Reflections on living on a low income in Australia (Part 2)

In my last post I talked about the challenges of living on a low income in Australia. In the following I want to affirm that living on a low income is by no means a sign of God’s abandonment. Nor is it necessarily a hindrance to participate in the purpose and mission of God. Here I will briefly mention a few things that I have learned in this journey.

First, focus on God and trust him for his provision. This is not as simple as it sounds. It is in fact a lifelong journey, with many failures along the way. There are many miracles of God’s blessings, even though sometimes they are very tiny miracles. Sometimes God blesses me with the company of friends who buy me coffees. At other times we receive substantial financial gifts from friends who do not expect anything in return. And there are times when we simply have to faithfully trust in God’s love.

Second, have a sense of God’s vocational calling. When I lost my job, I was anxious to find work. But after prayer it became clear that I should wait on God for work that fits into his purpose for me and for his world. Over the years God has given me opportunities to participate in his purpose through theological teaching and other voluntary services. Regardless of how much I earn, I know that I am walking with God, which is most important. The one who calls us is faithful (1 Thess 5:24).

Third, not having many material possessions is a good thing. God has supplied all our needs. We live a simple life, and it is good! Some months ago I asked our 14-year-old whether he wanted an iPhone or smart phone, knowing that almost all his friends had one of those gadgets. But he said that he didn’t need one. He is accustomed to not having extra material things. Living simply is great.

Fourth, low income draws the family closer. We don’t have much, but we have each other. We enjoy our yummy meals at home. Our son always praises Mum’s cooking. Isn’t that wonderful? We also enjoy cheap meals in the Asian restaurants in multicultural Melbourne. There are many precious moments that we cherish as a family.

Fifth, our experience helps us to identify with the pain of others, albeit only in very small measure. Our struggles remind us of the much greater suffering that the poor and marginalised experience on a daily basis. Trials help us to be better listeners to the stories of those who suffer, especially those living with poverty and social injustice. If anything, I hope our low income can reduce the power differentials between us and the poor, even though only by a little bit.

Sixth, our experience helps us to understand the mission of God. God sent his Son to become a human being, to identify with the suffering of humanity, and to die on the cross so as to set them free from the power of sin and death. God raised him from the dead so that all who are in him may flourish as people created in his image. Christ did not just say that he cared, he came to share—to share the joys and pains of humanity. Our very small struggles give us an opportunity to follow the footsteps of our Lord, saviour, and king. We pray that by God’s grace we may also share the reasons for our hope with the people around us.

The Book of Revelation and the call of the church to mission (Dean Flemming)

Sometimes Christians find it hard to understanding the Book of Revelation in the Bible. At the same time, the followers of Jesus don’t always know how to embody the mission of God in their lives. But in his book, Recovering the Full Mission of God, Dean Flemming helps us to read Revelation (and other New Testament books) and understand God’s call for the church to participate in his mission, especially in the Western world.

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Here are a few excerpts from Flemming’s book.

[The] church is to come out of Babylon—“to be a godly community in the midst of the ungodly empire.” (Page 238; emphasis added; see Rev 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21.)

From Revelation’s perspective, the church lives out its missional calling in a world dominated by a Roman Empire that had declared its power to be absolute. Rome had hijacked the claim to sovereignty over the world from the one true God. This idolatrous order was demonstrated above all in the emperor cult, which thrived in the cities of Asia. (page 238)

It is a call for God’s people to abandon Babylon-like living. Practically, it means distancing themselves from such ordinary cultural practices as eating food sacrificed to idols (Rev 2:14–15, 20–21). Christians could encounter idol food in a whole variety of settings. These included public festivals, social dinners at the temple, and meetings of the trade guilds, all of which involved honouring the emperor and the traditional pagan gods. But although this might be a “normal” activity in the culture, in John’s prophetic eyes, it is a compromise with state-sponsored idolatry. Leaving Babylon would also involve forsaking unjust economic practices. And, as Christ’s message to the church in Laodicea reveals, it is a departure from self-indulgent consumption, along with the arrogance that fuels it. “I am rich,” boast the Laodiceans, “I have prospered, and I need nothing” (Rev 3:17). In short, exiting Babylon entails leaving behind whatever values and practices support the idolatry of the empire and oppose the claims of the true and living God. (page 239; emphasis added)

God’s people must live as a holy, distinctive community in the public square. Loyalty to the Lamb is no private affair. They have “his [the Lamb’s] name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads” (Rev 14:1; cf. Rec 22:4), for all to see. In Revelation’s symbolism, they bear a divine “seal” (Rev 7:3–8; 9:5) as an outward, visible sign that they belong to God, not to the beast (cf. Rev 13:16–17). The church’s life is not hidden, but on parade before a watching world. As God’s people “Follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (14:4), they become a public embodiment of the narrative of the crucified Lord. And this draws others to the Savior.[1] (page 241; emphasis added, except for “in the public square”)

What would it mean for Christian communities to “come out of Babylon” today? In the first place, we must seek to discern, by the Spirit’s guidance, where “Babylon” is to be found. It may be nearer than we think. Where in the world do governments or corporations increase their own wealth and security at the expense of powerless people? Where do nations use political, military or economic force to promote self-serving policies? Where do political or economic powers act in ways that demand idolatrous allegiance? Where do individuals and societies cuddle the culture-god of consumerism? And in what ways are Christians drawn into being an accomplice to Babylon, whether actively or passively? (page 241; emphasis added)

Source: Dean Flemming, Recovering the Full Mission of God: A Biblical Perspective on Being, Doing and Telling (Downers Grove: IVP, 2013).

 

Book review: David W. Smith, The Kindness of God

Book review: David W. Smith, The Kindness of God: Christian Witness in our Troubled World (Nottingham, UK: IVP, 2013).

In his book, The Kindness of God, David Smith asks some penetrating questions about how to bear witness in a trouble world. Smith turns his readers’ attention to two things at the beginning of the book. First, he talks about his experience as a speaker at a conference in Jos, Nigeria. Jos is described as a post-colonial city that owes its existence to the expansion of European colonial power, and it sits on the fault line between African Christianity and Islam. Second, Smith refers to the foresight of the well-known missionary and scholar, Leslie Newbigin, that in the coming century there would be three factors that would compete for people’s allegiance: the gospel, the free market, and Islam.

The book then proceeds to discuss many issues concerning the world today: globalisation, urbanisation, market economy, suffering, poverty, violence, and religious tension. Smith argues that we need to translate the gospel for the globalised world in the twenty-first century. He challenges Christians to critique their own understanding of the gospel in light of the Scripture. He skilfully proposes an informed reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans for the urban world. Smith concludes by bringing his readers back to his experience in Jos, Nigeria, as well as Newbigin’s insightful comments about the gospel, the free market, and Islam.

David Smith's The Kindness of God

David Smith is well versed in the history of mission, missiology, and the Bible. This is demonstrated by his familiarity with the works of Justo González, Walter Brueggemann, Kevin Vanhoozer, Robert Jewett, and Leslie Newbigin. His competence in these areas allows him to provide a lucid, insightful, and informed discussion on Christian witness in a world of racial conflicts and religious tensions. His book helps its readers to understand the historical and present inter-relationships between faith, the free market, globalisation, and urbanisation. This, in turn, assists Christians to assess the way they face the challenges that lie ahead of them.

The book contains many perceptive uses of Scripture. Smith refers to the Bible frequently, with one chapter focussing on Romans and its implications for the urban churches today. He argues that in church history there were times when Christians interpreted the same Scripture in opposite manners. He then suggests that in our troubled world nowadays Christians still read the Bible differently, resulting in opposing interpretations and applications for the same issues. Smith calls for a faithful reading of Scripture in our troubled world—one that is in line with our allegiance to the crucified and risen Christ rather than human idolatrous desires.

The book is not for those looking for a self-help book that simply tells people what to believe in. But if you want to read a book that invites you to think carefully and respond thoughtfully about Christian witness in the world, then The Kindness of God is for you. Smith does not go into convoluted theological arguments. He is, however, a passionate and persuasive writer. The book is engaging, full of insights, and challenging. It will leave the reader with plenty to ponder.

Finally, it is worth citing an excerpt of the endorsement by Jonathan Lamb, Director, Langham Preaching.

[The book provokes] us to think freshly not only about the missiological challenges out there . . . but also the challenges at home that we so easily neglect — a church shaped by materialism, a gospel distorted by secular culture, a proclamation of the cross without the experience of its weakness and power. In this troubled world, he urges us to rediscover the fullness of the gospel . . . and to listen to the voices of compassion from the underside of globalisation . . . this book provokes reflection on the hope which flows from the kindness of God. It is an urgent, prophetic and compassionate book that is rooted in our broken world but lifts our eyes to see God’s purposes for his global church.

The display of wealth of the city and the urban poor

I came across an article written by Dr Jayakumar Christian, someone I respect greatly. It is entitled The Rise of the Urban Poor. There is much to ponder, but I will only highlight a few things using the following quotes.

Jayakumar Christian talks about the “vulgar display of wealth” of the city, and observes that the rich-poor disparity is an increasing problem.

In a strange way, the city brings to the fore in a pronounced manner the gap [between the rich and the poor]—the worst of urban poverty. The rich display their wealth as if the poor do not exist in the cities. The malls and neon lights overshadow the dark corners where the poor eke out their living. Shining India happily coexists with abject poverty as though poverty was a mere landscape issue. One wonders if this is a consequence of our religious philosophies and worldview . . . There is a parasitical relationship––not manipulation but helplessness. In the process, the poor and vulnerable children get exploited and oppressed.

What is often touted as a ‘lack of political will’ in our governance and bureaucratic leadership is really an intentional (ideological) effort to crush (never allow) any uprising of the poor and to suppress any emergence of hope. This is about a powerful collective playing god in the lives of the poor and wounding the souls of the poor, reducing them to a state of hopelessness.

In terms of the church’s response, Jayakumar Christian has the following (and much more) to say.

Grassroots practitioners/agents of change must:


reflect their ‘inner being’ through their engagement. Poverty and powerlessness are human and relational; therefore responses to poverty must also be human and relational. This requires investment of life. It cannot be reduced to mere action plans; demonstrate covenant-quality inclusive relationships based on truth practitioners must allow truth to confront their public and private life;


be competent to exegete God’s work among the poor-trace the ‘patterns’ in God’s movement among the poor in the city; be competent to analyse the worldview of a people and the ideology that drives the economic, political and other systems that crush the poor; and be countercultural in a society that values entitlement over sacrifice.”

The church—the prophetic community—must rediscover herself in her own neighbourhood. The church must locate its mission in the space . . . between hope and hopelessness, life and joy, and pain and death. The church is the evidence that our God has not given up on the urban poor.

Source: http://www.wciujournal.org/journal/article/the-rise-of-the-urban-poor as at 8/9/2014

A quick reflection on reading Romans missionally

I spoke at a mission event recently. Here is a thought I shared, based on Romans 8:3–4, 29; 12:2, 9, 13.

A missional reading of Romans urges us to see God’s purpose of creating a Christ-community that has given its allegiance to Jesus because of his self-sacrificing death. This community seeks to be conformed to the image of the Son, so that it may be transformed into a Christ-centred, love-motivated and stranger-loving missional church.

Holistic mission of CIM

This year OMF International celebrates their 150th anniversary of participating in the mission of God in East Asia.

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As an Asian, this passage from their new book brought me to tears.

Along with perhaps a thousand independent churches planted, and many more embryonic small gatherings of believers, the CIM started schools and Bible colleges, hospitals and clinics, and refuges for opium addicts to detoxify. CIM workers cared for orphans and abandoned babies. They brought love to abused women, to rejected leprosy sufferers and to the outcast. They challenged every power of darkness, the breadth and length of the vast country of China. They often buried their children, their spouses or their colleagues, as so many diseases simply treated today were then beyond the scope of contemporary medical knowledge. Some died a martyr’s death, such as during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, when many Chinese Christians also lost their live. Many served year after year, trusting that God who is faithful would one day bring a harvest, whether or not they lived to see it.

Source: Rose Dowsett and Chad Berry, God’s Faithfulness, pages 24–25.

Dimensions of incarnational missiology

Some time ago I read the late Ross Langmead’s The Word Made Flesh. I really enjoyed reading it. Here is a summary of the three dimensions of incarnational missiology that he mentioned.

(1) Following Jesus. “This vision of incarnational mission emphasises costly discipleship which involves a whole-of-life response in Christopraxis. It pursues holistic mission . . . It sees mission as being patterned on the life and teaching of Jesus, including solidarity with the poor, a life of vulnerable love, and a socio-religious challenge to the status quo which is likely to lead to suffering (the way of the cross).”

(2) Participation in Christ. This emphasises the “continuing presence and initiative of the risen Christ through the Holy Spirit, without which discipleship is impossible. . . . If mission as following Jesus emphasises the cost, mission as participating in Christ (or conforming to Christ) emphasises grace. Eastern Orthodoxy expresses the transformation which occurs as Christians live in Christ in terms of being drawn into the likeness to God or deified (theosis).

(3) Joining God’s incarnating mission. This dimension, as Langmead understood it, sees “God continually reaching out to the universe and becoming embodied in many ways in it, particularly in the life of humanity . . . The incarnating dynamic of God, therefore, is seen to begin in creation. It is also seen definitively in God’s redemptive self-emptying in Jesus Christ. It moves toward eschatological consummation, when the creator will fully indwell creation. God’s mission of enfleshment, meanwhile, is revealed to be the basis for inculturation . . . In considering this emphasis we [note] . . . that it would be a narrow view of incarnation if it referred only to God’s ‘turn to the world’ and it neglected the challenge to culture represented in the cross and Jesus’ prophetic teaching. Overall, this third dimension provides the basic view of reality in which the incarnation is a natural expression of God’s outgoing and incarnating nature.”

Source: Ross Langmead, The Word Made Flesh: Towards an Incarnational Missiology (Lanham: University Press of America, 2002), 270–1.