Dark Lightness

Dark LightnessOne night in Kenya, my wife and I were in the bedroom kindly given to us, and I was attempting to read. My sight isn’t very good to begin with, but I was having trouble reading because of the dim light. I gave up and that sparked a conversation about how there was a dark lightness in the kitchen.

Many homes in Kenya are not built to Western standards. In fact, the home we stayed in has only 2 single-plug electrical outlets! Electricity is a convenience rather than a necessity so whole rooms are lit by a single bulb hanging from a dangling wire in the ceiling.

We agreed between ourselves that the next time in town we would buy new bulbs for the whole house, the brightest bulbs possible.

Soon came the evening when I replaced all the bulbs in the house. Everyone rejoiced as the dark lightness that existed moments before was exchanged for brightness. Now we could take photos without the flash on our phones going off, and I could read in bed.

Spiritually speaking, unsaved people think they see the meaning and purpose of life. They are convinced that they comprehend truth about the universe, themselves, and God. Jesus said otherwise. The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23).

Jesus is the Light (John 9:5). Apart from Him dwelling within a person, that person is viewing everything from utter and complete darkness and doesn’t even know it.

I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life (John 8:12).

God Forgives

Ancient Jews celebrated a feast called the Day of Atonement.  On that day, the high priest took two goats for sacrifice.  The first goat was killed and its blood poured into a bowl and taken into the tabernacle and sprinkled upon the Ark of the Covenant, the place where God’s presence rested.

Inside the Ark were the twin tablets of the Ten Commandments, which Israel had never been able to keep.  The goat’s blood was sprinkled between the presence of God and the Law which condemned Israel.

When the high priest finished this, he went outside to the second goat, placed his hands on it’s head, and confessed the sins of the nation.  The animal was then led far out into the wilderness and let go.  The idea was that the sins of the people had been laid upon another, and they were being carried away from the people, never to be seen again.

When Jesus came into the world, He stood as the Mediator between God and sinful mankind.  He placed Himself on the altar between the holiness and the justice of God, and the sinfulness of humanity.  God the Father then placed our sins upon Jesus, removing them from us forever.  Our sins are so forgiven, that God does not even remember them (Jeremiah 31:34).

While we receive the great benefit of forgiveness, God didn’t forgive us for our own benefit, but your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake (First John 2:12).

Painted Lips

Painted LipsI grew up in a religious tradition that emphasized outward appearances. Most Pentecostal groups frowned on what they called “outward adornments” like wedding rings and other jewelry, and women cutting their hair or wearing short-sleeves. At one time in my own childhood denomination, it was encouraged that the women all wear the same church-designed white dress on Sunday. Women wearing makeup was also strongly frowned upon.

In the first church I pastored, one older man from the Assemblies of God made a habit of greeting women at the church door by calling them “Jezebel” if they were wearing make-up.

The stain of gossip is more ungodly than painted lips on a woman’s face.

He who lacks wisdom despises his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his peace. A gossip reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter (Proverbs 11:12-13).

Do You Remember Me?

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L – R, Theo, Me, Peter, Joshua, and an unknown boy  at the bottom.

Walking alongside busy Kangundo Road, I heard my name called in that familiar Kenyan-British accent I love. I  looked across the road and saw two young boys waving their arms as big as they could and smiling as if it was Christmas Day.

I dodged a few motorbikes taking their fares home after a busy day and stood before the boys.

Hello Richard, do you remember me?” asked the older boy.

Honestly, I didn’t.

I’m your friend Peter,” he said. I’d walked home with him from school a year earlier. This night his little brother Joshua was with him.

We hugged each other, caught up on Peter and Joshua’s adventures at school that day, and then took a few photos with two other boys who wanted to join in the reunion. It was a wonderful time.

I walked back across the highway and thought about the many people in Kangundo village and neighboring Tala who had stopped in the previous days to ask, “Do you remember me?”

Jesus told us to take the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Me (1 Corinthians 11:24, 25). The bread and the grape juice are frequent reminders of Jesus, His death, and His promised return (1 Corinthians 11:26).

In this life there are many people and things I don’t remember – and much more I’ve never known. I even easily forget Him in the busyness of the day. But one day, when I stand in Heaven before the great King, I will see Him face to face and rejoice in the One who never forgot me.

Outward Appearances

Whitewashed TombsDan was the man who marched to the beat of a different drummer in my first congregation (and every congregation has one). One Sunday morning he announced that he’d requested the State of Oregon castrate him. He believed that removing parts of his outward anatomy would keep his mind from lusting after women; the outside would control the inside.

Jesus had some strong words for a group of folks in his day. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27-28).

The religious leaders of Israel prided themselves on outward appearances. They were concerned with how others perceived them, but failed miserably when it came to their hidden thoughts and intentions (Matthew 5:27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44) . They were “hypocrites” acting before a world as something very different than when the audience went home.

Jesus never called His own followers hypocrites. Why? A Christian knows and despises his sinfulness. We humbly admit like David in the Bible, I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me (Psalm 51:3). A hypocrite strives to maintain a positive religious self-image, rejecting Paul’s confession, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am [present tense] chief  (1 Timothy 1:15).

You and I fool no one – especially God – pretending to be holy on the outside when our insides are rotten. Any godliness within us is only because Christ lives inside you. The Bible says that The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), thus we ever pray, Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).

The One He Loved

The One Jesus LovedDarkness crept slowly over the rooftops like soldiers preparing to take an enemy camp.  It wouldn’t be long before the night moved down to capture everything on the ground below.

The evening was a success, the height of the holiday season met with dinner with only a few hours notice. Everything fell into place as if divinely prepared.

We’re something of a motley crew. Between our mistakes, pride, and inability to keep our mouths shut, I’m not sure how we’ve managed to stay together this long. Despite our differences, we eventually see what’s really important and then work together.

Dinner over, we headed out for a walk. The thin layer of smoke in the air barely parted as we made our way out of the city. The shadows from our torches danced on the building walls like puppets hanging from strings. Had the Master been in a better mood it would have been a great time for telling scary stories.

Earlier in the day the Master laughed with us like always, but as the night wore on He became more serious than usual. He was preoccupied again with His own death. Peter tried to discourage Him, telling Him we’d never allow it, but He was so certain and very determined. We agreed to protect Him, but He shook His head and walked on.

We went to His favorite place of prayer, singing the great songs of Passover.  Matthew’s strong voice – notice that I said “strong voice” rather than “good voice” – roused our hearts.

The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it . . . God is the Lord, and He has given us light; bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will praise You; You are my God, I will exalt You.

While He prayed we stayed behind in the olive grove. We could hear Him crying in agonizing prayer, but it was late, the air warm, and we couldn’t keep our eyes open. Three times He came to stir us from our slumber. We had no idea what was so important. We couldn’t have known what was about to happen. Had we just listened to Him seriously, thing may have gone so differently.

As Jesus woke us that third time, a mob mingled with a cadre of temple guards and priests marched up the pathway. One of our own, Judas, who had left the Passover dinner earlier in the evening, ran up and kissed the Master on the cheek as He led the enemies of the Christ.

Once we figured out what was happening, we did our best to defend Him. We had two swords with us. Peter actually got off the best swipe, cutting off the ear of Malchus. But Jesus stopped us, picked up the bloody ear, and miraculously reattached it. As the crowd stood in silence, He held out His arms and allowed them to be bound. Then we all ran.

Only hours before, we’d each sworn nothing would happen to Him. We promised our lives to protect Him, our word that we would die for Him . . . but now I, John, understand that He had to die for the world, the Innocent for the guilty, God’s Son for the sons of Adam; but more than that, He died for me, the one He loved.

Being Less Evil

3197b6f7004cb4bf8021b31bf6dbc9fcOur return flight from Kenya left us with an 18-hour layover in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Unwilling to sit in the Schiphol Airport and then another 11 hours on the plane back to Oregon, we ventured into the city.

We boarded the crowded train into the heart of old Amsterdam. We transferred to another train and easily found a group of open seats for the three of us in a sectioned off area. The train started up and as I looked around noticed a sign that we were in the first class car. I  imagined being caught by the transit police for riding first class with general class tickets.

I told my wife our problem and that we needed to move to the standing room only second class car at the next stop. A man beside us said, “Who cares? Just say that you’re Americans and didn’t know.” But we did know.

We all want the bad guy to be punished. It’s what he deserves. Evil is evil, whatever the measure; but that also means that my evil is just as bad as the evil of the guy sitting next to me. If he gets punished, I must be punished also.

Hell is the eternal place where God will forever punish each one who has done anything evil.

Hell isn’t avoided by being less evil than someone else; it’s avoided because Someone else took the guilt of your evil and was punished in your place. That Someone was Jesus when He died on the cross.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:14-15).

The World Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood StillWe all have moments forever etched in our memories. Some are individual events, like the birth of a child or an automobile accident, or those which touch the corporate consciousness. The bombing of Pearl Harbor. The assassination of President Kennedy.

The hot summer of 1974, I was 7-years old and watched as President Nixon resigned as President of the United States. I didn’t know what Watergate was about, but I remember the reaction of Armeda Ashe and the other adults watching.

In 1981, I was in Mrs Beeler’s junior high history class when the school principal announced President Reagan had been shot. There was deafening silence in the room.

What about the morning of September 11th, 2001?  I was getting ready for work when the phone rang. “Do you have the tv on? Turn it on. Turn it on now.”  I sat stunned as smoke billowed from the World Trade Center Tower and then watched the second jet plow through the second Tower.

For days afterward there was eerie silence on the streets. When the government finally lifted the restrictions on air travel, we froze in fear each time a plane flew overhead. My son was 2- years old then, and has no sense of what 9/11 was about. He doesn’t know how much air travel – and the world – has changed because of 9/11.

Every generation has it’s own defining moment, a soul-piercing event that calls it to its knees.

Imagine the day Jesus returns!

Behold, Jesus is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen (Revelation 1:7).

Goat Head Soup

Grace and Glory Church

A goat I was given by two women from the Grace and Glory Church.

I preached all day at the Grace and Glory Church in Kwa-Matingi, Kenya. Pastor Benedict Muendo ordered a goat killed and cooked in my honor.

Americans eat turkey for special occasions; in Kenya it’s goat. The head is boiled into a soup and the honored male guest is served the head and its broth which he shares with the old men. Fortunately for me, the head needed a day longer to fully cook than I was available!

When I was told that we would be eating a goat, my American sensibilities kicked in and I said, “Ewwww! I’ll pass.” We ate the goat like good guests, and greatly enjoyed it once we got past the “ewwww” factor.

There are some groups in the Christian tradition which forbid the eating certain kinds of meat on religious grounds. These groups, like the Seventh Day Adventists, base their beliefs on the Law of Moses given to the ancient nation of Israel (Deut 1:1; 14:3-7).

Through the grace of God given in Jesus, Christians are not bound to the Law of Moses; and the New Testament permits Christians to eat all meats. Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons … commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is set apart by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:1, 3-5).

Paul writes that all creatures are good for food because God created all creatures. To reject a certain kind of meat on religious grounds is to reject the goodness of God. As long as the meat is eaten with thanks to the good God who created it, Christians are free to eat … even goat.

*** Click here to see video & photos and hear Kamba music from our 2016 ministry in Kenya.

The Secret of Parables

The Secret of ParablesIf you read here often, yesterday for example, you’ll encounter parables. My parables are the least read and least commented upon of all my blogs. The reason is that many people just don’t understand them.

Jesus often told parables, and in literature He’s considered the master of the parable. There are no less than 65 of His parables recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. One of every three of His words is found within a parable, so parables must be important, but what is a parable?

A parable is a teaching method using a story from nature or ordinary life that conveys a single, simple, spiritual truth. Our problem is that we want to assign meaning to every detail rather than understand the one, simple truth being taught, so we miss the point.

Jesus taught in parables for two reasons: (1) everybody likes a good story, (2) to hide simple truth in plain sight (Matthew 13:13-15).

Here’s an example of a parable from Jesus. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:8).

The simple point is this: The new birth is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, not of man.

When encountering a parable of Jesus (or me), take this approach: explain the meaning of the parable in your own words, using 15 words or less. If you can do that, you are well on your way to understanding the parable.

So go back and read yesterday’s blog again and put your parable-skills to the test.