Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Waning Influence?

Forgive me if I sound un-American, but from what I am observing as I travel these past few months is that the United States has lost its status as “most admired.” I’m saddened that as a nation, we now seem to have earned the designation, “the country everybody loves to hate.” We’ve been knocked off our pedestal. Let me give you a few examples.

Being in China this week it’s pretty clear that the people here wish to overtake everything, including everything American. They are now the third largest economy in the world behind the US and India, and are ambitiously on a course to replace America from the top spot. The International Monetary Fund recently reported that China would take the lead in the world’s economic recovery by growing its gross domestic product by a world-leading 9% rate next year. This compares with the United States growth projected at a mere 1.5%. China is coming! Moreover, many experts who study the church in China agree that the Chinese church has grown without outside interference and they want to keep it that way. Many observers believe that the brand of Christianity that the North American church often exports is “toxic” to other parts of the global church.

Sunday morning I read the South China Morning Post. I turned to the Sports section to read about the IOC’s recent decision to award the 2016 Olympic Games to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In a post-award interview, a reporter asked Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio “Lula” de Silva, how it felt to “knock out President Obama in the first round?” I was struck with the wording the reporter chose to ask his question. It saddens me that in many places of the world there is growing sentiment that the United States is an opponent that most people want to see “knocked out!”

Last May while having lunch with church leaders in a section of the city formerly known as East Berlin, I noticed a well-known magazine lying on the countertop where we paid our bill. The magazine cover pictured an American flag, tilted, tattered and partially burned. The headlines of the magazine boasted, “In Celebration of the Demise of An Economic Power.” So much for respect!

We no longer command respect in the eyes of many nations! We no longer enjoy, “favored status.” It’s humbling for me to see and hear these things.

But my grief goes beyond patriotism. I wonder if the reality I observe isn’t related to a deeper, perhaps less obvious reality—a spiritual one! Is a country’s national and/or international reputation in some ways tied to its spiritual vitality? Has the church in the US so politicized its message that we have unwittingly negated our influence globally? Recently it was reported that if one wants to know the future of China, watch the church. The church is out front humbly leading, modeling and exemplifying compelling new initiatives for the sake of others. There’s an absence of a siege mentality here. No demonizing the government here. It’s simple people living simple lives. As they do they penetrate their communities and culture with light and with the Gospel! And people are taking notice.

During my travels this week I have been meditating on two passages of Scripture. The first is:

I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices. Psalm 81:10-12

The psalmist observed the nation of Israel and this passage depicts what he concluded. God’s people exhibited stubborn, resistant hearts. As a consequence God silenced their voices in a place called exile. Exile was a place where the voice of God’s people was silenced and their influence curtailed. Is the same true of God’s people today? Has the church’s voice been muffled and silenced because of our own stubborn resistance to Him? Is the moral deterioration and waning international influence somehow connected to the church’s unwillingness to listen and submit to Him? Are we the church in some ways to bear the blame for the degradation of our culture and the diminishment of our reputation? I’ve been praying for the church these words of the psalmist:

Restore us again, O God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us. Will you be angry forever? Will you prolong your anger through all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant to us your salvation. Psalm 85:5-7

May God revive His church toward a posture of humility, service and love.

Every blessing,

S t r e t c h e d

Thursday, October 1, 2009

China's 60th Anniversary

We finished up our sessions early and boarded Hong Kong’s Rapid Transit system for the 45-minute ride to downtown Hong Kong. When we disembarked we suddenly found ourselves in a huddled mass with thousands of Chinese people rushing to the Victoria Harbor front in anticipation of China’s celebration of their 60th Anniversary. Sixty years ago yesterday China became the Communist People’s Republic of China. While Hong Kong is a part of China it has its own autonomous system of government and currency.

We quickly dropped our belongings at the YMCA Salisbury Hotel situated along the harbor front and made our way outside. It was hot and muggy outside reminding me of the lakefront 4th of July Fireworks in Milwaukee on a hot July evening. We exited our hotel and walked one block to Nathan Road, the major north-south thoroughfare and Honk Kong’s version of Madison Avenue. When we got to the intersection I looked left and all I saw was a mass of people migrating northward toward the harbor front only a block away. People were laughing and celebrating and anticipating this event. There was no drunkenness, no loud obscene language or behavior. We saw dozens and dozens of small children with lights in their eyes and anticipation on their faces. Old and young alike were rushing to the harbor front. We decided instead of fighting our may through the massive crowd we would go back to our hotel room and watch the fireworks from our room overlooking the harbor.

The fireworks spectacle was launched form four floating barges in the middle of Victoria Harbor. Imagine a harbor lined with tall glistening skyscrapers at the bottom of towering mountain peaks. All around the harbor camera flashes flashed as the 22-minute pyrotechnical display began. It was a stunning spectacle. As we watched we turned on the TV in the room to keep our eye on the celebration simultaneously in Beijing. China boasted that the celebration in Tiananmen Square last night topped the opening ceremonies of last summer’s Beijing Olympic Games. 100,000 adults, 80,000 children and 140,000 security forces participated in the celebration in Tiananmen. During the finale along Victoria Harbor I was waiting for an all-out display of enthusiasm and hooping and hollering. But it was not that way. The finale seemed more of a fizzle to me.

When we had our breakfast this morning I couldn’t help but notice a copy of the South China Daily newspaper when we walked in. The headlines read: “A Celebration that Stopped A Nation.” It certainly stopped me! This is a nation that exhibits enormous national spirit. It is a nation that prides itself on its efficiency in everything it does. After the fireworks last night we returned to the streets to grab a bite to eat. On our way back to Nathan Road and as people were returning to their homes, I couldn’t help but notice that there were street sweepers everywhere. Five minutes after the fireworks subsided, Hong Kong was already at work cleaning up its city. The police removed the barricades that had blocked all the downtown city streets and within 30 minutes of the conclusion of the fireworks, the downtown city nightlife resumed.

It all seemed to run as efficiently as the Chinese had planned. I was quite impressed.

Every blessing,

S t r e t c h e d