Different Cultures, Same Jesus

May 21, 2019
Chinese Gospel Church members at the retreat center in Muskegon, MI
I’m with Pastor Elliott Lee who invited me to speak. He’s a DTS grad doing a great job with the youth!

I’m a mono-culture guy, born and raised in America. So this invitation to speak at the youth retreat for the Chinese Gospel Church in Michigan expanded my horizons. The young people were born in America but have Chinese parents. Their parents were born in China and came to America and became citizens. These different kinds of cultural experiences impact our identity, so the question we all wrestle with is “Who am I?” How much does our culture influence our identity? How do we embrace our unique qualities without feeling weird or peculiar? (In general, I have noticed that most people do not handle differences well. They either comply, attack or withdraw.) It is the confident person who can stand strong and offer something worthwhile to help everyone live more productive lives.

With four opportunities to dialog with the kids, we dealt with four A’s:

I am an Asian — Heritage tells you where you came from but it doesn’t fully define you. For most of these kids, the Asian culture was very stressful and left little room for leisure and fun. They felt the need to excel and compete to be the best.

I am an American – But do you align yourself with the American culture and values or do you comply with your parents’ values and priorities? What are the pros and cons of each culture? We looked at the good, the bad and the ugly of the American culture by discussing David Brooks’ article in the New York Times, “Five Lies That Explain Our Culture:” (1) Career success is fulfilling, (2) I can make myself happy, (3) Life is in individual journey, (4) You have to find your own truth, and (5) Rich and successful people are worth more than poorer and less successful people. I was impressed by how they discerned the partial truth in each of these while realizing the lie.

I am an Adolescent – How do I navigate this transition period from childhood to adulthood while honoring my parents and fitting in with my peer group. Like most adolescents, they struggled to keep up with their peers and maintaining close friends when everyone is so busy. Bullying was also an issue, so we took tie to discuss how a well-grounded identity and strong confidence were necessary in standing firm. We all were amazed that the negative view of teenagers by adults is nothing new. This quote is from Socrates around 400 BC! “They [adolescents] now seem to love luxury, they have bad manners and contempt for authority, they show disrespect for adults and spend their time hanging around places gossiping with one another. They are ready to contradict their parents, monopolize the conversation and company, eat gluttonously and tyrannize their teachers….” Read more:  http://www.hopefortheheart.org/teenagers/#ixzz5obzprbFj

I am an Ambassador for Christ – If my citizenship is in heaven and I am an instrument to carry the Gospel message to the world where I live, it doesn’t matter so much whether I’m Asian or American or anything else! 2 Corinthians 5:18-20. What does being an ambassador look like for real?

Why is it important to clarify our identity? Because the more clear we are about who we are and what we stand for the more confidently we can hold our own in an atmosphere of differences; the less likely we will be carried away by peer pressure or influenced by trends. Our unity does not come from being alike; our unity comes from worshipping the same God, Jesus! I felt remarkably united with these outstanding individuals that I met for the first time and will long remember them with fondness.

I forget where I saw this, but I shared it at the beginning and the end of our time in Muskegon:

“Ask yourself what is really important and then have the courage to build your life around your answer.”

Advertisements

Want Wisdom? First, LISTEN!

November 9, 2015

Version 2This page from the Rule of St. Benedict, written 700 years ago sits in a showcase in an Abby in Melk, Austria.  For the Benedictine monks, their Rule of Life begins with “Ausculta” which in German means, “LISTEN”.   For centuries, those who seek wisdom have realized the importance of listening.

Rewind another 2900 years to hear Moses teach the Israelite people that before they enter the Promised Land they need to listen to God. “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  It’s a timeless wisdom; before we do anything of significance, listen to God.

When Peter, James and John stood on the Mount of Transfiguration, telling Jesus about their great idea of building tents to house Jesus, Moses and Elijah, a voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”  Once again we see how important it is to listen before doing anything.

But listening goes against our basic nature. On October 18, 2015, Reverend Chad Scruggs, one of our pastors, gave a sermon on the book of James showing us how we need to grow up.  We need to discipline ourselves to listen quickly (because we are naturally slow to listen) and to slow down our natural tendencies to speak and to express anger quickly. Perhaps James was thinking of the Proverb: “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Prov. 18:13)

Why is listening so primary? What does it accomplish? As I look through the Bible at all the references to “listen,” I find that most of them have to do with listening to God. In those passages, we could just as well replace it with the word “obey.” For example, Proverbs 8:32-33 or Isaiah 46:12.  So listening to God is almost equivalent to obeying God. What do we accomplish when we obey God? We achieve oneness with Him and out of that unity comes wisdom.   But when we listen to other people, we’re not always instructed to obey. Listening well helps us create harmony and builds up others.  For example, Ephesians 4:29  In our church choir, our director often reminds us to listen carefully to the other singers around us and to the other sections. When we sing in tune with others, the result is harmony.   In our regular interactions with friends and family, we listen to understanding them more clearly and to respond constructively rather that react destructively. We minimize conflict, we contribute to a harmonious relationship, and we might even build intimacy. When we listen to someone else, we communicate respect and concern. We tend to trust others more easily when they are good listeners.

I’m beginning to understand why listening is more important than anything else we might be inclined to do. It contributes to unity and harmony. When we are one with God (through obedience) and one with others (through understanding), we begin to demonstrate wisdom in dealing with life.


Choices

August 10, 2015

Kimbell Museum

I suppose everyone comes away from an art exhibition with different impressions.  My wife and I did.  We went to the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth yesterday and slowly soaked in every painting in the special exhibition, “Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland.”  Then we went back through the floor and played our game: “Pick out one piece you’d like to take home with you.”  That’s were you realize what you value.  I had to select two, but they both had one theme to me: CHOICES.

Gauguin Three Tahitians

I’ve never been a big fan of Paul Gauguin’s paintings, but this one, Three Tahitians (1899), gripped me.  In it, the young man is faced with a choice. The woman on the right with flowers represents virtue.  The woman on the left, holding a mango, represents sensuality.   I think every human being faces this choice at some level every day. Do we opt for virtue or vice, worthwhile or worthless?

Vermeer_-_Christ_in_the_House_of_Martha_and_Mary_-_Google_Art_Project

I’ve always been a fan of Vermeer, but this one is a little different that his usual style. Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (1655) depicts the New Testament narrative in Luke 10 in which Christ talks to Martha but points to Mary. Mary has chosen to worship the Lord and listen to what He has to say, while Martha is preoccupied with the worries of her actions and with serving. Certainly, nothing is wrong with serving others, but when we have a choice of good deeds (works?) versus worship, the latter is always the better choice.

In my more virtuous moments, I’m really interested in aligning my attitudes and actions with what delights God. I want my visible life to represent God’s work in my heart. I want a godly humility and gentleness to characterize my dealings with people. Sometimes it’s hard to be patient, showing tolerance for others in love.  It’s easier to be divisive and judgmental than healing and redemptive. In addition, since I tend to be a driver and a doer, I need to emphasize more of Mary’s attitude of worship and meditation over action. Way back in the Old Testament, God has made it clear that He delights in loyalty rather than sacrifice and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6) It’s hard for me to get past the notion of trying to please God or worse, to impress Him, with my hard work.

It’s hard to tell what any artist has in mind about the impact of his art, but when good art strikes a deep chord about what life is about, it transcends time and culture to stir many personal reactions. These are my reactions to these two pieces.


Free Training in Bible and Theology

November 17, 2014

IMG_0081

Richard Pratt, President Third Millennium Ministries

I attended a luncheon last week and heard Richard Pratt describe a wonderful method of training pastors worldwide. Third Millennium Ministries avoids a lot of the problems associated with providing seminary level theological education. For example, the major problem being addressed is that millions of pastors around the globe have less than one hour of formal training in the Bible. Three obstacles stand in the way of their education here in the US: (1) Language: If a church leader doesn’t speak English, he’ll be unable to get training here. (2) Money: the average annual cost of an American seminary enrollment is $15,000. That’s very restrictive for many pastors. (3) Educational prerequisites: A Bachelor’s Degree is required before starting seminary in the US. With the Third Millennium material, the pastor starts right in. Notice how none of these obstacles were present at Pentecost (Acts 2).

The Third Millennium material is currently provided in five languages, which include the areas where Christianity is fastest growing. It’s free and it’s very well presented. I just went to their website and watched a couple of their segments. The format is full of attractive graphics, like watching the History Channel, not simply shooting a lecture and copying it. I plan to use their materials to sharpen my own seminary training that I received 40 years ago.

Take a look at it. Click here and watch their video.  Watch one of their teaching segments.  See what you think. Use it for your own training. If you are able, make a contribution.  But more, if you know of a pastor in some foreign country who could use some training, let him know about Third Millennium Ministries.  Watch the testimonials of pastors who have used the material.  The website has testimonials of its effectiveness.

Screenshot 2014-11-17 11.17.04