Category: The Way of Salvation

Moving For Purpose, Part I (by Jan Jenkins)

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Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.  Is. 40: 29 – 31

At times the days go by slowly, and at other times they seem to go by very quickly.  Our whole family was together for Thanksgiving, which felt so good, and then the surge of the Christmas season passed quickly.  After the first of the year, 2016, Chuck and I felt apathetic. He had had surgery the previous October, and the recovery took longer than we expected because of some difficulties in the operating room, so we were so thankful when he was feeling much better.  A follow-up appointment in January showed that he was doing very well, and all his following appointments since then have been encouraging.  In fact, we had much to be thankful for, so why the lethargy?  Family, home, health, church, and friends were all a blessing to us.

We began praying that we would know God’s direction and that we would discern the plan and purpose God had for us.  Was retirement going to be settling down, finding some new hobbies, or taking an extended vacation?  Charles retired from the University in the spring of 2014, and for over a year we had reveled in the freedom we had to go on short camping trips in our new travel trailer whenever we wanted.  Now, there was an inner sense that there should be more for us.  Where was our place?  Where did we fit?  We had helped with leadership in the church home groups for a couple of years, but this ministry appeared to have ended since we never received further guidance.  I don’t remember how many times I asked the Lord what our purpose was. 

Getting Acquainted with Belize in 2006

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A number of years ago in 2006, we had visited Hopkins, Belize, a predominately Garifuna community in Central America, and we loved it there.  The tropical sunny climate, the beautiful Caribbean Sea, and the enchanting rainforest with the howler monkeys were a joy.  The history of Belize and particularly the Garifuna people is intriguing. For many years Belize was inhabited by the Mayan civilization which accounts for the incredible Mayan ruins that can still be seen today.  Currently, Belize is home to the Creole, Maya, Garifuna, Mestizo (Spanish and Native Americans), Mennonite (Amish) peoples, as well as a blend of many other cultures.   The Garifuna came from the inter-married Arawak Indians and Carib Indians of St. Vincent Island.  After the British tried to subdue the native people, a minority of survivors were deported to Roatan, Honduras.  However, the Garifuna were again forced to flee and landed on the southern coastline of Belize in 1832. 

In a victory over the Spanish in the Battle of St. George’s Caye in 1798, the British were given control and British Honduras became a British colony.  The name was changed on June 1, 1973, to Belize, and on September 21, 1981, Belize became independent.  In 1954 all adults could finally vote in Belize, and in 1986 the first university opened there. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared the Garifuna culture a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” in 2001.  This proclamation was made to raise awareness and protection of the Garifuna culture.  The government in Belize is a parliamentary, representative democratic monarchy.  The prime minister is the head of the government, and Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state. 

Chuck and I decided to look at airplane fares and reservations to see if another trip to Belize looked possible.  After doing some research, we decided to plan a trip for the following April 2016.  This trip would give us something to look forward to and plenty of time to plan, look for flights, and find a place to stay. 

We chose to go back to Hopkins, Belize, which is a small fishing village on the southern coast of Belize in a district called Stann Creek.  It is a small multicultural community consisting mostly of Garifuna people with a few Mayan people, and a small expat gathering.  English is spoken with a beautiful rhythm and is relatively easy to understand for native English speakers.   Spanish is also occasionally heard among some of the people.  They are a happy, contented people and very friendly to everyone.  The first time we visited Hopkins, we stayed at Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort, which is a beautiful resort located right on the Caribbean Sea that specializes in diving, snorkeling, and various tours of the area including the rainforest.  This time we felt confident enough to stay on our own in a location in the village of Hopkins itself.  After much internet searching, we found a small house, or cabana, to rent in the center of the village facing the Caribbean Sea. We made reservations for April 19th to the 26th.     

Seeking Direction    

As excited as we were to return to Belize, we still were grappling with purpose and God’s direction for us here at home in the United States.  We began thinking that maybe there was a higher reason to revisit Hopkins Village than merely a time of vacation.  We were both still searching for that answer.  I began looking at all the activities there were to do in the Hopkins area. 

On our first visit we had stayed for a few days in the rainforest in a beautiful resort called Lamanai Outpost Lodge before going to Hamanasi.  We hiked all around Mayan Ruins, climbed to the top of the magnificent Lamanai Mayan ruins, gone with a guide to hunt and tag crocodiles on the river, enjoyed the Howler Monkeys, taken an all day hike in the rainforest to beautiful Antelope Falls, where we went for a swim, and we had gone snorkeling along the Barrier Reef.  Now in the village area, cave tubing, river rafting, a Jaguar Reserve, zip lining, and sea fishing were available.  Initially, I thought we could plan one activity for each day since when we were there previously we had focused mainly on adventures and sightseeing. 

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This time, however, we decided to see if we could find a church in the village to visit. I researched the area and found a church called Ligilisi Lareini Bunjiu, in Garifuna, and in English, “Church of Grace.”  We decided that we would try to find the pastor after we arrived.  With this first decision, it felt like God began speaking to us more about our visit.  Chuck had a vivid dream one early morning in which we were in Belize actively involved in ministry.  He woke up excited to share it with me.  Now we talked more about mixing with the Garifuna people and looking for ministry opportunities

By April, we additionally began to discuss whether, or not, God was actually calling us to a longer ministry in Hopkins Village.  Both of us believed that God had a higher purpose for this visit, and we needed to be in prayer for His guidance and wisdom. 

Meanwhile, our home here in the U.S. began to feel a little uncomfortable.  We had just attended a semi-annual Home Owners Association (HOA) meeting, and when the discussion focused on getting a large bank loan to repair the private road for our community, we became very unsettled.  Our plan since the early days of our Christian ministries, and God’s plan for us, is that we stay out of debt:

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who  his neighbor has fulfilled the law.  For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)

This loan, however, would put everyone in the association in debt for the next 20 years.  If they were able to get the loan, it would only take a majority vote to commit all the families in the association to this large debt.  The majority at the meeting didn’t want simply to fix the eroded and cracked places, but also to resurface the whole road.    I felt the Lord speaking to my heart saying that we were “unequally yoked,” with unbelievers who were making financial decisions we didn’t agree with. This situation, along with the upkeep on our house on six acres, which was becoming more difficult, made us begin thinking about downsizing.  Maybe it was time to sell the house and look for something smaller.  

Maybe it was time to sell the house and look for something smaller.  Meanwhile, at the very least, we would have a nice vacation in Belize, we could have some time away to think about our situation more, and finally, perhaps, we could come to a decision about our house.

We remembered many years ago hearing a speaker talk about the eagle’s nest.  The parent eagles prepare a comfortable home for their eaglets with soft, downy feathers, and they carry plenty of food to them.  When the eaglets grow their juvenile feathers and become more ready to leave the nest, the parent eagles rough it up so that there are irritating sticks surfacing instead of the soft covering of feathers and other plant life that had made their home so comfortable.  This new discomfort makes them want to leave the nest.  We concluded, perhaps, that because our nest was becoming a bit scratchy, it was time to make a move.  Now we began thinking that if we were able to sell our house and move into something smaller, we might consider having a house in Belize.

On April 17, we made a decision to phone a Real Estate agent and ask her to look at our house.  She was available to come out that afternoon, so we showed her around.  She thought the house was “saleable” and was willing to do a “soft listing” while we were in Belize, which meant that while we were gone she could show the house to anyone interested, as well as to colleagues in her office, to get a feel for the market.  Incredibly, after living in this house nearly 21 years, we felt very peaceful about our decision.

We did some frantic house cleaning, packed, and left for Belize two days later on April 19.  Since we hadn’t flown out of the country since 2006, we had forgotten some of the steps we had to take to get through customs, and we were sometimes mystified at the rude attitude of the TSA officers.  When we boarded the airliner to fly from Miami to Belize City, we felt relieved that we had successfully made it through all the checkpoints. 

At one point, when our plane began to taxi to the runway, suddenly there was a screeching of brakes, skidding, and a loud noise at the back of the plane as the plane came to a stop.  All the passengers were jerked forward, and I half expected the oxygen cups to come flying out!  We looked back and saw that all the metal cupboards in the back of the cabin had flown open and the big bin of ice had sailed off the shelf and hit the flight attendant in the head.  She was bent over in pain, and all the attendants from the front of the plane came running down the aisle to assist her.  Behind them, a woman came hurrying down the aisle saying, “I’m a doctor, let me help.”  After giving the woman immediate first aid, the pilot decided to take her back for medical attention at the airport.  Over the intercom, he explained to all the passengers that this meant a “few minutes delay” while they found a substitute flight attendant. 

Nothing was explained about why the sudden stop was necessary, but later we learned that another plane had been headed in our direction because the tower had neglected to notice that both planes were given clearance and were taxing at the same time to the same runway.  About an hour later we were finally ready for take-off again. 

This was the second time we were flying to Belize, yet the first time we had another unique experience when we were certain of God’s protection.  In 2006 we had a layover at Atlanta.  When our boarding announcement was broadcast, we saw two Arab men hug one another and say their good-byes.  As we boarded the plane, we saw that our seats were directly behind the one Arab man who had boarded ahead of us.  He didn’t have anyone seated next to him so he spread his prayer cloth on the seat and began reading a book. 

I peeked through the two seats and saw the title of the book written in English:  Journey of Death.  This was alarming, but I kept thinking how God was sending us on this vacation and that He surely would protect us.  Even if something horrific happened, I knew where we were going, so I tried not to think about it.  None of the attendants seemed to notice him.  I realized later that I should have said something to a flight attendant, but at the time I didn’t want to call attention to him if he were innocent.  I said a prayer, though, for protection as we got ready for take-off. 

After leaving the runway, I peeked again between the seats and saw that he was asleep.  He slept through the whole flight and didn’t wake up until we landed.  God used this experience to remind me how He protects those who trust in Him.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for You are with me. (Ps 23:4)

We had a good flight to Belize City and went through customs.  The Belize International Airport is small and crowded, but it is fun to arrive and feel that immediate immersion into the culture.  There are several small shops that sell souvenirs and snacks around the perimeter of the room, with a tight seating area in the middle. We saw a sign for a restaurant, but never could find it in this small area!      2017-01-24_1029.png

Our next flight to Dangriga, Belize, was in a small Cessna that carried only six passengers, and after only 10 minutes we saw that we were landing again.  When we landed, the pilot said nothing to us, but we looked out and saw that they were loading several large boxes of vegetables onto the plane.  When they finished a couple of workers boarded, and then we were off again!  This time we landed in Dangriga Airport and we were picked up by a driver who took us to our small, colorful rented cabana in Hopkins Village. 

 2017-01-24_1030.pngIn the kitchen we noticed that all the knobs on the stove were labeled in Spanish.  We later found out that many of the “Mabe” appliances are made in Mexico and sold in Belize.  The cabana was pleasant, with a wonderful Caribbean breeze off the sea coming through the windows.  Occasionally, we would spot a gecko crawling along the wall.  We were told they eat bugs, so we left them alone.  We also saw beautiful Frigate Birds flying over the sea.

 We initially had a couple of days of adjustment to the tropical weather and the general environment.  It was hard to believe we were back in Belize, and we were even a little disoriented with all the activity around and the differences we immediately felt as a result of being in a different culture.  We were in the center of the village, so there was noise, and people, and children all around.  Out on the veranda, we would see an occasional small Iguana scamper across the sand.  They were fun to look at because when they run, they stand up on their two back feet.  Later, on a drive we saw one that was almost three feet long.  At night we could hear drumming at one of the nearby clubs.

On one side of the cabana, a crew of construction workers were building a house.  One evening we decided to try to knock off a coconut from one of the trees.  We found a stick but it didn’t reach high enough, so we tried jumping but couldn’t dislodge one.   One of the construction crew was sitting watching us and probably laughing inwardly at our technique.  Chuck asked him in Spanish if he could help us. The man found a longer piece of wood left over in a pile, and he was able to get us two coconuts immediately.  Between our limited Spanish and his limited English, we had a brief conversation and found out his name was Roberto and that he had probably traveled from Guatemala for this job.  After that, whenever we saw him, we greeted him in Spanish, and he would always greet us in English.

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In the Garifuna language, the words for the village, Yugadan, Balisi, are translated “Hopkins, Belize.” In the village are many beautiful seafront properties with very small make-shift wooden homes that have been owned by families for generations. It is not uncommon for trash to be thrown outside on the sand, where it is then occasionally raked up and burned, along with sea grass that washes ashore. 

    

Hopkins is a small village with perhaps 1200 residents, many of whom are employed at the local resorts that have been built up over the years.  Many people own cafes or souvenir shops, or they just set up tables along the main road to sell food daily to tourists or school children for lunches.  One night we bought “burritos” from a woman who had set up a table.  To us, they were more like tostitos than burritos, but they were very tasty, nevertheless.

In the evening of our first night, though, we walked to a cafe called “Innies.”  We ordered a traditional Garifuna dish called Hudut, which is fish cooked in a coconut broth and served with a mound of mashed plantains.  When our bowl of soup, or stew, arrived, along with a plate with a huge mound of mashed plantain, we had no idea how to eat it.  We asked the waitress for help, who giggled and looked at her family gathered in the kitchen; they also thought our question was funny.  She then told us how to take the plantain mash and dip it into the “fish soup.”  This was our first experience eating plantains, and later we also had them fried, similar to French fried potatoes, or “thick chips.”

Since we were last in Hopkins ten years before our trip in 2016, a gracious expat had opened a Humane Society to help with the homeless animals that roamed the village.  Today, veterinarians donate time to provide vaccinations and care as necessary, and the services are all free.  On Sundays, The Lucky Lobster, a local eating establishment, has “Bow Wow Sunday,” a time when they invite customers to purchase a specific dish or drink, with 100% of the proceeds donated to the Hopkins Humane Society.  While we were staying in our village cabana, we had a temporary pet that would regularly come by and sometimes sleep on the veranda.  This dog looked healthy, but we never did find out if she had an owner.  We saw that there was a bag of dog food in the kitchen, so occasionally we put out a little food for the dog, who we named “Sandy,” since she seemed to come to us from the beach.  If she saw us walking outside, she often would come over and walk with us.

While we were staying in our village cabana, we had a temporary pet that would regularly come by and sometimes sleep on the veranda.  This dog looked healthy, but we never did find out if she had an owner.  We saw that there was a bag of dog food in the kitchen, so occasionally we put out a little food for the dog, whom we named “Sandy,” since she seemed to come to us from the beach.  If she saw us walking outside, she often would come over and walk with us.

Holy Family Roman Catholic School

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From walking around the village and having conversations with people, we found out that the village school is what we call a “public school” in the US, but operated by the Catholic Church in Belize.  English is taught in the schools in Belize, but Garifuna is spoken among friends and family.  The children wear uniforms and generally walk to school or ride bikes.  For lunch they come back home or purchase food from women who set out tables of food along the road.  It was fun to sit outside at one of the cafes and watch the children go by. They’re somewhat shy, but responsive to a smile or wave.  I quickly found out that they love lollipops!

We learned that at the house next door to our cabana the owner rented bicycles, so we walked over to rent two of them.  All the bicycles we saw were “fat tire” bikes with peddle brakes.  However, now we could do a little more exploring of the village area.  We first biked to the north end of town, the home of the Drumming Center, where Garifuna drummers entertain and teach any willing visitor how to drum.  The Garifuna drums are hollowed out from solid trunks of Mahogany, Mayflower, or Cedar, made into a cylinder-shape, and then sanded smooth.  The skin of a deer, sheep, or goat may be used to cover the top of the drum, with cow skin for the larger drums, using rope and vines to secure the skin to the drum.  Eight pins are used to tighten the rope and these are used also to tune the drums.  The drums sit in the sun to dry and the skin is sanded smooth.  A drum called “Primero” is usually twelve inches or less in diameter providing a high sound, and a “Segundo” drum will be fourteen to eighteen inches or more and providing a bass sound. 

Lessons at the Drumming Center

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Chuck was given a drumming lesson when we were in Hopkins the first time, and they had him drumming so long that he felt like his fingers were going numb!  It truly takes lessons and practice to beat the drums correctly.  

It was fun to visit the Drumming Center again and see that it was larger now, and easily accommodating more people that before.  The man in charge was just as friendly and talkative as the first time we visited.

 

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We also met a Mayan woman who owns a souvenir shop selling both Mayan and Garifuna items.  She took us around her property showing us various edible fruits, as well as some that are medicinal.  One of the most unique fruits was the noni, which is used to make juice that the people believe kills cancer and many other illnesses.  Juice is made by letting the ripe noni sit in a glass jar in the sun making the juice seep out of the fruit over several weeks.  She says she drinks the juice every day, and she gave us one so we could try it.  The fruit is also eaten raw or cooked.  We tried the juice, and found it had a very bitter taste and the smell was pretty unpleasant.  The “free range” chickens in the village, however, like the ripe, softened noni fruit!

Seeing Golden Again!

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We also saw a souvenir shop named “Golden Gifts.”  We remembered that in 2006, when we were there in Hopkins, we had a guide named Golden who took us on a hike to a beautiful waterfall called Antelope Falls.  We remembered him because of his name and because he was so informed about the plants, trees, and animals of the area.  We had a welcoming reunion with Golden, who now owns his own shop and has his own tourist company called “D Golden Tours.”  We’re so happy that Golden has been successful in his business since he was such a good tour guide.  On the way back to the cabana, we saw a woman washing a huge pile of clothes using a large bucket of soapy water and a washboard.  We waved as we rode by, and she waved back.

View From Driftwood Plaza

On another day we went on our bicycles up to the north end of Hopkins Village to eat at a highly recommended café called Driftwood Pizza.   It was a cute place, scenically located right on the beach.  There were tables inside and outside with a volleyball net on the sand and a few hammocks (the first choice for relaxation in Belize).  We ordered pizza from the waiter with several toppings, including coconut.  We saw the cook go out, knock a coconut off a tree and then take it to a place near the kitchen where she cracked it open with ease.  She got some coconut and began grating it to be put on the pizza.  Right before the pizza was done, she brought something rounded and light brown in color and placed it on our napkins.  We thought it might be some kind of a bread roll, so I asked her what it was.  She explained it was a rock to keep the napkins from blowing away in the light Caribbean Sea breeze!  Surprised, I told her I thought it was something to eat!  She and the waiter could hardly stop laughing!  Silly gringos!

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 After a couple of days in the cabana, we started having young visitors every night selling cakes their mother had made during the day.  There were always two or three little boys who would knock on the door or look in the windows to get our attention.  They were lively and always wanted to try on our shoes which we always left outside the front door!  I gave them lollipops which probably encouraged them to come every night, and it was impossible for us to refuse to buy a cake!

 

 

2017-01-24_1051.pngOn Thursday afternoon we went out for another walk and decided to see if we could find the church and Pastor Herdie Castillo.  Everyone we asked knew him, and eventually we found the church, but there was no one there.  The double front doors were locked, and the wooden shutters around the whole building were all closed.  We then began asking for directions to his house.  The people have what for us was an unusual way of giving directions.  They are so familiar with their village and where everything is that they simply list off several landmarks to watch for, and always what you are looking for is “close by.”  Most roads off the main street are made of dirt, so we never could tell if “three roads that way” included dirt paths or dirt roads since most of the roads have no names that we could see.  Finally, after three or four directions, we found Pastor Herdie’s house. 

When we got there, he was watching the NBA playoffs on television, and we were apologetic for interrupting him.  The house was very small and simple, but there was an atmosphere of peace and contentment even though there was truly a whole houseful of people.  He came outside to talk to us.  Young and older children were all around, and he introduced us to several of them who were his children and grandchildren.  They were all attractive with beautiful smiles.  His lovely wife Victoria came outside so we could meet her also.  They told us a little about their ministry, and we told them we wanted to visit the church on Sunday.

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We left Pastor Herdie’s house feeling like God might indeed have a ministry for us in Hopkins Village.  Pastor Herdie was a quiet, unassuming man who obviously had much wisdom and love for the Lord, and we were drawn to his humble, godly spirit.  Later, while reading the word the following scripture “jumped out.” 

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony go God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.  I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.  I. Corinthians 2:1-5

These verses resonated with us because they provided confirmation of some of the things that Pastor Herdie had talked to us about.  He shared that the best way to become immersed into the village is by quietly observing and listening to the people.  One must come into the community with humility and listen as God provides opportunities to share the gospel, while also, relying on the Holy Spirit within us to give us His power without being concerned about our weaknesses or fears. Finally, we could depend upon Him to work through us.

We walked to the CPC Real Estate office the next day, where we met John Stewart, who has lived in Belize for 20 years, but still has a home in Pennsylvania.  John took us to see several houses, but nothing seemed to stand out.  He then told us about some lots for sale along the canal and along the Sea at the southern end of Hopkins, in an area called Sittee Point (pronounced like “city”).  John took us to see some of them and then dropped us off at our cabana.  We needed time to process what we had seen, to pray and listen, and to talk together about it.

Friday morning, we went out for a swim in the sea.  This morning swim had become part of our morning routine while we were there since the incredibly warm Caribbean Sea was only about 60 feet out from the front door of our cabana. We then decided to do more exploring in the village.  We found a wood worker, named Alex, who made beautiful carvings out of the native woods of Belize. We picked a few small carvings that would fit in our suitcases to bring home for gifts, but when we went to pay we realized we hadn’t brought enough money.  He pointed to two bicycles that were parked in front of his little shop and told us we could use them to go back to our cabana instead of having to walk.  He even let us take the carvings with us.  We bicycled the six blocks or so and got our money and then returned to pay him.

On Saturday, when we went out for our morning swim, we talked about Charles’s dream again and whether, or not, we were ready to make a decision regarding a purchase in Belize.  We formulated a tentative plan if the Lord should bring us back to Belize.  After talking with Pastor Herdie, we felt that we would be there initially to Pray, to Listen, and to Watch.  The following scripture ministered to us beginning with Paul’s prayer:

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.  Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned as though with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person  (Colossians 4:2-6).

Part of our discussion was the connection we felt with the Garifuna people of Hopkins Village because we sensed their need for the Truth to set them free.  The Garifuna people have cultural traditions that remain very strong, so they aren’t necessarily interested in accessing the truth of God’s Word.  When they commit their lives to Jesus, they must disown occult traditions like witchcraft, including the belief in mediation with departed ancestors.  The precious Garifuna Christians, who have let go of those religious customs, have a joy and love that is amazing, but they also deal with pressure and misunderstanding from family and friends who are without Christ and who feel that these Christians have rejected their Garifuna roots.  Charles and I are both trained, professional teachers, and we felt a desire to teach the Word of God so the people might “be firmly rooted and established in the faith” (Colossians 2:7), while being mindful that “no one takes them captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men”  (Colossians 2:8).

We also discussed our concerns about our family and being gone from them for longer periods of time.  It would take time and much understanding for them to comprehend our vision.  It was not easy to think about being this far apart from them, and it would be a difficult separation for us.  Furthermore, we couldn’t plan this journey without thinking about how old we are, even though foreign mission work has been something we have always wanted to do. 

We Had Always Wanted to Be Missionaries

When we were first married, we wanted to be missionaries.  We traveled over two hours to Long Beach, California, for an appointment with a representative of the Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society.  The representative told us that even though Charles had a bachelor’s degree, as well as teaching certification, and though I was a licensed vocational nurse (LVN), we would still have to go to Bible College, and it would be at least seven years of study before we could even think about going to the mission field.  This news was overwhelming since we were in our twenties, and we were eager to move into ministry.  A while after that, we thought maybe we should apply to join the Peace Corp.  We had Christian friends who were in Africa with the Peace Corp, so we filled out the application.  We never heard back! 

Was it possible that after all these years God was finally sending us to ministry outside the US?

Later, we went to see John, the realtor and asked him about the lots for sale.  He took us for a drive to look at properties, and about an hour later we took our step of faith and made an offer on a lot! We had decided to build rather than purchase a home that could already have upkeep problems.  We had God’s peace and believed that if this was to happen He would make a way for us.  We had the money to pay for the lot, so if nothing else, it would be a good investment.  We found out that the property tax would only be $20 a year whether we built a house or not!  We felt very happy and took another swim in the sea to celebrate!

Sunday came, and as we floated in the water during our morning swim, we shared our thoughts about God’s direction and prayed that He would continue to direct us.  Again, we felt His peace.  We had learned long ago that if we wanted God to direct us, we needed to begin moving and trust that He would keep us on the right path.  Like someone has said, “It’s much harder to change the direction of a parked car than one that is already moving.”  Additionally, our God provides a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path” (Psalm119:105).

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Sunday Worship Service

Pastor Herdie’s Church service begins at 7:00 PM on Sundays in order to accommodate the many people who work at the local resorts on weekends and are not off until Sunday evenings.  We walked and had to ask for directions a few times since we couldn’t remember exactly where the church building was.  Again, everyone we asked was familiar with the church location.  When we arrived, we saw that the double front doors were wide open, all the wooden louvers were open at the windows (no glass), and all the lights were on.  The chairs were the plastic lawn chairs that are common here in the US.  Ceiling fans were on, and a couple of floor fans were turning.  There was a low stage with the traditional Garifuna drums and a guitar. We were a little early and saw the pastor slowly walking around the room praying.  We talked briefly with him and sat down.  

As the people entered, we noticed the smiles and general joy of the people.  The women all wore colorful dresses or skirts.  The children were shy, but would smile at us.  I had lollipops for a few of them too.  A woman sitting close to me came over and asked if she also could have a “sweet.”  I first assumed that she just wanted one because she saw the kids with them, but she explained that they made her stomach feel better.  She was in the early months of pregnancy and had been very sick.  I gave her a lollipop, and then later in the service, I gave her another one.                     

Now the church was just about full.  I would guess around 90 people.  We were so happy to see our friend Golden come in with his family.  It turned out that he was one of the two drummers who play for worship.  Pastor Herdie played the guitar and led the singing with two women as back up.  Because they have all the doors and windows open and use amplification, the sound carries out into the village.  What a testimony to hear and see these people sing out with all their hearts, each one worshipping as though no one else is there.  The songs were sung in English, and many of them were familiar to us.  They don’t have the words written out, so the songs are memorized.

                     Anointed Prayer                               

Next, a woman who was recognized as a prayer warrior came to the microphone and led us in prayer.  The power of the Holy Spirit in her as she prayed was amazing.  She opened her Bible to Deuteronomy 28:2-8 and declared these precious promises in her prayer for all of us who were there:

All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the Lord your God.  Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground, and the offspring of your beasts, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock.  Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in and blessed shall you be when you go out.  The Lord shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways.  The Lord will command the blessing upon you in your barns and in all that you put your hand to, and He will bless you in the land which the Lord your God gives you.  The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself, as He swore to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways. So all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will be afraid of you. (Deuteronomy 28:2-8)

Her prayer was a declaration of faith in the Word of God, and there was no doubt the Lord heard this prayer which was prayed with faith and the agreement of the congregation.  This was truly a lesson in praying and believing His promises in the Word of God, as opposed to praying a “pleasing” prayer that just sounds good for listeners.

Golden on Drum and Pastor Herdie on Guitar

They had a greeting time, a time which always makes me nervous, but as the worship leaders sang and played the drums and guitar, it seemed so natural.  In an unselfconscious way, everyone, including the children, went around to one another for a quick hug and simply saying, “God bless you.”  It was not a time for conversation, but a brief blessing for one another.  There didn’t seem to be any hesitancy about including us in their blessings.  It was wonderful to feel so embraced.

One of the issues Pastor Herdie faces is the occult traditions of the Garifuna people.  He understands the hold the enemy tries to keep on these Christians.  In his message, Pastor Herdie spoke about this struggle and strongly urged the people to cease these practices which include trying to “hear” what their ancestors are saying.  He exhorted them, saying that our Savior, Jesus Christ, gives us the Holy Spirit to teach us and guide us, and He is the only one we should be listening to.  He encouraged people to live in righteousness and to listen to the Holy Spirit. 

At the end of the service, the pastor asked two or three people to come up for prayer.  One of the women was Kendra, to whom I had given sweets and who was truly suffering from morning sickness.  As he prayed for each individual, everyone in the congregation prayed too.  I was so blessed by this prayer time because I had been feeling all through the service that Kendra needed special prayer.  After this, all the people sang Happy Birthday in Garifuna to one of the men.  It was delightful to hear it sung in their language.

As we walked home, we felt spiritually refreshed and confident of God’s calling.  We were so excited.  Later, God gave us the following scripture:

For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face[s], and may complete what is lacking in your faith?  Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you. (II Thessalonians 3:9-11)  

The following Monday morning, we went for our early swim and had our habitual sharing time, believing that God had spoken to us through Peter the Lord’s disciple.  Like Peter, we have always been somewhat impetuous and have never held back from making instant decisions when we felt God was calling.  We have had home Bible studies, pastored churches, and been professional teachers in the public and Christian school systems.  We have moved our family several times when God was leading, and the last big move we had made was from California to Pennsylvania. 

Peter, the disciple, is an ever-present example of someone who is not afraid of making a mistake, but who fearlessly jumps at every chance to be near Jesus.  For example, Peter recognized that he was “all in” with Jesus.

Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)  

Peter also made his confession of faith to Jesus when Jesus asked the disciples,

        “Who do you say that I am?”  And Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God” (Luke 9:20). 

Peter didn’t always understand the mission of Jesus.  When Jesus told the disciples that He would have to leave them, 

Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord where are You going?”  Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.”  Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now?  I will lay down my life for You” (John 13:36-37). 

Furthermore, Jesus spoke to the disciples telling them that He must suffer, be rejected, and be killed, but after three days He would rise again. 

And He was stating the matter plainly.  And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.  But turning around and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s”  (Mark 8:32-33). 

Again, Peter didn’t understand.  However, Jesus never gave up on Peter even though Peter tended to be impetuous, even cutting off the ear of one of the guards had who come to arrest Jesus (John 18:10-11).  And on the Sea of Galilee, upon seeing Jesus, Peter jumped out of the boat when he and the disciples were fishing. 

Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’  So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.  But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net of fish.  John 21:7-8 

Any other disciple could also have easily jumped out of the boat to be with Jesus since they were so close to the shore.

Peter was also blessed to be one of the disciples taken to the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, but not comprehending the significance of the event. 

“And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles:  one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah’ –not realizing what he was saying.” (Luke 9:33) 

Peter, as imperfect as he was, loved Jesus. 

He [Jesus] said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”  Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?  And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.’” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” 

As Peter grew spiritually, however, he became a powerful evangelist after he was filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to the Father. 

His boldness and power were evidenced in the following passages:

  • At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty person was there together).  (Acts 1:15)
  • “But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them:  ‘Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words.” (Acts 2:14) 
  • “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. ( Acts 2:38)

In the stories of Peter’s life, we find wonderful lessons about how God loves and directs our lives, both through our wise decisions and even decisions made impetuously without much forethought or prayer.  I have always liked the way Peter was comfortable enough with Jesus that he could make mistakes, speak out, and even question Him, knowing that Jesus loved him unconditionally and would keep him safe.

Finding Peace in God’s Will

While we were in the sea, we saw John, the real estate agent, drive up to the cabana.  We quickly got out of the water believing that he had good news for us.  Instead, he told us that our offer had been rejected because another one had come in sooner.  We were surprised and initially wondered if we had been too impulsive.  John suggested we go out and look again at the lots.  So, we trusted that if the Lord had a lot for us, he would either show it to us, or we would know that we should stop moving in this direction. 

We quickly showered and got dressed.  John then took us for a drive to look at properties we hadn’t taken notice of before, and about an hour later we made an offer on another lot.  A phone call was made to the owner who accepted our offer over the phone while we sat in the Real Estate office.  We were excited but a little overwhelmed.  Our Heavenly Father had actually prevented us from getting the first lot, and we not only got this lot for $9,000 less, but also it was a little closer to the village and partially cleared.

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Were we really doing this? God spoke to our hearts about Peter again, this time from Matthew 14:23-32.  Following the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus went away to be alone and pray.  The disciples went out on the sea in a boat.  In the middle of the night, Jesus appeared to the disciples walking on the water.  They were frightened so Jesus said, “Take courage it is I; do not be afraid.” 

No matter what is happening to us, good or bad, at any given moment, we can have courage because we have Jesus in our lives. 

Peter then said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to you on the water.”  Jesus replied, “Come.” 

Peter didn’t let any distractions deter him as he climbed out of the boat.  I can only imagine what the other disciples were thinking, but Peter was focused and wasn’t about to listen to their concerns.  Peter left his area of comfort and safety and chose to be with Jesus.  He got out of the boat and walked on the water.  He only began to sink when he became afraid. 

The important message in this passage is that when you “see” Jesus and keep on seeing Him, there is no fear.  This was our time to step out of the boat; to step out of our comfortable lives and home.  Our confidence was that we were where Jesus was, and even if we began to sink, he would stretch out his hand and hold us, just like he did with Peter.

On Tuesday, we left Belize and flew home to Pennsylvania.  We made it home at about 3:00 AM.  It felt good to be back, knowing we would soon see and talk to our family.  That week we talked to both of our daughters about our plans, and after explaining what we felt God was doing in our lives and feeling they understood, we wired the deposit money to Belize so that the purchase could proceed.  Now there were lots of little “waves” in the water, but in spite of occasional overwhelming feelings about all the decisions ahead of us, we felt peace, and we were determined we would keep our eyes on Jesus.

 

(To Be Continued:  Part II in next Blog Post)

The Consequences of Hatred

Unfulfilled Desires 

Post-holiday depression is felt by many people, yet rarely has it been so prominent in our daily consciousness as in the present time.  Due primarily to the influence of today’s social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, people are freer than ever to convey their resentments without consequence.  Posts such as, “I hate my life!” or “I Can’t Do This Anymore!”  are common.

Other reasons for the visibility of depression are also probable, however, not just the ability to vent one’s emotions and feelings so freely without any repercussions, events that are extremely contagious in today’s “connected” society.

Since many people have believed the promises made to them in childhood, such as, “You can do anything you set your mind to do!” or “Your dreams can all come true!” they have grown discouraged and resentful when their life goals and desires do not seem to be coming true.  

This despair may lead to expressions and feelings of “hate,” including “hatred” towards others, such as public figures, including politicians and authority figures, whom they often see as the ultimate sources of their depression due to unfulfilled promises.

One reason hatred is increasing in the world today is that some are promoting hatred as a means of obtaining what they feel they deserve or has been promised.  Hatred is seen as the motivator, the “leverage,” that makes one make changes that promote success, fulfillment, and happiness.  Here is how one blog writer validates his hatred:

Finding that sweet spot, where I know what I hate, and why I need to challenge that hatred is central to my ability to succeed with my goals. That is what will spur me to act. Drive me away from pain. Towards pleasure. Ultimately, that is what it all boils down to. Reducing my pain. And increasing my pleasure.

So, the key is to hate the status quo with all our heart. Hate it so badly, that not acting will only take me down the hole even further.

This is also called the leverage. A point in my life where I cannot stand the pain any further. Where the misery of my painful existence is unbearable making my goal the only option to survive.

But for the leverage, I would never push myself to climb out of the pit of agony. . .I turn to my hatred towards the status quo [to] fuel my passion to succeed (Source).

A Story From Long Ago

King David of Israel committed a grievous sin, taking the life of Uriah the Hittite in order to claim the man’s wife for himself, Bathsheba.  Nathan, the prophet, confronts David, admonishing the king and foretelling the woes that would come to the royal family:

“Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. 10 Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight” (II Samuel 11:9-11).

Nathan’s prophecy began to be fulfilled through Amnon, King David’s oldest son.  Amnon was heir to the throne of Israel, one of the privileged few, intent on seeing all of his desires fulfilled, even those that were forbidden by the laws of Jehovah.  Under the Mosaic law, it was forbidden to have sexual relations outside of marriage, particularly with a relative. Amnon desired Tamar, his half-sister, with whom he believed he was in love.

Now it was after this that Absalom the son of David had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar, and Amnon the son of David loved her. Amnon was so frustrated because of his sister Tamar that he made himself ill, for she was a virgin, and it seemed hard to Amnon to do anything to her (II Samuel 13:1-2).

It was not only “hard” for Amnon to possess his half-sister, but also forbidden, yet Amnon is so lovesick that he listens to the advice of Jonadab, a counselor to the king.  Jonadab is described as a “shrewd man,” but his advice results in horrendous consequences. We later see this same man’s “shrewdness” brought into the story in the end when King David is faced with his own son’s treachery and Jonadab presumes to counsel the king.  Here is what Jonadab tells Amnon:

But Amnon had a friend whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother; and Jonadab was a very shrewd man. He said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so depressed morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Then Amnon said to him, “I am in love with Tamar, the sister of my brother Absalom.” (II Samuel 13:3-4).

Jonadab advised Amnon to pursue his sinful lusts by first pretending to be ill, then requesting that his Father King David send Tamar to him to minister to him, a request that Jonadab knew would be difficult for David to refuse.

Jonadab then said to him, “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be ill; when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Please let my sister Tamar come and give me some food to eat, and let her prepare the food in my sight, that I may see it and eat from her hand’” (II Samuel 13:5).

Amnon assents to Jonadab’s plan, and when King David came to see his supposedly ill son, Amnon asks his father to send Tamar to him so he could regain strength through the food that she prepared for him.

When Tamar arrives and prepares food for Amnon, however, he asks her to bring it to him where he is lying in his bed.  He takes hold of her, demanding that she lie with him.

Tamar refuses his request, saying,

“No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this disgraceful thing! 13 As for me, where could I get rid of my reproach? And as for you, you will be like one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you” (II Samuel 13:12-13).

Amnon is not moved by Tamar’s suggestion that they marry, and he easily overcomes Tamar’s opposition to his lusts: “However, he would not listen to her; since he was stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her” (II Samuel 13:14).

Once he has taken her virginity, Amnon’s guilt turns his love for Tamar to hatred:

 Then Amnon hated her with a very great hatred; for the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Get up, go away!” (II Samuel 13:15).

Ironically, Tamar does not feel so violated, for she finds solace in the Mosaic law commanding that a raped woman shall be able to marry the one who has violated her.  Thus, she refuses to leave Amnon. Her response relates to Deuteronomy 22:28 which states that a man who rapes a virgin must marry her.  

“If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

In addition, Tamar realizes that no other man will marry her since she has been violated:

“But she said to him, “No, because this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you have done to me!” (II Samuel 13:16).

Amnon calls his attendant, however, to take Tamar away and lock the door behind her so she cannot return.  Subsequently, Tamar goes into mourning; she “put ashes on her head and tore her long-sleeved garment which was on her; and she put her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went” (II Samuel 13:19).  

Absalom’s Hatred

Tamar then stays and lives in the home of her brother Absalom, where she remains in extreme sorrow and distress.  She has no apparent future since Amnon has taken away her promise of a happy life.  

When King David hears what has happened, he is exceptionally angry at Amnon, but perhaps because David realizes how he himself may have opened the door to Amnon’s lust for Tamar by sending her to him, David chooses not to exact punishment on his son, the heir apparent to the throne.

Absalom, however, Amnon’s half-brother, decides to take revenge in spite of his advice to Tamar not to make Amnon’s rape known: 

Then Absalom her brother said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? But now keep silent, my sister, he is your brother; do not take this matter to heart.” So Tamar remained and was desolate in her brother Absalom’s house (II Samuel 13:20).

Nevertheless, we can only imagine the intense hatred Absalom has for Amnon, as he witnesses the sorrow and depression of his sister, Tamar:

But Absalom did not speak to Amnon either good or bad; for Absalom hated Amnon because he had violated his sister Tamar (II Samuel 13:22).

After two years, Absalom hatred grows, until he plots Amnon’s death, enticing him away from King David’s protection through an elaborate plot:  inviting all of the king’s sons and servants to help with and celebrate his sheep shearing. 

When Amnon joins Absalom’s company, Absalom commands his servants to murder him:

Absalom commanded his servants, saying, “See now, when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon,’ then put him to death. Do not fear; have not I myself commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant” (II Samuel 13:28).

Subsequently, King David is erroneously told that Absalom has murdered all of his sons:

Now it was while they were on the way that the report came to David, saying, “Absalom has struck down all the king’s sons, and not one of them is left.” 31 Then the king arose, tore his clothes and lay on the ground; and all his servants were standing by with clothes torn (II Samuel 13:30-31).

King David’s nephew, Joab, who is the commander of the king’s armies, intervenes as a peacemaker. He plots with a woman, asking her to pretend to be a widow whose two sons have quarreled, resulting in the death of one of the sons.  Asking for help, she relates to King David that now the rest of her family is calling for the death of her other son.  

David assures her that “not one hair of her son will fall to the ground” (II Samuel 14:11).  

Joab has contrived this pretense, however, to show David why he must forgive Absalom for killing Amnon.  When David sides with the widow, she responds according to Joab’s instructions:

“Why then have you planned such a thing against the people of God? For in speaking this word the king is as one who is guilty, in that the king does not bring back his banished one. 14 For we will surely die and are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does not take away life, but plans ways so that the banished one will not be cast out from him (II Samuel 14:13-14). 

Seeing the justice of his own judgment for the woman, David sees also that he must forgive Absalom. He calls Joab to seek out Absalom and to bring him home to Jerusalem.  The division between David and Absalom continues, however, for many years: “However the king said, “Let him turn to his own house, and let him not see my face” (II Samuel 14:24).

Ultimately, Absalom becomes the leader of a rebellion against his father’s reign:

But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then you shall say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron’” (II Samuel 15:10).

King David flees from Jerusalem as Absalom advances, leaving his house in the hands of his concubines.  Ultimately, in another fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy, Absalom commits his own sexual sins on the advice of Ahithophel, David’s advisor.

Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house; then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father. The hands of all who are with you will also be strengthened.” 22 So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel (II Samuel 16:21-22).

Conclusion

What a story!  The sins of one man, Amnon, led to the sins of many others, all resulting in even more sins and divisions in King David’s family, and finally the dissolution of David’s kingdom, resulting in warfare among the people:

Then the people went out into the field against Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. The people of Israel were defeated there before the servants of David, and the slaughter there that day was great, 20,000 men. For the battle there was spread over the whole countryside, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword devoured (II Samuel 18:6-8).

Finally, Absalom, famous for his beautiful, extremely long hair, is ensnared in the branches of an oak tree, where he hangs helplessly until Joab stabs him with three spears, and ten young men (who carry Joab’s armor) surround Absalom and kill him.  

When King David hears the news of Absalom’s death, he is stricken with grief:

The king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And thus he said as he walked, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (II Samuel 18:33).

Hatred is Contagious

Living a life of resentment, descending into depression, and hating one’s life, or having any kind of hatred, leads to more hatred, especially hatred for other people.  

When I was growing up, many years ago, I never heard the term “hate crime,” but this designation is increasingly heard and printed today. Clearly, the causes and consequences of hatred are growing in today’s world.   

In this story of Amnon and Tamar, we can also see how hatred is severely infectious. By pursuing sinful thoughts and lusts, Amnon only ends up hating Tamar, the woman he has supposedly once fervently loved. Even if they were to continue to live together and be married, she likely would only have reminded him continually of his evil plot to take her virginity through lies and deception.

It is also likely that Absalom blames his father King David for Tamar’s rape, for Absalom ends up plotting treason against his own father, attempting to overthrow King David to become king himself.

These stories, beginning with Amnon and Tamar, extending through Absalom’s murder of Amnon and his rebellion against King David, resulting in Absalom’s death and David’s grief, all exemplify why we must follow the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts” (Romans 6:12).  And we must not allow resentments over perceived injustices to lead us to hatred, a condition that only leads to more sin.

Love, Not Hatred

Of course, the ways of the world are the opposite of what the Word of God tells us.  The Apostle Paul wrote the following admonition in his letter to the Corinthian Church:  

“Let all that you do be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:14).

Rather than hatred in any form, whether spoken or felt, love must be the source of our motivations in our lives.  And our all-knowing God is the provider of true love in our lives, for “God is love.”   

 

Reaching Intellectuals for Christ

(The Traditional site of the Areopagus at the Base of the Acropolis in Athens)

Paul at Athens

Due to the persecutions inflicted on the Apostle Paul, as well as those endured by his friends Silas and Timothy, as they sought to proclaim the Gospel to people in Thessalonica and Berea, many of whom were not at all eager to receive the Good News, Paul was escorted to Athens by those he had been ministering to, where he waited for Timothy and Silas to join him again.

It was in Athens that Paul faced a unique challenge.  Rather than being confronted by hostile Thesallonian gentiles or agitated Jews who opposed his teaching, Paul found a number of ancient intellectuals, Stoic and Epicurean philosophers, who delighted in demonstrating their mental skills to one another and sneering at those who disagreed or couldn’t follow their arguments.  

Here is the story from the Seventeenth Chapter of The Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke:

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. 17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. 18 And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?” Others, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection (Acts 17:16-18).

Significantly, Paul first shares the “Word of Truth” in Athens to the receptive Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, those people who were anxious to receive Paul’s message.  Significantly, Luke writes that Paul “was reasoning” with them, not condemning their beliefs or arguing with them.

Nevertheless, a number of Athenian philosophers sought out Paul to discover what “strange deities” he was proclaiming.  This phrase (“strange deities”) is exceptionally ironic, given the context of the culture in ancient Athens, which Luke describes as a “city full of idols,” so many idols that the people even had an altar dedicated to the worship of an “unknown” god (as we will soon see in the passage below).  

The Areopagus in Athens

First, however, the Athenian philosophers brought Paul to their gathering place (click here to learn more about this ancient site: “Areopagus“).  These intellectuals wanted to hear what Paul had to say, for as Luke describes them, these intellectuals used to do nothing all day but attempt to discover new ideas and teachings, a common approach of many intellectuals still to this day:

19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.” 21 (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.)

Their request is significant, for they seem to be open and receptive to Paul’s new teachings, even though their true attitudes are soon revealed.

Paul’s Sermon on Mars Hill (at the Areopagus)

Of course, most people today would never believe their homes and cities to be filled with idols, or objects of worship. However, this distinction is merely a matter of definition.  Please see the following poignant site for clarity on our own objects of worship in today’s culture:  http://adam4d.com/religious/

22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
Notice that Paul does not attempt to enter into an intellectual discussion or engage in a debate with these philosophers, an approach that they would not only enjoy but also one in which they would be proficient. Instead, Paul commends them for their religious propensities, while raising a provocative question about their lives and beliefs:
“I see that you have an altar in your city that is devoted to an unknown god.  Since you are apparently ignorant concerning spiritual truths, I will reveal to you the secret, or mystery, that has confounded you” [paraphrased].
In order further to engage these philosophers and entice them to listen to his words, Paul tells them that the “unknown god” they worship is the very one he himself has been declaring in Athens.  He then continues to reveal God’s attributes, specifically that God does not conform to their solipsistic  (click to see definition) notions reflected in their many idols throughout the city:
24 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; 25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; 26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;
Paul then cleverly appeals to their own Athenian interests and beliefs, at least those of their own Athenian poets:
28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
Paul then provides a significant insight that reveals how insufficient their temples and idols are in worshiping the one, true deity:  God should not be worshiped through the things He has made, reformed images made of gold and silver, or worshiped in temples made with human hands.  And all humans, regardless of their origins, were created by God to seek Him and find Him:
29 Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. 30 Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
Finally, Paul concludes his message by revealing the proof of his claims about God:  Not only is God in control of all things, but also this God may not be found through idolatry, using manmade objects made with natural elements.  Consequently, this same God is calling all men to repent of their idolatry, for all will be judged by His messenger, the One Paul proclaims who was raised from the dead as proof of His divinity.  
According to typical reactions of intellectuals who solipsistically tend to believe as factual only what they see and hear, Paul’s message, one that hinges on the possibility of a human’s being raised from the dead, is the point when the audience divides into two groups: those who immediately reject even the possibility of such a miracle and those who follow Paul’s ideas as worth pursuing and learning more about.       

32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.”

Did all of the Athenian philosophers become believers in Jesus Christ?  Having delivered his message, Paul simply left the results with God;

33 So Paul went out of their midst.

Having planted the seeds of the Gospel, however, Paul soon saw that a harvest of souls was the result:

34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

Conclusions

What may we learn from Paul’s message to the Athenian Philosophers, the intellectuals of his day? And how do we share with those in our midst today who claim to know better than others what to believe?

Clearly, we need to deliver a message of love and hope, just as we would to any seeker.  Messages filled with the fires of Hell or eternal damnation usually only alienate those who may be listening.  And see below how Paul includes the message of judgment, but not in a non-loving way.  

Speaking personally, one of the most miraculous conversions I have experienced from one of my intellectual friends in the academic world came not as a result of debates or arguments, but instead as a result of compassion and willingness to pray with that person.

Here are some additional strategies to consider:

  • Most people, specifically those we label as “intellectuals,” are not moved to change their lifelong, strongly-held beliefs as a result of debates or arguments.  Usually, these strategies only serve to strengthen them in their own beliefs and ideas.
  • We must avoid what are termed ad-hominem attacks when addressing or sharing with unbelievers.  In our society today, these attacks are common, yet they serve only to alienate those being addressed, and to do so is to commit the worst of all logical fallacies: (see ad-hominem fallacy definition by clicking).
  • We must strive to find “common ground,” while also sharing the truths of the Gospel.  Paul does this when he commends the philosophers of Athens for being “religious in all respects”:22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23)  
  • Notice in this passage Paul’s declaration that the Athenians are worshiping in “ignorance,” a statement that seems to be an ad-hominem attack.  Instead, however, Paul is merely repeating their own confession of their ignorance, for the altar is dedicated to the worship of the “UNKNOWN GOD,” presumably to ensure that they do not mistakenly leave any particular god out of their lives of devotion.  
  • Finally, Paul makes clear to the philosophers that listening and adhering to his message will benefit them greatly, as he delivers a warning that they need to repent of their ignorance in preparation for the judgments to come.  

The Mystery of Pain

After enduring pain in my shoulder (rotator cuff) for several weeks, my orthopedic specialist gave me a cortisone shot. The shot was more than just a “pinch,” as shots are usually called by medical caregivers, but I was grateful afterwards, for I could move my shoulder again without feeling like I had been stabbed with an ice-pick!

This experience with pain was in addition to my craniotomy last fall and the onset of migraine headaches.  Physical pain is bad enough, but emotional and mental pain can be just as bad, if not more perplexing and burdensome.

Anyone who has chronic pain of one kind or another is usually moved to ask, “Why?  Why do I have pain in my life?”

Years ago, I learned some answers to these questions by studying the disease of leprosy that appears so often in the Bible.

Leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, is an infection caused by bacteria that are contracted  by direct contact or through the air by sneezes or coughs.  Leprosy is highly contagious, therefore, which explains the prohibitions given to lepers in the Bible to prevent the spread of the disease.

(Click here to read Leviticus 13 for a description of the disease and its symptoms, along with some of the restrictions placed on lepers.)

Leprosy bacteria multiply slowly, so the disease may take years to fully manifest, but when it does, the symptoms are very visible, especially on the skin.  Here are some of the symptoms:

  • Skin lesions that may be faded/discolored
  • Growths on the skin
  • Thick, stiff or dry skin
  • Severe pain
  • Numbness on affected areas of the skin
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis (especially in the hands and feet)
  • Eye problems that may lead to blindness
  • Enlarged nerves (especially those around the elbow and knee)
  • A stuffy nose
  • Nosebleeds
  • Ulcers on the soles of feet

(Click to see source.)

What About Pain?

When leprosy becomes active, which may take two-three years after initial exposure, it eventually attacks the nervous system, leading to numbness in the nerves on the skin and the loss of feeling or sensation on the hands and feet.

Read a fuller description here:

Many have thought leprosy to be a disease of the skin. It is better classified, however, as a disease of the nervous system because the leprosy bacterium attacks the nerves. Leprosy’s agent M. leprae is a rod-shaped bacterium related to the tuberculosis bacterium. Leprosy is spread by multiple skin contacts, as well as by droplets from the upper respiratory tracts, such as nasal secretions that are transmitted from person to person.

Its symptoms start in the skin and peripheral nervous system (outside the brain and spinal cord), then spread to other parts, such as the hands, feet, face, and earlobes. Patients with leprosy experience disfigurement of the skin and bones, twisting of the limbs, and curling of the fingers to form the characteristic claw hand. Facial changes include thickening of the outer ear and collapsing of the nose. (Source)

The worst danger from the bacteria arises, therefore, when a burn or another kind of injury occurs, for example, and the leper does not feel the injury due to the lack of sensation at the site: “The leprosy bacillus destroys nerve endings that carry pain signals; therefore patients with advanced leprosy experience a total loss of physical pain. When these people cannot sense touch or pain, they tend to injure themselves or be unaware of injury caused by an outside agent” (Source).

Pain’s Purpose

Imagine putting your hand on a very hot iron or woodstove and not feeling anything.  You may end up leaving your hand on the heat for quite a while, resulting in a terrible burn.  If you had felt the pain initially, you would have quickly acted to remove your hand.

Consequently, as a result of an inability to feel pain, the leper does not react quickly, so the injury becomes quite severe, leading to extreme damage to the body.

Leprosy: A Metaphor for Sin

Leprosy was so dreaded that lepers were shunned, and they were required to announce their presence to others and were forbidden from touching anyone to prevent the spread of the disease:

As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46)

Leprosy was so dreaded, and the commandments of God were so clear, that lepers were shunned. Lepers were declared to be “unclean.” To prevent the spread of the disease, lepers were required to announce their presence to others and were forbidden even from touching anyone else.  Being shunned must have led to extraordinarily painful emotional distress, a switch from one kind of pain to another.

Incurable by man, many believed God inflicted the curse of leprosy upon people for the sins committed. In fact, those with leprosy were so despised and loathed that they were not allowed to live in any community with their own people (Numbers 5:2). Among the sixty-one defilements of ancient Jewish laws, leprosy was second only to a dead body in seriousness. A leper wasn’t allowed to come within six feet of any other human, including his own family. The disease was considered so revolting that the leper wasn’t permitted to come within 150 feet of anyone when the wind was blowing. Lepers lived in a community with other lepers until they either got better or died. This was the only way the people knew to contain the spread of the contagious forms of leprosy. (Source)

Being shunned must have led to extraordinarily painful emotional distress, a switch from one kind of pain to another. The consequences of leprosy, therefore, are analogous to the consequences of sin.  When we are infected with sin in our lives, we become “unclean,” and our sin may even infect others with serious consequences.  Sin results in severe consequences in our lives, both physically and mentally.  Like leprosy, these consequences may take years to yield their results in mental distress and physical deformities.

Like the symptoms of leprosy, the consequences of sin in our lives may take years to yield their results in mental distress and physical deformities.  Yet, we should dread the symptoms of sin even more than those of leprosy, for the consequences of sin are death and eternal separation from God.

Jesus Cleanses the Leper

Jesus Christ, however, is the answer for both leprosy and sin, along with the resulting mental and physical deformities and anguish:

When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4)

Jesus is willing to cleanse us wholly, in spirit, soul, and body.  He renews a right spirit within us and restores our souls.  Like King David, we may pray the following prayer in faith:

Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalms 51:9-11)

Jesus Himself, because of His love for us, is the One who restores our souls and cleanses us from all the consequences of sin.  See what the Apostle Peter wrote about the crucifixion of Christ:

And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (I Peter 2:23-25)

While on the cross and before His ascension into Heaven, therefore, Jesus became our substitute, taking our sins upon Himself and cleansing us from all unrighteousness if we will only accept Him.  By faith (which is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” Hebrews 11:1), we may receive His ultimate cleansing in spirit, soul, and body, taking away our pain.

Today, we constantly seek ways to escape our pain, whether through cortisone shots, or pills, or certain “relaxation techniques” that are essentially occultic.  While we do not like the experience of pain in our lives, we should seek the causes of our pain and be thankful to a wise and loving God who gave us nerves that help us feel the pain of dangerous situations, thereby protecting us from further harm and disabilities.  And above all, we need to find our answer to pain in the forgiveness provided  by God and the salvation offered through the sacrifice of His Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

 

What Is the Nature of True Confession?

True Humility Versus False Humility

What is humility?  It is the quality or condition of being humble, of having a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, status, or rank.  

It is surprising to me, however, how many in the Church, especially those who may lead in prayer or praise ministries, take on a false humility by focusing on their own “unworthiness,” telling the congregation that they, and we, all are nothing more than “ugly sinners saved by grace,” or “dead in our trespasses and sins, not worthy to invoke or receive the promises of God.”

One of the most relevant passages in one of the most significant books of the New Testament, however, declares the falsity of these statements.  In fact, such declarations are fully demonstrated to be examples of false humility by the Apostle Paul.

Paul states to the Corinthian Church why true believers are no longer defined by a sinful nature as they once were before coming to Jesus Christ as their Savior and Redeemer from sin:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (II Corinthians 5:17)

In itself, this verse alone couldn’t be more clear in revealing to us who we are in Christ Jesus:  If we are “in Christ,” we have a “new” nature, for we are now a “new creature.”  

Paul elsewhere describes our former sinful nature as the “old man,” as opposed to the “new man” we have become in Christ:

Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him. (Colossians 3:9-10)

And Paul exhorts the believers in Ephesus to act on the new standing they have obtained in Christ:

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind. (Ephesians 4:20-23)

Being “renewed in the spirit of your mind” simply means that we need to change our minds about who we are in Jesus Christ.

Paul’s Teaching to the Romans

Paul further expounds on these truths in depth in his letter to the Romans, as he writes in the following passage from Romans 6:1-18, and 8:1,6.  I have underlined some of the most relevant portions of the text:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?  Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.  For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!  Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that  though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:1-18, and 8:1,6)

 

Looking Ahead and Not Backwards

I just heard from someone the other day who gave me a very simple guideline for living victoriously.  She said that when we drive, we don’t just look at the rearview mirror.  If we only did that, we would eventually crash!  Instead, we need to look forward to the future with expectant hope, trusting that the Lord Jesus has not only forgiven us of all our sins, but also redeemed us from their curse of eternal separation from God.

Let me be clear.  I am not saying that we have never sinned.  In order to receive Jesus as Lord, we need to confess all of our sins, as the Apostle John writes:

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (I John 1:8-10)

However, if we have been forgiven and redeemed, we need to act like we have been transformed by His power and consider ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ! Above all, we must not continue in sinful behaviors and practices, then publicly confess to relieve our consciences.  

To those who mistakenly believe that we need to denigrate the finished work of Christ in order to make unbelievers comfortable in our presence, I suggest that they do not go on presenting the members of their bodies to sin as instruments of unrighteousness by seeing themselves as sinners. Instead, believe and confess that you have been “born again” in Christ’s likeness.  As a result of this rebirth, you are no longer “such a worm,” as the old hymn “At the Cross” suggests (These are Isaac Watt’s lyrics; see this site: Watt.)

Marveling at the Miraculous by Jan Jenkins

The Miracle

As Peter and John are going to the temple to pray, at the temple gate they hear a man calling to them.  They see a forty-year-old lame man who depends on handouts to support his existence in his disabled condition.  What the man doesn’t realize is that his condition might actually be changed so that he need not continue to beg.

Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. And a man who had been lame from his mother’s womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms.

But Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, “Look at us!” And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and beganto walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.

And all the people saw him walking and praising God; and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

This beautiful story is a reminder that God often sees a greater ailment that may need healing, one that is far more significant than what we may have been asking or praying for.

Peter stops and tells the man that he does not possess what the man is begging for, although he does have something far greater.  Peter says, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!”  He then grabs the man’s right hand and raises him up.  Luke, the author of the book of Acts, writes that “immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened” (Acts 3:7). 

Not only is the man strengthened, but also he begins “walking and leaping and praising God” (v.8).  People who saw him praising God were astounded because they knew something miraculous had happened, knowing that this was the man who had been carried daily to the temple gate to plead for sustenance.

At this point, Peter answers the amazement of the people by preaching his second recorded sermon.  He assures his listeners that faith in the name of Jesus is what has brought strength and healing to this man (Acts 3:16).  He then reminds the people that God’s prophets had foretold of “His Christ,” and that by repenting of their sins, they may experience Christ’s presence and  the “times of refreshing.”  Consequently, this is a reminder to us that we need to repent and make sure we can approach our Savior with a clear conscience and a clean heart.

Persecution

Next, the priests and Sadducees who have been also listening, see to it that John and Peter are arrested since this is the only immediate way they can keep them from speaking the truth.  In spite of Peter and John’s arrest, as many as 5,000 men who had heard the message believed!  When given the opportunity to testify the next day, Peter again states that the man (who is standing there next to Peter) was made well “by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 4:10).  He tells the high priest and the others of “high priestly descent” that there is salvation only through Jesus.  Peter’s words are a reminder that it is through the power of the mighty name of Jesus that we are made whole–not our good works, our power, our religious knowledge, or our social or political standing.

Peter’s message leaves these educated leaders speechless, and they are unable to reply.  They begin talking among themselves, trying to decide what should be done with Peter and the other men with him.

But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that anoteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.” (Acts 4:15-17)

In a feeble effort to control Peter and John, they command them not to teach any more about Jesus.  The apostles answer by saying that it is impossible for them to stop speaking about what they have “seen and heard.”

Sharing With Others

It is natural for us to want to share our experiences with others, whether they involve a fabulous vacation, a newborn baby, or career advancement.  How much greater is the urge to share the good news of salvation and healing to those who are seeking answers or to those in perilous situations.

So, what did the officials do?  They “threatened them further” (Acts 4:21), but their threats were empty. They couldn’t punish Peter and John because of the crowds of people glorifying God!

When the apostles were finally released, they went back to their companions to report what had happened to them.  Additionally, they prayed together asking to speak God’s word with confidence while He extends His hand to heal in the name of Jesus.  (Acts 4:29 – 30).  They are absolutely aware that it is the power of God through the name of Jesus that is the source of these signs and wonders.

Finally, when they had prayed, the building was shaken and they were once again filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s word with boldness.  In the same way, the only way we can fully share God’s message is through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

Therefore, what are the steps we must take to ensure our own growth and faith, as evidenced by this story?

  • First, recognize that God is in control, and we need to trust Him to guide us when we speak to others, knowing that what that person wants may not be all that God has for him or her.
  • Second, make sure we have a repentant heart and a clear conscience so that we may clearly hear the voice of the Lord when He is leading.
  • Third, the power of the name of Jesus is what makes us whole.  It is not about us and our good works.
  • Fourth, maintain a close relationship with the Lord through His word and by hearing His voice, so we can share with others the “signs and wonders” that we are experiencing.
  • Fifth, it is God “who works in us both to will and do His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
  • Sixth, the only way we can truly share God’s love and His good news to others is through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.

 

What Is True Repentance?

In the context of a short story or novel we might be reading in a college English class, I often asked the following questions of my students:  

How many of you believe that all people are innately evil? How many believe people are innately good, but may do some evil things occasionally?

Significantly, most students showed by raising their hands their belief that people were innately good.  Class discussion revealed their belief that it was only the influence of such problems as poverty or a lack of education that made people do evil things. Thus, simply relieving people of their deficiencies in food, shelter, or comfort would mean such acts as theft, lying, or even murder would cease in our world.

The consequence of this belief is that our culture today seems focused on convincing everyone, beginning with children, that they need to “accept” themselves for who they are and that their ideas or thoughts are natural and normal for them, even if not for anyone else.  Self-acceptance is seen as the first step towards normality. Being “assertive” is seen as a positive attribute, even though some behaviors may lead to the point of violating the lives of others.

And feeling guilty for any action is perceived as self-destructive, so every effort must be made just to “be who we are,” accept ourselves and others without demanding change. Any criticism of a person’s appearance or behavior is seen as bigoted or hateful, even if they may possibly be hurtful to themselves or others.

To subtly show my students in a secular environment, at least in a preliminary way, how humans are not “noble savages” but selfish and even evil, I shared my experiences as a parent and as an observer of other parents that a child never needs to be taught how to lie, or steal, or disobey, a point on which the students agreed. On the other hand, I argued, a child needs to be taught from the beginning what is selfish or rebellious, and children need to be shown how to be loving and kind.

Just on an experiential level, therefore, this illustration showed that all human beings are sinful by nature.  In spiritual terms, we all are sinful, not just because we all have inherited Adam’s sinfulness, but also because we do not have the presence of God in our lives, the same closeness Adam and Eve once had with God walking with Him in the Garden of Eden.  This relationship was lost due to their disobedience and willingness to listen to the temptations of the serpent, or Satan.

Having A Conscience

Even so, most people at least have a conscience, an “inner voice” that tells them when they are disobedient or rebellious, one that is imparted at least culturally or through peer pressure.

Recent studies have shown, however, that some people (one in twenty-five is the number estimated) have no conscience whatsoever, and they feel no guilt, shame, or remorse for their selfish or rebellious behaviors. They only feel frustration or remorse if they are exposed or caught in their malicious behaviors, rather than feeling any true guilt or sorrow.  They become more intent on hiding their behaviors in the future to avoid the negative social pressures of being uncovered, the only immediate consequences of their actions.

This condition is labeled psychopathic in psychological terms, or more benignly as “antisocial personality disorder.”  

Even psychopaths may be forgiven, redeemed, and changed, however, for the Scriptures teach that even though “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” all may be saved from the deadly consequences of sin.

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:34-35)

Sin Is Universal

The Apostle John explains the sinful existence of all human beings:

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (I John 1:8-10).

The Apostle Paul, among many others, also taught in his letters that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Paul uses the term “old man” to described the sinful nature that must die in order for the new creation in Christ my fully live.  This new creation, the “new man,”  is what Jesus referred to as being “born again.”

Paul also says that his “inner man” is constantly waging war against the law of sin in his body:

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25)

Christ Jesus is the Way, Paul says, and the Apostle continues to provide the solution for this warfare:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

Rather than trying to follow the Law perfectly, as many try to do through “will power,” which only serves to worsen our guilt, the Apostle Paul writes that following the rules of the Law legalistically is impossible.  It is a course that is destined to end in defeat and failure. Instead, we must be set free to walk in the new Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, or in Christ’s own words, being “born again.”

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (II Corinthians 5:17)

In order to become like Christ, consequently, two steps need to be taken.  First, we need to repent of our sins, and second we need to be born again, or to receive the new nature that is the Spirit of Christ.

True Repentance

Although being born again is a gift of God by His grace, repentance is not a gift but a necessity, an obligation. Just as Adam’s sin was the result of an act of the will, or free choice, so repentance is determined by one’s own decision by the grace of God.  

Why is true repentance so difficult?  It means we have to make a decision to die to our old lives first in order to be born again.  We have to admit that we were mistaken or wrong, that we have been traveling in the wrong direction and need to turn around. Paul writes,

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:2o)

Many believe that repentance means just being sorry for the sins in their lives. However, true repentance means that we must turn from the direction we are traveling and go back in the opposite direction.  It’s a complete turnaround, one which says, “I will no longer go in that direction.”

Therefore, unless we are suffering from the evil consequences in our lives, repentance from sin is usually extremely difficult for us, for a number of reasons.  

First, most sins are pleasurable, at least initially before the ultimate consequences are known or discovered.

Second, to completely change one’s habits, lifestyle, or “sexual orientation,” for example, seems to be cruel and contrary to the freedoms we should all be allowed to enjoy.  Anyone who even suggests such a reversal is described at hateful and bigoted, even if the future consequences are certain, if not in this life at least in the next.

Yet how is it hateful to warn someone who is about to walk over the edge of a cliff to certain death or destruction?

Dying to Self

This is why repentance in the Church is symbolized by baptism in water, a symbolic way of dying, as Paul explains our in the following passage from Romans:

How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:3-7)

When we are baptized, we declare to the world, to Satan, and to ourselves that we have repented of our sins and intend to live a life of freedom from sin.

Clearly, baptism today has been practiced either without true repentance, as in infant baptism, or not at all, for many in the church today have either not been baptized at all, or they continue to live in sinful conditions. Some even have served in church ministry, yet never taken a stand publicly and openly declared both their repentance and their determination no longer to be a slave to sin.

 

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Available Now!

My new book is now available in eBook format.  Among other sites, find it in Kindle, Nook by clicking on the following links:  

Kindle on Amazon

Nook on Barnes and Noble

 

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About this Book:

In these pages I share and explain insights into biblical “mysteries,” a word used by both Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. I begin with methods of biblical interpretation, including how to “rightly divide” the Scriptures, then I proceed to reveal insights into a number of perplexing biblical “mysteries.” In doing so, I use both historical fiction and autobiographical approaches to help the ideas come alive.

The Apostle Paul wrote that “a natural man does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (I Corinthians. 2:14). Consequently, I seek to explain how to search the Scriptures wisely, beginning with some simple methods that help uncover the spiritual depths of the Words of God, not just their literal meanings.

With this foundation, I then lead the reader through a number of lessons necessary for seeing in the Spirit, seeking foremost to define what Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, and others meant by this term “mystery,” a word often used to describe the secrets that God desires to reveal to us: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden” (I Corinthians 2:7).

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