Day 3: The Walking Christians

Long before the pandemic, the church in Venezuela was experiencing a complex and difficult situation.

The worsening economic crisis has led more than 5 million people to flee the country, where food and medicine are hard to come by and inflation is skyrocketing. Electricity availability and internet access are also spotty. According to mobile broadband speed and browsing statistics, Venezuela ranks 139th, above only Afghanistan and Palestine.

In a global pandemic, with 95 percent of public transportation unavailable, and gas inaccessible for many, how can the people be fed? How can they gather for Sunday services?

Yet the church has persevered. Pastors on the ground report an unexpected growth of new believers who have arrived tired and in need of a loving Father who brings peace, comfort, and rest for their hearts in the midst of their affliction. Although there is no transportation or internet, people are walking for hours in order to gather together and hear the Word of God.

Ways to Pray:

  1. Thank God for the spiritual transformation of the church in Venezuela, for the many who have turned from the prosperity gospel to the true gospel of grace
  2. For provision for the brothers and sisters who are experiencing hunger and hardship in the country, and the many who have fled to Colombia, Brazil, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and other countries
  3. For a miracle of renewal and peace in Venezuela, for God to soften the hearts of the authorities and bring many to the gospel

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17–18

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Asian American Sisters, God Lifts Your Heads High

The last few months have been difficult for Asian Americans. We have seen an enormous rise in anti-Asian harassment and acts of violence. The media seem to ignore or undermine the pains of our community. We’re especially hurting because of the attacks on our elderly, many of whom have sacrificed relentlessly for their families to live in America.

Last week, however, there was a different kind of shock and pain that spread throughout the country. Eight people were killed at Asian-owned spas, six of whom were Asian American women. As I’ve thought about these events, I’ve come to realize that so much of my 22 years as an immigrant has been learning how to live with my head down.

When I first immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 8 with my family, we arrived in a rural area with very few Asian Americans. In my first week of school, I raised my hand and confidently called the teacher by her title instead of her name because that is what we did in Korea. The whole class laughed at me and I learned that I should be very careful about speaking up. I learned to keep my head down.

In just a few months I realized that everyone would turn to stare at us when our family walked into a restaurant. I asked my mom if we could stop eating out. I learned shame for being different and wanted to keep my head down.

Sexism Plus Racism Equals Shame

By the time I was in high school, I learned my vulnerability as not only an Asian American but an Asian American girl. I learned that I would be the target of crude remarks on the streets as well as school hallways, and that the sexual comments were always racist as well. I also learned that though these fear-inducing experiences felt unfair, there was nothing I could do but keep my head down and avoid being noticed.

I’ve come to realize that so much of my 22 years as an immigrant has been learning how to live with my head down.

In college I learned that people expected me to consider it a compliment to hear catcalls that began with “Ni hao” and “Konichiwa.” In one instance, I was walking home after Bible study when a group of drunken white male students grabbed my shoulders and joked that they had always wanted to sleep with an Asian woman. I realized that keeping my head down may not be enough and spent the rest of college carrying empty glass bottles in my backpack, constantly looking over my shoulder.

Years ago, when I was traveling for work, I avoided the advances of two young men who, to no surprise, approached me with “Ni hao.” The next morning, I woke up to a vandalized hotel door. What my mind learned in the shock of that event was that I am not allowed to say no.

To prevent another situation when my rejection could be retaliated, I became absolutely determined to keep my head down. I berated myself for playing into the stereotype that Asian women are subservient and compliant, but my fears overcame my desire to speak out for myself.

Social Media Increase the Pain

This last week has been exhausting for me emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as I’ve tried to comprehend the Atlanta shootings. On top of absorbing shock and grief about the death of the eight individuals, I have been overwhelmed by social-media comments about the shootings.

Some argue that the shootings were not racially motivated and we shouldn’t conclude that race had anything to do with it. Others are outraged that anyone could fail to see the racial element of this crime. I’ve seen so many Christians bickering with one another, following one Facebook comment after another. I’ve felt a growing weariness because my heart was unsettled by everything I was reading.

I felt that the humanity of Asian American women was being lost. I cannot prove what the shooter was thinking when he decided to walk into those spas. In fact, no one can know the depths of another’s heart except God. But I can say this incident all too well reflects my daily life.

Every stage of my life has seen the intersection of racism and misogyny grow deeper. This shooting proved to me that the fears I had experienced for years were all too valid: as an Asian American woman, I am not only a perpetual foreigner but also often a sexual object and a fetish. Something about my dual identity as Asian and female makes me more susceptible to sexual demands.

I had always known that if I did not keep my head down, I may be taken advantage of for someone else’s sexual desires. But now I see that there is one more thing to be fearful of: I may pay the price for someone else’s temptations.

Now I see that there is one more thing to be fearful of: I may pay the price for someone else’s temptations.

Asian American women are real humans who have real experiences shaping their reactions to this heinous crime. There are few things as harmful as asking us to carry the burden of proving that our pain and confusion are real. But we also don’t need voices so loudly crying racism and intersectionality that our voices are drowned out.

What We Need

This experience is uniquely painful for many Asian American women. It is hard enough allowing ourselves the grief because of the complex cultural norms that have taught us not to focus on ourselves. What we need in this time is to be invited to share our experiences, to have our fears heard, to have friends mourn with us, and to be reminded that we can live with our heads up.

This is particularly urgent and necessary in the church because of the way Scripture and God have been misappropriated in this crime. The shooter is a self-identified Christian and member of an evangelical church, and he claimed he killed the women because he needed to be rid of his temptations.

What I fear is not only that the gospel’s public witness has been tainted, but that it has particularly been corrupted for Asian American women. The world has just witnessed a self-proclaimed follower of Jesus brutally take the lives of eight people for the sake of his pursuit of holiness. And it was specifically Asian-owned spas the shooter entered, and mostly Asian American women who paid the price for the shooter’s obsessions. Instead of fighting his sin to to the point of shedding his blood, he did it to the point of shedding the blood of six Asian American women and two other people.

How could unbelieving Asian American women know of this event and find themselves drawn to the church? Why would hurting Asian American women want to listen to the good news of people who question their pain in the midst of such tragedy?

Emulate the Lord Jesus

Brothers and sisters, I plead with you: whatever your thoughts on the motives of the shooter, please do not dismiss the experiences and pains of the Asian American women around you. Listen to them, grieve with them, and ask how they’re doing. Do this for the sake of the gospel and the honor of Jesus Christ.

I am brought to tears when I think of the Asian American women in my life who do not yet know the Lord and will now have reasons to find the church repulsive. It breaks my heart to know they may blame our faith and find reason to deny God, when in reality this shooting is completely antithetical to the character of God—and the gospel has answers to the pains they’re experiencing.

As a youth director, I especially think of the young Asian American women in my ministry. I think of how they may also learn to keep their heads down. I am constantly fighting to point my students to the truth of the living Word and the fellowship of the church. It makes me weep to think that they could lean more into the world because the church fails to help them lift their heads.

It makes me weep to think that they could lean more into the world because the church fails to help them lift their heads.

This act of helping “different” women move from living with heads down to up is not new to us. God has exemplified it for us repeatedly in his Word. The angel of the Lord found Hagar, the Egyptian woman, at the spring of water and listened to her affliction. Hagar praised God for being “a God of seeing” (Gen 16:13) and returned to Abram and Sarah in obedience. Jesus uncovered the shame of the Samaritan woman at the well and offered her living water. She went into town and helped many believe Christ through her testimony. Though the bleeding woman was a Jew, she was a social and religious outsider in every sense. Jesus didn’t just heal her; he called her “daughter” and sent her to be freed from her suffering (Mark 5:34).

These three stories are examples of the triune God approaching women who had many reasons to keep their heads down. He listened to them, knew them, cared for their pains, and sent them out to live in peace, not hiding.

These women remind me that I too am loved and seen by my Maker, even in my deepest fears. My experiences in this broken world and my defense mechanisms tell me to live with my head low. But God shows me another way: I can lift my head high, knowing that as an Asian American woman, I reflect his royal image.

Whatever the world’s distortions about my body and being, I know that all of me has been bought with the blood of Christ, that I fully belong to Jesus, and that my complete worth is found in him. Brothers and sisters, would you help the Asian American sisters in your life also internalize this truth by reflecting Christ and helping them live with heads held high?

After Binging on the Internet in 2020, We Need a Major Knowledge-Diet Overhaul

In the wake of last year’s election season, many of us have been asking difficult questions about our nation and ourselves. Can we restore a sense of shared American identity despite our differences? Is it possible for the church to engage in politics without getting stuck in familiar partisan ruts?

Underneath these larger issues are questions about the kind of people we’ve become in the internet age. Thinking back on all the tweets, videos, articles, comments, and memes I consumed as the election drew near, I’ve begun asking myself: “Was it worth it?” Once I had decided on my preferred candidate and done what I could to advocate for my neighbor, did all the time and energy I devoted to reading, watching, and responding online benefit me personally? Did it make me a better citizen of heaven (or Texas)?

Of course, 2020 was a strange year, and it is hard to imagine how we would have coped without the internet. We needed up-to-date information about the spread of the coronavirus, and we needed ways to connect with our church communities during lockdowns. Tragically, it took seeing the murder of George Floyd to jar many of us into acknowledging the realities of injustice in our country. And in an election year, of course it’s important to be an informed voter, from the president down to the county commissioner.

Yet for all the good the internet brings, my guess is that most of us would admit that our media usage hasn’t been altogether healthy over the past few years. Many of us can readily recall Donald Trump’s “Covfefe” tweet, the fly on Mike Pence’s forehead, or the latest celebrity-pastor hot take, even if it’s been forever since we read a novel. A disorder running this deep won’t be fixed by spending a little less time checking Twitter. We’re long overdue, it appears, for a major overhaul of what we consume and how we consume it.

Craving Perpetual Novelty

Brett McCracken aims to reset our media priorities in his new book The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World. McCracken, a seasoned film critic and a senior editor for The Gospel Coalition, draws on the familiar image of the food pyramid, which helps us visualize what we should eat and in what proportions. At the base of the pyramid are healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, which should form the foundation of our diet, while less healthy things we should eat in moderation, like sugars and red meat, appear in the narrower sections up top. Instead of helping us resist the pandemic munchies, McCracken wants to guide us toward realigning our intake of media and the world around us, so that we are formed in wisdom rather than folly.

McCracken begins the book with an exploration of what can happen when we suffer from this kind of imbalance. Like a doctor diagnosing the consequences of overindulging on sugary and fatty foods, he describes what the past two decades of always-on internet consumption have wrought. We see the ways information overload can lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, and powerlessness. Even though we realize this to some extent, McCracken says we still crave “perpetual novelty,” which prevents us from thinking deeply and makes us more susceptible to things like fake news.

This constant rush of newness only serves to accelerate a feedback loop of deeper anxiety and compulsive clicking. And the end result, says McCracken, is a turn toward self-centeredness, where we tend to focus on “looking within” and “finding our truth” rather than submitting to realities outside of ourselves. When we do find a few moments of solace, we are quickly distracted by yet another breaking-news notification. McCracken acknowledges that many of these problems predate the internet, but he argues that digital media have amplified and intensified them.

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Most readers will likely see something of themselves (or perhaps of a friend on Facebook) in what McCracken describes in these opening chapters. We know we can’t fully unplug from the internet, but we sense that something is deeply wrong with how we use it. This is where the logic of the wisdom pyramid comes in. Just as Augustine urged us to rightly order our loves, McCracken contends that growing in wisdom involves rightly ordering our intake of the world around us.

At the bottom of McCracken’s pyramid, occupying the largest space, is the Bible. Then, moving up the pyramid, there are progressively smaller layers for five additional wisdom sources: the church, nature, books, beauty (films, art, music, and so on), and finally, the internet and social media. In other words, Scripture and the church should be our primary formative influences. And partaking of the natural world, books, and beauty can greatly enrich our lives. But the internet and social media, while not intrinsically harmful, should only be consumed in smaller doses.

The wisdom pyramid offers something beyond a quick media fast or a simplistic exhortation to “put down your phone and read your Bible.” Instead, McCracken wants us to rethink the world around us and how we apportion it. He reminds us of the importance of things like spending time in nature, which, in a digital world, can help us “feel our createdness . . . and feel closer to our Creator.” And he urges us to avoid “filling our senses . . . with whatever micro-spectacle comes across our feed.” Instead, we should carefully curate what we consume, leaving space for contemplation.

McCracken also offers practical recommendations for reconnecting with these sources of wisdom or reviving practices we’ve long neglected. For example, in his chapter on books, he draws on authors like Alan Jacobs, who reassures us that we can read what interests us rather than trudge through every book we don’t enjoy. Each chapter concludes with a set of probing questions that should prove immensely helpful to anyone contemplating a reset.

Rightly Ordered Lives

McCracken’s wisdom pyramid is not intended as a literal guide for how many minutes to spend drawing from each source; its purpose is to spur reflection on how we spend our days and what kind of people we become as a result. As we reflect on the election and the challenges of 2020, pondering what it will take to emerge from our hyperpolarized age, we’ll need to think carefully about more than just our media portion sizes. We’ll also need to consider how the items at the top of the pyramid tend to trickle down and overflow into those on the bottom, for good and for ill.

In other words, it’s not merely that our wisdom diets are too heavy on the processed junk of the internet and social media and too light on the staple foods of God’s Word and his church. More worrisome, perhaps, is how our appetite for the former can spoil our taste for the latter.

For example, a pastor friend of mine in the Dallas area recently told me that one of his congregants complained about his sermon series on Micah, protesting that he needed to preach “more Paul and less prophets.” Evidently, Micah’s emphasis on justice and mercy seemed uncomfortably close to perspectives the congregant had learned to disapprove of online. Like most evangelicals, this person would likely think of himself as having the Bible and the church at the base of his own wisdom pyramid. And yet it seems that something else in his life is spilling down over it and seeping into everything else. He, like all of us, needs to examine not just his media intake but also how the world he inhabits colors the way he reads Scripture (and influences which Scriptures he prefers to read).

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That is not to say that the upper layers of the pyramid should never influence how we see the church or interpret Scripture. Indeed, another factor worth considering alongside McCracken’s pyramid is the role of diverse human relationships. In the category of the church, McCracken invites us to consider how other believers can challenge, encourage, rebuke, and pray for us.

But relationships outside the church—or at least outside our own church—are also vitally important in forming our souls. Sometimes listening to those outside our normal life spheres (and our social media bubbles) is what brings new wisdom, creativity, and insight. These encounters can also inspire fresh understandings of Scripture and God’s love for his creation.

At its best, the internet can be a place where we cconnect with those who differ and confront both the joys and sufferings of those we only rarely encounter. Unfortunately, it seems that our subjugation to algorithms often stultifies our thinking and pushes us further apart. Rather than learning to converse in meaningful ways, we tend to fill our online discussions with empty talk and virtue signaling.

This underscores our need to find new ways of forming significant relationships with our literal neighbors. As we (hopefully) emerge from the pandemic lockdowns this year, we will enjoy a window of opportunity to rebuild an infrastructure of care and concern for those around us, drawing all of us deeper into the way of Jesus.

Before engaging in such a lofty task, however, we must have our own lives rightly ordered. Toward this end, McCracken helpfully closes The Wisdom Pyramid with what he calls “marks of wisdom”: cultivating discernment rather than reading and consuming indiscriminately, exercising patience rather than going too fast, and practicing humility rather than constantly focusing on ourselves.

Wise words indeed.

John Dyer is a dean and theology professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is the author of From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology.

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2020’s Most-Read Bible Verse: ‘Do Not Fear’

During the hardest moments of a particularly difficult year, Bible searches soared online, and a record number of people turned to Scripture for passages addressing fear, healing, and justice. The popular YouVersion Bible App saw searches increase by 80 percent in 2020, totaling nearly 600 million worldwide.

Isaiah 41:10 ranked as the most searched, read, and bookmarked verse on the app: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

“Through every hardship, people continue to seek God and turn to the Bible for strength, peace, and hope,” said YouVersion founder Bobby Gruenewald. “While 2020 is a year so many say they’d like to forget, we see it as a year to remember how God used the Bible App to help so many people who are searching for answers.”

Bible searches spiked corresponding to major events, with “fear” becoming the app’s top search term in the first few months of the year, “justice” in the spring, and “healing” trending throughout the year.

The Bible Gateway site reported similar search trends. Pandemic-related verses about God taking away sickness got around 90 times more queries than average when US COVID-19 lockdowns began in March.

The site also saw queries related to racism, justice, and oppression spike to 100 times the average in the week following George Floyd’s death, and verses related to government authority up at least 50 times the average on Election Day.

Image: Bible Gateway

While John 3:16 and Jeremiah 29:11 topped the Bible Gateway rankings for the top verses—as they have in most years—2 Chronicles 7:14 jumped up to the No. 3 spot: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” The passage has been commonly cited in prayers for President Donald Trump and was the top-searched verse around his election in 2016.

Bible Gateway searches for “fear” and “fear not” grew this year over last, with “fear” ranking sixth on the most popular English keyword searches.

Isaiah’s assurance to “do not fear,” which was the Bible App’s top verse globally both this year and in 2018, also ranked as the No. 1 verse in the US, India, South Africa, the Netherlands, and the Philippines. In Ghana, the top verse was Philippians 4:8 (“Do not be anxious …”), and in Kenya, Romans 8:28 (“in all things, God works for the good …”).

Both countries were among several nations in sub–Saharan Africa where overall Bible reading surged on the app in 2020—up more than a third over last year. In Ethiopia, Bible engagement grew by 61 percent, according to YouVersion.

Overall, the app tracked 43.6 billion chapters of the Bible read in 2020, with half a billion verses shared, its highest on record.

In the spring, CT reported how Easter Sunday was the app’s biggest day ever and how YouVersion was able to offer online worship platforms to stream services to millions of Christians during the early weeks of the pandemic.

The app continued to show steady and growing engagement, even as surveys on Bible readership indicated a decline due to COVID-19.

An American Bible Society (ABS) survey found the percentage of daily Bible users dropped to 8.5 percent in June, down from 14 percent at the beginning of the previous year, according to its 2020 State of the Bible report. According to ABS, 65 percent of Bible readers said they prefer to read the Bible in print over digital.