Monday, September 20, 2010

Hungry Spirits, the Koram and a Chance to Peace

The Chinese celebrate on the 15th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar the Day of the Hungry Spirits, while the 7th month of the lunar calendar is considered as the month of the hungry spirits. This year the hungry spirits day fell on August 24th. August is normally considered as the month of the hungry spirits (sometimes being extended to September) It’s believed that on the 15th day of the 7th month Heaven, Hell and the world of the living open and connect, thus causing the spirits and ghosts to leave the lower realm, including the dead ancestors to go through the world of the living. As a result, the people, mostly Buddhists and Taoists, execute rites to try to appease the spirits or relieve their suffering. The ancestor worship happens in full, with many people making offerings of food, burning incense, burning of joss paper, and burning papier-mache shaped objects as clothes, gold and other fine objects to appease the ancestors and avoid curses or problems in the family, work, health, etc. It’s a grotesque to see so much food and burnt things on the streets. A real work of witchcraft happening for the whole of the country, with the support and comprehension of the government, even considered as superstition but taken as part of the culture, religion or tradition of the people, after all, it’s better to cover all the bases, isn’t it? Unfortunately, nobody comments on the waste, the rats, cockroaches and other plagues that follow these practices. It’s sad to see so many people slaved by the prison of animism and evil spirits that are behind this celebration to get to be worshipped, due to fear. These practices, indeed, are ways to protect themselves from the evil they believe can attack them if they don’t do them, so that they can’t see that actually they are the ones feeding the evil they try to avoid. I don’t agree with their practices, but I respect their decision, continue to love, pray and serve them, when the opportunity allows me, so that I can show the including, reaching, protecting and saving reality of the Kingdom.

This week we were remembering those that lost their lives at the twin towers of the World Trade Center, on September 11th, due to a terrorist attack. This happened 9 years ago. On September 11th, this year, a friend posted a message at facebook, showing his sympathy to his American friends and to the American population in general, for what has happened and telling how he believes the world would never be the same again. It was a beautiful demonstration of love and empathy for those who suffered and still suffers by the Power of evil. But the comments he got in reply were a show of ignorance and lack of sensitivity. Some were making jokes because he posted 9/11 (as it’s read in English) instead of 11/9, (as it’s read in Brazil) as if this was more important than the meaning of the date. In one of the entries someone commented, not taking in account the pain the date brings, criticizing by saying that the only change in the world after 9/11 was the armed rise of a mourning nation invading other weaker nations due to selfish reasons. Truth be said, one thing do not justify another. Violence doesn’t justify more violence. But the reminder of the loss of human lives is not the proper place to make soulless political statements. It’s the moment to bring consolation and prayer and the proclamation of peace. This only shows what is inside humanity’s heart, even the Christians: a stuck, deep-rooted violence. What have we seen following the 9/11? A world anti-Islam feeling. Even among the Christians, men and women, there was a change in their perspective as they started to see all Muslims with suspicion, as the enemies and deserving to suffer the same violence they had caused, not considering that they didn’t caused (The movie “The Siege”, from 1998, becomes a prophetic moment). Hungry spirits dwelling people’s hearts.

The we have the Reverend Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center, Who offers this amazing act of Grace and Love: to burn copies of the Koram in, what he describes, as “not an act of hate or love” in spite of him admitting “we will no longer be controlled and dominated by their fears and threats”, in what can be understood that from now on the threats come from him or the Americans Who are still suffering from what happened on 9/11. It’s a good demonstration of what doesn’t mean to be a Christian (at least no the biblical Christianity taught by Jesus). For sure all the Muslims got his point of view: an yey for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, value that they already live for. But what about the message of grace and peace and reconciliation that is the message of Jesus? Where is it? I don’t think they got to see that one. The hurt pride of pastor Jones was very clear, but the humility in extending forgiveness, this is still to be seen. Hungry spirits.

I was in Philippines at the beginning of this year in a evangelistic/social trip. From the many places where I’ve preached nowhere was I more touched than at Santa Cruz, a cemetery at the middle of the city of Manila, with around 300,000 people living on top of graves. I walked around there, looking at those people walking and living around the graves (some of the graves were piled up on top of others turning the cemetery in true corridors of death).We preached and distributed clothes there as people would receive Christ, but during the whole time I was there I kept reminding myself of the Gerasene Demon-possessed man. I always asked myself how someone could live in a cemetery. Only if one is infested with demons, isn’t it? But there I could see people who were living there for social, political, economic reasons. And in the same way as the demons inside the Gerasene man were hungry for his soul, and later hungry to go to the pigs, these people were hungry for a little of hope, social justice and a taste of the Kingdom of God in their lives “today”. But the hungry spirits have kept them bound to poverty, general indifference and rejection. Hungry spirits.

The answer to violence is no-violence. The answer is freedom. The answer is justice. The answer is peace. Matthew 5:3 says “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:6 says “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” The poor in spirit is the one who lost everything, even the vigor in his/her spirit is vanishing. These are those hungry for a manifestation of social justice. Theirs is the kingdom. Not a kingdom that will one day come, but a kingdom that is already here. We have the responsibility to proclaim this kingdom due to our role as peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) and because we are part of the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace who is not burning Korams, or allowing people to live in cemeteries, or disregarding someone else’s pain and suffering. On the contrary, it is a kingdom that leaves the insides of the church and helps to rebuild houses destroyed by tornados, earthquakes, landslides. It’s a kingdom who gives the opportunity for those who cannot support their families, who visits the sick and gives strength to those in despair. This is the true fasting (Isaiah 58). This is the role of the true Servant of God, guided by the Spirit of God (Isaiah 61). He/she rebuilds the ruins and restores the devastated places and the ruined cities (Isaiah 61:4). May we be hungry for the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 61; Joel 2:28) instead of allowing the hungry spirits in our souls to be expressed through acts of violence, prejudice, rejection, ethnic pride, denominational pride, religious pride, superiority and intolerance. Let’s give a chance to peace to be expressed through our lives.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Espíritos Famintos, o Alcorão e Uma Chance Para a Paz

No dia 15 do sétimo mês do calendário lunar os chineses comemoram o Dia dos Espíritos Famintos, e o sétimo mês é considerado como o mês dos espíritos famintos. Geralmente este dia cai em agosto. Neste ano o dia dos espíritos famintos caiu no dia 24 de agosto. Agosto normalmente é considerado como o mês dos espíritos famintos (algumas vezes se extendendo até setembro). No décimo quinto dia do sétimo mês acredita-se que o Céu, o Inferno e o mundo dos vivos se abrem e se conectam e, a partir de então, os espíritos e fantasmas saem do mundo inferior, incluindo os falecidos ancestrais para vagar no mundo dos vivos. Como resultado as pessoas, tanto budistas como taoístas, realizam rituais para tentar apaziguar os espíritos ou arrefecer o seu sofrimento. A adoração ancestral acontece com peso, com muitas pessoas fazendo oferendas de comida, queimando incenso, papel com aparência de notas de dinheiro e objetos esculpidos em papel machê para os seus ancestrais para apaziguá-los e evitarem alguma maldição ou problema na família, trabalho, saúde, etc. É uma cena grotesca ver o tanto de comida e coisas queimadas nas ruas. Um verdadeiro trabalho de macumba que acontece por todo o país com a compreensão e apoio do governo, sendo considerado superstição, mas que acaba encoberto como parte da cultura, religião ou tradição do povo. Afinal, apesar de ser superstição, é melhor cobrir todas as bases, não é mesmo? Mas ninguém comenta do desperdício, das baratas e ratos e outras pestes que seguem. É triste de ver tantas pessoas presas pelos grilhões do animismo, e dos espíritos demôniacos que realmente estão por trás desta celebração para receberem adoração, devido ao medo. Na verdade os rituais são formas de se protegerem do mal que crêem pode atacá-los se assim não fizerem e não enxergam que, na verdade, estão alimentando o próprio mal que pensam estarem desfazendo. Não concordando, ainda assim respeito a decisão deles,e continuo a amá-los e a orar por eles e, quando a oportunidade me permite, de servi-los para demonstrar a realidade abrangente, inclusiva, protetora e salvadora do Reino.

Esta semana nós nos lembramos daqueles que se perderam nas torres gêmeas do World Trade Center, no dia 11 de setembro, devido a um ataque terrorista. Isto aconteceu a 9 anos atrás. No dia 11 de setembro um amigo brasileiro postou uma homenagem no facebook, demonstrando o seu pesar aos seus amigos, e à população americana em geral, pelo acontecido e como o mundo nunca mais seria o mesmo. Foi uma bela demonstração de amor e empatia pelos que sofreram e ainda sofrem pelo poder do mal. Mas os comentários que ele recebeu em troca foram de uma ignorância e falta de sensibilidade total. Uns fazendo graça porque ele postou 9/11 (como se lê em inglês) quando no Brasil se lê 11/9, como se isto fosse mais importante do que o significado da data. Em uma das entradas, alguém comentou, desconsiderando a dor da data, querendo apenas criticar que as mudanças que ocorreram no mundo pós-11/9 foi o levante bélico de uma nação em luto invadindo outras mais fracas por motivos egoístas. Na verdade, uma coisa não justifica a outra. A violência não justifica mais violência. Mas a lembrança da dor da perda de vidas humanas não é o momento para comentários políticos sem alma. É o momento de trazer consolo e oração e a proclamação da paz. Isto mostra apenas o que está no coração do homem, e até dos cristãos: uma violência que esta agarrada, entranhada. O que vimos na sequência do 11/9? Um sentimento anti-islâmico mundial. Até entre os cristãos, homens e mulheres, houve uma mudança na sua perspectiva, quando eles passaram a ver todos os muçulmanos com suspeita, como inimigos e merecedores de sofrerem a mesma violência que causaram, apesar de não terem sido eles que a causaram (O filme Nova York Sitiada , de 1998, acaba por se tornar um momento profético). Espíritos famintos que habitam nos corações dos homens.

Também temos o Reverendo Terry Jones, pastor do Dove World Outreach Center, que oferece este incrível ato de graça e amor: queimar cópias do Alcorão que, como ele descreve, "não seria um ato nem de ódio, nem de amor" apesar dele admitir que a partir de agora "não viveremos mais debaixo de ameaças e medo", dando a entender que agora as ameaças partem dele ou dos americanos que ainda sofrem com o ocorrido em 11/9. Uma bela demonstração do que não significa ser cristão (pelo menos não o Cristianismo bíblico pregado por Jesus). Com certeza os muçulmanos do mundo todo conseguiram entender o ponto de vista dele: Olho por olho, dente por dente, valor pelo qual eles já vivem. Mas a mensagem de graça e paz e reconciliação que é a mensagem de Jesus, aonde está ela? Eu acho que esta eles não conseguiram enxergar. O orgulho ferido do pastor Jones ficou bem claro, mas a humildade em extender o perdão, esta ficou a desejar. Espíritos famintos.

No início deste ano eu estive nas Filipinas em uma viagem evangelística/social. Dos vários locais onde preguei nenhum me tocou mais do que Santa Cruz, um cemitério no meio da cidade de Manila onde moram ao redor de 3000 pessoas, vivendo em cima dos túmulos. Eu andava por ali e via aquelas pessoas caminhando por entre os túmulos, alguns empilhados alto e faziam verdadeiros corredores. Pregamos e distribuimos roupas ali e pessoas se converteram. Mas durante o tempo que eu estava ali eu frequentemente me lembrava do endemoniado gadareno. Eu sempre me perguntava como é que alguém poderia viver num cemitério? Só estando infestado por demônios. Mas ali estavam pessoas que moravam ali por razões sociais, econômicas e políticas. E da mesma maneira como os demônios do gadareno estavam famintos por sua alma, e depois para ir aos porcos, estas pessoas estavam famintas por um pouco de esperança, justiça social e um gostinho do Reino de Deus em suas vidas "hoje", mas os espíritos famintos as têm mantido presas à pobreza, ao descaso, à rejeição. Espíritos famintos.

A resposta à violência é a não violência. A resposta é liberdade. A resposta é justiça. A resposta é paz. Mateus 5:3 diz que "bem-aventurados os pobres em espírito, pois deles é o Reino dos céus." Mateus 5:6 diz que "bem-aventurados os que têm fome e sede de justiça, pois serão satifeitos." O pobre em espírito é aquele que perdeu tudo e até o vigor que existe em seu espírito está por se esvair. São aqueles que estão famintos por uma manifestação de justiça social. Deles é o Reino. Não um Reino que virá só no porvir, mas um Reino que já está presente e que cabe a nós o proclamarmos como pacificadores que somos (Mateus 5:9), uma vez que fazemos parte do Reino do Príncipe da Paz, que não está ameaçando queimar Alcorões, ou deixando pessoas morar em cemitérios, ou menosprezando a dor e o sofrimento alheio. Ao contrário, é um Reino que sai de dentro das 4 paredes da igreja, e ajuda a reconstruir as casas caídas por furacões, terremotos, deslizamentos. Que dá oportunidades para os que não tem como sustentar suas famílias, que visita os enfermos e encoraja os que estão desesperados. Este é o jejum verdadeiro (Isaías 58). Este é o papel do verdadeiro Servo de Deus, guiado pelo Espírito de Deus (Isaías 61). Ele reconstroi ruínas e restaura escombros e renova cidades arruinadas (Is. 61:4). Que possamos estar famintos do Espírito Santo (Is. 61; Joel 2:28) em vez de permitir que os espíritos famintos da nossa alma sejam expressos em atos de violência, discriminação, rejeição, orgulho racial, denominacional e religioso, espírito de superioridade e intolerância. Vamos dar uma chance para a paz ser expressa através de nossas vidas.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Tour Bus, a Sewer’s Manhole Cover, Wounds and Unbelief

This last week everybody in Macau, Hong Kong and China got to follow the 12-hour hijacking of a tour-bus in Philippines when a former policeman kept 25 people from Hong Kong as hostages, releasing 9 of them later during the afternoon (children, old and sick people), but ending by murdering 10 of the remaining hostages. It seems now that all the killing was done by the hijacker. There were suspicions that the police force could have participated in the death of the tourists by the anti-professional and amateurish way they handled the case. The Hong Kong TV showed several live moments of the hijacking and following siege of the bus by the Police up to the blood conclusion, the murder of the hijacker and the rescue of the few hostages and dead bodies.

What seemed as a closed chapter of one more sad story is still having repercussions. This crisis has generated a very strong anti-Filipino mood in Macau and Hong Kong. It’s the critical eyes, evil comments, swearing and even in some radio broadcastings is possible to hear some radio hosts cursing the Filipino population as if the tragedy caused by an unbalanced man and a disorganized Police force was the fault of the whole Filipino population. In the following day one of the teenagers that come to our meetings here in Macau said that she went to a square with her young sister and while there one of the security men asked her if she was a Filipina. She said she was. After a while, she tried to buy something in the market at the square but the security man came to her and told her she was not allowed to buy anything there. In her words: embarrassing. And this is happening in an international community like Macau and Hong Kong. According to a friend, this will be going on for a couple of weeks, and until then the Filipinos will have to be patient and bear the pressure.

But this is a wound that will be painful for a while in the Chinese community. A family of 5 lost 3 people in this tragedy, remaining only the mother and the son who was shot in the head and is treated at the hospital in a critical situation. It’s hard not to empathize and cry together and we watch the weeping of the families. If you are like me, at the moment when these things are happening you should be praying asking for God’s intervention.

Last week a Brazilian missionary family was going to Hong Kong on vacation after a few years without taking a break. While they were walking the mother who was carrying her 6 month baby, passed in front of a construction site and suddenly, as she stepped on a sewer’s manhole cover, the cover under her broke down and she fell in a hole 2 meters deep. Her first reaction was to protect the baby, what she did well, but the fall caused her to break her leg in two places, around the knee area. The baby got some scratches on her face, but that’s was all. The construction company responsible for the construction site, including that manhole cover, went to the hospital to take a basket of fruits. Will this pay the hospital bill? This week we cut our vacation short to help the couple by taking care of their children. The mother is at the hospital still and, as her leg is all swollen, she doesn’t know when she will go under surgery or be discharged from the hospital. It’s a wound that will be painful for a while too.

I saw the circumstances in Pakistan as well. They are really suffering with the flooding there. No water, no food, and the international aid diminishing as nobody want to help a country that may be hosting or helping terrorists. I have prayed a lot for this people, and it’s impossible not to feel their pain and wish to be there to help someway. It’s hard to watch someone asking for water and receiving a stone of rejection or a snake of revenge in return. This is going to be a wound that will take longer time to be healed.

This week I want to talk about Shammah who got a wound that took a long time to be healed. What to do when we are hurt? How to work in the daily circumstances that leave a Mark in our souls?

2 Samuel 23:11,12

Shammah was the son of Agee. The name Agee means “I shall increase”. Agee must have had many plans and expectations. His goal was to succeed, no matter what. His name was a mission statement. But it seems that his plans failed, and all that he got to know was defeat, the frustration, the pain of putting effort and not see the expected results, the loss of all the investment as it vanishes just like water in dry land. Sometimes we have our own plans and we hope to succeed in our efforts, even to the point of taking God out of the picture. We think we can everything by ourselves, in our own strength and skills. For sure, we need to work in excellence, but God has to be part of the process. Otherwise the result will be frustration, depression, suffering, pain, loss. It seems that Shammah was born amidst this chaos and maybe that’s what was in Agee’s mind as he named his son.

The name Shammah means “loss”, “despair”, “astonishment”. Maybe this was the only thing Shammah learned and lived through his whole life. Imagine yourself growing and listening your name associated to pain, suffering, loss, depression. Imagine: “Hey, “loss” (or could be loser) come here”. “Depression”, where are you? “Hey, “pain”, I need you.” Can you imagine a child growing listening to these words?

But there came a day when He changed his story. There came a day when Shammah said “Enough!” Enough of all this pain! Enough of be known as loss and defeat and frustration. The Israeli army was in a lentil field, probably harvesting or protecting it. And there came the Philistines. What happened? The whole troop but Shammah fled from them. He must have remembered of the victories God gave His people, Israel. He must have thought of the victories conquered by David and the other might men who fought along him. He must have considered that God doesn’t change, but on the contrary it was He who needed to change his way of thinking and looking at himself and, more than anything else, his identity. Shammah stood his ground in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck down the enemy. The fields are ripe for the harvest today, but the enemy has tried to scare away the church so that they won’t go harvest the souls. We need, following the example of Shammah, take a stand and defend the field, even if it means that we will be alone.

What we learn here?

1- Our past may or may not direct our present and future. Our attitude will.
It’s not what happened to you that will direct your life, but what you do with that that has happened to you. What is your attitude when bad things happen? What’s your reaction? To fall in self-pity? Or in self complacency? To complain? To be passive? To feed bitterness? To lack in forgiveness? You can allow yourself to be influenced by the things of the past, or you can stand your ground and let God change your story. It’s easy to say that all the evil of the world is the Filipino people’s fault, or the Chinese people, or the North Korean, or the American people, or the Arab people, or the Muslim people. It’s so hard to see our own deficiencies in our attitudes of pride, bitterness, superiority and prejudice. Yes, people are kidnapped, people are killed, people doing good thing fall in sewer manholes, but this doesn’t mean that God is not in the control. And this doesn’t mean that God can change us and teach us in all circumstances. But it means that we will harvest the blessings if we dispose ourselves to go towards these blessings.

2- Many times we will be defending the truth by ourselves.
For many people truth is relative. It depends of the benefit it brings to them. Many people say that everyone has their own truth. Several times we will find ourselves defending the truths of the Bible alone by ourselves, totally abandoned may it be by fear, by the weight of the responsibility truth brings along, by the consequences, etc. Several times we will have people targeting our heads, ideas and positions with their weapons of criticism and verbal violence. But we have to root ourselves in the truth, because it’s the truth that set us free and brings healing to the wounds (John 8:32; 14:6; 8:36). Only the truth can give us a whole vision of life, because if the truth is relative, according to everyone’s vision, people who hijack buses and planes will be excused to do it, abortion will be justifiable, homosexualism will still be an viable option, drugs will keeping on have room among the young, domestic violence will go on being tolerated, pedophilia will find followers, because truth is limited to self-benefit, and ethic and moral will continue to be unrecognized.

3- The enemy doesn’t want us to benefit of the blessings of the Gospel.
We have to keep this in mind: God have already prepared unending blessings for us, but the enemy has been deceiving us trough lies, manipulation, oppression, deceit, giving us a mindset of conformism, passivity, of victims, saying that the situations we go through won’t change and God is unable to change those circumstances. If we won’t stand in the divine promises of the Word of God and spend time of fellowship and intimacy with God we will accept the enemy’s lies and we will become blind in our understanding of who we are in God and what is our destiny Just because o four unbelief that blocks the light of the Gospel of Christ to shine in our minds (2 Corinthians 4:4). We can’t accept to be called losers, frustrated, defeated, depressed, but we have to enjoy the blessings Christ bought for us at the cross.

4- God has called us to harvest the fields with the message of the Gospel.
John 4:35 says that the fields are ripe to the harvest. Jesus prayer was that God would send more workers to the fields, to harvest it. Mark 16:15 brings this reality where we are called to go to the field (world) taking the Gospel to all the living creatures. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus gives us the authority to make disciples (not believers or church members), teaching them the realities of the Kingdom (which is not limited to the church only), baptizing them to enter in this new reality and be assured of the cooperation, of the synergy with God who is always with us, after all we are His fellow-workers (1 Corinthians 3:9; 3 John 8). Do you know what is beautiful about that? It’s that many times when we are hurt, God will bring people who are hurt much more than we are so that we can become agents of healing to them, while He is healing us through this process without our noticing. When we serve we communicate healing and we are healed at the same time.

5- God has got a new name for us. A new identity.
Shammah suffered for a long time by being known as pain or loss or be reminded of the story of defeat suffered by his father and his family. But soon came a moment when he decided to be known by the name God had for him, assuming the new identity of the Kingdom. God has a new name and a new identity for each one of us. He changed Abram, Sarai, Jacob’s name to names that would express His purpose and His character. He wants to express His love, His character, His blessings and His plans in our lives. This new identity is found only in Jesus. For now to be a Filipino is not so good. In some countries to be Brazilian is not much of advantage. To be American is a death sentence in some Muslim countries. But we all can be citizens of Heaven, where nobody can prevent us of enter in but ourselves. Accept the new identity from Heaven to your life.

And in the end we read that the Lord again brought about a great victory. Shammah may have fought the battle, but God gave the victory. We may fight with all our strength but ultimately the victory will be brought about by the Lord. After all we are His fellow-workers and He is ours.