Linked List // 22 April 2016 by Brandon Jones

I'm at a conference this week so this space may or may not fill out. Hopefully it will.

Linked List // 15 April 2016 by Brandon Jones

  • This is an interesting read but I think there is more to be said. It focuses to high degree on cities - which is probably most important in the long run but I think there have been some important shifts in other directions as well.
  • Reverse culture shock is real and something we experience everytime we visit family, friends and supporters in the US.
  • It's interesting that Kenya is finding itself mixed up, loosely, in an incident involving China and Taiwan.
  • This is a fantastic article about farm to table. Really fascinating to read about the reality.

Global Church Missional Reading List by Brandon Jones

This is such a fantastic reading list. I’m grateful for the GlobalChurch site for compiling it. It covers readings, predominantly from the majority world on church and mission. It’s vital that these voices are heard. These are voices that have often been ignored or sidelined by the majority world (look no further than the speaker make up of big conferences) but they have important insight and perspective that is key in our increasingly flattening world.

I’ve read quite a few on this list and have had many others on my wish list for awhile. Frankly this list could be my wish list and I’d be perfectly happy. Anyways, read and learn and engage with the voices coming from the majority world.

Linked List // April 8 2016 by Brandon Jones

WhatsApp Security Improvements by Brandon Jones

WhatsApp Improvements

WhatsApp is a messaging app that hundreds of millions of people use every day. It’s similar to iMessage or BBM or SMS but has historically had a really bad security record. These have been bad enough that I’ve intentionally tried to stay away from using it (messages sent in plain text, data leaks, censorship in some countries).

That all kind of changed yesterday in a big way. End-to-end encryption was rolled out to all devices running the latest version.

That’s a big deal. It means that messages are encrypted from device to device - you actually have to be the sender or recipient to know what a message says. WhatsApp now has know way to read it on their servers and those that might be “listening in” to network traffic won’t be able to tell what a message says.

I only say it kind of changed yesterday though as it’s not a perfect implementation (as something like Threema is. There presently is no way to verify encryption status which might be an issue for some people in sensitive situations. If they can add key verification (like Threema has) it’d be a much better implementation. If they could add the additional security features of something like Threema (wipe-on-3-missed-passcodes for instance) it’d be wonderful.

But suffice it to say this is a definite, encouraging move in the right direction (and one I’m sure governments across the globe are hating).

Linked List // April 1 2016 by Brandon Jones

The only difference between a Christian gunman and a Muslim terrorist is racism - Quartz by Brandon Jones

But most of our media has its own definition of terrorism: A Muslim did it. Once we learned that Dawson wasn’t Muslim, reporters went out of their way to calm the American public. There was still almost no other information about the case, the suspect, or his motivations. “Don’t worry,” one outlet after another told us, “it’s not terrorism.” But if a Muhammad Dawson had rushed in and opened fire, screaming “I am a Prophet of Allah,” what then? Today we’d be discussing a new and even more offensive policy proposed by Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz. Meanwhile Donald Trump would be making the rounds on TV, offering ever more outrageous, unconstitutional, and Geneva-noncompliant policy proposals.

This is an extremely important article. The language we use and the way we use it can either help or further worsen the problems at hand. So often we choose to use words like terrorism in a way that worsens the problem and plays into the hands of terrorists. Islamophobia has no business being a political platform. That's not going to allow anyone to actually build bridges and work towards peace. Read the article in its entirety; it's worth it.

World Tragedy Map by Brandon Jones

The above map highlights how those in the west view the problems throughout the world. While highly generalized and simplistic it certainly has the air of truth - as an American living overseas (particularly in a country and region often forgotten) it's something you quickly come to realize. May we remember and be mindful of all of those that need the power of the Kingdom of God to break through in their midst.

Original map from here. Engish map taken from here.

by Brandon Jones

"…it is precisely in the midst of a Holy Saturday experience that the decision to follow Christ becomes truly authentic. A faith that can only exist in the light of victory and certainty is one which really affirms the self while pretending to affirm Christ, for it only follows Jesus in the belief that Jesus has conquered death. Yet a faith that can look at the horror of the cross and still say ‘yes’ is one that says ‘no’ to the self in saying ‘yes’ to Christ. If one loses one’s life only because one believes that this is the way to find it, then one gives up nothing; to truly lose one’s life, one must lay down that life without regard to whether or not one finds it. Only a genuine faith can embrace doubt, for such a faith does not act because of a self interested reason (such as fear of hell or desire for heaven) but acts simply because it must. A real follower of Jesus would commit to Him before the crucifixion, between the crucifixion and the resurrection, and after the resurrection.”

Peter Rollins, How (Not) To Speak of God

Linked List // March 25 2016 by Brandon Jones

Faith Like a Child by Brandon Jones

This is an old post from some time ago - actually probably one of the oldest I've written. Just publishing it again on this blogging system.

Remember back when you were a child? When everything seemed so simple? Rainbows had pots of gold at their end and the blue sky was blue because that’s how God painted it? Life seemed simple then. Anything seemed plausible and it took little faith to believe it. We could ask our dads a technical question and upon getting an absurd response — run with it.

I heard one child say, “Whenever I see sunlight streaming through the clouds, I think it means that God is speaking to someone.” This stopped me short. My immediate response is, “No — it just has to do with the sun hitting the particles in the clouds and refracting.” But then I stop and wonder. Why can’t it mean more?

Imagine being outside on a mild day. It’s partly cloudy and the sun is shining in the better half of the sky. A cloud moves in front. It’s a kodak moment to be sure. I’ve always liked looking at imagery from nature and relating it to faith. God has created it all and reveals Himself through all. If we ever seize to praise Him — the inanimate rocks will pick up the slack.

I picture in my mind many different images of God. Not only is He holy and supreme but He is also my (heavenly) Father. The clouds move past the sun — they shield us from the blinding radiance of the One who created all. And He speaks to us!

There is no question about it — God is supremely holy. He is perfect. Before coming to knowledge of Him my sins made me pitch black and a doomed vessel before Him. Even now, having been saved by His grace, washed clean by His blood my flesh still could not withstand His full glory. When Jesus took Peter, James and John onto the mountain, God enveloped himself in a cloud. Just as a taste is enough to change my life forever, the full glory of God would burn me to the core.

But then He talks! Streams of sunlight coming through the clouds — the voice (and glory) of God to His people. It’s not so unreasonable to think as such. God spoke to the disciples and His son on that mountainside and He speaks to us today if we choose and want to listen.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the things of this world. It’s so easy to get caught up in the technicalities, the sciences and the reasonings. It’s nice to step back and have the trusting faith of a child that God really does talk to His people. I know that the next time I see streams of sunlight filtering through the clouds the question on my heart will be, “What is God trying to say?”

Apps I Use: Day One 2 by Brandon Jones

Periodically I hope to highlight useful (or maybe even more rarely, not so useful) apps and the ways in which I use them. These posts aren’t designed to be exhaustive reviews though. If you’d like a more in depth look at the currently highlighted app, please leave a comment to that effect!

What It Is

Today I wanted to feature the new release of Day One (perhaps unhelpfully called Day One 2. Day One is a personal, digital journal designed from the ground up to produce simple and beautiful daily journals of whatever you are interested in tracking. It syncs across the Apple ecosystem so your journal(s) are with you wherever you need them (on Mac, iPhone, or iPad).

What I Love

There is lots to love about Day One 2. It’s creators bill it as simple and elegant and it is. All text input is done as markdown (a plain text system that is just fantastic to use) and it is designed to handle media really well. Making a photo gallery of the day is also quite simple (which is particularly useful when you have small children).

In the new version, you can also create multiple journals which is particularly useful. I have a work journal where I keep debrief notes about work, a personal journal that houses personal thoughts and then a lifestream journal that collects my online activity for remembrance.

The latter mentioned journal (the lifestream journal) makes use of a brand new features that really makes Day One 2 stand out: IFTTTintegration. IFTTT is an online automation tool that “links” apps together in tons of useful ways. I have recipes for IFTTT that automatically make journal entries for all of my posts on the primary social media tools I use. This way, I have a running log of my online activities (including from this blog!). There is a lot that you could do with IFTTT integration to automate the journaling process.

What I dislike

There isn’t honestly much I dislike. Two things do stand out that I wish were different. The first is that I wish there were different sync options. In version 1, you could sync via Dropbox (for example) but you are limited solely to Day One’s sync service in the new version. I understand why (features like IFTTT integration depend on this) and will be happier about it when full private key encryption is in place (a projected feature of version 2.1). It would still be nice to have a teensy bit more control of our data.

The second thing I’ll mention is publishing. This was a late flagship feature of version 1 that has yet to find its way into version 2. It’s not something I often used but it did have compelling use casesand it will be nice to see it integrated back into Day One 2.

Concluding Thoughts

Day One 2 is an app I find really useful. A personal goal over the past few months has been to focus in on and hone my writing skills and it’s been an aid to that end (as well as a great place to log who I am and what I do). I don’t know of a better journal-focused app. I’d encourage any to check it out, if journaling is your thing (or something you want to work on). I barely scratched the surface of its features. Check out it’s sitefor more info and screenshots!

A Letter To Africa About Africa: Reviewed by Brandon Jones

This is an old post from a few years ago that I'm importing into this system.

I’ve been able to read more lately, which is quite nice. It seems that my old job tended to wear me out mentally and when I would get home, didn’t have the energy to do much requiring invested thought. I still read, mind you, just not as much as I am now.

The last book I read is entitled A Letter to Africa About Africa by Kasongo Munza. Munza was an ordained UMC pastor from the Congo and was director of a training center in Zambia when he passed away in 2005.

His book looks in depth at the prevailing African worldview, particularly that of subsaharan Africa, and analyzes how it (a) has led to the vast problems facing Africa and (b) how it matches up against Jesus’ view of the kingdom of God.

I didn’t quite know what to expect upon picking it up. Part of me worried that this was going to be another book focused on replacing the African worldview with an American Evangelical one. I’ll readily recognize that there is much in the African worldview that needs a critical eye, but a replacement of one broken worldview with another broken one isn’t an answer I wanted to read about (I’ve already seen enough proposals like this).

Thankfully this book was not that and because of this I found it quite helpful. It was a detailed analysis of the African worldview — something necessary to understand if you are going to even begin to attempt spiritual and community development type work. It also provided a framework for building a new worldview steeped in God’s kingdom — not based in throwing everything African out and not importing everything western in.

I think it worth writing in some detail about the African worldview so that people have an understanding of the good and the bad inherent in it. And that task I’m going to save for another day. But for now, if you would like to read a fascinating and small book on why Africa is the way it is, pick up A Letter to Africa About Africa. And if you ever plan on doing ministry here, make that a priority.

Miracle Healing Revivals by Brandon Jones

This is an old post from a few years ago that I'm importing into this system.

Prosperity theology and its inherit pitfalls: an introduction.

I’ve on several occasions wrote about the need for discipleship in Africa in the years I’ve been here. Actually it’s a need the world over but my heart is currently captured by this beautiful continent and it’s need is quite palpable. One of the problems we face living, working and discipling in Africa is what’s often exported as discipleship or “the way” from the west. Because it’s the west who seemingly has “it” put together that a developing world looks up to, for better or worse.

It’s in circumstances like I recently found myself in that I’m unsure if our influence really does make things better or worse as all too often our worst is exported as it makes the most outlandish promises requiring the least amount of work. Actually it’s those things that reduce life and it’s accompanying joys and sorrows to a series of economic transactions. Rather than a journey to be made hand-in-hand, intentionally, taking into account all of life, discipleship is reduced to a simple consumeristic transaction; transformation is linked directly to our economic ability to pay for it. And if you want to consider things materially, what is quite sad about this, when reduced to an economic transaction, discipleship can’t break through a poverty mindset; instead it simply perpetuates it.

If we are willing to walk the journey intentionally, in good and bad and ugly, the power that poverty has over the empoverished breaks as individuals step into a hope filled tomorrow. I’ve seen it happen. I remember the first budgeting session I did with a friend in a local community. After a Bible study, we talked about what budgeting is and why someone would do it. Together we made a plan and I helped keep him accountable to it. Several months later I was visiting with him and he grabbed my hand and pulled me into his home and said, “Look!” pointing at a new fridge. With a smile on his face he explained how he had made a fridge envelope, and over several months had saved for it and purchased it in cash without going into debt. With joy, he shared the difference it had made and the excitement starting small gave him for the future. But this is a rabbit trail from what I’m wanting to share; just know that intentional, holistic discipleship changes hearts and lives in substantial ways.

Back to the topic at hand. As Americans, it’s often our worst that’s exported. The excesses of the prosperity gospel have reached these far shores and we have a generation of churches pastored by individuals that use their position to manipulate their congregants out of all they have for the financial gain of those in power. Bankrupt theology is producing bankrupt churches made of literally bankrupted individuals who really had not much to start with anyways. The prosperity gospel is best summed as the notion that we can buy God’s blessing/favor/annointing/miracle through giving to an individual rather than relationship with Him who already gave all for us. It’s a marketing and manipulation technique to make a small group of individuals quite wealthy at the expense of a large group of “others” (generally the already impoverished and least educated within a society). It’s a gospel of economic transactions rather than grace through faith in Christ. And as such it’s not good news to the poor, or anyone (other than those getting rich off of its machinations). It’s not gospel in any sense of the word. Not when it’s causing people to give away 3 months of living expenses they don’t have to pay for a miracle that won’t come through that financial transaction. And it’s downright anti-Christ when a woman spends all her money, can’t afford her AIDs treatment and dies in the background of everyday life.

It’s come to Africa and much of the developing world in a large part due to big crusades and revivals held by the big names you’ve probably heard of. I had never attended one as frankly, they aren’t my style and theologically I find them to be quite lacking (especially considering what I hear people who go come back saying). Rather than preaching on a stage to people I don’t know and will not see again after the “revival” is over, I find much more value in on-the-ground work and that’s where I’ve focused my attentions.

But as I’ve known more people to go and come back with tragic stories I knew I needed to see first hand what I was perceiving as a train wreck. I needed to understand and judge with my own eyes rather than through the stories of others. And when an opportunity came up, I joined three of my colleagues to attend one of these “Miracle & Healing Revivals”.

The events of the evening

I should preface this by saying we went with open hearts and open minds. I knew going in that I’d likely have some theological quibbles. We really hoped though to see something miraculous that ran counter to what we’ve always heard. That’s the eternal optimist in us, perhaps? At the very least we knew we’d get a better understanding of the crowd and the ins and outs of the operation. ”Know thine enemy” as the saying goes.

It all started with pre-buying tickets. According to the marketing material the event was going to be a sell out. We got our tickets and a notice to be in our seats two hours before the event was to start (so at 5:30pm). We left at 3:30 to get some grub, expecting a long night. Unfortunately though the place we were going to eat at was closed for remodeling: the first bummer of the evening. We headed on down the highway to an older mall 1km from the church and experienced our first (and unfortunately only) miracle of the evening: the place we were wanting to eat had a branch at this old mall that none of us knew about.

After quickly chowing down on some peri-peri grilled chicken we headed to the place, arriving by 5:20, and walked to the gate where we were informed to get in the long line that would be letting people in “soon”. And an hour later, it started moving and we were in our seats by 6:30. Unfortunately though at 7:30 when the revival started, the venue was still 1/3 empty (actually — not really a bad thing considering the content of the evening; there were about 600 in attendance though by my rough estimates). It was however annoying to us as we could have taken more time to fellowship together over dinner rather waiting outside in the hot sun.

Anyways — back to the event. At about 6:30 the ministries marketing director took the stage to advertise the brand new prayer shawl they were selling, as well as the books and DVDs and other trinkets and knick knacks. Really, nothing too wrong at this point. It finally started on time with a few worship songs led by a guy, a band and a choir. Nothing out of the ordinary here.

Sidebar: It was interesting watching what was going on at the back of the hall. This is where they put all of the unsightly people: wheelchairs, crutches — that sort of thing. There was at least one well dressed staffer scoping them out and doing some initial interactions. They were praying and picking people out of wheelchairs to see if they could stand at all. I didn’t really think anything about it until after the event in reading about these sorts of things. Apparantly this is a routine practice to make sure that certain types of people stay off the stage. This is tragic. These are the types that Jesus would love dearly. Anyways. More about them later.

Then, about 15 minutes later, the evangelist/healer/miracle worker/whatever he calls himself took the stage by grabbing the mic and leading a rendition of “How Great Thou Art”. This was actually probably my favorite part of the evening. He voice wasn’t that great but he wasn’t afraid to belt it out, and that hymn is a favorite. If only the rest of the evening went this well.

After the singing, the first in a string of events was the man himself promoting all of his wares: ”Oh this book is so powerful,” “Oh this is the most powerful thing I’ve written,” “Oh you’ll never hear a more powerful teaching.” This was quite uncomfortable. One of my friends leaned over to me and whispered, ”if I ever get this arrogant about anything I produce you have permission to punch me in the face. Please.” It’s one thing to advertise before a service but after it starts, in such an arrogant manner, seemed a bit tacky.

But it was to only get worse from here. He immediately moved into a 45 minute advert for a commemorative DVD from his remarriage service, that just had happened 10 days prior to the event. He “guaranteed” that it would “heal any broken marriages” if you bought it and watched. We got to see the advert with all of the big names and faces, etc, etc. It didn’t convince us but seemed to convince a large portion of the audience. Unfortunately.

Sidebar: having a baby has greatly turned me on to the blessing that children are. I love that Jesus was always open to children and specifically rebuked his disciples for turning them away. In the midst of this push to buy his wedding video, the fellow stopped and yelled at a woman and child for being unruly, asking them to leave if things didn’t change. This did not sit well with me. We couldn’t see anything worthy of this outburst.

Back to the main event though.

Wedding video sales lead into the main offering. And the lead up to it was another 45 minutes to an hour. This is where the prosperity nonsense mentioned at the beginning came into play. He went into full blown audience manipulation mode. The kicker was when it was time to pass the buckets and he said, ”Who is willing to give R1000 or more (~$120)? Raise your hands! Why don’t you stand up. Everyone else, look at them. They are willing to give at least R1000 right now. All of you come to the front! I will pray for you and guarantee you a miracle if you are willing to give R1000 or more.” They make their way to the front with a crowd watching and slowly more rise to come to the front, the guilt and desire to buy their guarantee taking root. In all somewhere around 100 people went to the front to pay for their miracle. Truly tragic.

The tragedy is compounded by the fact that the majority of the audience came likely from disadvantaged communities around Cape Town. To these people this is an incredibly significant amount. Actually the cultural insensitivity was kind of staggering. To stand on stage discussing how legal fees close to $800,000 was hell on earth just seemed a little out of place in Africa.

This part of the evening really significantly grieved me. I was done at this point. I’d seen all that I really cared to see. The worst had happened — that was that. It was also about 10:15 by the time the offering blasphemy ended. We’d been there for 4 1/2 hours, the service had been going on for 2 1/2 hours and still no miracles or healings: just a couple of schemes to get peoples money. But the guy decided to go ahead and preach so we decided to go ahead and wait it out to see if miracles would follow.

They didn’t. And the sermon wasn’t something to be proud. His Bible was never opened. It centered on a piece of a verse and stretched the Bible further than I’d ever heard it stretched before. It was no exegetical masterpiece. Actually the one thing I remember from it was the statement, “your spirit is never older than 33 1/2. Eternally you are 33 1/2. Because that’s how old Jesus was when He died.” Huh? It was 45 minutes of this stuff.

And then the final nail in the coffin: at 11:00 he says, “I don’t feel like healing anyone tonight. So we are going to go ahead and pray and close down.” The disappointment on one fellow’s face in a wheelchair that we saw leave was heartbreaking. It was the image I was left carrying as the evening ended. Remember those people they were "testing" before the night officially began? The ones in wheelchairs and with crutches? He was one of them, desperately seeking some sort of change.

A short conclusion

It was quite the night. I was so thankful to share it with a few close colleagues and friends. It was good to have people there to assess and process and debrief with when all was said and done. There were quite a few key takeaways for me personally.

On the somewhat lighter side, I’ve always wondered where some of the ridiculous things we hear passed off as facts come from (specifically in regards to the Bible & faith). I think I know now: events like tonite and leaders like this that tickle an audience with fancy and made-up words and facts and stories.

Getting a little deeper, and flowing from the last point, you can really see the power that words have to capitivate and manipulate people. They really can be akin to magic spells, if you know what you are doing. Actually I’d say that that is exactly what’s going on in the prosperity gospel nonsense: a kind of magic that promises endless rewards and change without any sort of work or lifestyle investment. The mantra brings the change rather than an investment in a relationship with Jesus. Coming to an event like this really goes lengths to show the power of our words and this type of “magic”.

Tagging onto that, I was (but shouldn’t have been maybe?) surprised at the lack of a clear Gospel presentation. Really no mention of Jesus and what He did that I can recall. Lots of what man can do, and where man can go with the right resources but not of what Jesus did, which was a shame. You'd think a place where people are searching for miracles would be a great place to make Jesus known loudly and clearly. You'd think when you think of miracles that His power would be at the center of discussions. Alas, though, this wasn't to be.

I can also see why people get sucked in: those folks on the stage really believe what they are selling; they are truly deceived themselves by it. Desperate people see this belief and latch on to it and give of all they have in the hopes that the spells will work for them as well. Unfortunately it’s a bit too much like a pyramid scheme: in order for it to work, you’ve got to have people underneath you buying into your ability to do miracles. If you lack that, you can only give the little you already have. And their situation all too often remains unchanged or, as we’ve seen in communities we’ve worked in, it worsens.

Here are my two biggest takeaways though: (1) prayer against this sort of deception is necessary and urgent and (2) it’s somewhat a race against time to get to where Jesus is opening doors before these “revivalists” so that disciples, and not purveyors of cheap tricks, are made.

For point 1, during the prayer offering I just felt such a strong urge to pray against the deception blanketing the air around us. To pray that in the midst of the disappointment that people were going to inevitably feel that they would know Jesus as comfort, provider and healer. To pray that they would turn their hearts resolutely towards Him and leave the schemes of man behind. To pray that this prosperity deception would be found out and sent away from this continent (and the developing world). To pray that Jesus would truly be Lord, and man not.

For point 2, we’ve had Christian leaders in countries beginning to open urge our friends and colleagues to come quickly before these dangerous revivalists get there because of how much harder discipleship becomes. Why take the hard road when you can try magic using common religious lingo? It makes the task of reaching the unreached, engaging the unengaged ever more urgent in our hearts and minds. Discipleship is key.

When all was said and done, this is what I was left with; this is how I plan to respond. I challenge anyone reading to join me. Get outside. Get into the lives of others. Join hands with them. Walk steadily towards Jesus and see if the world transforms in a way these magicians could never make so.

Linked List // March 18 2016 by Brandon Jones

Pretty crazy video of a tomato being sliced, only reversed. Or unsliced or unchopped. Crazy.

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John 4 & Ancestor Worship by Brandon Jones

This is an old post from a few years ago that I'm importing into this system.

Ancestor worship is a big deal among many traditional African peoples.

Ancestor worship is about veneration. It's about thanking those that have gone before for what they've done for you in the present. The ancestors play a role as mediums between the family and any higher beings that a tribe might hold in high esteem. Ceremonies are held to worship in order to ask for ancestors intercession for good times, upon seasons of travels and in other circumstances, as they might arise. The family often comes together and brews a traditional beer and will ritually slaughter a goat, lamb or perhaps a chicken and offer it to the ancestors in exchange for their intercessory power.

Just as much as its about veneration, it is also about appeasement. Life isn't always easy. Often times its quite difficult. In these times, the ancestors are often pinpointed as the reasons why things might not be going well for an individual or family. In those times, the sacrifices and ceremonies are held to appease the ancestors -- to try and get them to stop the harassment that everyday life is bringing.

All too often, ancestor worship does more harm than good.

And perhaps it is a strong statement but something we've encountered time and again: ancestor worship perpetuates a poverty mindset in the midst of all of the other harm it does. I think this would be better explained by some real world examples of what I'm talking about.

I met one man in a community that I worked in that was struggling in life. He had nothing now and never had much of anything anytime before either. The stench of liquor was so very strong on his breath that this wasn't really a surprise. When asked what his dream in life was, he simply said, "I don't want to drink anymore but I have to. If I don't, the ancestors will come to me in dreams and I just can't handle it anymore. Drinking dulls the pain and keeps them away."

I knew another lady who told us she slept around because that's what the ancestors demanded of her. That was the only way they were going to help her get ahead in life. Her reality was much different though.

Still another individual described dark and evil presences that would come into her home at night in the guise of long dead loved ones demanding evil be done in their name. It's hard to say to the walking dead.

If an individual isn't giving all that they are for some nefarious deed, they often give all that they have to alcohol (or sometimes harder drugs) in order to escape the constant onslaught that ancestors sometimes bring.

Among the communities and cultures we've worked in, I've never seen the fruits of ancestor worship to be anything other than fear and destruction and poverty. It's quite tragic really and is worth considering deeply. But it's important to note:

It's also not something we can readily address.

I mean we could try. I've tried, many times. Early on in my days in South Africa I remember saying, "The ancestors have no power!" but I just got blank stares and comments back like, "You don't know. You aren't one of us. Your ancestors don't haunt you like they haunt us."

They are right of course. I don't know. My ancestors (thankfully) don't haunt me. It's not ever anything I've had to deal with. I can try as I might to imagine myself in their shoes; I can claim intellectually to understand but I never will, fully.

Ancestor worship does though create an awfully big chasm to cross as we try to empower transformation that affects all of life. It's especially tricky when the root of the transformative power offered is spiritual. Many will grasp and begin walking in a more healthy direction but get sucked back into the muck of life due to the quite literal demons of their past. We've seen God come through in amazing ways and break the chains that ancestors shackle people with. And these people have powerful voices from which to speak directly in ways people won't allow us to. We pray for more of them that can honestly address the damage done by this belief. But I'm also always on the lookout for scripture that addresses issues like ancestor worship that we can direct people to (and then let God through his Word speak for himself).

I was led to think on this again some time ago as I was doing a DBS with some friends.

For those that might be reading and aren't familiar with the concept of DBS (Discovery Bible Study), its essentially an inductive study of the Bible that incorporates the key elements of church. It's how we plant church where the church is not, and raise up leaders where there are none.

Anyways, I love DBS for many reasons. Here is a sampling:

  • It gives voice to what God is teaching each person through His word, rather than just one individual on a rampage in front.
  • Its commitment to the text prevents some of the crazy theologies that develop when people don't hold one another accountable.
  • And, no matter how many times you've read a particular passage, being inductive based, you pick up new (and often deep) insights each time you read it.

This third point led me to thinking on ancestor worship today as we are always looking for how the Bible might challenge that traditional way of thinking.

John 4 & the Samaritan Woman at the Well

Today we talked about John 4 and Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar. It's a powerful story that you probably know if you've read this far: Jesus asks for a drink and she says, "how can I? You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan and we don't mix." Jesus responds that she doesn't know to whom she speaks and that he has living water to offer that will never run dry. It's in her response to Jesus, and then Jesus' answer, that we see a clear challenge to ancestor worship.

11 “Sir,” the woman said to him, “you have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do you get this living water? 12 Surely you’re not greater than our ancestor Jacob, are you? For he gave us this well and drank from it himself, along with his sons and his livestock.”

13 Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.”

I'd never noticed it before but the woman identifies the well, and it's provision, as chief in the lives of the people of this place. She specifically speaks out the greatness of Jacob (the ancestor) and his central role in the well's placement in their lives. She goes on to challenge the notion that Jesus could possibly consider himself greater than Jacob.

But Jesus responds simply with truth. The well as it stands may provide some limited amount of life but it doesn't last; the villagers get thirsty day after day. What Jesus offers though has the potentially to quench thirst once and for all.

I was struck by this specific challenge to the power that ancestors might hold over a people. It's not now, nor ever will be, greater than what Jesus offers. While the woman at the will might not have dealt with the darker weight that ancestor worship has brought to people I have met, she still looked to their legacy for her peoples ongoing blessing. But this changes after her encounter with Jesus.

She was never the same after finding living water, and the same is true for anyone held captive to the power of ancestors in their life.

So I'm curious about a couple of things. One - if you are in a position where you are dealing with a worldview steeped in ancestor worship, what are your thoughts about this generally? Two - do you have any other good passages besides this bit from John 4 to add to the mix? We've got several but are always on the look out for more good verses to speak to issues like this.

Linked List // March 11 2016 by Brandon Jones

by Brandon Jones

What is most crucial to martyrdom is not whether or not the person killed intended to act out of love or for justice...but whether or not those with eyes to see are able to discern the body of Christ, crucified and glorified, in the body broken by the violence of the world.

William Cavanaugh, from Torture & Eucharist pg 64

Linked List // March 4 2016 by Brandon Jones

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  • The landscape of the mission-verse is changing quite quickly. This latest report from the IMB details some of their changes and their are some trends there that could be identified. It's something I hope to right more on lately.
  • Oven Bits on average culture/great culture.