Friday, July 27, 2012

"Can't We All Just Get Along?"

I've heard that question posed many times and it seems like, as often as not, it's applied somewhat sarcastically. As in when, following a discussion about some issue over which there are strongly opposing views, someone mockingly concludes with "Can't we all just get along?" In this context it is intended to disparage the "simplistic" view that there can be, if not reconciliation, at least peaceful co-existence, between two camps having such widely divergent viewpoints. To be honest, in the past I've used it in this sarcastic manner myself, but more and more I feel the need to put it out as an earnest plea. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that I often see these days via email, Facebook, and the media in general such an alarmist, attacking, polarizing, vitriolic approach to communication, and this is just as prevalent in the Christian community as it is from secular sources. Sometimes it is the Christians pitted against secular society, sometimes it is Christian against Christian. This certainly comes to the fore as election time draws near. Another catalyst to this post was a blog post I recently saw on Facebook written by a woman who I think really nails it. Like her, I sometimes feel "caught in the middle" and, while I don't line up with all of her theological positions, I agree wholeheartedly with her approach and her admonition to the body of Christ (and that's kind of the point - I can acknowledge that we don't see eye to eye on everything and still appreciate her as a sincere sister in Christ). Here's a link to her blog post - it's worth a read. "Liberal Christianity, Conservative Christianity, and the Caught In Between"

But what makes me even more earnest to speak up about this is that I've been spending some time in 1 Corinthians lately. The Corinthian church would be viewed by some Christian circles today as way too liberal, by some Christian circles as way too charismatic. But, what I see Paul addressing the most in his letter to them is their pride and divisiveness. It's worth noting too, that despite the fact that the letter is filled with exhortations to correct their thinking and behavior, he starts it out including these words:
"I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." (1 Corinthians 1:4-9)

Despite their having some really significant problems, demonstrating some very un-Christlike behavior, and many of them even exhibiting a profound lack of respect toward Paul and all he had done on their behalf, he still appeals to them as brothers and sisters in Christ and lets them know he is thankful for them. When we look at ourselves, the way we sometimes deal with issues both within and outside the church, how do we measure up to Paul's example and to the principles he taught?

(Regarding himself and the other apostles) "We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly...." (1 Cor 4:12-13)

"Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (1 Cor 10:32-11-1)

"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Rom 12:18)

"Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification." (Rom 14:19)

"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."  (Eph 4:1-6)

"Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near." (Phil 4:5)

"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." (Col 3:12)

Dear brothers and sisters, we are at war, but it is not with each other, with the government, or with the lost people of this world - it is with the enemy of our souls, and when our words and actions are characterized by bitterness, anger, defensiveness, and one-upmanship we are playing right into his hands. How does a lost world see Jesus in us if we are not like Him? How are we like Him if we are more concerned about changing the religious and cultural climate through winning arguments than we are about winning human hearts and drawing people closer to Him?

I love theology, I love seeking and sharing God's truth. I do believe that principles and convictions matter and I am not promoting an artificial peace at all costs (and, of course, neither did Paul). I just grieve over the way we are alienating people who need to know the Savior and how we so often tear each other apart. I like how Rachel Held Evans put it in the blog post I mentioned above, "I have no problem with Christians arguing with one another. Really. We’re brothers and sisters, for goodness sake!  Of course we’re going to argue!  We just need to learn to do it better."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Bridge or Barrier

The Kizuna Bridge which spans the Mekong River in Cambodia
So far my main "job" since coming to Cambodia has been language learning. As many of you know, I have frequently requested prayers for my progress with language learning. Well, over the past few weeks I've received some fresh motivation. While my colleague, Cathleen, was away for a previously scheduled trip to the U.S. something came up which required me to take on some extra responsibilities for Children in Families. This involved being a part of a number of meetings conducted primarily in Khmer. Now, after just four months of language classes, I was not under any illusion that I was prepared for this level of language competence - there just was no other option given the nature of the situation. There were a couple of times that I was able to arrange to have a translator, but there were several other times where there wasn't time to arrange for that and I spent a good part of the meeting feeling lost. I would catch enough to have a general idea about what was being discussed, but not enough to have the clarity that I really needed. Language was definitely a barrier for me. I felt blocked out, excluded, unable to engage in situations where I really wanted to have a voice and really needed to understand. In an environment that was already stressful in itself, this barrier was sometimes excruciatingly frustrating.

I've long been a believer in the importance of language learning for effectiveness in missions. My recent experiences did not reveal much that I didn't already know. They did, however make an impact on me experientially. I felt what it was like to be on the outside of a great chasm between me and the message. This not only was a barrier to the message, it was a barrier between me and the messenger. When people are able to speak the same language it becomes a bridge, not a barrier. A common language brings people together, rather than keeping them apart. Oh, how I want this! When I talk to families about what they can do to help and empower their children with disabilities, when I encourage them about the love and courage they are displaying in doing this, and when I have opportunity to share with Cambodians about the wonderful hope that I have in Christ, I want to have a solid bridge by which to deliver those important messages. I want a bridge that puts us on common ground and does not create confusion, frustration, or feelings of alienation. As much as I am anxious to get plugged into the work I came here to do and to start building into these children and families' lives, I am reminded again that this time that has been set aside for language learning is a vital investment. I have a bridge to build. Please continue to pray for God's blessing in that process.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."  John 8:36
My friends and family in the United States just celebrated the Fourth of July last week. I love the way my little home town of Inwood, Iowa celebrates this holiday with its small town parade, games and lunch with neighbors in the park, the demolition derby (go ahead, laugh), and their great annual fireworks display. Americans love freedom, and the Fourth of July is a great time to celebrate the freedom that our nation enjoys. I was thinking recently of a different type of freedom, though - the freedom I am longing for so many to experience here in Cambodia, the freedom that we who have trusted in Christ get a taste of here, but will fully experience at the end of time when Jesus returns and makes everything new. While we wait for that day, we have the incredible opportunity to participate in demonstrating for this hurting, enslaved world glimpses of what that freedom looks like. What a privilege it is to partner with Jesus to "loose the chains of injustice" and to "set the oppressed free" (Isaiah 58:6). I was thinking back to a chapel at DTS where guest speaker, Michael Frost, spoke about creating "little foretastes of the Kingdom." It was a memorable message anyway, but had an even bigger impact on me because the example he gave was of a young Cambodian pastor who responded to God's call by proclaiming His kingdom in action as well as in words within a slum community outside of Phnom Penh. It is a beautiful testimony to the amazing things God can do through our willingness to be His agents of freedom. It was refreshing for me to listen to it again because it can be so easy to get discouraged by "the system." How could anything I do be more than just a drop in the bucket within an endless sea of need? But there are stories everywhere of how one life committed to the purposes of God can make an enormous difference, and the story of Abraham Heng as told by Mike Frost is one such story.

"Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God." 1 Peter 2:16

I hope that you will listen to this message and be encouraged to use your precious freedom to fashion little foretastes of the Kingdom for those whom God loves, those whom He desires to live in freedom as well.

If you'd like to hear the edited (i.e. shorter) audio version of this chapel message click here.
If you want to see the unedited video of this chapel message click here.