An Interesting Look at North Korean News and Policy

Here is an article from today’s North Korean News.  I think that this story is a clear view into the thinking of this government, its propaganda, and dysfunction.  This is officially from the North Korean government, but the English version is published to the web from Japan.  The highlights are added by me.  And yes, I do read the North Korean News…nerdy I know, but true.  We’ll discuss after the clip.

First of all, the title-what government in the world would officially call the leader of its rival country “rat-like”?  Further, the title threatens the South with annihilation.  This is not a new thing, by the way.  North Korea does this on a regular basis.  You notice that it says “Lee Myung Bak Group.”  The North will not refer to the South as a separate country.  It likewise does not call itself North Korea.  Its official name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  Like many Communist countries, this is funny because the country is neither democratic, nor of the people, nor a Republic.  They got the Korea part correct, at least.  In DPRK indoctrination, South Korea is actually a rebel group that broke off from the DPRK, and therefore, they are traitors to their country.

The next paragraph is classic North Korean propaganda.  The first sentence contains a grammar error, and much of the paragraph is run-on, near garden-path sentences.  They adore words like “provocative” and “sycophant”.  My favorite part of the piece is the “…made by an old man more dead than alive.”  They love to throw in these like sentence prefixes and suffixes that have no justification in the piece, as if by simply saying them, the statements become true.  This Orwellian idea of double-speak is a mainstay of N. Korean news.

Two more paragraphs in, it threatens the South with destruction, that everyone should take seriously because of their recent “striking demonstration” of power.  By this, they must mean the failed missile launch a week ago.  North (and South) Korea are prime examples of the Asian obsession with face.  They will do anything to prevent themselves from being publicly embarrassed.  Their failed missile launch was intended to threaten the world and display their prowess around their Day of the Sun celebrations.

The embarrassment they see on the world stage will be reacted to in two ways by North Korea: First, like an abusive spouse, they will find a bad guy to focus their anger on.  Reading this article makes it seem like the South were the ones embarrassing and provoking them.  If you knew nothing about the events of that launch, you would think that the North had succeeded, but the South had mocked them despite their triumph.

Their second reaction will be to double down on their rhetoric and provoke further.  This article threatens the South in even more harsh language than usual.  They will also test another nuclear device in the next few weeks.  They might even fire a few rockets, or shoot at a South Korean ship.  It is all intended to deflect from their embarrassment.

A great question the world needs to ask itself, is if it can afford  a country with nuclear weapons, that will use them simply to avoid their own embarrassment.

Below, I have linked a video that explains their Day of the Sun celebrations.

Listening

Listening Header

I’m preaching in church this weekend.  I always love this opportunity.  To paraphrase Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire, ‘when I preach I feel His pleasure. ‘

As often is the case, I have little advance warning of this opportunity.  Officially, I have 7 days to put it all together, which is certainly less than I’d like.  I’m not really complaining, but at this point my brain is a jumble of thoughts.  I’m going to use my little blog this week to highlight the process that goes on inside of me as I prepare.

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I’ve had a growing frustration over the last few years as to what exactly is happening in the Western Church.  Over this time I’ve had the constant allegory of The Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen, in my head as an example of what I think most people feel about Church.  Books like Simple Church, The Essential Church, and a host of others talk about the mass exodus going on in this segment of the church, particularly among young people.

What these books highlight is that growing amounts of young people are seeing the Church as being superfluous  to their lives, good but not all that important.  There is also a constant secular assault saying, “You are deluded, worshipping an imaginary God.”  Much of this is happening while we parade around regally in our nakedness.

I have recently been reading a book called The Naked Gospel.  The thesis of the book (so far) is that the Church is failing because we are not really teaching proper doctrine.  I had to put the book down.  I could not disagree more.

I have no desire to abandon the Church, any more than I desire to disown my own mom, but what I have experienced in the Church in the past few years is a dedication to doctrine, and a disconnect between living out that doctrine in a powerful spiritual life.  God has become ceremony, even in our low-church commonness.  Christianity is what happens on Sunday and midweek services.  What happens on Sunday morning doesn’t seem to affect much outside of the Church.  But even worse than this, there doesn’t seem to be any sense that it is designed to.  In short and in the words of many teens, “it’s boring.”

I know I sound negative, and in a real sense I am.  But all of this comes from love, because I don’t believe that God is boring, and I don’t denigrate the Church, it is the freaking Bride of Christ, after all.

Now that doesn’t mean that plenty of people don’t take their faith seriously.  I would say that majority of them do.  But we sing songs about victory and we speak of miracles, we pray for them, but we don’t really believe they’ll happen, do we?  Well, at least not every day.  We believe in miraculous healing, but we don’t pray for the guy in the wheelchair at Starbucks.  I say that evangelism is good, but I walk by throngs of people everyday who don’t believe, and yet I have no intention of embarrassing myself in front of them.

This gets communicated in every part of our popular thinking.  In the media we speak about “religious extremism.”  The real problem is not Islam, but people who take the Koran really seriously.  Christianity is not seen any differently.  Believe all you want, just don’t let it affect any visible part of your life.  Read the Bible, just don’t ever quote it in public.  Talking about Jesus is OK, only if it is a vulgar interjection.

How antithetical to all of Christianity is that?  The message of Jesus is supposed to permeate every pore.  Christ wants to be lord of your life, not just our Sunday mornings.  The problem in Church as I see it, is not that there is no proper doctrine.  The problem is that we don’t believe that doctrine should do anything.

What if this Holy Spirit actually could give us gifts to do wonderful things?  What if we could actually tell people about Jesus and they’d believe?  What if that guy in Starbucks actually got up and walked?  I wonder if Christianity would be boring then.

This is some of what God has been working inside of me.  I don’t know how much of this will make it into my message.  We’ll see.  -Ryan

Grinchoversy

GrinchoversyHeaderThe following is a reprint of an article published by Ryan Shinn in his channel on Examiner.com

This year the keep Christ in Christmas debate has heated up anew with First Baptist Church of Dallas pastor, Robert Jeffress, new website listing businesses that are refusing to acknowledge Christmas.  He has appeared on Fox News as well as local news outlets discussing this apparently controversial site.

The current debate seems to have three sides, those who support Jeffress for taking a stand on this issue, secularists who are attacking Jeffress for various reasons, and Christians who think the whole debate is distracting from the purpose of Christmas.

Eric Wallace’s blog, The Unwasted Life, summarizes this last perspective quite well with a list of reasons why Jeffress is off-base.  Yet while Eric makes very good points about why Christians should not take part in this debate at all, most of the discussion seems to be missing the point.

Most of the anti-Jeffress discussion falls into three basic categories.  The first is that while Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, it has always been primarily a secular holiday with most of its elements derived from pagan sources that have little to do with the actual birth of Christ.  People have pointed out that elements such as Christmas trees do not have Christian beginnings, but most of these things were adopted by early Christian missionaries as cultural touch points used to relate the gospel to the people’s pagan traditions.  This sort of evolution is happening currently with Halloween.  Many churches celebrate the holiday as a Harvest Festival and exchange the day’s original purpose with a Christ-centered message.

The second attack is that Christians have no business getting involved with political debates that play into the hands of the secularists. The problem with this argument is that it misses the point entirely.  Many Christians are simply tired of the expectation that they will spend a lot of money for gifts at stores that refuse to even mention Christmas.  The message is, “give us money while we disrespect you.”  Many Christians are responding with their dollars.  This is not as much a sign of protest, but capitalist democracy.

Finally, they attack Jeffress directly for more controversial statements he has made, particularly regarding homosexuals and Muslims.  This is not surprising.  When people have little of value to say in defense of their positions, they often resort to ad hominem attacks.  Whether Jeffress is against homosexuality or Islam, or kills puppies, it has no bearing on this issue.  -Ryan

Cool Moon Picture

I took this picture of the moon from outside my house on the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival night. Since the Chinese calendar is a lunar calendar, most of their holidays are during full moons. Part of the tradition surrounding the Mid-Autumn Festival is to look up at the moon during that night.

Dancing Demons of Rage

Rage

Yesterday I worked a side-job that ended up taking me to a heavy-metal music festival.  I only did it for a little extra money, but I also enjoyed the change of scenery and getting to meet some new people, most of whom aren’t Christians.  I don’t know why, but I often find myself talking and praying with people who aren’t Christians.  I’m not one of those people who corner someone and make them talk with me about Jesus.  I detest that.  But for some reason, I often end up in conversations with people who want to talk about their pain and brokenness.  So many times I have to hold back telling them how broken I am.  Those conversations aren’t supposed to be about me.

So, back to the music festival…

First of all to be fair, there were a lot of genuinely kind people who said their please’s and thank you’s.  There were people who were there having a good time and enjoying the music.  I didn’t have many people act rude to me at all.  But there was a definite darker side to the crowd there, and it was spiritual.

The kind of bands playing there were not your Metalica, Guns ‘N Roses type.  Think more Devil’s Blood, Kill Your Mother, type stuff.  I smelled a lot of pot—I mean a lot, and saw more cups of $12 beer than I could imagine.  This combined with scorching August sun and extreme heat ended up sending a decent amount of people home in ambulances.  The people selling water might have actually made more money than the people selling beer.

What was really noteworthy to me were the faces.  Some faces had tattoos, some had weird makeup. I even saw a guy with a Sponge Bob ski mask (that was commitment). When I looked past the disguises though, I saw a lot of anger.  Some violent and vile, nearly physical force was floating around amidst the pot smoke and booths hawking phallus-shaped hash pipes.  I heard the anger in their words.  Most people dropped F-bombs like they were shock-and-awing Baghdad.  The word was on their T-shirts, giant belt buckles that said “F*@% You,” (but without the symbols) and passed around person to person along with the joints.  My favorite of the day was a shirt that said “I hate everyone.”

Some people wore a palpable rage that seemed to surround them.  I found myself getting angry at their anger.  I was mad that they would tattoo triple-six’s and pentagrams on their bodies, mad that they would rejoice in depravity, and even madder that they would bring children to such a place.  I was falling into the same trap.  I realized this and then I was angry at myself for being angry, and for having such a judgmental attitude for these children of God.

I wondered how people could allow themselves to become so angry and hateful.  I have been thinking about this a lot.  There are people I know who deal with a consuming rage.  Like a fire it starts small but builds up momentum as more fuel is introduced.  It isn’t long before this unchecked anger is starting brushfires in all the relationships nearby, and you’re unaware of this because all that you can think about is the fire within you.

I can’t figure out how we can become like that.  How does a terrorist ever decide to blow himself up on bus of schoolchildren, or someone decide to wear a shirt that says “I hate everyone?”  Inside I wondered if I was the only one there aware that demons of rage were throwing parties in their midst.  My second thought was, “What demons are dancing around me, as I dwell carelessly?”  -Ryan

Sun Chips Green Bag -Week 5

The holiday weekend kept me from posting this until now, but I took it on Friday, the same day of the week that I’ve generally done all the rest of the videos.  I am trying to be strict on this, as it is a very scientific experiment.

Learning Faith -Part 3

This is part three in a 3 part series on how we educate the next generation in matters of faith.  Read part 1 here, and part 2 here.

Raising Parents

Parents mentoring their kids in matters of faith and life isn’t what seems to be happening as much these days.  Gone are the days of boys learning to mow the lawn alongside their fathers.  Now, they pay to have someone else do it.  Most girls aren’t learning how to cook with their mothers.  Dinner is now too often provided by KFC.  With all of our modern conveniences, we have forgotten to teach our children how to live and how to be adults.

The same things can be said for matters of faith.  As consumers, we have fallen prey to the idea that spiritual education is what happens at church.  Spiritual education does happen at church, of course.  But if that is the primary place that we plan for spiritual education, we are destined to fail at this task.  This kind of outsourcing will not work.  When spiritual matters are reserved for church, the lesson is that one may do whatever one wants and live however he chooses, as long as he puts on a smile on Sunday.

Parents are the primary teachers about faith, not necessarily how to exegete a Pauline epistle, but about how our faith affects our daily lives.

I don’t want to sound like I’m griping, and I don’t level any accusations on everyone.  But I think one of the largest complaints I have about the state of the family is that it seems to me that many parents have forgotten that one of the primary roles of parenting is to end up with your offspring as functioning adults.  The goal should be to produce adults that are even better than you were.  This is true in regard to career and intelligence, and it is also true about faith.

Case in point: In the last 10 years of ministry, I know of no teen (male or female) who has access to the Internet in their own room and does not have an addiction to pornography, or inappropriate sexual relationships online.  I know this, because the students come to me and tell me.  I have gone to their homes and moved their computers for them (upon their request).  I have prayed with them for freedom from these addictions.

Despite this, when parents tell me that their child wants a computer in their room (this happens often), I tell them my experience, yet 100% of the time the student ends up with a computer in their room within a month.  When I occasionally ask the parent why this happened, they shrug their shoulders as if to say, “Oh well.”

No, not “Oh well.”  Children don’t need a buddy.  Teens don’t need a hip mom or dad.  They need a parent.  The teens that tell me how cool their lenient parents are, are the same teens that come to me crying to say that they feel constant chaos.  Kids need parents.  The message that parents send to teens when they don’t take leadership on these issues is that there is no moral standard.

I have no doubt in my mind that parents who are not teaching their kids important skills for their future adulthood are not teaching these kids the stories, principles, and reasons for their faith.  I cannot believe that the Church will fail and disappear.  But I do believe unless this is changed quickly, the state of the Church in the West will read like a passage in Second Kings.  This is an emergency.

Learning Faith -Part 2

This is part two in a 3 part series on how we educate the next generation in matters of faith.  Read part one here, and stay tuned for part three.

Shoveling Dirt, and other spiritual lessons

So, we have seen how the Bible is pretty clear about the importance of passing on faith memes, in order to cement and pass on our rich Christian faith and heritage.  We have seen how in the past Israel’s neglect of this duty led to apostasy, syncretism, and moral decline.  The next obvious question is, “So how are we doing now? Are we passing on these memes?”

I contend that we aren’t.

OK, that seems a bit harsh.  Yes, there are Christian children and teens who are growing up with a deep faith.  There are young people learning how to lead worship services, run ministries, and do evangelism.  But there are also ridiculously high numbers of men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 who are leaving the church, never to return.  The percentage of Americans who are claiming an allegiance to Christian faith is declining, and the socio-political influence of Christianity on Western culture is undoubtedly in retreat.

A large reason for this according to the book Essential Church, is that many Americans (This book deals with American church statistics, although I would contend that this holds true in other Western countries) see the Church as an institution that is not essential to their lives.  They see the ceremony and programs, and can’t find a vibrant and valuable relationship with God happening.

More anecdotally, in 14 years of youth ministry I have noticed a growing loss of biblical literacy within the next generations of the Church.  There is also a lack of practiced disciplines of faith in these generations.  Many teens know each and every part of the church service, but don’t have any understanding of fundamental elements of Christianity.  This is not something I have noticed as tied to a particular church or denomination.  It is much more of a cross-section than that.

To take a small detour:

After I take a shower at night, I use a squeegee to wipe down the walls.  This helps keep my shower from getting mold and mildew.  But that isn’t really the reason I do it.  I use the squeegee because my grandfather did the same thing.  He had a squeegee in his shower and I heard him use it after he finished with his showers.

Every time I sweep the grass clippings off of my sidewalk I hear his instructions in my head.  When I sort laundry I hear my Mom’s voice, and when I spell Renaissance, I hear my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Maddox.  I am who I am because of those people’s example in my life, and not just in instructional ways.

I read my Bible because I know that God grows me through that communication channel, and He makes me more like Him.  But every time I open my Bible I remember my Grandad with his Bible open on his desk, and all of the highlights and notes he had put in it.  In case I ever forget, I have his Bible on my shelf.  It is one of the few things of his that I have.  In it is a picture of generations of my family together at a family reunion.  My Mom was pregnant with me, her only child.

My grandfather obviously had a mental connection to reading his Bible with the faith strain running through the generations of our family, and that connection has passed on to me.  It is a meme.  It is good.  It is the plan of God.

These things came to my mind recently as I was moving a large amount of dirt in a pile with one of the students in my High School group.  He is a good kid—a little squirrely—but a good kid.  He has a good dad.  But as we shoveled dirt, he needed me to explain how a shovel is used.  I didn’t mind explaining.  He responded by saying that he didn’t know, because he never did these things with his father.  I told him that his dad was a busy man with too much on his shoulders, and that is true.

The point of this is that things even as rudimentary as shoveling dirt have to taught, and that requires things like mentoring.  Boys and girls learn how to be men and women by watching their parents, teachers, and mentors, and by doing things alongside them.  How much more is it important to instill things of faith to your children?

Learning Faith -Part 1

This is part one in a 3 part series on how we educate the next generation in matters of faith.

Faith as Meme

I am currently reading a book about memes.  Everyone I mention this to asks me the same immediate question.  “What in the heck is a meme?”   Then I begin the inordinately long process of explaining what this is.

Basically, a meme is a unit of cultural understanding that is passed on through a culture by repetition.  The easiest way to understand a meme is to think of it as the same as DNA, except for culture.  It is passed on from one person to another.  Old-Wives-Tales are memes, and so are the words to traditional songs.  Auld Land Syne is a perfect example of this.  It goes deeper than that, though.  You wear dark colors at funerals and you wear lighter colors at weddings.  A woman going to a wedding wearing all black would be offensive.  Famous ad slogans are also memes.  If I said, “The best part of waking up…” You would most likely immediately think, “…is Folgers in your cup.”  That is a meme!

The reason that I bring this up is not because I have a particular interest in information science, although I do.  Reading and thinking about this has brought up other ideas in my head, ideas about culture, ideas about faith—both my individual faith and the faith of the Church.  It might seem at first heretical to say that the message of Jesus, the stories in the Bible, and both the orthodoxy and orthopraxy of Christianity are all memes, but I believe that they are.  I believe that God intended them to be.

When that thought first occurred in my head, my immediate reaction was, “Whoa, Ryan—hold the phone.  Lightening may soon strike.”  But no lightening struck, and as I thought about it, all of it seemed to fit.  It is scary at first to think of Christianity as anything other than an immediately apparent truth that is written somewhere in the sky, accessible to anyone who bothers to simply look up.  And I am not saying that the truth of Christ is something that is just a cultural way of thinking and doing.  It is the Truth.  It can be found by anyone.  So I am not demeaning the things of God in any way.  All this just means that Natural Theology can only get us to understand that there must be a creator-God, but it can’t tell us anything more, really.  To really get to know God, we need to acquire these bits of faith memes.

But this is not something that someone simply looks into the air to find.  God didn’t intend it to be this way at all.  Yes, it is true that Romans chapter 1:18-20 says,

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

This passage makes Christians in the West quite happy.  Although we don’t think this consciously, we understand it to mean that the job of communicating the basics of God, sin, and redemption have already been done automatically and genetically by God.  And certainly that is true, to a point.  It does mean that everyone has no excuse for rejecting God.  But it does not in any way get Christians off the hook for communicating this news, for no one can look up at the stars and deduce that a loving God must have become man and died on a cross during Roman times for our forgiveness.  This must be taught to them.

The Bible makes this perfectly clear.  In God’s economy, we are one hundred percent accountable for transmitting the orthodoxy and orthopraxy of our faith memetically (this is not mimetically, although that word would be appropriate as well).  This is to happen in two distinct ways.

The first of these is the more obvious.  We are to affect the world around us by spreading the good news of Jesus through the world.  There are myriad verses that address this point, and it forms the basis of much of New Testament Christianity.

The second way that Christians are to spread the ortho-’s of our faith is through our own people, particularly the next generation as we raise our children.  This point is spread throughout the whole Bible, but the Old Testament covers this repeatedly.  It is clear in the Old Testament that it was very important to Yahweh that the next generation hear all about what He has done and how He related throughout history with His people.  Look at what God had them do when they finally entered into the land that He had promised to give them in Joshua, chapter 4.

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

We see this also in Exodus, chapter 12, God tells His people to commemorate their freedom from slavery in Egypt through God’s miraculous hand with a special celebration and ceremony.  This was to be done for generations to come as a reminder, so that the people would never forget.

In fact, most of Israel’s holy days were commemorations of what God had done.  This was not for means of celebrating the past.  It was for the express purpose of reminding those in the present of God’s faithfulness, and their shared history with God.  They were also use this to speak into the future generations to ensure that the faith of Israel would not be lost.

One of the most striking glimpses of this in action can be seen in the 22nd and 23rd chapters of 2 Kings.  After numerous kings that did not honor God, Israel had become quite a mess.  Instead of following Yahweh, the people had mixed a bunch of religions all together.  It was anything-goes spirituality.  After generations of doing this, people had no spiritual compass whatsoever.  Their worship of these gods included burning their children to death in fires, having sex with prostitutes in temples, taking hallucinatory drugs for spiritual purposes, and a whole host of other nasty and amoral practices.

But more than that, they had completely forgotten much of their history (especially the aspects dealing with God) in many cases, and corrupted it with complete myth in many others.

God was angry.

But Josiah, who really wanted to do what was right, discovered the Law and was powerfully rocked to learn that God’s word had been completely forsaken.  It wasn’t like Josiah had known what God wanted all along, and was just the first in a while to actually follow it.  Josiah finding God’s word reads like a scene straight out of Indiana Jones.  Suddenly this revelation of God is found that people didn’t even have any clue about.  Josiah reads this and tears his robes, weeping at finding out all this new stuff about who God really is, their history with Him, and what He expects from them.

Following that is a full list of draconian measures that Josiah went to in order to fix things.  One set of verses gives a window on how this fall from morality and spiritual faithfulness could have happened.

Then the king commanded all the people saying, “Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God as it is written in this book of the covenant.”  Surely such a Passover had not been celebrated from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah.  But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was observed to the LORD in Jerusalem.

God’s command to remember and teach about what He had miraculously done for His people, as mentioned in Exodus 12, had been completely neglected for hundreds of years!  The people now had no concept of it at all.  Their history with God had been completely forsaken, and now forgotten.

The importance of passing on history, faith, and cultural values is not something that is contained only in the Old Testament.  Jesus tells His followers in the New Testament to commemorate His death through Communion.  As the early Church interpreted this, it was not to be done as a ceremony once in a while at a service, but the kind of thing that was followed as people ate together.  Communion was to be celebrated at the dinner table with the family.

The Epistles in the latter New Testament talk about this idea as well.  Both Titus and First Peter talk about younger men and women learning from older men and women.  The early church clearly invested in the ideas of mentoring younger Christians in the faith, and educating those who were spiritually younger using creedal statements and liturgical prayers, as well as hymns.