Book Excerpt (Mystery…)

What gives Words their Meaning?

Nehemiah 8:8 Learning English is difficult. It has a strong emphasis on grammatical structure.

I remember weeks in grade school and middle school diagramming sentences. I don't think that's done anymore. Pity.

It shows in the way people speak and write. And pity because, I think every student should endure the same torture (just kidding).

English!

English words can have different meanings and pronunciations, but the same spelling. Did you read the book? She read the book. The book was red. Imagine how difficult this is for someone learning English as a second language (ESL)!

How about two words that sound the same, spelled differently, mean different things, and used in the same sentence! He read the red book.

Context is important

This week I talked to two different people who used the acronym PT. One spoke of physical therapy, the other referred to physical training. How could I know the difference? The first person described what he meant as he explained what he was studying. The other one is in the military—known for their use of acronyms—who talked about his physical conditioning.

It's the context a word is used in that gives it meaning.

The one speaking (or writing) has something in mind when using a certain word, phrase or acronym. However, those listening or reading may not be familiar with how the person using the word intends for it to be understood. How many times public figures (mostly politicians) say their words were "taken out of context" when what they say stirs controversy. Christian believers, are you getting where I'm going with this?

Disconnect

This past week, someone asked me what my occupation is. My answer was that I'm a writer and teacher. The inevitable next question is, "Of what?" Right now I'm involved with three part-time jobs to pay the bills, but for the majority of my life I've been a teacher and leader. The transition from teacher-leader to writer-occasional teacher, and as an online teacher-writer, has been a steep learning curve.

When asked what I wrote, I told of my recently published book and my current writing project. I explained my concern of many Christian believers not understanding the speech they use, called Christianese, nor did non-believers understand these words.

As we talked about this, I could see it struck a chord in her heart. Although her church background is different from mine, we both saw a major disconnect of young people from church, or Christianity in general.

Why? There are plenty of stats and opinions, but I believe one thing that goes unnoticed is this issue of Christianese. Christian believers need to speak in plain language, not an obscure form of it. If we want people to understand what we're saying, we need to make the meaning of it clear.

What is your experience with hearing Christian terms and Bible-talk?

Have you ever considered the language you use when talking about Christianity?

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For a funny look at Christianese check out this video by B.A.D.D.– Christianese

Here are some Scripture references that might help to make the point even clearer— Nehemiah 8:8, 12; Proverbs 1:2; 25:11; Luke 24:27

Awareness

DSC_0188I have a memory of looking up into the darkness of nighttime, into the heavens, and being scared. I was four-years old and with my parents in our front yard. We were gathered under the stars to watch a lunar eclipse with our neighbors. I wasn't afraid of the moon becoming dark. This intrigued me. But my dad told me the darkness of the universe, with its scattering of stars, never ended. It scared me that it was so big and I was so small. This is my first awareness of the immensity of the universe.

I wondered if a person could drift off into space and be lost forever. I think my dad reassured me gravity would hold me to the earth, so I didn't need to worry. But that feeling of smallness never left me. It was the beginning of my sense of being part of something greater. Somehow I realized, as young as I was, that this vast and endless universe was created.

At an early age I realized the existence of God. It wasn't a concept taught to me, it was a realization deep within me. Somehow, my tiny soul was connected to this vastness. It wasn't something I articulated or thought on until later in life.

Your Life Do you have a recollection of God as a child? Perhaps you were brought up in a religious, God-believing family. Perhaps not. My wife, Susan, had a sense she was part of a big storybook. That her life was being watched by someone reading this storybook as she lived her life out.

I didn't grow up in a religious family, but we believed in God. Well, sort of. My mom had a definite belief based on her up raising, and yet, her dad, a family physician, had a more scientific mind than spiritual. My dad had a belief, but it was wrapped up in Christian Science religious thought. More science as spirituality, than traditional religion.

What was your family like? Did you grow up believing God, or ardently not believing? Was there a general indifference towards God in your family? Perhaps you saw children going to Sunday school and families going to church, and wondered what that was all about. I don't know until you share your story with me.

I'd like to hear your story... really.

Just put it in the comments section or send me a message via email– trip@word-strong.com — Who knows, it just might make it into a book!

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This is an excerpt of a first draft of a book-in-the-writing. I'd appreciate your feedback (constructive please) ;-) via the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Hope Lost and Restored

Sunrise_RainbowAs a young pastor, Easter sunrise services were memorable occasions, especially when our children were young. We have four children within two and three years of one another, so many preparations were made the day and night before Easter. My wife laid out what everyone would wear, and food was prepared for a meal following the service. Many Easter mornings were cold, even freezing, as we departed into the darkness of the early morning. We packed the children into our small car with blankets, along with my guitar and other things prepared ahead. Although the early disciples didn’t drive their car to the tomb, I tried to imagine what it was like that first Resurrection Day as we drove to the service. I was excited to celebrate and remember the day that changed history.

Many of our sunrise services were held on a hillside in the southern California desert, somewhat similar in terrain and weather to Israel. Arriving as the first rays illuminated the sky, my heart anticipated the moment the sun broke the horizon. Waiting for the sunrise seems to take a long time, but when it appears it bursts above the earth as a new day begins.

Hope Lost and Restored

The first disciples didn’t know what to expect that early morning. It was a long night of despair, perhaps sleepless, for it seemed all hope was crushed. The One they believed to be Messiah was crucified and buried on the day Israel celebrated their annual Passover feast.

He who would deliver them from oppression and obscurity had died, and their confidence died with Him. The One to  whom they devoted their lives—believing in Him, leaving all, and following Him—was gone. The night might have dragged on, but when the sun rose things happened fast and unexpectedly.

The women were the first to know about the Lord Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24:1-12). In accounts from another Gospel, we are told they met Jesus in person after His resurrection (John 20:11-18). Women had very little status or standing in Jewish culture in those days. Concerning spiritual or religious matters, women were considered unimportant. Yet, these women were the first to know and believe the truth about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. This alone is extraordinary.

Everything about Jesus defied the expectations of others and went against conventional wisdom. He began preaching the Kingdom of God in the region of Galilee, far from Jerusalem where the Temple and religious leaders were. He chose men as His closest followers who were not inclined nor equipped to study the Law and its many interpretations. Some of these men were uneducated fishermen, some religious and political zealots, and one was a hated tax collector. And one betrayed Him.

Instead of resisting an unlawful and unjust sentence of death by crucifixion, shameful and deemed a curse by the Law, He willingly submitted to it. On the day of His miraculous resurrection from the dead, He didn’t appear first to those closest to Him, nor to the important Jewish leaders, but to a few women, even one with a shameful past.

The resurrection of Christ caught everyone involved by surprise, even those who stirred up the crowd and called for His execution. Yet, Jesus spoke of His future resurrection from the dead often and in many instances. Three written accounts are recorded in the synoptic Gospels (Matt 16:21). Most likely He spoke of this at other times, since the women knew of this when reminded by the angels (Luke 24:6-8).

Following the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus taught that He was the Bread of Life (John 6:35-40). He used a metaphor of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, which caused many disciples to quit following. As He taught this, Jesus made four references to the resurrection related to the eating and drinking of his flesh and blood. And yet—both His death and resurrection caught everyone by surprise.

What about you? What surprises you about the Lord and His resurrection from the dead? Is His resurrection a living hope in your heart? Have you experienced His resurrection power in your life? May you have a blessed Resurrection (Easter) Day!

This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, except for the questions at the end, which I've added for this post.

At the Feet of Jesus

Last week someone wrote to call me out about a phrase I used, saying it seemed like Christianese. It was, but I did give a simple simile as explanation. But I thought it might be good to explain it a bit further. I said that if there's something you (anyone) is struggling with, "Lay it at the feet of Jesus."

As I mentioned in my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Christian believers tend to use a set of words and phrases laden with meaning, but not understood by others. Even believers who use these expressions don't understand all that is said. Christianese is a general term describing words, cliches, and expressions used by people in the Christian faith. The use of Christianese isn't bad, it's just puzzling for those uninitiated to it. One of my favorite takes on Christianese is the short video produced by B.A.D.D. If you haven't seen it, it's worth the watch, funny and makes the point. Another good resource for understanding Christianese is a site called Dictionary of Christianese. If you click on the link, it will take you to a site where you can download a 30-page sample.

As I said, using it isn't bad as long as the words and expressions are explained for those who don't understand. These expressions are a form of figurative language, the use of figures of speech. All of us use figurative language in one form or another. Why? Because it paints a picture and becomes an abbreviated way of saying things. In fact, a figure of speech can make a point more clear than a lengthy (often tedious) explanation (think—listing off statistics versus illustrations of comparison).

A couple of stories So, back to the expression of "lay it at the feet of Jesus"—what does this mean? The best way to describe it is found in a couple of stories that illustrate it. Many stories could be used, but two stand out to me.

In Luke's gospel (Luke 7:36-50), Jesus goes to the home of a Pharisee (religious leader) to eat. While He's there a "woman of the city, who was a sinner," comes and anoints Jesus' feet with oil, and washes them with her tears and hair while kissing them.

Jesus is reclining at a table with His feet extended out, and she comes to express her appreciation and devotion to Jesus—at His feet. This, of course, causes the Pharisee to judge Jesus, which leads Jesus to tell the man a parable about forgiveness. Do you see the picture? Reading the whole story may help the picture come into focus better.

A second story involves two sisters well known to Jesus, Martha and Mary, and is found in Luke 10:38-42. Martha is busy with the work of the household (as to be expected), but Mary "sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching." The place of women in that day was to serve in the household. The place of men was to listen to the teacher. It's as if Mary has forgotten her place.

Martha complains to Jesus, but He doesn't give the response she expected. Instead He tells her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."

Coming to Jesus isn't just about laying our needs before Him, but of being with Him, listening to Him, worshipping Him. It is an expression of trust, of implicit faith in Him. Sometimes we may need to bring whatever it is we struggle with to lay it at His feet, to entrust it to Him. But our trust and confidence to bring our needs to Him this way is built up as we spend time at His feet.

And so, the more we are like Mary than Martha, and more like the woman of the city, the more confident we will be to entrust our life, our needs, our heart to Jesus. Then we will also find Him stepping in on our behalf when others accuse us, including the enemy of our soul (the devil). The illustration (above) from one of Dore's woodcuts gives us a picture of the Lord's intercession. It depicts Jesus' forgiveness for the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:1-11). He defends her against her accusers and extends mercy to her.

Jesus shows us great mercy and blesses us with immeasurable grace, especially when we learn to trust in Him in greater and greater ways—as we learn to sit at Jesus' feet and to lay our lives at His feet.

Book Signing

©tkBeyond_2012

Yesterday I had the privilege of sharing a message at my former home church and making my newly published book available. Because it was like "coming home" in many ways, I was asked to sign several of the books sold. It was a new and somewhat overwhelming experience.

It was also fun to reconnect with people my wife and I had built relationships with over the past several years. It was a privilege to share the message to the church family while their pastor (my good friend, Keith) was away doing ministry. They have been generous and faithful supporters for many years.

It was a busy weekend in many ways, so I'm behind in my usual posting. So, next week I'll resume the topic I left off from last week.

So far, I've gotten some good feedback from those who are reading through the book. If you haven't checked it out, here's the link– The Mystery of the Gospel. It's also available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but it benefits me a bit more if you get it at the Westbow site (and the e-book is only $.99!).

I'm hoping to get the book in some local places (in the Jacksonville, FL area). If you've read it and like it, please post a review of it (on the site you buy it from and on FaceBook, Twitter, etc.) and spread the word. Thanks!

Simple

The central focus of Scripture is God, and His personal relationship with humanity whom He created. This is seen with Adam, the first person, and Abraham, the patriarch of ancient Israel. God spared Noah and his family in the ark when He brought a global flood on the earth. God gave the Law to Moses to define the personal covenant (agreement) between Israel and Himself. God made a prophetic covenant promise to David, the great and beloved king and poet of Israel. And God’s desire for reconciliation with every person culminated in sending His One and Only Son, Jesus.

An inherent responsibility rests upon every person in the world—to seek and know God personally. Every person is born with an innate desire for God. But along life’s way it can be displaced, to wither and die as a plant without water and sunlight. Who bears the responsibility for rescuing those who’ve lost this innate desire? God. And His means of doing this includes genuine believers as God’s agents of His kingdom.

For decades, even centuries, a measure of guilt and manipulation has been applied to those sitting in churches regarding this responsibility. Unfortunately, many sitting in the pews are neither ready, nor willing, to share God’s Story. Too many are tormented by failure or an indifference to the need. Guilt magnified by manipulation produces resentment, indifference, and condemnation. This is not what God intends. A different attitude and vision is needed.

Why not see this as opportunity rather than obligation? Responsibility is inherent within any freedom, and by its nature, freedom involves free will. Without free will freedom ceases to be freedom. Perception makes all the difference in the world to see either obligation or opportunity. The choice is ours.

God extends great freedom to those who trust in Him. It’s called grace—God’s loving kindness and favor. This grace is extended freely and received freely, and God desires for us to share it with others. God provides opportunities as we move through life and our lives intersect with the lives of others. Then it’s a matter of choice, not obligation. However, there needs to be a readiness and willingness to share this freedom we received.

At the beginning of this book I posed a question, “How can the Gospel be communicated so they can hear it?" They being people who seem closed or indifferent to hearing about God’s love as demonstrated through His Son, Jesus. It’s an important question that needs an answer. Here’s a real-life example of seizing opportunities for sharing God’s love.

I’m involved with a new church plant near my home. It’s filled with young believers, and I enjoy their fresh sense of love for God and simplicity of belief. At one of the home meetings, a few young people gave simple testimonies of sharing God’s love. It encouraged me to hear their simple approach of sharing their faith with people while riding a public bus. These single, Anglo young women met and talked with people of all walks of life as they rode the bus. Like rays of sunshine on a cloudy day, they brought God’s grace into people’s lives. Each conversation was different, as was each person encountered. It was a simple, uncomplicated process.

Sharing our faith story needs to be simple and uncomplicated. Amazingly, simple fits a child, an adult, someone who is not literate, or someone highly educated. However, speaking truth in your own words requires an understanding beyond the terms and words used. Early on, I learned a valuable lesson—if I can explain spiritual truth to a child, then I can explain it to anyone.

I’ve seen this proven over and over while teaching in other nations outside the US. Whether explaining servant leadership to pastors more familiar with a rigid, authoritarian approach to leading, or using a Bible story to explain discernment in a remote village church in Ethiopia—sharing God’s free gift of love needs to be said and done in a simple manner.

This is an excerpt from the epilogue section of my book just published and available at Westbow Press. Here's the direct link— http://tw.gs/z3vci

Community

Last night I enjoyed a great evening with some good friends whom I've known for more than 20 years. They are part of the community of believers I've been connected to in Dumaguete City (the central Visayan region of the Philippines), our home of 15 years. Food is usually found in almost every gathering of Filipino's, but it's the people gathered who are most important. It's one of the many things I love about Filipino culture and why this place (Dumaguete City) remains home to my wife, Susan, and I, along with our two daughters who spent 18 years here.
We have been part of the community at our church (Calvary Chapel Dumaguete City), the community within the ministry we founded and still oversee (Rainbow Village Ministries), and the greater community of Dumaguete City. This includes another ministry established in 1995 (CCTC) that I continue to be a part of, which extends beyond Dumaguete throughout the Philippines and into Thailand through the students I had the privilege of teaching over the years. The church, God's church, is not a building or institution, but an extended family—it's a community of believers.

I say all of this as an introduction to the following excerpt from my soon-to-be-available book (hopefully next month!). It's now at the printer, and I'll announce when it's available to the public! Thanks for reading, as always!

The practicality of Christianity is by design—God’s design—not an institution or spiritual leader. It is similar to God’s purpose for the natural world around us. The apostle Paul says all of us are able to know God, “For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Rom 1:19-20 NLT).
How are people a vector? God has chosen to put His presence and power within believers, who become living declarations of Him—His agents, His personal emissaries. He began with one man, Abraham, and his descendants who became the nation of Israel. He sent His Son so all people could be included within His family. God’s purpose for His church is to be a worldwide community of believers, as expressed by the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10 GW.
The gist of what Peter says is simple—as a person is personally related to Jesus, he or she becomes part of a larger community of believers. Jesus is the core of this community. He transforms lives from darkness into rays of light within the darkness of this world. Though the world may reject God and His Son, this community of believers become a people special to God and treasured by Him.
God builds His kingdom within each believer, and within the community of believers. It is a kingdom of light. This light penetrates the surrounding darkness. The light of God shines through this community as they live to honor the One who accepts them as His own treasured people.
But howdoes this take place? The first step is to knowGod—develop a personal relationship with God by faith. If a person believes God exists, and that He responds to us as we seek Him—God will honor that faith.[i]It’s also important to learn who Jesus is—the Son of God who came into this world. The four Gospels are the best place to start—they contain the very words and works of Jesus.[ii]
The Christian faith is not to be lived alone, but in community with other believers. Community begins by connection with God and His people, the church family. Each believer needs to be part of a greater community of believers. This brings an identity and belonging with others who have the same Father. It is an interdependent relationship as demonstrated by the early believers, which is seen in Acts 2:42-47 GW.
Which church community should you join? The important thing is joining other believers who choose to live in humility and genuineness while honoring God—people with whom you can build healthy relationships. The Holy Spirit who lives in you and in them will give you an inner witness (by His Spirit) where you belong, and confirm it in your heart. Each person needs to intentionally seek this out.
Are you part of God's family, God's community? It's an extended family that reaches around the world and beyond.

[i]Reference— Heb 11:6
[ii]Reference— John 1:14, 18, 29; Matt 11:28-30; John 5:39-40

Spiritual Journey

©tkBeyond

Severe power outages crippled the Philippines in our first year there. Power outages continued in our city as more generating stations were built elsewhere. A geothermal plant in the mountains above us generates our island’s power. The steam is harvested from natural vents from a dormant volcano, a continual source of available energy. And yet, the power outages continued because of inefficient infrastructure to deliver the electric current. They were called brownouts because the power fluctuated so low that light bulbs and fans had too little power to run. Just before the outage, lights would dim and flicker before going out. When the lights go out it is pitch dark. The entire city is plunged into darkness so there’s no diffused light from other sources. The darkness is intense and disorienting. Until we had automatic emergency lights (with battery backup), everyone scurried around searching for a flashlight or emergency lamp to conquer the darkness. Even when an emergency lamp was found, it was typically uncharged and useless. Imagine this scenario with babies and young children frightened by the sudden darkness, crying, even screaming, as the search for light went on. Confusion reigned!

My spiritual journey was similar—a lot of confusion. Of course, not everyone gets thrown out of a church and called the devil,[i] but everyone deals with misunderstanding. A spiritual journey can be like groping for a flashlight in the darkness. When the flashlight is found or the light turned on, it’s much easier to see everything. All spiritual journeys aren’t dramatic, but can be disorienting.

Well-intentioned believers who spout Christian clichés contribute to some of the confusion, but they’re not the only reason for misunderstanding. When a person doesn’t know the way out of confusion, and can’t see beyond the darkness, help is needed. Until light and direction come, the way seems hidden.

Spiritual truth is a mystery to those who don’t understand it. That was my problem, and it’s a dilemma everyone faces. The Bible uses words like mystery and revelation, so it’s no wonder it seems like a mysterious book. The Greek word for revelation means a mystery that is revealed—it was hidden before, but is now revealed. God is a mystery to many, but He’s not mysterious. He is the One who reveals Himself and His truth, and desires all people to know Him personally and know His loving kindness.[ii]

But how does God reveal Himself and His truth? This question is at the heart of the spiritual journey—understanding the mystery of God and the mystery of the Gospel. God provided three primary means for people to know Him, with people the vector for all three—nature (creation), the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Triune God.

The work of creation was not complete until people were created, then God rested. Human beings, guided by God’s Spirit, recorded the Scriptures. God placed His Spirit into people who trusted in Him through His Son—after he sent His Son to live among people.[iii]

What's your spiritual journey been like? Do you feel you've arrived somewhere...or are you well on your way? How has God intersected with you in your life?

If you have a personal relationship with God already and are assured in your heart about eternity, look for someone to share it with, look for someone who may still be finding there way and be a light to them.

This is another excerpt from my book to be published soon. I'm also writing from the Philippines where I'll be doing some ministry for 3 weeks. Thanks for reading! ______________________________________

[i] A reference to my personal story in Chapter 1.

[ii] References— 1 Cor 2: 10, 14; 2 Pet 1:19–21; Acts 2:38-39; Ezek 18:23, 32; 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9

[iii] References— Gen 1:26-31; 2 Pet 1:19–21; Gal 4:4-7

Are You Ready?

In the book of Second Samuel, a messenger named Ahimaaz (A-hee-ma-oz) wanted to bring a message to King David. His father was an important priest named Zadok whom the King trusted. However, the news to be sent was not good, so King David’s general, Joab, chose to send a different messenger. In those days, certain messengers were sent based on the content of the message; one was sent when it was good news, another with bad news, and another who could bring either good or bad news. Ahimaaz was a messenger for good news. The story unfolds in the eighteenth chapter after King Absalom died in battle. He was David’s rebellious son who stole the hearts of Israel and staged a coup that sent King David running for his life. Though Absalom had become his enemy, he was King David’s favored son. Joab knew the news of his son’s death would devastate David, so he wanted to send a more neutral messenger, a Cushite.[i]

However, Ahimaaz, because of his devotion to King David, wanted to bring the message. Joab’s response was, ”why will you run, my son, since you have no news ready?"[ii] Since Ahimaaz insisted on running, Joab gave him permission. In the story, Ahimaaz outruns the Cushite and arrives first, but is told to stand aside because his message is incomplete—it lacked the news most important to David—news about the life of his son, Absalom.

In many ways, Christian believers are more like Ahimaaz than the Cushite. When delivering the message of God’s story of reconciliation (the gospel) it is incomplete. The part left out of the gospel is the Lord Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrection is what guarantees forgiveness from sin, and the believer’s hope in eternal life. Not only this, it gives insight into the mystery of this earthly, physical body being changed into a new, indestructible body that enables a person to enter and live in the presence of God.

Paul reminded the believers in Corinth about the foundation of all he taught them. He exhorted them to continue to believe in the full truth of this gospel and not listen to teaching contrary to it. If they allowed false teaching to influence them, it would jeopardize the work of God’s grace in their lives.

Additionally, Paul delivered the gospel they heard and received in person. This may seem incidental but it is very relevant. The gospel is not just truth about God passed on by any means available, it is God’s story—the personal testimony of God, and how He rescued humanity through His Son, Jesus. His story is most effective when it’s told in person to a person.

The believers in Corinth heard the gospel preached to them with apostolic authority. God gave this authority to Paul, His apostle and messenger, to preach the gospel to the Corinthians—God’s story relayed by God’s messenger.

Once they received the gospel as true, they began to live their lives differently. The foundation for their lives was a new destiny—a destiny of eternal life in the presence of God. Paul exhorted them to continue, not only believing but living their lives according to what they believe, “unless you believed in vain” (1 Cor 15:1, 2).

Paul relayed three things about the gospel—it is the most important truth; he told them what he personally received from God; and it agreed with the OT Scriptures. First of all, the gospel is the essential foundation for all Christian believers. All other teaching must be considered in light of the gospel. Secondly, Paul passed on what was revealed to him by God. This is what all believers are to do—share with others what God shows them.

Lastly, the truth of the gospel is found in the Scriptures given to the chosen people of God, the Jews. The history of God’s first relationships with people is linked with the gospel. Adam, the first man, had a face-to-face relationship with God prior to sin’s interference. God’s relationship with Abraham was significant, because he was considered righteous on the basis of his personal trust in God. Both men and their relationships with God are found in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

Many of our national staff at Rainbow Village Ministries[iii] were staunch Roman Catholic. But they lacked the assurance of eternal life. Entrenched in their religious beliefs and traditions, they refused to consider a personal relationship with God by grace. Anya (her nickname) was a faithful Roman Catholic who would argue dogmatically against the “Born Again” gospel of grace.[iv]

But during a women’s retreat hosted by another ministry, Anya came to believe in Jesus in a more personal way—based not on religious conviction, but on God’s grace—His unearned favor. Her testimony for days and weeks later was, “I feel so different inside.” She experienced a spiritual transformation in her heart that changed her entire life. She continues to live as a “born again believer,” because she experienced God’s favor, acceptance, and resurrection power in her life.

I mentioned in a previous post (another excerpt from my soon-to-be-published book) about the "vanishing hitchhiker" announcing the Lord is coming soon and prompting  the question, "Are you ready?" Indeed, we do need to be ready for the Lord's return, whether you're a believer or not, but there's another readiness all believers need—a readiness to share God's story with others.

This is a major point in my book, "The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling God's Story." I don't see this readiness in many believers. Unfortunately as mentioned above, many believers are like Ahimaaz, their version of the gospel story is incomplete. How about you? Are you ready? Ready to share God's Story with others?

I'll be making an announcement for the release of my book when it's published...stay tuned and thanks for reading.


[i]Reference— 2 Sam 18:19-33– The context of this story makes this distinction most clear. The Cushite (a foreigner) could bring either good or bad news, whereas Ahimaaz was more known for good news (note verse 27).
[ii]Reference— 2 Sam 18:22 (NKJV)
[iii]Our staff in the Philippines at Rainbow Village Ministries— www.rainbowvm.org
[iv]“Born again” is the common tag for evangelical believers or the Protestant faith within the Philippines as a distinction from Roman Catholicism. This is a reference to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3 and what many evangelicals tell Catholics they need.

A Startling Event

On my first solo journey to Thailand I experienced a genuine sense of isolation. I traveled to other countries before and lived in the Philippines for many years, so being in a new environment didn’t bring this isolation. My family and I resided in the Philippines where English is spoken often, but I didn’t understand the Thai language. I moved through the Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports smoothly because many signs were in English and most of the staff spoke broken English. But the airport was an international island within Thailand.

Arriving in the city where I resided for the week, I stayed in a local hotel and ate my meals at the restaurant downstairs. Virtually no one spoke English in this hotel. The desk clerks spoke some broken English, but it was hard to understand. I survived the week and carried on with the teaching ministry I came to do. But the isolation brought a strange depression and disorientation. Impromptu sign language doesn’t convey conceptual truth, and a simple gesture is easily misunderstood.

The Thai language has five distinct tones and each one varies the meaning of words. So, one word has a certain meaning with one tone, but the same word may convey a different meaning with another tone. I watched an American missionary friend, fluent in Thai, struggle while he interpreted for a visiting American pastor. I asked him why it was so hard and he told me, “he’s using theological words we don’t have in the Thai language!” Many words in English have no Thai equivalent, as is true in most languages.

When I traveled to Ethiopia and moved about the capital city of Addis Ababa, I felt little isolation as I had in my Thailand experience. But then we traveled a day and a half to a remote village in southern Ethiopia—once again I felt isolated. I was the only white face in the entire village, probably the region since it was so remote. The food was very different, but good. We stayed in fairly primitive rooms with no private toilet, air-conditioning, English television, Internet connection, or telephone available. We were hundreds of miles across desert lands from the airport I had flown into and from where I would depart. But I had Ayele who proved to be a great help. He was far more than my interpreter and guide—he became a good friend.

My friend Ayele is well educated and articulate in English. He is a bright and capable young man, and was a great partner in the ministry there. Ayele had grown up in the village where we traveled to, but they spoke a completely different dialect than the national language, Amharic. The teaching materials I sent over were translated into Amharic for Ayele, while I spoke in English. In the first teaching session it became apparent Ayele needed to translate things into the local dialect. It was difficult for him at first, since he had not spoken in it for many years.

Since the materials were not in the local dialect, I also needed to adjust. How could I have them refer to the workbook more suited to a western mindset, if I didn’t adjust? It would be a waste of time—theirs, Ayele’s, and mine. I used stories from the Bible to explain certain truths, and interpreted the workbook’s lessons into simple wording. Ayele interpreted my English into Amharic in his mind, then into the local dialect. God helped us through the process and the people were blessed. It was one of the most memorable and favorite teaching experiences I’ve had.

The book of Acts opens where the Gospel of Luke leaves off—Jesus gives His apostles important instructions and exhortations before He is taken up into Heaven. His final command is to wait in Jerusalem for “the Promise of the Father.” This Promise was the indwelling presence and power of God’s Spirit—the Holy Spirit. He would enable and empower the disciples as the Lord’s personal representatives on earth—His emissaries, if you will, of the Kingdom of God.[i]

Growing up in a traditional church with centuries old traditions and liturgies (forms of service), the church seemed like a great institution. A person could become part of this impressive organization, but there were certain guidelines for behaving within it. When I became of age (twelve years old), I endured many Saturday mornings of formal training to be confirmed as a member of the church. After the training, a formal church service publicly confirmed those who completed the training. The Vicar laid his hands upon each of us to receive the Holy Spirit.[ii]

Unfortunately, I went through the training and laying on of hands without understanding what took place. I was immature and ignorant of the meaning and value of the training. What takes place in Acts 2—the outpouring of the Holy Spirit—the giving of “the Promise of the Father,” was what I was to experience through the Vicar’s prayer. Years later, when I experienced this outpouring in a genuine way, I understood the value of that public ceremony. I finally realized the great privilege and blessing of God’s presence and power living inside me.

The birth of the church happens in Acts 2:1–4. The 120 believers, who experienced this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, began to function as the Lord’s living witnesses on earth from this day forward.[iii] This supernatural event takes place during one of Israel’s great feasts, the Feast of Pentecost. It was a celebration of the nation’s harvest time in early autumn, seven weeks after the Feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits—when the Lord Jesus was crucified and resurrected.[iv]

The event in this upper room with one hundred twenty believers caused quite a stir. Many visitors crowded into Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Pentecost, men from many nations who spoke various languages. The rushing sound of the mighty wind and the believers speaking in various “tongues” or languages caught their attention. But they didn’t understand what went on, as verses 11–12 tell us, “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

What took place had never occurred before. Picture the simultaneous confusion and amazement these “men from every nation under heaven” experienced. It startled and unsettled them. Many people have this same unsettling experience when they first encounter Christian believers or attend a church. The Christianese (Bible phrases and cliches Christians use) can baffle nonbelievers or the uninitiated new believer, sounding like a foreign dialect of English.

Spiritual truth must be understood in a spiritual frame of reference. This won't come from intellectual reasoning and analysis, it must be the work of God's Spirit, the Holy Spirit. As the story of Acts 2:1-40 unfolds, Peter addresses the men gathered from many nations and explains what took place (in Acts 2:1-4). Because Peter was filled with the presence and power of God's Spirit he could explain things in a simple clear way.

This is the responsibility every Christian believer has whether professionally trained or not. How is this possible? Knowing God personally and having His Spirit dwell in you. Knowing God's story and being familiar with the truth in His written word (the Bible). It doesn't need to be complicated, it just needs to be real. People long for what is genuine.

Is your faith genuine? Is your relationship with God visible to others? When you relate to others unfamiliar with God's kingdom do you relate spiritual truth to them in words they can understand and that don't sound foreign? These are honest questions all true believers need to ask and answer for themselves—if we are going to be a genuine reflection of God's love and kindness.

[Here's another excerpt of my book, "The Mystery of the Gospel"]


[i]Reference– Acts 1:4, 8– This Promise (the Holy Spirit) was spoken of in John and Luke’s gospels. The promise speaks of an abiding or continuing presence of God’s Spirit within a believer.
[ii]Initially I was raised in the Episcopal Church (of America) with a similar catechism as its sister denomination, the Anglican Church of England.
[iii]In Acts 1:15, it speaks of 120 believers gathered for regular prayer from the time of Jesus’ ascension (going up into heaven) until ten days later at the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). This is seen as the “birth of the church” because the Holy Spirit stayed in the believers, and 3,000 believers were added after Peter’s message and exhortation (Ac 2: 41).
[iv]In that specific year, those three feasts (Passover, Unleavened Bread and First Fruits) fell together on consecutive days corresponding to the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection (see Leviticus 23 for a list of feasts).

The Hitchhiker and The Cross

On a hot summer day, I drove across the lower desert valley towards Palm Springs. In the lower desert, summer days can be exceptionally hot! Summer days in the southwestern desert of America are intense—like opening an oven set on high, then sticking your head inside it. If you’re out in that kind of heat it can do some harm! It dries you out quickly, causing heat stroke or worse.

I was a Christian believer involved with a nearby church and retreat ministry and spotted a hitchhiker along the road. I decided to have mercy on him. I also saw it as an opportunity to share my faith. He got in and we exchanged the usual greetings. As I drove, I asked him about his life and if he knew the Lord. I had plenty of witnessing experiences, but was unprepared for what unfolded.

The young man took great exception with what I said and began arguing with me. Actually, he began cursing my religion and me. He shouted at the top of his lungs, “How can you believe in a God who would kill His own son in such a bloody sacrifice?” As we approached a busy intersection, he opened his door and jumped out of the car before we had stopped. Walking across the adjacent lane, he continued shouting and cursing at me. His reaction stunned me.
Many people find it difficult to understand why God would allow His only Son to die a horrible death upon the Cross. Plenty of people reject Christianity for this very reason, though not as vehemently as this hitchhiker. The whole concept of Jesus’ blood cleansing someone of sin is hard to comprehend, especially in our day of advanced technology and education. The idea of a blood sacrifice was not hard to accept in Jesus’ day, and was common among ancient people. Even today, people in other cultures are familiar with sacrifices involving blood.

My personal observation is that many believers do not understand the essence of Christ’s death. Many focus on His physical suffering and gruesome death, but it is the spiritual truth—the purpose for His death—that is most important. In theology, it’s called the Atonement of Christ.

His death is the pivot point for understanding Jesus' great reconciling work on the Cross. The text of Hebrews 9:11–10:18 sheds light on the uniqueness of Jesus as a Savior, portrayed as the High Priest who offers a perfect sacrifice for the atonement of sin. He is the very sacrifice Himself.

A deeper significance to this atonement is His blood—the requirement for true reconciliation according to the Old Covenant. His blood establishes a New Covenant—a new relationship of commitment between God and those who trust in Him by faith. This change in covenants moves relationship from a requirement of obedience to empowerment—from restriction to freedom.*

The Father's redemptive heart demonstrated through the love of His Son Jesus upon the Cross encompasses more than forgiveness of sin. It certainly includes forgiveness, an all-inclusive forgiveness for the world (John 3:16). But it is also a turning point in how people can be in relationship with the one, true, and living God. Though often misunderstood and misconstrued when viewed through the lens of humanity, it is a powerful expression of love beyond our full comprehension.
There is both a simplicity and depth to the reconciling event of Jesus' death on the Cross. It's seems too simple a solution. And yet, when a person begins to understand some of its depth and fullness, it is humbling.
What's your view of the Cross? How has it liberated you? How does it empower you in your relationship with the Lord and in daily life?

*another excerpt from my upcoming book, now in it's final editing for corrections process

A Spiritual Encounter

During the sixties and seventies hitchhiking was common for young people searching for adventure or the meaning of life. An urban legend among the Jesus Generation featured an angel of God visiting people as a hitchhiker. The story goes like this—someone is driving along a road, spots a hitchhiker and stops to pick him up. As they travel along, the hitchhiker turns to the driver and announces, “The Lord Jesus is coming back soon!” In the next instant, the driver turns towards the hitchhiker but he’s vanished. The meaning of the story was simple—be ready for the Lord’s return! I did my share of hitchhiking in those days, and I picked up plenty of hitchhikers, but I never had this experience, nor could I verify the story of the visiting, hitchhiking angel.[i]

Recently, a good friend of mine gave a first hand account of a visiting angel. This is no urban legend, but his own account of someone who visited his mother in a hospital in Georgia, as she lay ravaged by cancer. Mario was near the end of his training in Navy flight school in northwest Florida. When it was clear his mother was near death, and against the advice of his instructor, he abruptly took leave to visit his mother before she died.

Mario’s mother read the Bible every day for as long as he could remember, but she didn’t have a personal assurance in her heart of God’s forgiveness. It was a Saturday morning, and the hospital chaplain had promised to stop by for a visit, but something came up and he couldn’t make it. Another pastor, an African-American man dressed in a red shirt and blue jeans, arrived at her room unannounced with balloons and flowers. He told them they were for someone else who was already released from the hospital. Mario’s mother, Frances, was in a room near a nurse’s station at the end of a closed corridor. Another nurse’s station sat at the other end of the hallway where the elevator was located, with a waiting room and the only access and exit door for the floor.

As the pastor came in the room, he saw Francis was near death. Greeting her by her first name, which was not posted anywhere outside or inside the room, she rose up in bed and smiled. This alone amazed Mario since her body was riddled with cancer, with her spine no longer able to support her. The pastor asked her if she was ready to meet the Lord, and she admitted her uncertainty. When he offered to pray for her, Mario’s mom gladly accepted his offer and entered into a personal relationship with the Lord that morning.

The pastor completed his visit and went out of the room, off to whatever else required his attention that day. As the hospital door shut behind the pastor, Mario followed right after him. Opening the door, he didn’t see the pastor in the hallway. He went to the nurse’s desk to ask where he had gone, but they hadn’t seen any “man in a red shirt and blue jeans.” Puzzled, my friend proceeded to the other nurse’s station, near the waiting room with the elevator. They had not seen the man, nor did they have any idea where he went.

My friend and his sister went over and over the details of the pastor’s visit. They had seen him, talked with him, heard him greet their mother and pray with her. How could he just disappear? Even to this day, Mario and his sister talk with reverence about this encounter with the mysterious pastor. Was he a visiting angel? They never tracked this man down to verify it, but their hearts tell them he was.

In my book (now in final editorial review!), this is the introduction to what I call the encounter on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-33. Jesus appears and joins two of His disciples on their way from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus about seven miles away. The disciples don't recognize Him until they later break bread (eat supper) with HIm. Then their eyes open but He disappears from their presence. They realize it was HIm all along because their "hearts burned" while He explained the Scriptures related to His death and resurrection.

Maybe you haven't experienced a visiting angel (Heb 13:2), then again, maybe you have. But have you ever had a sense of God speaking to you "after the fact?" At the time He spoke you didn't realize it. There wasn't a loud speaker or sign in the sky, but later you realized God was revealing Himself, a truth, or He giving you some insight.

Belief is not a matter of intelligence quota or lack thereof. It is a deeper spiritual knowledge. When it's a belief in the one, true and living God it's called faith. How does it develop? The more we know Him, the more it deepens. How do we know Him? Through revelation by the Holy Spirit, understanding of His written word (the Bible), and living our lives in faith—an implicit, developing trust in Him.

Have you had any spiritual encounters like my friend Mario or these two disciples? Maybe it wasn't quite so obvious or dramatic, but if you have, if your heart has "burned" with the presence of God, appreciate it. It's part of how God makes Himself known and real in our lives.


[i]“The Vanishing Hitchhiker” is an urban legend having different versions with some history — http://goo.gl/35tZl | http://goo.gl/3aHCp

Our Story and God's Plan

 

The movie, “The Passion of Christ,” surprised many people with its success, especially its strongest critics. It’s vivid portrayal of Christ’s death stirred strong emotions and was spoken against by believers in Christ and nonbelievers. Its purpose and intention was misunderstood by many people.
Some spoke blasphemous, sacrilegious things about the movie and its content, while others saw it as sacred. It impacted all who saw it one way or another, shocked by the graphic portrayal of the suffering and death of Jesus the Messiah. Many were moved to great emotion both during and following their viewing of it, and it took a personal toll on the director-producer and the star who portrayed Jesus.
Similar reactions can be seen in the account of Matthew 27:27-56. My question is, what follows the reaction? What impact lasts beyond the reaction? Unless it is understood, a person may be left with unresolved questions—What does it all mean? What makes this so significant? This story needs to be heard by the heart.
My wife and I have collected many stories over the years, while ministering in the Philippines and working with abandoned babies and children, and abused girls. Each child, young or old, has a story. Some stories are intensely heart wrenching. Freddy’s saga is an incredible story of neglect, tragedy, and disappointment, with an extraordinary resolve.
Freddy is one of three brothers who came to Rainbow Village. His older brother, Wilmer, was deaf and could not speak clearly. Both the younger brothers spoke with the same guttural, indistinguishable sounds as the oldest. When the brothers came to us, they were quarantined for a week out of concern for infectious hepatitis. Their father died of hepatitis after their young mother abandoned them. Their elderly grandparents cared for them the best they could, but locked them inside a small nipa hut all day as they went to work.
These boys had never seen white-skinned people before our family, nor electricity or indoor plumbing, and were unprepared for living in a clean, stable environment. They were scared, terrified, and they freaked out! Thankfully, we all survived that first week.
Not long after they arrived, we discovered the oldest brother had a major heart problem that required surgery we could not afford on missionary support. Amazingly, God provided the means for the surgery. It was successful, but there was a long recovery, and only a few months afterwards, a tragic fire swept through our new building. Freddy’s two brothers were among five children lost in that fire. We were all devastated, but Freddy had lost his only family.
Within a month after the fire, an Australian mission team arrived to help with the rebuilding process. One of the Aussie’s had taken a real liking to Freddy and believed he and his wife were to adopt him. Because Freddy was older (five years at that time), the Australian government wouldn’t allow a normal adoption. It’s a long convoluted story, but the only workable solution required Helen and Ferg to move to the Philippines for processing the adoption.
They were committed to it, so Ferg sold his business, moved his family to Dumaguete City, and worked alongside us for a couple years. Ferg and Helen were a great blessing, as friends and coworkers, but the adoption hit another snag. The Australian government was still unwilling to accept their case because of bureaucratic red tape. They were disconsolate and moved back to their home in Australia with their hearts torn out, as was Freddy’s.
Because Freddy’s case[i]had gone on so long, the adoption board insisted on matching him with a family, even if the family was not a great match. Freddy was excited—at long last he would have a family of his own! The wait was excruciating for him, for all of us. Finally the day came for his family to arrive, but the union did not go well. Nevertheless, Freddy put his best smile on and went off with the family, leaving his Rainbow Village family and home.
Less than two weeks later, the mother decided she didn’t want Freddy. Although rare, failed adoptions happen. Once again, Freddy was devastated. He was kept in Manila for therapy and placement, but we prevailed for his return to Rainbow with much pleading and intercession. Freddy returned, but a noticeable sadness and disappointment lingered in his heart.
One day, Susan sat on our porch watching the children play in the yard. Freddy ran up to her, handed her a crumpled paper, and ran back off to play. Scrawled on the paper Freddy had written, “I miss my mommy, my daddy, my lolo and lola (grandpa and grandma), Jesan and Wilmer (his brothers).”
Susan’s heart sank as she wondered, “How can I encourage him, Lord?” The story of Job came to mind, so she searched through the children’s Bible storybooks she had, but couldn’t find Job’s story—it’s not the usual child’s story. Eventually she found a readable version to share with Freddy. He listened to Job’s story of loss, injustice, and grief followed by great restoration. He turned to Susan and asked, “Does this mean I’ll have my own mommy and daddy and family again?”
“Yes! Yes,” Susan exclaimed! Freddy ran off all smiles with simple trust in this promise.
Soon Freddy was his usual charming and mischievous self, as he grew through puberty. And yet another twist in the story came, as if scripted for a movie. At a conference, the head of adoptions in Australia met the head of the international adoption board of the Philippines. Freddy’s case came up and they began to work on a solution—surely there was a way to legally place this young man with a family who loved him and never gave up on him. Amazingly, after much heartache and loss, Freddy had a family!

It was quite the reunion when Ferg and Helen traveled from Australia! Everyone at Rainbow was thrilled, though a little sad to say goodbye after so many years. We had a great sending off party, and Freddy and his folks have since returned for several visits. It is a remarkable story of hope lost and restored. Of course, there are many questions as to why God allowed so many roadblocks along the way? But, God had a plan all along.

What's going on in your life story? Are you wondering if God has a plan at work, or does it seem like your life is a random set of circumstances? Nothing takes God by surprise, though we are often unsettled by what takes place in our lives. Faith requires trust. Faith enables us to see beyond circumstances to see God's hand at work (Hebrews 11:1, 6).

This is another excerpt from the book to be published soon.


[i]Each child that comes to Rainbow Villageis under our care through the authority of the Philippine government’s Dept. of Social Welfare Development. Each child has a case file that tracks their life until they are adopted or reunited with their biological family.

God Came to Earth

A few years ago I flew into the modern airport of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I had never met Ayele, the young man who would become my friend and partner over the next couple weeks, as my guide and assistant in ministry. Though we had written back and forth many times, we hadn’t worked out our meeting at the airport. I knew he would greet me as I came out of the terminal, but how would I recognize him? No worries, he would recognize me—I would stand out as a lone Caucasian among the noble and handsome Ethiopians!

Several years before this, two young Filipino women, MJ and Ruchell, were sent out from our school in the Philippines to Thailand. They fit right in among the Thais, often mistaken as being Thai. People would speak to them, but they couldn’t understand the Thai language. They looked like the Thais because they were of a nearby culture and people, unlike me in Ethiopia or Asia.
If God were to come down to earth, what would you expect Him to look like? You’ve probably seen pictures portraying Jesus. I’ve seen paintings of Jesus from China and Japan, and He looked very Asian in them. In western countries, He looks more Scandinavian than of Semitic descent. When we imagine another place or person, we draw on what is familiar to us. When visiting another place or meeting a person for the first time, the real experience is different than we imagined.
What do you think God would look like as a human? How do you think he would live His life, or even do things like eat and drink and sleep? Everyone has some perception of what God is like. The Bible reveals who God is by nature, and the Gospels give a personal account of when God came to earth as a human. He was not recognized for who He was, in fact, His own people rejected Him. After three years of public ministry among the people, Jesus was pointed out from a crowd with a kiss from His betrayer. Apparently, He didn’t stand out enough to be recognized, and didn’t meet the expectations of the people He visited.
The passage of John 1:1-18, the beginning of the Gospel of John, is the beginning of the Gospel story, a true story. God, the Creator, the One who spoke and brought everything into existence, came and lived among people on the earth. He, the Word of Life—the very light and life of all humanity—entered the world He created. A man named John was sent to announce His arrival into the world, but most people paid no attention to this message or to the Light Himself. Still, all the darkness of the world could not hide or stifle the Light. Even though those created as His own unique people rejected Him, some accepted and trusted in Him. He brought them into the family of God through a spiritual birth unlike that of this world.
The Word of Life revealed the very nature of God, through a life full of grace and truth. He made a way for man to have relationship with God, because He came into the world as a man. He was announced as the One who was eternal. The world only knew God through a relationship of laws presented through the man named Moses. When the Word of Life came, now in the place of authority beside God the Father, He revealed a new way of relationship governed by God’s kindness and truth. The Word of Life, the Light of all mankind, has revealed God who is invisible.

Here's another excerpt from my upcoming book. I just finished rewriting it all and it's resubmitted to the publisher for review. Hopefully it will be available in a few months.

The Core of the Gospel

MJ_sharing
MJ_sharing

Culture has an amazing impact upon people. It subtly shapes their worldview of everything in life, from birth through adulthood.

This impact is strong and resistant to change, but it will change given sufficient cause. The change can be either good or bad depending on one’s worldview, values, or beliefs.

For example, the enslavement of Africans, abducted and traded as if they were cattle, was culturally acceptable in European countries and America. Now, it is illegal and immoral. But that change did not come easily.

A major culture change

A British Member of Parliament named William Wilberforce challenged his prevailing culture in the late eighteenth century. He proposed legislative measures at great cost to his reputation, wealth, and health for more than forty years.

But change came in 1833 when slavery was made illegal in England. It had a ripple effect felt across the oceans of the world, which included the newly established United States of America, the former colonial territory of Great Britain. [1]

Religion and culture

In many countries around the world, religious conviction is tied to the intrinsic culture.

The Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic, with a strong contingent of Evangelical (Protestant) Christianity, a significant Muslim minority, and ancient folk traditions. Many Filipinos struggle with becoming born again, [2] because of the strong influence of Roman Catholicism—it’s rituals, traditions, and longevity.

Thailand is primarily Buddhist. Many Thais find it difficult to distinguish their national identity from their religion. Likewise in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the world’s largest population of Muslims reside. In many countries, it is illegal to proselytize someone of Islamic faith towards another faith.

The impact of culture

In the early 2000's, our Bible school in the Philippines sent out two young Filipinas as missionaries to Thailand.

MJ and Ruchell learned the Thai language quickly, and made friendships with ease. They lived out their Christianity with genuineness and simplicity, and were well received by their neighbors, including the landlord of the simple apartment they rented in Chiang Mai.

As they built relationships, they offered prayer for their new friends. Prayer was accepted with gratefulness. But when it came to accepting the Gospel and Jesus, who was unknown to them, there was resistance.

They were Thai. They were Buddhists. They were afraid of changing their religion and no longer being true Thais.

American culture and Christianity

America’s culture  is known for its respect for individual rights. As a result, Christianity in America is often self-focused and personalized.

Based on versions of the gospel, as given by popular preachers, many people regard Jesus as their best friend, someone personally interested in them, but not as their sovereign Lord. It is such a prevalent view it’s been categorized as a religious belief of its own—Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. [3]

A popular worship song about the Lord’s death on the cross goes,

“You took the fall and thought of me, above all....” [4]

The Father’s purpose for Jesus going to the Cross was, indeed, to bring redemption for all people. But a self-focused bias is not reflected in the biblical version of the gospel, but is in a plethora of popular songs, teachings, and various Christian self-help books.

Culture bias

This cultural bias is exported around the world, reflecting an American, self-absorbed view of Jesus and the Gospel, which adulterates the gospel message. This has a crippling, often tragic effect.

The Gospel can be minimized and reduced into brief terms. When this happens, its importance and significance is overlooked. Biblical truth may be talked about and discussed without being passed on to those who need to hear it.

Ministries in America can focus more on getting people into the church than caring for the physical and spiritual needs of the people. Worship services can be more focused on presentation and performance than the Lord Himself, whom it is all intended to exalt.

A distorted focus

Are believers in churches being discipled unto the Lord Himself, or trained for doing certain tasks? The need to accomplish a list of spiritual activities can take the place of spending personal and intimate time with the Lord.

Things like spending time in prayer, devotions, reading the Scripture, serving in various ministries, and so on, are good things, but not an end in themselves.

The Lord desires His people to give themselves to Him.

These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:8-9 NKJV)

I want you to be merciful; I don't want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that's more important than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6 NLT)

It's all about Him, not us

Christian activity can look past what is most important—the personal element. The Christian life is far more than the sum of all Christian activities to be done.

What the Lord considers most important is revealed in the story of Matthew 16:13–28. It’s not complicated or theoretical, but simple and essential.

It is the core of the Essential Gospel and the Christian life. It runs counter to the culture of the day—the culture then and now.

Whether the culture is primitive or sophisticated, the Gospel and the call to follow Jesus is not “...all about me,” nor any individual. It’s all about Jesus.

Do you see your own culture's influence in how you view Christianity?

This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling the Mystery

Footnotes for this excerpt are below

[1] Reference for William Wilberforce— http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wilberforce

[2] Born again is a term Jesus used in John 3:3-8 when talking to Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee. It has become synonymous with a personal faith conversion to orthodox Christianity, especially within evangelical circles.

[3] Here are a couple links to articles about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)—

http://goo.gl/RvllH | https://goo.gl/fxIwRm

[4] The lyrics are from the song, “Above All,” by Lenny LeBlanc

Tapestry of the Gospel

Karen conference in N Thailand ©tkBeyond
Picture a tapestry woven with five different colors of thread. Choose some bold colors like red, blue, green, and perhaps some purple and gold. Or choose your own colors and imagine someone at a weaver’s frame with five different shuttles. The tapestry begins to take shape as the weaver moves the shuttles back and forth across the frame. It may take some time before you see the completed fabric, but when finished it will be bold and beautiful.

In my travels and ministry in northern Thailand, I’ve been blessed to see some beautiful weaving firsthand. Many of the Karen (Kayin) people are refugees within western Thailand because of persecution by the Burmese dictatorship in Myanmar. Originally, Karen people were from the southern and eastern portion of Burma, now called Myanmar.
The design and colors selected by the Karen in their woven garments and bags have significance. The direction of stripes is an indication of gender. If the stripes run vertical, this indicates a male (regardless of age), and if horizontal, the person is female. The colors and patterns also have significance to geography and tribal origins. The weaving is not random, but has meaning.
In this passage from Matthew’s gospel (Matt 4:12-25), I see five threads woven into a tapestry of Jesus’ gospel message and the ministry flowing from it. These five threads are elements of gospel ministry woven throughout all four of the Gospels, and are the focus of this chapter. Each thread is an element that belongs in ministry wherever the gospel is made known. As God’s tapestry was being woven, the early disciples could not see it, nor did the crowds who followed Him. When it was completed, it was much different than they expected. Hopefully, the tapestry of gospel ministry will become clearer, more vibrant, and more personal for you in exploring God’s story.
This is an excerpt from my soon to be published book, The Mystery of the Gospel. This is the beginning of a chapter I'll be posting in part from week to week. If you like it, share it—see the sharing options in the right-hand border of this blog... thanks for reading!
Also—a mission team from our Filipino home church in Dumaguete City is now in Thailand working with our missionary friends, the Johansen's, among the Karen... please pray for fruitful ministry, thanks!

Christian Language and Gospel Ignorance

A growing number of people in North America and Europe have no background or understanding of Christianity. One reason could be the great influx of immigrants from many nations. But an increasing segment of Western society has grown unengaged and uninterested in Christianity, the result of a shift in culture.

America’s culture is becoming both post-modern and post-Christian. Many sources discuss this at length, but I won’t here.[i] Europe and Canada have preceded the US in this cultural shift, but America is not far behind.

The church cannot stop this cultural shift, nor can they ignore it. Some will argue this point, but denying or resisting this shift will only bring insulation and isolation from people the church wants to reach. Christian believers need to understand this and make the necessary adjustments for addressing this major change in culture.

More and more new believers, responding to the gospel and God’s invitation into His Kingdom, come into churches with a limited understanding of Christianity—its beliefs, practices, terminology, and expected lifestyle.

How can Christian believers communicate to people so they hear the truth and respond to Jesus? Billions of people in the world—yes, billions![ii]have never heard the gospel or even the name of Jesus once in their lives, or in their own language. A rapidly growing Muslim population throughout the world appears closed to the gospel, even though the Koran speaks of Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah) as a prophet.[iii]Again I ask, how can believers convey the gospel so they can hear it?

Many people lack a frame of reference for understanding the words, terms, and biblical references used by Christian believers. Collectively, they become a foreign language to nonbelievers and new believers. It’s called Christianese—a specialized dialect of English.[iv]

Special words and terms are common in most fields of study and called field-dependent terms—words and phrases with specific meanings. Various branches of the sciences, academics and education, politics, and even subcultures like street gangs, have their own lingo—a language specific to their field of reference. Christianity, with its field of study called theology, is no different.

Christians often use specific words and terms with meanings understood within the church—at least it appears that way. My experience as a pastor and cross-cultural missionary tells me differently. Many Christian believers cannot explain these specialized words and terms in plain English so a nonbeliever could understand. This helps make the gospel a mystery to people.

When Christian clichés, and what I call Bible talk,[v]are used outside their field of reference (the church) people unfamiliar with these words and terms will not understand them. Having traveled many places in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, I know the feeling of hearing a foreign language and not understanding what’s being said. It’s similar to being in a movie with subtitles, but you can’t see and read the subtitles because you’re one of the characters in the movie!

In some conversations and settings, I am expected to respond, and though wanting to, I can’t. This is the predicament Christians often put nonbelievers in, and even new believers uninitiated to Christianese. To be fair, most believers don’t realize they do this.

Two issues are at work here. One is the lack of understanding on the part of the nonbeliever or new believer, who doesn’t understand what is being said. The second issue is with the believer who uses Christianese, and doesn’t understand the terms they themselves use. This is revealed when a person attempts to explain what they say in non-Christian words and can’t.

Experience—the Great Teacher

Over the years I stumbled upon a simple test of someone’s understanding of Christian terms and theology. Can a person put Christian and Biblical words in his or her own words? It’s a simple way of communicating Christianese to unbelievers and new believers alike. I use the acronym IYOW—In Your Own Words—to describe the process. It seems simple, but is not as easy as it sounds.

I didn’t discover this through extensive research, but in much humbler ways. As a pastor, I’m responsible to feed the sheep, that is, teach the Bible—its doctrine and practice—to help God’s people grow spiritually.

I founded a church in Southern California’s high desert in 1978, with my wife and three children, ages newborn to five years. Our fourth child came a few years after the church started. My older children would hear things in Sunday school and church services and have questions, and ask dad these questions at inopportune times.

It seemed much easier to teach adults than children, so I thought. With adults I could use all the Christian theological terms without explaining them. But when my children asked me to explain these same things, I found myself fumbling to explain things in simple, clear words. Apparently, I hadn’t learned my lesson with the Sunday school class well enough.

More than a few times my oldest daughter, Becky, would ask simple, heartfelt questions on our way to a church service. “Dad, how can God be one and still be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?” As a pastor, my mind was filled with things to do before the service began, as well as my message. I was not prepared to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to my sweet, elementary-aged daughter in a simple, clear manner. The reality is, it challenged me, and brought a change in my whole approach to teaching.

My experience in the Philippines, as a teacher of pastors, leaders, and Bible School students, confirmed the importance of this while teaching in an environment where English was a second language, but Christianity was familiar.

The Philippines is often proclaimed as the only Christian nation in Asia, so students used Christian terms frequently. But I realized many of the students didn’t have a full understanding of these words and phrases.

I got a partial clue early on, getting settled into Philippine culture. We were part of a little barrio church with many small children, and where some of the worship songs were sung in English. One Sunday morning, during greeting time, I started speaking to one of the children whom I’d seen singing. My wife said, “They don’t understand what you’re saying.” I replied, “But they’re singing the songs in English, aren’t they?”

Because I was a bit slow on the uptake, my wife explained they sang in English because that’s how they learned the songs. The children didn’t know what the words meant. Similarly, I could speak a little of the dialect, but didn’t understand the language beyond a few familiar words and phrases.

When people use certain words and terms, and quote Scripture texts, this does not mean they have a clear grasp of what they are saying. It may seem clear to the speaker, but can the person explain these same things in simple words? If not, what’s spoken sounds like a secret code language to the uninitiated unless someone explains it to them.

This is another excerpt from my upcoming book. I'm in the final stages of rewriting it, but the last couple weeks have been sneak peeks. I appreciate any feedback—constructive, please ;-)...


[i]There are many books and articles written on post-modern, post-Christian trends, here are some ones I’ve read and recommend— The End of the World as We Know It, C Smith Jr. (2001 WaterBrook Press); Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, by DA Carson (2005 Zondervan). Online articles— http://goo.gl/emWyu | http://goo.gl/yVFBo
[ii]With the world population hitting seven (7) billion at the end of 2011, statistics fluctuate for numbering the billions of unreached and least reached peoples in the world. However, there are organizations dedicated to researching this (see the following links). Joshua Project— http://www.joshuaproject.net/index.php| Operation World— http://www.operationworld.org/| US Center for World Mission— http://www.uscwm.org/
[iii]Isa al Masih is the anglicized term for the Arab name/title of Jesus the Messiah or Jesus (the) Christ. The Koran (the anglicized spelling for Quran or Qur’an) is Islam’s book of sacred writings. Muslims are followers of Islam and the prophet, Mohammed.
[iv]Here are some websites devoted to Christianese— http://dictionaryofchristianese.com/ | http://goo.gl/nssqu| http://goo.gl/aKFDV| http://www.internetevangelismday.com/jargon.php| http://goo.gl/2Y1Bp(also see “Common Christianese Terms” in the Glossary)

[v]Christianese can come in many forms—common clichés, Bible references or words from familiar Bible texts, and theological terms (more academic). I call these Bible talk because they are based on words and phrases in the Bible or in reference to texts in the Bible.