Thursday, March 31, 2011
Today, just over 100 years later, more South Koreans identify themselves as Christians than any other religion.
Eleven of the twelve largest churches in the world are in South Korea.
South Korea itself has become an active mission sending nation -- in fact, churches and organizations even send missionaries to help convert . . . the United States.
All in all, it's one of the most remarkable stories in the history of global Christianity.
You can read about it here.
As many of you know, I just returned from Cambodia -- a land dominated by Buddhist thought much like Korea in 1900 and a nation just now rebuilding itself after the devastation of the Khmer Rouge.
So Cambodia in 2011 makes me think of Korea in 1900. Which leads to a new prayer: "Father, let the nascent Christian faith spread in Cambodia like it did in Korea."
Wouldn't it be a great legacy if 100 years from now people around the world would look at the growth of the Cambodian church with the same amazement we use for the Korean church?
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
There are a number of men at Good Shepherd who are deeply involved in Kairos and I was only too glad to help their program in Kershaw.
This is my fourth experience on a Kairos Weekend, so that's plenty of time to learn some things:
. . . Inmates (usually called "residents") appreciate visitors. However, they really appreciate visitors who come back. The intensity and duration of a Kairos Weekend amazes them in that they learn people on the "outside" really do care about them.
. . . The Gospel has power regardless of where you are in relation to prison bars. As our team shared that the phrase "Jesus Is Lord" means no one else is Lord -- not Mohammed, not Buddha, not the prison warden -- residents shook with tear filled joy. Bold proclamation followed by tender response.
. . . Residents appreciate food brought in from the "outside."
. . . Some of those on the "inside" have a biblical knowledge that puts many of us on the "outside" to shame.
. . . In all my times at Kairos, I've never had a resident proclaim to me that he was falsely convicted of the crime that landed him in Kershaw. More often, the men are full of regret for having allowed their lives to take such destructive detours.
. . . 75 men singing at full volume sounds good anywhere.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
1. Top Five Journey Songs. Sometimes they are almost enough to make me stop believin'.
2. Top Five Favorite Breads. Only if I want to be sick all day.
3. Top Five Adam Sandler Movies.
4. Top Five Novels in the Left Behind series. Misguided theology disguised as attention grabbing fiction, all of which continues its disproportionate influence on the American church.
5. My Top Five Hunting Moments. I don't think I'd look so good in fatigues.
Monday, March 28, 2011
It was a pretty clear call to conversion with the refrain: You'll never know it all, but you do know enough. So step over the line."
Then the sermon concluded with this video featuring some of the people of Good Shepherd. I enjoyed this one as much as any we've put together:
That piece was then the prelude to an invitation for the people in the Worship Center to cross their own lines of faith at the altar. We praise God for the responses and the opportunity to be involved in people's lives at the most pivotal of moments.
Friday, March 25, 2011
So we start "Lines" this Sunday.
I think it's going to be one of our best series.
It starts with "Crossing The Line" and here's where it goes after that:
April 3: "Between The Lines"
April 10: "Outside The Lines"
April 17: "Bloodline"
April 22: "Flatline" (Good Friday)
April 24: "Lifeline" (Easter Sunday)
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Which is why a couple of analogies given by Jesus' people in India are especially helpful for those of us who want to uphold the singularity of Jesus while having unconditional love for people from other perspectives.
If you want to get from Bhubaneswar to Chennai (OK, we might say it 'from Atlanta to Charlotte') you can go via plane, train, or air.
However, if you want to go from Chennai to the moon, there is only one way: rocket.
In the same way, the religions of the world can help us arrive at different places of meaning and beauty here. However, for access to the Father, there is one way: through the Son.
The moon gives us reflected light. It doesn't generate its own light; it merely reflects light from the sun. That reflected light gives the moon its haunting beauty.
Religions all contain a certain amount of reflected light.
In contrast, Jesus IS the light. He doesn't reflect the light of anyone or anything. He "dwells in unapproachable light" (I Timothy 6:16) and is the sole source of that light's generation.
I jotted both of those gems down and upon arrival back home, put them immediately in my "Comparative Religions" file. Speaking of files like that one, tune in tomorrow . . .
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
So here it is . . . in chronological rather than preferential order . . . our Top Five Pictures From Our Top Two Countries:
#1. The lavish meal served to us by the kind people of the village of Tram Khnar, Cambodia. Our Cambodian friends certainly have the gift of hospitality.
#2. I'm giving this one two photos: Ron Dozier and I baptizing 63 people inside a building that whose constuction was paid for by Good Shepherd. Also in the village of Tram Khnar, about an hour from Phnom Penh.
3. The welcome we received at the Bible College at the Orissa Follow Up Ministry in Balasore, India. Our Indian friends have the same gift of hospitality as those in Cambodia.
4. Worship at a village church in the Kandhamal District in India. The best thing about this congregation: it includes former persecutors OF Christians. The persecutors are now believers! Sounds almost biblical, doesn't it?
5. Our final village church, this one located literally "at the end of the road." Ron Dozier, Brian Braunschweiger, and I held an impromptu healing service. I think it's what we came to India for.
Monday, March 21, 2011
We call it Passage -- as in a "passage" of the bible, but also a "passage" through which you walk.
Our spring 2011 slate starts this Wednesday, and I believe it features our strongest lineup ever.
I'm particularly interested in Professor Steve Klipowicz's class on the Psalms and Proverbs. I took Dr. K's fall class on the Post-Exilic Prophets, and if I wasn't teaching myself this Wednesday (our First Step membership class), I'm sure I'd be learning at his feet yet again.
You can find out all about Passage, as well as sign up for a class you'll love, by clicking here.
Friday, March 18, 2011
At least I still have some good books to help pass the time. And Tylenol PM.
Our team is both energized and exhausted.
We are most grateful for all your prayers and your blog comments. Our good health throughout is Exhibit A in God's faithfulness response to your intercession.
And we're looking forward to seeing you Sunday for Psalms, Hymns, And Spiritual Songs.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
The lion is just one of hundreds if not thousands of gods and goddesses of this religion.
So where did all the deities come from?
Two answers emerge from conversation here in India. The first is from the "history of religions" approach: Hindu gods and goddesses are Eastern version of the deities of Greek mythology. When West met East in antiquity via trade routes and armed conflict, Hinduism is the result.
The second answer comes from Christians living in this land: the gods and goddesses are fallen angels implied in places like Jude 1:6. Under this interpretation, when the rebellious angels were exiled from heaven, they took up residence in specific places, India among them. They have enduring but limited power which explains why Hinduism and other religions have miraculous manifestations even in the 21st century.
Answer #1 is obviously the more comfortable to the Western mind, even minds belonging to evangelical Christians. Answer #2 is provocative food for thought for those of us just learning what the spiritual struggle looks like in the unseen world.
I'll keep you posted.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
For the first day, we ministered with the Dalit people who live in the coastal area near Balasore. The drives were long and bumpy, the landscape was somewhat featureless, and in contrast the people were featurefull -- with joy.
Over these last two days we've moved inland, to the verdant hill country known as Kandhamal. Behind that beauty, however, lies danger to Christians: Kandhamal is the scene of deadly persecution of the Christian minority by the Hindu majority in 2008. You can read about it here. Jesus' people in the region are rebuilding their homes, lives, and churches. It was truly a privilege to share in ministry with people of such faith and courage.
Some highlights from our ministry in India's "interior":
- Many of our new friends had never seen Westerners in person before. As our own Ron Dozier said with a smile, "How great is it that I'm the first white man these folks have seen?!"
- On a couple of occasions, these people of faith have been under the misconception that we "come bearing gifts" -- of money or goods. Nevertheless, they hid their disappointment well.
- A couple of scenes of incongruity . . . at our first village, which has unreliable electricity and no plumbing, we saw a smattering of satellite dishes. Then today, at a village literally "at the end of the road" one of our hosts was wearing an AC/DC shirt. I ALMOST started singing "Highway To Hell" for him but then thought better of it.
- Instead of a sermonette today, we held an impromptu healing service. Both Ron and I had felt a longing for exactly this kind of ministry, and we sensed divine timing.
- In one of the Kandhamal villages, former Hindu persecutors are now living for Jesus and worshipping in the church. Meeting that family alone was worth a trip halfway around the world.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
But enough of all that. Here are the top five things I'm noticing about India:
1. Brakes are optional when driving in India, while horns are mandatory.
2. Everywhere American pastors go here, they will be given: a) a seat of honor; b) a lei for the neck; c) a bouquet of flowers, and d) a half cocunut with a straw to drink the juice inside. And coconut juice does not taste like the coconut in an Almond Joy. Not even close.
3. Due to the effects of air pollution, heavy rain, and different construction standards than we have in the US, even new buildings look old. It's sad to look at plaques on buildings that look as if they are 50 years old or more, only to read that they were dedicated in 2000.
4. Where's the beef? It's not here. Duh. Cows really are sacred. Get used to chicken & rice.
5. The caste system is never far from people's minds, hearts, or actions.
Monday, March 14, 2011
In the morning, it was at the United Church in Bhubaneswar, a city of 1.3 million people in northeast India. I delivered the morning sermon to a crowd of about 300 educated, polite, and urbanized Indians. Some things I noticed . . .
- I guess the church world is flat, too: this congregation's hymnal is the old (I mean old) Cokesbury version still in use in rural US churches and campgrounds. In fact, it's the same hymnal we used at Midway United Methodist Church in the 1990s -- the church's name comes from its location "midway" between Monroe, NC and Pageland, SC. In other words, a world apart but a hymnal the same as Bhubaneswar. I kept hoping they'd pull out "Jesus Saves! Jesus Saves!" but "Blessed Assurance" was as close as we got.
- I'm not sure that people knew what to make of my sermon, which came from John 4:4-26 and featured a riff I've used before: Jesus exposes who you are so you will discover who he is. Like I said, the group was polite, but not overly expressive. I found out later that's the DNA of this church.
- The special music was God's Still Workin' On Me, another staple of rural American churches.
- In all, the gospel in this church seems highly Anglicized & Americanized -- Indian people celebrating forms of worship (and even church governance) developed here in the US about 60 years ago.
In the evening, I spoke at the graduation ceremony for the Orissa Follow Up Bible College in Balasore, about a three hour drive from Bhubaneswar. As soon as the Good Shepherd team arrived on campus, we were greeted with indigenous Indian singing, given a lei to put around our necks, treated to a foot washing, and handed a bouquet of flowers.
I later learned that this is the same honor-filled welcome the Christians at the Orissa Follow Up give to their friends from the Dalit caste. Why is that notable? Because Hindus regard the Dalits as untouchable So those the Hindus will not touch, the Christians lavish with honor. Is it any wonder the Dalits leave their Hindu gods to follow Jesus?
Some things I noticed from speaking at the graduation ceremony . . .
- Graduation talks should be short and sweet. This one was short; I'll leave it to others to decide if it was sweet. I used several verses from Proverbs to give one of my favorite "one points" ever (learned from another pastor): wise people know what they don't know.
- It was the first time I felt comfortable speaking a sentence at a time and waiting for my words to be translated by the man standing next to me.
- The worship here was contextualized, not Anglicized. Meaning: it had all the hallmarks of Indian culture, from style of music to the cadence in speaking.
- Most of the graduates will be heading back to their remote villages to lead house churches they have planted.
Long day. Good day.
Friday, March 11, 2011
- Train us on how to teach the children.
- Help us develop our youth.
- Teach us more about preaching.
- We can use assistance with income generating projects.
- Teach our pastors more about the Old Testament.
IJM works in the darkest corners of the human race: sexual slavery. Its four-fold mission:
1. Victim Rescue
2. Perpetrator Accountability
3. Victim Aftercare
4. Structural Change
The young girls who are trafficked deserve freedom. Those who traffick them deserve accountability. IJM in Cambodia works to ensure that everyone gets what they deserve.
As a lot of you know, the people of Good Shepherd gave $207,000 to IJM this past Christmas.
The Phnom Penh office is one of 14 similar facilities located throughout the developing world. It's one of the first IJM opened . . . in part because sexual slavery is a uniquely pervasive scourge in Cambodia. We learned several reaons why:
- Cambodian culture has an obsession with female virginity. Sex with a female virgin is supposed to bring the man "good luck" . . . . as a result, some families in dire financial straits will even auction of the virginity of their adolescent girls.
- Cambodians have a saying: "men are like gold; women are like white cloth." In other words, men can be re-polished and re-finished. Once a woman loses her sexual purity, she loses value. That value can never be replaced, and prostitution then becames a logical next step. Lunacy -- for you to read it and me to type it.
- Southeast Asia has become a magnet in recent years for "sex tourists" -- pedophiles from the West who travel to this part of the world in search of cheap sex with children.
- The Khmer Rouge killed a generation of legal professionals in Cambodia, making it nearly impossible to have a functional judicial system.
In spite of those odds, IJM Phnom Penh is having an impact. In 2009, for example, it rescued 54 women and girls from sexual slavery. In 2010, 37 perpetrators were convicted and sentenced with the assistance of IJM personnel. The team here also arranged aftercare and skills training for dozens of rescued slaves.
We were able to put a human face on one of our favorite organizations today. We can't show you those faces or give you the location of the office because, as you might expect, the enemies of IJM are not nice people. We're only too glad to protect their security.
We also sat through staff devotion with the team. It was interesting . . . they trace the motivation for their ministry to Luke 4:16-21. If you have a really good memory, that's the exact passate we used in December for What Child Is This. Coincidence?
Thursday, March 10, 2011
- The world really is flat, as Thomas Friedman says. While delivering yesterday's sermon in a village with no electricity or running water, the message was interrupted by a cell phone call.
- Cambodia must have more motorcycles per capita than any other country on earth. The riders are resourceful, courageous, and certainly not risk-averse.
- The Cambodian church speaks of its readiness to move "from relief to development."
- The legacy of the Khmer Rouge, the murderous regime that ruled this land from 1975-1979, is never far below the surface of conversation.
- Interestingly, the day I surrended to Christ as Lord and Savior -- January 7, 1979 -- is the same day the Cambodians were delivered from the Khmer Rouge.
- People yearn to receive healing prayers.
- Most Cambodian Buddhists regard Jesus as a "foreigner god."
- I'm grateful that I listened to Julie when she said to pack several days worth of clothes in my carry on case. Our luggage caught up with us on the third day here. Talk about rising again!
- You should bring some really good books with you if you are on one flight for 14 hours. Fortunately, I did, and so the LA to Taipei leg was bearable. The flight attendants on China Airways are full of courtesy and composure.
- Things in the USA for which I have renewed appreciation: Emissions Controls on cars; zoning regulations in our cities; landscaping that ensures green space in urban areas; English muffins with honey; trash pick up on Thursdays; ESPN SportsCenter; air conditioning. Air conditioning. Air conditioning.
- On the other side of the world, I'm aware that Princeton plays Harvard in a one game Ivy League winner take all for a berth in the March Madness tournament. They play at a neutral site -- Yale. Go Tigers -- and I don't mean Clemson or LSU.
As a result, our church was able to build a church building for Pastor Sopeung's church early in the last decade.
So today, I got to preach a sermon and then lead a baptism service in that same building.
There were 200 or so people present. And two very interested dogs.
The village went all out to welcome us, including a welcome tent usually reserved for once in a lifetime events like weddings, and a covered dish, Cambodian style.
Anyway, the highlight of the worship was not my preaching but the baptisms that followed it.
Because we baptized 50 new people into the kingdom. All were adults, many were elderly, and most were making the daring move of giving their lives to Jesus in the middle of a culture (and a village) that is almost exclusively Buddhist.
It's a journey that Sopeung himself has taken in his own life.
So we baptized them, one after another. It was exhiliratingly exhausting.
One interesting note about the baptisms: Ron Dozier, our pastor of Missions and Community Impact, performed them with me. So we had an African-American and an Anglo baptizing Cambodian people into the kingdom of God.
Good Shepherd is full on, full color. Even halfway around the world.
Tomorrow: we visit the Phnom Penh office of International Justice Mission plus a wrap up with Methodist leadership in this country.
Also - a couple of technical glitches are preventing downloads of some of our many photos. We're working on it.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
I sat down next to a very nice young woman who introduced herself to me. Turns out she is the president of United Methodist Youth in Cambodia. That's a volunteer role.
Then she told me what she did for a living. "I work in aftercare for the International Justice Mission. Have you heard of them?"
Considering we just finished a major effort at Christmas that netted the IJM $207,000, yes, I've heard of them.
We have a visit with the Phnom Penh office of IJM scheduled for later this week, and my new friend works in an aftercare center in another part of the country.
Either way, it's a nice reminder that God is in control when you walk into one of those divine coincidences.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
So why would we want to travel such great distances to spend 12 days in cultures that are so unfamiliar?
Turns out there are at least five answers to that question. It's Tuesday, after all.
5. The followers of Jesus in both places have much to teach us about walking with Christ with resilience, determination, and faithfulness.
4. We want to leverage some of the things we do well and the resources we have to help churches in Asia.
3. We have existing contacts in both places. Good Shepherd's founding pastor, Claude Kayler, worked closely with Methodists in Phnom Penh back in the late 1990s. Our congregation also funded construction of a church building in the Cambodian village of Tram Khnar. In India, we have been long time supporters of Advancing Native Mission, which has a vibrant presence in Orissa. So we'll be able to strengthen old ties while making new ones.
2. We want to do long-term work in a land where Christianity is not a majority religion. Cambodia is predominantly Buddhist, while Hinduism dominates India. In both countries, Christianity is a minority faith, and, on occasion, a persecuted one.
1. We are making a strategic shift in our approach to international mission from "wide and shallow" to "narrow and deep." For years, we've had 8-10 different partners around the globe who receive significant financial support from the church. However, we're attracted to a model we've learned from other churches in which we would work with indigenous pastors and leaders in one area, harnessing our resources and spirit for maximum impact. This trip is to help us answer the question: would God have us go narrow & deep in Cambodia? Or in Orissa? Or does he have something else entirely different in mind?
Monday, March 7, 2011
From the left, it's Mike Dey, Ron Dozier, Brian Braunschweiger, and well, you know.
All of us are part of the Good Shepherd family.
We are flying into Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which will be our base of operation for the first five days of our trip.
Then we'll travel to Bhubaneswar, India for the final five days of our journey.
Why are we spending so much in Cambodia and India? What does all that have to do with Good Shepherd United Methodist Church and its approach to international missions?
Check back tomorrow, and I'll answer some of those questions.
It'll be Top Five Tuesday, Asian-style.
Friday, March 4, 2011
Can a pastor really say something like "forget about God's will for your life!" and still be a Christian?
I think so.
And I love the reasons why.
Come this Sunday and you'll find out.
And then to reinforce that message, we have a beautiful event planned for Sunday evening at 5 p.m.: the Reading Of The Red Letters.
The words of Jesus, experienced out loud and in community.
8:30. 10. 11:30.
And again at 5.
It's going to be a great day.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
We joked that we were going "uptown and high brow." So we did.
We also had a charming "docent" -- which is a cool name for a tour guide -- who led us through the various exhibits.
I noticed a recurring theme in her comments: what the author intends to communicate with his or her art and what the audience receives from that same piece are not one and the same. The one viewing the art may well "see" far more, far less, or far different than the artist ever intended to convey.
In the world of literary art (a world with which I am more familiar), many critics take that thought a step further. In many circles of literary criticism, the author's intent is irrelevant; as soon as it leaves his or her pen (or typewriter or keypad), the text assumes a life of its own. Interpretation, then, is often separated from intent.
Well what does all this artistic talk have to do with theology? With biblical interpretation?
Quite a lot, as it turns out. Because the theory that dismisses authorial intent has crept into biblical studies.
And if the original intention of biblical authors is indecipherable at best and irrelevant at worst, well, the interpretation and application of biblical texts of course becomes highly personalized. The text means whatever you want it to mean.
All of which has led to what orthodox Christianity considers to be erroneous teaching on the nature of salvation, the practice of sexuality, and the function of the church.
In contrast, I hope to stand with a long line of preachers and teachers who believe authorial intent matters a great deal, and that the task of the church is to excavate that original meaning as much as possible and then make contemporary application of it.
Because in the world of biblical literature, we want what the author intends and what the audience receives to be one and the same.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
It's usually pretty nerve-wracking.
Why? Because the shift in roles is so dramatic. These are people who changed my diapers, wiped my tears, dealt with my various adolescent crises, and endured the sarcasm and judgmentalism of my young adulthood.
And then, years later, I stand as some kind of representative of Christ and the bible? It is, by definition, awkward when the "baby of the family" becomes the pastor to the family.
Now people on both sides (mine and Julie's) have been more than gracious.
Of course, I'm the default person to ask to give the blessing at family meals.
Most of them have heard me preach -- the first few times in front of them were for sure my most nervous times in the pulpit.
I've presided at several weddings for family members . . . and thankfully didn't forget my lines.
I've led two funerals in Texas and have seen how years of taking that ministry so seriously here in the Carolinas prepared me to lead those deeply personal events back home.
All this is on my mind today because this afternoon Julie's mother will undergo back surgery here in Charlotte. It's not life-threatening . . . but anytime you go under anesthesia there is cause for concern.
And during and after surgery, I'll have that role again. Not as surgeon, of course, but as chaplain to my in-laws.
Because when you "pastor" it means you care for souls. Even the ones closest to you.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
We have an event coming this Sunday that is a first of its kind for Good Shepherd.
The Reading Of The Red Letters.
From 5 - 6 p.m., we'll gather as a people being shaped by the Holy Spirit and we'll listen to the words of Jesus. Out loud. In community. Without interpretation.
Here are top five reasons to come on Sunday night:
5. Your Pathfinders group will be there.
4. It's the way the bible was designed to be encountered. The bible was written more for the "ear" than for the "eye" -- it is a library written for a largely illiterate people.
3. We'll read the words of Jesus -- you know, the ones in red in a lot of your bibles.
2. You may just hear the voice of God.
1. More than anything else, you might find help in figuring out God's will.