Jeff Iorg Blog
Dec 02 2013
A guest who shared our Thanksgiving meal offered thanks for something that has become more important to me in recent years. When we shared around the table what we were thankful for, she said, “For family traditions.” She shared in the context of a new family tradition we started a few years ago. Ann started using placemats we can write on. Each year, we write something we are grateful for on the placemat. Then, the following year, we read what was written over the past few years and what we have added in the current year. It’s fun, and can be moving, as we reflect on past meals shared together and past expressions of gratitude.
This is an example of an intentionally-created family tradition. We have others – like a “flag cake” on July 4th, what we eat on Christmas morning, and the $20 handshake (don’t ask, you aren’t getting one!). Some traditions, however, just happen. When Melody went off to college, she called home and lamented, “I miss the boys yelling at college football games on TV.” That is definitely a family tradition around the holidays!
Family traditions – created or discovered – are centering experiences that bond us emotionally, give us shared memories, and comfort us when the world has treated us roughly. Family traditions don’t usually cost much money, but pay big dividends by creating healthy relationships and family stability.
There’s a new dynamic we are now discovering. Our family is in the “young adult” phase with married children navigating new family relationships, life demands creating erratic and unpredictable schedules, as well as geographic distance created by our family living around the world. We are creating new traditions, while remembering the old ones fondly. We are embracing the changes, rather than lamenting them. Change, particularly to comfortable family patterns, is sometimes hard – at least it is for us!
Don’t make the mistake of thinking your family traditions are sacrosanct. Adjust as needed to build long-lasting memories now, not just in the past. Make creating traditions as important as preserving them.
We recently spent several days in Hong Kong, meeting with seminary leaders, preaching in churches, and speaking at a graduation. It was a enriching, educational, and in one way, a very sobering experience.
The Wong Tai Sin Temple in Hong Kong is a huge worship complex combining Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. The day we visited, it was packed with worshippers. They were doing several things – burning incense, offering prayers, meditating, etc. Some were divining their future or consulting the fortune tellers organized in stalls around the outside of the Temple. Reading one of the historical markers explaining the Temple’s significance revealed a startling fact. The central god being worshipped was created in 1894.
That’s right, 1894! When I read that factoid, my first thought was, “I would like for my God to be a little older than that.” It was disheartening to think so many could be so deceived into believing a person deified in 1894 was worth such devotion. The spiritual desperation in the entire Temple complex was oppressive. My heart ached over the lostness of the sea of people around me.
There are millions of people in our world, many who have never heard of Jesus or who have not heard enough of the gospel to understand it. Religious devotion and spiritual seeking seem to be increasing (they certainly aren’t abating) around the world. People instinctively search for meaning, purpose, forgiveness, peace of mind, and hope. Sadly, too many are in a futile search.
My time in Asia has motivated me to redouble my efforts to get the gospel to others. We must train and send more workers from Golden Gate Seminary. We must give more generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering during the Christmas season. We must reorder our personal priorities to give more time to reaching people with the gospel. And, we must ask God for more creative and effective ways to get the gospel to millions and millions of people. Current methods aren’t sufficient. We need both a spiritual and strategic breakthrough.
A Moving Experience
Nov 18 2013
A few days ago, while in Hong Kong, Ann and I worshipped with the Kowloon International Baptist Church. We were fortunate enough to be with them on “International Sunday,” the day their church celebrates their multiculturalism. Like most “international” churches in cities outside the United States, they worship in English. They minister to the expatriate community and others from various countries who want to worship in English. Many “international” churches have leading businessmen, diplomats, educators, and other professionals who are working in foreign settings. For many, English is their second language but there is no church available in their first language. Kowloon International certainly fits that description.
Their “International Sunday” celebration included a flag display with persons standing when their country’s name was called and flag displayed. We lost count around 30 countries represented in the service! The service also included a scripture reading, just one verse from a Psalm about God’s work among the nations. The verse was read in succession by several people, each reading in their country’s mother tongue. It was powerful to hear the verse read, among others, in Russian, German, Kazakh, as well as several Asian languages and dialects. Interspersed in the scripture reading, we sang a hymn – also in various languages as we all tried our “phonetic best.”
The service was emotionally moving – perhaps because it reminded me so much of home. Golden Gate is a truly multicultural ministry setting. We have moved beyond tolerating cultural differences to embracing and celebrating them. We practice a wide-variety of worship styles in chapel, eat all kinds of food on our campuses, and recognize cultural overtones and influences in our teaching/learning environment. We relish the messiness of it, rather than react to its challenges.
God has been good to move me beyond monoculturalism to the richness of relating to and working with all kinds of people. If you are still in “mono-mode,” take the risk to branch out. Meet some new friends, eat some new food, worship in some new ways, and get over thinking your way is the best way or the only way to do life (or church!). God will enrich you when you develop these relationships and discover how he works differently through people in other places or cultures.
While visiting and speaking at Hong Kong Baptist Seminary, a local pastor took me to the area of the city focused on the “death industry” – his words, not mine. Huge funeral homes were surrounded by businesses catering to the needs of the deceased and their grieving family members. Buddhist, Hindu, and other religious burial rights were being carried out with an intensity and organizational detail resulting from handling dozens of simultaneous services every day.
One of the interesting aspects of the whole enterprise was the creation of and marketing of paper products to be burned to provide whatever the deceased might need in the afterlife. Besides what you might expect – paper houses, cars, and furniture – there were some other unusual provisions. For example, paper dolls – representing friends and loved ones – were included in the pyre. Paper iPhones, iPads, and pocket organizers (complete with chargers) were available. Medical equipment, exercise gear, and boats were also popular. Apparently, the afterlife has many of the same demands and needs as this one!
The most striking paper product available, however, was money. Printed in various denominations – and priced accordingly in real money – were paper products issued on the “The Bank of Hell.” That’s not some metaphorical preacher phrase. I am sitting here right now looking at a piece of fake paper money with “The Bank of Hell” printed on it. Alongside are paper gold and silver bars since, even in the afterlife, precious metals – and their paper facsimile - are still precious.
The saddest part of all this wasn’t the money being spent on paper trinkets to be burned to provide resources to be used in the next life. The saddest part was that these actions represent the only hope, the only tiny shred of hope, for meaningful life after this one. Standing on a street corner watching a woman drop Bank of Hell money into a burning urn, Jesus as the Hope of the World became very real to me. Our hope for eternal life rests on the resurrection of Jesus. He overcame death – so everything he says about death and what comes after can be trusted. He is our only hope and he is enough.