May 27, 2009
Pacifist vs. Peaceful
A few days ago one of our missionaries was driving to the church where she works, when she heard two loud explosions close by. At first she thought they were fireworks, but then she noticed that all the pedestrians were quickly clearing the street. A lady on the sidewalk grabbed her baby from its stroller and ducked into the nearest house, leaving the stroller on the curb. Suddenly, our missionary colleague noticed a man running in her direction. She had to swerve to miss him, and as he went by she saw that he was carrying a pistol. Later she found out that what she had witnessed was the robbery of a gas station, during which there was at least one fatality.
In the Grangeiro neighborhood of Crato--our city--the husband of one of the members of our congregation was walking home at night. Without warning a man jumped out of the shadows behind him and hacked at his head with a short sickle, nearly decapitating him.
Every week we hear accounts like the ones above. Things like this make me look askance when Brazilians insist that they are a "pacifist" nation. While this may be true in terms of external policy, it has not translated into Brazil being a peaceful nation.
I have been thinking much about this recently, ever since speaking at a conference where the theme was decidedly military (and, to be fair, the ones who came up with the theme and invested heavily in making it work were the Brazilian young people of the church). There is a decided hesitation on the part of Brazilian believers to use military analogies or speak of Christian warfare.
As I told the young people, you can be pacifist in your politics if you want, but you cannot afford to be pacifist in your spiritual life. Our enemy is not pacifist (I Peter 5:8), and neither is our Commander. The Old Testament--which is for our example and edification--is full of accounts of God's people going to war against His enemies. Christ said that he came to bring not peace but a sword (Matt. 10:34). In these New Testament times we no longer take up the sword against God's earthly foes, but that does not mean the war is over. If anything, it has intensified, because now our fight is against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Eph. 6:12), and against our own flesh (I Pet. 2:11). We also know that true peace will only come once Christ has won the final victory over His enemies--peace through superior firepower, if you will.
Mark Driscoll once said "If you are a pacifist, that's ok. Those of us who aren't have got your back." That pretty much sums up my politics. It is interesting to see how a pacifist philosophy has wreaked havoc on Brazilian society. Take, for example, the local supermarket (think Wal Mart) which, upon catching a shoplifter, politely asks them to return the items and then lets them go their merry way. This is because if they were to prosecute they would risk reprisals from the criminal element. So they are reduced to negotiating with the bandidos.
The result of this philosophy is not peace. Rather, it is a population that lives in fear of the criminal element.
I am much more concerned, however, that we as Western Christians (not just Brazilians) have lost our battle-mentality. It is time for us to stand up, suit up (referring to Ephesians 6, not suits and ties), and step up to the front lines. The only peace in this war comes through victory, and there can be no negotiation with the enemy.
May 25, 2009
Deep South...And I Do Mean Deep!
In my previous post I mentioned former Confederate soldiers who brought their families here to Brazil after the Civil war, forming a colony which can still be seen today. We have touched on this subject before--it can still be found In the dark recesses of the archives of this blog. However, today I did a little search on YouTube and found four videos that give a lot more of the history and background of the group, as well as the current activities of their descendants. So, without further ado, I present them to you here. (Underneath each video I have made a few comments.)
Up until now this was the only documentary I had seen on the subject. It is still one of the best, as far as giving background information about the group, as well as the effect they had on Brazilian culture. This video gives the most information about the founding of the first Baptist church in Brazil.
This one does not have much narration, but it does include some interesting shots from the local celebration of the Confederate Tradition. Fascinating to see the mix of Brazilian and Southern American culture. If you watch it on the YouTube page you can see some interesting notes put there by the author. It is funny to see the Brazilian guy portraying General Robert E. Lee.
Don't miss the Dixieland band--especially the tuba player. I was kind of confused as to what the "can-can" at the end had to do with anything confederate.
This one provides a little more background, as well as some looks into the modern life of the descentents.
This one provided some more detailed history, including the story of one son of the Confederates who fell in love with a Brazilian slave girl. Boy meets Brazilian, boy goes to the US to study, boy returns to Brazil and marries his Brazilian sweetheart...sounds vaguely familiar.
Memorial Day Reflections
Celebrating Memorial Day in a foreign country can be complicated. When the country in question is overwhelmingly pacifist in its sentiment it can become even more dicey.
Of course, Brazilians are not really "in tune" with American holidays to begin with. Heaven knows, they have enough of them already. In fact, I would venture to guess that almost the only Brazilians who are celebrating Memorial Day today are the ones that work in the various consular offices scattered accross US territory. (That has to be one of the sweetest jobs ever, because they get both US and Brazilian holidays off, which means they work perhaps half of the year...)
However, though I live in the midst of a "pacifist" society (which does not mean it is a "peaceful" society--more on that later, perhaps), I recognize the enormous contribution of US soldiers to the work that I do. The following is almost certainly an incomplete list of those contributions:
1. The soldiers of the American Revolution founded, with their blood, the nation which has been the cradle of world missions from almost that point on. I find it interesting that it was shortly after the Revolutionary War that American Christians began to look beyond their own shores to a lost world. The equation is simple: no American Revolution, no missionary movements of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries.
2. American soldiers have defended religious freedom on every corner of the globe. Can you imagine where missions would be if--for example--Hitler had dominated the western world, or if Imperialist Japan had dominated Asia? American troops have an honored and noble tradition of taking out thugs who cannot stomach the thought of Christianity. Think what you will about the Iraq war, can you conceive of Christian missionaries in that country if US soldiers had not expelled Sadaam Hussein?
Here I must note that brave men from my adoptive Brazil--for all of her pacifist posturings--played a heroic role in trouncing Mussolini.
3. American soldiers played an indirect part in the start of Baptist missions here in Brazil. The victory won with great difficulty by Northern soldiers in the Civil War caused some southerners to emigrate to Brazil. There they founded a colony which inluced the first Baptist church in this country. Upon visiting relatives at that colony, a former Confederate soldier was impressed with the great need for missions here, and started the first Baptist missionary work. Again, the equation is fascinating: no northern victory, no Baptist missions in Brazil.
4. Believing US soldiers had their eyes opened to the worldwide need as they were helping to defeat the Nazis and Imperial Japanese. Upon their return they started a missionary movement in the late forties and early fifties--the effects of which continue to this day. Our own field in Brazil was greatly impacted by this movement.
While chatting with my Mom this morning she reminded me that we have ancestors who served in the American Revolution and Civil War. This is a part of my heritage of which I am very proud.
While not all US soldiers have behaved themselves in admirable ways, and while their cause has not always been as just as the national anthem would imply, their impact on Christian missions has been, and continues to be, enormous. The prayers of the Comings family are constantly with those who are serving today around the world, and with those families who are suffering with the loss of a soldier son, daughter, husband, wife, father, or mother.
I would like to close this post with a couple quotes. The first one is of dubious authorship, being atributed at times to George Orwell or Winston Churchill. Whoever said it, it is true:
We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.
The second is the version of the hymn Eternal Father, Strong to Save sung by the group Acapella. Each verse addresses a different member of the Trinity, and relates to a different branch of the service. I get teary-eyed every time I hear it.
Eternal Father, strong to save, whose arms hath bound the restless wave
Who bids the mighty ocean deep its own appointed limits keep
O hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea
O Christ, the Lord of hill and plain o'er which our traffic runs a-main
By mountain pass or valley low: wherever Lord, our brethren go
Protect them by thy guarding hand from every peril on the land
O spirit, whom the Father sent to spread abroad the firmament
O wind of heaven, by thy might save all who dare the eagle's flight
And keep them by thy watchful care from every peril in the air
O trinity of love and power, our brethren shield in danger's hour
From rock and tempest, fire and foe, protect them where-so-e'er they go
Thus ever-more shall rise to thee glad praise from air and land and sea
May 22, 2009
Book Review: Pain and Pretending
"Pain and Pretending" should be in the library of anyone in Christian service who plans on doing any counseling--which would include almost everybody in Christian service. Rich Buhler's insights have opened my eyes to the mentality of those who have experienced abuse--and I am sure they will be beneficial to you as well.
After two introductory chapters in which Buhler explains the effects of the past, he divides the bulk of the book into two sections; one describing the stages an abused person goes through (which Buhler calls "the season of destruction"), and the other prescribing the solutions (called "the season of recovery).
What stood out to me in Buhler's treatment of the "season of destruction" was how heavily he relied on cases that he himself has personally been involved with. He is quite obviously coming at this with a wealth of experience in dealing with hurting, abused people.
In the second half of the book--where he deals with recovery--I admired Buhler's dedication to biblical solutions, and his insitance that true healing is only to be found in Jesus Christ. In fact, he breaks healing down into two main parts: knowing "the truth about me" and "the truth about God".
While the subject matter of this book can make it depressing at times, Rich Buhler offers hope that aboused people can break their cycle of defeat and--with God's help--become survivors.
If you are a victim of abuse, or know one, you should read "Pain and Pretending".
May 19, 2009
God's Amazing Grace on Sunday
If you have been reading the most recent blog posts, you may have gotten the impression that last weekend was somewhat busy for us. That would be a very correct impression. In fact, between after the puppetry school on Saturday afternoon and the youth conference Saturday evening, I was wiped out physically and emotionally--and I still had a Sunday School lesson to prepare.
I seriously considered calling in on Sunday to cancel my class. It would not be a big problem, the students could sit in on other great classes. Besides, I was getting a little discouraged with the class. I designed the material to reach out to unchurched young people who were studying English. Most weeks, however, I ended up teaching the English-speaking youth of our church. Sort of preaching to the choir.
Added to this was the fact of our current computer woes. There was no way for me to print out a worksheet--something I have done for ever lesson so far.
Still, with all these difficulties, I got up early on Sunday morning and began to put together a lesson based on my recent readings in the life of John Newton. As I was putting the finishing touches on the material, I began to notice holes in my vision--the telltale sign that I was about to get hit with a migrane.
My migranes work like this: about five minutes before the headache, blank spots, or holes, appear in eyesight. The bigger the holes, the more intense the migrane. On Sunday morning, the holes were blocking about half of my vision.
That's it! I thought. It's official, God does not want me to teach today. The migranes I get--even the mild ones--usually leave me flat on my back for at least two hours--unable to function at any level.
As I was about to pick up the phone and call the pastor, I was struck with the fact that perhaps I was being tested. Perhaps God wanted to see how much it would take to get me to stay home from a ministry. I also remembered with irony several "motivational speeches" I had given to students in our ministry internship program here at the seminary, urging them to "soldier on" through adverse circumstances. I decided that perhaps God wanted me to put my actions where my mouth was, and "soldier on" as well.
By the time I got to church my head was throbbing. It felt like giant vice grips were being applied to every part of my skull. I gritted my teeth and went upstairs to our classroom. When I opened the door, the students were there--and there were three visitors! And one of them was from a local university--the poster child for our target audience.
As I began the lesson, I appologized for the fact due to my migrane, I might not be too coherent. As I was saying those words, I noticed something strange happening--my migrane was going away. Before I got halfway into the lesson, it was gone. In the history of my migranes (which goes all the way back to the eighth grade) that has never happened.
The theme of the lesson was "God's Amazing Grace". It was surely demonstrated to me in abundance that morning.
One of our local churches, Sião Baptist, recently hosted a youth conference with the theme "Winning the Battle". The motiff was military, and I had the privilege of delivering the first address: "The Strategy of the Enemy".
The youth group at Sião Baptist went out of their way to make this a memorable event. Below is the poster they made and sent to all the churches, complete with a picture of each speaker, "photoshopped" into a military uniform.
Here are some more pictures from the conference:
In keeping with the theme, I went in full battle dress (a Swiss paratrooper's uniform I picked up at a military surplus store in Florida). Each of the teens is wearing a personalized camoflage t-shirt. They also gave me one, which I wore underneath the uniform.
After the service, everybody wanted to try on the helmet!
I preached at our church on Sunday, so was not able to make the second evening of the conference. On Monday, however, the speaker was Pastor Wellck, who came in a uniform that was a little more "old skool".
Of course, after the service he still had to try on the helmet.
One of the more creative aspects of the evening was a micro marching band that called everybody to worship, and then provided music after the service. Here is the video:
Besides the cool theme, the conference was spiritually rich as well. I was gratified at the response from the young people to the challenge I gave at the end of my message, and they were obviously impacted by the other two messages as well.
Michael Comings, Photographer
At the aforementioned puppetry school I gave the camera to Mikey, with the intention that he take picture of the event. Those who know my firstborn will not be surprised at the pictures I found on the camera at the end of the day:
The wildlife photos did not surprise me in the least. However, these next ones caught me off guard:
Hmmmmmmmm. Think I may need to have a chat with my son.
Yet Another Puppetry School
This one was held at our sponsoring church, Novo Juazeiro Baptist. Normally our puppetry schools run two days, and include a instruction on how to make a puppet. This was a reduced course, however, as the purpose of it was to teach basic puppetry techniques to people in the church who will be forming smaller puppet teams to participate in various church ministries.
May 13, 2009
Book Review: The Hole in our Gospel
Before reading "The Hole in our Gospel", the back cover gave me pause. How much was I going to gain from a book recommended by Madelein Albright?
Quite a lot, actuallly. There are many areas where Mr. Stearns and I disagree theologically (see below). However, we are in perfect agreement when it comes to the overall point of his book--that the Western church is altogether oblivious to the great needs being faced by the rest of the world.
Richard Stearns knows what he is talking about. Once the CEO of Parker Brothers (of Monopoly fame) and Lenox (makers of find china), Stearns accepted the call of God (and subsequent dramatic cut in salary) to become executive director of World Vision--a Christian organization dedicated to bringing relief to the poorest regions of the world. The book is in a large part his own testemony of how God brought him from said oblivion to a burning passion to help the poor.
The book is full of heart-wrenching stories--many of them first-hand accounts--that should galvanize Christians to action. One that brought me to tears was the account of a Hatian woman offering her starving children to passing strangers with the words "You pick, just feed them."
One thing I appreciated about this work was that Stearns did not let it become a screed against the rich and powerful, nor did it descend to the anti-American depths of Shane Clayborn's "Jesus for President". Rather it is an impassioned appeal to the portion of the Church which has experienced material blessing to be generous with that part of the world which has not.
I also appreciated the fact that the book is not completely in bed with liberal politics. While Stearns pays the predictable respects to the likes of Jimmy Carter, there are many examples in the book that can and should be appreciated by social and fiscal conservatives like myself. Consider this description of Uganda's encouraging fight agains the AIDS epidemic:
Then Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni, declared war on AIDS as a threat to Uganda's future and security. He called on every sector of Ugandan society--schools, churches, the media, businesses, and the health care system--to join the battle and invited international governments and aid agencies to help. Education was central to his campaign, and he and his wife even went door-to-door offering AIDS tests. Billboards were visible everywhere, calling people to absinence, faithfulness to one partner, and safer sexual choises as part of one's patriotic duty. The result was astounding. The incidence of HIV infctions fell from 21 percent to about 6 percent between 1991 and 2000.
Did Madelein Albright read that section?
The above section also highlights another aspect of the book I appreciated. Though Stearns paints a pretty bleak picture at times, the tone of the book is positive and hopeful. The reader comes away thinking "Perhaps there is something that can be done!" or, better yet, "Perhaps there is something I can do!"
As I hinted at above, I cannot end this review without a doctrinal caution. It worries me when I read phrases like this:
More and more our view of the gospel has been narrowed to a simple transaction, marked by checking a box on a bingo card at some prayer breakfast, registering a decision for Christ, or coming forward during an altar call.
While I am totally in his camp when it comes to "registering a decision for Christ" and "coming forward during an altar call" the phrase "simple transaction" bothers me. We are talking about what Christ accomplished on the cross, which--while indeed a transaction--was anything but simple. I fear that while we try to make the Gospel about more than the cross, we make it about less than the cross.
We need to be very clear that acts of charity, selflessness, and generosity are not the means of grace, but its outward demonstration.
Having said that, I would encourage all Western believers to read this book. I hope it will challenge you as it did me.