culture

His Identity is Written on His Thigh

Jesus, tattoos, and identity

Photo credit:  Wordpress.com

Photo credit: Wordpress.com

Driving through town with my 12-year old grandson, I mentioned how many tattoo shops I saw. It seemed normal to him. But not to me. There’s a fifty-year gap in life experience between us, yet a closeness in our relationship. Neither of us have any tattoos…yet.

People who had tattoos when I was twelve usually had life experience in the military, a gang, or prison. What can I say, I led a sheltered life.

Times have changed! It was a different time then but there were other cultural expressions I embraced — long hair, beads, tie-dye, bell-bottoms. That’s how I see tattoos now — a personal cultural expression or identity.

What hasn’t changed is the purpose for tattoos. It’s an identity thing, always has been. Tattoos are symbolic and personal in cultures throughout the world.

Tattoos are symbolic and personal...

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The complete post of His Identity Is Written on His thigh is in Faith Hacking on Medium

How Do We Follow the Example of Our Good Shepherd?

Photo by  Jaka Škrlep  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jaka Škrlep on Unsplash

What is your perception of the role and work of a pastor? Considerable instruction and guidance are found in the Bible but pop culture also has a lot to say about it and a bit too much influence.

The Bible is the primary and obvious guide pastors and leaders ought to seek first. I think most do but expectations based on current trends and opinions compete with it in a strong way.

When expectations of pastors are driven by business leadership guidelines and principles, and a result-oriented culture, the role and work of pastors are easily skewed. Read more...


This post was written for Poimen Ministries but I thought I'd include it on Word-Strong this week. Just click the "Read more..." link to read the whole post.

Here are a few other posts I've written for Poimen Ministries but that weren't posted to Word-Strong (just click on the titles)

Biblical Knowledge or Biblical Ignorance?

Simple Not Simplistic

Teaching with Authority

Many Altars but One Gospel

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Most religions have some form of an altar as a means of worship. Primitive altars are where sacrifices, sometimes animals or humans, were made to appease a deity or god. In the Old Testament, altars were part of the worship of Israel using prescribed sacrifices for specific reasons.

Altars can also be figurative. In most traditional churches, a table or cabinet serves as an altar where certain elements of the worship service are placed. More contemporary churches might consider the front platform area as an altar.

Physical altars or places to offer gifts or sacrifices are common in many cultures around the world. I'm more familiar with Thailand and the Philippines. I've traveled and ministered in Thailand many times. It has an abundance of altars in many places.

Most religions have some form of an altar as a means of worship

Land of many altars

Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist nation, and Buddhism breeds and thrives on an animistic belief. One look around at all the spirit houses and altars or shrines erected throughout the nation makes this clear.

It is difficult to preach the Gospel in Thailand and see genuine conversions to following Christ—both culturally and spiritually. The truth can get lost in the various layers of culture and spirituality present in Thailand and in other nations.

Living in another culture different than your own helps you see things from a different perspective.  This is one of the values of true cross-cultural missions. In a sense, I had two home cultures—American and Filipino—while living in the Philippines for fifteen years.

Living in another culture than your own helps you see things from a different perspective

Although they are quite different from each other—one is western and the other eastern philosophically—a vast difference exists between both of those cultures and Thai culture, at least on the surface.

Is there really that much difference between how Christianity is practiced in America, Roman Catholicism in the Philippines, and Buddhism in Thailand? Perhaps not as much as you think.

Buddhism and altars

Buddhism with its thousands of gods is intertwined in its origin with Hinduism, an ancient religion with millions of gods or deities. How can there be so many gods?

Most ancient religions were prone to associating deity or god-likeness with creation. This is noted in the first chapter of Romans (Rom 1:25). It's termed animism—the worship of non-human things as if they had souls or spirits.

Animism exists throughout the world today, even in unexpected places and ways.

It's common to see small altars of fruit, toys, incense, and other things offered in many places to many gods throughout Thailand. Ancestor worship is also mixed into many ancient religions with animistic belief systems.

Most ancient religions were prone to associating deity or god-likeness with creation

Roman Catholic shrines

Throughout the Philippines, it is common to see both Roman Catholic statues or images along with Chinese religious symbols, where ancestor worship is common. Shrines to Mary and to the infant Jesus are found in homes, businesses, as well as in churches.

Riding in a Filipino cab one day, I noticed the driver—a Roman Catholic—had a Chinese religious symbol hanging from his mirror and a Christian image or two on his dashboard. As he drove me across town, we talked about Jesus. "He's my protector, I trust in Him," said my taxi driver. 

It made me realize how many Christians in America have a similar approach to covering all the bases. Of course, as evangelical Christians, we don't see it that way.

Many Christians in America have a covering-all-the-bases approach to their faith

American altars and shrines

People in animistic cultures have a difficult time with the typical western approach of sharing the Gospel in bits and pieces—"Jesus died for your sins" or "God so loved the world." It's difficult for them to disassociate these bits and pieces from what they already believe.

When bits of pieces of the truth spoken without their greater context come across as abstract truths. Abstract truths connected to testimonies of success and blessing as often occurs in evangelism, lack the scriptural frame of reference to be understood well.

People in such cultures can both accept and reject the Gospel readily. They pick and choose between what appeals to them and what doesn't fit their belief system and worldview of life.

Are American Christians much different than religious people in other places?

The church potluck

American Christians tend to pick and choose what does and does not appeal to them regarding the Gospel, and with doctrine and practice. It's as if the gospel and Christian beliefs are laid out on a table as with a church potluck.

Perhaps it doesn't seem this way, but consider how many different Christian churches exist. Often times, the only distinction between one church and another is the presentation or methodology of the church service itself.

There's too much to get sidetracked on with this issue, but consider what draws you to a certain church or type of worship service. What do you expect when you go to church?

American tend to pick and choose what they like and don't like about the Christian faith

Is your Christianity animistic?

For more than four decades, I've heard questions from prospective churchgoers like, "What do you have to offer that's better than the church down the street?"

Why are so many American Christians like this? Is it because we are so self-focused? Well, yes! 

We take the bits and pieces we hear of the gospel and Christianity and connect them to our own perceptions of blessing and success. In this way, our Christianity becomes more animistic than the gospel in the Bible.

Christians prefer bits and pieces of the gospel that connect to blessing and success

The western church promotes this with how we present the Gospel, Jesus, and various concepts of church-community. Consider the following questions—

What appeals to you about church, the Gospel (God's Story), and Jesus?
What is it you like or dislike? What makes you comfortable or uneasy?

Over the next couple weeks, I'll continue to look at this issue of altars and the gospel. Next week, I hope to challenge you to answer whether you come to God's altar or God's throne?

The gospel and animism—

The following articles may provoke you to thought, even upset you. I hope so. They are written by missionaries—one in Thailand and one in Zimbabwe in Africa. You can post responses on this blog or on social media— but let them be edifying and gracious

Animism and the Prosperity Gospel

Why Your Gospel May Be More Animistic Than You Think

The Core of the Gospel

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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 are 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 God's Story

Footnotes for this excerpt are below—

[1] Reference for William Wilberforce— 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

The FOMO Tree

unsplash.com_RBico

unsplash.com_RBico

I had two personal encounters this week that illustrate the present polarization in America. The first was a young millennial guy I met in a Starbucks parking lot. I saw his lavender, yellow, and blue school bus and remarked that I had friends who had one like it back in the 70's.

It was a throw-back moment seeing him with a 'fro and full beard, tie-dyed shirt, and beads telling me of the protests he and his group had gone to on behalf of Native Americans. It was reminiscent of the hippie movement of my day.

My second encounter came at a dinner with friends. During casual conversation, one of the older persons expressed his agreement with the current crackdown on illegal immigration, but with a broad, derogatory statement about all immigrants.

Both individuals are convinced of their very different views on current cultural issues. What a contrast! How did we, as citizens of the United States, get so polarized? It's nothing new and yet, it's not political. It goes deeper than that.

Back at the beginning

Last week, I looked at the beginning of the story of redemption in the Bible. The primary reason the Father sent His Son Jesus as the Redeemer of humanity is God's original purpose for creating humankind—humans were originally created in His image (Gen 1:26-27).

Each person, since the beginning of creation, has the imprint of God. But God's original purpose and design went awry.

After forming the first man (adam in Hebrew) from the basic elements of earth and breathing life into him, God placed him in a beautiful garden—a paradise. In the middle of this well-watered paradise, God planted two trees—the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:7-9).

God gave the man permission to eat the fruit of all the trees except one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

God also created a life partner for the man who fit him perfectly. The man (ish in Hebrew) called her woman (ishshah in Hebrew) because she was literally part of him (Gen 2:20-22). They lived together naked and without shame, innocent of any evil (Gen 2:24-25).

God was content with all that He created and He said it was all good (Gen 1:31–2:3).

The beginning of FOMO

This is not a fairy tale. There is no "happily ever after" in this story. Although the first man and woman were in a state of innocence in paradise, it didn't continue that way.

Among all the creatures God created, one was especially clever—the serpent. He could speak to the humans and one day he approached the woman and questioned if God told them not to eat the fruit of any tree (Gen 3:1).

The woman clarified there was only one tree they weren't to eat from—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent countered this truth with the first lie—

You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil. (Gen 3:4-5 MSG)

Here is the first occurrence of FOMO—the fear of missing out. The serpent's question created doubt and his lie stirred up a well-spring of insatiable curiosity. He deceived her into thinking God was holding out something better from then than what they knew.

FOMO is not based in culture, trends, or even curiosity but now it's embedded in our human nature. We and our self-will don't want to miss out on something better. We don't want to be denied what we want or could have.

The fall

And so, the woman looked at this beautiful tree and its desirable fruit that would make a person wise. She reached out, took the fruit, and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband.

After they ate the fruit, their new insight made them realize they were naked. They saw each other without the innocence they knew before. Shame set in, so they hurried to cover it with a garment of fig leaves (Gen 3:6-7).

They fell from the perfect relationship of trust they knew with God. They crossed a line, one they couldn't erase. Only their Creator would be able to restore the relationship back to what it had been.

Most of the time, I hear the fall of humanity reduced to an issue of disobedience. Consequently, redemption is focused on dealing with sin. Indeed, it was disobedience to God's command not to eat of that tree which is sin—it missed the mark of what God intended.

But, it's the lack of trust in God that led to FOMO and led to their selfish choice of disobedience. It is not just a matter of bad morality but a bad choice and broken trust.

The story so far

This isn't the end of the story but here's a summary of what's taken place so far.

God created the earth and universe and all that exists including all life on earth. He created a man and woman who were naked and unashamed and placed them in paradise with two exceptional trees, they were not to eat the fruit of one.

A talking creature deceived the woman into thinking God was holding something back from her and her husband, so they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. As soon as they ate, they realized they were naked and tried to cover their shame with leaves from a tree.

The story continues, but here are two important things to remember about God's redemption of humanity so far—

  1. All humans were created in the image of God—we all have God's imprint in us
  2. Trust was broken between God and the man and woman, which precipitated a selfish, willful decision on the part of the man and woman to rebel against God's authority

Next week

Next, I'll look at the consequences of this break in the relationship of trust between God and the man and woman (Adam and Eve), and the consequences for the serpent.

We'll also get a glimpse of God's plan to restore what was lost in paradise.

Until then... if you have some thoughts or questions on all of this, please comment below or on Word-Strong's FaceBook page.

Thanks for reading and sharing!