Thursday, December 31, 2009

Calendar Evangelism (or just learning about how Spaniards work)

A few weeks before Christmas, we decided that it would be a good idea to give a small Christmas gift to the neighbors who live in our apartment building, not only to be nice but also to be mildly evangelistic (but certainly not pushy).  So through our church we bought 24 daily devotional calendars (they have a Bible verse and a mediation for each day of the year), and about a week before Christmas we knocked on 23 of the 24 doors in our building (the one we didn't knock on was ours, of course).  Most people answered their doors, and the various responses were quite insightful into people's mindsets here:
  • One elderly lady answered the door with a puzzled look and asked us if we were Jehovah's Witnesses.  After convincing her otherwise, she finally accepted the calendar.
  • Several neighbors, whom we had yet to meet, seemed kind of skeptical as they asked us, '¿Cuánto vale?' or 'How much does it cost?'  When we explained that we weren't selling the calendars and we just wanted to give them a small Christmas gift, they received it.  
  • One particular gentleman explained, 'It's just that this isn't the custom here, so I wasn't really sure what you were up to.'  It seems that Spaniards are pretty skeptical of any stranger who just knocks on their door, probably due to the number of quick talking sales people going around trying to take advantage of people.
  • One elderly fellow broke our hearts when he told us that he and his wife would be spending Christmas and New Year's alone because their sons don't come to visit them often.  It turns out that even with loads of people around Spaniards can be quite lonely, too.
  • A few neighbors whom we had met before invited us into their apartments and asked us about our plans for the holidays, and we actually had nice conversations with them before they accepted the calendars and we went on our way.  
A few closing thoughts.  It seems that having a relationship with people here is so central to being received by them that we cannot neglect to take the time to get to know people a bit before even thinking about sharing the Gospel with them.  Perhaps we should hesitate to define evangelism so narrowly that it only means sharing the Four Spiritual Laws or the Romans Road with them.  After all, Jesus spent 30 years simply living as a human, getting to know His context (how the humans of His day and culture thought and lived  and worked), before He started the 'important stuff': teaching, preaching and healing.  May we be willing to take the time to get to know and love people here as we seek to share the truly Good News of Jesus with them, and may a few seeds be planted by this simple Christmas gift.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Belén: A Spanish (& Biblical) Tradition

It's Christmas day, the presents have been opened, and I've snuck away to write a little post about one of the Spanish Christmas traditions that I really like:  the Belén, which is the Spanish word for 'Bethlehem'.  While the traditional American Christmas centerpiece is the tree, which has its roots in ancient pagan religions that worshiped nature (you can read a bit more on that by CLICKING HERE or by reading the article at Wikipedia), the Belén has its source purely in the Christian story of Jesus' birth.

Rachel and I have always displayed a small manger scene during the Christmas season, but the goal of the Spanish Belén is much more than just the manger scene.  Most families begin with the basics of the manger with the holy family and a few animals but over the years gradually build the whole town of Belén, complete with a marketplace, various shops and everyday people going about their business.  Of course, they tend to be a bit adapted to Spanish culture, since one of our neighbors proudly displayed a cured ham shop in her Belén (common for Spain but probably not too common for good kosher Jews in the first century!).  Beyond simply building the town, some local businesses impressively build the whole Christmas story in their storefront windows.  It's quite common for people in Córdoba to go out during the Christmas season simply to look at the various Belenes displayed by businesses, civic associations and churches.

The one question I have as I reflect on Jesus' birth, the cultural tradition of the Belén & Spaniards is this:  do Spaniards really understand why God sent His Son to become human and how that should impact their lives?  For the whole shadow of Christianity that remains here in Spain (shrinking by the day in many ways), I'm afraid that there is a huge disconnect between cultural traditions (as Biblical as they may be) and lives that are different due to what God has done.  And I suppose that's why we're here.

If you'd like to check out some of our photos of Córdoba at Christmastime, including a few Belenes like the one above, CLICK HERE.  ¡Feliz Navidad!

Monday, December 21, 2009

There's Something About Mary...

So after writing the previous post regarding the Day of the Immaculate Conception (of Mary), I had a very well thought-out response from some dear loved ones that sparked some further reflection on this whole issue. Essentially, they cautioned us against what we too often tend to do as 'Protestant Evangelicals,' as Christians, or as people in general: swing from one end of the pendulum to the other, or in their words, 'we throw the baby out with the bathwater.' As Rachel and I talked about the issue of Mary, specifically as it regards the worship of 'The Virgin' here in Spain and the evangelical response to that, Rachel pointed out that she cannot remember ever hearing a sermon here (in all of her 18-19 years in Spain) about Mary. Up to now in my brief experience here, I have yet to hear much about Mary: it seems as if the evangelicals here in Spain (and perhaps elsewhere in the world) are nearly afraid to even utter the name of Mary because of the cultural baggage and images of idol worship it seems to bring to their minds.

So what do we do with Mary? Should we be afraid to talk about or preach on her (especially given our context here in Spain)? An acquaintance of ours (who is a typical Spanish Roman Catholic) recently asked me specifically about this, so I'll tell you basically what I told her. We need to look at Mary as the Biblical witness presents her: a magnificent example of faith and obedience to God. When invited to be a part of what God was doing to save the world, she gave herself--heart, mind and body--completely to the service of the Lord. She carried Jesus in her womb, raised Him as a son, and watched Him die on the cross. What an amazing example of faith and sacrifice to God! Certainly she was still a normal human, still a sinner in need of being saved by the One to whom she gave birth, so we should not worship her--our worship is reserved for the Triune God alone. As the photo from the movie The Nativity Story displays above, the spotlight of our worship must remain on Jesus, the God-man who came to save us. But we cannot deny that Mary is still very much a part of that story of salvation, a woman whose great courage and faith we would do well to emulate as we seek to live our lives in submissive love to God.

For those interested in a fairly in-depth Catholic-Evangelical dialogue about Mary (my apologies that the Eastern Orthodox perspective isn't represented), click HERE.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Day of the Immaculate Conception

Today, December 8th, is a major holiday here in Spain: it's the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. But contrary to much popular belief, this is not a celebration of Mary's virgin conception of Jesus; rather, it's a celebration of the supposed immaculate conception of Mary within the womb of her mother, by which God intervened so that she would be born without sin. From the perspective of a follower of Jesus who trusts in the reliability of the Bible, I see this Catholic doctrine as having no solid Biblical backing (probably even anti-Biblical considering that both Paul and Peter declare that all have sinned except for Jesus) and being a dangerous distraction from the centrality of the Incarnation of Christ, the God-man, in God's mission to save the world. Honestly, I was quite tempted to entitle this post 'The Immaculate Deception,' but I didn't want to be too offensive from the outset. If you're really interested or just suffering from insomnia, you can read more on this doctrine at this link: The Immaculate Conception.

The reality here in Spain in 2009 is that although the historical footprint of Catholicism can still be seen clearly today (for example, today is a holiday due to Spain's Catholic roots, and the above painting by Murillo, which also celebrates Mary's supposed immaculate conception, is displayed proudly in the Prado Museum in Madrid), most Spaniards don't give a rip about what it commemorates: they're just glad to have a four day weekend away from work. As Spaniards drift (or run) away from their traditional Catholic roots (which, honestly, focus more on devotion to Mary than to Jesus), could it be that they will become more open to Jesus and the reality of His grace and truth? Or will they reject anything that still smacks of Christianity and calls them to repentance and commitment? Let's pray for the former.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thanksgiving in Spain

No American football on TV; no elementary school kids dressed up like pilgrims, Indians, or turkeys; no Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. But the absence of all of those things didn't keep us from celebrating Thanksgiving here! Interestingly, many Spaniards (or the ones we know, anyway) have some idea of what Thanksgiving is, probably based on the American shows and movies they've seen here. But, of course, American Thanksgiving is not an official holiday in Spain, so we had to carve out some personal time to be able to celebrate it by heading up to Madrid to spend the weekend with Rachel's family and a few other missionary families. For our Thanksgiving meal we had quite a feast, although we had chicken instead of turkey (cheaper and easier to find), and it's next to impossible to find French's fried onions to sprinkle on top of the green bean casserole. Even so we had so much classic Thanksgiving food, from mashed potatoes and gravy to a number of other casseroles to pumpkin pie (had to import the processed pumpkin stuff) that we almost forgot that we live in Spain.

We are so thankful to God for so many ways that He has provided in our life, and more specifically, in our new life here in Spain. We are thankful to have family within a 4 1/2 hour drive; we are thankful for our ECMI team that we are becoming a part of; we are thankful for family in the States who have sacrificed physical closeness so that we can follow God's leading in our lives; we are thankful for how God continues to provide for our physical and spiritual needs through the financial and prayer support of family, friends, churches, and people that we've never even met in person. We are most thankful.