The Elliot Rodger tragedy and Asian American ministry

Most of the responses to the Elliot Rodger’s murderous rampage have drawn necessary attention to mental illness and gun violence. Emil Guillermo, after analyzing Rodger’s “manifesto,” highlights a racial dimension that has implications for ministry in racially diverse contexts. Guillermo argues that Rodger acted largely out of disdain for his mixed-race features (he was hapa, i.e., half-Asian; his mother is Chinese).

Emil Guillermo 8-100x100See Emil Guillermo’s blog “Elliot Rodger’s manifesto shows self-hate fueled anti-Asian violence that kicked off Isla Vista rampage” (May 25, 2014)

Blaming this for his sexual frustration and relational isolation, Rodger lashed out last Friday. The Isla Vista rampage left 7 dead and 13 wounded. Three of the dead were Chinese Americans from the S.F. Bay Area (one attended a youth ministry of a Chinese church in San Jose).

I don’t want to over-analyze the racial dimensions of this tragic situation. But I believe that they have implications for ministry, especially ministry among Asian Americans. Let me begin by assuming that a racialized world will reproduce racialized subjectivities. That is to say, the way we view and value ourselves is largely determined by the way our society structures and assigns value, power, and beauty to different racial categories. Much of our self-worth depends on what we embrace from our society’s diverse perceptions about race.

Of course we don’t all think the same way about race. Many of us who grew up in an Asian ethnic “bubble” did not feel devalued until we entered the mainstream, despite the media’s tendency to present “whiteness” as the norm. Those who grew up in largely white or multiethnic settings sometimes resort to “colorblindness” to escape self-stigmatization. Others might exaggerate their race/ethnicity/culture in order to garner attention that can be, in some cases, very rewarding. Race may be deeply submerged, laying just beneath the surface, or at the core of our feelings about ourselves. But it is always present within our consciousnesses. It gives us this nagging feeling that being white (and male) is simply better. That nagging feeling is one of the ways racialization in our social structure is reproduced within us. What does this say about ministry to Asian Americans?

God’s acceptance: the Asian American evangelical gospel?

Christians believe that our identity in Christ ought to be our most distinguishing feature. We are encouraged to live each day as a public witness to our faith, as if we were standing before the face of God (corem deo). Usually this means that our Christian identity renders irrelevant all the other aspects of who we are – such as race, gender, and social status. In fact, these identities are the result of sin. Christians should overcome, not dwell on them. Ministry and mission should therefore be blind to culture, gender, and social status.

As appealing as this sounds, it misses an important reality: social inequality, not social difference, is the result of sin. When being seen as “not” white has negative ramifications for how that person is valued or treated, it is not simply racial prejudice (check out this study). This is symptomatic of a social structure that privileges whiteness. Social inequality grows out of sinful social structures. Corporate and structural sin is just as real as individual and personal sin.

But racial, gender, and economic inequality don’t exist in a worldview where structural sin is not seen. In this worldview, racialized subjectivities are not ministry concerns.

However, can one say that the God of the Bible doesn’t care about social inequality?

Many Christians believe that God cares deeply. For them, living corem deo includes bearing witness against structural sins and their consequences. Over the last twenty years, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has developed a ministry strategy for overcoming the negative effects of racial inequality that Asian Americans experience. The inequality often finds expressions through self-hatred, feeling unaccepted and devalued, seeking worth through performance, and placing undue faith in meritocracy. This ministry stresses the importance of embracing Asian American culture, ethnicity, and race.

The basic gist of this ministry is this:

God created and placed us in our cultural, ethnic, and racial settings. Sin diminishes Asian social identities and favors others. Rather than rejecting or escaping them, we need to realize that our identities are not marks of worthlessness. Rather, they are gifts from God. God transforms what our world sees as insignificant into something with tremendous significance and purpose. So we don’t have to feel embarrassed or devalued. 

An example of this approach can be found in this video clip (thanks Roy Tinklenburg):

 

As you can see, the spiritual discovery happens when the Asian American believer realizes that God accepts him or her. Instead of the futile efforts of earning societal acceptance and meeting family expectations, we rest in God’s declaration that we are worthy (in view of Christ’s work on the cross). This message transposes into the Asian American context the basic Reformation and evangelical insight of sola gratia.

There is no doubt in my mind that God’s acceptance is a message Asian Americans need to hear. It is a message that rings true for multi-race people and others who are marginalized, too.

But, in my opinion, it is just a first step. There are many questions that still need to be considered by Asian Americans as we minister to them. For example:

  • Now that I can accept who I am, what do I do with this knowledge? [i.e., the sanctification question]
  • What in my Asian culture needs to be redeemed? After all, God’s creation, despite being declared good originally, is still marred by sin.
  • What does social equality look like as an Asian American Christian? Does this mean fighting against any and all forms of discrimination and injustice?
  • Should I openly support Asian American causes? (e.g., APA programs in colleges or seminaries, Asian American politics or community activism, Asian American specific ministries)
  • Should I take pride in being Asian? How? (e.g., promote Asian American studies or cultural immersions)
  • How do I share this new insight to non-Asians? What role do they play in all of this?
  • Should I belong to an immigrant Asian church? Should I go to a multi-ethnic church?
  • Whichever church or ministry I join, how much of my Asian American identity should be part of conversation? How can I contribute this part of who I am?

I don’t know all the answers, but I’m eager to connect with others who are also interested in these questions.  I cannot say that the message of God’s acceptance would have prevented Elliot Rodger from slipping down the slope of self-destruction, hatred, and violence. I wonder if he and many others would have benefited from a ministry that pays as much attention to the “racial dimensions” of our contemporary life as InterVarsity’s Asian American ministries. But I’m convinced that greater attention to the questions raised by those who are invested in Asian American ministries will contribute to a better self-image,  mental health, and spiritual maturity for the Church and those to whom she is called to minister.

Asian American Legacy: James Chuck looks to the future of Chinese American churches in the 1970s

Rev. Dr. James Chuck, Th.D.

Rev. Dr. James Chuck, Th.D.

I was honored to participate in a tribute to the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. James Chuck on Feb. 8, 2014 sponsored by ISAAC NorCal. Dr. Chuck was pastor of the First Chinese Baptist Church, San Francisco, for forty years. After his retirement, he had a second twenty-year career as a theological educator at the American Baptist Seminary of the West/Graduate Theological Union. He is one of my favorite mentors and, a hero, in my eyes, of building bridges between mainline Protestants and evangelicals. I’m sure that this will not be the last time I share about James in my Asian American Christian legacy blogs!

Let me first highlight two of Dr. Chuck’s studies that are still available:

1. James is the principle author of the 2008 Bay Area Chinese Church Research project report. You can purchase a copy at: http://www.lulu.com/shop/timothy-tseng-and-james-chuck/the-2008-report-bay-area-chinese-churches-research-project-phase-ii/ebook/product-17412321.html

2. Three volumes of Chinatown Stories of Life and Faith,  oral histories of First Chinese Baptist Church, San Francisco. Here is a description:

chinatown Stories Vol. IIIn 2002, the First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco began a project to preserve and share the life stories of persons connected with the church, plus some others from the Chinatown Community. Participants talk about parents, growing up, schooling, marriage and family, work, and faith and values. The stories are contained in three volumes: the first published in 2002, the second in 2008, and Volume III in 2012, with each volume containing about 60 stories. Volume I is no longer available for general distribution, but some copies have been saved out for libraries who may want to purchase a single copy. Collectively, the three volumes, which is illustrated with hundreds of photographs, provides a rich travel trove of stories of Chinese Americans negotiating life in 20th Century America. Copies are available for purchase from First Chinese Baptist Church, 1 Waverly Place, San Francisco, California, 94108. (415) 362-4139. 20.00 per copy; 15.00 per copy for three or more copies.

Now, the historical document!

“Where Are the Chinese Churches Heading in the 1970’s?” is a presentation that James gave to the Chinese Christian Union in early 1970. He shares the findings of a study of Chinese churches in the Bay Area. The study shows that the then current generation of predominantly English-speaking Chinese mainline Protestants were at their peak of spiritual vitality. While he also noted the increasing visibility of Chinese American evangelicalism, he and his peers “did not anticipate the growth of Chinese churches with overseas roots, or the many independent groups that has arisen since.” [James Chuck email, Feb. 24, 2014]

In the second part of his presentation, he offers suggestions about the future direction of Chinese American churches. In retrospect, James was amazingly prescient. He agreed with emergent Chinese American evangelicalism in the 1970s about the centrality of evangelism in congregational life. Indeed, the impressive growth of immigrant and American-born Chinese evangelicalism since 1970 has almost overshadowed the legacy of the earlier generation of mainline Protestant Chinese Americans. Perhaps James anticipated this. Thus, he expressed concern about the loss or negligence of public witness among Chinese American Christians.

As we fast forward thirty years, we witness a new generation of Chinese American evangelicals who are expressing the same concern. Many have left Chinese churches, in part, because few Chinese evangelical church leaders have paid attention to Dr. Chuck’s call for a balanced theology of ministry. – Tim Tseng

* * *

Where Are the Chinese Churches Heading in the 1970’s? 
Rev. James Chuck, Th.D.
Chinese Christian Union of S.F. • Feb. 28, 1970

I.

When we speak of a “Chinese” church, we are speaking of a church which sees its special responsibility as that of reaching the Chinese. The issue is not whether we need a Chinese church as such. That is a secondary question. The main question is who will work among the Chinese, and how can this work be best carried out?

Protestant work among the Chinese has a history of over one hundred years. That work has included a variety of ministries, including the teaching of English, the teaching of Chinese, rescue missions, social services, children and youth programs, etc. Within these missions, staffed mostly by missionaries, were organized “Chinese” churches led by pastors who were for the most part from China. This was a situation which continued through the 1940’s.

As more and more of the American born became assimilated into the American way of life, the English speaking element within the churches gradually became more predominant. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, this element within the Chinese churches supplied more and more of the leadership and financial support. This period began to raise the question as to whether or not there will continue to be a need for Chinese churches as such. The influx of new immigrants in recent years has, of course, introduced a new dimension to this question.

In May of 1968, the Bureau of Community Research connected with the Pacific School of Religion published a report entitled, “A Study of Chinese Churches in the San Francisco Bay Area.” The report found 34 predominantly Chinese congregations in the Bay Area, two times the number in 1952. This increase can be almost entirely accounted for by new groups coming to work among the Chinese. Denominations such as the Lutherans, Southern Baptists, the Reformed Church, Nazarenes, etc. established work among the Chinese, as well as independent groups with special attraction to student groups, the Mandarin speaking, and other sub-groups of Chinese not being reached by the existing churches. Churches in the Bay Area averaged 120 members; in San Francisco, 240. Including Roman Catholics, Chinese churches were reaching, either as members or as constituents, about 25% of the Chinese population.

From the study, the following profile of the membership emerged. First, the membership was middle class. 70% were married and have middle size families; 50% belong to professional, business, or clerical; and 80% work outside of Chinatown. Secondly, the membership was found to be youthful, with one half of the members between the ages of 25-44. They are undoubtedly the products of the youth programs of the late 1940’s through the early 60’s. Thirdly, the majority of the membership (63%) were born in the United States. Fourthly, most of the members (59%) listed English as their dominant language. The study also found that 70% of the governing boards of these churches consisted of English speaking persons. This profile confirms the observation that the Chinese churches – at least among those which belong to the mainline denominations and have a comparatively speaking long history – are made up primarily of English speaking persons.

The report also found that a third of the membership of these churches live within a mile of the church building, but another third had to travel more than five miles to get to church. Nevertheless, the activity level was fairly high, with 52% reporting that they attend church at least once a week; and 58% reporting that they belong to at least one church group besides attending worship.

The new factor in the Chinese churches is the arrival of a great number of new immigrants in recent years. To varying degrees, they have made an impact upon the churches. Some churches have made the reaching of these new immigrants the main thrust of their work. Other churches have created separate and parallel programs, all the way from polite indifference to open conflict. While these new arrivals hold promise of giving new life to our churches, differences in background, theology, understanding of the scriptures, style of life, etc. could be decisive unless this new challenge is intelligently and creatively met.

These are some of the sociological facts, defining the context in which the Chinese church must do its work. In order, however, to delineate where the church is heading in the 1970’s, it is also necessary to look into the church’s understanding of its mission.

II.

Evangelism, in the broad sense of the term, stands at the center of all that the church does. Evangelism means making the new life in Christ available to all men everywhere. It is simply the carrying out of the Great Commission to “make disciples.”

Evangelism, broadly conceived, involves at least four stages. The first is contact, making some connection, getting next to the people we are trying to reach. The second stage is cultivation. People simply are not able to make any meaningful decision without some prior preparation of heart and mind. The third stage is commitment, the glad and willing response of a person to the call of Christian discipleship. The fourth step is conservation, the continuing process of nurture and growth whereby committed persons express their faith in loving service to others in the name of Christ.

From this it can be readily seen that the vehicles of evangelism involves nothing less than the totality of all that the church does. Christian education, social service, social action committees, and services of worship are necessary either as preparation for, or as an expression of, the new life in Christ. Mass evangelistic meetings (emphasizing the element of commitment) is meaningful only when placed within the total context of nurture and the life of service and witness.

The church’s main task, therefore, is to call men to respond in love and trust to God through Christ. That is where the Christian life begins. This relation which man has with God is always deeply personal, even mystical, in nature. One of the main contributions of the conservative wing of the Christian faith is to constantly remind us of that fact.

However, we need to go on to say that although faith is intensely personal, it is never private. Much harm has been done to the Christian cause with the uncritical identification of the personal with the private. True faith always seeks to find ways of expressing the love of God in love for neighbor. The Christian lives a “separated” existence only in the sense that his life is different from, or distinguishable from that of the world; but the Christian never lives apart from the world. He is in the world but not of it. He relates to the world as salt, light, and leaven.

Much of the recent criticism of the church today is precisely at this point: the church has not been sufficiently concerned about the large social issues such as injustice, war, the pollution of the environment, etc., being too often preoccupied exclusively with personal morality and the salvation of the individual’s soul.

It is extremely unfortunate that in the fundamentalist-liberal controversy, which goes back now at least half a century, commitment to Jesus Christ in a deep personal sense and concern for the world and its needs are seen as opposites. Why could we not have said that the more deeply we are committed to Christ, the more we will be committed to the world and its needs? And conversely, the more we are committed to the world and its needs, the more we will see the need for the new life in Christ.

Now when people ask the question, “What is your church doing?”, I believe we must not hesitate to say that the main thing we are doing is to bring to men the new life in Christ. But I also believe that the fullness of faith must be expressed not only in deep personal commitment, but also in works of love: for much of the outside world will understand our commitment only in terms of our works of love.

Where the Chinese churches are heading in the 1970’s depends on how those of us who belong to Chinese churches respond to the new challenges and opportunities, and this in turn depends largely on our understanding of what the mission of the church is. Three factors, it seems to me, are relevant:

  1. The quality of commitment we bring to bear on the work of the Chinese churches. If we seek first the Kingdom — give this matter of reaching the Chinese top priority as far as energy and resources are concerned — then we may see some notable progress made in the coming decade.
  2. The fullness of our understanding of the Gospel, taking seriously both parts of the great commandment. The whole Gospel should be deeply personal and socially relevant at the same time. The 1970’s are not a time to retreat to an individualistic perversion of the Gospel. We must not only move ahead, but in the right direction.
  3. The quality of leadership we can bring to bear in reaching all age groups and conditions of men. We are beginning to see emerging in the Chinese churches a quality of mature churchmanship such as we have never seen in the history of the Chinese churches in America. Whether all the potential that is there can be effectively channeled is for the present an open question. The present generation of Christians in our churches is probably better trained, and has more in the way of financial and other resources, than any previous generation. If we are good stewards, we may write a significant chapter in the history of the Chinese church in America.

Korean American Christian history contest

January 22, 2014

In the interest of promoting the history of Asian American Christianity, I’d like to announce Asian American Christian Legacy’s first blog/essay contest! (Deadline March 31, 2014)

Here are the details…

Please submit a blog or short essay about a Korean American Christian who played a significant role in Korean American, Asian American, and/or overall American Christian history (In the future, we will seek other themes. But for this contest, we’d like to encourage more engagement in the Korean American Christian experience).

David K. Yoo, Contentious Spirits. Religion in Korean American History. 1903-1945. (2010)

The winner of this contest will receive a free copy of David K. Yoo’s book Contentious Spirits: Religion in Korean American History. 1903-1945 (2010) and a $50 gift certificate.

For more information about the book go to this link:

http://www.sup.org/book.cgi?id=18209

Dr. David K. Yoo is currently the Director of the Asian American Studies program at UCLA. He and I go way back! He received his M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary and Ph.D. from Yale University. I completed my M.Div. and Ph.D. from Union Seminary (NY) at the same time. We’ve worked together on a number of ecumenical and academic projects over the years. For example, one my favorite projects was an essay about race relations for Sojourners. Here is the link to “The Changing Face of America” (1998).

It has been a privilege for me to partner with David and be considered his friend! I’m delighted to make his book available

Criteria for selecting the winner:

1. Email me the essay/blog/photos/video links no later than March 1, 2014.
2. I will judge the winning entry (with consultation with others who are familiar with the history of Korean American Christianity) by March 31, 2014.
3. The winning essay/blog will be cross-posted on the Asian American Christian Legacy Facebook page (and my blog if the winner is okay with this).
4. Criteria for selecting the winner. Please address these questions:
Does the essay/blog…
– avoid excessive academic terminology or technical jargon? The blog/essay should be accessible to a general audience.
– avoid hagiography? (e.g., only treating the subject heroically). Allow your subject to be fully human – one who is animated by complex motives and desires.
– pay enough attention to the interaction between the individual you write about and his or her historical contexts? Do race, ethnicity, culture, and politics – as well as Christian faith – affect (or is affected by) the individual? So don’t just write about a person who was a powerful evangelist or an incredible church planter.
– provide proper footnotes and attributions? The blog/essay should be familiar with relevant historical issues and historiography.
– include photos and/or audio-video materials? Though these are not required, they will be strongly considered in the final selection.

Any questions? Feel free to contact me.

Thanks!

Tim Tseng

Tribute to James M. Washington, a man who knew the MLK legacy

Twenty years ago today, I was holed up in my study in our Upper West Side coop pecking away on one of the original versions of the Apple MacIntosh. Ostensibly, I had stepped away from a “part-time” pastoral position the previous summer to complete my dissertation. I had been a full-time student in Union Seminary’s M.Div. and Ph.D. program for nine years – as long as Betty and I were married. Our oldest son was born in 1991 and we were expecting another one later that summer. I was also candidating for a position at Denver Seminary (the late Bruce Shelly had just retired).

Two years earlier, I almost abandoned my doctoral studies. Not because church ministry felt so much more compelling (it did), but because life outside the student experience was rushing in on me. I wanted to, needed to, move on.

James Washington (1948-1997) and me

James Washington (1948-1997) and me

But instead of walking away from my studies, I kept on doing the research and writing. I worked intensely day and night and was rewarded with a mild case of carpal tunnel. I completed my manuscript just in the nick of time. The dissertation defense, job interviews, and commencement then raced by so quickly and seemed so surreal. At last, I was able to fully immerse myself into my vocation!

Though I’m no longer officially a full-time theological educator and scholar, I’m grateful to have inhabited these circles for so many years. Academia has its flaws, but I will never regret the intellectual vistas and the abiding friendships it provided for me.

I owe so much of that part of my life to James Melvin Washington, my doctoral adviser. When I wanted to give up my studies, he convinced me that I had a calling in theological education and academia. Indeed, his own life was a testimony to scholarship as ministry. He practically willed me to complete the race.

Less than three years after I was robed, he was dead. Just a few weeks before he died, we talked about collaborating on some research projects. To this day, I wonder how my life would had turned out if not for Dr. Washington’s untimely death (he just turned 49). I may have stayed on the East Coast. Heck, I might still be in academia!

In any case, today I felt the need to honor Jim Washington’s legacy and thank God for letting our paths cross.

Others who knew Jim Washington better than I (e.g., James Forbes and Cornel West) have honored his memory well. In The Courage to Hope: From Black Suffering to Human Redemption (1999) Cornel West and Quinton Hosford Dixie (my fellow doctoral student who also studied under Dr. Washington) bring together essays by some of Dr. Washington’s colleagues in order to “offer a new understanding of American spiritual life by placing African-American religious experience at its center.”

Washington’s dissertation, published as Frustrated Fellowship: The Black Baptist Quest for Social Power, established him as a leading expert in the history of Black religion. Jim Washington is also known for his collection of Martin Luther King’s writings in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King Jr., and collection of African American prayers in Conversations with God: Two Centuries of Prayers by African Americans

.

Jim Washington’s scholarship and teaching helped change the dominant narrative of American Christianity by giving African Americans a more central role. He gave me the permission and inspiration to explore the history of Asian American Christianity. Though I have not lived up to his hopes and expectations yet, my memory of him (and my experience at Union) sustains my drive to study and advocate for Asian American Christianity.

Ten years ago, I wrote “Beyond Orientalism and Assimilation: The Asian American as Historical Subject” (in Realizing the America of our Hearts: Theological Voices of Asian Americans edited by Fumitaka Matsuoka and Eleazar S. Fernandez [Chalice Press, 2003]) as a tribute to James Washington. To this date, this is my favorite essay because it helped me see that my task as a historian of American religion was not merely to add the Asian American experience to the dominant narrative, but also to challenge that narrative’s construction of Asian Americans.

I’m also grateful for Jim Washington’s faith and religious convictions. He was a wonderful preacher and a deeply spiritual Christian who loved the Church. I was a shy, Chinese American evangelical seminarian at Union. I wanted to get exposed to different theological perspectives but was fearful of losing my faith. As it turned out, because of teachers like Jim Washington, Union Seminary actually strengthened my faith! But that’s a different story.

On this MLK day, the twentieth anniversary of the completion of my doctoral studies, I want to honor one my academic and spiritual mentors who really knew the MLK legacy and encouraged all his students to embody it! Thank you Jim Washington!

Sermon: God Alone (Dec 29, 2013)

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
the deeds for which he is to be praised,
according to all the Lord has done for us—
yes, the many good things
he has done for Israel,
according to his compassion and many kindnesses.
He said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will be true to me”;
and so he became their Savior.
In all their distress he too was distressed,
and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old. — Isaiah 63:7-9 (NIV)

God Alone [summary of sermon delivered on Dec 29, 2013 at Canaan Taiwanese Christian Church English Service]

I. God has blessed us in 2013

During the sermon, we separated into small groups and reflected on ideas and phrases from Isaiah 63:7-9 that best spoke to their experience in 2013. We spoke of God’s kindness, compassion, love and mercy in the midst of distress, God’s presence, etc.

We also recognized that God’s goodness was not only provided for us individually and with our immediate families. Today’s scripture reflected a concern for and identification with the nation of Israel. This means that faith is not just a personal or private affair. It is not just between me and God. It includes my participation in a faith community, in Canaan for us. And partaking of a faith community is true for all Christians. God has been watching over Canaan and our English ministry as well as our individual needs.

We then watched some images of Canaan EM in 2013 accompanied by “The Afters” song entitled “Life is Beautiful.”

These are illustrations of God’s goodness, God’s presence, God’s love and mercy to us. They show God’s desire to lift us up and to carry us through life!

II. We often neglect to respond to God’s goodness to us.

Yet, behind the happy pictures and memories are some lies.

In verse 8, God said of his people Israel, ““Surely they are my people, children who will be true to me.” God values faithfulness, honesty, transparency from his people. But notice verse 10….

Yet they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
and he himself fought against them.

Have we neglected God’s goodness by ignoring God’s church in 2013?
– For every new member who joins us, how many leave us because we don’t invest in building relationships with them?
– For every new middle school youth we gain, how many of our high school students lose their dedication and interest in our faith?
– For every college student we send off, how many return to our church?
– For every young adult who visits us on Sunday, how many have actually stuck with us?
– For every new baby born, dedicated or baptized, how many parents or families became less engaged in our community because of busy-ness?
– For every volunteer request that our pastors and leaders have made, how many completely ignore the emails or texts?

One consequence of neglecting God’s people is a feeling like we’ve reached a “point of diminishing returns.” Despite all the blessings of life, this is also part of our experience at Canaan in 2013.

Why? Perhaps, we are like children who have receive too many gifts for Christmas. Like them, “happiness” is something that experiences diminishing return. Maybe we are too blessed. Has good education, comfortable living made us more self-centered and entitled?

Indeed, Israel’s wealth and success was one of the reasons why they turned away from God and loss that sense of connectedness with him and his people. All “successful Christians” face the danger of living as if our lives belong to ourselves and our blessings were earned by ourselves. God no longer becomes the sole source of our lives.

Will 2014 be a year of diminishing return for Canaan? No!

How can we stay centered on God alone in 2014?

III. Protect that baby!

Each year, one of the scripture passages that is always read on the first Sunday after Christmas is the story of the baby Jesus’ escape TO Egypt:

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” — Matthew 2:13-23 (NIV)

If we want to stay focused on God alone in 2014, let us treat our faith and the Canaan community the same way that Joseph and Mary cared for and protected the baby Jesus. We are experiencing a baby-boom at Canaan, so I’m sure that all our parents of infants can identify with this point. Just as our babies require our attention, care, and protection, so does our faith and our church.

So let us nurture our faith, our church, and the people of our generation in 2014. Doing so will ensure that God’s presence alone is our source of joy and not just the blessings we receive from him.

One small example of how we can protect our faith and Canaan is by repurposing our family celebrations. Because I was raised in a pastor’s family, I rarely had Thanksgiving or Christmas celebrations with just my immediate family. Last night, we had our family Christmas celebration three days after Christmas. We have chosen to give up celebrating those holidays just for ourselves. Instead, we entertain others at our home. Families without extended relatives, visitors to our church, international students, indeed, anyone who is on the margins of our faith community.

By making this sacrifice, we remind ourselves of God as priority. He wants us to reach out to others for the sake of the Gospel. By living as if God’s household (or family) comes first, we not only bear witness, but also protect this truth with our actions.

Next year, could we sacrifice Christmas gatherings, ski trips, or vacations just for our own family? Instead, could we celebrate Christmas with newcomers, the lonely, and the marginalized? Maybe we can set up a rotation so that some of us will serve the Lord in this manner. In any case, it is my hope that we will dedicate ourselves to nurturing, protecting our faith and Canaan’s English ministry much more in 2014. Let God alone be our hope and salvation!

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