Redeeming the Time

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Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca said that “People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”  Unlike other resources, time cannot be replaced.  If I waste a dollar of my income, another dollar can be earned to replace it.  If I waste a minute, it’s gone forever.

Psalm 101, penned by David, contemplates what is worthy of our time.  Verses 1-4 say:

I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
            to you, O LORD, I will make music.
I will ponder the way that is blameless.
            Oh when will you come to me?
I will walk with integrity of heart
            within my house;
I will not set before my eyes
            anything that is worthless.
I hate the work of those who fall away;
            it shall not cling to me.
A perverse heart shall be far from me;
            I will know nothing of evil.

In our modern, media- and current event-focused culture, the statement “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless” may be the most challenging.  Reading this verse recently, I had to ask myself whether the reason I look at worthless things is that I don’t think they are worthless?  If to “confess” means to say the same thing about something that God does, I have a lot to learn about what is valuable and worthy of attention.

Today, let us learn to love what God loves and hate what He hates.  Let us confess what really matters, and “sing of steadfast love and justice.”  Let us also “ponder the way that is blameless” that we may “know nothing of evil.

There’s no time to waste.

My 3 Rules of Writing

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Dear fellow travelers,

After a long stretch of daily posts, the blog went silent for a day.  The reason wasn’t that there was nothing to write about.  Ironically, the reason was that sometimes the topics I most want to write about are the hardest ones to do.  Around the time I launched the blog, I decided each post should meet 3 criteria as a way to keep myself disciplined not just to regular writing, but to the type of content I wanted to post.  It’s my blog, after all.

My objective is that every post should be Compelling, Clear, and Charitable, meaning:

Is it about something that matters eternally, and is written in a way that connects emotionally and is worth reading? (Compelling)
Is it logical and makes sense, or is it likely to be misunderstood? (Clear)
Is it written in love, to build up whoever reads it? (Charitable)

In a way, these criteria are just a modified version of Ephesians 4:15-16, which says:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:15-16

The compelling and clear parts are the “speaking the truth,” and the charitable part is the “in love” part.  However, the three criteria are not equal.  If I am compelling and clear, I might come across as clever, smart or a good writer, but without charity, “I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).  Without love, I’ve done it wrong, and therefore being compelling and clear should be tools used in service of being charitable.

Love is more important than keeping a daily schedule.  Fortunately, a blog doesn’t have to fill a scheduled hour of airtime in a 24/7 news cycle, where passion and (often faulty) logic dominate.  Yes, I’m not perfect and it happens here too, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

Like the old saying goes, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.  In some cases, charity means silence until I have something else to write, or a better way to write it.

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” – Ephesians 4:26-27

The Death of Chairman Mao – History for September 9

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On this date in 1976, Mao Zedong, or Chairman Mao, founder of the communist People’s Republic of China, died at the age of 82.  Some look at Mao’s death as a positive turning point for Christianity in China, since under Mao China had expelled all Western Christian missionaries between 1949 and 1953.  However, while it is impossible to come up with precise numbers across a 3.7 million square mile country, Christians probably were about 1 percent of China’s population when Western missionaries were kicked out, but by the 1980s about 5 percent of the population went by Christ’s name.  The Christian population grew by ten times, while the overall population doubled.  How did this happen?

Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom, authors of the book “Clouds of Witnesses” say the key to this growth was “the resilience of the Chinese believers themselves…securely rooted in Chinese life before Mao.” [1]  In expelling missionaries, Mao was in part responding to “treaty ports” created at the end of the 1839-42 Opium War.  Through these ports foreign powers had extra territorial rights, allowing influences including missionaries to come in, but these ports also allowed opium to flow freely into China from Western countries.  Therefore, in the mind of many Chinese, Christianity became linked with both Western imperialism and opium addiction.  When Karl Marx said “religion is the opiate of the masses” he may have been thinking of this connection.  But native Chinese believers, sometimes planted by Europe-based evangelizing organizations like China Inland Mission, remained behind and spread resilient forms of Christianity that were attractive to the Chinese population.

John Sung
Several of these Chinese Christians are profiled by Noll and Nystrom, including John Sung who lived from 1901 to 1944, before Mao’s communist revolution.  Around Christmas 1926, Sung heard child evangelist Uldine Utley preach a sermon at Calvary Baptist Church in New York, near where he was attending Union Theological Seminary.  This sermon, along with other influences, countered the liberal Christianity he was being taught where the Bible was just “a collection of myths.”  He returned to China, determined to spread the gospel in the land of his birth with frenetic energy.  In a one-year period in 1931-2, Sung and a small group of missionaries “traveled over 50,000 miles, held 1,200 meetings, preached to more than 400,000 people in thirteen provinces, registered more than 18,000 ‘decisions’” for Christ.  Many of these new Christians formed traveling bands themselves.  Sung is considered the last great evangelist in China and Southeast Asia before Mao’s reign. 

Dora Yu
Even earlier, another driver of this resilient, Chinese Christianity was Dora Yu (1873-1931).  Dora’s ministry benefitted tremendously from a 1905 decision by Dowager Empress Cixi to replace China’s traditional Confucian civil service examinations with general public schools.  Under this system, mission-run schools became a valued option, and one of Dora’s early ministries was to train “Bible women” to not only educate women generally, but also to teach them the Bible, pray with them, and teach them to live by faith.  Mostly traveling by foot, in “1903, Dora Yu visited with 925 women and 211 children.”  Later, her ministry grew and she became famous for itinerant preaching, reaching many others who would carry on the Lord’s work.

Because of our proneness to look at
the bucket and forget the fountain,
God has frequently to change His
means of supply to keep
our eyes fixed on the source

Watchman Nee

Watchman Nee
In 1920, Nee Shu-Tsu would hear Dora Yu preach.  Later known as Watchman Nee, he “planted at least four hundred Christian churches over a thirty-year period of active ministry.”  He died in 1972 in a Communist prison after spending 20 years there.  Watchman Nee wrote that “Because of our proneness to look at the bucket and forget the fountain, God has frequently to change His means of supply to keep our eyes fixed on the source.”  Whether it is a European missionary, a child preacher in New York City, a Chinese man temporarily studying in New York City, or a Chinese woman walking miles through the countryside:

How beautiful upon the mountains
            are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
            who publishes salvation,
            who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” – Isaiah 52:7

As Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 – “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  This rock is the gospel of the kingdom of God, and not even a brutal regime like that of Chairman Mao could prevail against it.

Soli Deo Gloria


[1] Noll, Mark A.; Nystrom, Carolyn.  Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia (2011).  This post is drawn from chapters 12 and 14.

“Life Liturgy” Update

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Dear fellow travelers,

Lacking time to write what I intended to write for today, instead here’s a quick update on my Life Liturgy routine.  I wrote about this in January and March, but in short, I attempt to make a small, permanent change in habit every 40 days, starting each New Year.  The idea is that even if I fail at some of the changes, I learn from the experience, and the changes I do keep add up to a lot over time.

In March, based on Philippians 4:8 – “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – I was going to try and find one example in the news every day that meets this description.  Unfortunately, it was even harder than I thought, and more time consuming, making me even more cynical.  Instead of giving up, this one became a desire to make this blog a source of that good news and to write more regularly.

More recently, I read Proverbs 19:3, which says: “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD.”  This became the habit change for July 20, which was to cut back on coffee.  There’s nothing necessarily wrong with caffeine or coffee, but for me specifically it was exacerbating other minor health issues and making them into frustrating distractions from work and other duties.  For me, this was a mostly preventable folly, and that Proverb was a warning to control what I can control, instead of raging about what I can’t control.

It was a reminder of the classic serenity prayer, which begins with:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

I’m still looking for a habit change for August 29th, and October 8th is coming up, but as I wrote last time, “That’s fine – it’s my routine and no point feeling guilty about it.”

Paul reassures us that it’s God’s work in us that really matters: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6