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!

Resource “Churches Aflame: Asian Americans and United Methodism”

Churches Aflame: Asian Americans and United Methodism (Abingdon, 1991) edited by Artemio R. Guilermo

Churches Aflame: Asian Americans and United Methodism (Abingdon, 1991) edited by Artemio R. Guilermo

December 19, 2013

Church leaders often ask me about Asian American Christian history resources. There is a growing recognition that a multi-ethnic future in North America and the North American Church cannot be shaped by our contemporary experience of race and ethnicity alone. Indeed, if Asian American Christians are to contribute substantially to Church and society, historical reference points and narratives are needed. Unfortunately, historical resources are difficult to find and narratives have yet to be developed more fully by historians of Christianity. Hopefully the day will come when professional historians can be employed to develop this work. In the meantime, I’ll keep on trying to make resources available and create forums for discussion Asian American Christian narratives.

One helpful resource is a collection of essays about Asian Americans in the United Methodist Church. Churches Aflame, published in 1991, is now out of print. The essays offer insight into the efforts of Asian American United Methodists to gain greater visibility within the denomination. Like most Protestant denominations, the United Methodists were ill-equipped to adjust to the large influx of Asian immigrants since the late 1960s, despite their prophetic voices for civil rights and the elimination of anti-Asian immigration laws. Many of the immigrants were also unprepared to face the institutional inertia when their cries for representation and culturally relevant resources went unheard. The stories of how Asian American United Methodists attempted to bridge generational, cultural, racial, and gender divides offer good lessons for the next generation of Asian American Christians. I’ve posted the official book description and table of contents below.

BACK COVER DESCRIPTION

This detailed volume of Asian American history is a colorful testimony from each writer who writes from the vantage point as an active participant in the life of the church, an observer-eyewitness, or investigative journalist. The authors depict the rise of the Asian churches and their struggles against all odds to forge a new church in the new world. This struggle often took place in a hostile environment within the United States. It was not so much a struggle against physical forces that could be vanquished, but against the subtle and malignant forces of racism, discrimination, and bigotry.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface, page 7 (Roy I. Sano)

Acknowledgement, page 9 (Charles Yrignoyen, Jr.)

Overview, page 11 (Artermio R. Guillermo)

Contributors, page 15

1. Sojourners in the Land of the Free: History of Southern Asian United Methodist Churches, page 19 (Man Singh Das)

2. Birthing of a Church: History of Formosan United Methodist Churches, page 35 (Helen Kuang Chang)

3. Trials and Triumphs: History of Korean United Methodist Churches, page 46 (Key Ray Chong and Myoung Gul Son)

4. Strangers Called to Mission: History of Chinese American United Methodist Churches, page 68 (Wilbur W.Y. Choy)

5. Gathering of the Scattered: History of Filipino American United Methodist Churches, page 91 (Artermio R. Guillermo)

6. Persecution, Alienation, and Resurrection: History of Japanese Methodist Churches, page 113 (Lester E. Suzuki)

7. Movement of Self-Empowerment: History of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists, page 135 (Jonah Chang)

CITATION

Artemio R. Guillermo, General Editor. Churches Aflame: Asian Americans and United Methodism. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1991.  ISBN 0-687-08383-4

Sermon: From Jesse’s Stump

This message was shared on Dec. 8, 2013 at Canaan Taiwanese Christian Church.

Click here for Audio

Heck, I’ve been a pastor for almost four years now. So I will post my sermons here when I have opportunity. I have come to the realization that though I don’t consider myself a gifted preacher or speaker, it is important to share these sermons more publicly. After all, if we believe that God speaks to us through the preaching of His Word, then even the humblest homily must have something to feed God’s people. So here goes!

From Jesse’s Stump (Isaiah 11:1-10)
Sermon Summary

In the stump of Jesse, Isaiah anticipated the bitter disappointment that the people of Israel when conquered by the Assyrian Empire. Thus, one of the lessons for Christians is to expect and embrace disappointment rather than pretending that nothing is ever wrong. We will experience failure, boredom, and spiritual dryness throughout life. Being a Christian doesn’t inoculate us from life’s pains and sorrows.

But disappointment is not really a mystery, nor does it arrive without a cause. Isaiah and most of the other Hebrew prophets saw a connection between Israel’s sin and her eventual downfall. Indeed, the leaders (shepherds) of Israel were much more highly scrutinized. They were accountable to God to lead with justice and compassion for all, especially the poor and disempowered. Yet, they failed. Like termite-infested tree, these corrupt leaders were causing Israel to rot from the inside out. God had to chop down and burn the rotted tree to save the entire forrest.

We might then ask ourselves whether there are aspects of our lives that are so rotten that it would do us better to have them cut away. Even if only a stump remains, chopping down the tree is still a prescription for future health.

Today’s passage doesn’t spell out God’s judgment against Israel’s corrupt leaders. But Isaiah’s vision of the shoot that grows out of the stump suggests that God will raise up a new leader who is completely opposite. He sees a leader who is like a fruit-bearing branch. One on whom the spirit of God rests. One who exhibits wisdom and understanding, counsel and might. One who is filled with the knowledge and fear of the Lord. Who is this new leader? He is the Messiah. The one who will judge with righteousness and cannot be tempted by sight and sound. This one will also judge on behalf of the needy and the poor. Yes, the righteous and faithful one will do away with evil.

And so, that tender little shoot will become the mightiest tree of all. The messiah will rule Israel and all the earth with righteousness and justice.

Is it any wonder why Christians identified the baby Jesus with this little shoot?

As we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ, whom we confess to be Israel’s Messiah and the world’s Savior, let us open our lives to his purpose for all humanity. Just as Mary and Joseph protected the infant Jesus from harm, let us guard Jesus so that he can grow within our hearts and reign over us. We will then find our purpose for living – namely, to proclaim and make manifest the Messiah’s rule of righteousness, peace, and grace. Amen.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

via Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

Cross-posted from Canaan English Ministry blog

September 12, 2013

Dear Canaan EM’ers and friends,

Why is Lucy unhappy? A pretty well-informed blogger says that Lucy, who represents Generation Y (the generation born between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s) is unhappy because reality turned out to be worse than she expected.

[Go here to read the entire blog http://www.waitbutwhy.com/2013/09/why-generation-y-yuppies-are-unhappy.html]

Raised with messages about “following your passion” and earning many meaningless trophies, Lucy has a very high opinion of herself and believes that she is special.

The blogger cites Professor Paul Harvey (University of New Hampshire). Dr. Harvey says that Gen Y has “unrealistic expectations and a strong resistance toward accepting negative feedback,” and “an inflated view of oneself.” Furthermore, “a great source of frustration for people with a strong sense of entitlement is unmet expectations. They often feel entitled to a level of respect and rewards that aren’t in line with their actual ability and effort levels, and so they might not get the level of respect and rewards they are expecting.
The blogger concludes that “Lucy’s extreme ambition, coupled with the arrogance that comes along with being a bit deluded about one’s own self-worth, has left her with huge expectations for even the early years out of college. And her reality pales in comparison to those expectations, leaving her ‘reality – expectations’ happy score coming out at a negative.Until she experiences the reality of work life and career building.”

Furthermore, Lucy feels taunted by the success of her peers. Her social media world shows that “A) what everyone else is doing is very out in the open, B) most people present an inflated version of their own existence, and C) the people who chime in the most about their careers are usually those whose careers (or relationships) are going the best, while struggling people tend not to broadcast their situation.” Of course, this leaves Lucy feeling, incorrectly, like everyone else is doing really well, except her.

If you’re Lucy (and believe me, there are many Lucy’s among Baby Boomers, too), then our current sermon series on the life of Joseph will speak to you. Like Lucy, Joseph’s reality didn’t match his dreams. Yet, he continued to stay connected with God and God’s plan for him. God had something bigger planned for him – and he does for you, too!

Be the church, y’all!

Tim Tseng 曾 祥 雨 :: Ph.D.
Pastor of English Ministries
tim.tseng@ecanaan.org
timtseng.net
canaanem.org

I’m spiritual, not religious (Inheritance Magazine Article)

This article appears in Inheritance Magazine (No. 17, August 2012): 7-10. Visit: inheritancemag.com

I’m Spiritual, not religious

Young adults in America are shaping and being shaped by an emerging culture that is viewed with alarm and hope. In The Next Christians, Gabe Lyons calls this culture Pluralistic, Post-modern, and Post-Christian. Christianity, however, is still the dominant North American religion. In two 2008 surveys, just over three-quarters of Americans identify themselves as Christians. But this is a drop of about 10 percent since 1990. One might assume that the recent growth of immigration from non-Christian countries caused this decline. But the percentage of non-Christian religions in America has only increased between .5 and 1.5 percent.

Despite the numeric dominance of Christianity in America, there is sense that the Church is no longer respected or viewed as positively as it was a generation ago. This is especially true among young adults. Indeed, young adults make up the largest group that identifies itself as “not religious.” In fact, this group has grown the most of all groups in the survey (from 8.2 to 15 -16 percent).[i]

Studies also show that many who consider themselves “not religious” want to be considered “spiritual,” too. Though nebulous (and perhaps because it is nebulous), being “spiritual” is perceived to be a good thing. A person who is in touch with God, a higher power, one’s true self and feelings, or with nature is viewed more favorably than a person who is committed to a faith community or its convictions. Young adults appear to be demonstrating this with their feet. In the 2012 Millennial Values Survey of college-age adults, 25 percent reported that they were “religiously unaffiliated.” Only 11 percent indicated that they were “religiously unaffiliated” in childhood. Catholics and white mainline Protestants saw the largest net losses due to this movement away from their childhood religious affiliation. College-age young adults are also less likely than the general population to identity as white evangelical Protestant or white mainline Protestant.

Furthermore, in the same survey, only 23% believe that the Bible is the word of God and should be taken literally. 26% believe the Bible is the word of God, but that not everything in the Bible should be taken literally. 37% say that the Bible is a book written by humans and is not the word of God.[ii]

Finally, the Millennial values survey indicated a negative reaction to Christianity. Christians are perceived by 84 percent of the “religiously unaffiliated” as “judgmental” and “hypocritical.” 79 percent believe that Christians are “anti-gay.” 73 percent believe Christians are “too involved with politics.” Even though 56 percent believe Christianity “has good values and principles,” 41 percent believe that Christianity “consistently shows love for other people” and only 18 percent feel that it is “relevant to your life.”

What is happening? Why is there an increasingly negative approach towards words like “religion” or “faith.” Where is this anti-religion sentiment coming from? Why does ‘being spiritual’ feel more safe, more PC? What’s the appeal, particularly for young adults and second generation Asian Americans?

Perhaps all this is a reaction to the political activities of the so-called Religious Right. After all, most young adults favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry and keeping abortions legal. More likely, this “spiritual, not religious” attitude is the culmination of a growing individualism and anti-institutionalism since the 1960s. In his classic study, Habits of the Heart (1985), sociologist Robert Bellah observed that a personal worldview that he called “Sheilaism” was on the rise. “Sheila” was raised in the Christian church. But rather than embracing those beliefs in adulthood, she created her own spirituality out of different religions and pursued a satisfying life without institutional religion. For more than a generation, the fastest growing population has been the tribe of “Sheilaism” – the church of “spiritual, but not religious.”[iii]

An unconnected and individualistic spirituality is nothing new. The belief that faith is an individual and private affair has been deeply embedded in American culture through its history. Many would rightly argue that this type of spirituality has led to greater tolerance for diversity and individual freedom. Nevertheless, the recent rise of “Sheilaism,” especially among young adults, has not been greeted with universal acclaim. And it’s not just advocates of organized religion who have raised much of the alarm.

Spiritual, but not responsible

Social scientists such as Robert D. Putnam, warn that the increased individualism and privatization is causing “the collapse of social capital” in American society.[iv] Television and the Internet are blamed for keeping people home rather than participating in community life. Fewer Americans participate in traditional community activities such as bowling leagues, local political clubs, or neighborhood churches. Without vibrant participation in community and public life, Putnam (and Bellah) fear a weakening of democracy that could undermine the health of American institutions.

In Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood (2011), a team of sociologists led by Christian Smith argue that many young people today face five major problems: confused moral reasoning, routine intoxication, materialistic life goals, regrettable sexual experiences, and disengagement from civic and political life. “The idea that today’s emerging adults are as a generation leading a new wave of renewed civic-mindedness and political involvement is sheer fiction,” says Smith.[v]

Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, concurred in her two studies, Generation Me and The Narcissism Epidemic (coauthored with W. Keith Campbell). In a recent article in The Atlantic, Twenge says that “Millennials were less likely than Boomers and even GenXers to say they thought about social problems, to be interested in politics and government, to contact public officials, or to work for a political campaign. They were less likely to say they trusted the government to do what’s right, and less likely to say they were interested in government and current events.”[vi]

These troubles cannot be blamed on the poor individual decisions of young adults alone. They are deeply rooted in the mainstream American culture that young adults have “largely inherited rather than created.” According to Smith, failures in education, consumer capitalism, hyper-individualism, postmodern moral relativism, and other aspects of American culture all contribute to the difficult situation facing young adults.

In sum, these scholars argue that the “spiritual, but not religious” attitude may actually harm American society. By rejecting institutions such as religion and government, this attitude encourages withdrawal from social engagement and responsibility, and, possibility the loss of compassion for others.

Getting Religion: the Key to Responsible Spirituality?

If not for Christianity as an organized religion, the idea that spirituality applies only to personal well-being and not family life, community, social issues, and politics might have been the norm in American culture. For good and ill, the Christian church’s historic proclivity to engage (some would say interfere with or impose its values and beliefs on) politics and culture has contributed to a vibrant democracy.  Its moral values have empowered people to reform and transform society.

Given the current Pluralist, Postmodern, Post-Christian situation, Gabe Lyons invites Christians to engage this landscape in a more positive, creative, and hopeful manner. Instead of getting offended, withdrawing, or protesting the changes, Christians ought to see our contemporary situation as an opportunity to renew our mission to North America.

“From the standpoint of the public good,” according to James Reichley, “the most important service churches offer to secular life in a free society is to nurture moral values that help humanize capitalism and give direction to democracy.”[vii]

Given the decline in mainstream American churches, the time may be ripe for Asian American Christian Young Adults to renew our mission to North America. God may be calling us to counter the hyper-individualistic spirituality so prevalent among our peers. And the way to do that may be to build up our churches rather than be consumers of spirituality. It may be time to finally get religion!


[i] Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS 2008) (Hartford, CT: Trinity College ISSSC, 2009); The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey 2008,” http://www.religions.pewforum.org; Robert N. Bellah et al., Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985) . See also http://www.robertbellah.com.

[ii]  2012 Millennial Values Survey. A Generation in Transition: Religion, Values, and Politics among College-Age Millennials (Public Religion Research Institute, April 19, 2012). http://publicreligion.org/research/2012/04/millennial-values-survey-2012/

[iii] Bellah, Habits of the Heart. See also http://www.robertbellah.com.

[iv] Robert B. Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000).

[v] Christian Smith, et. al., Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 224.

[vi] Jean Twenge, “Millennials: The Greatest Generation or the Most Narcissistic?” The Atlantic (May 2, 2012). Accessed at

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/05/millennials-the-greatest-generation-or-the-most-narcissistic/256638/

[vii] A. James Reichley, Religion in American Public Life (Washington, D.D.: The Brookings Institute, 1985), page 359.

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