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May 18, 2013

he is preached

I'm lying on the floor of a long pastel-pink hall. The room is lined with thin red sleeping mats, and the sole decor is a serene portrait of Saint Don Bosco. I'm trying to get comfortable below the maroon ceiling fan swishing above me. It's +44°C. Even the locals are praying for mercy, and talking about how gatherings should not be held during hot season.  

Today was the first day I heard Benny Hinn mentioned in a non-joking fashion. The lady who kindly loaned me her mat told me of a trip she made to see Benny when he came to the capital. "We had never seen a healing service... It was his first time in our country... Fifty of us went." I don't know what to say. So I make some simple remark, and stare as if distracted by the empty field in front of us. (Everyone's in the shade: chatting, eating, waiting for cooler weather.) I'm thinking, "Really?! Benny Hinn?"

A few hours ago I was in an open-air building listening to this: “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains will spread out to the right and to the left...." The teacher and his translator are speaking, "He wants more for you. He wants you to have abundance." I can't disagree. But after an hour and half of that, and heat, I took to a sleeping mat during the next session.

When I start hearing "abundance" messages, I get wary. I can't help it; I grew up in a city where prosperity preachers sent the offering plate for a third round, and then sent their children to my school wearing different Nikes every day. And call me conservative, but I've never taken part in a healing service. After the fourteenth (OK, fourth) emotional, swaying repetition of the same chorus, I get tired. When I realized that the man at an event I attended was speaking in uninterpreted tongues, not the local language, I cringed. And Benny Hinn, well, do I need to even go there?

I like to think the basis for my concern is in the Book. But many of these people of varying persuasions are my brothers and sisters. Does their interpretation concern me? Yes. I can and do only align myself with them in certain areas. Yet when I look around at the shiny, glistening crowd at the +44°C gathering, I see reasons for rejoicing. I remember Luke 9:
“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” J'esus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.
And Philippians 1 reassures me:
"It is true that some preach Chr!st out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.... But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Chr!st is preached. And because of this I rejoice."
I've known people who could go into extensive arguments about the frequency of communion services or whether contemporary music should be used in worship. Worse yet, I've seen people disturb the study of the Word by throwing in snide remarks about Book versions. In North America, where chu'rches come in endless flavours, we get particular. "I'd like a scoop of Pistachio Presbyterian" or "Could you mix some Reformed Raisins into my Baptist Butterscotch?" But here, so far, I've only seen one flavour: Charismatic Caramel. When our fellowship is fraught with reminders of our differing theologies, I have to humbly remember that they're more for us than against us.

The reminders of our Oneness are everywhere, if I take the time to look. Here I see no amulets, no lucky eyeliner, no hearts full of fear of the spirits. No longer do they have to wait for an auspicious day to marry or move or start a new job; any day will do. I see a young man in green polyester trousers (a classic poor-man's cut), worshipping next to a man dressed in Western apparel. A middle class boy is squatting and cleaning the floor like a servant usually would. "That couple" seated behind me and their formerly-rascally son have transformed lives because someone loved them enough to face mocking and reach out to them. Each person here stands out from 99.5% of the local population; we have much in common. 

Back in the pink room of the rented Catholic facility, from my red mat under the fan, I notice one other ornament on the wall. A plastic J'esus, bloody and hanging on that cross. In the background, I hear the distant droning of the gathering I skipped. I wonder, have they learned the message of that cross?

Between elaborately choreographed dances and messages about healing and abundance, is the beat up J'esus the one they truly follow? I hold over them my theology and study. But I didn't get beat up or kidnapped when I declared my stance. I didn't get reviled or threatened at school each day. I didn't go completely against the grain of everything my neighbours and family believed.

My J'esus has straight teeth and coiffed hair. He is sweet and serene, his garments silky white, his smile peaceful. He's holding a scroll and waxing eloquent. But the sweating, suffering, bloody, beaten J'esus—they know Him better than I do.

May 10, 2013

single intention

Dating and engagement, when pursued in a wise fashion, are a time during which people are aiming at a target. They are pursuing marriage and on the way, they think about their core values. Sometimes they're advised to go through lists like this one and talk through anything from "What do you believe about this area of theology?" to "How involved will we be in chur'ch life?" to "How much money should we spend on entertainment?" They have to sift and weigh, determining if they agree on the answers to weighty questions.
If said people marry, and children come along, and they face new questions: "What kinds of media will we allow our children to consume?" and "How can we best reflect the Father through parenting?" One of the benefits (and challenges) of a healthy marriage, as I see it, is the ongoing conversation about values and how those carry over into practical living. That and in-house human accountability.

Singles can find themselves at a disadvantage in this regard.
We don't have to find commonality with anyone on many issues...which sometimes means don't take the time to consider such matters of stewardship as carefully as we might otherwise. We don't have joint bank accounts. We're less accountable to other humans for how we spend our spare time, because we have our own bedrooms and our own space. We are particularly vulnerable to our culture's ideas of self-centered, immature living that seem to accompany "the single years". But single people are no less accountable before the Father for their stewardship of resources, time, or attitudes than married people are.

As a single, I find it easy to skip over that intentionality about how I am going to do life, because ultimately, I make the final call in most decisions. Even when I consult wise, older believers first, most choices are my own in the end.

When I go shopping, and I decide to buy something I don't need, 50% of me is happy that I don't have a husband to report to, and 50% wishes I did, for accountability. I may toss around ideas about personal finances with a friend, but at the end of the day, I make the final financial calls for my life, and she makes hers. And it's easy to live a life full of good intentions but have little to show for them.   

How do singles battle lazy, selfish, aimless living?

First of all, we need something to aim for. We need to have a big-picture vision of what the Father has created and redeemed us to be. As humans. As believers. As people of our gender. As singles. This picture needs to be forefront in our minds. What is His high calling?

Secondly, we need to have a more individual vision of what the Father has created and redeemed us for, as individuals (who are also members of the Body). Where does my background, skill set, spiritual gifting, and local Body point me?

Thirdly, it can be helpful to create a life standard, or a life target, to see if our activities, thoughts and actions are directed at the mark. Call it time management, organization or setting life goals, but it could be a helpful way to gauge progress or keep on track.

Such lists could lead to bear in mind this wise phrase, "Write the vision in stone, and the strategy in pencil." Know what the non-negotiable calling is, but be flexible about what it might look like in your life.... though I think that between you and the Father (and perhaps a human accountability partner), it can be good to assign specifics so that you can better know if you're reaching your goals. As good managers say, "Without standards, there can be no improvement."

As the Father brings different areas to light, or as I live in different cultures and pass through different seasons, the list will change. But I could see it including goals for:
  • intentional showing of hospitality (ie: "I will invite a family or individual over at least once a month.")
  • intentional use of spiritual gifts for the edifying of the body (ie: "I will use my spiritual gift of ________ by setting aside time each week to __________.")
  • intentional pursuit of spiritual growth (ie: "I will grow in my understanding of ___________ area of theology this year." or "I will read _________ this year.")
  • intentional financial stewardship (ie: "I will give ____%." or "I will grow my giving by _____% this year.") 
  • intentional time management ("I will limit my TV, Facebook or movie consumption to _______ per week.") 
...and more! The list is not an end it itself, it's just a guide to remind ourselves of the target (Phil. 3:14)

With singleness comes the unique challenge that I can only call "expected flexibility." Singles can be the good eggs, bunking anywhere and with anyone. They should be up for random, late-night activities, because they don't have other commitments. Singles can befriend most anyone who happens to be single, and of course, always have lots of free time. These sorts of expectations should be met with a servant's heart; we can serve others in ways that our married friends cannot. But sometimes, if not out of selfish motives, it is OK too for us to explain that though we are not spouses or parents, have a life rhythm. Intentions. Standards. Sometimes we say "no" to something good, so that we can do something that we can live a life that clearly reflects what we most value.
What's the goal again? "We make it our goal to please him...for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Chr!st..." Single or married? Miss, Ms or Mrs? On that day, it won't matter anymore. Singleness will be a distant memory. Human marriage will dissolve when ultimate Groom is joined to his beloved Bride. So sift and weigh your practices and pursuits. Are you making it your goal to please Him?