Friday, June 26, 2009

American Idol vs. Indian Idol

Wow, the past two weeks has been a roller coaster ride. Last week Mark and I had the great opportunity of getting to spend time with some of the American "workers" here in our town. This was a great experience. We were really encouraged by their words and experiences here. We also enjoyed the American company too. They have now all left to go to Thailand for organizational meetings so Mark and I are the only American workers here with our organization. Immediately after they left I got sick. I think it was something I ate your drank. I ended up staying in the apartment for 4 days. I am recovering now and I feel much better. Thank you so much for all your prayers. It’s so good to know that there are so many people lifting me up around the clock. Being sick in an unfamiliar culture really adds a lot of stress to already being sick. But I can say I did learn a lot about having to stop and wait and be still and rest. It's easy to focus only on doing and when you are forced to stop it really requires you to rethink and reassess where you are.

Last Sunday we were able to meet with all the American workers one last time for a house church meeting before they left for Thailand. During this meeting we were sharing some things we were learning. We began talking about idols and all the idols here in this culture and how people are so dedicated to worshiping a piece of stone or wood or a tree. This got me thinking about idols, what they are and how we as humans have a tendency to fashion them. When you look at India's culture, their idols are obvious. There are shrines on every street corner, parades in honor of their idols; people even stop their cars in the middle of the road to say prayers in front of the shrine of their god. Why though? I mean come on it’s just a piece of stone or wood. Don't they know that it's just man made and has no power? At one temple here people will literally trample each other to be the first one "seen" by the idol when the temple doors are opened. Why would people act this way? How did this idol gain so much power over living, breathing image bearers of God? As I thought about this, I realized that they act this way out of fear. They can't imagine their life without being able to worship their idols. If their idols were taken away they would be gripped with fear because their idol is their connection to their success and well-being in this life and the next. This is why people create a human stampede to be the first to the god. They are afraid of what will happen to them if they aren't the first one there. As I continued to think about this, the American instinct in me said, "Thank God we do not act this way in America. It's just illogical and uncivilized." But knowing human beings and that they are generally the same all over the world, sinful, I realized that we are probably not as guiltless as I hoped. So I started trying to work through some of the ways we as Americans and even more specifically followers of Jesus Christ, fall pray to worshiping idols. I think we've probably all heard a sermon on "American Idolatry". It’s common to hear pastors say things like "Contrary to popular belief we do worship idols in America. They're called TV, the golf course, new clothes, the latest gadgets, ect. . ." Now I do think these things can become idols in our lives, but I don't think it is the main problem. As Christians it is easy for us to look at the list of American idols and just make sure we don't buy into them. Some people will even where this like a badge. They will make sure people know they agree with what the culture’s “into”. So then there is a legalism that is created that says, "If you buy these things or partake in these activities your are idolatrous." And as long as you don't do whatever is on the " idol list" then you are ok. Right? I don't think this is the main issue with idolatry in the heart. Because it is completely possible for someone to outwardly appear righteous and free of having idols in their life but inside their biggest idol is making sure people think they don't have idols. Jesus said people like this have already received their reward for their actions. By this he meant that people who want to appear righteous before men but not be transformed on the inside have gotten exactly the reward they wanted. They have pleased man by their outward appearance and nothing more.

So how does one define an idol in the heart? I think an idol in the heart will cause fear and the idol will continue to be an idol as long as it has the element of fear over the person. I don't mean that idols in our heart are scary but they do grip us with a certain amount of real fear. We ask ourselves "What would my life be like without this thing." You fill in the blank whatever the thing might be. We become afraid that if we do not have our idols, then we will not survive. See, just like the idol worshipers here in India, there is a fear that your life and your welling being might cease to exist without your idol. We are really no different. Big surprise! We will go to great lengths to protect and nurse our idols and if anyone tries to take them away, we may be viciously defensive. After all, it's our right. So in light of this definition of an idol I think it is much easier to see what may actually be our idols and why we have them. Sadly, the church today is not much different. For many it's the idol of appearing righteous or humble or like they have their life in order. What happens when you take these idols away? It causes fear. What does a person do when they've based their whole understanding of following Christ on making sure they have kept the rules of Christianity and you take away their rules; their idol? They become afraid because following the rules was their livelihood. It was their righteousness. It was what they trusted for their well being. This is why we are commanded never to put another god before the Almighty God. Every other god in our lives is insufficient for us to trust our lives with. God knew that idols would only distract us from understanding and experiencing him. God wants us to trust that he provides everything for us, not some idol we worship. A good way to test your heart for idols is to ask “If God was to take this away from me, would I be afraid for my livelihood and well being?” That is why we must pray like David, “Search me and know my heart.” Our idols will never provide for us, just like the stone carving I see people bowing down to everyday do nothing for them. We would think that it’s so obvious here, but our own eyes have been blinded to our idolatry. Lord create in us clean hearts!

Grace and Peace

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Kingdom FOR Us

Hello everyone. Its been a little bit longer since my last update. Things have somewhat slowed down for us and Mark and I are slowly getting into more of a rhythm. Here's what our typical day looks like: wake up around 11 or 12, go get lunch, read or nap through the hot part of the afternoon, then around 7 we get dinner and begin our rounds of seeing our friends. This usually takes us late into the night sometimes as late as 3 am. Or in the event of a wedding we just stay up all night until dawn. So for all you morning people who think we are being lazy, this is why we sleep until 11am. This schedule has been good because it is giving us some stability in our work here. We feel less like we are aimlessly wandering the streets of India.

Last night we were invited to go to a dirga celebration. A dirga is a Muslim shrine commemorating holy men or "saints" within the Muslim heritage. The idea is that these saints were extremely dedicated to shuria or "the way of Islam" and that Allah gave special favor to them. So now Muslims believe that if they offer their prayers to these saints that the saints will in turn offer a more effective prayer to Allah on their behalf. So Mark and I travelled along and participated in the cerimonial washing of the head, face, arms and feet. We then made our way to a shrine that contained a tomb where we saw people kissing the tomb, touching it with their faces and praying to the tomb. Contrarily, Mark and I sat in the corner and offered prayer to the very much alive Jesus Christ, our one mediator between God and man. This was a very interesting experience and spurred some good conversation after we left. The guys that we spend time with now want to look at the Bible and see what it says. We are excited about this because we know that it is God's Living Word that has power to change hearts and we are looking foward how God is going to work through His Word.

While I've been here I have been reading a great book called Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. It is basically an explanation and understanding of Jesus' continual use of the phrase "the Kingdom of God" within the Bible's Gospel accounts. It is plain to see that Jesus was not just referring to the Kingdom of God as heaven after we die. Surely heaven is God's kingdom but then what does Jesus mean when he says that the Kingdom of Heaven has "come near" or "is at hand"? The idea is that because Jesus is now on the scene, access to God's Kingdom and God's Kingdom kind of life is now available or "at hand." The key passage of the Kingdom kind of life is found Jesus' discourse in Matthew 5-7, also known as the Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus explains what the Kingdom looks like and what it should look like when it controls the hearts of men from the inside out. I was really moved by a realization I came to after reading Dallas Willard's interpretation on the Beatitudes at the beginning of Matthew 5. The Beatitudes were not just another list of smothering legalisms that said "to earn blessedness in the kingdom of God you must do these things." They are an announcement to the world about who is now blessed because Jesus is on the scene. Contrary to popular belief those poor in spirt (which really is better translated as lacking any spiritual depth or ability), or those who are meek and so on, are now blessed because Jesus has come to show that the Kingdom is for everyone who trusts him not just those who have it together or can get it together, whatever "it" is. What has really stuck with me is that God's Kingdom is actually for these people; the down and outers, the stepped on, and forgotten. God's Kingdom is not just for them like a gift is for somebody, but God's Kingdom is for them like in the statement "God is for us, not against us." God and his Kingdom are cheering wildly for anyone who would come and trust Jesus as their access into his Kingdom kind of life. This thought has forced me to take on a very different perspective when I walk down the street here in India. Everyday here I rub shoulders with the very people of which the Beatitudes are speaking. I am being changed to see that every person I pass has an equal share in the availability of the Kingdom of God, regardless of their age, appearence, or even their smell. This has allowed me to see Jesus' message truly as Good News. Because of Jesus, the Kingdom is at hand for all of these people. It is as close as the nose on their face. At the same time I am forced to look around and exclaim "the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few." In light of the Kingdom of God being for everyone, there must be someone to proclaim it to them and this is a daunting task in a country of over 1 billion people, most of who have never heard about Jesus and his available Kingdom. This is our task: While we are going, wherever it may be, we are to be making disciples of Jesus. I would encourage you as you go about your daily activities to stop and realize that everyone around you has an equal share of "blessedness" in the Kingdom of God. This is great news! Share it with others. The Kingdom is for them. Who doesn't want to hear that the God of the universe is cheering for them and has made provision for them to enter His Kingdom through faith in his Son Jesus.

I'm sorry to write such a long blog, but for my faithful followers I thank you for enduring to the end. I hope to update you soon with some more of what God is doing here. Thank you for your prayers and please keep on praying for what God is doing.

Grace and Peace

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Typical Indian/Muslim Wedding

The past few days have been somewhat of a blur. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the culture here about 4 days ago. At this time our supervisor decided to take us on a little road trip south to visit some people that she is interested in training to reach out to Muslims. We were able to visit a training seminar where over 100 men are being effectively trained to reach Muslims in their areas. This was very encouraging to see. When we got back to our city I felt much more rested and recharged.

The very night we got back from our road trip Mark and I decided to walk around the streets as we normally do just trying to strike up a conversation with people. We were invited to sit with a group of guys while they were asking us the normal questions about our country or how many girlfriends we have. While we were sitting a couple of guys on a motorcycle stopped to talk to the group of guys. The guys on the motorcycle were actually two of the guys that we spent a long time with the other night. We were all excited to see each other again. Then very non chalantly they invited us to a wedding that very night. Of course Mark and I said yes. There is nothing more culturally charged in any culture than a wedding. So all the guys we knew were really close to the two grooms (we found out later that there was two weddings happening). In Indian/Muslim weddings the close friends help set up and prepare everything for the ceremony and the reception. It was very fun and exciting to ride around town and help prepare. The marriage ceremony is according to Muslim tradition and the bride is not present at the actual ceremony. The two families come together and agree on a price and then the Muslim preist says a few words and thats pretty much it. Then we drink some green milk drink, eat some dried apricots and then hug the groom three times and say "shadi mubalak." This was very interesting considering I had never met the groom before and its safe to say he was a bit curious as to why two foriegn white guys showed up to his wedding. The wedding ceremonies didn't actually start until 12 am in the morning and didn't finish until 3:30 am or so. After the wedding we proceeded to "roam" the town by motorcycle until the sun was coming up and everybody was about ready to drop. This was only day one of the wedding celebration.

The next night there would be a large reception feast. This was the really big part. There were over 3000 people that came to the reception. We were told that this was a small reception crowd. There were people everywhere. They cooked tons of rice and chiken in big pots and then everyone sat on the floor and the food was placed on large pans. Three or four people would then dig into the large pile of rice and chiken, eating with their hands of course. We had a great time. So many people wanted to talk to us and know where we were from and such. I feel like the Father has really used this event to begin to establish us in this community. With over 3000 people at the wedding, we have now been introduced as friends of the community. This is key in the Muslim culture. It is very important that they know we love them. This in turn helps to keep their ears open when we present the Truth of the Word.

It has been truly amazing the past few days to see how the Father has place his work right before us. The guys we spend time with have already recognized something different about us and they have voiced this several times. Continue to lift these guys up; that the Father would open their hearts to His Kingdom. I ask you to pray for this because some of these guys are very strict Muslims and following the Son would come at a great cost to them, which we are promised in the Word that it will cost us greatly.

I'm sorry that I have written a book here, but if you have endured thus far I thank you. There is so much to write about and I just want to share with you all that the Father is doing here. It is truly amazing to be a part of His work.

Grace and Peace

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Effects of Effective Prayer

Some really big things have happened just in the past day. The Father really had to adjust my attitude yesterday. I was kinda complaining to myself that I didn't really know what we were doing here and that I didn't see how were were going to break in to this culture. The language barrier and been really hard and I was kind of allowing my self to see it as an unscalable obstacle. This however is not ever the case in Kingdom work. I decided that I must ask the Father to change my attitude even though it seemed like I see no outcome.

Last night Mark and I (Mark is my teammate, I dont know if I've told you his name yet) were supposed to meet some guys at this local hangout around 11:30pm. We waited for awhile but they never showed up. We were both a little discouraged because this was our first "planned" meeting with someone. This however is the norm norm for India. We had trouble communicating with the others around the hangout because we do not speak Hindi and most people only know limited English. We decide to pray specifically for English speakers that we could build relationships with. As we were walking our usually route through the city, some guys said hello to us, which at first was not anything to be excited about because everybody in India can say "hello" and "what country are you from". So we said "hello" but then they called us over to talk to them. It turned out that two of them spoke very good english. They then proceeded to pile seven or eight of us into an auto rickshaw and they drove us around town showing us all of the historical monuments. We had a great time. When we came back we began to talk about culture and eventually religion. We are in a predominantly Muslim area so it was not hard to guess our friends religion. We were able to share the Good News completely and explain it in comparison to Islam. This was our first opportunity to actually do this! This was exactly what we had prayed for! We ended up talking out on the street until 2:30am and we are going back to visit the same group tonight. It is amazing to see how the Father works. I am always learning more about this. Thank you for continually lifting us up. It is a blessing to be a part of the Father's work.

Grace and Peace