Wednesday, March 29, 2017

BETHEL - THE PLACE OF WORSHIP

The man Jacob was on the run. He had done something that, in his time and place, was disgraceful and loathsome. He was the second born of his family, albeit by only a couple of minutes. Nevertheless, if one is inclined to be precise, his twin brother Esau did precede him in his birth, and in that culture, these minutes meant everything. Many of the rights of inheritance were vested on the first born simply by virtue of the fact of his primogeniture.
 

The Birthright

Jacob’s minutes older brother Esau, however, had little regard for the privileges that he had received simply by virtue of him being the eldest son. Sometime before Jacob began his escape from the consequences of his disgraceful deed, Esau had showed contempt for those inheritance rights when he uncaringly traded them to his younger twin for a bowl of red soup.

This maneuver by Jacob to gain his older brother’s rights might be considered by some to be enough to make Esau angry, but now, Jacob had done something that had especially enraged the older brother. It was from this latest wrath of Esau that Jacob was fleeing.

Their elderly and nearly blind father, Isaac, wanted to give Esau his blessing. “I am now an old man and I do not know the day of my death,” Isaac said to Esau. “Now then, take up your weapons, your quiver and bow, and go out into the field to hunt some wild game so that you can prepare the kind of tasty food that I like. Then I will eat it and I will give to you my blessing” (Genesis 27:2). 

The Deceit

However, Isaac’s wife Rebecca heard of her husband’s plan and informed Jacob. Jacob was her favorite. She favored him so much that she wanted to go against tradition and arrange for Jacob to receive the blessing instead of Esau. Rebecca cooked up a plan (in more ways than one) in order to steal the blessing from Esau.

Friday, March 24, 2017

NEW BOOK AVAILABLE NOW

The new book, The View From My Porch, just became available. I hope that you enjoy it. I sure enjoyed writing it!
You can order it at:      https://www.createspace.com/6940127
As always, thanks for reading,
Don
 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

THE QUESTION OF JOB - WHY DO PEOPLE SUFFER?

One of the most ancient of stories in any language is the story of Job. Most people in Christendom know the story well. Job’s wealth was legendary. It is said that he was the “greatest of all men of the east.” However, even before we learn that fact about Job, we are told that he was a “blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”

The story of Job is how God allows this wealthy and righteous man to be chastised by the hand of Satan. All that Job possessed was taken away in an astonishing series of disasters. One by one, messengers came to Job to report a catastrophe.

There was first an attack by some nomads of the area. They slew Job’s workers in the fields and took his oxen and his donkeys. The messenger who had come to tell Job of these things had not even finished speaking when one of his shepherds also came to Job with another disaster that had struck. He described a fire that had fallen from the sky and consumed all the sheep and all of the other shepherds. The messenger alone had escaped.

No sooner had this one finished his report, when yet another man burst in with some more terrible news. There had been an attack by the Chaldeans, who raided all of Job’s camels and killed the servants who were attending them. As Job sat in shocked astonishment at this devastating series of reports, still another came. Job’s ten children, for whom he had prayed daily, had all been in the house of the oldest son when a great wind came. The house collapsed on them and killed them all.

Job staggered to his feet, tore his robe as a sign of his anguish, and shaved his head as an indication of his grief. His strength taken from him, he fell to the ground. His reactions to this cursed day could have been many. Most men would have probably uttered curses of anguish. However, of all the reactions that Job might have had in response to all that he had endured, his response was to fall to the ground and worshiped the Name of the Lord.

He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord” (Job 1:21 NAS).

But even with all that had already happened to him, Job had not seen the end of the disasters that were to befall him. He was about to endure extreme physical agony.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A SIGN FOR MOSES

I suppose that I, too, would have stopped to investigate the strange sight. Moses, the Israelite who had fled Egypt for fear of his life, was watching the flocks of his Father-in-law in far-off Midian. As Moses walked near mount Horeb, he saw a bush that seemed to be burning, but it was not being consumed by the fire. As Moses approached the bush, he heard the voice of God speaking to him out of the midst of it.

“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:10-12 ESV). 

This was the call of Moses by God to lead the Israelite nation out of their captivity in Egypt. So demanding and at times so frustrating would this task become, that there may have been moments later in the life of Moses when he wished he had never turned aside from his intended path to see a bush that was burning but not being consumed. Perhaps if he had known all that lie ahead of him he would have hesitated in obeying God even more than he did at the time.

Indeed, when God told him of his plan for Moses to stand before Pharaoh and to go to the Children of Israel to tell them that God had appointed him to bring them out of Egypt, Moses began to argue with God. It was a daunting task. Moses had tried it once before – forty years previous to that time.

Concerning that time forty years earlier, the first martyr Stephen would say of Moses, “He supposed that his brothers understood that God was giving them deliverance by his hand, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:25). Moses probably felt that if the Israelites did not accept him forty years ago, they certainly would not accept him now. 

What Had Happened in Egypt

Friday, March 10, 2017

ANTICIPATING THE DAY

I have begun a new publishing house and this is the first book I am publishing.
Available now through Amazon.com. Direct link below:
 
 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

THE HARLOT

One would think that the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews could have dispensed with the title “harlot” when referring to Rehab, a woman who had lived in the Old Testament days.
 
After all, when he wrote about “Rahab the harlot,” as he calls her, about seventeen hundred years had passed since she had practiced that trade. And she had done other things in her life– more noteworthy things. In fact, it was one of those other and more significant things about which the author writes:
 
"By faith, the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith, Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace" (Hebrews 11:30-31 NIV).
 
The spies of this verse are not the twelve spies that had been sent in to spy out the land shortly after the Israelites made their exodus out of Egypt. That occurrence had happened some forty years earlier. The spies referred to in this case were only two in number, and they went in specifically to spy out the city of Jericho, the same city that Joshua was contemplating when he met with the captain of the host of the Lord.

The Story of Rehab

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

ASH WEDNESDAY

If you are in the custom of watching the local evening news, on almost any given evening, you may see a story about some unfortunate family who had just suffered a devastating house fire. Perhaps even some of you have had this experience. As the reporter interviews the family, they are usually standing in front of what was once their home. In the background is the rubble of their building, and ashes. Many ashes.

Ashes are what is left after all that is useful is burned away. After the fire has consumed all that was worth consuming, it leaves the ashes. Ashes are the useless byproduct of disaster. Even the fire refuses these.

To our Ash Wednesday service I brought some ashes that I collected from our fireplace in our home. After the fire has gone out, there are the ashes that remain. These hold no value for me. No matter how many of these ashes that I collect, I could never heat our home with them. They are worthless to me.

Today we as a church are observing Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lent season in the church calendar. The Lent season is the time during the year that commemorates the forty days of fasting in the wilderness that Jesus accomplished before he endured the temptation of Satan.

The Celebration

The commemoration of Ash Wednesday and even the commemoration of Lent is not something that God has instructed us to do, but is purely a church tradition. Thus, like all human traditions, we need to be a little careful what meaning we put into it. If we are holding this service and observing Ash Wednesday out of some sense of duty or to fulfill a requirement, or simply because we have always done it, we are missing the point.

However, if we use these moments together to truly reflect on our relationship with God and with our fellow man, then our observance of Ash Wednesday and of the entire Lent season will be very meaningful.

I would like to give you two things pertaining to the image of the ashes to think about during this season of Lent.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

WHOSE SIDE IS GOD ON?

The “Holy War” had been proclaimed.

The religious extremist shouted, “We must take up arms to drive out the infidels from the land! They are the enemies of our faith!  To die in the holy war is to be rewarded in heaven and your assurance of salvation!  Your highest calling is to go to war and to kill the enemies of God!  God has willed it!”

Reading these words in light of current events, we might assume they were spoken by Mullah Omar, Osama Bin Laden, or perhaps some leader from ISIS.  But in this particular case to which I am referring, they were not.  These words were not spoken by any Islamic leader against the west or against Christians.

They instead were spoken by the leader of the Christian church in order to raise up a great crusade to drive the Muslims out of the Holy Land.  His call came at the end of the eleventh century. 

Nine Hundred Years

Today we stand at the beginning of the twenty-first century.  It is almost incredulous how the rhetoric has been reversed.  Nine hundred years ago, it was the Christians who waged a holy war against Islam.  Today, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in Palestine and in increasingly more places in the Middle East and even in the west, the Jihad has been raised against all that the Islamists see as the enemies of Islam.

The intervening years may have brought about many changes, but there is one thing that has remained constant.  In all times, and on all sides of a conflict, in what are described as “holy wars,” everyone claims to be fighting in the Name of God. Combatants are quick to proclaim that God is on their side.

I watched the image of a twelve year old Afghani boy on the television news a couple of years ago.  His young mind had been solidly indoctrinated to believe that the Taliban, despite the fact that they had so brutally ruled his country, were building a government in Afghanistan as Allah would have it done.

“The Taliban will never fall,” the young boy said, “because God is on our side!” 

“You will succeed,” the Pope told the crusaders of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, “because God is on your side!”

Today in the West, we do not agree with the twelve year old Afghani boy.  We look on Al Qaeda, the Taliban and also as the ISIS movement as being regimes of extreme evil. Each one in succession seems to only have increased in their cruelty.  The brutality of their actions against all who do not agree with them, and the violence that they have wrought in their own countries and around the world have demonstrated clearly their wickedness.  We believe that in fighting them we are fighting evil.

But nine hundred years ago the same might have been said of the crusaders who marched under the Christian banner to combat what they saw as the infidels of that day. The massacre that took place by the crusaders after the taking of Jerusalem was almost beyond belief.

Whose side is God on?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

THE DESTROYER OF CULTURES

For several years, I worked as a trainer of pastors in churches all throughout Latin America and also for a few short years in the islands of the Pacific. Because of this work, I often traveled to some remote areas. As I did, I listened to and tried to understand many various perspectives from a great variety of several people. Through all of these experiences, I learned to greatly appreciate the differences we have among us as people.

During this time I was also working as a missionary of the Christian church. This fact caused me to have to consider the following question: How do I reconcile the spread of Christianity with the preservation of indigenous cultures? 

THE DESTROYER OF CULTURES

Once on a trip to Venezuela, I found myself in a conversation with a young German student at the airport in Caracas as we waited for our out-going flights to go home – he back to Germany and I to Guatemala, where I was living at the time. The country and the people of Venezuela were well known to me, since I had earlier lived there for many years. On this trip, however, I had only returned for a visit.

I had been to Venezuela to conduct a pastor’s training seminar. When I told the young German about my work and that I was doing similar work in several countries at that time, our conversation began to become centered on a theme that I had often had with travelers.

The theme has to do with the effect of Christianity on local cultures. Because of my work in different countries and because of the fact that I often worked with people from indigenous cultures, I was fair game for criticism from other travelers who pop in to a country to visit certain areas in order to get a cultural “experience” and then go back home. 

Two Types of Travelers

Actually, I usually appreciated hearing the various perspectives and opinions of these travelers and I usually learned something from what they had to tell me. Gaining such insights from people who have diverse points of view is one of the aspects of my work that I have enjoyed.

Because I generally worked with people at the local level in areas where there were relatively few tourists, the tourists that I did meet in these areas were usually people who were sensitive to cultural issues and appreciated the differences that we have among us as people. This, to me, is much preferable to a second type of traveler that I would meet.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

ABANDONED BY GOD

One of the saddest words in all of human speech is the word abandonment. It brings to mind the terror in a child’s eyes the moment that he realizes that his mother no longer wants him. Or the sense of despair that a starving refugee has after having walked and crawled a hundred miles to what he thought was a feeding station, only to find when he arrives at the place that there is nothing.

Abandonment is the worst kind of despair because not only is it a feeling of hopelessness, but it also comes with the blow of having placed one’s trust in someone, only to be forsaken by them. When we trust someone, we become vulnerable to that person. We give that person the power not only to help us, but also to hurt us to the core of our being.

These cases of abandonment can be great or they can be small. Many times, we are able to rise above and overcome this abandonment by someone whom we had trusted, but even the small cases can have a cumulative effect that might bring us eventually to a breaking point.

The sense of abandonment can also come from what seems to be a hopeless situation. We drop our bucket into a well that we have stumbled onto in the middle of a dry and barren desert, only to hear it hit a bottom as equally thirsty as our own parched throat. It would have been better if there were no well at all, rather than to have our hopes elevated and then shattered. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

THE SOUND OF BATTLE

Now when Joshua heard the sound of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a sound of war in the camp.”

But he said, “It is not the sound of the cry of triumph, nor is it the sound of the cry of defeat; but the sound of singing I hear.” (Exodus 32:17-18 NAS) 
***************************************
 “Go down at once,” the Lord said to Moses on Mount Sinai, “for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves” (Exodus 32:7 NAS).

It was the incident of the Golden Calf. In the days before this incident that took place at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Israelites had just been delivered by the powerful hand of God from four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. In their exodus from that land of slavery, they had witnessed God’s great power in the ten plagues that he had brought upon the Egyptian nation and on Pharaoh, so that Pharaoh would finally agree to let Moses lead the Israelites out of the country.

However, Pharaoh later had a change of mind and sent his vast army to pursue the Israelites. As God’s children fled before the armies of Egypt, they saw the Red Sea open before them so that they could pass through. When the Israelites had crossed the sea, they looked back and saw the water close up again to swallow up the Egyptian army. The army had been right on their heels in their pursuit.

But those events were behind the people of Israel now. They were entering into a new relationship with God, and Moses was the man whom had been appointed by God to be their representative. At one point not long after the people had escaped from Egypt, Moses had climbed Mount Sinai with Joshua to meet with God to learn of God’s vision and plans for this new nation. However, the people at the foot of the mountain were growing tired of waiting for the return of Moses from the heights of the mountain. It would be forty days and forty nights before Moses finally did come down (Exodus 24:18). The people had grown increasingly impatient for him to return. The Israelites had expected a lot more from Moses and apparently wanted it a lot sooner. They were restless. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

IF JESUS CAME AS THE PRINCE OF PEACE, WHAT HAPPENED TO PEACE?

The birth of Jesus came with announcements of peace. On the night that he was born, a “multitude of the heavenly host” appeared to some humble shepherds and declared to them: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14 KJV).

Even before this announcement, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, foretold of Christ’s coming that would “give light to them who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79 KJV).

Each year at Christmas time, when we celebrate the birth of the Christ child, one of the most used words in our greetings is the word “Peace.” Christmas cards prominently display the word peace, and in our Christmas carols, we sing of peace. Every year we hear it said that our greatest desire is for “Peace on Earth.”

Christmas is, after all, the celebration of the coming of the Prince of Peace. It may even be that we have heard these words so much that it has become a cliché.

Nevertheless, despite all of our talk of peace, every year it seems that we again face a year not of peace on earth, but rather conflicts on every side. In recent years, we have seen the brutality of man against man to an extent of raw violence that we have not seen since the middle ages. We might say the same as true of our day as it was when the prophet Jeremiah of old said, “They say ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.”

We do not know what the future may hold in present day world relations. The only thing that we can say with certainty is that it all remains uncertain.

What is troubling to many is this: if it has been two thousand years since we have been visited by the Prince of Peace, why is it that we continue to face only conflict?