Monday, September 29, 2014

CASCARÍ - PART 3

(please scroll down to first read parts 1 and 2 if you have not already done so)
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WISDOM THAT THE EYE DOES NOT SEE

The little church of Cascarí had some things in common with the first century church of Corinth.  In some regards, both churches were struggling.  Both had seen people who once professed to be Christian, fall away from the teaching and go back to the culture of the world.

For many of Cascarí, their enslavement to the world the second time was perhaps stronger than the first. I am not sure what to say about this, except, “May the Lord have mercy on their souls.”


These unfaithful ones tended to give a negative representation of the Christian life to the people of the village of Cascarí, but I instead preferred to concentrate on the few whom had remained faithful in their commitment, despite all hardships.  Their continued commitment had not brought them prosperity, nor did it make their lives free from trouble.  Outwardly, one could say that their faith had brought them no benefit whatsoever. But despite these things, they continued in the Lord.

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.  (1 Corinthians 1:21 NAS).

Why have the people of the church of Cascarí continued faithful to God, despite all of the ridicule that they endured?  Listening to the weekly testimonies from the people of the church, I would have to say that the heart of the matter is embodied in this same passage in First Corinthians

…Just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God…Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God (1 Corinthians 2:9-12 NAS).
 
In many ways, the Christians of Cascarí had despaired in gaining anything of substance from this life.  I really think that they did not expect their lot to improve significantly – financially or otherwise.  They worked when they could find it. And they hoped. But they had lived within the financial limits of their situation long enough that they also knew that they had to be realistic.

Nevertheless, despite the weekly prayer requests for work and for family and health, there was an underlying contentment and peace about the people there.  There was a confidence that God would adequately provide in this life.

However, the hope of a life completely free from want and trouble would be reserved for another day.  This is the type of hope demonstrated by the Old Testament saints – a hope that is linked with confidence.  Like Abraham and Sarah of old, the people of the church in Cascarí were waiting to see what God has prepared for them in the heavenly kingdom.

THOSE OF WHOM THE WORLD IS NOT WORTHY

Is this foolishness and defeatism?  I think that rather it is wisdom.  In the eyes of this age, the difference between a successful life and an unsuccessful life is a few thousand dollars – a somewhat foolish measure when you think about it.  From the view of the age to come, the difference between a successful life and an unsuccessful life is the object of our faith.

The object of the faith of the people in the little church high in the mountains was this: “A demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that…faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5 NAS).

I could tell that the Christians of Cascarí, because of their life of struggle and little education, in some ways felt a little inferior to the rest of the world. But I should not be surprised to see them one day being recognized for their great wisdom.

They have come to expect little from this life. They were too occupied thinking about what the Lord has prepared for them in the next.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

CASCARÍ - PART 2


NOT MANY WISE, NOT MANY MIGHTY
 
This is the portion of Scripture that Brother Luis was reading when we came in that morning:

For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God  (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NAS).


The life of a Christian was not an easy one for those people of Cascarí.  The village was known in the area for its drunkenness and the rather sordid lifestyle of many of the people.  Because of the teachings of the Bible concerning the dangers of a promiscuous life, many people of the village did not want anything to do with the church.

For several years the church had been made up mostly of young children and older people.  When the children of the village of Cascarí entered into their teenage years, they would usually yield to the pull of the predominate lifestyle of the village and abandon the teachings of the Bible that they had learned as children in the church.

It seemed to me that the life of the church, like the building itself, was hanging on the edge of a precipice. One bad shake of the moral ground would send it sliding deep into the valley below.

And yet also like the building, the church as a body of believers continued to hang on. It had for many years. The people still gathered. God sent those to help out at the church when it was needed. There was a woman who worked tirelessly in ministry with the children of the village. Perhaps without her, the church would have indeed ceased to function. It was the presence of the children that was encouraging to the older ones.


It may not have been considered a “healthy” church in modern seminary parlance. Nevertheless, as it was, every Sunday the few faithful gathered to listen to the Scriptures read and to pray together.  Since none of the men of the church had had any schooling beyond a few years of grammar school, they did not feel adequate to teach from the Bible.  So if there was a guest who came and whom they felt could bring a teaching, they considered it a provision from God.

I thought of all these things as I walked up to the front to share with them.  I had heard them read this portion of Scripture before and I think it is one to which they turned often.

In the eyes of the people in the village, the Christians seemed foolish.  In that same passage in First Corinthians it says “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 NAS).

The brothers and sisters of the church may have seemed foolish to the rest of the village, but wisdom is not always what it seems.  That which appears wise today may only seem so because it is viewed from the perspective of today.  However, it is only when we view our beliefs from an eternal perspective will it be shown how wise or how foolish we truly are.

For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.   Where  is the wise man?  Where is the scribe?  Where is the debater of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:19-20 NAS).

(In a few days I will finish this post with: WISDOM THAT THE EYE DOES NOT SEE

Sunday, September 21, 2014

CASCARÍ


Back in the days when my family and I lived in Venezuela and if I had no other commitments at other churches, on Sunday mornings we drove up a bit higher into the Andes Mountains from where we lived to the little pueblo of Cascarí. There, built on the slope of a steep mountainside, was a little church. It was to that church where we went to worship with the few people who attended there.
One Sunday, after we had been gone on furlough for more than a year to Wisconsin, we drove up Cascarí to attend the church and to see the people. It had been a long time since the people there had seen us and they did not know that we had returned to Venezuela.  We arrived at the service quite late, but that did not matter so much at Cascarí.  It was just a little group of believers and they were not so preoccupied with schedules. 

When we arrived, Brother Luis was reading Scripture. We entered in the back of the church building and tried not to interrupt.  Most of the folks there were illiterate, so they were in the habit of listening very intently to the reading.  But of course, they could not help but note our presence, and after the reading everyone stood up to welcome us.  We went around to shake hands and to receive and give hugs and kisses.  After all of the greetings were over one of the men stood up and asked me, “Brother, did you bring a teaching for us this morning?”

The truth was that I had not.  I had not gone expecting to preach.  However, for some recent months, the church had been without a pastor.  Previous to that, and when we had left for Wisconsin, they had had a student from a Bible Institute in a nearby city who was completing his year of practice at the church.  This young man had been one of my own students at the Bible Institute and was acting as a pastor for the church at Cascarí for his apprenticeship program.

However, unknown to us, this young man had finished his time of internship and had left the church a couple of months earlier.  Since that time, the people of Cascarí had been carrying on alone.

The people that made up the church at Cascarí were few and very poor.  There was really no work to be found in the village apart from the harvest of the coffee beans once a year and working in the sugar cane fields. Some of the men of the village actually had to go to a larger town to find work and, since the distance was so great, had to live separated from their families.

Because of the few members and the poor economic conditions of the area, the church had seldom been able to hire a full time pastor. Nevertheless, the church had usually been richly supplied.  A former missionary had helped them to build a very nice little church building with a separate Sunday school building in the back of the church, and they had often been able to have students from the Bible Institute serve as their pastor from time to time over the years.

         For a couple of years previous to the most recent Bible Institute student, there had been a lay pastor from Colombia who had moved to a nearby village and who had been helping them. But for the moment, there was no one. The church was without someone who had been coming to teach from the Bible.

And so it was that when we arrived after a year of absence, the people were once again without a pastor.  When we arrived late that Sunday, they asked me, “Brother, did you bring a teaching?”

Because I did not know that they had had no pastor, I had not come that morning prepared or expecting to do any teaching. Besides that, we had been so busy just getting back into the country that I had not even had time to think much about anything else.

Nevertheless, I rose to my feet and started to walk toward the front of the church, trying to think of something of encouragement that I could say to the people. Besides my general unpreparedness, I was not a long time Spanish speaker and after a year without speaking that local language, I also wondered how that would go.
 
(Continued in a few days)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

CONCERNING MY WOUND THAT WILL NOT HEAL


Some months ago an old wound of mine opened up again. Although by now it has been some time since this latest episode of the old infliction has come to me, the pain has not abated since then. In fact, in some ways it has gotten worse.

This time, I fear that the injury will not be healed even in my lifetime. It is beginning to look like I will take it to my grave.

This is a wound not of my body, but a wound of my soul. It is one that begins to ache when I see the Holy Communion being used to bring separation between believers, instead of being a sign of unity in fellowship, as Jesus intended it to be. The pain that comes to me is one of my heart, and is an affliction that actually drains me of strength.

When the pain started again, I was in attendance at a wedding that took place in a Catholic church. It was a meaningful and very nice ceremony; that is, until it came time for the Eucharist. At this point, I was shut out from the fellowship and not welcomed to be a part of it. It was then that my heart again began to ache. For some reason, the sorrow was particularly distressing for me in this wedding; even more so than at other occasions.

At other times when this wound had been opened, I have been able to let it heal, if only just a little. This time however, the healing has not come. The lesion has continued to fester.

The Eucharist, or as it is called in other churches, the Lord’s Supper or the Holy Communion, ought to be the utmost expression of Christian fellowship within the Christian community under the Lordship of Christ. I was genuinely happy for this young couple and wanted to share in this joyful occasion with them, but as a non-Catholic, I was not allowed to do so. The fact that I was a follower of Jesus Christ did not matter. I was shut out from this fellowship. I was an outsider, allowed only to be a witness. Nothing more.

There was an explanation for my exclusion printed in the program for the wedding. I quote it below:

 

For our Fellow Christians

We welcome our fellow Christians to this celebration of the Eucharist as our brothers and sisters. We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in this Eucharist will draw us closer to one another and begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us. We pray that these will lessen and finally disappear, in keeping with Christ’s prayer for us “that they may be one (John 17:21).

Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not fully united are ordinarily not admitted to the Holy Communion. (cannon 844.4)

 

THE SPIN

As I read the above explanation in the wedding program, I could not help but think of statements put out by either the Democratic or Republican political parties who were trying to explain an inconsistency in their policy. We, in our culture, have become very adept at putting political “spins” on any controversial statement in an attempt to shift the blame from ourselves to the other party.

This was my take on this explanation in the program. Behind the “talking points” of why I was not welcomed to have a part in the Communion, was a political spin to show why this prohibition was not the fault of the Catholic Church, but it was my fault.

Below are some of my additional thoughts as I read this statement in the wedding program.

 

A SAD DIVISION

As for the first paragraph of the wedding program explanation, the only comment that I have is “Amen.” As is stated in the paragraph, the present divisions that exist within the body of Christ have always been “sad” to me as well. In my work overseas, I worked with very many different Christian church denominations. I also tried to reach out to Catholics, but always without success. They did not consider me as being on equal footing with them.

I should say that this exclusive attitude of elitism is not restricted to the Catholic Church only. I have also come across other denominations or groups who refuse to work with other Christians, despite a common confession of commitment to Jesus Christ, and their common belief in the inerrancy of God’s Word in the Holy Bible.

I am an older man now, and in my life I have had my fill of explanations and rationalizations for this attitude of exclusivity. In the end, every explanation consists only of hollow words meant to placate the speaker’s own thinking.

 

THE MEANING OF THE EUCHARIST

This is the attitude that becomes apparent in the second of the paragraphs of the explanation. I had always before been under the impression that the reason the Catholic Church shut out other Christians from joining in the Eucharist was because Catholics believed that other Christians had different interpretations of the meaning of what physically and spiritually occurred concerning the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist observance.

I have written in other places concerning that particular issue. (Please see for example, the blog post, The Only True Easter Tradition) However, here we will look at the objection as stated in this second paragraph of the wedding program explanation.

As it is stated, “Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not fully united are ordinarily not admitted to the Holy Communion.”

As far as I am able to understand here, the objection Catholics have with me, a follower of Jesus Christ and redeemed by His blood, is because there is not a present day “oneness of faith, life, and worship.”

I cannot say that I am altogether sure what is meant here, because if Catholics consider their oneness of faith as meaning that it is centered in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and redemption by His blood, that is also my testimony and has been for many decades.

Concerning their point of the oneness of life, my observation is the same. I have spent my adult life serving Christ in every way that I have been conscious. I know that there have been failures in my life, but service to Christ has been the overwhelming motivation for my living and in my work.

The only factor in this explanation that I can see that the Catholic must have a disagreement with me is concerning the oneness in worship. It is true that I do not normally worship in the Catholic Church. But even with this, this statement is no less confusing to me, since up until the time of the Eucharist during the wedding ceremony, I was allowed to be one in worship with all present.

 

THE CONTRADICTION

The line of separation between me and other Christians in this particular ceremony came at the time of the Eucharist. To me, this seems to be a direct contradiction of what was stated in the first paragraph: “We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in this Eucharist will draw us closer to one another and begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us.”

If the true desire is for unity through the action of the Holy Spirit, I do not understand how shutting out another fellow Christian and follower of Jesus Christ is conducive to that unity. Quite the opposite. The attitude expressed in the statement seems quite contrary to the desire to dispel “these sad divisions,” as the Catholic Church calls them.

 

THE PARTY SPIN

In the end, I would have to say that this is why these words sound to me like nothing more than a political spin on a divisive practice. It is an attempt to cast the blame of the divisions upon me. It seemed to me that the real message behind the political talking points is that if a Christian does not belong to a Catholic Church, he is not a Christian at the same level.

Correct or not, that was and remains my impression of the view of the Catholic Church concerning my faith in Christ. They call me, “a separated brother.” Is that supposed to be an explanation?

The literal meaning of the word Eucharist is "showing favor or thanks." Showing favor? I hardly think so. In this case it was the casting of blame and judgment. It only served to deepen a wound that already existed in my soul.

The wound will one day be healed, but at this stage of my life, I fear that it will not be healed in my lifetime here on earth. It seems to me that this healing will only come by the direct intervention by Jesus Christ. We, in the church, have done a deplorable job in bringing healing to this wound.