Thursday, October 25, 2007

Blog getaway

Teaching takes a lot of my time and almost always blogging here is always the one to give way. Under normal circumstances, I should have enough time to do things while teaching. But my situation is far from normal so to speak. I am the school bus driver, a janitor in my own house, a computer technician, a father of three and sometimes I am the one who is doing the laundry among others. At this point, I’m just one lesson ahead from my students and this is not good. What makes lesson preparation so time consuming is that I have to read the textbook, write my lessons and carefully choose words which are translatable to Burmese language. I have a good interpreter and it is a blessing, but in any case, I have to do my best to make my lesson understandable in the local language. Meanings can be lost in translation.

We are also preparing to leave for CHN Phuket GetAway 2007. After almost two years, in the field we are finally having a break. This would be a new experience for us as a family. This is the first time that my children will experience staying in a five star hotel. They are looking forward to very exciting times at Phuket's beautiful beaches. And because we could not afford the airfare, we have to leave two days earlier for the actual schedule. We will take the cheapest bus from Mae Sai to Bangkok and Bangkok to Phuket. Almost 24 hours bus travel. We are not complaining and besides we are used to it. This will be a great experience for us especially for my children. Please pray for our safe travel.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Bosch: Christians true identity is found in mission

Christians find their true identity when they are involved in mission, in communicating to others a new way of life, a new interpretation of reality and of God and in committing themselves to the liberation of others. A missionary community is one that understands itself as being both different from and committed to its environment; it exists within its context in a way which is both winsome and challenging.

David J. Bosch. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. New York: Orbis Books, 1991. p.8

Friday, October 12, 2007

Mission as faith in action

Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Grand Rapid, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans. 1995. 192 pp

Chapter 4

Newbigin claims that we can look at the contemporary issues in mission from the Trinitarian faith. Thus in chapter four of this book, he declares that mission is proclaiming the kingdom of the Father. The Son did the proclamation, initially all throughout his three-year ministry. And since the gospel clearly states that the revelation of truth is the work of God alone—it is the work of the Holy Spirit. We have to note, however, that Jesus did not inaugurate the Kingdom. He inaugurated the proclamation of the Kingdom. There is not a time when God does not reign.

Christianity differs from other religions in that “it claims to show us the shape, the structure, the origin, and the goal not merely of human history, but of cosmic history” (31). God, the Father is not only the God of Israel and Christians but he is the God of the universe, the universal God who has been reigning even before the world began. The reign of God is his reign over all things.

This is the reason that in the gospel of John, Jesus is introduced as the one who was with God, and was God from the beginning, the Word through whom all things were made. A missionary who answers the question “who is Jesus?” asked by people who do not know him, can answer this question with this claim in the gospel of John.

God created the whole humanity and as we learn from the Genesis 3 the whole humanity fell because of sin. God therefore started the process of election to bring redemption to this fallen humanity. Those who are chosen are bearers of the blessing. God has chosen particular personality or community from each generation to become the bearer of God’s promise of being a blessing to all the nations like Noah, Abraham, Jacob, the nation Israel, the tribe of Judah and eventually the faithful remnant.

The mistaken notion of that election is a privilege rather than responsibility caused Israel to become unfaithful to their calling and they were punished for it. Thus the faithful remnant became smaller and smaller until the moment when the focus is narrowed down to one person—the one who bears the ultimate blessing for all nations. He is the one who saved the world and hailed as the son of God. This is the beginning of the gospel. Jesus Christ did not inaugurate the reign of God because the Father has been reigning since the beginning.

Jesus Christ proclaimed the reign of God. Jesus Christ announced that the reign of God is not something far up in heavens. It is an impending reality that everybody needs to make a decision about it. In announcing God’s reign Jesus used parables. Why did Jesus use parables? His intention then was so that his proclamation could not be understood by those who rejected it and at the same understood by those who believe. Those who accepted it were given comprehension. Parable is a mystery. It is both hidden and revealed. It means it is revealed for those whose eyes are opened and hidden for those who hardened their hearts. The ability to understand the hidden message is solely the work of God.

The supreme parable according to Newbigin is Jesus Christ. The reign of God is both revealed and hidden in the words and works of Jesus and supremely in his cross and resurrection. It has to be proclaimed to all the nations by those to whom its secret has been entrusted—the church. Here the mystery of being open and hidden is also at work. Some people understand the meaning of the cross and resurrection of Jesus while other people do not. Perhaps it is because the reign of God is made known under the form of weakness and foolishness to those whom God has chosen to make it known. Clearly what happened to Jesus or what he allowed to happen to him is a form of weakness and foolishness from the world’s perspective.

Since the church is chosen to make know the reign of God, Jesus reminded the believers that they have to suffer. This truth is clearly expressed by in the little apocalypse discourse in Mark 13. If I understood Newbigin’s argument here, the church will share the tribulations with Christ because of its role as the one who proclaims the kingdom of God. The suffering are the occasion of the Spirit’s witness, and his witness must be given to all nations. Suffering is an essential part of the proclamation. It is when the church is suffering that the proclamation of the gospel is on its best.

God’s reign is indeed at hand. God is indeed active in history. But his action is hidden within what seems to be its opposite—suffering and tribulation for his people. The secret has been entrusted to those whom God chose. They are to be witnesses of it to all nations. In fact, it will be the Spirit himself who bears this witness in and through the messianic tribulations to which they are called. Their task is to remain faithful to the end. By faith they know that the reign of God has conquered the powers of evil. Their calling is to proclaim it, but even more powerful will be the proclamation of the Spirit, who takes their faithful enduring rejection as the occasion of his witness. Mission, seen from this angle, is faith in action. It is the acting out by proclamation and by endurance, through all the events of history, of the faith that the kingdom of God has drawn near (39).

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A terrible failure

I read Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission by David J. Bosch two years ago as part of our reading assignment in a mission course seminar. But I was pre-occupied with other class assignments that time that I did not pay close attention to what I was reading. And besides, I thought that going to the mission field in that time was impossible for us. Now, I have a copy of the book in my hands and read it with new eyes, my understanding is deeper. It seems the words become alive and I can relate to what Bosch is talking about. I think it is a great idea to make this a required reading to all the Filipino missionaries who will go out and minister cross-culturally.

…toward the end of his life Max Warren, for many years General Secretary, referred to what he termed “a terrible failure of nerve about the missionary enterprise". In some circles this has led to an almost complete paralysis and total withdrawal from any activity traditionally associated with mission, in whatever form. Others are plunging them¬selves into projects which might just as well—and more efficiently—be undertaken by secular agencies.

Again, in some Christian circles there is no sign of such a failure or nerve. Quite the contrary. It is "business as usual" as regards the continuation of one ¬way missionary traffic from the West to the Third World and the proclamation of a gospel which appears to have little interest in the conditions in which people find themselves, since the preachers' only concern seems to be the saving of souls from eternal damnation. Here the right of Christians to proclaim their religion is beyond dispute since the Bible clearly commands world mission. To even suggest that there is a fundamental crisis in mission would be tantamount to making concessions to "liberal" theology and to doubting the abiding validity of the faith once handed down to us.

Whilst the zeal for mission and the self-sacrificing dedication evidenced in these circles must be applauded, one cannot help wondering whether they are really rendering a valid and long-term solution. Our spiritual forebears may perhaps be pardoned for not having been aware of the fact that they were facing a crisis. Present generations, however, can hardly be excused for their lack of awareness.

David J. Bosch. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Mary Knoll, NY, Orbis Books, pp 6-7.

Never forget who you are

Scripture text: Colossians 3:1-4
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
We usually say that forgetfulness is a sign of old age. We are ready to forgive somebody who is old when they forget but we could not do the same when younger person failed to remember.

Last May when I attended the Asian Baptist Congress in Chiang Mai, the director of a Mission organization was scheduled to present their mission programs and activities. But when the time came for the meeting, the director was absent. Hours later after the meeting, she appeared and told us that she forgot everything about the meeting because her mind was focused on something else. And I know, a lot of times we had the same experience.

Here in our passage, Paul knows that we forget easily. If we forget even the most important appointment we made, he believes, that there is no reason why we could not forget some important truth about our faith. We tend to forget these important truths because our attention is focused on other things.

In our text today, the Apostle Paul is reminding us of who we are in Christ and how important it is as a Christian to see everything from different perspective—from heavenly perspective. It is impossible to live a Christian life if we keep forgetting who and what we are in Christ. Here the Scripture reminds us of important truths about our life as followers of Jesus Christ.

We are reminded of our new identity in Christ (v. 1)

It’s sad that many Christians do not know exactly who they are in Christ. We have this idea that we are not different from most people around us who obviously have different faith. Not knowing the difference, makes us think that we can live like them.

Our understanding of who we are in Christ comes from the Bible. It is the main source of our knowledge about our identity in Christ and if we have not been reading it or much more studying it, we are left with a poor knowledge of ourselves.

His word is a formative factor, not our feelings, not what somebody is telling about us. The starting point of understanding our new identity is the word of God. It tells the truth about us.

Here in verse 1, the Bible tells us we have been raised with Christ. This statement implies that two important things have happened to us—we have died and we have been raised up from the dead. For how can we rise up if we have not died?

But what does it mean exactly? How did we die and how are we raised?

According to the Scripture, when Christ died for our sin on the cross, we also died with him there spiritually. He died in our place. This means that when he died, we died with him. We died to sin. We have been set free from the penalty of sin and the power of sin.

And when Christ rose again, we also rose with him and here I will emphasize in spiritual sense. Because of his resurrection, we now have new life in the Spirit. The Bible says we have been born from above by the power of the Spirit to live a new life, abundant life in a new spiritual dimension.

According to the text, we dwell spiritually in Christ in heavenly realm. It means we are identified with him and he with us. I hope that when people look at us they will see Christ because here it says that our life is hidden with Christ in God. He is our life. We are one with him. We dwell with him. We are not earthly dwellers. We are heaven dwellers.

Now it is easier said than done or seen in our lives. Nonetheless, we should see and start acting about this truth. Although our understanding about spiritual reality is limited at this point, we should see this new reality. This is made doubly difficult because of the sufferings, difficulties and limitations that we have been experiencing here on earth in general and here in Mae Sai in particular as strangers and perhaps as oppressed people.

Nonetheless, if we believe and live the truth that we are dwelling in Christ, that we are united in Christ in all our ways it will make a big difference on how we live. It will make a big difference how we live everyday. It makes a difference in how we see ourselves and our self worth. This is the reason that the Apostle Paul reminds us that we have new identity in Christ and we should never see ourselves apart from it.

We are reminded to focus on things above (v. 2)

The natural consequence of a new identity is having a new focus. We must concentrate our focus on eternal realities.

Just look at the things that the people around us identify us. People tend to identify us with the material things we possessed. They know us by where we live and what kind of house we live in. We are even identified by what kind of car or motorcycle we are driving. We are identified on what work we do. Are we a doctor, an English teacher, a construction worker, a factory worker, a market vendor or a bus driver? Now these may be what we do, but definitely would not define who we are. But somehow sometimes, we allow these things to define who we are, but we should not.

We cannot avoid this. We are living in a material world and more often than not we are identified by the things we possessed or the things that possessed us. And it should not be. This is the reason that the Apostle Paul reminds us that we should have a new focus based on our new identity. We must discover who we really are in Christ.

Our text says that our life is hidden with Christ in God. Something happened in our life that we should be constantly be aware of. In this sense, even at present while we are still here on earth, we are already dwelling in heavenly places. We are citizen of heaven but we are living in a while here on earth. And because of this fact, we do everything from heavenly perspective. We should always see ourselves as joined in Christ. Never, even a moment to see ourselves apart from Jesus. He is our life.

Because of this we are exhorted to set our hearts on things above, set your minds on things above. In other words, focus our attention to what is essential in our life, the heavenly realities. The problem with many Christians is that we are focused on what is happening around us. We are so focused on earthly things that we began to think like we are no leaving this world.

So what are these things above we are ask to seek? Foremost I believe here is the joy and blessings we have from daily intimate fellowship with Christ. People do not actually see this but they know its effect. By spending time with Jesus everyday in prayer and meditation upon his word you develop a strong sense of communion with him and this result in a strong communion with people believers and non-believers alike.

And because Jesus is gracious, we become gracious. Because Jesus is merciful we become merciful and people around us could use that mercy. Focusing on Jesus’ love and humility makes us more loving and humble. This means that setting our hearts and minds on things above results in a positive influence in a world full of negative things. Christians can turn the mourning into dancing. We can turn sorrows to the joy of the Lord. We can heal the broken hearted and we can set the captives free.

We should let these things above define us. Let our union with Christ identifies us. Christ has so identified with us that when comes again, we will appear in him in glory. He includes is in his life, he also include us in his ultimate victory.

Friday, October 05, 2007

What's going on?

We live just outside the Myanmar border but just like the rest of the world, news from inside Myanmar are getting lesser and lesser each passing day. Not only that the news also become vague and foggy. Rumors have been that the government has suspended all the sources of news and information in Myanmar this includes the internet. The news that government has been murdering a lot people seems plausible. Here is some information coming from the inside of one of its cities.

This city is under a curfew. Residents can only go out of their homes from six in until nine in the morning. Yes, that is right they are allowed to see the world three hours each day.

There is no internet. People are lining up and waiting for hours in internet cafes to send emails but no one is able to send or receive emails.

People are not allowed to group together in fours or fives. Order is out to shoot at people who are out in the streets in group.

Earlier this week, the city held a demonstration simultaneous with the demonstration in Yangon and now nobody can tell for sure how many people have died in the city as a result of crackdown on protesters because of the three hours limit given to the civilians. Anyone who ventures out on the street would be risking death.

Gunshots and explosions can be heard everywhere. These can be heard from nearby and from distant places.

Churches are not allowed to hold worship services. It is too dangerous to gather in one place.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Mission of the Triune God

Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Grand Rapid, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans. 1995. 192 pp

Chapter 3

“In the name of Jesus” is the first natural answer a Christian usually utters when the question of authority arises. However this answer is not understood if you are in place where Jesus is virtually unknown that is if he is known at all their knowledge of Jesus is radically different from the Christian’s understanding of Jesus. For example, Newbigin cites that for the Hindu, Jesus is just one of the jeevanmuktas. He is one of the few who attained full realization of the divine in this life. For the Muslims Jesus is one of the messengers of Allah. For the man of Western society, he is one of the world’s religious leaders to whom we will find reference (along with Buddha, Muhammad, Moses and Guru Nanak). These show that it is impossible to answer the questions “who is Jesus?’ with out using a language that is shaped by the pre-Christian experience of the one who is asking the question. The risk of identifying Jesus with local deities is always present with them. Nonetheless, those who become believers will know that in some aspect he is like them, but more so uniquely more than them.

In light of this, Newbigin insists that it is impossible to know Christ Jesus at all as a natural happening. If our knowledge of him is based in our cultural and religious presupposition, it will always result in a distorted knowledge of him. Our understanding of who Jesus is the work of the Holy Spirit. Nobody knows Christ based on one’s intellectual capacity. When Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the Living God Jesus quickly commented that it is not his own achievement but a gift from above. Peter’s incredible insight about Jesus is the work of the Spirit of God himself (1 Corinthians 12:1-3, 1 John 4:1-3). It is the action of God by which he chooses and anoints the messengers of his reign. It is the work of the sovereign Spirit to enable men and women in new situations and in new cultural forms in the language of their own culture. The mission of the church is its obedient participation in that action of the Spirit by which the confession that Jesus is Lord becomes the authentic confession of every new people, each in its own tongue (20).

Newbigin quotes the first chapter of Mark’s gospel to answer the question. He thinks that the scripture passage can best answer the question. In the passage, Jesus was introduced as the one who announces the coming of the reign of God and is anointed by the Spirit of God. This is how Jesus was proclaimed by the first believers in a pluralist society that knew not Jesus at all. This Trinitarian language was how the first Christians articulated the proclamation about the identity of Jesus. “This understanding is not the result of speculative thought. It has been given by revelation in the actual historical life and work of the Son” (26).

Thus the question of the authority of the words “in the name of Jesus” can only be answered in terms that embody the Trinitarian faith. Even though this model cannot be verified by reference to the axioms of our culture, this is offered on the authority of revelation and with the claim that it does provide the possibility of practical wisdom to grasp and deal with human life as it really is (28). Therefore, Christian mission can be understood only if it will be seen through a Trinitarian lens —as proclaiming the kingdom of the Father, as sharing the life of the Son and as bearing the witness of the Spirit (29).