Dealing with Animism

Animism is probably the most widespread belief system in the world.  Some estimate that close to 40% of the world’s population are animistic in belief and practice.  Perhaps more so than any other system, animism plays well with others.  Every religious system in the world is being syncretized with animism to some degree.  Even many faithful Christians have animistic tendencies in their lives and often don’t know it.  I’ve included a basic presentation about animism below.  Once you begin to understand animism, you can not only deal with it on the mission field, you can deal with it in your own life!

animism presentation

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Whatch U Talkin’ Bout Willis?

Do you know any idioms? I’m not talking about those folks next door that are always annoying you… Likely, you know dozens of idioms and don’t even realize it. Idioms, according to my unofficial definition, are local cultural phrases (often used in code to keep the outsiders at bay….). What are some idioms you know?

Break a leg

He’s a few fries short of a Happy Meal

Listen to your heart

I smell a rat

Pulling my leg

Cat’s got your tongue?

I feel like a million dollars

Jumping the gun

Kick the bucket

Keel over

That car is a lemon

These common phrases mark our everyday speech. You know you’re one of the locals if you understand what someone is really saying. These phrases are unique to the local culture however. Idioms are some of the toughest phrases to translate into another language. I remember doing some Greek translation and coming across some of the idioms used in the New Testament. Boy was I confused! Imagine though being from a different culture and coming to the U.S. and people start telling you to break a leg and just play it smooth. You’d think these people were out of their minds!

The thing is that if you don’t know the local language, phrases, and idioms you’ll always be somewhat of an outsider. Think about that. Knowing the idioms are like knowing the inside jokes. Someone on the outside just doesn’t get it and there is a distance there. One issue with language training is that you may only learn the language of the classroom and not the real world. You’ll never learn the idioms of the culture unless you ‘stick your neck out’ and live among the people!

If you ever become a missionary or just want to learn another language, do all you can to learn the idioms too. And learn them well so you aren’t using them like an ill-timed joke that leaves everyone staring. I think that language learning is one part of the missionary life that can be neglected. With all the other responsibilities what does it matter that the language is spoken exactly as the locals do? Can’t I get by without putting in all the extra work? Well, if you have ever sat through a 50 minute well intentioned sermon by someone whose first language was not English and their mastery of English wasn’t that good….well, it will encourage you to learn the language the best you can if you ever go overseas! You don’t want to put the people you are trying to reach through a near fingernails on the chalkboard experience every time you teach them because you haven’t taken the time to master their language.

People will listen more closely and the gospel will seem less foreign if you can speak like a local and even use the local phrases and idioms. The writers of the New Testament did this. They used the local terms for coins, wages, places, and so forth. They worked hard to understand the cultures where they lived. They were following in the footsteps of their Master. Jesus used the local language. He dressed like the locals. He was the Incarnation – the God Man. Jesus didn’t seem overly foreign to everyone He met. His message was the pure gospel which never changes. In the same way we need to bring the pure seed of the gospel to the cultures we reach and not bring our culture in addition to the gospel. But we need language to do this. Jesus brought the message of reconciliation between a holy God and sinful man, in fact He was God but He looked, talked, and smelled just like a local – and we should too.

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The Sky is Falling

Based on a devotional by Sojourn Church (

Jeremiah 10:2 “Learn not the ways of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity.”  Israel was in constant danger of being swept into the thinking and practices of society around her.  These peoples watched the sky and the earth.  When they saw the ‘signs in the sky’ they immediately made an idol and worshipped it in hopes that things would go their way.  God says these customs are worthless.

Christians can all too easily go this same path however.  People that should know better are ‘watching the sky.’  They see that the ‘wrong’ leader has been elected, the economy fails, a swine flu pandemic is sweeping the world – they see these things as signs the end is near… and they panic.  Why do people panic because of these observations?  Because these very things have become their idols.  If people value safety, money, and health more than Jesus they will erupt in panic when these securities are threatened.  We want to make the most money and avoid the most pain and sickness.  We’ve given away our hope in God and received despair in return.

The things of the earth (money, government, pain and sickness), these things are passing away.  They cannot rule our lives.  They cannot be our gods.  When those things fall apart we as Christians must not fall apart because if there is to be any hope in this world, we cannot be running around like headless Chicken Littles telling the watching world that God isn’t real and He offers no hope.

What does God say?  He says, “There is none like me, I am great and my name is great in might.  Who would be foolish enough not to trust me for I am the King of the nations.  Among all the nations, all the wise ones in all their kingdoms, there is none like me.”  That’s what God says.  In these dark times ( which are really a walk in the park compared to what most peoples on earth have been dealing with for the last 2000 years) we need to be the church proclaiming the light of Christ, proclaiming that there is a God over these things who is great in might and power.  Turning from your sin and lust for money and power and believing in Jesus and being reconciled to God – this offers real hope, eternal hope in the face of present fear.  This reconciliation to the very God you have hated and warred against is only made possible because while you were still rebelling against God he placed your punishment on his son Jesus who died in your place so that you might be made right with him in faith.  Will you turn to him?

Christians, be reminded of what should hold the ultimate place in your life, take heart, and offer hope to those around you.

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Riding the Bandwagon: A Surprising Way Coffee can Help Your Preaching

I do love my coffee. From the beginning, recoiling after my first taste of espresso in 2000 up to today, enjoying the subtleties of a well-crafted latte – yes, I enjoy coffee in whatever form it may come in. At least to a point.

That’s why I was so surprised while perusing the coffee aisle at the local grocery store yesterday. You know the aisle I’m talking about, the one whose aroma beckons you to come all the way from the meat cooler. As usual I was lured over to aisle 6, only this time to actually make a purchase. I scanned the shelf for my usual favorite when all of a sudden – BAM! I was struck. I staggered backward. My eyes went cross.

Right there among the giants of the coffee industry was one little white bag with that oh so familiar logo. A logo which, much like the aroma of the coffee aisle conjures up memories as well.

White Castle.

Yes, White Castle. Folks, we have another one that has jumped on the bandwagon. First it was Starbucks. Not to be outdone, Dunkin Donuts came on the scene. Hey, maybe – I like donunts, donuts go well with coffee. Maybe a donut manufacturer can produce a good coffee (not so much). Then came McDonalds. Their coffee actually isn’t that bad.

But now, White Castle. Wow. Nothing hits the spot after a gut wrenching wrestling match with a 30-pack of sliders like a hot cup of White Castle joe. And now you too can enjoy this same experience at home with your very own bag of White Castle brew.

Tell me where to buy the shock absorbers that are supporting the coffee bandwagon. Who’s gonna jump on next? Quikie Lube Full Service Oil Change Whole Bean Coffee?

You know, it’s not just the coffee industry that jumps on board, trying to make a buck and getting in on the market while it’s hot. We Christians do it too. How many versions of the so and so study Bible are out there? There’s the Every Man’s Battle for teenagers, kids, infants, twins, married men, divorced men, mid-life crisis men, and on and on. How different can the message really be? Same message, different packaging.

Some of the methods we use to ‘preach the gospel’ are just about as slippery and greasy as a White Castle meal – and the after effects are just as bad. We have the annual revival. True revival, historically has been brought on by God. Looking at the two awakenings in U.S. history in the mid-1700s and early 1800s we find churches with pastors who were faithfully preaching the gospel, doing evangelism, and discipling believers. Nothing changed expect that the Holy Spirit began to move in a greater way, calling hundreds more to Christ than previously.

Then some people began to discover that certain appeals to the emotions resulted in a greater number of professors of faith. Before long, ‘revival’ was more like a circus. Rather than being brought on by God, it rolled into town on a wagon driven by a man. Many of those who fell under emotional conviction and made a profession of faith were never heard from again. It was out of this scene that the ‘alter call’ or ‘walking the aisle’ came to be.

The thinking was that if someone was willing to walk the aisle or come forward they must be under conviction of sin. They must be converted. So appeals began to be made during the alter call or ‘invitation.’ More hymns were sang, more people were urged to come forward. And more did.

This ‘alter call’ or ‘invitation’ or ‘walking the aisle’ became a bandwagon. It seemed to work. So everyone jumped on. This style of preaching did not exist before 1800. Today I have seen extreme emotional appeal occur during a church service, someone comes forward, and the person is immediately given full assurance of their being saved. ‘Brother, once saved, always saved. Ten-thousand angels are rejoicing for you in Heaven right now. Welcome to the family.’ And then the person is never discipled. They fall back into their sinful lifestyle. It seems that the enemy has come and plucked away the seed of faith. Yet their name is on the member list and their number reported to the local convention who keeps track of these kinds of things.

Yet this style of preaching goes on. And to be honest, it leaves as bad a taste in my mouth as the bitterest coffee.

Don’t jump on the bandwagon, using the latest method guaranteed to get results. And don’t mask you doing just that with the veneer of faithful preaching and just ‘letting the Holy Spirit work.’ Rather, be original. Be like the Apostle Paul. Teach what he taught.

Titus 3:4-7 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

I am saying call people to repentance. Urge them to trust Jesus. But do it through a faithful teaching of the Scriptures. Include verse 5 (he saved us not because of our works) but don’t leave out verse 8 (that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works).

I have seen at various times at ‘revivals’ smoke machines, magicians, comedians, Hosea the Prophet, dramas, letters from Hell, yelling, and countless verses of Just as I Am during the invitation. Be careful pastors. Be careful not to inadvertently jump on the bandwagon. Be faithful to teach all the scriptures. And live them out by discipling those who receive Christ. Don’t abandon them after the alter call. If you do, you can be most assured that the Evil One will not abandon them.

Please, invest in your people and let the aroma of Christ be rich and full, robust. Don’t settle for White Castle ministry.

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Identifying and Reaching Ethnic Groups in the City

It’s common knowledge that the world is at our door here in the United States.  What isn’t so commonly known is where all these immigrants are living.  The majority of immigration is to larger cities but even that information does not help very much.  A church planter needs to know who lives in his city, where they live in the city, and how to begin reaching them.  The paper linked below offers several suggestions to identify and reach internationals in the city.  The paper contains a combination of sociology, ethnography, cultural anthropology, and missiology.

Identifying and Reaching Ethnic Groups in the City

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Flying Buddhist Monks

A well known Tibetan Buddhist monk has breakfast with his friends at the temple in an isolated river valley in the Himalayan foothills.  Later in the day, the monk is seen having dinner with friends at a temple in another isolated river valley five days’ walk from the first.  Both sightings are confirmed by multiple sources.  How is this possible?  To the Tibetans, the answer is as easy and natural as telling you their children’s names.  The monk transformed into his spirit body and simply went through the air to the distant location.

What do we do with such a story?  Do we write it off as superstition?  Is there a chance it really happened?  Stories like this one push our comfort levels; they are outside of our box.  We don’t have a category to make sense of it. 

This blog was created to help address such complex issues.  Cultural anthropology, Scripture, and the experiences of others give insight to help us understand various cultural phenomenon.  Check back on occassion to find new case studies, research, and interesting stories from around the world.

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