Future?

This is a link to 10 Predictions About the Future Church and Shifting Attendance Patterns. I thought it was worth the read.

 

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Unwanted

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24 ESV)

Amos longed to see righteousness prevail in a society that objectified and dehumanized the poor in their midst. He could not believe that those in power would continue to take advantage of those without it. Amos wanted a just world — one where God’s goodness prevailed — and it was untenable to him that God’s own people would be reluctant to bring it about. How is it that we see this repeated again and again, generation after generation, for thousands of years?

Institute students enjoying water

Institute students enjoying water

In Honiara, Solomon Islands, there are scores of unwanted street kids who grow up fending for themselves in one of the poorest nations in the world. They were abandoned. They have neither education nor resources. They do what they can to survive….

  • pick-pocketing
  • child labor (industry, logging camps, mining camps)
  • scavenging
  • prostitution
  • live-in slaves for housekeeping and babysitting.

Their situation is not unique. All over the world there are street children who are abandoned while very young and who have to survive on very mean streets. Society has no use for them and they are treated poorly. They have no defenders. They grow up to become young men and women who perpetuate the same situation on another generation.

IMG_2291 Titus Luther came to the Solomon Islands from Papua New Guinea. He had been the Foursquare National Director of Youth there. He opened a community center to serve meals to the street kids. He offered them chances to learn to read. He shared the life of Jesus in word and deed. He found among these young men and women that there were some with pastor’s hearts. So he built an Institute outside of town and began to teach them to become pastors. When they are ready they are sent to one of the 300+ occupied Solomon Islands to bring the good news of Jesus.

Titus invited me to Solomon Islands to assist him in a water distribution project (see Water). His vision was for abundant fresh water to be available to all of the students on all corners of the Institute campus (they had neither water nor electricity). I met amazing, talented young men and women who have been transformed by Jesus at the school. No matter how marginalized they had felt, no matter how valueless they had seen themselves, and no matter how hopeless their situation seemed, there was a God in Heaven who knew them. God wants the unwanted! So while society neglects “the unwanted,” by the touch of Jesus they have become “the sent.”

O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

…For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

(Psalm 139:1-6, 13-16)

These men and women were never out of God’s sight. So He sent someone with an invitation. He always sends an invitation. He condescends to use us to deliver it. These marginalized men and women saw a loving God and said yes. They were never unwanted. God wanted them to become King’s kids.

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Trusted

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1Peter 3:14-16 ESV)

TrustedHow do we participate as a Christian witness in a secularized society? At this point in history America is a post-Christian nation. While there are certain legacy morality and ethical after-effects, we have seen a fundamental shift. Some would even say that Christianity is viewed with hostility by secular America (though in general I don’t believe it has gone that far). Christianity enjoyed favored status in America for many years. Our laws reflect the privilege given to the church. But our nation has become secularized and pluralistic. No longer does Christianity represent the dominant culture of America.

Sadly, the church did not offer a radical alternative to the world’s systems in America. On the contrary, it got in bed with Western culture. It is hard to separate the democratic republic America from Christianity’s expression.  Both of them embraced the same consumerism. The church no longer stood in contrast to society, but became complicit. The cynicism of a new generation is understandable.

We live in times that mirror Rome in many ways. So what do we do? How do we find a voice in the times in which we find ourselves? It is imperative that the people of Jesus engender trust in the communities in which we live and work. That should not even have to be said – the very mark of the life of Jesus compels us as such. But we are human and broken and our brokenness shows itself to the world around us when we fail to be the people of Jesus. We will have to learn what it means to be shining lights in this culture.

Our lives should look different. Something radical has taken place. God says of us that we are more than conquerors through Christ (Rom 8:37). He calls us ambassadors of reconciliation (2Cor 5:18ff). Paul tells us, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20).” The power of the Holy Spirit in me is supposed to be evidenced by the change in me. I have a compelling testimony of what Jesus as done in my life. I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16). The just shall live by faith (Hab 2:4). So when we encounter the world, no matter where, we are compelled to share Jesus.

Paul Metzger, in his post Lights Out: Shining a Light on Caring for the Dying in a Multi-Faith World, advises caution when a Christian chaplain or pastor or trusted friend is given the honor of caring for someone of another faith tradition who is approaching death….

Christian ministers may share their beliefs concerning the soul and their personal hopes and beliefs, if asked. But they should be very much on guard against manipulating conversations given that they have “a captive audience.”

The post encourages the caregiver to be sensitive to the beliefs of the person approaching death. I agree. Showing respect and listening gives the caregiver credibility. The sensitive care and love shown to the dying patient opens doors of understanding. That said, I am somewhat troubled by this notion of being “on guard” since this an end-of-life issue. As a person of conviction I do not regard sharing truth as a form of manipulation. In fact, the trusted place I hold gives me the freedom and responsibility to do so. I am certainly not going to hold back the essential truth while someone’s life is slipping away. There is certainly sensitivity, but there is urgency as well. This is how we give a thirsty soul a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus.

“And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

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Care

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 82:3-4 ESV)

RabiaRabia lives in Ankara, Turkey with her husband and children. She is a Christian – a convert. She and her team of special needs children’s advocates are serving the least of the least. Her church is providing for the Iraqi and Syrian refugees in a significant way. They feed and clothe about 5,000 of the war refugees arriving from the south and east. In serving these people, Rabia noticed that there are families with children who have special needs. The challenges to those families were even more daunting in this new country. Turkey provides no public assistance to refugees.  They are safer here, but they need to fend for themselves. The church, which is very small in Turkey, has stepped in to advocate.

Ethnic cleansing in Northern Iraq and Syria by ISIS has resulted in millions of people fleeing for their lives to neighboring Turkey. They are Turkmen, Kurds, Christians and Yazidis. ISIS interprets the laws of Islam to give them divine rights over non-Muslims. The stories the refugees tell are harrowing. It is hard to believe that such brutality can be unleashed in this day and age. But it is and it has displaced a people who left everything behind in order to hold onto their lives. Many do not know the fate of family members they left behind. Among those who are arriving is a need that often goes unmet. There are children with disabilities, autism and other challenges that are swept up into the family escape plan. The following is an excerpt from the Kerdelen Ministries website…

Cursed… shameful… bad karma… unwanted

These are just some of the names children with disabilities are called. Whether you were born into a wealthy family in Istanbul or an impoverished one in Delhi, it makes little difference if you were born with special needs. Chances are that not only you will be stigmatized and rejected, but your family will be too. In Turkey, if your family has connections then they might abandon you to a state-run orphanage where you will die a slow death from neglect. If you are poor then you will most likely be doomed to living tied-up in your bed in the back room of a brick and mortar slum dwelling where lack of care, hygiene and medical attention will mean an early death in an atmosphere of depression and rejection.

Rabia and her team, Kardelen Ministries, visit 40 flats in the refugee area. Each of these two bedroom flats house about 4 families. There are a total of 300 people who are directly impacted by what she does. Her office provides a respite for the families several times per week. The families come and are fed. The special needs child plays in the physical therapy room. The other children have a play area, as well. And the moms are taken aside and pampered. War torn and desperate, they have forgotten to take care of themselves. So for several hours they get their hair cut and get to just enjoy being women together. She has put a face on Christianity that has not been seen before by many of these people. She is extending the advcoacy of Jesus with her own hands.

That is advocacy as Jesus intended it.

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Ought

“All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:35 ESV)

OughtWhat “ought” to be? I am struck recently by the array of “oughts” that prescribe for me an ethic based upon someone’s presumed knowledge of right and wrong. I feel pummeled by various flavors of environmental, racial, economic, and political ethics…. Of course, no such ought has any validity unless it is voiced from authority – moreover, it has to be an agreed-upon authority – or it is nothing more than relativism. Unless, that is, the authority has real authority in and of Himself. In that case, it is authoritative whether I choose to accept it or not. But here I am left to determine the validity of the oughts – what is authoritative?

How is the case for authority made? Appeals can be made to prevailing thought, scholarship, experience, power, wealth, religion or any number of validators. But even these are claims – they need to be examined.   Take global climate change, for instance. The science is far from settled, but among the political elite there is agreement that something needs to be done. Based on what authority? It is power. An elite minority can simply allocate resources based on their presumptions, and so they do. They may indeed be right, but there are other authoritative voices that have not been invited to the table because they do not agree with the conclusion. And so the ought is as controversial as it is condescending.

Hume discusses problem in A Treatise of Human Nature (1739):

In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when all of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, ’tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention would subvert all the vulgar systems of morality, and let us see, that the distinction of vice and virtue is not founded merely on the relations of objects, nor is perceived by reason.[1]

I think it is reasonable to question the basis of the oughts. As ethics becomes more and more secularized, it is likely that appeals to authority may become more random based upon the pleasure of those who yield power or majority status. Consider eugenics. In his post Should Ethics Be “Biologicized”? What Might that Mean for Eugenics?, Dr. Paul Metzger looks at Edward O. Wilson position supporting eugenics,

While [Wilson] conceded that given our limited understanding of human genetics we should at present aim to preserve the entire gene pool, he maintained that in the future, when we have “almost unimaginably greater knowledge of human heredity,” we may be able to institute a “democratically contrived eugenics.”

Though he rejects it for the entire gene pool today, he sees a day when humanity has evolved its knowledge enough to begin the program. Metzger goes on to say,

Wilson’s discussion of eugenics in On Human Nature evinces not the prejudice and racism of which he had been accused, but rather a naïveté about the prospect that science will be guided by the essential goodness and rationality of mankind. Not only does Wilson display too much confidence in science’s ability to control human genetics safely, he also believes that adherence to the democratic process will eliminate the potential for abuse.

Based on this idea that we could make “democratically contrived eugenics” because we “finally” have the requisite knowledge of human heredity, I am concerned that the oughts are moving from a place of ultimate authority (God) to the realm of human persuasion. From time immemorial, there are always competing groups who claim authority and want the rest of mankind to accept their claim. In our current culture there are a number of issues that make news frequently in a war of oughts…. global warming, gun ownership, racism, asylum for refugees, euthanasia, secularism… In each case people with different truth claims vie for power and influence to institute their ought. The fact is that democracy can tend towards utilitarianism (which entails the greatest amount of pleasure for the greatest number of people). Examined closely it can often boil down to whose rights ultimately trump the rights of another who is voiceless.

What if there is an objective authority? What if there is one who speaks from outside Creation and defines clearly what is right and wrong? It is wishful thinking on my part that we would engage our ethical questions from the perspective of His revelation. It would be enough in our pluralistic world if truth claims were examined carefully. Or that we would let love enter the equation. However, the evidence of history is that power trumps justice when it suits it’s ends. And so the opportunity for the people of God is that we bring justice to the place where society would justify its denial – and bring a touch of the Kingdom of God — a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus.

 

 

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5808a1.htm?s_cid=ss5808a1_e

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Turkey

Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah 22:3)

TraffficMost of the Ankara streets are not marked — at least not with visible corner signs. I began with an expectation that I could simply map out my drive to the center of the capital of Turkey and follow the instructions. I wasn’t using a mobile service, so I wisely looked up the directions prior to leaving the wifi zone and confidently took a photo of the details. According to the instructions, I should have been there in 12 minutes after entering the city. 3 and a 1/2 weary hours later I arrived at my destination.

This was truly a problem of my own making. Having traveled to numerous countries around the world, I know that turning on my phone without a local service card in it is an invitation to telephone robbery. I have seen outrageous phone charges from just a small text exchange. I didn’t think that the purchase of a local service card was necessary, so I did all my planning when wifi was available.

I have learned ho to be patient in life, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. This is just the kind of situation that tests me! But I was committed to doing this my way, which wasn’t working. I would occasionally stop when I found a free wifi service and reroute. Getting a little wiser, I would try to pay attention to the actual distances that were listed in the gps instructions. That failed numerous times as I was routed onto congested traffic with no clear way to get back to my point of failure. These lanes can carry you along with them like a riptide.

But there I was the middle of rush hour traffic unable to find any help. I tried, but most people are not fluent in frenzied-tourist English. I searched desperately for an advocate – someone who would take some pity on the humble and lost American, I imagined giving them the keys and letting them drive me to my destination. Frankly, there was no shortage of thoughtful, gracious people who tried to explain to me what to do, but Turkish doesn’t get any clearer to me when it is spoken loudly with hand gestures. So the situation only progressed from bad to worse. At one point I was in gridlock and thought about abandoning the car and getting a taxi.

My determination blinded me. It finally occurred to me that I would happily pay the outrageous data bill if I could get out of this mess. I had an advocate in the sky outside myself. I need only enable my cellular communications. So I did. And I finally heard the comforting automated voice of my gps. It told me where and when to turn and what to anticipate in the moments ahead. It turns was not very far from my destination. I could have walked and gotten there in 3 minutes! All I really needed was an advocate who had access to information that I didn’t have.

It is fitting that I am here working with a man who helps Syrian refugees. These aliens in his land are desperate and without any sense of direction as well, only their difficulty is lasting a whole lot longer than my 3 and ½ hours. The stories I have heard are heartbreaking. Man’s inhumanity to man knows no bounds. They come here frightened and tired. They are trying to find some way to get a footing. They need an advocate who has access to things they cannot get and will share with them in their sufferings — someone with a sense of direction.

In the verse above, Jeremiah was warning the king to be an advocate for those who were oppressed. It is God’s heart that His people would be the ones who would attend to the widow, the orphan, and the alien in the land.

 

 

 

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Numb

One of my doctoral cohort classmates referenced Philip Yancey in his post Advocacy Hurts as follows…

Philip Yancey has written about pain in his books. I remember one concept that really spoke to me when I first read it. He explained, using an example from lepers, how pain is actually a gift. It shows us that something is wrong and motivates us to deal with the problem causing the pain.”

My classmate was talking about advocacy. He used the quote to suggest that the recognition of pain gets us to the point of knowing something is wrong so that we are willing to respond. We will “pull our hand off the hot stove!” But I want it led me to look more closely at Yancey’s meaning in The Gift of Pain.[1]

NumbYancey and his coauthor Dr. Paul Brand were talking about leprosy. They suggest that painlessness is the root cause of most of the damage that lepers experience, but this is not entirely true. Leprosy is an infectious disease that does significant damage to the skin and nerves. A leprous hand for instance becomes numb. The leper does not feel the additional damage that might occur as he uses the hand. The real damage is done by the infection. Painlessness contributes to further damage, but the root cause is the infection under the skin that makes the leper’s hand numb.

This takes me in a somewhat parallel trajectory to Yancey and my cohort classmate. Are there infections that are so pervasive that they deaden us to the pain that is around us and we become numb? I want to speak less to the pain than the infection. This infection exposes us to further damage as we use the “numb” hand, whatever that may metaphorically be. My cohort member went on to say,

We need to know something is wrong.  We need to be motivated to do something about it.  I need to be moved out of my love of comfort into the world of others, and especially those who are suffering. 

But like the leper, if my senses have already dulled, I am powerless to do so. Sin is the infection. We are incapable of seeing beyond our own circumstances because we are so preoccupied with ourselves. We rarely look beyond the fence to notice the suffering of the person next door.

But wait… we actually do. I am humbled by the many ways my non-believing neighbors rally around a family that is suffering hardship — meals, helps, babysitting, drives to the doctor. The image of God is at work. Such things seem to take us beyond ourselves — compassion and empathy seem more natural than even our own sense of self-preservation. We are part of a community. Sacrifice is required for the community to survive together. This in and of itself may just be another kind of self-interest, no? There may be real kindness involved, but communities rarely exhibit the same compassion and empathy for other communities of which they can see no direct benefit.

There is an infection at work in us if we cannot even see suffering that results in this world from man’s inhumanity to man. Whether actively participating, passively ignoring, or actively avoiding, we seldom seek to understand our contribution to it. We watch news reports, but our senses are too dead to understand that our hand is also on that hot stove. Some of that suffering is a spillover from the pursuit of pleasure. The infection is at work in our consumer society. It affects us all. We tend to elevate the experience of pleasure and lack of pain as the ideal. Dr. Paul Metzger in his post “Social Darwinism, Richard Dawkins and Down Syndrome,” says,

Just as it is inaccurate to equate goodness with success or victory in natural selection, so it is wrong to equate goodness with success in experiencing the most pleasure in life according to a certain vantage point. Nor should we allow a particular community that succeeds at increasing pleasure no matter how refined to determine what is good or even pleasurable for all. In the end, we might find that such natural inclinations are highly subjective, perhaps even unnatural.”

Consumerism is one of the symptoms of a deeper infection feeding our self-obsession with endless choices. Rugged individualism (or the illusion thereof) idolizes separation and objectifies everything in its path. Unbridled capitalism rolls over the ill equipped without even looking back at the mess it leaves behind. Alternatives in socialism or collectivism historically leave power consolidated in the hands of the few no matter how noble the founding. In each case, without something that deals with the infection we will only see another cycle of the suffering for those on the margins.

And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” (Matthew 8:2-3)

We need Jesus. He can heal the infection that has resulted in our numbness. Moreover, he can give us eyes to see and ears to hear. Through Christ we are finally awakened from numbness and able to see a bigger picture. Through Jesus we find courage and faith to go into the places of suffering with a greater sense of our responsibility. And best of all, we have the cure.

 

 

[1] Yancey, Phillip and Dr. Paul Brand, The Gift of Pain (Zondervan, 1994 and 1997)

 

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