Mary’s song

Courtesy Brooklyn Museum

Mary’s song of praise is part of the story of Christmas. It is found in Luke 1. 

Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.

Luke 1:46-55 (NLT)

This is quite a display of sophisticated theology for a simple peasant girl! Mary weaves her understanding of the Bible into her understanding of history, her circumstances, God’s promises and their fulfillment.

Lamin Sanneh, a professor at Yale, has written:

The Christian approach …. [contends] that the greatest and most profound religious truths are compatible with everyday language, and [targets] ordinary men and women as worthy bearers of the religious message.
Lamin Sanneh. Christian Missions and the Western Guilt Complex

We see this at work in Africa where large and successful churches were started and led by people with low or no education but who devoured the Bible in their own languages. In fact, that is still happening today. Let none of us think that we are too ordinary to grasp or announce great Bible truths, or that others are too ordinary. The first translations of the Bible into English sprang from that same democratic ideal – that ordinary people would understand. When we translate the Bible into the languages of ordinary people we show that we have the same confidence in them that God has in them and in us. 

That’s actually a Christmas message because Christmas shows us that God has confidence that ordinary humans will understanding his ultimate message when it comes down. 

Merry Christmas - animated banner

Love and Ender’s Game

Ender's game book coverYears ago, I read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I was reading serious science fiction, including that written by C.S. Lewis. So when Ender’s Game came out as a movie, I had to see it. The movie, like the book, poses two moral dilemmas. The one more in tune with our culture is highlighted. The other is only mentioned – understanding one’s enemy. Ender, the protagonist, is trying to understand an alien species that had attacked earth so that he can defeat them. I’m not sure what was said in the movie, but it was something like the book which reads:

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them …”

Orson Scott Card has captured a truth. When we engage our enemy, or opponent, to truly understand them, some empathy and love usually results. We might find out that some of what we believe about our opponent is only partly true. Even if that is not the case, we get inside their head, which causes us to see things from their perspective, even if we disagree with that perspective. At the moment when we see things from their perspective, we care for them.

Understanding, then love and empathy come from hours of dialog

Understanding, then love and empathy come from hours of dialog

If our faith is weak, the empathy might cause us to stray from that faith. But the other way is equally dangerous to faith. That is to make caricatures of our enemies, which allows us to demonize them. We then risk defeating only the demonized caricatures in our own minds. Plus, we fail to follow Christ in loving our enemies. The route to love for someone very different from myself almost inevitably runs through the hard work of understanding them.

Cross-cultural mission involves trying to understand the other culture. We imitate Christ who left heaven to live like us, become like us, empathize with us, experience our reality. One way we can celebrate Christmas is to imitate that same method – reaching out, crossing boundaries and empathizing the way Jesus did.

This principle applies to all kinds of situations, not just ministering in cross-cultural situations. Whether we are dealing with another culture, people of a very different political ideology, opponents of our faith, or radicals from another religion, it behooves us to understand them to the point of love and love them enough to want to understand them.

Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. (Luke 6:35, NLT)

 

 

 

 

Ouagadougou Christmas

We are visiting in Burkina Faso; so I thought I would write my observations of Christmas celebrations here.

Daniel and Anne Kompaore with Dayle

Daniel and Anne Kompaore with Dayle

The in the two days before Christmas, our hosts, Daniel and Anne Kompaore, received numerous gifts, mostly food and most of that live animals, especially guinea fowl which is highly valued here.

Daniel’s church had a Christmas eve service from 8 to 10 PM. A good part of it was a program by the children. A local Christian TV station carried a local Christmas eve service in the afternoon. It was also dominated by a children’s program, including reciting of Bible verses in French in unison by a group of children of varying ages. Our friends,  the Tioyes, said that their church’s Christmas eve service lasted until 2 AM and was largely a children’s program including a nativity play and recitation of Bible verses. So it seems that Christmas eve services are the norm.

On Christmas day, we had our celebratory meal at about 1 PM. During the course of the afternoon, people dropped by to say Merry Christmas. Some brought gifts of food. In one case they had called the day before to say exactly what they were bringing. Most stayed only a few minutes. A few,  family I think, stayed long enough to eat part of the meal, even tough they arrived after we ate.Daniel received a number of brief phone calls and SMS messages wishing him Merry Christmas. Even though few here have our number, we got brief phone calls with Christmas greetings.

The foremost translation

Merry Christmas - animated banner

Christmas. That’s when we celebrate the fact that God came to earth in the person of Jesus.

EmmanuelGod coming to earth in the form of a man is central to the Christian faith. The core of our faith is not a set of doctrines or principles. Rather is a person, Jesus the Christ, whose story we read in the Bible. The simple Bible words, “he became a man and dwelt among us” tell us that God chose to tell us what he is like on our terms. Another translation puts it this way:

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood

We do not need to understand all the eternal mysteries of God; but only the man Jesus. No early language would be able to fully explain God, but all of them can repeat the story of Jesus.

Christmas tells us a lot about God, but it also tells us a lot about how we can be. Jesus crossed the gulf toward us. So, we can cross the gulf of beliefs, culture and language. God did not require that we adapt to him, instead he adapted to us. Too often, Christians expect those outside the faith and those of other languages and cultures to make a journey toward them. But that is not God’s way. This is:

As she was hearing the Christmas story in her language for the first time, an educated Cape Verdian woman put down her Portuguese Bible.  “I let the words fall over me,” she said. “For the first time in my life I felt washed by the Word. I thought I knew the Christmas story by heart, but I must confess that today I feel like I’ve heard it for the very first time.

Christmas animation - mixedSome have said that Jesus’ coming to earth from heaven is the foremost example of translation. They even say that it proves that the message of Jesus is translatable in all languages. After all, the gulf between my language, English, and the language of many Ghanaians, Twi, cannot be bigger than the gulf between us and God. The same is true for all languages. Or are we to say that the message, in the person of Jesus, came one million million miles but cannot go another inch?

The argument sometimes advanced that some language is too humble to contain the lofty truth about God, fails before the lofty God coming and speaking one of our humble languages. Christmas silences it.

Jesus came to common people in his incarnation, and translation into vernacular languages is the only way Jesus will reach common men, women and children today (Desiring God)

This Christmas, may you renew your wonder at God translating himself into human form, and may that rejuvenate your confidence that God speaks to you, and all peoples, in the way each of us understands deep in our hearts.

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Earth, receive your king

Someone pointed out to me that Joy to the Word is much more than a Christmas carol – it is a song about God’s mission in this world. Just read the lyrics and think about them.

Christmas-Sunday-Joy-to-the-WorldJoy to the world! The Lord is come:
let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare him room
and heaven and nature sing.
and heaven and nature sing
and heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns:
let men their songs employ
while fields and floods rocks hills and plains
repeat the sounding joy
repeat the sounding joy
repeat the sounding joy

No more let sins and sorrows grow
nor thorns infest the ground:
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found
far as curse is found
far as curse is found

He rules the earth with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness
and wonders of his love
and wonders of his love
and wonders of his love

The Ram, the Lion and the Lamb

Merry Christmas - animated banner

This is our second Christmas in Ghana. We are celebrating by posting again what we posted for our first Christmas.  It is uniquely Ghanaian.

Ghana has a rich history, culture and beliefs. Long before explorers and missionaries arrived, the Akan people of Ghana developed a rich set of symbols to explain their beliefs. One of them is this stylized representation of rams horns, called “Dwennimmen

Dwennimmen - Rams hornsA ram will fight fiercely with a predator or another ram. So it is associated with strength, which is why the ram’s horns are found on Dodge Ram trucks. But it also submits quietly to slaughter. In the Dwennimmen symbol, the Akan people captured these opposite qualities of the ram: meekness and strength. It was a reminder to those who are strong to exercise their strength in humility.

At Christmas, we celebrate the all-powerful God coming down and being born as a baby. He was born with animals into a family of modest means. Talk about being meek and being strong!

When Jesus was accused by Pilot, he did not try to defend himself, just like the prediction about Jesus in Isaiah:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7 ESV)

Again, great strength exercised in great meekness, just like the Akan symbol Dwennimmen.

Another animal used to symbolize Jesus is the Lion. He is called “the lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5). The lion, of course, represents strength and courage The praise chorus “How Great Is Our God“, celebrates the unexpected juxtaposition with the words

Christmas animation - mixedThe Godhead three in one
Father, Spirit, Son
Lion and the Lamb
Lion and the Lamb

When Jesus said that his kingdom is not “of this world”, his meek approach to power must be one of the things he meant. Through simple grassroots action, such as Bible translation, that kingdom is expanding around the world. There is a power in the Gospel even when to this world it seems timid, meek, or irrelevant, just as did Jesus birth.

People associate all kinds of symbols with Christmas: snow, sleighs, Santa, reindeer, trees, wreaths, stars, angels, wise men, shepherds, a stable, a manger, even tin soldiers and more. This Christmas I am adding a Ghanaian symbol to my repertoire – ” Dwennimmen” or rams’ horns.

May you have a blessed Christmas.

Manger banner

This was originally posted in December 2011.

The Ram, the Lion and the Lamb

Merry Christmas - animated bannerThis is our first Christmas in Ghana. I am celebrating by adding something uniquely Ghanaian.

Ghana has a rich history, culture and beliefs. Long before explorers and missionaries arrived, the Akan people of Ghana developed a rich set of symbols to explain their beliefs. One of them is this stylized representation of rams horns, called “Dwennimmen

Dwennimmen - Rams horns

Akan symbol Dwennimmen, representing rams' horns

A ram will fight fiercely with a predator or another ram. So it is associated with strength, which is why the ram’s horns are found on Dodge Ram trucks. But it also submits quietly to slaughter. In the Dwennimmen symbol, the Akan people captured these opposite qualities of the ram: meekness and strength. It was a reminder to those who are strong to exercise their strength in humility.

At Christmas, we celebrate the all-powerful God coming down and being born as a baby. He was born with animals into a family of modest means. Talk about being meek and being strong!

When Jesus was accused by Pilot, he did not try to defend himself, just like the prediction about Jesus in Isaiah:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7 ESV)

Again, great strength exercised in great meekness, just like the Akan symbol Dwennimmen.

Another animal used to symbolize Jesus is the Lion. He is called “the lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5). The lion, of course, represents strength and courage The praise chorus “How Great Is Our God“, celebrates the unexpected juxtaposition with the words

Christmas animation - mixedThe Godhead three in one
Father, Spirit, Son
Lion and the Lamb
Lion and the Lamb

When Jesus said that his kingdom is not “of this world”, his meek approach to power must be one of the things he meant. Through simple grassroots action, such as Bible translation, that kingdom is expanding around the world. There is a power in the Gospel even when to this world it seems timid or meek, just as it did the first Christmas.

People associate all kinds of symbols with Christmas: snow, sleighs, Santa, reindeer, trees, wreaths, stars, angels, wise men, shepherds, a stable, a manger, even tin soldiers and more. This Christmas I am adding a Ghanaian symbol to my repertoire – ” Dwennimmen” or rams’ horns.

May you have a blessed Christmas.

Manger banner

Christmas – The Sending Season

I am reminded that today we celebrate in a particular way that God left the comfort of heaven to come to earth and identify with us. When Jesus said to his disciples “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21 NIV), he gave us the same kind of “reach out beyond” mission that his Father had given him. The Christmas story is a missions story – one of God reaching beyond, reaching out and sending emissaries to do that on his behalf. We are the recipients of that mission – that reaching out.

We wish all of you the most blessed Christmas season and a new year full of the blessings of our God who sends.

Dayle and I will be moving to a new place in the new year.  We will be going to Ghana – the city of Accra to be exact. We hope to do that in the spirit that Jesus intended with his words “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”.

You can read about this move and what we will be doing on our web page
http://www.heartlanguage.org/pages/Ghana_2011