500,000 monks, a pagoda on every high place and an ancient city (Bagan) surrounded by 2,400 shrines. Loudspeakers are delivering chants daily at 4.30 a.m. The Shwedagon Pagoda is 100m high and plated with gold, worth $4b or more, plus diamonds and other precious stones, in this the poorest country in S.E. Asia!
This is Buddhism in Myanmar from where I writing. What can Western Christians learn from such spiritual intensity? Since the scriptures teach the worship of idols is demonic (1 Corinthians chapter 10 verse 20) we should not focus on Buddhist devotion but pay attention to what Jesus is doing in his little Church in Myanmar.
I came to Myanmar to link up with the Evangelical Christian Alliance. All sorts of churches are part of this network. From Reformed, through Baptists, to Pentecostals they are united in the cause of Christ's mission. Jesus prayed, "that they may all be one...so that the world may believe that you sent me." (John chapter 17 verse 21).
Mutual commitment to reach the lost for Christ is a precondition for functional Christian unity. And in a nation where the dominant religion has the power to stop you building or restoring a church, and coerces parents to stop sending their children to Sunday School, you know that you must work together to survive.
An ex-monk had a chat after one meeting. The doctors had pronounced him dead after a serious illness, but Jesus brought him back to life. For this miracle he was beaten and evicted from his family. His passion is to see unbelievers come to Christ through healing. Dreams and demonic deliverances through outreach are an accepted part of the scene. Such grace flows as the light of Christ encounters the manifest spiritual darkness (Acts chapter 26 verse 18).
My highest delight came however from an entirely unexpected angle. I was shocked to be asked to speak at a "teen seminar" for Christians 8-18 years old. I am NOT a "youth communicator", but my misapprehensions were totally misplaced.
I have never seen a group of young people, 100+ or so, as intense about Jesus. Holding their hands over their hearts in the presence of the Lord during worship and praying together with unbridled passion. They sat with Bibles and notebooks in hand for a 4 hour seminar! I have never seen anything like it, it is the Lord! One of the older participants came up to me and declared, "I am so happy!"
They were all radiantly delighted to be in the presence of God (Psalm 34 verse 5). I felt like I had entered another world. What do all these good things in another place mean for us?
Like the Early Church Myanmar Christians are acutely aware they are surrounded by a majority religion ruled by a spirit hostile to Christ (1 John chapter 4 verses 1-3).
In response the gospel-centred churches have turned away from self-preservation to focus on mission. This involves street preaching, relief for the physically poor and other materially practical efforts. In Australia Christians are as marginalised as the Church in Myanmar.
Surely it is time to put aside all our petty denominational differences and prayerfully confront the spirit of secularism surrounding us. But at this point we are unlike the believers in Burma. Because worldliness doesn't seem like an alternative religion it has penetrated deeply into the culture of our churches. Even our "Bible-believing" and "tongues-speaking" fellowships are compromised.
When outsiders look at you do you appear as a sign of another world; i.e. a heavenly one? Peter warns us, "it is time for judgement to begin at the household of God" (1 Peter chapter 4 verse 17). Let us turn to Jesus in repentance and faith for the Christ of Myanmar is also the Lord of Australia.
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 6 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.
John Yates' previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-yates.html