Cultural “War”??? … Metaphors Matter

Tags

,

In the best tradition of the Apostle Paul, Ephesians 6.11-12 says, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  Apparently, for many Christians the verse reads like this. “Put on the nasty rhetoric so that you can take your stand against those who disagree with you.  For our struggle is against flesh and blood, but not against the rulers, authorities, the powers of their dark world.  In fact, we struggle against the physical forces of evil in the earthly realms.”  This blog is not the place to debate the meaning of this group of verses.  Interested readers can consult my book Right Texts Wrong Meanings where I discuss the meaning and implications.

This week, a conference named “Overcoming the World: Bring a Christian in a Post-Christian Culture” comes to town.  The name says it all.  The World is the Enemy, and our country WAS once Christian.  Obviously, when our country becomes post-Christian (whatever that means), the world has become the enemy.  The metaphor of war has been thrown about since the ancient time.  It is often used on the pulpit to demonize the opposition.  The blog sphere is also a prime piece of cyber estate for such keyboard warriors. They would rally their troops to go on cyber space to wage their own war.  Quite often, they would completely take over people’s Facebook walls or internet forums.  Sometimes, a more subtle form of this battle comes in the inquiry of “Are you pro-___ or anti-___?” as if life is full of black and white.  Before such vitriolic language reaches fever pitch, I want us to think a bit deeper.  

Is living in this world as a Christian really ONLY about a battle? Are there not other metaphors in the Bible that describe the Christian life?  I won’t go into all the metaphors, but the simple answer is “yes.”  Even when the metaphor is about a battle, it is not a battle against human beings.  Since many love to attribute opposition only to the devil, the devil gets entirely too much credit.  It is easier to say that the devil has caused the dissenting voices to speak against us instead of trying to understand dissent.  It is easier to say that the devil is behind all that is wrong in the world instead of doing our best (in our best Christian efforts) to make the world a better place.  The devil must be happy as a lark because he’s getting credit for stuff he didn’t do.  When war metaphors are thrown around too loosely, we risk praising the devil more than he deserves.

All this comes down to worldview.  For the person who sees life as a battle, everyone looks like enemies and every tool looks like a shotgun.  I would dare say that battle metaphors are not a majority metaphor in the New Testament. The only book that is dominated by the military imagery is Revelation, and the war there is not the kind of cultural war we imagine.  I won’t elaborate on this theme.  For my Chinese readers, you can access my two books on Revelation, one of which is still in active print. If we look closely, terms related to discipleship (which implies learning) or household are much more prevalent.  At the end of the day, I’m not saying that the battle metaphor is unbiblical as much as it is inadequate.  When we make a small group of metaphors in the Bible into a major metaphor describing our lives, our lives look funny as Christian witness. So, maybe it’s time to beat swords into plowshares and let the cultural war cease.  Even if it is an uneasy truce, I hope people would see life beyond battle lines and radical opposites.  As my former professor liked to say, “Most people want things in black and white when life is just many shades of grey.”  As for color metaphor describing life, I vote grey.

Further Reflections on 518 and 64: a pro-family gospel? I think not!

Tags

, ,

Image

This is the anniversary of June 4, 1989, commonly know by Chinese as 64.  It’s been 25 tragic years and the Chinese government has hardly acknowledged the crime against its own people.  Instead, Google was banned in China ahead of these events.  I recall watching the events unfold in horror.  These students only wanted to be heard.  Instead, they were killed en masse near Tiananmen Square.

Twenty five years later, on the month before this anniversary, leaders of Hong Kong evangelical churches come out to march in order to protect family value (though the message is read, of course, by “pagan media” and the non-Christian society to be anti-gay).  This event is also known as 518.  Churches hired buses to ship members to this march, presumably to ensure widespread participation.  Hiring buses takes money, resources that could be funneled to help the Hong Kong poor.  Such is life!

In contrast, in tonight’s protest in Victoria Park, Hong Kong or Tsim Sha Tsui Cultural Center, Kowloon, I wonder how many churches hire buses to go commemorate the victims and to call for justice.  Probably not many … If we’re really pro-family, we should be protesting even more vigorously for the families affected by the massacre.  Do they even make it on our radar screen for pro-family causes?  I doubt it.  This is our message: so long as OUR families are not affected, we can encourage each other to exercise our own conscience to protest, but IF OUR families are perceived to be threatened, we must bus people en masse to make sure we show our great force.  Are we really pro-family when we fail to take into consideration of all sorts of families, families not just near but far?  Many Christians will object and say, “But we do attend the protest in 64.”  Sure, many individual Christians do that, but do we see churches hiring buses? Not really!  That is the witness society sees.  They see the buses and the corporate personality behind togetherness.  The medium IS the message!

There is also the sticky situation of Hong Kong expat churches.  I have in mind especially Rick Warren’s Saddleback Hong Kong.  I wonder what the expat churches are doing to stand in solidarity with the local people.  I’m sure some are getting involved with the 64 protest, but I suspect most are not.  After all, it’s a local and political problem. We all know that the gospel does not deal with problems of the locals or politics now, does it?  We only want to preach the simple gospel of Jesus. That’s all.  The fact of the matter is, the gospel of Jesus was never really that simplistic or Jesus would not be crucifixion worthy.  Our luke-warm and selective gospel has little to no place in a struggling and broken world.  That’s a fact!

Many will not like this blog, but like it or not, prove me wrong!

We will not forget!

Preparing to Preach: Working Out for Preaching

Tags

,

Image

Preaching is a physical act, as much as it’s a spiritual act. Anyone who has preached multiple services can tell you how physically exhausting the task can be. Many pastors have health problems even early in their career due to the physical demand of public speaking on top of a busy schedule. Let me suggest some workout tips for preachers. I know this sounds really strange and unspiritual, but remember, you’ll thank me later.

 

In order to understand how working out can help a preacher, we have to understand which parts of the body are involved in preaching. At the very heart of the issue is the heart. Yes, I said the heart and the lungs too. The cardio-vascular system is important because we need to breath well to preach. This situation creates two demands. First, the preacher would do well to make sure that the heart and lungs get enough exercise. Second, the preacher would do well to lose weight so that his excess weight does not tax his system.   How do we do that? It’s simple.

 

Some preachers choose to either walk or run as an exercise. In a large city like Hong Kong or New York, people do a lot of walking. Probably, the preacher would do enough walking to and from the subway station to create an adequate cardiovascular condition. In the US, this is not the case. I know some have trouble finding the time to take long walks. In such a case, I would suggest interval sprint training. The exercise only takes about 5 minutes at most. Interval training involves sprinting a certain distance followed by jogging and then repeat. An example would be to sprint 30 yards followed by a jog of 100 yards and so on. Obviously, start slow. Don’t go crazy sprinting or you may pull something. The plus side of interval training is that you also train your legs which leads to more discussions below.

 

Besides having a good cardiovascular system, the preacher should understand that his or her muscular strength in terms of the act of preaching. What muscles are involved? The entire body is involved but not to the same degree.

 

From the top, the shoulders are involved. If we have any body language at all, our shoulders will move our arms. It is important to train the shoulders. Which part of the shoulder is involved exactly? If we want to be precise, the front deltoids are most important. The front delts can be trained by pushups. If we spend a few minutes doing a few sets of pushups, the front delts (along with chest and triceps) will be strengthened. For those who are more advanced, you can do elevated pushups to challenge yourself (see photo below). In order to do that, you can either pick a chair or a wall and put your feet to various elevated positions. Your hand spacing can vary just for fun.

Image

Image

If you wish to train your upper back, you can do sets of pull-ups (see below) after each set of pushups. If you can’t do pull pull-ups, try just getting on a chair and lowering yourself to start.  Upper back training is good for posture since weak upper back muscles can cause one to hunch over. Doorway pull-up bars are cheap. You can try using those.   Notice in the photos below that I do not have my legs swinging like some Crossfit practitioners or have it excessively bent.  If your posture is good, you can also train your abs in the process.

Image

Image

A very important muscle group involved in preaching would be the core, including both abs and lower back. You don’t have to do the advanced L-sit like me, pictured above the article. For those with average or below average fitness, the best core exercise to enhance the core is planking. It seems easy to do until you actually do them. If you work towards one or even two minutes on the plank, your core will be stronger. A strong core will give you less feeling of fatigue when you speak.

 

 

 

A final set of muscles is your leg muscles. If your gym has a squat rack, I would strongly recommend having someone teach you how to squat properly. If I tour your city, I’d be glad to show you how to do it for free. However, not everyone owns a squat rack. One easy exercise to learn is the one-legged squat, also known as the pistol (pictured below).   In the photo, I’m doing the assisted version that most people can do. Once you advance, you can also do the unassisted version, but not many can do those. Video here.  However low you want to go is up to you. The lower you go, the better engaged the muscles are in the back of your leg. It is worth training for. I hope it is obvious by now why the leg muscles are important. You use them to stand and walk on stage. In addition to training your upper leg, be sure to stretch your calves a bit. If you stand too long, they can cramp up.

Image

 

Image

What does a good program look like? Below is the suggested program. This beginner’s program is not vigorous. For those who are already working out, this program will probably do nothing for you. The entire exercise program should take no more than 15 minutes per day. If you can spare 15 minutes to look at Facebook, you can spare 15 minutes to exercise. If you’re really busy, you can also break it up and do some in your office for a break, especially planking and squatting.

 

Monday, Wednesday, Friday

 

–  Interval running or jogging training

 

Tuesday, Thursday (rest one minute between sets)

 

–      Pushups/pull-ups (optional) 3 sets of as many repetitions as you can

–      Plank 1 set for as long as you can

–      One-legged squat 3 sets of as many reps as you can

 

What if you get bored with the exercise program? People don’t exercise because exercising can be boring. If you keep your favorite music in your i-pod, the 15 minutes fly by pretty fast. You can also try varying grips and hand spacing on the pushups and pull-ups. So long as you work all those muscle groups, you’ll find your fitness improving.

 

PS: I thank both my sons Calvin and Ian for taking the photos

Representative Pontification: the similarities between leaders of 518 and NPP agitators

Tags

,

Two church news in Asia has caught my eye this week.  First, the joint declaration of three denominations (i.e. Hong Kong Christian and Missionary Alliance; Hong Kong Baptist Convention; Hong Kong Evangelical Free) have decided to march for the cause of “Pro-Family” on May 18th.  The march will feature the three denominations that had traditionally been involved in the homosexual debate (or I should say “anti-homosexual but let’s all love gays” debate).  Although the organizers were saying that this march would not feature the homosexual/anti-homosexual agenda, most people I have talked to and most mummer I’ve seen on social media still interpret this march with a focal point on the homosexual issue.  I guess whatever the intention is, the impact remains different from what the marchers claim.

The second bit of news is a bit more personal.  Since D. A. Carson had given the Timothy Lin Memorial Lecture in Taiwan, a new wave attacking New Perspective Paul washed ashore, with fallouts both locally here in the US (i.e. among diaspora Chinese) and in Asia.  The debate typically features issues with the framework of the Gospel Coalition (the John Piper, Mark Driscoll and D. A. Carson people).  The complainer started with a discussion about how Taiwan’s Campus Publishing (think “Zondervan of Asia”) has been promoting NPP exclusively without allowing for diverse voices to emerge.  She further pointed out that orthodoxy would be in danger pretty soon if new voices about Paul were allowed to publish and speak in different venues all over Asia.  In short, orthodoxy is on its way down in Asia.  I guess certain people have been saying that for years here in the US, and somehow Asia is now catching up.

How are these two related?  I’m putting aside ethical issue (whether homosexuality or homosexuals should be accepted by Christians) and theological issue (whether NT Wright is right) to ask a incisive question.  Who gives these people the right to speak?  Let me state clearly that I’m not saying that people of opposing opinions should not speak, and the question is not meant to shut off these voices with whom I have disagreement.  I however question the framework of their rhetoric.  THAT framework certainly matters when it comes to preaching or speaking on any public issue as a Christian leader.

Relating to the first issue of the May 18th march, I know at least two out of the three denominations represented are in violation of denominational policy.  The heads and leaders of these denominations have created videos and promotion for this march.  I still want to ask the question. Who gives you the right?  According to my understanding of the Evangelical Free polity, each local congregation is autonomous in its stance on ideological issues that are not related to historical/doctrinal orthodoxy (e.g. Trinity, Christology, etc.).  That’s what the word “FREE” means in the Evangelical Free Church, to be free from a centralized authority that dictates the conviction or operation of the church.  In free churches like the Evangelical Free and Baptists, no one leader can represent everyone in the denomination.  The biggest ethical principle Baptists value is the autonomy of the conscience as the Spirit guides the believer.  No one human voice can represent all the believers or even the denomination.  Whether these leaders like it or not, they themselves are using the denominational name to march and they are de facto representative for their denomination, not only to outsiders but also to insiders.  They want to centralize authority again and put us back into the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages.  In short, what they’re doing is essentially illegal within their own denominational tradition and structure.  Their representation looks more like the great Pontiff of the Roman Catholic church when he makes ex cathedra statements or the Anglican bishops who make statements about this or that than true free churches with congregational polity.

Now, the second issue which I talked about (the anti-NPP group of talking heads) shares a similar feature as the first.  They too represent “orthodoxy.”  As a Protestant, I feel greatly concerned that these people who speak for orthodoxy (indeed, for God) are neither empowered with authority nor equipped with adequate academic training (though some might be).  Yet, the worst part is the authority with which they make their pronouncement.  Who gives them the authority to speak for orthodoxy (and for God)?  I’m guessing these very same people who denounce the Roman Catholic church are in effect closet Catholics because they function more like the pope as the gatekeeper to Protestant orthodoxy.

To summarize the first problem above, I think we need to look at the church’s role in society.  The Bible hardly presents any evidence for a prophetic voice AGAINST society.  The modern church may choose to stand with public interest on some issues, but doesn’t have the right to force the society to accept exclusively Christian opinions agreed upon by a small group of Christians.  The biblical God has hardly given the church authority to polemicize against society at all.  Almost all the prophetic voices in the Bible spoke to the faith community.  That ought to teach us something about our role and our sphere.  Who gives us the right to shout at society?  I suppose as citizens of a society, the government could grant us the right, but not God!  Let’s be practical.  When we make such pronouncements, we risk pushing our agenda on society. Furthermore, even if we are granted such prophetic voice, that voice is often drowned out by shameless “Christian” politicians (e.g. Leung Mei Fun) who would hijack the movement for their own causes.  Why indeed force the world to accept our “Christian” value (whatever that means still deserve vigorous debates)?  To summarize the second problem, I think we need to look at the the church leaders’ role (e.g. biblical scholar, theologian, or minister).  No biblical scholar, theologian or minister possesses the whole truth (in fact, no human possesses all truth).  A very important function of the church AND academy is to create space for reexamination of tradition so that both the truth can surface more sharply and the context can be clearly defined.  When voices attempt to drown out other voices, the process becomes a power struggle and church political game rather than dialogue.  As such, these voices whether debating the family value issue or NPP issue are playing a dangerous secularized power game.  No part of this game is in line with Christian principles because “playing God” is dangerous.

How is all this related to preaching?  Certainly, how we speak matters.  The rhetoric of representing denominational authority has to change.  The preacher has to be able to distinguish where the limitation of his authority lies.  Furthermore, the rhetoric of “I’m orthodox but no one else is” is very dangerous.  Many preachers presume to speak for God and they’re quite confident that they’re indeed speaking for Him.  Well, I’m not so sure at all.  A lot preaching I hear is merely personal opinion of the preacher with some very bad exegesis to boot.  I think a great many of them should adjust their rhetoric to reflect the fact that truth may be still “out there” instead of “in here.”  We’re just in dialogue about the truth. That is all.

 

PS. Just a note for anyone who wishes to quote any of the Prophets to me…You’re mistaking CONTENT for INTENT. The CONTENT is written in the form of prophecy against pagan nations. All these passages were INTENDED for Judah/Israel (mostly exiles) to bring comfort and warnings to the readers. There’s no evidence that such prophecies were ever HEARD by gentile nations. They were a dramatic reenactment of prophecy against nations to Israel. The ones who received the prophecies were either Israel’s enemies (e.g. Babylon, Moab) or potential allies (e.g. Egypt). While Judah mustn’t fear Babylon and other enemies, its exiles should also not align with potential ales. In fact, you may find that the exiles continued to disobey the Lord because there was plenty of evidence of Jewish settlement in Egypt instead of returning to Jerusalem. If you study the audience background, you would see that I’m right. And you’re welcome for yet one more lesson on biblical literacy brought to you by my blog (sarcasm mode).

Preparing to Preach: Insomnia the Night Before

Insomnia the night before the sermon event is more common than preachers like to admit.  Here’re some suggestions to help those who have trouble sleeping the night before the sermon event.  Now, if insomnia is a serious problem throughout the week, then you need to check with a sleep clinic or seek some other medical help. I don’t claim any medical expertise.  I’m just sharing my own experience and experience of others.

1) Tune your body clock.

The idea of a body clock is most easily explained through jet lag.  Those who fly across time zone, as I often do, experience the body clock routine that was back in the previous time zone.  The body has been tuned to meals and rest and other activities.  When someone is used to sleeping very late throughout the week, it is hard to sleep early the night before the sermon event.  As ministers, many of us have unpredictably hard weeks.  Sometimes we have midnight calls about deaths or near-death visits.  If possible, we should try to get into the habit of sleeping early and rising early.  At the very least, try to start sleeping a little earlier as the weekend approaches so that by Saturday night, we would be able to fall asleep earlier.

2) Prepare your sermon early.

I know this is easier said than done.  I have already said previously that if you had long-term plans every few months, you would not have to struggle through which texts to preach, what texts really says, and how to find illustrations.  By sermon week, we should be looking several weeks ahead.  Any review of sermon material should occur throughout the week.  By Saturday night, do NOT touch your final outline or manuscript.  Wait till Sunday morning when you wake up early to do that.  The last thing you want is for your mind to be occupied with sermon material.  An overly active mind will put an end to restful sleep, when restful sleep may be exactly what you need for Sunday-morning clarity.

3) Control your diet

I know most of us can stand to lose a few pounds, but I don’t think most think about the minute issue of diet relating to preaching.  On the day before preaching, I suggest staying away from caffeine.  Caffeine can wreak havoc in some people.  Do not go to bed having too full or too empty stomachs.  Do not drink too much water before you sleep either or you may risk a midnight run to the bathroom.  The worst part of waking up in the middle of the night is failure to go back to sleep.  Sometimes, crazy sermon ideas would pop into your head because of nerves.  All this can be avoided if we are careful about our food and drink intake.  I know some preachers take melatonin for both jet lag and pre-sermon insomnia as well.

I’m sure preachers who are more experienced than I am can add to this list.  Feel free to come up with your own check list and remember to go through the list once in a while just to remind yourself.  Good habits are hard to form, as much as bad habits are hard to break.

Preparing to Preach: Political Correctness Again?

I’ve been reading Dr. Justin Tse’s blog with interest in light of his first semester of teaching at the University of Washington.  His blog post here reminds us the importance of the diverse audience.  He and I had a very interesting and in-depth conversation that implicates how we speak in church.  This blog owes no small debt to that conversation.

As a first semester lecturer in a university setting, Dr. Tse encounters many different types of students from various backgrounds.  So, the topic of discussion came up on what political correctness actually means.  In our discussion, Dr. Tse shared a very insightful distinction between political correctness and real tolerance.  Political correctness is a superficial way of speaking and acting in order not to offend but the prejudice of the person has not been eradicated. In so doing, the PC talk is just another means of promoting and upholding the system of inequality and uniformity.  Real tolerance actually speaks sincerely with the goal of promoting the system of equality and diversity.  In other words, the intention of the speaker as well as the impact on the listener is both important.

How does this impact the way we do church and preaching?  I believe we need to see the distinction.  Whenever we speak, we often assume without batting an eyelid that we are speaking to a Protestant Christian audience.  We assume that there’s no visitor from a different background.  How often do we hear our pastors say that they dream of a diverse church makeup where transnational and transcultural impact can be felt?  What many such pastors meant is that they wished THEIR PROTESTANT INDEPENDENTLY OPERATED church (the local church) would have transnational and transcultural impact.  That’s Protestant-speak!  If any Roman Catholic were attending that Sunday, s/he would’ve laughed because the Roman Catholic Church is universal (transnational and transcultural).  I’m not even talking about our speech to the outsider.  I’m talking about our speech to other Christians who are not Protestants.  The Orthodox Church could claim the very same thing as the Roman Catholic.  I think a lot of times, our eagerness to convert outsiders (non-Christians) causes us to have a blind spot about our presentation to insiders (Christians).  In so doing, when we present our version of Christianity, we fall far short of God’s dream, thus misleading both outsiders and insiders.

What am I saying?  In our preparation to preach, we really need to learn as much about Christians who are not Protestants in order for our sermons to have an adequate representation for the Body of Christ.  I dare say that most of my followers on this blog are Protestants.  I’m not even talking about getting to know non-Christians yet.  For any seminary student, I would spend more energy trying to learn about other types of Christians before we start preaching.  Of course, we should also learn biblical studies and homiletics.  However even if we get our exegesis right, it doesn’t follow that we’ll get our ecclesiology right.  By speaking in such a faulty manner, we have assumed Protestant superiority and have promoted our form of unnecessary exclusivism.  I’m not talking about PC here.  I’m talking about something even beyond tolerance.  I’m talking about an accurate ecclesiology in our homiletics.  Do we really believe that we’re ONE (and equal) in Christ?  If so, PC has very little to do with it.

So, if the sermon is for the church, my only question for you is, “Would you feel comfortable choosing a certain vocabulary or analogy for ALL Christians or just some Christians?” If we can’t say whatever we say to the face of ALL Christians, I wonder if we can say it at all.

After Easter, a Bad Week for Christians: China, Sarah Palin, Racial Reconciliation and How to Treat a Single Gal

Tags

, ,

After Easter, I find myself once again distracted from my usual blog about church and preaching to address a few issues I saw on the news.  I think these have implications in our church ministry towards our pew sitters.  In 2 Timothy, the author talked of two kinds of pressure on the church: the external persecution or heresies and internal disarray.  This week, we find both kinds.  The way the church react to these pressures shows once more that it can suffer Easter amnesia very easily. 

To top off the bad news, the Chinese government decides that not only will underground Christians be persecuted, but even those registered with the state will not be immune to oppression.  For some reason, the British press is more interested in this development than Americans.  Instead of dismantling the cross per the original threat, the government decided to take down a huge and beautiful church building in Wenzhou.  There’s something quite disturbing about this over-the-top move by the government.  Deng Xiaoping has famously stated that once economic development takes root, stability will come.  I believe a lot of China-watcher Christians also unwittingly bought into that theory.  They hesitate to call attention to human rights abuse in China while secretly hope that the church would grow magically under persecution.  The idea is that as long as capitalism takes root, the country will begin to respect human rights.  There’s one tiny problem with this theory.  It’s totally contrary to reality.  Wenzhou is one of the richest areas of China, and it is by far the most “Christian.”  The Wenzhou brothers and sisters I know are proud that even during the Cultural Revolution, they stood bravely to never stop meeting for worship. At the same time, Wenzhou merchants are traditionally some of the shrewdest businessmen on planet earth.  If you don’t believe me, just check out your Italian made fashion.  I know for a fact that these are made by Wenzhou Chinese hands who have immigrated to Italy. How do I know? I know some of them personally.  So, here we have a place where we can test out the hybrid of Deng’s secularized version of economic stability on the one hand and naive western Christians’ capitalistic mission on the other.   Here’s the problem.  We have neither stability, nor freedom of religion, nor much of any mission work.  Still believe in your Christianized version of capitalism? Think again. Mammon will not create greater freedom. In fact, it can create the very opposite.

As if the outside persecution against the church is not bad enough news, I have three bad news from inside the church.  First, Sarah Palin, a known US Christian political figure, compared water boarding terrorists to baptism.  At minute 7.24 of this video in the speech to the National Rifle Association, she made that horrifying statement.  Baptism is a sacred rite for all Christians, no matter what our views of gun are.  To compare torture with something as joyful and sacred as baptism is yet another unfortunate testimony of our faith that we can’t afford right now. This was so offensive that some Christians started a petition to denounce her witness.  Lest we think this is strange, this merging of religion and political abuse should be no surprise to anyone who has been following the development of the religious right in our country.  I want to point out that statistics have proven that majority of white Protestants approve of terrorist torture.  No, I’m not a white-hating racist.  That’s what the statistics say.  You can find the statistics here.  I’m not in favor of terrorists running about and harming our families, but torture?  How does that reflect our faith?  Jesus’ kingdom was accomplished as he suffered as a tortured criminal.  Why would his followers endorse torture?  The problem this shows, besides a lack of theological sensitivity towards baptism, is that many Protestants think that power is the key to the kingdom.  We just celebrated Easter.  To use evil to accomplish our idea of good goes directly against the whole spirit of the cross.  Have we forgotten Easter?

The second bit of bad news is that this week is the anniversary of the LA Rodney King Riot.  I remember it as clear as yesterday because one of my Vietnamese-American friends lost his furniture store down in South Central to rioting blacks.  What really bothered me was the fact that many (but not all, of course) blacks were taking out their anger on the Koreans who lived among them while the perpetrators of the original beating were not Koreans at all.  To make matters worse, the media has silenced the Korean-Amercan (also Asian-American) voices in the reporting but you can read about their harrowing tales here.  I’m not going to skirt the issue and be politically correct here.  I believe many Asians do not like blacks due to incidents like this.  Then, my friend Dr. Grace Ji-Sun Kim comes to the rescue with the Rev. Jessie Jackson.  On Easter, they both wrote an article, pointing out that to be an Easter Christian, one has to LIVE the spirit of Easter, and that includes advocating for the oppressed.  The case in point is their strong voice in trying to get the release of Korean-American missionary Kenneth Bae who is wrongly imprisoned in a North Korean prison amidst failing health.  Now, I know a lot of evangelicals do not like the Rev. Jackson, calling him a race baiter and even questioning the authenticity of his faith, but I can tell you that he is one who has started making the necessary reconciliatory step towards Asian Christians from the black community. I also love the way he supported Grace who is Korean.  I salute them both in the steps they bring to reconciliation between two communities, deeply hurt by the LA Riot.  Then, the cynical side of me begin to question why there’s NO evangelical voice, at least not among our most famous leaders, speaking up for Bae.  If there were, they were only a whisper.  Powerful people who are in huge Christian organizations have long forgotten about one of their own, an evangelical missionary who gave his life for the good of the North Korean people, but they sure are concerned about the definition of justification or gay people.  They might think that an Asian-American missionary being imprisoned and tortured to be an ethnic problem, but no, it is not.  It is a Body problem!  I realize that a lot of the powerful evangelical Christians aren’t really that concerned about North Korea because after all, these people are our enemies.  Instead, they’re in love with their own ideas.  Want to talk rubbish about Jackson? At least he’s doing something.  Oh, the 25th anniversary of Tienanmen massacre is coming up.  Do you expect any American Christian leader to say anything?  I wager you won’t.  Let’s be honest. We aren’t Easter people.  We hardly read the Bible as literally as we claim, especially when it comes to loving our enemies or being proud of those who suffer for the gospel. Easter is about reconciliation between people of different political convictions, races and genders. Have we forgotten Easter?

Third and finally, we have an article from Today Christian that has begun to receive a chorus of “amen’s” from the evangelical contingent about how married men should behave around single ladies.  Let me summarize the advice.

1) Keep the ring on.

2) Hang up pictures of your wife at work.

3) Keep eye contact simple and short.

4) Keep conversations general and professional.

5) Talk about your wife and family often.

These cliches have filled many marital enrichment seminars.  In fact, I bet some people make a living speaking about them.  There’s only one problem.  The single woman is made the villain!  These five steps are given not so much to show how we should conduct ourselves professionally, but to prevent the single women from hitting on the married men.  I have news for my evangelical brothers. You aren’t that sexy.  In general, the above five bits of advice is what I call professional behavior or more simply, living like a good guy.

I consider myself to be a flawed good guy, okay?  I keep my ring on ALL of the time unless I’m playing sports.  I hang up pictures of my family at work just out of love.  I do keep eye contact simple and short because after all, I’m not having a date with the girls at work.  Of course, I keep conversations general and professional because after all, I AM a professional.  In fact, I talk about my wife so often that she’s embarrassed by my public praises.  Would this keep the single girls from hitting on me?  I doubt it because I’m an evangelical married man, and I’m so much sexier than the other kinds of married men (sarcasm mode).  Such is not the point. I think the article also attributes motive for all married men and single women as well. Thus, it has potential to degrade both genders equally but in a different manner.  Yet, it lacks one important ingredient: a biblical basis.

Call me naive, but here goes what the Bible has to say.  The author of 1 Timothy 5.1-2 told Timothy something quite simple, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”  That’s it.  The Bible can be so simple!  Let’s face it. Jesus dealt with the heart much more than these little silly steps.  Do we honestly think that following these steps will keep our marriage affair-proof?  Then, we’ve bought into a simplistic bill of goods that is constructed based out of bias and appearance of respectability.  In fact, I can show you example, if you wish, of men who follow these steps and commit adultery.  There goes THAT theory.  If we care more about relationships than about prevention, I think we’d land in the right place.  What Jesus did on the cross allowed for the church to form a new family where members would extend each other respect as fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters.  Have we forgotten Easter?

In conclusion, what have we learned from this week of bad news?  First, money can’t save, no matter what the western mega-churches and mega-organizations tell you. Money is never the central key to God’s work.  Second, if money can’t save, power certainly can’t save.  Sarah Palin’s use of baptismal rite as a powerful threat is one of the clearest picture of Protestantism.  Third, we need to take reconciliation ministry of Jesus more seriously across denominational and theological divide.  The world should know us by our unity more than our theological differences.  Fourth, we need to take the new family Jesus established more seriously.  If we fail any of the above points, we have forgotten Easter.  The church ministry must never forget Easter or it’ll fail to be the church.

Preparing to Preach: Prayer

Prayer is one of the most important and most neglected steps in preparing to preach.  These days, the church is all about the latest method, statistics and even gimmicks.  Prayer however is not any of these.  Instead, prayer, simply put, is just communication with God.  Somehow it can get lost in the pastoral habit due to the demand put on the preacher.  Nevertheless, prayer needs to take some priority on top of sound preparation.  If you don’t even talk to the God whom you worship, how can you talk about God?

Prayer can be divided into two general categories: person and pastoral.

Personal prayer comes from our daily living. It’s no different than us talking to our spouses, children or friends, except in this case, we’re talking to God.  This can happen as a disciplined form of daily worship or can happen as part of what we do going about our day.

Pastoral prayer is something quite different.  That’s the part of the public worship procedure.  The pastor often represents concerns and sentiments from his church when he prays publicly.  Public prayer than needs preparation.  The pastor can bring in an outline of all the items that need to be prayed for. For example, prayers for our world can often be neglected in favor of our personal concerns (e.g. sickness and death in the congregation etc.) or vice versa.  We should be aware of both local and global concerns because after all, we do believe that God is the ruler of the universe.  For some pastors, they prefer to use prayer books from their denomination.  Those are also very useful tools.  Whatever tool we use, most important is our preparation to do the prayer instead of praying off the cuff.

A Suggestion for Hollywood “Christian” movies!

Tags

Image

No sooner does the Noah movie hit the screen do we have a big number of negative reviews by Christian viewers.  Some complaints are probably very legitimate. Some probably are a part of this cycle since the making of “The Last Temptation of Christ.”  In order to avoid going into biblical studies mode, I purposefully blog about the movie without having watch the movie.  Here’re my suggestions for Hollywood when you decide to make a biblical movie that will please your Christian constituents.  With Christianity being the large global religion that it is, you’ll make a huge profit.

1) Throw the word “evangelism” in there where people getting “saved” is the ending. Similarly, the word “gospel” is a must.

2) Downplay the character flaws of biblical patriarchs like Noah. Make them saints.  We need the simple gospel, not some complicated religious mess.  Let’s face it. The Bible is a messy book.  Many of the characters have blatant flaws.  No one needs to know that, especially little kids.

3) Downplay any ethical concerns that do not please evangelicals.  Look, talking about eco-theology in this movie is just not going to make anyone happy.  As you already know, most evangelicals (especially the mostly right-wing kind) are very proud of their doctrine of salvation.  Why deviate from it?  Go along the plot of being saved. Don’t mess with green issues (never mind that the biblical Noah story is a reversed creation story that has a renewed creation ending).

In other words, don’t worry about any part of the REAL biblical story that does not fit the evangelical plot line.  Certainly, don’t fill in the blank of ambiguity.  You will succeed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,330 other followers