I picked up a copy of the Phnom Penh Post today. I usually don’t buy this paper, but this one had an 8-page insert inside, a “magazine” for Cambodia’s youth. The topic of this particular issue: youth and religion. On the back page, one of their reporters (I think he either IS cool or was trying to BE cool…not sure) wrote an article called “5 Cool Things”. I think the point he was trying to make was that there are cool idols, icons, and items in every religion. In fact, I think by recognizing 4 of the world’s main religions, he was trying to say that it’s cool to be cool with religion. Gettin’ chilly yet?
Besides learning how cool religion could be, I also picked up some good news and some bad news out of this article.
First the good news. Anyone who has preached the Gospel in Cambodia for any time at all knows that many Cambodians (especially young people) know next to nothing about Buddhism. They know how to quote a few slogans, they know the holidays, and they know how to perform some of the expected rituals. But to a large degree, they are practicing their religion by rote. Why do I say this is good news? Because a person who is well versed in his religion is very difficult to reach. On the other hand, a person who doesn’t really know what he believes is often more open to the truth. In this article I read today, the reporter classified two items associated with Buddhism as “cool”. Here is what he said.
“Incense is cool. Incense is not only useful for Buddhist prayer; it can have a wide range of uses…Adding incense to the rooms in your houses can not only make them smell a lot better, they can keep away mosquitoes and other bugs. If you own a shop, restaurant or bar, incense can help attract more customers and also make them feel more comfortable once they are there. Incense can even replace a clock when you are meditating or relaxing.” (Phnom Penh Post, May 5, 2010)
Pretty cool, huh!
I’m not trying to sound insensitive, but does that sound like a really pious person with a solid faith in what he believes? Well, let’s move onto the next cool thing.
“A small Buddha statue in your car is cool. While putting decorations on the dashboard or rearview mirror of your car is common practice in Cambodia, nothing beats having Buddha in your car. Many people believe that being accompanied by Buddha will help make you safer in your car, and he will look out for you on your travels. Whether or not it actually makes a difference, you will feel better knowing that if you become distracted, someone will still be watching out for you.” (Phnom Penh Post, May 5, 2010)
Did you catch the phrase, “Whether or not it actually makes a difference…”? This phrase encourages me in my work of trying to win Cambodians to Christ. Yes, the population is predominantly Buddhist, but contrary to what some may think, not all Cambodians actually believe in Buddhism. At the very least they have some doubts, and that should not surprise us. How could a false god possibly give true peace and assurance? There is an emptiness inside of every man who does not know the true God, and no pretender will ever truly fill that void.
Now for the bad news. The Christian item that was labeled “cool” was cross necklaces.
“Cross necklaces are cool. The cross necklace has become a trend for youngsters, regardless of their faith. If you go into trendy clothing and jewelry shops around Phnom Penh, you can’t help but notice the presence of the Jesus cross. The cross can represent Christianity, but many of the youth around the city just wear it because it looks cool and makes them feel hip.” (Phnom Penh Post, May 5, 2010)
Now wherever did they get that idea? I don’t think they came up with that on their own. My guess…this nonsense is the outgrowth of so-called Christians inaccurately portraying the cross and what it means to be a Christian. The true cross of Christ is not trendy, cool, or hip. In fact, the Bible says that the cross of Christ is a stumblingblock, an offense, and foolishness to those that believe not. It grieves my soul when I see Cambodians picking up a false view of Christianity. It breaks my heart when I hear that Cambodians are watching Joyce Meyers television show every morning at 5:00 am, and everything they know of Christianity, they learned from her. God save us from a “Joyce Meyers/Joel Osteen/prosperity Gospel” kind of Christianity! The true cross of Christ was about blood, pain, agony, suffering, sin, shame, and death. And yet for all of its negative connotations, it is the cross of Christ in which we are supposed to glory. Why? Because it is by the blood of his cross that we have made peace with God! Oh, it represents our wonderful salvation, but there was nothing cool or hip about it. It cost my precious Saviour his very life!
When the unbelieving world lays claim to the “Jesus cross” as a way to be cool and hip, I fear we are failing to fulfill the mandate of John 3:14. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” May the people whom God brings across our path either believe on Christ or reject Him. May they either embrace the cross or despise the cross. At least we will know that we told them the truth.