The Need for Other Voices

31 01 2010

Today I watched part of a training video from a large,  successful and well-known church. Because I respect the church and the training material they produced, I will not name them in this post. Before watching the video, I’d read a book written by the same author and mostly respected the book. When I saw the video, I was shocked.

Now, before I tell you what shocked me, you need a little background. I’m white. But I’ve been in an Asian-American sub-culture my entire adult life. So, I’m sure I’m about to offend some people. In fact, if I heard another white person say this, I’d be offended. But here it is: I’m Asian. Well, Asian-American: in my thinking, at least.

So, here’s what shocked me about the video:

It was a group of middle aged white men. They were American. They included pastors, authors, etc. They were trying to act casual in the video, while still teaching.

The one overwhelming feeling I had, was a sense of “other”. They seemed so very foreign. Remember, I was also watching this in Korea, in a room filled with Koreans, Westernized Koreans, and Westerners living in Korea. In other words, a very Asian setting. Furthermore, we were mostly young / single.

I looked at these white men and I thought, “What can they know of us?” Most of what they taught was solid and truly applicable to any group. But a few “americanisms” slipped in – cultural assumptions, attitudes, and suggestions that betrayed how very much they are entrenched in white culture. I could just imagine them with a beer in their hands discussing sports instead of church matters, which made it terribly difficult to focus on the good, true things they did say.

Suddenly, I experienced what I’d only heard of – the need for minority leaders / voices / etc. I was recently reading some Asian-American reactions to TV actors, and the repeated lament of not connecting to them or of being mis-represented. Since I have never been much for pop culture, I didn’t understand the complaint. But today I did – I couldn’t listen to the message because of the messengers.

So… we need great Asian-American leaders in the Church. And great female leaders. And great Latino, African-American, and NON-American! Until we see people in leadership and authority who look like us, sound like us, and think like us, we’ll have a hard time really supporting them and following them, mainly because it’s hard to believe they understand us or really know how to speak to us.

My prayer, then, is for God to raise up a new generation of leaders in the Church. A generation of cultural and racial diversity which can speak to the whole Body.


The Guilty Dog

30 01 2010

Coming home after a dinner out, my dog met me at the door cowering. She had her tail tucked between her legs, her head low to the ground, and a quiver ran through her. I knew she’d done something wrong even though I couldn’t see it.

I walked in and found she’d jumped up on the counter to tear into a loaf of bread. That’s it. Yes, it’s wrong. It happened once before and she got into a lot of trouble. I even thought I had made it impossible by taking the chair away that she jumped up on.

I picked up the loaf, held it towards her and said, “No. That’s bad. No.” I didn’t yell. Honestly, I was a little exasperated that my fresh loaf of high quality bread was destroyed, but I wasn’t angry. If anything, I was just thinking about how I could train her. I don’t want to just lock it up – I want her to be properly trained to not steal food. I want to be able to trust her.

She felt so guilty. She cowered under a chair. I didn’t yell or spank, I just cleaned up the mess. Then I pulled out the computer. Twenty minutes later I realized she was still cowering. I called out “Come!” and she was so very happy.  Then, I knew.

I knew that this was so like us with God. We know we’re wrong. We do it anyway. God tells us we’re wrong and picks up after us. He chooses how to teach us. He wants to be able to trust us to obey. We cower in fear, hiding ourselves or our sins, until he calls out to forgive us and reassure us. When he does, we’re ecstatic.

This is daily theology: seeing the truths of the Bible manifest in normal daily events.

Memorable sermons

29 01 2010

If you go to church, you end up hearing a lot of sermons over the years. And, the truth is, they pretty much are forgotten Monday morning. That doesn’t mean they’re bad, although I have heard a lot of bad preaching over the years. Let’s face it, you just can’t hear 52 memorable sermons a year – you wouldn’t remember them all!

But there are a few… a few that stay with you. A few that have a core idea that gnaws at you, or a phrase that haunts you, or a beauty that transforms you.  These are the memorable ones, the ones that you can quote years later.

For me, one of the key elements of a memorable sermons is the maxim or epigram that encompasses the main idea. Now, when I was taught homilectics (preaching), I was told that the phrase ought to be from scripture. I suppose that’s a good rule of thumb, but the phrases I recall most are not from scripture. I believe that’s because scripture is so familiar, that using a phrase from it doesn’t stand out in my memory long term.

One of my most memorable sermons was entitled, “First, you pray.” And that was the point. The speaker, whose name I unfortunately forget, had raised the dead. People would ask him how he resurrected someone. His answer, “First, you pray.” When people ask what you do next, his answer was, “First, you pray.” The point of the sermon was that (a) you do nothing without prayer and (b) whatever God tells you to do in that prayer, you obey. So, first you pray. That’s the only answer to anything.

And you know what? To this day, almost 10 yrs later, I remember it. In preparation for starting up a small group, I sat down to thinking through what I needed to do. I have one week to choose my material, time, location, plan the meeting, etc. One week in which I’m already very busy. So, I sat to write. Suddenly, the words “first you pray” came to my mind. I said, “Yes, of course! First I need to pray for the group members. That’s most important.” I wrote that down at the top of my to-do list. Then I wrote the number 2 and waited. I was reminded, “First you pray”. Yeah, thanks God, I got that already. “No. . . you didn’t. You’re not praying. First, you pray!”

Right. “First you pray” doesn’t mean listing prayer on a to-do list. It means praying. So, I put the list away and prayed instead. The list never did come out again, although it might later. After I pray.

The point is, a memorable sermon does precisely that. It actually changes our actions long term. It’s transformative. It’s a seed that grows. It’ll only grow if its true, if it’s perceptive/witty, and if its broadly applicable. How do you write /  prepare a memorable sermon? First, you pray.

To the person with whom I had lunch yesterday…

28 01 2010

You have incredible vision. I may not always say it, but I deeply respect that. You see the hand of God in everything. You overflow with joy at the work of the Spirit. You attribute to God all good things, praising him with your words. Your gratitude is a greater testimony than you know. Your enthusiasm inflames embers in my own heart.

I don’t know where God’s going to take you, or how, or to what extent. I don’t know if you’ll transform the shape of the church, serve long term missions abroad, or simply live the faithful life. I do know that you’ll walk paths unexpected and follow roads undesired. I know you’ll be disappointed, hurt, and gloriously surprise.

So here, then, is my prayer for you:

May you walk with the Lord all the days of your life. May your faith and understanding grow ever deeper, even as you experience the out-flung reaches of the Kingdom. May you impact lives, whether through the church or personal interaction. Encourage, sustain, but also be encouraged and sustained. Learn to sense both your limits and strengths, to embrace them, and know that God’s power and glory are revealed in them.

Finally, I pray that you can take all that God has shown and given you, take all your passions and desires, and synthesize one succinct calling for your life. I pray that you do this sooner, rather than later. That God reveal to you the one mission to which you can give your life, knowing that all these things play into that one principle. You’re looking for your calling; I pray you find it. Many people miss it completely or stumble into it. But for you, I pray that God reveals it in the next month. Seek it, pray for it, and I know you will walk away from this experience with firm certainty. You’re going to need that where you’re going.

An unanswered prayer

27 01 2010

Today, my pastor’s daughter was buried. She died of heart failure following 10 surgeries. She was on 24-hr dialysis for months. Many of her organs were shutting down. She was only 3 months old.

People around the world have been praying for her during her entire life. And when I say around the world… my pastor has served at churches in the US, Canada, Australia, and now here in Korea. Literally thousands of people. They prayed for her healing, her life…

Now, what happens to their faith? I sat in a crowd of 500 people as we poured out prayers for her. As her father poured out his heart before us. You could feel it: she might live! She must live! She will live! We knew it, we prayed it, we felt it, we believed it.

But now, she’s buried. She didn’t live.

This doesn’t make me doubt my own faith. And honestly, I suspect my pastor’s faith will be worked out with God, in time. But what happens to the new Christian who sat in the church, feeling that she must live? The person who saw it all, but was not a part of it? The person who just sees one more unanswered prayer?

I’m not sure. I’m not sure why God answers some prayer and not others. I’m not sure why he didn’t give us a miracle. I’m not sure why he didn’t proclaim his glory in a way that we can easily understand. It seems that God missed the chance to make his glory known.

I am sure of this: “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” (Jn 12:37)

So all I can know is, that God is still God. He’s God even though a baby died. He’s God even though we doubt him. He’s God even in the midst of parents’ pain. He’s God even to the uncertain faith. He is still God.

So God, take this child into your arms and thank you that she is free of pain. Now give those of us left behind the grace to mourn, to question, and to live.

Tonight’s prayer: John Donne’s Cry

26 01 2010

Holy Sonnet 14

By John Donne

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Spontaneous decisions

25 01 2010

Tonight I announced a decision, which I only decided as I was speaking it. I’ve made a commitment that I wasn’t expecting. I’d thought about it, then intentionally decided not to make that commitment for a while. Then I proceeded to commit to it.

I’d love to say that the Spirit moved me. Maybe he did, but I sure wasn’t aware of it. In fact, I opened my mouth to say one thing and another came out. I guess that means it was the Spirit… or a terrible mistake.

So now, the only thing left, is to pray it was the right thing. To pray for guidance as I follow through on it. To pray for God’s blessing, wisdom, and work through it all. To pray for strength to accomplish it. And to sit back and see what God’s got in store.

So, I guess I’ll be leading a small group for my church now.