Languages (A)

LANGUAGES (A)
In the New Testa­ment there are four recorded cases when men and women spoke in each of these cases, we can clearly define the meaning of tongues and the purpose of the gift in the context of the evangelistic work of the early disciples.

A. Languages spoken in Jerusalem:

On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-13, Jews and proselytes to Judaism from every nation of the Roman Empire were gathered in Jerusalem (At 2:9-11). The apostles were in an upper room in Jerusalem on this day when the Holy Spirit came upon them. They were empowered by the Holy Spirit and began to “speak with other tongues [glossais], as the Spirit gave them utterance” (At 2:4). Verse 6 states that “everyone heard them speak in his own language [dialekto].” Those who were present asked about what was happening, “and how is it that we hear, each in our own language [dialekto] in which we were born?” (At 2:8). They also stated, “We hear them speaking in our own tongues [glossais] the wonderful works of God (At 2:11). If one would simply read these verses without reading into them any modern-day ecstatic gibberish sounds, then we would clearly understand that Luke was describing a miraculous endowment of speaking in languages that was received by the apostles when they were baptized in the Spirit.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit inspired the apostles to speak in the languages of the people who were present. The people heard them speak in their own dialects the wonderful works of God. The people understood what was being said by the apostles because they said they did.

Luke records that they heard the apostles speaking the wonderful works of God. Therefore, the apostles were not speaking gibberish sounds because of some emotional state of hysteria. They were not speaking some language that was unknown to those who were present. They were speaking the wonderful works of God in the languages of the people who were present.

There is nothing difficult about understanding that the apostles miraculously received the ability from the Holy Spirit to speak the gospel on this occasion in “new languages” (Mk 16:17) to those who were present. They had not studied these languages in which they spoke. Therefore, we would conclude that the reason for the gift of languages for the apostles was evangelistic for the day. People from throughout the Roman Empire were present, many of whom spoke many different languages and dialects. These people needed to hear the wonderful works of God.

In the context of Acts 2, Luke used two different Greek words in reference to the languages that were spoken. The Greek word glossa is used in the plural (glossais) in verses 3,4,11 and 26. This word refers to a known foreign language. It is used in this manner in the context of these passages. The apostles were not speaking a language that was unknown to man. They were speaking known foreign languages that were new to them, for they had never before studied these languages. But the languages were not new to those who came from the areas where the languages were spoken. The people could have never discerned that they were speaking of the wonderful works of God if they did not understand the languages that the apostles used to explain these works.

In verse 4 the apostles “began to speak with other tongues [glossais], as the Spirit gave them utterance.” The tongues here are defined in verse 11 where the word glossais is used again. “We hear them speaking in our own tongues [glossais] the wonderful works of God.” Therefore, it is certain that the apostles were speaking in the languages of the people who were present from every nation. They were speaking languages that could be understood.

The Greek word dialektos is used in verses 6 and 8. This term can refer to either a dialect or language. It was used in this manner in the context of Acts 2. Those from every nation who heard and saw the apostles preaching, stated, “And how is it that we hear, each in our own language [dialekto] in which we were born?” Not only were the apostles speaking in the languages of the people who were present, they were also speaking in the dialects of the languages of the people.

A mother language may have several dialects that are unique to regions other than where a mother language is spoken. What seems to be indicated in the context of Acts 2 is that the apostles not only spoke the mother languages, but also the regional dialects of the mother languages. This fact may be what truly stimulated the curiosity of those who heard. They could not understand how these Galileans could fluently speak in their dialects.

From the use of the above two Greek words in the same context, it is evident that in some way Luke used glossa and dialektos interchan­greably. Dialektos was used in verses 6 and 8. Glossa was used in verses 4 and 11. Both of these words were actually used by the people in the context that Luke records. In other words, the audience used these two words interchan­geably in the context. Therefore, we would understand that these were synonymous words in the culture when used in reference to spoken languages. At least we must conclude that the people not only heard their languages spoken (glossa), but they also heard the derivatives of their languages (dialects) spoken.

The miracle of the apostles speaking in languages was magnified in the sense that the Spirit not only inspired languages to be spoken, He also inspired all the dialects of the mother languages to be spoken.

The Jews in Acts 2 came from areas where hysterical (or, ecstatic) gibberish was undoubtedly practiced among idolatrous religions. However, when they came to Jerusalem and experienced the events of Acts 2, they recognized that the languages that the apostles spoke were the languages of their homelands. The apostles were not speaking hysterical nonsense. They were speaking the actual languages of the people who were present. The proclamation of those who heard on the day of Pentecost proves that the “tongues” that the apostles spoke were languages.

In Acts 2:13 Luke recorded, “Others mocking said, ‘They are full of new wine.’” This statement has been used by some to affirm that the apostles were actually speaking in gibberish sounds that sounded like men who were drunk. But this was not the case.

We must keep in mind that the apostles were speaking in different languages. Those from Parthia would not have understood the language that was spoken by those from Libya. Those from Galilee, who knew that the apostles were from Galilee, would likewise not understand either of the languages of those from Parthia and Egypt. To them, the apostles’ speaking in any other language than what they understood would only sound like men who were drunk. And drunk men speak gibberish sounds. Therefore, the irreverent mockers dismissed as drunken the apostles who were speaking in a language that they did not understand.

This event of the apostles’ speaking in “tongues” on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 becomes the dictionary to define the rest of the New Testament when “tongues” are discussed. This is a consistent manner by which we must allow the Bible to interpret itself. Therefore, when we come to the next three records of miraculous speaking in languages, we must understand these biblical contexts from the commentary text of Acts 2.

[Next in series: Oct. 16]

Ghost In The Night

I was recently and unpleasantly startled as those disciples on a stormy Sea of Galilee when Jesus came wandering to them on water between the lashing waves of the night. As those disciples were shocked, I too thought I saw a ghost in the night.

It had been a very long day that began when I was rudely interrupted from my dreams at 4:00am. But after the toil of another long day, the stars of the night were finally about to twinkle on as I prepared to relinquish my labored body to another moment of sweet solitude in the midst of another enchanting forest of trees.

The pestering monkeys of that far away location had finally given up their relentless raid on my exposed food in the back of the White Rhino (my truck). They had deviously cheated me out of some of my precious vitals because I had carelessly left my window open. But now everything was calm. The monkey wars were over and I was now alone in order to shut down a nervous system that had experienced too much in a single day for an old man.

The firmament of the heavens had now darkened. The wondrous canopy of twinkling stars now began their majestic performance in the absence of the sun, with the cheering audience of the moon and myself in attention. So as I shuffled this and that as an encircling mother animal preparing her nest for her little ones for the night, I glanced to my left and briefly noticed a “white tree stump” at a near distance. It was there in the dim light that only heavenly bodies can provide. In the moment, I thought nothing of the mysterious apparition, but wondered why a tree stump would give a dim glow of appearance in the night. Nevertheless, I took no more notice of the supposed imagination, and carried on with my nest preparations. I had already subconsciously cuddled up in a sleeping bag, ready for another adventure into the dreamland of sleep.

Once I had assured myself that I could nestle comfortably and safely in my nest, I again noticed that unusual “white tree stump.” I had not notice it there when I first parked amidst the trees of this newly discovered forest camp. Nevertheless, my curiosity took over. So I focused through the imposing night with an intense stare. The natural thing to do when one stares so intensely through aged eyes is to hunker down and focus. And then . . . I got the fright of my life. The “white tree stump” also hunkered down and stared back at me.

Now my heart was racing. Muscles tensed. Stomach knotted. I had long forgotten the slumber of a long day. I was shocked into a sudden reality that this was a creature! It was a creature in the night that had been standing off over there for some time, just observing cautiously my every move, possibly making some plan for attack.

A revengeful “ghost monkey” flashed through my vivid imagination, thinking that the illusive creature was going to lay claim to my settlement as soon as I dozed off into dreamland. With all the self-control that I could muster up for the moment, I held back doing what those disciples did centuries ago when they thought that they saw a ghost on the stormy Sea of Galilee. They cried out! My outcry was strenuously contained by a vocal system that had now gone dead for fright.

But then after assessing that my kitchen-utensil weapons and strategy would lead to conquest because the night creature was smaller than me, I concluded that I could overpower it by suffering only a few scratches and bites here and there in our mortal confrontation. So with very cautious steps, and cooking weapons in hand, I eased toward this ghost creature of the night whom I would fiend off from my settlement.

But then, something very unsettling happened. The ghostly “tree stump” also advanced by taking a step toward me. Even more frightening, and what seemed to be a two-edged sword, flipped up behind the advancing creature.

What could I do? I stopped breathing and prepared for a mortal conflict between a razor sharp two-edged sword and my dull cooking utensils. But then for a moment, we both stopped dead in our own tracks. In my mind I concluded that we both were waiting for an attack to come from the opposite party. But then again, the night creature commenced to enter into the war zone for conflict by moving forward. My mind was running wild. My knuckles whiten around my cooking weapons.

But then out of the silence of the night in this enchanted forest, I heard a familiar sound that totally disarmed me. It was the purring of a cat. As the ghost creature in the night cautiously approached closer, it was as if a thousand muscles in my body settled into tranquil neutrality. I was overcome with rejoicing and relief after being disarmed from a possible mortal confrontation with some creature of the wild. The mysterious creature was a ginger-colored “camp cat” who had flipped up his “two-edged” tale, not a sword in order to engage in conflict, but in peace talks. With his tale, he simply wanted to signal to me that we both should engage one another in peace.

I wondered what was going through his own mind as he too stood tense at a distance and surveyed the two-legged “night creature” who had invaded his settlement. After observing the nonthreatening behavior of this two-legged creature, he had first decided to stand at a distance in the night until the two-legged creature could reveal his intentions. And then, he took on the challenge of changing me. He came close, just as Jesus came close to me in order to transform the hostility of my ways into His ways.

It seems that I cannot make a long story short about this chance encounter in the night between two creatures of God in a far away forest. That cat knew how to draw out of me every ounce of affection I had to offer for animals. He drew righteousness out of me towards animals. In order to do this, he just came as close as possible. He threw himself down at my feet, and washed my feet with the silk of his cozy fir. I melted in response to the gesture of His affection. I could only lean down and scratch a head that could not show enough affection for me. He was the opposite of the character of the monkeys who could only think of what they could come and take. This curious cat only wanted to come and give his affection. What he received in response was only the serendipity of his affection.

So laying aside the kitchen weapons of my imagined carnal warfare, I had to return the favor for his affection. Jesus has washed my feet so many times, I cannot stop living in gratitude. Somehow I just keep looking for dirty feet. I keep loving because He keeps loving me.

Jesus did not stand at a distance and wish for me to respond with love. It was as John said, “We love because He first loved us.” There is nothing more powerful to stir love in our hearts than to see someone at our feet with a towel.

It was then that I remembered the words of my mother, words that she said more than once throughout my early years on the farm. “A righteous man regards the life of his animal.” And for the night in that far away camp forest, that ghostly cat was my God-provided animal. I began to understand what my mother sought to teach her children with these precious words of Solomon. That cat drew out of me righteousness, that is, doing right in reference to one’s animal.

When we begin to understand that God so loved the world that He sent His beloved Son into a dark world of “sinful animals,” where there was no one worth such a love offering, it is then that we seek to emulate the same righteousness for any creature who is beneath us. The righteous man passes on the affection (love) that was extended toward him through the incarnational offering of the Son of God on the cross. As God regarded our life, so we regard the life of any animal.

So on that night I regarded my animal, a camp cat that had yearned for affection as I yearned for God’s love. That cat was no different than ourselves in reference to the loving grace of God. Throughout the night until I bedded down in my nest, he simply stayed as close as possible to my affection. He continued to roll on his back at my feet, awaiting any generous scratching that I might relish upon him. And finally, after a shared morsel of food for the night, I tucked myself comfortably away for my expected coma. As I lay down my head, I then wondered where my animal might go for the night.

After some time in dreamland, the first tweet of a morning bird signaled that the stars had given way to the rising sun that brought on another day. I looked outside my cocoon window and saw that the rising sun said I had had enough sleep. It was time to accomplish more for Him in the blessing of another day.

After morning prayer in bed for an hour or so, I began to wonder where my animal had rested for the night. That question did not linger long in my mind when I saw my animal come stretching out from under my vehicle. He had made his bed for the night under the vehicle of the one who had returned loving affection for him. That is what love does. We gravitate to those who hold dirty towels that have washed our feet.

So my animal resumed his normal unpretentious pose . . . sitting off over there at a distance, observing my preparation for my breakfast of coffee and porridge that I prepared for myself from my own food supply. The kettle steamed, the coffee was prepared, and the porridge was mixed in my bowl. My animal just sat there and observed all my narcissistic preparation for myself.

And then I had to surrender as my Lord surrendered for me. I had an extra bowl and milk. So into the bowl the milk was shared. I made only a glance at my animal, and he immediately came running to my love offering. He submerged himself in the milk with lapping that echoed throughout the trees. I likewise indulged myself in my bowl of porridge. We ate together.

I felt good about having regard for my animal that God had provided for me for the night. Whether a test, or just coincidence, my mother’s repetition of Solomon’s words throughout my young life continued to ring in my memory: “A righteous man regards the life of his animal.” That ghost in the night extracted righteousness out of me. He was a stranger that now had become a friend. I envisioned heading down the road toward home with a two-edged ginger tail dangling out the back window.

Something happened on that morning that reminded me of all those selfish prayers that I had already uttered. I just kept asking God for this and that. I asked for a safe day of travel. I asked for opportunities to preach Jesus. I asked to bless or protect this person and that person. I asked Him to bless the mission that I was struggling to complete. I asked without end.

After my animal scarfed down the milk of blessing in his bowl, he look up at me with those squinted eyes, that could only mean one thing: “Please, my bowl is empty.” I looked into his desperation, wondering where he would ever get his next meal. That slightly titled head and squinting eyes broke down every power of resistance that I could muster. I relinquished.

I looked into my bowl that was still half full of porridge, looked at him, and then said, “You ask for my porridge also?” I knew his reply. It was by now as if there was a mental path of telepathy between two of us.

So I stooped down, scratched his head to draw again that precious purring, and then set down the remainder of my bowl of porridge before him. What else could I have done? I just think God invented purring to soften the hearts of those who have little regard for animals.

I am sometimes embarrassed because I keep asking, and asking, and asking God for so much. But the incredible thing that I try to comprehend is that He keeps setting down porridge before me. I keep purring through prayers of thanksgiving, and He keeps putting before me exceedingly, abundantly more than what I expect or deserve. “Thank you, Jesus.”

My response to His security is as those relieved disciples of Jesus on that now calm sea. Jesus entered into their boat, and only that which is natural, happened, “They worshiped Him.”

Christians Only

My wife and I were peacefully sitting in a local restaurant about to be served breakfast which was our treat for the week. So before the food was served, we engaged in our customary behavior to offer thanksgiving for the food that was soon to be served. The restaurant was only the vehicle through whom God would serve to us our food for the day. So hand in hand, we prayed together.

In our minds, others who were in the restaurant at the time just became invisible while we engaged with our Father in thanksgiving for what was about to be set before us. It was as if we were alone at the moment of intercession. The rest of the occupants of the restaurant did not exist.

And then arrived the blessing of the occasion … the steaming hot food. As the waitress, who had witnessed our prayer, set the plates before us, she asked, “Are you Christians?” We simply responded, “Yes, just Christians. That’s all.” That answer invoked a series of requests on her part. She asked these two strangers to offered prayers for her family. As a mother of three, she was in desperate need of supplications for herself, two small children, and one teenager.

It is for this reason that we stand for being known as Christians only. That label was good enough for the Holy Spirit to tag the early disciples (See At 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pt 4:16). So we will stick with the same. We seek to be Christians only without some label for ourselves, or some unique sign post for those with whom we sit on the first day of the week. We are all just Christians. We are not “A” Christians, or “B” Christians, or even “C & D” Christians. We are Christians after Christ. Please don’t tag a label on our Christianity.

The restaurant encounter reminded Martha and myself again what it means to present ourselves before the world as just being Christians, without the shroud of some religious institution. In the midst of a religious world that has invented every imaginable name under which adherents would hang their religion, we have chosen to exalt Christ alone by being known to identify ourselves to be simply “of Christ.” This is gospel business. In doing this we are focusing on and exalting Christ, not on ourselves or some favorite religious sect, or common religious heritage. We choose to focus exclusively on Christ, not on some man, some movement, some doctrine, or some imagination of men that would huddle individual adherents under the banner of a particular sect that maintains a common traditional heritage.

When Paul wanted to encourage the frightened Christians in Rome that they were not alone in their stand for Christ, he did not refer, as some would today, to a particular religious institution that was identified by some favorite name of man. He simply wanted the Christians in Rome to know that the “churches of Christ” sent their greetings to them (Rm 16:16). He gave them no “brand name” reference that would bring them comfort in a time of isolation in the seat of Christian persecution. Neither did he seek to give a unique name to all those who had obeyed the gospel of Christ. He simply wanted the Christians in Rome to know that there were Christians meeting everywhere under the name of Christ alone.

If we would be literal in our interpretation of his encouragement after mentioning several groups meeting in homes throughout Rome, then we would justly translate the Greek word ekklesia (“assemblies”) to be used in the common era of the times. Those in Rome thought that they were alone in meeting for Christ in the seat of Roman government, and a center of Nero’s persecution of Christians. So Paul wanted the disciples in Rome to know that there were assemblies for Christ throughout the Roman Empire. They were indeed not alone.

What is strikingly different today is that if some would presume to write a letter of encouragement to a group of persecuted Christians, they would probably state that there were people assembling under the name of a Jewish feast day—Pentecost—who send their greetings. Others would possibly write that there are people assembling under the name of a favorite doctrine, or methodology, or even a favorite personality. Some would even try to encourage the persecuted in Rome by saying that they were assembling under a sign post outside their building that glorified themselves. And to emphasize their point, they would refer to themselves as either “first,” or “second,” or “full.”

But the Holy Spirit did not resort to such sectarian misdirection. He directed the hand of Paul to encourage the Christians in Rome that there were others throughout the Empire who were assembling under the name of Christ alone. And that is good enough for us. When people observe us in public, we want to be identified to be of Christ only, not people who have institutionalized as a unique sect under the name of Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos (See 1 Co 1:12,13). We were not baptized into the name of any man, neither was any man crucified on our behalf. So when the world observes our gospel behavior, we do not want them to feel that we have ulterior motives. We seek to exalt Christ alone.

Therefore, we will absolutely not allow ourselves to be called after any man, or Jewish feast day, or unique doctrine, or unique history, or whatever. If you don’t mind, we will be called after Christ, which means that we will be known as Christians only. So don’t try to pigeonhole us with some sect. That by which we allow ourselves to be called reveals whether we are of the gospel of Christ . . . or not. We are not brand-name disciples of Christ. We are Christians only. Therefore, when people see us living the gospel of Christ, they will inquire concerning our hope, knowing that they are not going to be converted to some religious institution.

Two Magic Words

In years gone by on an adventurous excursion into a never-to-be-revised wilderness, I was personally minded of two very profound words that are the difference between a preserved happy marriage, or one that is a perpetual prison of relenting conflict.

The occasion was that Martha and I had been long on the road in the distant outback of Africa. We were laboriously returning from somewhere up on the Angolan border that was at least a three-day road trip north of our quaint nest back in Cape Town. At the time, our faithful cocoon of transport was pointed southbound toward home, and thus we were bearing down to get there in order to find some relief from our weary journey. After over two weeks of intense ministry in the dust bowl of the African bush, we both were beyond exhaustion. It was as if we were just outside an emergency room, awaiting admittance for prolonged fatigue.

So we were finally on our way to a tranquil place where we would eventually lay our war-worn bodies down in the peace of our native bed. Our journey on the road on that final day of endless travel was the last of three consecutive days of road-wear on our now aged bodies. So we labored on in hope. We both envisioned the glory of a familiar bed that was not carried along on wheels that bounced from one pothole to another.

The silver moon was about the flip the switch off the setting sun when I decided that I had had enough of this endless road trip. After twelve hours of a bone-breaking drive on that day, that certainly went beyond twenty-four hours, my tormented body craved relief. I perceived that Martha was in the same mental and physical condition. We needed the peaceful sleep of some parallel time in reference to a bed, which bed we had in the back of our traveling home away from home. It was not homegrown, but it had nurtured our bodies for what now seemed to be a trek that would never end.

So in a moment of inconsiderate desperation, I made a unilateral decision … it would prove to be a bad decision, one of those spur-of-the-moment decisions that disrupt tranquil marriages. As was my normal bush custom when traveling alone, I often sought an off-road track that led to somewhere I assumed no man had ever gone before. At the time, I erroneously assumed that the two parties of this expedition would find some relief from such a road if we only ventured into the bush for just one last night. I turned off the main road. However, I failed to consult the other party of this expedition in order to reach some agreeable consent.

So I determined for myself—that was my mistake—that we would turn off the security of the main road and head aimlessly into the obscurity of a “Jurassic Park” wilderness. After all—I unfortunately reasoned—surely I was the head of this expedition and I had the right to determined personally that the existing party of two needed to make camp for the night. And also, was I not the head of this marital party? The headship part was right, but on this particular occasion the head became abnormally dysfunctional.

While traveling along on the main road with a destiny that would be our home, Martha and I had been dialoguing with one another about this and that. But something unexpectedly went wrong when I made that fatal turn onto a track off the main road into the unknown wilderness of bush and trees. In her fertile imagination I had just turned onto a pathway into the midst of wild animals that were salivating for an evening meal of delicate human flesh.

Therefore, after some time on my venture down this forgotten track into the wilderness, I suddenly came to a frightening realization. The previous dialogue of the party of two on the main road had now turned into a monologue. Martha went dead silent. I took a reality check of the situation and shockingly assessed that this was definitely not good.

I had been faithfully trained in the past that when this woman went silent, I had somehow forgotten to utter the two magic words of a successful marriage. At the time of my unilateral adventure to turn into the uncertainty of the bush, she had subjectively relented to the will of a determined mate who momentarily had forgotten the two magic words that preserve two people in the marital expedition for life.

Nevertheless, I doggedly persisted as white knuckles on the steering wheel revealed my dysfunctional determination. My reassuring monologue about the safety of our newly discovered “Jurassic Park” reaped no satisfaction from the one who was now my silent partner on this intrepid adventure.

In the deep twilight hours of the evening, I could faintly read Martha’s facial language. My discovery brought no peace of mind. Her stoic expression wordlessly shouted out that all my reassurance that we were safe to be in such an obscure place only proved to be words that were gone in the wind that blew dust across our pathway into oblivion.

I eventually started to come to some sense of sanity when I began to reason to myself that if both of us were devoured by creatures in this isolated sector of earth, no one would discover our vehicle and bones … ever. Our children would eventually have to sign death certificates that read, “Cause of death: Unknown. Place of death: Unknown.” The lyrics of the 1950s Kingston Trio singers sounded in my memory: “Did he ever return? No, he never returned. He was lost forever beneath the streets of Boston. He was the man who never returned.”

Seeking some reassurance in this now tested partnership, I continued to strain intensely through the twilight in a futile hope to discover even the slightest signal of approval on Martha’s face. But it was to no avail. She continued stoic. My reassuring monologue produced absolutely no glimmer of approval.

I then came to a forgotten realization. I immediately needed to behave what the two magic marital words would do to preserve this expedition. If I were not obedient to the action that these words demanded, I would get no sleep that night. I would toss and turn endlessly until I came to the eventual conclusion that I was in deep, deep trouble.

After not one brief peep came forth from the party with whom I had signed an expedition contract back in 1966 with the words “I do,” I frightfully realized that I had had a lapse of memory. I realized that I may have violated the contract. So I came to the conclusion that an immediate and certain decision had to be made that would salvage the happy atmosphere that I had enjoyed with the second party of this expedition unto this junction into the wilderness. Consequently, in my mind and heart I blurted out the magic words of a successful marriage, “Yes dear!” I then started the engine of our traveling cocoon, and speedily backtracked our way out of “Jurassic Park” and back onto the security of the main road toward civilization. The marriage contract was revalidated and preserved.

When we eventually arrived at the reassurance of the main road to continue our trek, my monotonous monologue gave way to a restored dialogue between the two partners of the expedition. Peace became the serendipity of two mates who could now continue on with their relentless homeward bound journey.

It was now dark and well into the time when the stars dominated the firmament of the heavens. Nevertheless, we toiled on. We continued to gruel on into the night. Both of us were now truly and totally wasted. We strained to discovery hope in what seemed to be an eternal darkness. As we surveyed the darkened horizon for some faint hope of civilization, we were almost at the point of despair.

And then discovery was realized. When we reached the peak of a hill on a road that seemed to have no end, we found hope in the dim lights of a far away village just this side of the horizon. We were both ecstatically overjoyed that now at last we had rediscovered civilization. Those lights revealed that there were human beings with whom we could reestablish our citizenship with humanity. There would be this night no lurking creatures under the cover of darkness who were seeking fresh meat.

So we meandered into this village or town that had itself long gone into dreamland. We were strangers seeking an inn, or campsite, or whatever among the narrow streets and alleys where we could camp and coma for the night. To this day I cannot recall the name of that village, or town, or whatever. I have no idea where we stopped and slept in the back of our home on wheels. All I know is that “Yes dear” had brought us to a place where sleep could be secured with a wife who was now resting in the arms of a husband who had behaved the two magic words of a successful marriage.

He had momentarily gone off the main road—had a lapse of memory—but he repentantly was now back into fulfilling a contract that long ago read, “To love and to protect.” All it took was “Yes dear,” and subsequently a restoration of peace was secured among the two parties of this lifetime expedition, or at least, “until death do us part.”

[Chapter from a forthcoming book.]

The occasion was that Martha and I had been long on the road in the distant outback of Africa. We were laboriously returning from somewhere up on the Angolan border that was at least a three-day road trip north of our quaint nest back in Cape Town. At the time, our faithful cocoon of transport was pointed southbound toward home, and thus we were bearing down to get there in order to find some relief from our weary journey. After over two weeks of intense ministry in the dust bowl of the African bush, we both were beyond exhaustion. It was as if we were just outside an emergency room, awaiting admittance for prolonged fatigue.

So we were finally on our way to a tranquil place where we would eventually lay our war-worn bodies down in the peace of our native bed. Our journey on the road on that final day of endless travel was the last of three consecutive days of road-wear on our now aged bodies. So we labored on in hope. We both envisioned the glory of a familiar bed that was not carried along on wheels that bounced from one pothole to another.

The silver moon was about the flip the switch off the setting sun when I decided that I had had enough of this endless road trip. After twelve hours of a bone-breaking drive on that day, that certainly went beyond twenty-four hours, my tormented body craved relief. I perceived that Martha was in the same mental and physical condition. We needed the peaceful sleep of some parallel time in reference to a bed, which bed we had in the back of our traveling home away from home. It was not homegrown, but it had nurtured our bodies for what now seemed to be a trek that would never end.

So in a moment of inconsiderate desperation, I made a unilateral decision … it would prove to be a bad decision, one of those spur-of-the-moment decisions that disrupt tranquil marriages. As was my normal bush custom when traveling alone, I often sought an off-road track that led to somewhere I assumed no man had ever gone before. At the time, I erroneously assumed that the two parties of this expedition would find some relief from such a road if we only ventured into the bush for just one last night. I turned off the main road. However, I failed to consult the other party of this expedition in order to reach some agreeable consent.

So I determined for myself—that was my mistake—that we would turn off the security of the main road and head aimlessly into the obscurity of a “Jurassic Park” wilderness. After all—I unfortunately reasoned—surely I was the head of this expedition and I had the right to determined personally that the existing party of two needed to make camp for the night. And also, was I not the head of this marital party? The headship part was right, but on this particular occasion the head became abnormally dysfunctional.

While traveling along on the main road with a destiny that would be our home, Martha and I had been dialoguing with one another about this and that. But something unexpectedly went wrong when I made that fatal turn onto a track off the main road into the unknown wilderness of bush and trees. In her fertile imagination I had just turned onto a pathway into the midst of wild animals that were salivating for an evening meal of delicate human flesh.

Therefore, after some time on my venture down this forgotten track into the wilderness, I suddenly came to a frightening realization. The previous dialogue of the party of two on the main road had now turned into a monologue. Martha went dead silent. I took a reality check of the situation and shockingly assessed that this was definitely not good.

I had been faithfully trained in the past that when this woman went silent, I had somehow forgotten to utter the two magic words of a successful marriage. At the time of my unilateral adventure to turn into the uncertainty of the bush, she had subjectively relented to the will of a determined mate who momentarily had forgotten the two magic words that preserve two people in the marital expedition for life.

Nevertheless, I doggedly persisted as white knuckles on the steering wheel revealed my dysfunctional determination. My reassuring monologue about the safety of our newly discovered “Jurassic Park” reaped no satisfaction from the one who was now my silent partner on this intrepid adventure.

In the deep twilight hours of the evening, I could faintly read Martha’s facial language. My discovery brought no peace of mind. Her stoic expression wordlessly shouted out that all my reassurance that we were safe to be in such an obscure place only proved to be words that were gone in the wind that blew dust across our pathway into oblivion.

I eventually started to come to some sense of sanity when I began to reason to myself that if both of us were devoured by creatures in this isolated sector of earth, no one would discover our vehicle and bones … ever. Our children would eventually have to sign death certificates that read, “Cause of death: Unknown. Place of death: Unknown.” The lyrics of the 1950s Kingston Trio singers sounded in my memory: “Did he ever return? No, he never returned. He was lost forever beneath the streets of Boston. He was the man who never returned.”

Seeking some reassurance in this now tested partnership, I continued to strain intensely through the twilight in a futile hope to discover even the slightest signal of approval on Martha’s face. But it was to no avail. She continued stoic. My reassuring monologue produced absolutely no glimmer of approval.

I then came to a forgotten realization. I immediately needed to behave what the two magic marital words would do to preserve this expedition. If I were not obedient to the action that these words demanded, I would get no sleep that night. I would toss and turn endlessly until I came to the eventual conclusion that I was in deep, deep trouble.

After not one brief peep came forth from the party with whom I had signed an expedition contract back in 1966 with the words “I do,” I frightfully realized that I had had a lapse of memory. I realized that I may have violated the contract. So I came to the conclusion that an immediate and certain decision had to be made that would salvage the happy atmosphere that I had enjoyed with the second party of this expedition unto this junction into the wilderness. Consequently, in my mind and heart I blurted out the magic words of a successful marriage, “Yes dear!” I then started the engine of our traveling cocoon, and speedily backtracked our way out of “Jurassic Park” and back onto the security of the main road toward civilization. The marriage contract was revalidated and preserved.

When we eventually arrived at the reassurance of the main road to continue our trek, my monotonous monologue gave way to a restored dialogue between the two partners of the expedition. Peace became the serendipity of two mates who could now continue on with their relentless homeward bound journey.

It was now dark and well into the time when the stars dominated the firmament of the heavens. Nevertheless, we toiled on. We continued to gruel on into the night. Both of us were now truly and totally wasted. We strained to discovery hope in what seemed to be an eternal darkness. As we surveyed the darkened horizon for some faint hope of civilization, we were almost at the point of despair.

And then discovery was realized. When we reached the peak of a hill on a road that seemed to have no end, we found hope in the dim lights of a far away village just this side of the horizon. We were both ecstatically overjoyed that now at last we had rediscovered civilization. Those lights revealed that there were human beings with whom we could reestablish our citizenship with humanity. There would be this night no lurking creatures under the cover of darkness who were seeking fresh meat.

So we meandered into this village or town that had itself long gone into dreamland. We were strangers seeking an inn, or campsite, or whatever among the narrow streets and alleys where we could camp and coma for the night. To this day I cannot recall the name of that village, or town, or whatever. I have no idea where we stopped and slept in the back of our home on wheels. All I know is that “Yes dear” had brought us to a place where sleep could be secured with a wife who was now resting in the arms of a husband who had behaved the two magic words of a successful marriage.

He had momentarily gone off the main road—had a lapse of memory—but he repentantly was now back into fulfilling a contract that long ago read, “To love and to protect.” All it took was “Yes dear,” and subsequently a restoration of peace was secured among the two parties of this lifetime expedition, or at least, “until death do us part.”

[Chapter from a forthcoming book.]

Uncertain Destinies

“We’ve not seen any people for hours?” Martha, my wife, nervously questioned as we found ourselves somewhere on a deserted wilderness road of the grid in the outback of Africa.

We had been laboriously bouncing along this pathway from one pothole to another, sometimes anxiously wondering why we were where we were in the first place. Unfortunately, I have this adventurous spirit deep in my soul for which Martha has often had to pay the price or just enjoy the ride. Most of the time she rode shotgun with a willing spirit. But then there were those times—this was one of them—when she patiently struggled against the residuals of security that still lingered from her city bones. Over the years, I have tried to extract those bones from her in order to give her some relief in the midst of my adventurous excursions that ended us up in situations in which we were on this day.

“Don’t worry. I think I know where we are,” I confidently replied as we edged near to the summit of another mountain. I had assured myself that the peak of this mountain would give us hope of where we might be in the African wilderness in which we found ourselves.

When adventuring in a wilderness, mountains are always opportunities for great expectations that lie just beyond the peaks. There is a certain hope that generates within one’s mind as he or she nears the summit. One leads himself to believe that just on the other side of the peak there is a panoramic view that will lead to the discovery of where he really is. And hopefully this discovery will reveal that one is closer to his intended destination. So on one of those adventurous wandering expeditions, and over a particular mountain peak of expectation, we both peered from a forsaken path somewhere off the grid in the middle of Africa.

So before we reached the peak, I prepared Martha. I put on a face of confidence as I turned and said to her, “As soon as we peek over this peak we will discover where we are.” We were in a deserted range of mountains that had concealed civilization. Admittedly, both of us yearned for an end to our epic bone-rattling expedition.

After uttering these words, I covertly concealed my own apprehensions concerning our whereabouts. I was soberly cautious not to signal through any facial expressions or voice articulation any of my own possibility that we just might be somewhat lost. At the time, Martha needed some settling reassurance from her supposed brave African guide. After all, I had convinced her throughout the years that men never get lost. They only loose some recollection of their presence.

So as we tipped over the summit of a particular mountain somewhere in Africa, the expectations of both of us were suddenly dashed. Martha quivered out loud, “But the road has no end.” We were both condemned to the unknown. Our faith had brought us to one mountain after another, but the peaks gave us no satisfaction.

It was as if our destiny had been shifted far beyond our hope. Our expectations were exhausted. We were cheated of destiny. And so often is life. When we think we have arrived, we find ourselves behind. When we think we have reached a peak for hope, we are jolted into reality that we are really in the pits.

When traveling for Jesus, mountain peaks of hope often deliver no direction for one’s arrival at a particular time in life. Sometimes, they only bring us to a point of disorientation. Life for Jesus is that way simply because Jesus expects our faith to kick in when we are in times of despair. If we keep going in the right direction, His destiny for us will eventually be realized. And as long as we are looking unto Jesus, we have no other recourse but to keep going from one mountain to another.

I cautiously glanced out of the corner of my eye at the fuel gauge and calculated somewhat how much further we could journey on into the forsaken wilderness in which we found ourselves. Once I realized that the petrol gauge was quivering close the “E,” I came to the uncomfortable realization that all was not well. There was that gut feeling that led me to surmise that our intended destiny might be beyond the capacity of what was left in our fuel tank. There certainly would be no joy stranded in the middle of the wilderness with an empty tank. All those stories of people being lost, stranded and dying in Africa flashed through my memory.

In my spiritual life, I have been in such situations as this before. At the time, I thought I was out of spiritual gas in a wilderness of disorientation with no direction. I knew my gifts as a disciple of Jesus, but the destiny, or where I would minister with those gifts, would just not reveal itself. My destiny seemed to be so evasive, if not totally obscure in the unknown future. So I just continued to laboriously journey over one mountain peak after another until frustration set in. Prayers then became pleas for a peak of hope.

Nevertheless, faith drove me on regardless of what was yet to be. There was no other alternative in this glorious adventure of living the gospel of Jesus. As Jesus stood on the brink of heaven, I am sure He felt as I when He was about to make that leap of faith into an incarnate body of flesh on earth He, as I, could only say, “Not my will, Father, but yours be done.”

Many years ago back in the 60s when Martha uttered the words, “I do,” she had no idea that she was marrying adventure. Our first adventure to places we had never been sprang into life as we, with four children from nine months to six years of age, were off to Brazil. We then made our way all over the West Indies. And finally it was to Africa.

Just before boarding a plane for the African continent, we were at a shopping mall in America. Martha witnessed me throwing sleeping bags, tents and other wilderness paraphernalia into the shopping cart.

“Why are you buying sleeping bags and all that stuff?”, she interrogated, while starting to realize the real “Indiana Jones” she had signed up with back in 66.

“Everybody in Africa sleeps in sleeping bags and tents,” I sheepishly replied. She had no idea what was on my mind and what to expect. She had never been to Africa, so I played on her ignorance of the adventure into which I was leading her.

During that first year in Africa we found ourselves venturing here and there from one wilderness to another, from one Bible teaching class to another. Throughout the 90s we made our way into the interior of ten to twelve countries a year in order to fulfill the destiny of both of our lives. I had found my destiny, and she was along to enjoy the ride to discover her own.

Once one discovers his or her God-given gifts, and the destiny where those gifts can be implemented to the glory of God, then it is as if that final mountain peak over which one gazes leads toward one’s purpose in life. I can assure you that it is an adventure of faith along the way. Nevertheless, it is a joyous adventure with our Lord Jesus Christ. It has to be that way.

On that particular wilderness journey from one mountain peak to another, we finally made ourselves to the final peak where our destiny was gloriously revealed. There was an end to the road. We had conquered all apprehension through faith. By just driving on and on in the face of doubt, we were finally award our destiny. We just kept the faith along the way.

We somehow find those journeys that lead to questionable destinations. I have a tendency to leave the bold lines that indicate main roads on a map in order to explore the fine lines. I once submitted Martha to take with me a questionable turn off the main-line path that was carved out of the Namib Desert of Namibia in order to traverse in an area where there were no lines. It was another adventure into the unknown and I just could not help myself. As we labored along on a sandy road, it seemed as if the whole world disappeared behind us as we ventured over one sand dune to another. As we struggled along in the sand in second gear, Martha became increasingly silent. And when Martha is silent, there is disturbance in the air.

Along that desert sand track that seemed to lead to nowhere, I again glanced at the fuel gauge. So had she. The anxiety of the moment was increasing as both of us hoped for a destiny to arise just over the summit of the next sand dune. It seemed like we were again trying to go beyond the limits of our fuel tank.

Everyone has experienced a wilderness at times in life. It is the way life is. We have all found ourselves in a desert with no destiny in view. We sometimes feel marooned without hope. We often find ourselves just skipping along from one peak to another, sometimes numb emotionally and without any hope for better things. Each pothole almost becomes unbearable. Our fuel tank is running dangerously low. Martha and I have a closet that is full of T-shirts on these matters.

When you are there—marooned in a desert—it is a time for faith. In fact, maybe God allows us to go into the wilderness or desert in order to exercise the vitality of our faith, or maybe just validate our faith. And then maybe we are to just keep pushing the envelope of our faith. If this is all true, then I will be the first to testify that it works. Some doors do not open unless you leap toward them when they are closed. But keep in mind, that my closet is also full of T-shirts. Each one hangs there in my closet as a testimony that God does deliver us from desert dunes and wilderness journeys.

So over one hopeful dune after another, I did not know exactly where we were on that Namib Desert pathway we were making for ourselves. I just knew that we needed to keep driving West. That was the direction of the Atlantic Ocean, which was a pretty big body of water that I was sure we could not miss. Sooner or later, we would strike water and waves as the desert gave way to ocean.

But I will never forget that when we peaked over that final dune, Martha leaned forward and strained her eyes to see far in a distance. She excitedly turn to me and burst out, “CARS! CARS!” What she really meant was, “We’re saved! We’re saved!”

She was the first to identify two or three vehicles that were driving on the coastal road of the Atlantic Ocean of the Namib Desert. So indeed, we were saved.

I suppose the moral of this story is that in those times of great apprehension in life—or simply downright discouragement or disorientation—just keep driving over the mountain peaks or sand dunes. Keep looking for the cars. I assure you, sooner or later you will be able to cry out, “I’m saved! I’m saved!” And indeed you are by the grace of God. Never forget that.

Prayer Beyond Theatrics

It seems that the early disciples witnessed on may occasions the prayer performances of religiously misguide fanatics who identified their religions with the ceremonial performance of their prayers and other ritualistic theatrics. Such religious performances were so prevalent and common in the first century that when John the Baptist came as the forerunner of the Christ, he had to teach his disciples the simplicity of prayer (Lk 11:1).

When Jesus was revealed as the true light, He too needed to teach His disciples how to pray. After determining that there was a significant difference between Jesus’ prayers and the prayers of the religionists of the day, one of Jesus’ disciple eventually came to Him and asked, “Lord, teach us to pray as John also taught his disciples” (Lk 11:1). It was then that Jesus taught the disciples the substance of that for which they must pray, as well as how they should make their requests known to the Father (Lk 11:2,3). Jesus and John had to teach their disciples how to pray because the misguided performance of prayers of the religious world in which the disciples lived.

When the gospel moved out of Palestine and into all the world, there was the continued need that prayer be taught to the new disciples because the gospel had brought many out of idolatry. In the absence of the written New Testament Scriptures, one of the works of the Holy Spirit among the early disciples was to teach proper prayer. This was Paul’s meaning in the statement, “The Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession with groanings that cannot be uttered” (Rm 8:26).

If the religious-oriented disciples of Jesus and John needed to be taught how to pray, then certainly the Gentiles, who were converted out of idolatry in their obedience to the gospel, needed to be taught to pray correctly with the help of the Holy Spirit (See 1 Co 14:15). But when the Scriptures were written on the matter of proper prayer, there was no longer the need that the Spirit directly lead the disciples in prayer. The miraculous gift of prayer passed away (See 1 Co 13:8-10). If one seeks to be taught how to pray today, then he or she must study the Spirit-inspired manual on prayer, the New Testament.

We must understand that Jesus did not give His disciples a ceremonial ritual of prayer to perform. Neither did He give them a recital of words that should be repeated in order to pray properly. Jesus did not establish a religion by handing down a legal ceremony of ritualistically worded prayer that would identify His disciples. Doing such would have established the disciples as just another religion of the day with their own unique ceremony of prayer to perform.

If we would legally use the exact words that Jesus gave to illustrate the substance of correct prayer, then we would be ceremonializing the words, and thus instituting another ritual of religion that should offer prayers exactly as He stated. And then we need to consider the fact that if we used as our prayer the exact words that He gave in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4, then we could not pray for one another, for none of us were mentioned personally in Jesus’ example prayer.

In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus wanted to make it clear that His disciples would not cry out from morning to noon as the Baal prophets with some ceremonial prayer of repetitious words and phrases (See 1 Kg 18:26). He did not want the disciples to cry out in confusion in public places that would bring attention to themselves as specialists in prayer. Neither would they pray themselves into an emotional frenzy, even to the point of falling down, or cutting themselves as the Baal prophets (1 Kg 18:28). If they prayed in such a manner, then the Holy Spirit said that when the unbeliever witnessed such confusion, he would think that they were mad (1 Co 14:23). At least one principle in the Spirit’s instructions concerning prayer is very clear: The manner of our prayers should never give the pretense of confusion, madness or false spirituality.

In order to guard His disciples against digression into the confusion and disorder of showmanship prayer, Jesus gave some important principles that should characterize our prayers and the atmosphere in which we should pray:

A. Sincere prayer:

“When you prayer,” Jesus instructed, “you will not be as the hypocrites” (Mt 6:5). The religious leaders during Jesus’ ministry were the Pharisees who gave a pretense of righteousness in public places because “they love the praise of men more than the praise of God” (Jn 12:43). They publicly prayed for the praise of men. But at the same time they were inwardly ravenous wolves (See Mt 7:15-20). Nevertheless, they loved to utter public prayers in order to be seen of men to be spiritual in their prayers. If people seek to be seen in public for their boisterous praying, then they are hypocrites as the Pharisees because they pray for the praise of men.

B. Unnoticed prayer:

Jesus continued to teach the disciples, “When you pray, enter into your closet” (Mt 6:6). The metaphor of the closet is clear. Once in the closet of secrecy, shut the door to the public. Jesus wanted us to understand that in the secrecy of our “closets” we can pour out our hearts to God without being tempted to draw the attention of the people to us in our prayers. In such a personal location of communication with God in secret, we would not be tempted to use some hypocritical “prayer language” to approach God. We would not be tempted to preach in our prayers. We would be motivated to understand that a quiet prayer in seclusion is as effective as a prayer in public before the assembly.

C. Quiet prayer:

The volume of one’s prayer does not enhance its effectiveness. Volume does not guarantee answered prayer. We must not pray as if God were deaf. Some feel that prayer in a loud voice demands that God listen. However, shouting prayers are more self-centered than God directed. When more than one person is praying publicly at the same time, the people who are praying often get into a shouting contest in order to be seen by others that they are praying with earnestness. If one is seeking public attention for his praying, then he needs to find a closet.

D. Prayer without repetitions:

In view of the repetitious words and phrases that were used by the Pharisees in their prayers, Jesus instructed His disciples, “When you pray, do not use meaningless repetitions” (Mt 6:7). Some translations render this verse with the phrase “vain repetitions.” In other words, repeating the same words or phrases over and over again is useless, if not senseless. In the eyes of God, it is meaningless to go on chattering with repetitious phrases. God is not one to whom we must repeat what we say in order for Him to hear and understand. Saying the same phrases over many times in prayer is simply meaningless chatter in the ears of God. If we spoke to one another in such a manner, we would think that we were all mad. Why do we think we can speak in the same repetitious manner to God?

E. Few words in prayer:

Those who practice repetitious prayer performances “think that they will be heard for their many words” (Mt 6:7). The Baal prophets of Elijah’s day led themselves to believe this. They cried out in prayer most of the day (1 Kg 18:26). The vain worshipers of the temple of Ephesus believed the same, and thus, they cried out in praise of the goddess Artemis for two hours with the same meaningless chant (At 19:28). If we do the same in our prayers today, then we have followed after the same religious ceremonialism in prayer as the prophets of Baal and the idolatrous worshipers of Artemis in Ephesus. If Elijah were alive today, he would certainly take the opportunity to mock those who behaved as the Baal prophets, as well as those in the temple of Artemis who chanted the same phrase over and over for two hours.

In order that His disciples not lead themselves into believing that repetitious prayer performances are profitable, Jesus reminded His disciples, “Your Father knows what things you need before you ask Him” (Mt 6:8). Jesus’ statement does not say that the Father answers our prayers before we pray simply because He already knows our needs. Jesus was revealing the omniscience of the One to whom we pray.

Before we pray, the Father always knows that for which we would ask, and thus, asking over and over for the same thing assumes that we believe God does not know our needs. Before we start a shouting session of repetitious words and phrases in a performance of prayer, therefore, we need to remember that all such behavior in prayer is useless and senseless in view of the fact that the Father already knows that for which we would pray.

We must keep in mind that our Father wants us to communicate with Him. He does not need to be preached to in prayer. Neither does He need repetitious shouting, or confusion. As His children, He simply desires that we lay our hearts before Him in words that come from a dependent child who calls on Him for comfort and reassurance. There is no need to make our conversation with God a performance. Whenever we think of performance, we must always remember that performance is something that we do for men. The Baal prophets of Elijah’s day were masters at performances in prayer (1 Kg 18).

Surreal Experiences

I wrestled my old bones out of a cozy bed on a farmer’s early morning in order to encounter a rural group of faraway disciples. They had regularly corralled themselves together on Sunday morning on a distant farm two towns away from where Martha and I had homesteaded. Once my bones had reconnected, and my mind recovered to some sense just past dreams, I was on my way to a land just beyond the rising sun. It was going to be a great day.

A warm invitation had initially and telephonically arrived at my ear a month before from a Christian game reserve and farm manager on the West Coast of South Africa. As soon as Stefan, the manager, released the words “game farm” into the telephone, there was no hesitation in my reply. How could I, as a relic of old farming days, deny such an alluring invitation to my distant past.

For a long month that surely passed beyond the allotted limit of thirty days, I eagerly awaited in anticipation to ignite the diesel cylinders of our White Rhino in order to press the throttle toward a return to a familiar culture of yesteryear. Being burdened with the urban, I was ambitious to awaken suppressed sentiments of foregone days on a farm in central Kansas.

After bypassing two towns on my exciting adventure to an exciting destination, the comfort of smoothly paved passage ways turned into the challenge of dusty dirt and sandy roads. As the dust crept through every minute crevice in the cocoon of my transport, the smell of choking dust restored my long-forgotten memories. I was at last on my way to my almost forgotten rural roots. I recalled from memory what my father over a half century ago always said: “Boys, you can take the boy off the farm, but you can never take the farm out of the farm boy.” It was going to be a great day of giving freedom to this farm boy that had laid in solitary confinement in the bondage of my present.

And how do you supposed an eagerly expectant visitor is greeted at the entrance gate into a farming kingdom? The inviting warm smile of Stefan was there as he swung his farm heart and gate wide open for my arrival. From that entrance moment that was just short of the Pearly Gates to come, myself and others enjoyed the sweet hospitality that only isolated farmers can offer. We all basked ourselves in the loving arms of the Stefan Steencamps and one another. Throughout the encounter of those of a kindred spirit, love blossomed as the daisies in a near pasture.

Novels are written of surreal rural encounters as these. I was given birth by a farmers wife who was a host and teacher for farmers in rural Kansas. My past finally caught up with me, and that past was sweet. The experiential fellowship of such farm gatherings are difficult to generate in urban centers with those, who during the gatherings, often have somewhere else on their minds to go. Before urbanites get over their weekly re-acquaintance with one another as disconnected disciples of the city, their encounter in assembly is often shut down with a “closing prayer.” Before they realize it, their “appointed hour” is over and they find themselves in making formal “good byes” in order to escape to another appointment. What sometimes becomes habitual formalities in assembly often makes the participants emotionally distant from one another. But farm house assemblies are often very different. In such reunions, one finds himself or herself forcing departure from one another, even though in a few days all the participants will encounter one another again in loving fellowship the following Sunday.

It seems that exhilarant communication springs into life when Christian farmers come together. It is as if their assembly encounter with one another only seven days before never came to an end. They simply pick up the conversation from where they left off, focusing on a common cultural connection with Christ and farming. It’s just not like urban encounters where each participant of the group has been in a different business adventure and culture throughout the week. Too few attendees have a common vocational background upon which communication can be continued indefinitely. Christ is in common, but there is no platform of life-style culture that bonds them together. Farmers speak a language that is a strange tongue to urbanites.

And then there is the matter of one’s taste buds. On this occasion, my taste buds were driven into a surreal experience around a luscious love feast. On the farm, “home grown” is light years away from “shop bought.” There is a freshness about the farm table. It overflows with the succulence that stimulates salivation long before the first bite is ushered into one’s entrance to the stomach. “Oh my!” are the only words that are fit to describe fruits and vegetables that have been freshly freed from a garden just outside a farm house. Their new residence was on top of my taste buds, and then into a stomach that could be revived only by lounging for some time on a sofa. In definition of rural culture, the love feast reaches a zenith of expression by the participants, who conclude, “Where have we been all our lives?” The table of a farm assembly declares throughout the meal experience that we have all finally come home.

Because I had another encounter that day “in the city” at 5:00, I slipped up for a moment by regressing back into my city culture. Since I wear no watch, I had to ask someone, “What time is it?” I had to instantly become apologetic for having to depart from such a spiritual gathering when someone said, “It’s about 5:00.” That information set in motion my hasty departure, wondering at the time, how much better can a Sunday get. It was a great day.

So I tore myself away from the arms of love, and was back in the White Rhino. As I throttled speedily down that country road, I was again reminded that dust smells good. So I darted through the first small village, and then made my way on to the next. As I meandered through town two, I made a wrong turn, corrected, and then was back on the main way through congestion. As I passed through the squatter camp on the south side of town, I hunkered down behind the controls of the vehicle. When in such areas one’s mind often envisions a thrown rock or something worse.

As I began to breathe some relief on the way out of town, I passed through a taxi (bus) depot. In the midst of a Sunday evening crowd of hopefuls who were on their way back home as I, taxis and buses surrounded the intersection. A hoard of humanity populated the area as passengers waited patiently for some bus to carry them home from the city, many going to places from which I had just come … the farm. I came to a stop at the intersection in the midst of the masses. I glanced both ways, and then anxiously pressed on. Out of the corner of my eye, and in the midst of bodies between two buses, I thought I saw Felix.

Brother Felix is a Malawian immigrant who lives in my home village. He has worked my garden every two weeks for over a year. He is married, with a wife and two children back in Rumphi, Malawi. I think I may have taught seminars at the Rumphi Mission in Malawi during the 90s long before he was born.

I said to myself, “Surely not. How could my eye in a glance pick Felix out of a mass of humanity, and then disappear behind a bus as I traveled on?” So I carried on for about a city block. But then I pulled over to the side of the road. I just sat there thinking that I had only experienced seeing someone who only looked like Felix. I made every argument to myself not to go back to that mass of humanity and vehicles. After all, I almost convincingly rationalized, I had the 5:00 meeting that I was rushing on to attend.

So while I sat there and pondered the possibility that I had only experienced some vision of Felix, I glanced in my rear view mirror. And in a distance I could see this man running furiously toward me with bags in both hands—maybe bags of rocks. As he neared the door of the White Rhino, he swung the door open with a smile that went from one ear to another. It was indeed brother Felix who was returning home after a Sunday assembly in that town.

Both of us just sat there, being overwhelmed with the surrealism of the encounter. We just absorbed the moment. He had been waiting for a bus for over three hours. We just could not get over such a chance encounter of two brothers discovering one another in the midst of a mass of people in another town. He said that out of the corner of his eye he also saw the White Rhino—which he had washed many times at the house—before I passed beyond the buses. It seems that visionary moments as these are locked in one’s memory forever. He said he peered around the buses and saw my tail lights come on, and that I had pulled over. So he said, “I picked up my bags and started running as fast as I could.” A great day had now turned in a magnificent day!

We were exhilarated by the “chance” encounter we had with one another in another town. We could not get over the ordeal, as we now traveled on to our home village where both of us lived. I told Felix that I was going home to pick up Martha, and then go on to the 5:00 meeting in the city.

After about fifteen minutes down the road, Felix started to vigorously look through his bags and check his pockets. Both of our hearts just sank deep into despair when he announced, “I can’t find my cellphone!” We drove on. All the communication numbers of those with whom he worked, as well as his wife and two children in Malawi, were on that phone. He transferred his money to his wife and children to Malawi through an account that was linked to that phone. I thought to myself, “What a terrible ordeal to end such a surreal day. Satan has done his best to dash the joy of both of us.” Satan made a good day turn bad.

I became desperate in despair as I empathized so much with him. But I could not overcome the shocking disappointment that he was experiencing. I thought that I could just buy him a new phone, as someone had bought for him the phone that was now lost. That might soothe his pain. But this would not replace all the information on the phone.

I could not bear the disappointment any longer. Empathy conquered hopelessness. So I just stopped in the middle of traffic on a busy main road, and turned back. With all hope against hope, we would return to the scene where Satan had ruined both of our good days. Felix explained that he had put the phone in his shirt pocket. We both concluded that it must have bounced out of his pocket when he ran so vigorously for me at the bus stop.

We eventually arrived at the scene of discouragement. I stopped about a city block before the bus stop and let Felix out to start a futile search by walking back to where he commenced his vigorous jog to catch me. We both knew that this was a hopeless effort because there were people milling around everywhere. Someone had surely looked down, saw the phone, and then went away with a newly acquired gift. Nevertheless, we were both trying to do everything possible to relieve ourselves of despondency.

I then drove up to the intersection of the bus stop. I casually glanced across the road and saw on the ground a faint sparkle gleaming from under the dust of the walkway along the road. “That can’t be,” I thought to myself. With a hopeful thrill, I knew I had to check the source of the sparkle. I crammed on the brakes in the middle of the intersection with people and cars dodging around me. I threw open the door of the White Rhino, jumped out in the traffic and ran to the sparkle. I ran as if in a 100-meter scramble to beat others who likewise may have noticed the sparkle.

And looking down, I saw through the dust that had been thrown over the object that was emitting the sparkle. It was Felix’s cellphone almost completely covered in dust. In all my exhilaration I just could not believe what I had just discovered. Only that sparkle off the corner of the phone was exposed, and subsequently had caught my eye from the far side of the road as the evening sun notified me that all would be well.

You can only imagine the exuberance of both Felix and myself as we carried on. We just went on and on with joy over the experience. It was simply a surreal discovery, so surreal that one’s faith moves him to conclude that more was at work than fate. Who would ever have believed that a cellphone that was lost in the middle of the masses at a bus stop would ever be found. I said to Felix, “Satan tried to spoil our day, but God had our backs. It’s going to be a fabulous day!”

(I missed that 5:00. But I was so high on thanksgiving, that I never thought about it again. Sometimes in our lives, something happens that just cannot be explained by either fate or coincidence. If you have read this editorial, we both know who to thank.)

Gospel Troublemakers

Seriously, I would have loved to have personally met the prophet Elijah. Here was a hero of faith who was surrounded by God’s presence. For example, on one occasion he stood alone and brave with God against the religious prophets and priests of his day, mocking them for their misguided religious shenanigans. Nevertheless, though brave in the face of misguided religionists, he had his times of apprehension, especially when government officials turned against him. After his victory in the contest of God over the Baal prophets on Mount Carmel, he fled to the wilderness of Sinai in fear of the wicked Jezebel, the king’s wife.

Throughout his life as a man, however, he wavered not in the midst of the Baal prophets of Israel. He stood firm on his faith in the one true and living God of Israel. Being in the minority, he stood untouched by the majority of the religious leaders of Israel who had led the majority of the people into apostasy. Only seven thousand people of all Israel continued to believe in the one God with whom the nation had a covenant relationship (1 Kg 19:18).

In knowing that God was near, Elijah had the spiritual fortitude to challenge the religionists of his day. So he challenged them to an “offering contest” on Mount Carmel (See 1 Kg 18:16-45). At the time, King Ahab had confronted Elijah with the question, “Are you he who troubles Israel?” (1 Kg 18:17). The one who troubled Israel would again trouble the false religionists on Mount Carmel. Faithful men of God always mean trouble for misguided religious leaders. In the challenge of the Mount Carmel contest, Elijah wanted to present the opportunity for the misguided religionists to reveal their nonsense by being challenged by the one true and living God.

One can often know if he is a faithful man of God if the religionists in the community ask him, “Are you he who troubles the people?” True men of God must “trouble” those who have been led astray by misguided religiosity. People must deal with the word of God that reveals the gospel, and the gospel always troubles puffed up religionists who trust in the ceremonies of their own religions (See Jn 12:48). In this way, Jesus was a troublemaker (See Mk 7:1-9).

So the one who troubled Israel challenged the religious leaders of his time. The contest was accepted, and so all the preparations were made to build altars to reveal whose God was alive and whose god was dead. All the prophets of Baal and Asherah were on the government payroll of the First Lady (Jezebel) of the country (1 Kg 18:19). They needed to be challenged to validate their faith with a miracle from their god.

The Baal prophets were as those religious leaders today who maintain their pomp and positions in apostate religions because they follow the money of the contributors. There are some religious groups today whose leaders are also on a government payroll. In the Mount Carmel “altar contest,” the “profiteers” were to be publicly exposed as Elijah set the stage for a contest between their gods and the one true God.

Elijah sought to proclaim before the nation that the religious leaders—the priests and prophets of Baal and Asherah—had hijacked the faith of Israel. Elijah thus arranged an opportunity for these religious profiteers to expose themselves before the people. So on Mount Carmel, he challenged them to build an altar upon which to make a sacrifice to their god. Elijah also challenged the misguided people, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him, but if Baal, follow him” (1 Kg 18:21). The unsuspecting Baal preachers accepted the challenge that was made by the man of God, and the people subsequently gather to watch the spectacle.

So the proceedings began. After the Baal preachers had prepared their sacrifice, the account of the incident reads that “they called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying ‘O Baal, hear us!” (1 Kg 18:26). This reminds us of some today who stand up in religious centers across the land and make a similar cry for a miracle from God: “Lord, Lord, please hear us” (See Mt 7:21).

When the preachers of Baal received no answer to their pleas, “they leaped about on the altar that was made” (1 Kg 18:26). There they jumped up and down, crying out from their “pulpit altar” in a senseless rant in order that they might bring their audience into a hypnotic trance to “receive a miracle.” There are those today who do likewise, leaping up and down, and falling down on their performance stages before the people in order to “receive a miracle from God.” They plead for an answer from their god that they too have created after their own imagination. But as in the case of the Mount Carmel performers, their god is silent.

Religion is based on specific religious ceremonies that the adherents of the religion must perform in order to identify their religion. Their ceremonies must be legally performed in order to perpetuate the religion, and thus identify those who are aligned with their religion. What the Baal prophets were doing was performing their customary ceremonies of prayer in order to involve some response from the gods they had created after their own desires. This is exactly what Elijah wanted them to do in order to draw out of them their hypocrisy before the people. So when they revealed their religious foolishness, Elijah mocked them for their performances of prayer to their god: “Now it came to pass at noon that Elijah mocked them” (1 Kg 18:27).

Nevertheless, the Baal prophets could not help themselves but to continue to cry out for some response from their god. And Elijah continued to mock them: “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is meditating or he is busy or he is on a journey. Perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kg 18:27).

The infuriated preachers intensified their prayer performance. Notice carefully what the Holy Spirit wrote about their prayer performance before the people: “So they cried with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out of them” (1 Kg 18:28). They did not just cut a few blood veins, in their rapturous prayer performance. They cut even into main arteries. It was a gruesome sight to behold, one that was deserving of the mockery of the man of God.

We notice something interesting in the preceding statement of the Holy Spirit concerning the gruesome ordeal. The prayer performance of cutting themselves was not an anomaly in reference to their pleading for some miracle from their god only on this occasion. It was their custom to cut themselves in this way when they conducted prayer performances to their god. Their bodies were covered with scars from previous cuttings in their ritualistic performances of meaningless prayers.

People in various religions throughout the world today do likewise. In the first century, there were certainly some who were carrying on with similar meaningless chatter in prayer performances to their gods that they had also created after their own imaginations. Paul almost walked into a gathering of such performing religionists in Ephesus in order to preach the gospel. Once the mob of fanatical religionists in Ephesus became emotionally out of control, they cried out in a prayer performance for two hours, shouting, “Great is Artemis [Diana] of the Ephesians!” (At 19:28).

But there was Paul, just as Elijah. He wanted to trouble the people with the gospel. So, “Paul wanted to go into the assembly” of the confused religious fanatics (At 19:30). As Elijah knew that God was the one true and living God who worked in his life without all the performing ceremonial confusion, so Paul wanted to step into the Ephesian crowd of emotionally energized religionists and preach the gospel. In doing so, he would have greatly troubled the multitude.

“But the disciples [of Ephesus] did not allow him” (At 19:34). The disciples who lived among these religious fanatics knew that they would beat Paul to death if he confronted them with the gospel that brings freedom from religious nonsense. This gospel is the message of the One who is the Lord of all those lords that men want to create in their own imaginations to condone their misguided religiosity. The goddess Artemis was only the figment of the Ephesians’ imagination. As the prophets of Baal, the religionists of Ephesus could perform with emotional prayer chatter for hours, but there would be no answer. There is never an answer from a god that does not exist. Listen to the Holy Spirit’s final account of the extravaganza:

Now it came to pass when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice nor any to answer, NOR ANY WHO PAID ATTENTION (1 Kg 18:29).

At least we can say that these propheteers were energetically persistent. We can only imagine that they were totally exhausted by the end of the day, dripping with sweat from the ordeal of their altar-pulpit performance. Nevertheless, regardless of their high-powered preaching, there was no god to answer. Even the people became bored with their pulpiteering performance. Sometimes, the more energetic one preaches, the less he believes in the god he supposedly represents before the people.

2 Peter 3:14-18

Verses 14-18
“These Things”

“Therefore, beloved, seeing that you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless. And regard the longsuffering of our Lord as salvation, even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given to him has written to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which those who are untaught and unstable distort to their own destruction, as they do also the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, seeing you know these things before, beware lest you also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever. Amen.”

Peter’s reference to “these things” certainly refers to the events about which he had just written. In the historical context of his readers who were faced with constant mockery and scoffing, we assume that “these things” are the same things about which Peter, James, John and Andrew asked Jesus when Jesus had just revealed that not one stone would be left on another in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (See Mt 24:2; Mk 13:3). They were concerned about that which was going to happen in their lifetime (Mk 9:1). Jesus admonished those early disciples not to be deceived, but to look for those things about which He spoke in reference to the end of Israel.

We would not do justice to this context if we were to use “these things” as a reference to the “signs of the time” for which we must be looking in order to anticipate the coming of the Lord at the end of time. We must stay in the historical context of the early Jewish Christians who were about to experience the termination of their Jewish nationhood. They were about to suffer a tremendous attack against their religion through the destruction of the temple.

On the other hand, Christians today are in the business of populating the new heavens and new earth through the preaching of the gospel. The more God delays the destruction of this present heavens and earth the more opportunity we have to enroll citizens in the world to come.

Because the future events have no parallel in either the present or past, there are those who will “twist the Scriptures” about these matters (2 Pt 3:16). They do so because they are untaught and unstable in the word of God. The result of their twisting will be their own demise. In the immediate historical context in which Peter wrote, Peter here referred to those mockers and scoffers in the lives of the Jewish Christians who were saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Pt 3:4). Since this was the case, then surely their destruction will be in the mass genocide that would take place in the wars of Rome against Jewish nationalism. Jesus warned of the same in Matthew 24.

But there are also those today who are twisting the Scriptures concerning future events. No few false proclaimers of the end of time have arisen throughout history. Their erroneous prognostications have led to thousands being deceived into believing all sorts of false doctrines and signs concerning the end of time. Jesus would remind such people with the warning that He gave to the disciples in Matthew 24, “Be not deceived.”

[End of series on 2 Peter 3.]