Monday, July 9, 2018

Tertiary Thoughts on Christian Liberty and Culture

Recent thoughts: Is culture from God or man? Surely, culture is allowed by God, but completely made by man...

So if it is made by man, how come we're so beholden to it as if it were God?

Psalm 135: 15-18, Psalm 115: 4-8, Deut. 4: 28, Dan. 5: 23, Rev. 9: 20 all echo the same thing... quite elegantly.

The tricky thing about culture is that we use it as a straw man with no form or face. "In ____ culture we/they..."

For the Christian, their identity isn't dependent on circumstance, the color of your skin, or the ethnic culture from which you were born into.

Culture then is a vehicle, a tool... not law.

Christan liberty with regards to culture should then be to see culture as such... in that so long as culture is "redeemed" in Christ it may serve Him, not the other way around.

Christian liberty then is to say that God has given us the power to hold on to aspects of culture, but not live beholden to them... in fact, it allows us to cut parts away should they prove incongruent with Christianity.

I am not defined then by the color of my skin, the languages I speak, the salary I make (or not make), nor anything else, rather those things I accept exist to serve Christ as my identity is in being a son of the living God. They are choices.

I can choose to hold onto the idea of "Taking my shoes off in the house." without having to attribute it to being an elevated Asian ideal of keeping the floors cleaner... as if we're the only ones. Or that certain "family values" are uniquely attributed to a cultural way of thinking for that matter.

The instance we start going back to upholding culture as a monolithic defining throne we become slaves to it...

Just think about it.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Pastoral Advice to Interns

One of the things that always strikes me in ministry is the way the gospel shapes the pastor. Often I wonder what I would tell someone training to go into ministry. What would be the most important things? Here are just a few...

1. Love wisdom more than knowledge - Being wise will help you serve people more effectively.

2. Be a shepherd - Jesus says to "love one another" and "feed my lambs". Loving people is an emotionally draining task, so to center ourselves on the call is probably the most important thing.

I've come across pastors who would sadly speak ill of the people they served (often out of a heart of unrighteousness). These are the sheep God has called you to serve. Love them.

Other times, I know pastors easily get angry at their sheep. "They're not changing!" "They're such heinous people." "They don't listen." Here are some questions though...

Do you make it any easier for them to listen to you? You're the shepherd. You're the "expert" in the Word. But do they respect you enough to listen? Why not? What are you lacking? Is your anger truly out of righteousness?

Is it your role to "change" them? What is your expectation of the rate of their change?

The thing that re-centers me is how often Jesus tenderly deals with people. He came in humility and earned His place as Savior and King through human means.

So don't blame them or hate them. How can you serve them then?

There are moments of righteous anger from the King, and we should never forget that. However, it's always out of love for His people and His Father in heaven.

The church is meant to be a place for sinners to find hope, mercy, grace, and the possibility of being renewed and regenerated in the gospel.

The call is to love and shepherd people. God does the saving and the changing...

3. Be honest with yourself - From what I said above this was my way of understanding my limitations and creaturely nature.

Looking at yourself to see your limitations helps to focus on your role as an instrument of His grace. It also tells you that you can't exist on an island. You need others around you.

So I'd probably tell a younger pastor to find true fellowship. Thanks to the net you can build that accountability globally.

Find your prayer life too. Such limitations can drive someone mad unless they have the comfort that the heavy lifting has truly been accomplished already in Christ.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"The Emperor Has No Clothes"

There's a paritcular clarity in the Bible which provides a lucid picture of today's political climate. For when you read the Bible you realize something very quickly...

There is no one outside of Jesus who will save you. There is no king you can elect, worship, or commend which will not screw it up outside of Jesus. We are a society of broken, sinful people.

It also does no use getting angry over anyone's words. You are not more righteous than anyone else you see on TV or read in the paper. You are no without guilt. You are not without cruelty and judgment.

Each of the kings of the Bible died. Each of the Judges God had appointed died. Each of the prophets died. Each of them all have sinned. There is only one who perfectly fulfills the offices of prophet, priest, and king... Christ.

The sooner we wake up to see that the emperor has no clothes, the closer we would be to seeing how much we need grace.

The world needs the gospel more than ever because if we keep putting our hopes into someone who will "fix this country" we will only lose more hope, gain more anger, and be more self-centered because we will be disappointed.

However, if we put our hope in a savior who is able to secure a greater hope outside of this world we can find peace, hope, compassion, kindness, integrity, love, and righteousness in Him.

You may not like Him sometimes because it means we look and see our own ugliness and unrighteousness when we compare ourselves to Jesus, but He gives us grace to take comfort in His righteousness.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I Believe... in Creeds

"I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth."
- The Apostles Creed

To confess objective truth is not a bad thing.

Some weeks ago, I came across a man who didn't believe in any creeds.  Ironically, he didn't deem it contradictory that his commitment to confess this to me was in itself a creed.

That being said, doctrines and creeds are not destructive by nature, but constructive.  Taken as objective truth, creeds and doctrines drive a person to ponder about a plethora of swatches to consider.  Whether it would be cosmology, or even applying truth to a daily event.

Doctrines and creeds fall under the category of philosophy known as "a priori".  In other words, those are things which exist prior to engagement.  They are beliefs.  Belief is part of life, whether you like it or not.

Beliefs help formulate the intellectual scaffolding which constructs who it is we are.

By nature, belief is also discriminatory.  That's something which people don't want to accept, but it's true.  However, discrimination in this case is not the typical bigotry you would think (though at times it may manifest itself as such).  I doubt anyone would call the aforementioned person discriminatory.  To preclude however, that all creeds and doctrines should not be trusted is discriminatory in every bit as to say that if you don't believe in Jesus divine justice shall be delivered to you upon death.

Doctrines and creeds though are simple statements which sum up the confession of a believer.  In other words, they are meant to help summarize and concisely delineate that which a person believes.

It's not anything new.  Doctrines and creeds in Christianity have been around since the beginning.

In fact, without such doctrines and creeds we would not have any measure of agreement upon that which is Christian orthodoxy.  It helps to state what we believe to give a groundwork to define who we are as people.

Confession of these doctrines and creeds also aid with internalizing what the faith is.  There is a long distance between saying you're a Christian and being able to tell me what that is.

Some Christians would venture to say that these creeds and doctrines would take out the spiritual nature of their faith.  Untrue.  Rather, it is the flawed perception by those who don't realize that articulating your faith should stimulate and deepen spiritual vigor.  That's because in the process of confessing with your mouth the Spirit is further etching and sculpting your spiritual identity upon your hearts.

I love doctrines and creeds.  They're as precious to me as many of the praise songs I grew up with and as equally spiritually tactile to my heart.

This is in part, why evangelism is a big elephant in the room for Christians.  We believe, we wish to obey, but it scares us to share what we believe.

To this I say a few things:

  1. Confess your shortcomings to God, and confess that which you believe to yourself first.  This kind of practical application bolsters and challenges your knowledge and acknowledgement of who God is.
  2. Acknowledge that it is God who saves, not you.  However, He has called you.  Romans 10: 17 tells us that faith is through hearing.  How will people hear unless it is said?  Who will speak?  Christian, what does it mean to be saved if not to recognize that you didn't, couldn't, and didn't ask for the great love of Christ to take upon your sins?
  3. Take your lumps in stride.  You're going to fail.  You can't save anyone, but it is better to say something than nothing if the gospel really is THE good news.  
  4. Know thyself.  Probably some of the best advice I got in seminary.  Knowing who you are in Christ is to ponder upon your true identity.  It's not about world culture, color, or sex.  It's about your core a priori self.  For the Christian it should be shaped by the construct of who God tells us we are.  
  5. Be prayerful.  It's simple.  It's often tacked on as a "catch all".  However, it's not so simple or a catch all.  Prayer is an important part of the faith because the unchanging God is working on our hearts and minds through prayer.  We are in process.  Insofar as we need God to save us we need God to shape us.  Prayer is a powerful way to do that and another process of confession.
As a side recommendation, I'd say that you should ask a pastor you know and trust for a simple book to introduce you to what it is that you believe.  Or ask to sit down with them and discuss what doctrines make up Christianity.  Or even have a Bible study on the Apostles' Creed.

Monday, June 29, 2015

God is More...

In recent memory it seems that there are many out there who easily claim that "God is love"... and that's enough.
The statement in itself is true, but we forget that the context of that statement is made when the concept was new. In other words, it isn't the be all end all of God.
If anything we should come with the starting point in today's society that God is MORE than love. Though love is prominent on the cross, so is justice, mercy, hope, holiness, omnipotent, etc.
To think of God any less is to belittle the complex and wonderful incomprehensibility of God. God is more than we often want to see Him be.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

My Response to the Esperanza "Jackie Chan" Incident

When I saw this story on CBS I had a flashback to an incident almost 20 years ago at Buena High School. Our volleyball teams had gone and knocked off a very good team. Our varsity was shaking hands when the large Caucasian player from Buena pushed our smallest Asian player on the team.
Being young comes with many great benefits and a few of which is hubris. Whether it is in the mob of the student body or even at times the student athlete, we've all had it one time or another. Trust me, we were no angels when it came to trash talking in practice.
Racism isn't a new thing. In fact, if you think this is bad college sports is much worse. Jeremy Lin 林書豪 endured much worse than being called "Jackie Chan", I'm sure of it. But more so it reminds me also of Oscar Robertson, whose professional career was rife full of incidents of racism which still affect him today.
Esperanza's motto is "Where Excellence is a Tradition". Excellence is a great tradition to have. However, excellence cannot be achieved without learning one thing... the proper response to failure.
Failure is a fact of life. So long as we live in this world we have to endure with one another and our own imperfections. However, being able to confess those failures and move forward in avoiding the same failures is what the learning process is for. It's also what schools are for.
I hope Esperanza takes the opportunity to teach their students this. I hope the coach would personally call the student to apologize. I hope the administration makes an effort to be more proactive in guiding their students through this failure. I hope the students understand why it's wrong to berate someone simply because of race. 
Maybe this is one of the reasons why I believe the world needs the gospel of Christ so dearly.  After all, we need a better hope in this world for true change to come at the End.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Pastor Stuff: Tilling the soil for kids...

In the past few years I've been at my church I've come across a bevy of different challenges which have prompted me to evaluate, step in, and tackle.  However, there has been no greater challenge than to grasp the ministry of kids.

Kids are important.  Many people in church don't deny it.  In fact, if you were to take a survey of churches across North America I'm fairly certain many will say that children's ministry is one of the most important things for a church.

Deuteronomy 6: 4-12 most explicitly tells us the importance of children's ministry.  Moses tells us we are to pass the faith along to our children.  Most poignantly, it places that responsibility upon the family.  That's tough.

Being alive in the technological age it seems that more and more people are becoming busier with their lives.  We have a preoccupation with busyness.  Everything in life starts to flash before you and before you know it, you're looking into the mirror and seeing a face with droopy eyes and tiredness (at least for me).

Truth be told though, what I understand more now than ever is that ministry shouldn't be that.  It shouldn't be fried rice, but rather crockpot cooking.  It's slow.  It plods.  It progresses at pace which is often counter intuitive to the culture around us.

So in the approach to Children's ministry I live by this philosophy, and seek to marinate our kids with the Word.  Here are some things we've done as a result:

  1. Pick a curriculum to use... for a minimum of six years.  Yes, you read that right.  For Sunday School our kids use the Great Commission Publishing curriculum.  There are a few reasons for the six year commitment.
    1. It's because of it's design.  We're building a foundation for our kids and it's important to realize that curriculum is designed with that in mind.  The natural cycle for kids in elementary range between 5-6 years of school.  As such, they ought to have a parallel experience of Christian education.  
    2. If you're skipping around from one curriculum to another you lose something in the consistency of the teaching.  Lessons may overlap going from one curriculum to another.
    3. You can train your teachers through the same system.  Alleviating some aggravation or murmuring over learning a new thing when it's tried and tested.
  2. We moved the outreach program closer to church.  Geography matters.  
    1. When you work 40+ miles away and your church is 5+ miles the opposite way from home a centralization of ministry can greatly benefit your opportunities to reach out to the community.  
    2. This is both strategic for outreach as well as strategic for the teachers.  We minister to both teachers and students so when you centralize it all it gives an impression of having a "home base" of operations in which you can keep tabs on people and care for them.  
    3. Also, inviting a kid and their family to church becomes much easier when it's right around the block from where you're doing your outreach.
  3. We brought in AWANA, though any suitable program will do for the weekend.  
    1. If kids have a pattern of coming out for church on the weekend they can anticipate growing up in the church around familiar people and their transition to youth group can be more naturally occurring.
    2. Parents also benefit from this in having opportunities to be without their kids for a few hours, developing trust with the teachers at church, and other changes to evangelize to other parents.
    3. If the kids enjoy it they'll be more likely to try to convince their parents to take them to church.  There are so few hours in which they have an opportunity to learn about Christ in the church context (it's less than 10% compared to the plethora of other things they do) you have to seize the chance to preach Christ to them.
There are so many other points to talk about on the topic I can't even start to articulate it all in a short post, but I'd love to hear how others are doing it and what other blessings they've experienced as a result.

For us, God has given us an opportunity to reach out to our community with the gospel and as a result we are starting to see some fruit.  Though it's tough, sometimes you have to ride the wave of resistance to allow for people to have an opportunity to rejoice over God's work.