samson was the single child of Godly parents. A godly couple who cared for Elisha was blessed with one and only one child.

Although their son had an evil spirit, the Bible is pretty clear that suffering is as much a reward for faithfulness as are more welcome blessings. Job suffered greatly before he was rescued by God. His suffering came as a result of his faithfulness. Paul suffered greatly throughout his ministry. The writer of Hebrews describes tremendous victories, and temendous pain suffered by the faithful in “The Hall of Faith,” Hebrews 11. Most importantly, Jesus suffered beyond what you and I can imagine… and Peter noted that He is an example to us:

But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His footsteps: I Peter 2:20-21

The boy may have epilepsy or something, and the couple may only have one child. That means nothing as far as the father (or mother) being bad.

On the other side, the father cared for his son. Not an easy son to care for. Most likely they were judged, condemned, and gossipped about by neighbors. It happens. Good people can suddenly become Job’s friends— gossiping, pointing fingers, clicking their tongues, and judging, when they see someone struggling. It is a great evil today that this is a common reaction even in churches. It is likely they were poor. If they were not originally poor, they probably became poor, taking their son to various healers, exorcists, and whoever else would promise to give healing… for the right price. Over and over there was failure. They only had one child, but that child could not communicate with them, and they had to be constantly vigilent that he would not be burned, drowned, or otherwise injured. The father overcame shame to bring his thrashing son into a public gathering in the almost ludicrous hope that this exorcist could actually provide healing, after so many others had failed. He stayed even after several of Jesus’ discples failed.

No. I don’t think the father was a bad person. I think he was a good person going through years of struggle…. a struggle that is soon to end.

And I feel sorry for the son. It must be horrible and terrifying to not have control of one’s own body. When asked how long has the child been so afflicted, the father answered, since childhood, probably meaning that the boy does not remember when he did not have this problem. This was suffering beyond the boy’s control. It is hard to feel out of control– Day after day. Week after week. Year after year.

I feel sorry for both the father and the son… but I have to admire their tenacity… their determination not to give up… their decision to embrace hope when things seemed hopeless.

The disciples in this story are not as admirable. Personally, I cannot blame them for failing to heal the boy. But soon after this event, instead of growing through the story, they are soon arguing among themselves as to who is the greatest among them. What a foolish thing to concern themselves with.

..And yet I can relate to the disciples as well. I think all of us at times struggle with insecurity— worried about who is God’s favorite. That insecurity can become even stronger when we believe that God is not listening to us. It is difficult when ministry work does not go as planned. We want control, but God is in control. We want victory, but God chooses the victor– we don’t. So if we can’t be in control, if we can’t be God— the next best thing is to be closer to God than anyone else. Not only people can be like that, churches can be like that as well— seeing themselves as being closer to God, and getting excited that a person has left a different church and joined their own church suggesting that their own church is better than other churches.

It is foolish, but it is very human… and churches are made up of humans.

Let’s bring ourselves to the statement of the father…. “I believe, help my unbelief.” I have read a number of commentaries that look down on the man for this statement. A common interpretation of this passage is that this man has a poor faith if at all because it is mixed with doubt. Jesus is unhappy with this lack of faith but decided to heal the boy because of the crowd, or perhaps because of compassion for the child. Jesus heals the boy despite the weak faith of the father. While I don’t recommend being quick to doubt Biblical scholars, I do think they have this wrong. I don’t think that Jesus was at all unhappy with the father’s answer. As human beings, our faith is always mixed with doubt. Jesus certainly knew this more than anyone.

The greatest example of faith listed in the Bible was when Abraham offered up his son, Isaac, to God to be sacrificed. Paul used this story as supporting the the idea that righteousness before God come from God through faith. Yet, Abraham’s faith was flawed. The writer of Hebrews said that Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead. This was incorrect. Abraham’s example in faith was that he chose to obey God even though he did not really know what God would do. In the book of Daniel we have the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The three of them refused to bow down to worship the great golden idol. King Nebuchadnezzar said that they would be thrown into a gigantic firy furnace. The three responded that they were not worried because their God could save them from the furnace. But then they add, But even if He doesn’t save us, we will not bow down to the idol. Their faith in God was not based on knowing what God would do— it was not based on an ability to predict with confidence how God would act. Rather, the faith was a committing of themselves, a yielding of themselves to God’s will— even in the face of doubt.

This is what I see with the father here. He is human and as a human he has doubts. Yet despite those doubts he comes in his desperation and hope to Jesus. This is a good faith. That’s what we do as well. The Psalmist in Psalm 34 says, I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears, in verse 4 and Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! In verse 8. Faith is not an absence of fear, but a seeking God. Faith is not knowing exactly what God will do, but it is tasting, seeking God as refuge.

So after all of that reflection, I come up with a broader story, that makes sense to me. You may agree or disagree.

In this story, I see a husband, I will call him Micah, and wife Sarah. They had a good, if simple, life, but they had no children. I imagine them going to the temple on the holy days, and much like Hannah in the Old Testament, they pray for a child. One year their prayer was answered, and they had a son, and they named him Nathaniel, meaning “Blessed of the Lord.”

Little Nathan was strong and healthy and a great joy to Micah and Sarah. However, before he even learned to speak, he started to show symptoms of problems. He could not or would not speak, and his body would go into spasms and convulsions. It was terrifying to the child and to the parents, especially since it would happen seemingly randomly. They feared that if they did not keep a constant watch on Nathaniel, he could die from one of these attacks. Their neighbors would come by and show concern… but soon the gossip would start. “What evil did Micah and Sarah do to be cursed by God like this?” The visits from neighbors became less frequent as the people began to fear that God’s curse would rub off on them as well. Still they would would periodically get well-meaning, even if useless, advice.

“O if only you have little Nathaniel eat this herb during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, I know he will be healed.” or perhaps “ “You need to give a bull as a burnt offering at the temple… not just a pidgeon… that will convince God that you are very sorry for whatever you did, and your son will be healed.” Or others will point them to special healers or exorcists. And Micah and Sarah would take little Nathaniel to them all. They loved their son and would spend whatever it took for him to be healed. They paid whatever these healers asked… but the result was always the same… failure.

One day, Micah hears that Jesus of Nazareth, a great exorcist and miracle worker was coming to a nearby village. Despite all of the failures before, he had to try again. Early in the morning, He and Nathaniel began to walk to the base of Mount Hermon where Jesus was supposed to be.

When they arrived, Micah was disappointed to discover that the healer had gone up the mountain the day before with a few of his disciples, leaving the rest at the base. Micah was frustrated, but he would not give up. Maybe one of his disciples could heal his son. He had heard that Jesus’ disciples also did miracles.

One of the disciples responded to his pleas and said that he would heal his little boy. Nathaniel was rolling and the ground convulsing. The man prayed over Nathaniel and called the evil spirit to depart, but there was no change. When the others saw the failure of their comrade, each came over to try to heal the boy. It soon seemed as if it became a competition— who could be the one who could succeed while the others had failed. Some of the scribes who had come to see Jesus began arguing with the disciples, and mocking them.

In the midst of the chaos. Jesus of Nazareth came down the mountain and asked what is going on. Micah came forward and said to Jesus,

“Teacher, I brought You my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told Your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.

There was perhaps a bit of bitterness in his voice. He had come with such hope, but his son was still afflicted, Jesus’ disciples, allegedly holy men, seemed to be acting like children, and the other religious leaders in the crowd were adding to the chaos, rather than helping.

Jesus looked at his disciples and the crowd and said, “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!”

They brought little Nathaniel to Him. When he saw Jesus, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From a young child. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!”

Jesus said to him, “ ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.”

Micah was afraid, maybe Jesus felt insulted. He had been disappointed so many times before. But even in all of that disappointment there was hope. Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.”

Jesus, as if saying “That’s all I ask,” said “You deaf and mute spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not enter him again.” After crying out and throwing him into terrible convulsions, it came out; and the boy became so much like a corpse that most of them said, “He is dead!” But Jesus took him by the hand and raised him; and he got up.

Micah ran to his son and hugged him. Micah and Sarah have now a new blessing. Their son is finally healed.

I feel as if this story is repeated in one form or another in our own lives.

We are suffering— broken people in a broken world. Our friends, neighbors, family, want to help, but in many ways often make things worse. We have wasted our money, our time, our resources on stuff that are supposed to fix us, make us whole, bring peace and joy. Yet, time and time again, we are disappointed.

People tell us, Go to Jesus. He can provide meaning, can fulfill hope, and turn suffering into joy. But we have been disappointed before. Some of those who have disappointed us the most have been Christians… Christian neighbors, Christian leaders. How can one trust God when His own servants disappoint and disappoint again.

Do we risk hope on one who may fail and disappoint again? Do we come in faith to Jesus, still with doubts, but coming nonetheless?

This is the message of the Lord today. After the service, if you are willing to place your hope in Jesus— to be saved from your sins, or casting other fears or struggles on Jesus, just talk to one of the church leaders here after church.

Do not have faith in me. Over the years I have failed or disappointed people countless times. I suspect all of the other leaders of this church can say the same thing.

Rather, are you willing to trust Jesus… trust him enough to come to Him, perhaps still with fears and doubts? I pray that you can come to Christ and say, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” I pray then that you can soon say, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears,

Seven Things Evangelicals Say to Atheists and Why They Shouldn’t Say Them

This is a redirect to a great post by Bruce Gerenscer. He was an Evangelical Pastor for decades, but left the church and faith in God some time back. He now writes from an Atheistic/Humanistic perspective that has been informed by his Evangelical Christian background.  The article can be found by clicking here.  SEVEN THINGS EVANGELICALS SAY TO ATHEISTS AND WHY THEY SHOULDN’T SAY THEM.

I would definitely recommend people reading his posts. They are well-written and well-thought out. You may ask why, as a Christian, I would recommend reading one who has “left the fold,” so to speak. But his perspective is priceless. He has that etic (outsider) and emic (insider) perspective of Evangelical Christianity that Christians need. We need to look hard at ourselves sometimes.  (American Evangelical obsession with rather creepy politics of late certainly deserves some informed critique.)

Many Christians seem to have a lot ofImage result for atheism trouble with Atheists. I am not entirely sure why. As a committed Christian, one should be far more concerned by people who call themselves Christians but who live in a manner that mocks what we claim to believe. Here in the Philippines, I have heard atheists/freethinkers say that people here think they are Satanists. While some Satanists are Atheists (rejecting an actual Satan or God, but embracing a Satanic “philosophy of living”) the labeling has no value but to insult and drive (further) away.

I had an uncle much like Mr. Genescer above. He was a devout Christian who went to Bible School, but later became an Atheist. At a funeral of my grandmother, the pastor who was speaking started giving all sorts of “scientific” reasons for believing in God. While I do believe that there is a good reasoned basis for supporting Intelligent Design, this pastor knew none of that. Rather, his mini-sermon showed how little he knew about Science. I was rather embarrassed by it. My uncle never mentioned how stupid the arguments were (perhaps he expected nothing better than that anyway). However, believing that the message was targeting him, he felt that it was highly inappropriate for a funeral. I have say he was correct on both counts— I am sure he was being targeted, and it was highly inappropriate.

Sometimes we need to see an outside perspective to see what we should really be able to see.

Another good article of his is on the similarity between Multi-level Marketing (MLM) and many Evangelistic Programs.  It is HERE.

Aiming at the Wrong Target

Many Christians memorize different evangelistic methods. Some are better than others. Some are more text-based. Some are more illustration-based. Some are more logic-based, or focused on propositions. But each one is designed for a target audience.  Over-reliance on a method means that one’s message will “miss the mark” with broad segments of society.  Consider two examples:nude-evangelism

I.  ROMAN’S ROAD.  This was the first one that I learned.  There are slight variations on the method, but it generally starts with finding out if the person wants to learn what God has to tell them about Himself and how they can be saved. Then one goes through a series of verses: Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 5:8, Romans 10:9-10, and Romans 10:13 (some add other verses). Then the sharer asks if the hearer believes and wants to receive. If the response is positive, then one leads them in what is known as the “Sinner’s Prayer.”

Some may complain that the Roman’s Road “cherry picks” verses to create its own propositional narrative. While this may be technically true, the Book of Romans does lead logically through a process of unbelief to faith to Christian growth. Therefore, the cherry picked verses are still generally consistent with the broader text.

Others may complain that Romans is really more about the Community of Faith, rather than about Individual Salvation. This is a quite valid point, but the one doesn’t (or shouldn’t) really discount the other.

The biggest challenge to the method is “Who is likely to respond to this method?” This and other concerns are here:

  • Respondents would be those who already believe in the authority of the Holy Bible. If one doesn’t see the Holy Bible as being a reliable source of salvific truth, it is hard to see one responding. If one doesn’t identify the authority of Al Quran, the Guru Granth, or the Code of Handsome Lake, it certainly seems unlikely that one would respond with changes to one’s life’s priorities and allegiances.
  • The method is propositional and logical. This appeals to some, but not to most.  Many respond and understand better in terms of narrative, experience, and metaphor. Many won’t respond to a list of facts, even if they appear to be logically connected.
  • The proper response to the message of the Roman’s Road is a holistic transformation, giving one’s will/life over to God in faith. It is certainly not to say a prayer expressing cognitive agreement. As others have noted, facts lead to conclusions, while feelings lead to actions. We may be saved by faith, but real faith does demonstrate itself most definitively in actions.

II.  Dunamis.  The Dunamis Method is similar to Romans Road in that it is text-based. However, it connects more on a relational level. The hearer is asked about his faith in God and in Jesus. If the person says that he believes in Jesus and in doing what Jesus says, the individual is asked to read John 3:3. This is where Jesus says that one must be born again (or from above). The hearer is asked whether he has done this. If the person says “No” or “I don’t know,” the hearer is further asked whether he believes he should do what Jesus says. If the answer is Yes, then the hearer is led through the Sinner’s Prayer.

The problems with this method are quite similar to the Roman’s Road. However, it adds two additional issues.

  • It does not really inform. The Romans Road at least gives facts about God and Man. This provides nothing except that one must be “Born Again.” Within the context of John 3, it seems as if Jesus used this metaphor purposefully to throw Nicodemus, a scholar of Jewish Law, off-balance. In other words, the term was used to confuse, and only with further guidance was it to be instructive. In the Dunamis method, not only does one not get follow-on guidance, the implication is that being “born again” is saying the Sinner’s Prayer.
  • It really only works with people who are already Christians. The target population already believes in the authority of the Bible, believes in Jesus as informed by the Bible, and believes that one must obey Jesus. It is entirely likely that this person is already a Christian— perhaps one from a faith tradition that does not utilize the lingo of the Revivalist traditions— a Christian in faith and in practice. On the other hand, supposing the individual does believe the Bible, believe in Jesus, and in the need to obey Jesus but still is not converted? The method only gets them to say a prayer that states what they already generally believed. Since a person is saved by faith, not a prayer, what has changed? This method seems to be little more than a way to lure people from non-revivalist traditions in Christianity by casting doubt on their relationship with Christ.

Most all methods have a target population. Pascal’s Wager only makes sense with those embedded in a Christian worldview. The Camel Method is useful for Muslims who take the Quran text seriously, while still not deeply indoctrinated in that particular faith.

No method saves, but some (all) are set to miss the target of the random recipient. Some methods appear not even to be methods for evangelization (bring the lost to Christ) but are simply trying to move people between denominations. Evangelical Christianity is presently growing about about twice the rate of Islam (according to one recent study, if such studies can be believed). Based on that, Evangelical Christianity would surpass Islam around 2080. While that is certainly possible (CBN loves to use doubtful statistics in such a pollyanna fashion), such a scenario is unlikely. The problem with that is that Evangelical Christianity has been putting most of its efforts from drawing from other Christian groups rather than those who are not identified as Christians. That means that as Evangelical Christianity increases, other Christian groups would decrease, reducing the pool from which Evangelicals feel comfortable to draw from.

This would also reduce the effectiveness of these other groups to bring people to Christ. That is quite a concern since many people seek to know God through means such as asceticism, ritual/tradition, nature, social activism, and solitude— ways that Evangelicals are particularly poor at (and often, strangely, seek to undermine).

So I would suggest three things for consideration:

  1.  Focus more effort on people who are clearly not followers of Christ, rather than those who you tend to have doubts of because you don’t really like their denomination.
  2. Focus more on methods that are more universal— one’s that are more flexible and can work with a broader range of people. This includes:  Personal Testimony, (Evangelistic) Bible Studies, and Inter-religious Dialogue.
  3. Spend less time getting to know a method, and more time on getting to know individual people, and groups of people.

 

Maybe Imperfection is a Good Thing?

plant-growing-v2

Not long ago I weighed in on an on-line question– “Can God make anything Imperfect?”

I made the suggestion that “GOD MAKES EVERYTHING IMPERFECT.”

In Metaphysics (Book Delta) Part 16, Aristotle gives a three possible definitions of teleios, a word we often translate into English as “perfect” —

  •  unimprovable.
  • complete (needing nothing additional)
  • functional (achieving the purpose for which it was created)

Thomas Aquinas gave two definitions for perfection– perfect in substance, and perfect in achieving its purpose.

The first definitions of both Aristotle and Aquinas come closest to the English concept of “perfection.” The suggestion in both cases is that there is flawlessness. Additionally, there is no change or growth. After all, if things change and grow, that would suggest that the things either were not perfect, or are now no longer perfect.

Everything God has created is in motion, and is undergoing change. Additionally, all living things that God has created is not only undergoing change, but is meant to grow. So everything God has created is, with this understanding, imperfect.

This may seem a bit esoteric. But there are two very practical principles that flow from this.

  1.  Don’t be bothered that you are not perfect. God did not make you to be perfect because He created you to continually learn, change, and grow.
  2. God’s goal for you is not for you to become perfect, but rather go through the continuing process of perfecting.

 

Eschewing Power

Tug of war

Okay, so I was watching this guy on TV. He was some sort of talking head type guy on Fox News. (Disclaimer… I have no idea who this guy is. I really don’t watch Fox News. I mean, I live in Asia— so why would I?)

He was telling a story about some town in West Virginia that a few decades ago was ethnically composed almost all of Caucasian Appalachian stock. He noted that now that town was predominantly Hispanic… and how the (aboriginal?) locals struggled with the new situation.  He expressed it in terms of people struggling with —- CHANGE. People cannot handle fast CHANGE.

Listening to the guy, the immediate temptation would be to say that he was trying to redefine “xenophobic bigots” as “slow adapters to change” and “racism” as “traditionalism.”

Frankly, I tend to think that this was EXACTLY what he was trying to do. However, I would like to ignore that fairly obvious point, and move on to a better question—

“Why do some people struggle with demographic change?”

My case should be quite similar to people in that town in West Virginia. I was raised in a very insular community. The community when I was young was almost 100% Caucasian, and a majority came from family lines that had gone back at least three or four generations. My community was in the Allegheny foothills, a part of the broader Appalachian system. My best friend when I was young was Native American (Ojibwa), but his was one of only two families in my area that was not “White.” When my father (of Swedish American stock) married my mom (also of Swedish American stock) some in the community were not happy since he had found his wife in Jamestown, ten miles away, rather than “locally.”

That was in 1964. By the time I brought my wife, born and raised 9000 miles away, the community had changed and welcomed her. My wife and I did not marry there, but in Virginia. We had no problem in Virginia in 1993, but if we had tried back in 1964, we would not have been allowed because we were of “mixing races.”

Times change. Sometimes change is good and sometimes change seems not so good. I am glad that changes came to the community I was raised in. But my new community is different indeed. I live in a city of over 300,000 people in Southeast Asia. While there are other white Americans here, most are tourists, and I know only a couple of them personally. All of my neighbors are Asian, of one form or another, and almost none of them speak English as a first language (although many speak it quite well).

So why have I been able to adapt to change, and others not. There are perhaps many reasons. For one, I was raised up with Biblical Anthropology. Although in some ways my parents were products of their place and time, they still taught me that all people are God’s creation. No ethnicity is morally superior, or closer to God. I was taught that God judges the heart, and He is much better at that than I would ever be by judging the outside appearance.

But really… I don’t think that is the big problem. I am sure some have been misinformed about God and His relationship to mankind. But I suspect that many have a very clear understanding that we stand as equals before God, and yet still struggle with demographic change and culture shock.

I suspect a lot of it has to do with power. An ethnic group or a religious group that has sort of the alpha position in a society will tend to react (individuals in concert) to any change that may threaten the power position. In some parts of the world, even putting up a religious structure that is of a minority group (a church, mosque, pagoda, temple, whatever) is seen as a challenge to that power.  I lived near a community in which there was an unwritten rule that real estate agents were not to show houses in that place to people of other races. If they did, that agent would lose future business. Was that because the community was so extremely racist? Well… maybe. But seen in terms of power, having a family of a different ethnicity or religion in the community is a foothold… and thus an open door to challenging the power of the established order in the future.

This is hardly strange. Embracing power and having fear of losing that power is quite natural. However, as Rose Sayer (played by Katherine Hepburn in the classic movie “African Queen”) stated. “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put into this world to rise above.”

Christians should not thirst after such power— Ecclesiastical power, Political power, Economic power… the power to determine norms and taboos. God’s power is with you when you are part of the majority, and when you are a minority of one.

I believe Christians (not just missionaries) would be much more effective in sharing God’s love with others if they focused more on God and others than on their own grasping at earthly power.