The headlines read, “Zion Priest Charged for Valentine’s Rape” and “Same Priest Arrested in Sex-for-Job Scam.” A few days before, the headlines read, “Jericho Member Cuts off Head and Hands of Neighbor.” (click the photos to be linked to the stories) These are not just headlines in the newspapers, but they are posted on the phone poles to help sell newspapers. If anyone remotely associated with the Zionists is accused of doing anything wrong, it hits the headlines. These are terrible things, and they should be reported. I have noticed that if the person is not associated with the Zionists, their religious affiliation is not mentioned. It seems that the Zionists are singled out for special attention and ridicule. The ‘sophisticated’ make jokes at our expense.
The story of Jesus and the Woman at the Well (John 4:1-42) has always been a favorite of mine. Since working with the Zionists I have a deeper understanding of the life of the Samaritans. The kingdom of Israel split after Solomon died around 930BC because, at least in part, Solomon’s son Rehoboam would not listen to wise advice (1 Kings 12:1-14). In an act of political expediency and religious error, he told his people they did not need to worship in Jerusalem but could worship in Samaria (1 Kings 12:25-30). They began to mix Judaism with idolatry and ancestor worship.
Instead of being moved to help their brothers and sisters in the Northern Kingdom, good Jews in Jesus’ day would walk around Samaria. They sought to avoid being contaminated with the dust of their syncretistic and disowned brothers. The dispute happened nearly 960 or so years earlier. These people were multiple generations, invasions, and occupations away from those who polluted from Judaism. Not that the Jews were that pure, but the conflict was in place.
Jesus was undeterred. His reaction to syncretistic belief was teaching. He treated the Samaritans as lost, lead away by culture and tradition. They are not people to be avoided, ridiculed, or hated. They were to be loved and taught the better way, the way of worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23). When I preached on John 4 I could see people drawing the connection. Jesus loves them, and loves them not less than the ‘sophisticated’ city Christians in fancy churches with electricity and chairs. Jesus loves them.
We thank you for the chance to serve these good people. They are working to make theirs a pure and undefiled religion.
Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)
The stain of the world, the stain of culture and tradition is difficult to wash off. I have so much respect for these good people who choose to search the scripture and learn what God would have them do despite the pull of the stain. Please, pray for them, and pray for us to be better servants to our brothers and sisters. You may wish to join me in prayer and consideration of the stains of tradition and culture Americans carry. I do not believe we are without our own syncretism.
P.S. Today the headline read Pastor is Fired – Body Guard Speaks, but since it was not a Zionist pastor, they did not list the denomination on the headlines.
There is an old joke about a man who goes up to a good Christian woman and offers her a million dollars to “sin” with him. She thinks for a bit . . . considers all the good she could do with that money. She thinks about the support that she could give to missions, the children she could help, and she would only keep a very small portion for herself. She decides to say “Yes.” The man then offers her one dollar, and she angrily shouts, “What kind of woman do you think I am?!” The man explains that they have obviously established the type of woman she is, they were just haggling on the price. (Okay, I admit it, I modified the joke a bit to make a point.)
That joke came to me as I was sitting in church listening to the Bible being read. The verses were from Deuteronomy 29:19-21, “When someone hears the words of this oath, he may consider himself exempt, thinking, ‘I will have peace even though I follow my own stubborn heart.’ This will lead to the destruction of the well-watered land as well as the dry land. The LORD will not be willing to forgive him. Instead, His anger and jealousy will burn against that person, and every curse written in this scroll will descend on him. The LORD will blot out his name under heaven, and single him out for harm from all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant written in this book of the law.”
It reminded me of Romans 10:3, where Paul references this section of the Old Testament. Paul warns the church in Rome not to substitute their righteousness for the righteousness of God. He reminds us that the answer is not far from us. We don’t have far to look for righteousness. It is not locked up in Heaven or in the depths of the grave. “On the contrary, what does it say? The message is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. This is the message of faith that we proclaim: If you confess with your mouth, ’Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:8–10).
Reading Romans 10 along with Deuteronomy 29 (and into chapter 30) the message is very clear. It is in my own nature, my own stubborn heart, to write rules for others and myself. I then use these rules to measure righteousness, both my ‘righteousness’ and the ‘righteousness’ of others. One of the HUGE advantages of working cross-culturally is that I get to see some of my unspoken, even unconscious, definitions of righteousness tested. I’ve had a number of challenges to my thinking.
If Jesus is our Lord and our Savior, and He is mine, then His Word is law. My stubborn heart and my self-serving construction of righteousness has nothing to do with real righteousness. As I throw off my (previously often subconscious) constructions of righteousness, I can see people more clearly. I more fully sense their motivations and trials because I replace my assumptions with their experiences of reality. Then decisions naturally are more driven by what is right (righteous in God’s eyes) and less driven by how they can be done. Focusing on the ‘how’ too early limits my thinking and my solutions.
If I don’t stay focused on God’s will for me, I’ll make up my own laws for righteousness, like the woman in the joke. Clearly, the joke offers the extreme version of this challenge, but I wonder how often that kind of thinking happens to me, and to others. Working cross-culturally has given me the chance to see some of these things more clearly in my life. I hope that my challenges give you a chance to think about such things as well.
At our class the other day, the Swazi men let me eat with them outside the church in Mhlanagatne, which we were using for a classroom. They fed me a cornmeal/diced potato mash with savory sautéed vegetables on top. I also had part of a baked, homegrown sweet potato. It was delicious!
The only thing more enjoyable than our feast under the trees was our feast on the Word. I taught 2nd and 3rd John, and Romans chapters 10 and 11. For each class, I set the context of the book (author, date, purpose in writing, theme), and then we spent an hour reading a few verses at a time and discussing them. We talked about its meaning to the original hearers, its meaning to us, and its application in our daily lives.
The idea is that the students learn not just the content of the particular verses; they also learn the context of Scripture . . . as well as how to study and understand the Bible. There are many false teachers here. The people are led away by the ‘Health and Wealth’ lies, as well as some corrupting traditional beliefs. The problems of the early church, to whom much of the New Testament is addressed, are so similar to the problems faced
here and now in Swaziland (and America too, no doubt) that the discussions are lively.
One of my favorite sections was from 2nd John, verses 4-6. John writes, “I was very glad to find some of your children walking in the truth, in keeping with a command we have received from the Father. So now I urge you, dear lady—not as if I were writing you a new command, but one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk according to His commands. This is the command as you have heard it from the beginning: you must walk in love.”
Some of the children (members) of the dear lady (the church) were walking in the truth, and others were not. Those who walked in the truth followed the old command – that we love one another. The idea that love is commanded of us is so valuable. It means that love is a choice, as it is useless to command the impossible. The lack of love was clearly the cause of issues in the church John was addressing, and from our discussion, here as well.
John tells us to support those who are walking in the truth, those who love. He tells us to beware of those who deceive, those who deny Christ or go beyond Christ’s teaching. We talked a great deal about putting love into practice in the churches. Love is not an easy thing. If it were not for the power of the Holy Spirit inside us, I don’t know how we could chose and pursue truth.
I am so thankful to be here in Swaziland, pursuing the truth in love with these good people. They are hungry for the Word and consider it carefully. We enjoyed dining on the Word, and from a fleshly perspective, dining on that potato mash and vegetable dish was good as well!
One of the things I enjoy is listening to Jazz music. There is something about the shift in the regular beat and stress (syncopation) and the clash of sounds, the inharmonious dissonance of the notes, that engages me. The thing that makes the syncopation and dissonance work is that there are a regular beat and regular chord progressions. Without the background of rhythm and tone, it would all be just noise, but against a background of rhythm and tone, the syncopation and dissonance work to create emphasis, tension, release, and focus.
Life is like that for many of us. We develop healthy rhythms of work, rest, and play. Then we emphasize work for a special project or rest on a vacation. Sometimes, as we dance to the beat of life and adjust to the changing rhythms, a sour chord sounds. We generally don’t mind the syncopation, which makes life interesting, but the dissonance, the harsh chords, are not generally as enjoyable.
Sure, there are some people who seem to lead lives of classical music, or maybe a country song done in a single chord (one chord song). I think most of us live lives of Jazz. We live our lives, and then – crash – there is a dissonant chord. If our view of life is a single bar of music, a few notes, the crash feels catastrophic. As Christians, we have the opportunity to take a longer view of things. The dissonant notes in the song of our lives creates emphasis, tension, release, and focus on what is important.
This July 15th we had a memorial service for my Grandma Bunny who passed away last week. On July 15th, 2010, my father passed away. Those were terrible, dissonant notes in my life, and if I only considered those days, I would be inconsolable. There is, however, a longer view. My father and grandmother were blessings. Even if we consider only this life, to reduce their life to their death misses the rhythm and music they were in so many lives. They lived and loved too much; love and life, not death, are their defining characteristics.
Beyond this mortal realm, however, the Christian can rejoice. We are not merely mortal beings. Our song is not captured by considering just a few bars of music, a few weeks, our song is immortal. When we are done with this corruptible body, we will be clothed in the incorruptible, “When this corruptible is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Co 15:54).
We can rejoice in the song of our lives, even on the dissonant days, because we know it is just a few notes for emphasis, tension, release, and focus. Our lives are richer for the music of others, even though they change our rhythms and tone. My guess is that this is why Paul and Silas were singing in jail (Acts 16:16-40). They were beaten and tossed (illegally) in jail. While they were there, someone, maybe it was Silas, started to sing and maybe they loved the acoustics, maybe despite the acoustics, they began to sing. Despite the current circumstances of physical pain, danger, and fear, they knew they were players in an eternal song, so they sang.
My favorite song is Mavis Staples’s Eye on the Prize (hear it here). Paul and Silas knew to keep their eyes on the prize. It put the momentary dissonance of the trials of this life in the context of our never-ending future with God in Heaven. We have hope. Thank you, God.
I took this picture on a trip to Swaziland. Hlane Park is about an hour from Manzini, and you get to drive yourself around. When I turned a corner, there were 5 rhinos walking down the road directly toward me, so I backed up a bit and they walked right in front of me. They paid me little attention since each one outweighed the tiny rental car I drove.
When I look at this picture, it makes me think about how the future happens to us. It is down the road, it seems so far away; then suddenly it is big, scary, and looking right at you. Have you ever had that experience? In this season of graduations, summer vacations, and college plans, I suspect you have had that feeling. The distant future suddenly rushes into view and boom–it is here!
Five times in Joshua (Jos 1:6; 1:8; 8:1; 10:8; 11:6), God told Joshua to be strong, to be courageous, and not to fear. Now Joshua was not some wimpy, milk toast kind of person. He was a hardened warrior. He led the Israelites against the Amaleckites (Ex 17:8-15). He was one of the two spies that saw what God had for them in the Promise Land and said they should go there, while 10 others suggested retreat (Num 13-14). He walked around the desert and led people there under Moses for 40 years. This was one tough customer, but God kept telling him not to be afraid, to have courage.
I imagine David drew encouragement from Joshua’s story. Maybe he thought about it when, in 1 Samuel 21, David had to flee from King Saul because the king wanted David dead. David went to live in a city of the Philistines. This had to be a difficult place to be since there was a song about how Saul had killed thousands and David had killed ten thousand – ten thousand Philistines. David had to pretend he was crazy to stay safe. In the midst of this, David wrote the 56th Psalm, part of which appears below.
When I am afraid,
I will trust in You.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
Looking at the next few months, I know there will be moments when I, like David, am afraid. The future, like that rhino, appears large in my vision. There is a rhino for Kelsey’s graduation, one for moving, another for Evelyn leaving work, and a fourth for language lessons that I’m taking. The biggest rhino, looking right at me, is that we need to raise another $1355 in monthly support in June to ensure we can leave without difficulty in August. I get nervous, but then I think of David, acting like a crazy man, spit in his beard, living with enemies… I hear him tell himself in the night “In God I trust; I will not fear” with “I will not fear” as a command to himself. Just as it was a command to Joshua. Just as it is a command to me.
How do we not fear what is coming? We know that “There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19). Fear is not the problem. It is an indicator that we are not filled with love, perfect love, from God who creates us. When we fear, we must trust, praise, and understand that we are loved.
In Chapter 19 of 1 Kings, Elijah was scared and hiding in the mountains. When I read that, I cannot imagine why he would be afraid. Just a few weeks before this, God answered Elijah’s prayer and fire rained down from the sky and burned the offering, the wood soaked with water, and even the stones. Elijah had just traveled 40 days on the food an angel gave him. But the queen had called for Elijah’s head and, frightened, he ran away and begged to hear from God. God arrived to talk to Elijah, and here is how that meeting started.
At that moment, the LORD passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. (1 Kings 19:11–12)
The Lord spoke in a soft whisper. I don’t, or at least haven’t, audibly hear God’s voice giving me direction. I have felt His direction such that it was as clear as an audible voice would be, but most times, it is in the still, small whisper. It is ridiculous to not listen to God. He knows everything and He loves me. Why would I not listen? Well, sometimes, I don’t want to do what the whisper says, so I don’t ‘hear’ . . . in the same way, there were times as a child when I didn’t ‘hear’ my mom say to clean my room. Sometimes I don’t listen because I am too busy. The wind in my ears as I run from place to place drowns out the still, small voice.
Most times, I don’t even know I’m not listening. I want to listen, I want to pay attention, but sometimes I just blunder through life while God is whispering to me. I just plow on, not listening. God is good to me, though . . . He doesn’t let me go on. He gets my attention (just as my mom would). I notice it when the fruit of the Spirit begins to wane in my life. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23)
Last week, my family told me I had put on my “grumpy old man hat” when I lectured one of my children when I should have been teaching. Self-control, one of the gifts the Lord is particularly generous to give me, began to dry up. I’ve gained back some of the weight I needed to lose. I’m old enough to know that if my fruit is not pleasing, I need to listen because I need some pruning. If there is a problem with the fruit, it is because there is a problem with the root.
I’ve done some reflection on what God had to tell me. For one thing, I’ve struggled with my pride in asking for support from individuals. Sure, I would talk about Africa and I would offer a general, “We are raising support” comment. I even asked in a newsletter for support, but I’ve not been asking for help much. Pride has been getting in my way. I didn’t want to invite people to support us. They might say no, they might think I was rude, they might not want the invitation. I was afraid just like Elijah was even after God had demonstrated His power so dramatically. He has demonstrated that same power to Evelyn and I… we are at 70% of what we need!
Jesus is recorded in Luke as saying, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34) I want, need really, hearts with us in Swaziland. I need to invite people to join us despite my pride. The title of this post is Thank You, which is because most of you (who have provided 70% of the support we need to head to Swaziland) did so without being directly invited to do so. Thank you for seeing my lack, and stepping in to fill the gap. Thank you for you kind and loving support, and please know that I am listening to God’s whisper. My family and I are looking forward to me producing the better fruit which comes from obedience.
One of the elders at our church told me I was being dishonest in not telling the truth in love to people because I was not inviting them to participate in the mission directly. I will. Thank you.
I’m a Dr. Who fan. That statement generates a few reactions. Some say, “Bowties are cool!” and others just repeat, “Dr. Who?” Exactly. Anyway, in my favorite episode, Blink, Sally is taking Kathy to an old house where she likes to go to take photos. Here is their dialog.
Sally: I love old things. They make me feel sad.
Kathy: What’s good about sad?
Sally: It’s happy for deep people.
Dr. Who, Blink, 2007 (photo by BBC)
Sad is happy for deep people. A few thousand years ago, Jesus put it this way. “Those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted” (Mt 5:4, HCSB). It seems counterintuitive. Comfort comes to those who mourn. Those who are sad are happy. It sounds like Orwellian double speak until we look closer.
People seek to have ‘good, happy lives,’ but as Thoreau wrote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them” (Civil Disobedience and other Essays). People lead lives of desperation because they seek a shallow happiness. There is a vicious cycle at work in people’s souls that steals their joy. A surface thing makes us happy for a moment. Then the happiness fades. So we replace it with a new surface thing, but it satisfies less, so we replace it with more. More and more we shovel things into the hole in our heart, and we are less and less satisfied. Instead of looking up and considering our position, we buckle down and shovel harder. We don’t mourn. We chase happiness, and while we catch it on occasion, it is never truly ours. Our life of quiet desperation feeds upon itself as we pursue happiness, and our song remains unsung.
Things, drugs, shopping, sex, power, money . . . it all ceases to satisfy. Viktor Frankl, a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, observed that “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the byproduct of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself” (Man’s Search for Meaning). Frankl is correct in his diagnosis and description but falls short in his prescription. Happiness ensues because we are dedicated to some one thing and/or someone other greater than ourselves. But no earthly cause or mortal human is worth our life’s dedication.
People, despite their strength and best intentions, will fail us. While we love our spouses and our children, we cannot look to them for happiness. We cannot ask them to be perfect to bring us happiness, or we will destroy our relationships. Political or social movements burn bright but become corrupt and fade. This world is broken! People are broken! Deep people look past the surface and see the brokenness of this world, – and they mourn.
But there is comfort. I think of Isaiah. Isaiah came into the presence of the Lord God, and his heart was broken. He said, “Woe is me (I mourn for myself) for I am ruined because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). His sin and the sin of his people and the brokenness of the world, made him despair. Isaiah was forgiven. Oh, what joy one has in being forgiven. Then the Lord asked “Who will go for us?” and Isaiah answered “Here I am, send me!” (Isaiah 6:8) Isaiah was then tasked with taking the word of the Lord to the people. Isaiah was dedicated to the Eternal one who will not change and cannot fail. That is a cause worthy of our life, and even our death!
If you are not living for something worth dying for, then my friend, you are living a life of desperation.
If you are not living for something worth dying for, then my friend, you are living a life of desperation. We are comforted by our salvation and called by our Lord. Worthy is the Lamb of God. We are comforted by His ministry of reconciliation. We see glimpses of joy in this world when the lost are saved and when God’s love shines through. And we take comfort in knowing that it’s only a taste of what is to come. Sad really is happy for deep people. I like how Luke recorded Jesus’ saying, “You who now weep are blessed, because you will laugh.” (Luke 6:21b) Join me in weeping. Join me in laughing.
One Tough Missionary
Paul wrote a letter to the church in Philippi. It was a thank you letter for their love gift. Being Paul, he also addressed some of the problems in the church and gave thanks for, and instruction in, the Gospel. It reads to me anyway, mostly as a thank you letter. Paul offers his thanks for their “partnership in the gospel” (1:5), and he tells them that he has “received everything in full, and I (Paul) have an abundance” (4:18). Paul showers the people of Philippi with thanks and tells them he is quite content in his circumstances, that he has an abundance.
Knowing a bit of the background of this book has given me a much deeper appreciation for what Paul wrote. If we just read this letter, we miss how monumental Paul’s lesson is for us. Paul writes, and tells us he is crazy for writing it, and tells us of the trials he experienced being a missionary. In 2 Cor 11, Paul lists labors, imprisonments, severe beatings nearly causing death many times, 5 occasions of 39 lashes from a whip, and beatings (3) with rods; he was stoned, was shipwrecked, and spent 36 hours in the sea, along with dangers from rivers, robbers, Jews, and Gentiles. Paul was often without food and lacked warmth and clothing.
Paul was one tough missionary. Reading that list you might think of Paul as looking like a body builder and sounding like James Earl Jones. But wait, in 1 Cor. 2:3-5 we read that Paul did not have impressive speech and he came to them (the people of Corinth) in weakness, fear, and much trembling. In 2 Cor. 10:10, Paul reports that others say his “physical presence is weak, and his public speaking is despicable.” The apocryphal writings seem consistent with this as they describe Paul as a short, thin-haired man with crooked legs and a hooked nose. Paul was no Hollywood action hero, he was not cut in the form of a Greek god; he was just one tough missionary.
Paul did not even count his physical trials as anything. Once, when Paul prayed three times for a pain to be removed, God told him that He was enough. Paul then rejoiced in his weakness (2 Cor 12:1-10). Paul was not concerned with his comfort. Paul was not even accompanied by a wife like the other apostles (1 Cor 9:5). Paul did not fall into the vicious cycle of being comfortable and then craving more comfort in this world. Paul’s concern was for Christ alone!
What is his secret? How is he content no matter his physical situation (Phil 4:11-12) when so many of the most comfortable people in the world, Americans, lack contentment? He tells us the secret. Paul tells us he is able to do all things through Christ who strengthens him (Phil 4:13). We try to substitute physical comfort for mindful contentment. Physical comfort is a shallow, fragile, substitute for contentment. God grants contentment when we understand we are citizens of His Kingdom and slaves of the Most High, not simply animals seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. There is more to life than things, and we are more than bodies with sensations.
Comfort is fleeting; contentment is powerful. Think of the sins we seek out in the name of comfort. A content man cannot be bribed, distracted, discouraged, nor dissuaded. Contentment is in knowing the Master has a plan, that He loves us, and that this is enough. It is sufficient that the most powerful God who created the universe loves me, and He is active in my life. Really, there is nothing more one needs or could want. I pray we all be tough missionaries like Paul. Content with little or much. Content to be a slave of Christ who strengthens us.