Can you see the difference?

When I first met Christ, I gave him my life. Over the years, I learned how to live as a Christ follower. Some of the things I learned were genuinely Biblical in origin. Others were reflections of my culture and faith community. Sometimes, it’s been hard to distinguish between the two.

In Afghanistan, my Muslim neighbors constantly asked me about America, my country and Jesus, the leader of my religion.

In the face of their questions, I learned to distinguish between my culturally defined interpretations of Christianity and the truth articulated in Scripture.

I learned, for example, that my enjoyment of hymns and praise and worship songs was more a culturally formed expression of faith than one mandated by Scripture. I learned that the centrality of teaching in our faith community gatherings, our format of placing one person in the front and all the others who listen quietly for 40 minutes was more a reflection of our Reformation history that a Biblically required structure. I learned that our practice of discursive prayers carefully articulated by one individual at a time belonged more to our Wednesday night prayer gatherings than the upper room on the day of Pentecost.

I learned many other things, as well. For example, I learned that our approach to marriage and our expectations of relationships between men and women was a modern construct. I learned that my freedom to cut my hair, own property and travel alone reflected the affluence and education of my society.

All of these things belong to our American culture. We can argue about whether or not Scripture allow them, but we cannot claim them as mandated.

Still, we’re not only free, but encouraged to be our own culture. In the fullness of who we are, we express the glory of God, albeit, imperfectly. We are one of the many voices that worship before his throne.

Afghans are another voice. God’s desire isn’t to make them into Americans, but to redeem Afghans; to redeem their economy, education, families, religion and more. God’s desire is to bring them into freedom and wholeness in him.

Our part is not to condemn Afghan culture or to mock Afghan tradition, but rather to express the love and truth of God in the context of who we are.

Can you see the difference?

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Contemplating the bread and the cup

Jesus took bread, such a common, daily thing; bread. And he redefined it. “This is my body.” A body – another common, daily thing. Something we all have; flesh and bone, muscle and sinews. A body that’s formed first in the dark warmth of a mother’s womb. A body pushed angry and frightened into the world. A body that hungers and laughs and thirsts and cries. A body that feels every caress of love and prick of pain. “This is my body” and he gave thanks.

I pause and look at the bread in his hands. In my mind’s eye it’s a round loaf of golden Afghan bread. I know that’s not right. It’s Passover and Jesus’ bread would have no yeast. Still, that’s what I see; a golden loaf of tandoor baked bread – the same bread I’ve eaten so many times in so many different homes. So common. So normal. No special wafers or silver plates. Just a loaf of common bread.

Mark writes that Jesus spoke a eulogy; a praise for a life lived. Luke called Jesus’ words eucharisteo; thanks.

I watch Jesus lift his eyes to heaven. Eulogy; praise for a life lived. I listen for his words but they do not come to me through the distance of miles and centuries. Instead, I whisper my own. Continue reading

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God loves the people of Afghanistan

I don’t know who will win the Afghan elections nor do I have an opinion on who should. I don’t know if the losers will accept the count nor if the amount of fraud will forever taint the winner. I don’t know if the Afghan government will transition peacefully into its future or if the nation will disintegrate into tribally defined local rule.

Here’s what I do know: it’s spring, the kings have all gone out to war and the Afghans voted anyway. Hah! How’s that for courage?

I wish I could have seen them; Aziza, Gul Afruz, Maryam, Hussein, Taj Mohammed, all of them, lining up at polling stations, casting their ballots and receiving the deep blue ink that marked them as voters.

I know these people. I know their hopes for a peaceful future, for continued development and for a nation that welcomes their children into adulthood. I’ve heard their fears; of warlords returning, of drought and floods and hunger and poverty. Most of my friends in Afghanistan have seen and experienced things no one should have to live through, yet somehow they did and still manage to laugh and share and love and even vote.

A friend in Kabul wrote this account:

“Two days after elections I went to a medical clinic with our staff. Both of them [our staff] had voted and showed me their ink-stained fingers. The young assistant and the doctor spoke proudly of how long they’d waited in line. They told me of their family members who went, taking turns watching over the smaller children. As patients came in and out, the contrast between those who voted or didn’t was stark— a blackened finger cannot be hidden for long in a medical visit! It is powerful to be here during this changing of the guard, seeing how normal people respond to threats from the opposition and seeing them stand in what they believe for their country.

“What can we do with all this except to join before the God of all hope— He is the one who made us, who loves these people who voted and who didn’t vote, who wants to be with us.”

Indeed, God loves the people of Afghanistan. No matter what happens, we celebrate that.

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News: Come on out!

Washington Crossing United Methodist Church ~ Ladies Night Out:

On Friday, May 9th, Kate McCord will be our guest speaker at the Spring Ladies Night Out!

  • When: May 9, 2014. 7-9 pm
  • Where: the Crossing Worship Center
  • Refreshments will be provided.
  • Ticket Cost: $10

http://www.crossingumc.org/ministries/women/

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Mosaic

Back when the first English missionaries headed off to Africa, they thought the Africans had to become English before they could become Christian. They introduced the English language, church buildings, bells and ties. Yes, even ties.

Today, the African church flourishes as a uniquely African church. Our African brothers and sisters have shaken off much of the English culture imposed upon them, and kept Christ.

Good on them.

Today, when the missionaries go out to the world, they watch with delight as Tunisian churches are born, as Iranian believers worship in their own language with their own songs, and Kazak pastors interpret the Scriptures for their own culture.

Christ worship is no longer bound to English forms.

And what do we see? We see a beautiful mosaic of Christ colored in the unique gifts of each culture in the world. We are wealthier for the sight.

Someday, we’ll see people from every tribe nation and tongue gathering together before the throne of God. We’ll see the full mosaic of Christ in his people. Can you imagine it?

Glory!

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Just some simple thoughts about the Lord’s prayer

“Our Father in heaven, holy is your name.”

God is good, better even than the best person in the world. He loves us so much.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

God’s wants all of us to live his way. He is our true king, government and identity. We are first God – followers, then Americans, Muslims or Christians.

“Give us this day our daily bread”

God supplies all our needs. He uses people and economies and science, but He is the true provider. He knows what we need and takes care of us.

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

We’re not perfect. We fail with our hearts and our hands. We can’t hide our sins from God. We can’t do enough good works to clean our sins away. We can take our sins to God receive his forgiveness.

We can also forgive the faults and offenses of others. God does not want us to judge one another, nor punish or to seek to destroy one another. He wants us to forgive one another.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

God can protect us from temptation and show us the right path. We ask God to protect us from evil; the evil other’s do and the evil Satan creates in the world.

“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.”

We recognize God as our God and Heaven as our eternal home.

What do these simple lines in Jesus’ model prayer mean to you today?

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Koinōnia

I love that word. Listen to it; koinōnia. It feels so sweet on my tongue. Fellowship.

I thought it might be fun to think about what fellowship is and isn’t. I’ll share my thoughts, but imagine you have your own. Perhaps, as you read, you might consider what fellowship looks like in your own community.

Fellowship isn’t empty hands stretched out near one another, but rather full hands sharing treasures with one another. Perhaps the treasure is peace, perhaps a smile of welcome, perhaps a ride to the store or a few dollars to help a neighbor with an electric bill.

Fellowship isn’t a group standing shoulder to shoulder looking outward, but rather circles in clusters laughing, dancing, weeping, holding one another, looking into one another’s faces, seeing one another’s hearts and welcoming one another with all our grace and failure.

Fellowship isn’t a concert where the members of the audience sit quietly while the orchestra performs its greatest work. No, fellowship is more like a block party with hot dogs and hamburgers, kegs of soda and maybe beer, a rock ‘n roll band, laughter, stories and catching up – a messy cacophony celebrated in shorts and T-shirts.

Fellowship is the interlocking of people in love, grace and interdependence. It’s holding hands, sharing a cup and a loaf of bread. It’s like an Ethiopian meal, all hands; some old, some young, some soft, some calloused, some stained, some tattoos, some clean – all dipping into the same bowl.

Fellowship is community, a gift from God. It’s not something we create with a program or build with brick and mortar. Still, a program, a time set aside, a warm space in a roofed building can allow us the opportunity to experience the gift.

Fellowship?

How do you see it today?

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