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A few years ago I read a book about different cultures called Foreign to Familiar.  One of the author’s main points was that hot or warm climate cultures are different from cold or cool climate cultures.  In the almost nine years since I moved from a cool climate culture to a hot climate culture, I have found the authors observations to be true, especially with regard to orientation or world view.  Cool or cold cultures tend to be more TASK oriented, while warm or hot cultures tend to be more RELATIONSHIP oriented.  This has been my biggest obstacle in trying to adapt to the Mexican culture.  I am definitely TASK oriented!  Mexico is Not!

My daughters, Sally and Kelly, are four years old and three years old and both go to “kindergarten”, which is called “kinder” here, and children begin attending when they are three years old.  I have two adult children in the U.S. and my experience with them in kindergarten and my daughters now in kinder are quite different.  My experience with my daughters and their schooling in the States was basically no experience.  They went to school and came home.  I asked them how their day went and what they learned and that was about it.  Their “task” was to go to school.  My “task” was to go to work.

Here the parents are much more heavily involved not just with their children’s school experience, but with the school in general.  The school doesn’t pay people whose task it is to clean the school, thus different parents stay after school with their kids to clean the classroom and in the process, develop relationships.  The school doesn’t have people whose job it is to be grounds keepers or maintenance personal, so the parents gather together at the beginning of the year to clean up the weeds, trim the trees and bushes, and give the school a new coat of paint and get to know one another.  The school doesn’t have decorating committees, so parents gather to decorate the school for special celebrations, like the big Christmas program (which they still call Christmas and includes a drama with Joseph and Mary and Jesus).  Last year I cut a bunch of palm branches and helped make the “stable” and got to know some of the parents.

When the school does have a party or celebration, all parents are expected to attend.  Last week my daughter’s school had a family physical education day.  A day when parents were encouraged to spend the morning with their children playing games that required physical energy.  Now, being a task oriented kind of parent, I would have much preferred to stay at the mission and work on my gardening tasks, but alas, I had to go since we have two children, and each child needed to have a parent or adult alongside.  We ran in circles, jumped up and down, and competed in silly games. Much to my surprise, I found myself laughing like crazy with the other parents and having a generally good time deepening my relationship with my kids and wife, and starting new relationships with other parents.  All things considered it was not such a bad way to spend a morning, although it initially went against my cultural comfort zone.

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that this Mexican culture is more like the culture Jesus lived in, and am pretty sure that our Lord was more relationship oriented than task oriented.  He had a vital task to perform in securing our redemption and salvation, and accomplished the task flawlessly.  But I need to remind my task oriented self, that the reason for Jesus’ task was so that I can have a relationship with the Father and all his children.  The next time I experience a conflict between my tasks and my relationships, I will try to choose the relationship.  Ideally, our tasks and relationships will go hand in hand.  We will work at tasks alongside others thus building relationships at the same time.  As a gardener here at the mission, I normally work by myself.  Occasionally someone will help me and then I am not only growing plants, but growing in relationship.  I also teach a garden class to children at our primary school (you can read about this on my  other blog PeopleAreLikePlants.com).  In teaching basic gardening principles to my students, I am not only accomplishing a task, but connecting with kids relationally.  I also teach English classes.  Same principle – Accomplishing tasks and building relationships at the same time.

It’s not easy.  As people we naturally prefer one thing over another.  Some people are devoted to their work, their tasks, and shy away from relationships.  Others live for developing relationships and don’t always do the best with their tasks or jobs.  To enjoy God and to be happy in Him, we need to do both and to do both we daily need to Seek His Face and pray for help in both accomplishing tasks and growing in our relationships.

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All hot-climate communication has one goal: to promote a “feel-good” atmosphere, a friendly environment.  The truth can take a backseat to the relationship.  No one is willing to jeopardize the friendliness, no matter how superficial, to tell me the truth about my hair.  Let me find out how bad it looks some other way.     Sarah A. Lanter in Foreign to Familiar

My wife Anita, pastor Aaron and Norma, a school teacher at the mission school, went to a conference a few nights second comingago in Oaxaca, Mexico.  The speaker was a well known prophecy “expert”.   I opted to stay at the mission and watch my daughters.

The next morning we went to an outdoor market in Mitla.  Anita was visiting with her mother and the rest of us waited for here in the car.  It turned out to be a rather long wait and Norma began telling us about the conference and the second coming of Christ.  The speaker was convinced that the return of our Lord was imminent because he defined a generation as 70 years, give or take a few years and that it has been a little over 70 years since Israel has been a sovereign country again.  Jesus prophetically said that “this generation shall not pass away”, leading to his conclusion that Jesus return was soon.

Norma asked me what I thought.  I had been thinking back to my teenage years when I was into prophecy.  It was a heyday of prophecy with Hal Lindsyies book on prophecy called The Late Great Planet Earth was topping the charts and the movie A Thief In the Night was widely viewed by Christians and non-Christians alike.  Christians back then had their  ideas about what a generation was, and  were intent on interpreting the biblical prophecies from Isaiah to Revelation and found in them all the evidence they needed to be assured that the second coming was at hand.  That was more than 30 years ago.

I finally answered Norma saying basically that I didn’t see how it mattered much.  Perhaps she was somewhat taken aback and asked me if I thought Jesus would return in the next 10 or 20 years.  I told her that I didn’t see how it made a lot of difference if he came back tomorrow or in a 100 years.  The foundation for all of Jesus prophecies and prophetic parables was the idea of being ready for His return at all times.  Sure He talked about the future, but he talked a lot more about living our lives for the Father in the present.  Taking into account of the bulk of Jesus teachings, He seems to be telling his followers to live as if his return was imminent, but plan your lives as if you would live for a hundred years.  Just make sure you’re ready!

After my discussion with Norma, I happened to listen to a podcast by R.C. Sproul.  He recounted an incident where he and his wife were on a train that crashed.  It was the worst crash in Amtracks history.  Spoul and his wife emerged relatively unscathed, but more than 70 people lost their lives.  He was asked by reporters if he learned anything new theologically as a result of the tragedy. He told them no, because he knew before the accident that his life was in the hands of God, as was everyone’s life who was on the train.  Everybody’s life is ultimately in the providential hands of God and He determines when everyone’s life on this earth will end.  The important thing is to be ready for that end.

My daughters love to play hide-and-seek.  They are forever looking for new hiding places in and around the house where they hope they will never be found.  As the count begins – one,two,three,four… They scamper off to their hiding places, anxiously waiting to hear those ultimate words, “Ready or Not, here I come!”  One day, we too, will hear those words coming from heaven above.  It could be today, tomorrow or in years to come.  It may be as we lay dying on our death beds, or when the trumpet blows and the Lord descends in the clouds.

The important question is not When?, but, Are We Ready or Not?

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As to the question, “When will the second coming take place?”, Paul does little more than repeat the words of Jesus, that it would come unexpectedly, “like a thief in the night”.  The call to the people of Christ therefore is to “keep awake and sober” – “for God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-9).         F.F. Bruce in Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free

What image comes to mind when you think of God?  Some people think of a loving, compassionate father.  Other people can’t relate to God as father because they had a terrible father.  Some people think of God as a priest absolving them of their sins.  Other people can’t relate to God as a priest for a variety of reasons.  Some people think of God as a shepherd or king.  Other people can’t relate to God as either of those for cultural reasons.

I mentioned in my last post that sometimes people get the God that they want, that they can imagine and relate to.  In the parable of the talents or bags of gold, the first two servants saw their master as a kind man who saw their abilities and trusted them with his wealth.  The master rewarded their perception of him by inviting them to share his happiness.  The third servant saw his master as a hard, greedy, stingy man, and the master fulfilled his perception by throwing him out into darkness to grind his teeth.

Allen Coppedge, in his book Portraits of God, searched the Bible for the primary ways that God has chosen to reveal himself to us.  He found eight different images that God uses to help us relate to him, all based on God as a holy God.  Those images are God as Transcendent Creator, Sovereign King, Personal Revealer, Priest, Righteous Judge, Loving Father, Powerful Redeemer, and Good Shepherd.

Why does God use so many different pictures to reveal himself to us?  Because no one portrait of God is fully adequate to describe him.  Coppedge says that “multiple images are necessary for a holistic picture of God.”  Individual Christians, churches and periods in the history of the church, sometimes have had major problems because they emphasize one or two roles at the expense of others.  This gives an unbalanced picture of God and results in an unbalanced relationship with God.  If we want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we need to realize, appreciate and take hold of all the various ways God presents himself to us in  scripture.

I especially relate to God as Father and as Shepherd.  It makes me happy to think of God as a compassionate, loving Father who cares for me and supplies my needs.  Likewise the shepherd, the Good Shepherd who leads me to green pastures, cool waters and makes sure that I want for nothing.  But if that is my entire concept of God, and I don’t also consider God as King, Creator, Redeemer and Priest, then my relationship with God will be skewed and I will not be as happy and fulfilled as I otherwise would.

God loves us and wants us to be happy.  Seeing God in all his roles should make us happy, for in all His roles, he gives us good and happy gifts.  As Creator, he gives us life and a beautiful creation to enjoy.  As King, he gives us protection and boundaries to keep us safe.  As Personal Revealer, he  gives us insight into his nature.  As Priest he forgives our sins.  As Judge,  he shows us our great need for him and his help.  As Father he nurtures us.  As Redeemer he rescues us from slavery.  As Shepherd he leads us and guides us along the path of abundant life.  Our lives our less complete if we neglect to relate to God in any one of these roles.

As we read the Bible, meditate on the nature of God and appropriate the various roles of God into our hearts and minds, we will be truly happy people.

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The concept of God is the most determinative factor for all Christian theology and spiritual life.  A right understanding of the nature of God sets a proper pattern for systematic theology as well as for personal knowledge of God.  The most crucial question for any individual or church is, “What is God like?”  The answer to this question will determine both their doctrine and experience.  Allan Coppedge in Portraits of God