Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Culture of the Kingdom of God

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" Galatians 3: 28 (ESV).

"It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning" Martin Luther King Jr.

I've been noticing something in church that's been bothering me for some time. After services are over, I see people gathering into their usual circles to chat and hang out.

Upon closer inspection, I notice that these groups of people are usually composed by people of the same nationality and cultures. These circles can be so closed that it can be really difficult to be "in".

Despite the fact that my congregation is mostly Latino, and as Latinos we all share some common cultural threads, we can still be very segregated.

And yet this is so normal that it hardly surprises us. After all, it is perfectly normal to feel more comfortable with people who share the same culture. If I had more Nicaraguans going to my church, I would probably hang out more with them than any other cultural group.

It is normal in our collective cultures, but seeing the scriptures it is clear that it is not normal in the kingdom of God.

I feel God has been putting this issue in my heart in the past months.

What is more important for me, or for us as a church, that we belong to a specific culture or that we belong to Christ?

If our answer is, of course, that we belong to Christ, then are our actions reflecting this?

There is a study by Rice University sociologist Michael Emerson that found that only 8% of U. S. congregations are racially mixed, that is, where no one racial group is more than 80% in a congregation.

It is certainly not easy to step into another culture and learn from it and be acquainted with it. It can be really uncomfortable, but I feel that unless we do this, we are not witnessing the kingdom of God to the world.

Living out the gospel is not a matter of comfort, but of continual denial of oneself, even if that means holding on lightly to our culture if in doing so we are holding on tightly to the culture of the kingdom of God.

Following Christ is not about patriotism or, in some cases, being a model citizen. Many times it is counter-cultural and offensive to our cultures.

The culture of the kingdom seems to be the opposite of our cultures: Give to the poor all that you own; lose your life and you will find; the first will be last and the last first. This is a kingdom where prostitutes and tax collectors are entering before many!

Are these issues in your congregation? How can we participate even more of this kingdom in our churches?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Job Well Done

There is a scene in the film The Passion of the Christ that always impacted me, where Jesus is being mercilessly beaten by the roman guards.

Jesus seems to be there with diligence and purpose. He is not simply there receiving this punishment with passivity. He is there doing a job out of love, where our redemption was being bought.

And then He falls and with great effort He picks Himself up again to receive more punishment. The guards look surprised. They can't believe Jesus' nerves, and the punishment continues.

I know this incident in the film, that is of Him falling and picking Himself up while being scourged by the roman soldiers, is extra biblical, but I think it reflects Jesus' character.

How was Jesus as a carpenter? Did He slack and did things halfheartedly? I certainly don't think so.

I have a confession to make: Lately, I have been slacking somewhat at my job. No, it is not as it was many years ago, but little by little, I've been slowly relaxing my standards and work ethic.

With this came a dreading for my job, so much so that as soon as I start I can't wait for my shift to end.

God has been gently bringing this to my attention. And it is surprising how long I can go ignoring His gentle whispers.

But I'm finally starting to listen to His call to work for Him. He calls me to give witness of Him at my job.

By giving witness I don't think  He means just to share the gospel to my coworkers, though that's what we might think of when we hear of witnessing Jesus to our coworkers.

I believe we are to be a living witness, where our work ethic is such that it gives praises to God, without the need of uttering one single word.

He is calling us not to just preach the gospel to our coworkers but to be the gospel to our coworkers.

And whenever I slack and relax my work ethics, I fail to give witness of Christ.

Yes, there are many aspects of my job that I honestly don't like. Working in the environment where I work, in a gas station in one of the poorest and dangerous neighborhoods in Oakland, can bring a lot of stress. We have to keep panhandlers and shoplifters out. I have been robbed at gun point, threatened and verbally abused by countless customers.

And yet He calls me to give Him glory and reminds me that I'm not serving my earthly boss, but that I can serve Him with my job.

Paul instructs servants in his days "whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters" (Colossians 3:23 NIV).

While being a slave or servant in 1st century Palestine was not as bad as the slave trade of more recent times, it wasn't a walk in the park either. It can't compare to my job. Not even close.

And yet if they were to work with all of their hearts to that trade, why can't I? Why do I have to complain and moan about my job? Why can't I be joyful in serving Jesus this way?

How easy it is to lose perspective when routine takes over and we work for our paychecks!

Lord, help me to a witness of you at my job, and work for your glory and not because I need to. Amen.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

New Year's Resolutions May Update!

It's that time of the month again...
Actually, I should have posted this a  week ago!

Resolutions wise, this has been a bad month. It is as if I forgot all my resolutions completely, or willfully neglected them. My room is close to being an unholy mess, my weight loss is practically non-existent (more about that later) and my blog neglected.

Thank goodness for June!

Resolution #1: Achieve my ideal weight.

I have bad news. Today I weighed myself and I actually gained 8 pounds this month! I feel bad about this!

I actually thought I was doing better this month...

I have been watching what I eat more diligently. I have exercised a little bit more. I was actually expecting this to be a month of weight loss!

But there has also been days where I haven't watched what I eat. It is time to be more careful about those days.

Resolution #2: Keep my room clean, year long.

My room is in a better state at this moment, but a couple of weeks ago it was really messy!

I spent some time cleaning some of its mess and I realized how little time I actually spent this month in maintaining my room clean.

I realize now that I need an scheduled time, at least once a week, where I can clean my room. If I don't do this my room will never be clean and organized.

Saturday afternoon it is!

Resolution #3: Update my blog regularly, minimum once a week.

I broke this resolution as well. I didn't post anything this week.

In a way, I'm glad I broke all my resolutions this month, because it really helps me to refocus on the things I committed and it's a reminder to being serious toward my commitments.

It is also very humbling, and it helps me escape a sense of superiority from Pharisaical achievements out of pure will force.

See you next month!