Category Archives: Inscriptions

Invasion

Among the numerous animals for which my father attended on a Kansas farm in central America, were sheep. He always had between 400 to 500 of these wool-bearing creatures. Because sheep demanded so much maintenance, none of us three brothers, once grown, ever wanted to posses another sheep. It is not that they are not lovely little creations, but that they require some serious maintenance. But this may be why the Great One created them. He needed to give us an animal that would teach us how to care for others as He cares for us.

My once close relationship with sheep taught me to be a care giver, as well as a loyal follower. It all started in my younger years with a particular orphan. During the time of year when the mama sheep were at the end of baking in the oven new baby sheep, there were cute little miniature sheep—lambs—popping out in the dangerous world everywhere in the pasture.

There can be nothing more innocent than a cute little newly born lamb. But at the same time, there is nothing more dependent than these little balls of fluffy wool who constantly wiggle their tails as they sumptuously drain milk from their mamas. Unfortunately, sometimes either by coyotes, or the untimely death of some mother sheep, an orphaned lamb must be rescued by humans. It is then that the real adventure of sheep farming springs into life.

I must have been no more than shoulder high to a mama sheep when a particular mama sheep orphaned her cuddly offspring into the care of humans. This was my first experience with raising orphaned lambs. At the time, I thought it a thrilling opportunity to have a lamb as a pet? So I adopted and named, and thus, Woolie became my adopted friend. But before you consign yourself to running a lamb orphanage, there are a few facts of life—not human life, but lamb life—that you should know. I speak as a seasoned lamb/sheep whisper who experienced the adventures that these little innocent critters can unload on those who are so brave as to accept the responsibility of becoming the mama to a lamb.

So into my youthful arms came Woolie. He was a cute little critter from the time when his mother met her demise one fateful night when the coyotes roamed the Kansas prairie. It was in the early morning hours when my father heard the baying cries of an orphan who had lost his mother to the dangers of life. My father subsequently rescued little Woolie and brought him safely to the comfort and care of the farm house.

It was indeed exciting to nurture from a bottle this little “pet.” We warmed the milk, poured it into a Coke bottle, put a nipple on it, and then little Woolie went to work sumptuously draining every drop. At the time, it seemed that I had become the “duck mother” to an orphan of another species. Little Woolie took no concern for this difference, knowing only that I was a warm body who held the bottle that satisfied his relentless hunger. From his lambhood, therefore, he would not leave my side, always hoping for a Coke bottle full of nourishment.

When Woolie was just a little staggering lamb, all went well. But when the Coke bottle feeding gave way to the regular sustenance of abundant hay, then things began to change.

Cute little Woolie became this obnoxious big sheep who could not stay away from his adopted human herd of people. Whenever we were working on the machinery of the farm, there was that obnoxious sheep right there in our midst, nosing his way here and there in order to intrude into our business. After all, Woolie surely thought that there was a Coke bottle or bundle of hay to be discovered among the gears and bearings of the machinery.

Sometimes when we opened the door of the truck, he, as the dogs, would just jump into the cab. If dogs were welcome to do such, Woolie reasoned that he too should be accepted just as some flee-ridden dog. But after a few harsh words and an unpleasant tug on an ear, Woolie was extracted from the cab of the truck and left bewildered as we would drive away, leaving him standing there forlorned as to why he too could not go with the humans as the dogs. He surely could not understand why his devotion to follow was crushed as the truck disappeared down the road and out of sight.

If you have grown up among sheep, you know this story. Once a sheep has relinquished himself or herself to you, you cannot drive them away, and you cannot drive away from them. They are so innocent in this way. You have become the adopted mother and the bonded herd of their fellowship in this world. Where you lead, they will go. Where you are, they want to be. And so was Woolie. He was as God made him.

In about a year after I adopted Woolie, my body had advanced in growth to place my head not far above the tall shoulders of Woolie. Throughout his growth, and our encounters with one another, Woolie was able to take me through countless adventures. One of these adventures was indelibly imprinted on my conscious memory even to these sixty-five years after the experience. If my mother were still alive, she too would bear witness that what I experienced on one eventful day with Woolie, or caused to happen, became the subject of many stories she would tell throughout her years. She wrote a regular column in a local newspaper. On one occasion, she wrote of this eventful day, which if I had the original column, I would simply repeat it here verbatim.

The occasion was on a calm summer morning at our farm house in central Kansas. My mother had previously invited numerous farm wives together for her regular weekly Bible fellowship, which she commenced to teach on the day of the extravaganza. So you can picture all these refined women calmly sitting in all their made-over refinery in the living room of our old farm house. This was always a special day for the area wives to experience an occasion of social finesse. They were all there with their Bibles open, totally focused on receiving as much nourishment as possible from the Bread of Life.

But then, there was an invasion of the animal kind. The whole episode originated from my own hunger. Unfortunately, the relief to my physical duress was in the kitchen. But between me and relief was this crowd of focused women in the entire living room of the house. So I quietly came up to the front door of the house, and took a cautious peek through the cracked door. There I discovered a calm gathering of women who were seated in a circle in great solitude and concentration. But I was dreadfully hungry. I thought that I could just stealthily walk unnoticed through the midst of the multitude who were so engrossed in the subject of the hour. They would not notice me at all. If I were quite, they would not be disturbed. At the moment, hunger was in control of my stomach, and food had become an obsession that distorted my plans of invasion. Therefore, I reasoned, what would be the harm of me just quietly sneaking through their midst on my way to find sustenance in the kitchen? So hunger won out over being a shy farm boy. I quietly opened the screen door of the house. I then shuffled as quietly and unnoticed as possible through the gathering of refined society.

But then, for some reason, all chaos spontaneously generated among the multitudes. I can still remember the exact location in the living room in which I stood when the horrors of the moment broke into pandemonium. High octave shrikes from exasperated female voices penetrated my ears. Commotion turned into chaos everywhere behind me. The multitude of excited females were uncontrollably jumping up here and there, spilling cups of coffee and tea on delicate dresses and carpets. Tables were overturned and papers of class notes went flying. Clutched Bibles were turned into shields against flying debris. Pens and pencils became projectiles that were launched at the invading monster. It was as if a Kansas tornado had just entered the house behind me. Since my face was focused toward the food in the kitchen, I could not figure out why my supposedly quiet slither through the multitudes would cause such a fiasco. I was at first puzzled.

And then what was transpiring behind me was sternly announced to me by my mother. She screamed out, “Roger Dickson, get that sheep out of here!” I said, “What sheep?” “That sheep,” to which she angrily directed her stiffened index finger. When I turned around, there was my faithful disciple, Woolie, right on my heals.

Unfortunately in the midst of the social chaos of the moment, Woolie was also caught up in a moment of ecstasy. And as all sheep do when they get excited, wide-eyed and terrified Woolie now began releasing little brown pellets from his posterior. He just could not help himself. Surrounded with all the female hysteria in the room, it was only for him to have an involuntary natural response. Subsequently, smashed pellets by churchgoing shoes only intensified the hysteria of the chaos.

What had happened was that before the door had closed behind me, Woolie was right there edging his nose in before the door closed. He then instinctively followed his master. Regardless of the chaotic social environment that was transpiring, Woolie was dead focused on following where I lead. He was focused on following the one who nourished him all his life into a fully grown sheep who was somewhat fat at the time because of all the nourishment we had given him from the day he was orphaned. He was now extremely obese Woolie. He was a full grown monster of a sheep who had dared to go where no sheep had gone before, just to stay close to his master. He never grew out of his desire to follow me wherever I went, regardless of the hostiles through which he had to traverse in order to stay close.

I would do the same to traverse through the hostilities of this world to stay close to my Master and Savior, Jesus.

Suggested reading: FOLLOWING JESUS INTO GLORY
http://www.africainternational.org/files/Book%2059.pdf

Religion

Can God command things to be done, which things when obeyed, can become the identity of religion? For the sake of clarity, we need to ask this question from another perspective. Are there some things that God has commanded in the past, which if obeyed today, we would be considered religionists?
Certainly! If one has a difficult time answering, or understanding the preceding questions, then the problem may be that one is having difficulty separating the Sinai law that was given to the nation of Israel, from the law of faith and grace under which Christians now live. In fact, if one does not understand this, then he or she could be preaching the “other gospel” about which Paul warned the Christians in Galatia (See Gl 1:6-9).
Therefore, a few examples are in order. If we bind on ourselves and others that which God considers void, even though He initially commanded such to be done, then we are religionists if we practice these things today. In doing such, we have brought into our faith and grace a system of meritorious law-keeping that is contrary to the gospel of grace.
Consider the rite of circumcision. Circumcision was commanded both to Abraham and Israel as a nation (See Gn 17; Ex 12:44,48). Circumcision was a command of the Sinai law, and thus, when one was born of a Jewish family under the Sinai law, he was to be circumcised the eighth day after birth. But the law that required circumcision was nailed to the cross (Rm 7:1-4; Cl 2:14). Christians today are not required to be circumcised in order to conform to the law of circumcision. In their obedience to the gospel, they were made dead to the Sinai law.
Some Jewish Christians in the first century did not understand this. They sought to bind the rite of circumcision on the Gentile disciples in order that the Gentiles be saved. In fact, they taught that “except you [Gentiles] are circumcised after the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (At 15:1). These Jewish teachers became religionists when they bound on the disciples something that was a part of the Sinai law that was at the time void. They were binding a religious code on those who had been made dead to the law of circumcision through their obedience to the gospel. Therefore, the Holy Spirit stated that those who were preaching the law of circumcision were preaching another gospel (Gl 1:8). Paul comforted the Gentile Christians of Galatia by writing, “If anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Gl 1:9).
These are serious words. In fact, by the time Paul arrived at revelation from the Spirit in Galatians 5, the Spirit directed his hand to write, “You have been severed from Christ, you who seek to be justified by law. You have fallen from grace” (Gl 5:4). In other words, if one would bind on Christians today that which is not bound by God, then that person is severed from Christ.
Religion is defined as a system of rites and ceremonies that are required to be performed by any religious establishment in order to be saved. Even if the rite or ceremony were once a requirement of the law of God, when that law of God was made void, so also were the precepts of that law. Once void, any rite or ceremony of the law becomes a religious ordinance if bound on Christians. To bind such on those who are now under the law of faith and grace would be turning the people into a religious sect. Therefore, those Jewish Christians in the first century who bound circumcision on Gentile Christians as a rite to be saved had fallen back into the bondage of the Jews’ religion from which they had been set free by their obedience to the gospel. They were subsequently changing the gospel of freedom into the bondage of religion (See Gl 5:1).
This brings us to another illustration that should make us cautious about becoming religionists by binding that which may have initially come from God, but was made void when it was supplanted by God’s revelation of the truth of the gospel.
When Paul came through Ephesus on a mission journey, he encountered about twelve disciples who were meeting in someone’s home in the urban area of Ephesus (At 19:1). Upon his initial contact with these disciples, he asked them concerning matters of the Holy Spirit. They replied, “We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit” (At 19:2). Paul’s obvious reply was, “Into what then were you baptized?” (At 19:3). They responded, “Into John’s baptism” (At 19:3).
The baptism of John was certainly from God. In fact, “John came in the wilderness baptizing and preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mk 1:4). But between the time of John’s ministry to introduce the Son of God into the world, and about twenty-five years later when Paul encountered the disciples in Ephesus, John’s baptism became a religious rite if people were so baptized after the cross. John’s baptism was supplanted by baptism in the name of Jesus Christ on the day of Pentecost in A.D. 30. If it was bound as a religious rite after Pentecost, then it would make those who obeyed it disciples of a religion, but not Christians.
Luke recorded in Acts that there were about twelve disciples whom Paul encountered on the Ephesus visit. We could assume that one or two of the group had initially encountered John years before on a visit to Judea, or possibly were baptized by Apollos who initially knew only the baptism of John. Apollos then possibly left them, and rushed on to Corinth (At 18:27; 19:1.
Apollos had been teaching the baptism of John, but was corrected by two tentmakers in Ephesus (See At 18:24-28). He may have left the disciples that Paul encountered when he went on to Corinth. This may have been a possibility, but we feel that it was not in the nature of Apollos to leave the twelve walking in what had become at the time only a religious rite. Apollos had been preaching a religious rite out of ignorance because the baptism of John had been supplanted by baptism in the name of Jesus on Pentecost about twenty-five years before. Nevertheless, his ignorance of what was required by God after Pentecost was no excuse to change what he believed and preached at the time he arrived in Ephesus.
The twelve Ephesian disciples were sincere when they heard that they must be baptized with John’s baptism in order to receive remission of sins. They were sincere religionists. Whether they heard this message from one or two of their number who had encountered John the Baptist many years before, or from Apollos, John’s baptism had been supplanted with baptism in the name of Jesus.
By the time the twelve disciples heard of John’s baptism, it had become a religious rite, a rite that had originally come from God. But at the time God revealed this baptism to John, it was not a religious rite. It was a commandment of God that had to be obeyed if one wanted to receive remission of sins, and thus, fulfill all righteousness (Mt 3:15). But by the time Paul encouraged the twelve disciples, John’s baptism, as circumcision, were only religious rites. If one obeyed either with the belief that both were necessary for salvation, then he or she obeyed another gospel. (Those who teach tithing according to the Sinai law, as opposed to gospel-inspired giving under Christ, need to seriously consider this point.)
Only baptism in the name of Jesus is valid today. We know of a great number of people who have made their own self-declaration that they were saved, thus supposedly receiving remission of sins upon the basis of their own claim. They then made baptism a religious rite to be obeyed in order to conform meritoriously to a system of the faith that is promoted by a particular religious group into which they were initiated through baptism. Instead of knowingly being baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins (At 2:38), they had declared their own remission of sins, and thus, assumed their salvation before any baptism for the remission of sins in the name (authority) of Jesus. After their self-declaration of remission of sins took place, they were then baptized as a religious rite of the church to which they presently belong.
We must ask ourselves that if we make baptism a religious rite we perform following our own self-declaration that we are saved, then is this baptism for the remission of sins? If we have remission of sins upon the fact of our self-declaration of salvation, then why would we be baptized? If we were baptized, then were we not baptized as a religious work of merit?
Some have been baptized as a meritorious work of law. If we made our own self-declaration of salvation by “receiving Jesus,” “bringing Jesus into our lives,” saying some “sinner’s prayer,” and then were baptized, then we may have made our own baptism a religious rite, or simply a work of law. If we did, then we are religionists who made a self-declaration in reference to our salvation. Our obedience to the gospel in baptism was not in response to the gospel of the incarnate Son of God who declares the remission of our sins upon our response to the gospel in baptism.
We must not forget that baptism is not a meritorious work of law. It is a submissive response of gratitude because of one’s understanding of the incarnate sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross. This is exactly what Paul meant when he wrote, “You are not under law [of baptism], but under [the gospel] of grace” (Rm 6:14). “And if by grace [you are saved], then it is no more by works [of merit or law], otherwise grace is no more grace” (Rm 11:6). “For by grace you are saved through faith [in the gospel of God’s grace]” (Ep 2:8).
We are not saved because we have been legally immersed in water. The action of immersion is not a work of merit by which we can put God in debt to save us. If it were, then no apostate Christian would ever be lost. He would be saved on the merit of his baptism.
Paul rebaptized those in Ephesus who had obeyed John’s baptism, which baptism was relegated to a religious rite when the gospel was first preached twenty-five years before on the day of Pentecost (At 19:5). We would suggest that anyone do the same if they feel that they made baptism a religious rite because they had before their baptism declared their own remission of sins. They were baptized under the authority (name) of the wrong person, and thus, not in response to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They became their own self-declared authority for the remission of their own sins. But it is God who declares our remission of sins, and subsequent salvation when we are baptized into and under the authority of Christ (At 22:16; Rm 6:3-6; Gl 3:26-29).
Each person must be his or her own judge of this matter. It is not our place to judge the hearts of people. We can only read what is stated in the New Testament in reference to the purpose of baptism in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins. If one does have questions concerning his or her motives for being baptized many years ago, then it would certainly be wise to be baptized again for the right motives in order to have a good conscience toward God. You be your own judge. At least when the Ephesians recognized that they did the wrong thing, in their sincerity, they corrected the matter.
When we speak of baby baptism, a whole new set of problems are uncovered. But it is appropriate in the context of the Ephesian situation to remember that the Ephesians individually heard and were baptized as adults into John’s baptism. Then they individually heard and responded to Paul’s teaching that they be baptized in the name of Jesus. No parents made any decisions or declarations for them. No parents baptized them with John’s baptism. No parents immersed their babies in the name of Jesus.
If one cannot get the point on this matter, then certainly one cannot understand that baby baptism is nowhere in the New Testament. But if one was “baptized” as a baby, and gets the point of the Ephesians’ freedom to choose concerning their salvation, then he or she, if baptized as a baby, should find someone, and head to the water in order to be truly baptized in the name of Jesus. Just keep in mind that your parents out of their ignorance were practicing a man-made religious rite and ceremony. When they handed you over as a baby to be sprinkled or immersed, that was not your voluntary decision. It was theirs. It was theirs in order that they conform to the religion of their fathers. Baptism in the name of Jesus must be your decision. We would urge people to be like the Ephesians. When you learn something new, just do it.
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ESCAPE FROM RELIGIONhttp://www.africainternational.org/files/Book%2076.pd

Defiant Dreamers

The New Testament letters are just as alive and relevant today as they were when first written two thousand years ago. In order to discover and appreciate these documents, it is necessary to understand them in the historical context of the first recipients. When we understand that the initial recipients were ordinary people who lived in situations that were similar to our situations today, then the letters that the Holy Spirit penned to the early Christians come alive for us today. We are ordinary people who thirst for encouragement when we go through trying times. Letters as James and Jude come to life in our own lives when we understand that the message of encouragement that was written two thousand years ago to recipients who were going through trying times, are also messages of encouragement for us today.

The letter of Jude is a good example of how historical Bible study illustrates how the New Testament letters are as relevant today as they were when first written. Jude wrote in the historical context of the turmoil of national Israel to which Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24. The fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of Matthew 24 (Lk 21) concerning the consummation of national Israel in A.D. 70 was less than five years away when the Holy Spirit directed the hand of Jude to write a brief document to alert Jewish Christians throughout the Roman Empire. At the same time, the Holy Spirit through James wrote to the Jews a more lengthy letter with similar thoughts. James’ inscriptions were also directed to Jewish Christians who were scattered throughout the Empire (Js 1:1).

Both James and Jude were preparing the Jewish Christians for the onslaught of Rome to settle the “Jewish problem” of the Empire. It was a problem of radical Judaism that had been building over many decades. These radical insurrectionists wanted to throw off the oppression of Rome in order to enjoy their own national independence. They hated Caesar and they hated Roman oppression.

However, regardless of the efforts of the zealot insurrectionists, the Romans continued throughout the years to execute would-be messiahs who called the Jews to unite in national rebellion against Rome. Many years before Jude wrote, some Romans believed that a Jew from the city of Nazareth was asserting Himself to be a “king of the Jews.” Some of His disciples also believed that this Nazarene was the Messiah who would reign on earth in order to restore national Israel. For this reason, some during His ministry attempted to make Him a king against His will (See Jn 6:15). The Romans, therefore, nailed this self-proclaimed Messiah to a cross outside Jerusalem about thirty-five years before both James and Jude wrote their letters. In the middle 60s, therefore, James and Jude wrote in order to remind all Jewish Christians that the coming of the Lord in judgment on national Israel was at hand (Js 5:7,8).

Both James and Jude, who were the earthly brothers of Jesus by Joseph and Mary, were called specifically by the Holy Spirit to warn the followers of their older crucified brother. The two brothers wanted to remind their readers that Jesus had indeed prophesied thirty-five years before what was about to transpire in the lives of His disciples. They had accepted their older brother as the Messiah and Son of God. And now, the two brothers wanted to exhort the disciples of their older brother that nothing was out of control as they transitioned through the social chaos that all of them were about to experience.

Before the days of impending chaos, one messiah after another was subsequently chased down by the Romans, and eventually killed in battle, or caught and crucified on a cross (See At 21:38). But at the time the two brothers, James and Jude wrote, things had heated up to a social breaking point. Rome thus made a determined decision to solve the problem of Jewish radicalism once and for all. So the Roman army organized and started a march toward Jerusalem. When the signs of the end were in view, James and Jude immediately sat down in some quiet place and allowed the Holy Spirit to reveal a message to all Jews, specially Jewish Christians. It was the worst of times for national Israel, but the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of Matthew 24.

But this is not our primary point. We must historically infuse ourselves into the social and political chaos of those times in order to understand the behavior of those who would rise up against the civil authorities of the day, specifically the government of the Roman Empire. We must assume that the Holy Spirit wrote through James and Jude a message that would identify those who would set themselves against the rule of law. In our application of this message to our own selves today, this helps us to identify those in a democratic society who are taking their nations in the way of ruin by twisting the application of both moral and constitutional law.

Every government goes through those times in which there is a chaotic movement within society that thirsts so much for power and change that proponents of the movement are willing to go to extreme measures in order to gain control of the government. This is the inherent social “disorder” of all democracies. In a democracy there is a constant struggle for the power of the government in order that a particular political party might impose the party’s social and economic agenda on the populous as a whole. There is thus a perpetual confrontation within democratic societies that lends itself to producing levels of conflict as one party seeks to gain power over all other parties.

In those monarchies of the past that were led by some king, the resistance simply assassinated the presiding king, and then a new king took over. But in a democratic society, the entire society will divide itself into political parties who launch endless attacks against one another in order to gain power. In our “modern” societies there is usually no assassination of kings by guns and swords. However, there are constant assassinations with the lies that one party would launch against another. The lies are issued in order to discredit the leaders of each party. Fake news subsequently flourishes throughout the media of the society. So it was in reference to the execution of Jesus. Lest the executed, and supposed King of the Jews, become a martyr of another sect of Jewish rebels, there was fake news spread abroad about the missing body of the supposed national King Jesus (See Mt 28:11-15).

This is where the Holy Spirit, specifically through Jude, would have something to say. Those Christians who live in democratic societies today need to listen up while the Holy Spirit moved the pen of Jude across a parcel of papyrus in order to forewarn the Jewish Christians of those unbelieving Jewish zealots within the society who were recruiting all Jews, as well as Jewish Christians, to join the resistance against Rome. The Holy Spirit wrote a stern document in order that the Jewish Christians identify the heart and behavior of those who were seeking to rebel against the rule of the law of Rome. We can identity some of the very same characteristics in the politicians of your own country.

Jude began with a series of pronouncements by which the faithful could identify the leaders of the arrogant resistance: “I want to remind you, though you once knew this” (Jd 5). Since the word “knew” is in the past tense, it seems that Jude’s readers had forgotten what his older brother had prophesied in Matthew 24, as well as God’s harsh judgment that He brought upon insurrectionists. Some Jewish Christians may have been caught up in the emotion of the radical resistance to the point that they simply forgot that being a disciple of Jesus meant that one must submit to the authority of the government in which he lives (See Rm 13:1-7). But in the context of the statement, the Jewish Christians forgot to read their Old Testament Bibles. So Jude reminded them of three examples of those who resisted the authority of God.

Jude first reminded his readers of the example of the arrogant resistance of those who acted against the God-ordained authority of Moses. This case happened immediately after Israel was delivered from Egyptian captivity. In this case, the resistance could not accept the authority of one man over Israel. Before the establishment of “constitutional law” for Israel at Mount Sinai, there was a rebellion against the authority of the one who would be the example of another authority who would eventually rise up in Israel centuries later (See Dt 18:15,18,19; At 3:22,23). But in the rebellion at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Lord “destroyed those who did not believe [obey]” (Jd 5). In order to cleanse the newly established Israelite nation, Korah and his cohorts, with their following, had to be purged from the society of Israel (Nm 16).

Jude then went on to the fallen angels who rebelled against the authority of the archangel Michael who was God’s ordained authority over the angels. Because of their thirst for power, some angels, led by Satan, rebelled against the established authority of the day (See Rv 12). These rebellious angels sought to “impeach” the established God-ordained order of authority in order that they might seize control of the order of angels. But their thirst for power resulted in their being cast down to “everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jd 6).

And then Jude advanced into the moral behavior of those who seek to deliver themselves from any restrictions of moral behavior. These were “ungodly men who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jd 4).

Jude spoke of those whom we would define as “liberals,” or the far left. Liberals seek to establish their own moral codes on the populous. In the example of Sodom and Gomorrah, the citizens of the cities gave themselves over to all sorts of sexual dysfunctions (Jd 7). It is simply the moral philosophy of the liberal to reject any moral standards by which the people should conduct themselves in their social relationships. Their rebellion against authority reveals itself in their desire to live a life of unrestricted moral behavior. They will elect to office in their democratic society those who live contrary to the moral codes of God. The constituents will, as Sodom and Gomorrah, elect those who live according to their own dysfunctional codes of morality.

When societies change in reference to their conservative moral codes of the past, the society as a whole rejects any standard of moral codes. This change is often reflected in the attitude of the majority of the society who vote against the traditional standards of law that were handed down by the fathers. As the moral behavior of the society changes, the society seeks to change the leaders who would promote their own moral behavior. In this way, constitutions must be revised as a nation “progresses” throughout the decades. The populous must change from conservative moral values that are defined by Divine standards. This is why the liberals of a society are referred to as “progressives.” They want to progress beyond the restrictions of any standards of morality.

In a constitutional society of law, the morally dysfunctional will seek to change the “constitution” of their government in order to justify the means by which they would resist the existing government. In the case of the American society, many of the people would even consider electing for president someone who lives in a same-sex “marriage” relationship. This is a relationship that is contrary to the moral code of the fathers of the nation who defined marriage to be between a male and female. “Marriage” is now redefine, and thus, civil law must be changed in order to establish the new moral order. We must now vote into office those who reflect our definition of the new marriage order. In reference to abortion, murder is defined as “abortion” of individuals who are physically aborted, but can be murdered (left on a table to die) after the abortion.

Jude then goes on to identify the behavior of those who were “progressives” in rebelling against the authority of Rome. His description of those who have given themselves over to resist rule by law, whether moral or civil, is fitting for all those of all time who would put themselves in such a situation. If anyone has reflected on the present moral digression in the American society, it is easy to identify the behavior that the Holy Spirit revealed through Jude’s hand in reference to those who were against the God-ordained authority of Roman government.

Notice how the Holy Spirit identified those who were “progressives,” specifically against the authority of civil law. These progressives were identified by three specific characteristics in belief and behavior in reference to law: (1) They are dreamers who “defile the flesh.” (2) They “despise dominion” (authority). (3) They “speak evil of dignitaries” (the officials) (Jd 8).

When a society is morally and socially imploding, the preceding three behavioral principles characterize the society. If the society is a democracy, then the people will reflect their beliefs and behavior in the politicians they elect into office. Those who despise authority in their own lives, find it easy to recruit and rail against the ruling establishment of the country, specifically the king or president. In their personal lives, their rebellion against authority is revealed in their rebellion against the moral codes of the past.

These are as those who lived before the day when God purged the earth with the flood of Noah’s day. There were those during those days who professed to be wise, but in their arrogance, Paul said that they became fools (Rm 1:22). Paul explained: “Because even though they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful. But they became vain in their imaginations and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rm 1:21). David said that the fool has said that there is no God (Ps 14:1). But in the historical context of Noah’s day, the fool is the one who says that there is a God, but has no fear of living an ungodly life.

Those of Noah’s generation carried on with the foolishness of their common behavior in order to promote their twisted religiosity. They professed a false humility, while at the same time, they despised the established dignitaries of the day. They were religious hypocrites in their presumptuous religiosity. They thus reaped the judgment of God: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rm 1:18).

When people reach the moral low of despising the rule of law, whether moral or civil, it is then that God will give them over to uncleanness “through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies among themselves” (Rm 1:24). We seem to forget that the identity of a society that has no respect for the authorities of the day is first revealed in the immoral behavior of the people within the society. As in the days of Noah before the flood, and Jude before the destruction of Jerusalem, moral digression proceeded the eventual judgment of God.

Jude wanted the Jewish Christians of his day not to be deceived by those who professed a zealous religiosity for national Judaism in order to recruit others to join in their rebellion against Roman authority. He wanted his fellow Jews to know that the recruiters to Jewish nationalism “speak evil of those things that they do not know” (Jd 10). In their hearts, the Jewish insurrectionists were as brute beasts who promote corrupt interpretations of the Sinai law in order to prove their rebellion against Rome. Jude wanted to exhort the faithful disciples concerning the behavior of these radical “progressives” in their midst. They must not be deceived by the radicals’ supposed adherence to the Sinai law, which in this case was their manufactured interpretations of the law.

Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain [assassinations] and have run greedily after the error of Balaam for reward [greed], and perished in the rebellion of Korah [who rebelled against the God-ordained authority of Moses] (Jd 11).

These rebellious Jewish radicals had actually come into the fellowship of the disciples. They sat right there in the love feasts (Jd 12). They were “feeding themselves without fear” while they spoke of rebellion against the law of the state (Jd 12). They exalted themselves with their great promises of an independent freedom from the oppression of the evil Nero who was Caesar of Rome at the time. They were clouds who promised rain, but were without any fulfillment of what they presumed. It is as a radical liberal in government who makes endless promises of free everything at the expense of the rich. They are those who make vain promises in order to deceive the hearts of the populous in order to gain their vote.

But Jude described these deceptive political and religious charlatans with the following words:

They are raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering starts for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever (Jd 13).

If we did not have Jude’s document around for two thousand years, we would certainly assume that he wrote these words about many chaotic situations in societies throughout the world today. We would assume that he had some modern-day politicians in mind when he concluded with the following statement:

These [politicians] are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts. And their mouth speaks great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage [of votes]” (Jd 16).

If we could add an interpretive statement to what Jude said here, it would be that we can sometimes identify our leaders by the dogs nipping at their heals.

“The Execution”

Two millennia ago there were two despondent men returning home on a long road out of Jerusalem after the Passover of A.D. 30. They were exhausted, bewildered, downcast and totally confused. Their joyous expectations of an independent national Israel free from Roman occupation had just be dashed. Their return home to inform their wives and family of the tragedy they had just experienced on a hill outside Jerusalem was not good news. They were thus surely discussing how they would break the bad news to their families.

Unexpectedly, another gentleman meandered up and joined them on the way. He entered into their discussions. The stranger asked, “What manner of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk?” (Lk 24:17). The two despondents were shocked at the question. It is interesting to note carefully what, Luke, the historian, recorded about the mental state of these two discouraged hopefuls: “And they stood still, looking sad” (Lk 24:17). We must not forget the historian’s explanation of the despondent mood of these two men, as well as all those who had placed their hopes in a Nazarene who had just been executed on a cross back in Jerusalem. To them, and the rest of the hopeful followers, there was no good news (gospel) in the execution of their hopeful leader whom they supposed would be the new crowned King of Israel.

So the party of three men continued on their way toward the small village of Emmaus. One of them, Cleopas, then questionably responded to the stranger who had joined the despondent party of two, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem and have not known the things that have come to pass there in these days?” (Lk 24:18).

There had been hundreds of thousands of Jewish visitors in Jerusalem for the annual Passover/Pentecost feast. And now these two, discouraged about the execution of their hopeful liberation leader, did not even wait around for the closing Pentecost feast that would be conducted on the fiftieth day after the execution on Passover. They simply headed on home to inform their families of the bad news.

Everyone in Jerusalem had either heard or witnessed the Roman execution of the would-be King of the Jews. For all those who accepted this Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah of Israel, there was no good news (gospel) in the execution. The best hope that they could muster up was that He would become a martyr in the religious history of Israel.

To the two disillusioned disciples on the road to Emmaus, all their dreams had just been nailed to a cross. They confessed to the stranger who had joined them on the road that this Jesus of Nazareth “was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Lk 24:19). But then, they related to the stranger, the religious leaders “delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him” (Lk 24:20). There was no good news in this crucifixion of their would-be Messiah and King.

And then the two men made a statement that could have been made by every nationalistic Jew who became a disciple of this crucified King: “We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21). Their hopes were all nationalistic. Their hoped for “redemption” was all about being delivered from Roman occupation. As all those dispersed disciples of the day who were on their own way home, there was no gospel message in the execution of the hopeful King of national Israel. Their hopes of being nationalistically redeemed from foreign occupation in order to enjoy the glories of a kingdom as those back in the days of David and Solomon were all crushed. There was no inherent good news at all about the execution.

These two sad disciples were only two examples of thousands of nationalistic Jews who had put their hopes in Jesus of Nazareth to be the messianic king. They hoped that it would be Jesus who would deliver to Israel their lost independence as a glorious nation. To many of them, Jesus was at least a good friend who worked many mighty works, taught many good things, and gave hope to a Roman-oppressed society of Jews throughout the Roman Empire.

Everyone had put their hopes in this Deliverer, this Messiah who would restore Israel to be free as in her former days of glory when King David and King Solomon led the farming communities of Israel to be a noted united nation among the nations of the world. Israel was great back in those days. And then, inspired by the leadership of this Jesus, they would all “Make Israel Great Again!” But their hopes were all dashed to the ground as each drop of blood drained from the nail-pierced hands of their would-be king. There was no known gospel in that cross.

But this was not the end of the story!

[Wait for the forthcoming book to complete the story.]

Miracle Money Makers

We were all young and innocent and not quite in our teens in the 1950s. We were vulnerable country people who knew little of the world outside the county in which we lived. Going to another town (village) fifty miles away in another county was an adventure into another world. You may not believe it, but we had no television and hardly ever listened to the radio, of which there was only one on the farm. We were too busy with the exciting life of farming fourteen to sixteen hours a day, to be interested in televisions or radios.

During the school months, a school bus would come by our farm house and picked up us children for a forty-five minute drive to town (village) where we all went to a small school. Preston, Kansas was a town of 265 in population. You can imagine how vulnerable our minds were to things that we did not understand outside our small village.

And then we had an experience at school one day that opened our minds. When we arrived at school, something happened that educated our young innocent minds for the rest of our lives.

The school principals throughout central America in those years realized that the young minds in their small rural schools needed every opportunity to be educated concerning things outside their small communities. Therefore, they would invite special guest educators to visit their schools in order to teach for a day on subjects that were not a part of our regular curriculum. These special educators offered a tremendous opportunity for all of us to learn of those things that were outside our isolated cocoon of rural America.

Because our minds were so innocent and vulnerable, if not naive, one particular educator in the field of psychology offered his services to schools throughout middle America. Our school principal took the opportunity to invite this psychologist to come to our school in order to educate us rural farm children in the phenomenon of mind control. This special guest lecturer informed all of us in the science of hypnotism, or as it is called in the field of psychology, mind or thought suggestion.

Before his demonstration of hypnotism began, he clearly explained to all of us the practice of suggestive thinking. He explained how the mind could be convinced to have no pain in specific parts of the body, or to have pain. In his field of psychology, this was called psychosomatic healing. In other words, it was the power of the mind over the physical body. One could actually think himself to be without pain, and thus we psychosomatically healed.

The visiting psychologist also carefully explained that individuals could be convinced to submit to the suggestions of the one who would hypnotize them. He was cautious to explain that hypnotism was simply mind control by one individual over another. There were no abnormal lasting effects. He also explained that the one who would be hypnotized must willingly make a decision to submit to the suggestions of the hypnotist. In those days in the middle of the Cold War, no one could be “brain washed” against his or her will. To be so brain controlled, one’s will would first have to be change.

It was then time for him to demonstrate all that about which he educated us in reference to hypnotism. He informed us that not only could individuals be hypnotized, but also entire groups at the same time. In order to demonstrate how groups could be brought under the suggestions of a skilled psychologist, he called about six or eight of our fellow students to the stage. He sat them down in chairs, facing all of us who were gathered in the auditorium of the school.

And then his demonstration (performance) proceeded. After he had relaxed the willing volunteers, it took him only a few minutes to take them into a “hypnotic sleep.” However, one of the students did not go to sleep. The lecturer then made a statement that stuck in the minds of all of us. He said, “One can be hypnotized only if he or she is willing to be hypnotized. No one can be hypnotized against his or her will.” In other words, one had “to believe” in the hypnosis before he or she would submit his or her will to the will of another person. (Is this sounding familiar?)

Now the show began. He asked these willing friends of ours to do all sorts of things that the rest of us thought were hilarious. He took the volunteers on a fishing trip. They all cast their lines into the water and reeled in supposed fish. He ask them to jump up and down, kneel on the floor, lay on the floor, stand at attention, light a pretend cigarette and smoke it. He would push on the foreheads of some and they would fall back into the arms of others. The enthralling show went on with a number of other requests. We were not only fascinated, but in some sense stunned to realize our own vulnerability.

As the rest of us uncontrollably laughed at times until our sides hurt, those who were “under his spell” did not laugh, neither did they crack a smile. They were in another world under the spell of the psychologist’s suggestions. To those willing volunteers, it was as if the entire auditorium of students was not there with all their laughter.

And then the “show” was over and all the volunteers were awaken and asked to return to their seats. The psychologist then explained to all our innocent minds that we must always be careful to guard ourselves against those who would seek to take control of our minds by changing our wills. If we were willing to be controlled, then we would submit to a great deal of foolishness throughout our lives. So the visiting psychologist warned that we should not allow others to control us with any thoughts that conflicted with the reality of truth.

And so we heeded his admonition. By informing young minds in small rural schools in middle America, minds were prepared for a world of deceptive religious practitioners who paraded themselves about from one church to another with “hypnotic trances” in order to make people believe that the Holy Spirit was at work. But in the thinking of the rural Kansas farmers of those days, we were all educated in the fact that the healing of the religious practitioners was simply psychosomatic “healing,” and the claims of the “snake handlers” of the time were all “hogwash.” Those farmers have not changed their minds on the matter even to this day.

Since the days of our innocent youth, we have experienced the same hypnotic demonstrations that were taught across rural America over a half century ago. The scene of the performances, however, has changed. The performances have moved from school auditoriums into packed church houses. The practitioners have also changed from trained psychologists to religious prognosticators who prey on the minds of the innocent.

The environment of such performances is no longer in the field of the science of psychology, but now in the field of deceptive religion. Religious prognosticators have hijacked the phenomenon of hypnotism in order to captivate thousands of innocent minds who willingly bow down to them in assemblies of hyperventalated emotionalists who have long forgotten the reality of the word of God. On the contrary, people come to “healing assemblies” (performances) in order to find relief from some pain or evil spirit they are struggling to overcome.

Thousands of deceived subjects have subsequently submitted willingly to these fake healers around the world. People come to assemblies for healing, not to hear the gospel of the incarnate Son of God. Adherents are no longer called into assembly to exalt the Son, but to find some psychosomatic healing.

Unknowingly, that psychologist who came to our small school on that day years ago prepared all of us for a world of religious frauds who seek a following from misguided and deceived prey. These are those who devour the innocent and vulnerable, who are primarily in underdeveloped countries. Thousands show up at their “miracle meetings.” Millions turn on their televisions and willingly believe all the nonsense these fake healers propagate around the world. When these fake healers call on faith from those who seek to be “healed,” they are calling on the willingness of deceived minds to submit to their skills in group hypnosis. Masses of people subsequently fall before them.

The incarnate Lord Jesus Christ has now been moved to a seat in the auditorium. With Him are all the spectators who must now observe the performance of charismatic miracle workers who pose to unleash the power of the Holy Spirit on the stage of the world.

As young children over a half century ago, we had the advantage of being taught by wise educators of yesteryear. Unfortunately, millions of people throughout the world today have been cheated by not being educated in the psychology of hypnotism, or suggestive thinking. If thousands around the world had been so educated as we were, then there would certainly be less nonsense performed in the religious world by those who go about as devouring lions preying on the innocent for the sake of money.

But Satan would have his way. There are countless millions of deceived people who would eagerly give their will and money over to the masters of deception who masquerade themselves as apostles of Christ. It is all as the Holy Spirit warned us two thousand years ago:

“And with all deception of wickedness among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion so that they should believe a lie, that they all might be condemned who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness (2 Th 2:10-12).

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).