Category Archives: Inscriptions

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).

Surreal Experiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gospel Relationships

There is a vast difference between the relational fellowship of the saints of God and those of a religious social club. The revelation of this difference lies at the heart of 1 John 1:3:

That which [the incarnational Son of God] we have seen and heard we declare to you so that you also may have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

This is the biblical definition of our relationship with God and with one another. John prefaced this statement with the declaration of the incarnational Word: “For the life was manifested and we have seen and bear witness and show to you that eternal life that was with the Father and was manifested to us” (1 Jn 1:2). John wanted to focus the attention of His readers on the “incarnational Word” with which he had commenced his epistle:

That which was from the beginning, that we have heard, that we have seen with our eyes, that we have looked [Gr., gazed] upon and our hands have handled, we proclaim concerning the Word of Life (1 Jn 1:1).

A more clear statement in any language could not have been made that explains the fellowship (relationship) of the saints with God and one another. The saints’ relationship with one another is a fellowship that is based on the gospel fact that “in the beginning was the Word … and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:1,14). And since all the saints have obeyed the gospel of this incarnate Word, then He, not ourselves, is always the foundation of our relationships with one another.   There can be no other foundation for true Christian relationships.

Christians are drawn together because of their common obedience to the incarnational offering of the Word on the cross, His burial for our hope, resurrection, and His present reign over all things.   Connection (fellowship) with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit through our common obedience to this gospel is what establishes our relationship with God and one another. Our obedience to the gospel of the incarnational Son of God is the impetus, the foundation, the eternal bond of fellowship that we have with the eternal Word of Life, and thus, the guarantee of living forever.   The Christians’ relationships with one another is far beyond the relationship of friendship.

We hear a great deal today about relationships in the religious world. Religions throughout the world have invented every possible stimulus to produce relationships among the members of their respective churches. We have heard on numerous occasions the statement that “Christianity is about relationships.” And, it is. However, are the relationships of religion truly based on the incarnational and resurrected Word of Life that the members have obeyed in their burial and resurrection with the Word of Life? Or, are they manufactured relationships through relational encounters of the members with one another in order to enhance friendships?

If our relationship with one another is not first based on our obedience to the gospel of the Word of Life, then we will become a religious social club when we come together in assembly as friends.   If our relationships are simply fabricated and maintained by the art of human relational mechanisms of psychology, then the gospel soon passes from being the primary purpose for which we come together in assembly. We must remember that the relationships that gospel-obedient Christians have with one another goes far beyond friendships. There is something much deeper in the relationships of gospel-obedient disciples than having “good buddies,” or being faithful in attendance at the local church social club.

The bond of the relationships that gospel-obedient disciples have with one another is not initially based on their friendships with one another. John clarified that we have a relationship (fellowship) with one another because of our common obedience to the gospel of the Word of Life. Paul explained that “by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Co 12:13). And because baptized disciples are one body, they organically function as a body of relational disciples (See 1 Co 12:15-27).

Cult members have strong relationships with one another. They are driven together because of their great respect for, or fear of, the leader of the cult.   Religions often lean toward cultism in the sense that the “pastor” is the attraction of the hour of assembly and center of reference for the faith of the members. Assemblies that are generated and maintained around a dynamic personality can never be the relational fellowship that is so natural with gospel-obedient saints. Gospel-obedient saints are drawn to one another because of their common obedience of the gospel of the Word of Life. They are relational before they show up at any assembly that is designed to promote relationships. In other words, the relationships that Christians have with one another are divinely generated, not humanly manufactured. If one simply wants to be a co-religionist with other religionists, then he can simply “join the church of his choice.” But when one joins himself to Jesus through obedience to the gospel, he is added by God to a family of gospel-obedient disciples (At 2:47).

Religionists assemble in order to experience either a relational or experiential event that would enhance their relationships with one another. But gospel-obedient saints come together in assembly because they have established a relationship (fellowship) with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit through their obedience to the gospel.   They were baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit into a covenant relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19). Their motivation for assembly, therefore, is not to establish a greater relationship (fellowship) with one another and God, but to celebrate the fact that they already have a gospel-obedient relationship with one another and God because they have been baptized into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Their individual addition to the body of members has brought them into a relationship of a gospel-obedient family of disciples.

It is for this reason that we question the assembly of those who have come together with little desire to celebrate the gospel through the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. By this we mean that those who assemble on the first day of the week and fail to partake of the communal (fellowship) Supper of the incarnational Word of Life, have either forgotten, or never established the purpose for which the saints assemble in the first place. If we assemble without the Supper, then we are simply renewing our friendships with one another. Our assembly has become no different than the assembly of the local “Rotary Club.”   If our purpose is simply to come together with the saints in order to reestablish our relationships, then we have become a religious social club that can cerebrate nothing greater than our friendship with one another. If we have come together to fulfill our narcissistic desire to enjoy a Sunday-morning entertainment event, then we have failed to come together for the purpose of honoring the incarnational Son who came in the flesh in order to establish our covenant relationship with Him.

Saints who come together simply to reestablishing relationships, experience an emotional event (speaking in tongues, or concerts), or simply out of obedience to law, have not yet understood the purpose for the saints’ assembly. If they have lost their way in this matter, then they are not drawn in attendance to the Table of the Lord. Their assembly simply becomes an attendance to a Hollywood experience. If Jesus does not take center stage for our assemblies, then our assemblies have become narcissistic productions in order that we “get something out of the Sunday morning event.” Those who fail to show up at the Table of the gospel have identified themselves to have lost their motivation by the gospel of Jesus.

The early disciples came together in a relational manner in order to experience together the celebration of the Word of Life.   It was this Word that the early apostles handled, touched and gazed upon. Because of their relationship (fellowship) with the Father through the incarnational Son, the saints came together to remember and celebrate the incarnational sacrifice and risen Word who came down out of heaven into this world in order to take us out of this world. The saints in Ephesus remembered and celebrated this gospel event every first day of the week in a fellowship meal that surrounded the Supper of the Lord (At 20:7).

The “breaking of bread” among the early disciples was a fellowship meal that they enjoyed with one another in their remembrance of the blood and body of the Lord. The Holy Spirit reminded the Corinthian saints that their participation in the feast was a relational (fellowship) experience.

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not the fellowship of the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, it is not the fellowship of the body of Christ? (1 Co 10:16).

The Corinthians started to marginalize, or corrupt the Lord’s Supper during this love feast. They turned the “breaking of bread” into a drunken occasion where they revealed their inconsiderate relationships for one another. Because their assemblies digressed into pleasing themselves (narcissism), they were not able to celebrate the Lord’s Supper that should have revealed their fellowship with the Lord and one another (See 1 Co 11:20,21). In other words, their dysfunctional relationships with one another in assembly revealed that they had a dysfunctional relationship with the One who should always be the center of attraction for every assembly. They had lost their way for coming together for a love feast that should have been an expression of their love for one another (See 1 Co 11-14).

When we produce attractions to stimulate attendance, then our assemblies move away from a clear focus on the gospel. When people are not motivated in life by the gospel of Life, something other than the gospel must be the stimulus for them to attend the religious assemblies.

Gospel-obedient saints come together in assembly in order to celebrate the reason why they have a common bond with one another. It is because they have fellowship with one another through their common obedience to the gospel that they come together in assembly. Every Christian has a relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit because of his or her obedience to the gospel (Rm 6:3-6). And because this relationship has been established by obedience to the gospel, they have a relationship with one another before and after any assemblies.

Christians can come together because they are good friends. But their relationships with one another in friendship never has priority over their friendship with Jesus through their obedience to the gospel. In fact, the friendship (relationship) of Christians is based on Jesus, not simply on a relational friendship they might have with one another as neighbors in a community.

Those religious groups that minimized the observance of the Lord’s Supper in their assemblies have lost their way, if indeed they ever knew the way to a gospel covenant relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit through baptism into Christ. Because they have not focused on obedience to the gospel, their assemblies have often become narcissistic Hollywood productions, religious parties as some in Corinth, or simply the observance of ceremonial rituals that bring some comfort to those who are ridden with guilt.

Unless the gospel is preached and obeyed, assemblies will always be religious ceremonial exercises or concert experiences.   Unless the gospel of the incarnational Son of God is restored as the center of reference for assembly, the attendees will never realize the worshipful experience that results from an assembly that is focused totally on the resurrected and reigning Son of God who first brought them together in their common obedience to the gospel.

“Serpent Christians”

“Unlike Jesus, I don’t need a silly cross to save my people. I believe I’m the messiah of our time, I’m gonna save this nation like Jesus saved Christians. Except, I’ll be able to save you without some silly cross.”

 So said the leader of one the prominent political parties here in South Africa.   Such blasphemous statements remind us of the circumstances surrounding Herod when he allowed the people to say of him, “The voice of a god and not a man” (At 12:22). And then the Holy Spirit reported on the result of Herod’s arrogant behavior: “And immediately an angel of the Lord smote him because he did not give God the glory. And he was eaten by worms and died” (At 12:23).

In response to the preceding statement of the South African politician, Dr. Jan Venter wrote in the Farmer’s Weekly, the century-old weekly publication of South Africa, “Leaders who claim godlike qualities often face disastrous ends” (FW, April 13, 2018). Such a disastrous end came upon Herod. We have witnessed throughout history the same end of similar self-proclaimed demagogues.

God established governing authorities for the sake of the people of a nation.   Therefore, “let every soul [of a nation] be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God. The authorities that exist are ordained by God” (Rm 13:1). God ordained government, not specific government officials.

When some authorities called the apostles Peter and John into their council chambers and commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, the apostles responded, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things that we have seen and heard(At 4:19,20). If ever our religious leaders of a country move into the political wings of government, and make statements as that which was voiced by the preceding opportunistic South African politician or Herod, then it is time to take a stand for truth.

Satan does not idly lurk quietly in a dim street alley awaiting for some unsuspecting innocent to wander where lions roar. He more often covertly rises in the ranks of the legislators of government who enact antichrist laws that reflect their unbelief. Before indifferent Christians finally realize that the “governing authorities” are commanding us “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus,” it is sometimes too late. Before the indifferent realize it, they have lost their freedom. When Islam swept across North Africa in the seventh century, this antichrist faith swept Christianity off that part of the continent. When the atheistic communist regime of Mao se Tung rose to power in China, he too did house cleaning and sought to sweep Christianity out of China. It is not the work of Satan that is the problem. He is only doing his business. The problem is inert and inactive and indifferent Christians.

In one of our neighboring countries to the north of us, some secular politicians have begun to affect the churches of the nation. One example was the banning of land to be sold to religious groups for the construction of church buildings in the capital city. Another example would be in our country of residence. When anyone buys food from any of the major food suppliers, he or she unknowingly pays the Halaal price to a Muslim imam who must bless the food. This is a violation of any constitution that guarantees freedom of religion.   Christians in South Africa are not free from this ransom price that must be paid to the Muslim faith when they purchase food at any of the large food stores. The problem is ignorance on the part of the general public who mostly no nothing of this practice by the Muslim community. The rest of the citizenship of the country keep themselves in darkness by their own indifference.

Satan often works himself in by way of the back door. Those Christians who are indifferent—which indifference they pass off as being forbearing and patient—will always find themselves at the mercy of the devices of Satan. Christianity is a “militant” faith, but not by guns and suicide bombers. It is through a persistent stand for truth that enables Christians to be the preservative of society.

When Jesus said, “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves,” He did not mean “indifferent as serpents,” and “idle as doves” (Mt 10:16). Those metaphors would make no sense. We must not forget that Jesus used the metaphor “wise as serpents,” not “wise as Solomon.” Serpents have a bite, and that bite has venom. A serpent will certainly be patient. He will not strike unless threatened. But if threatened, he will strike with a venomous bite.

It is quite interesting that Jesus would use the behavior of a serpent in reference to those who follow Him. Unfortunately, many of Jesus’ disciples today forget what Jesus said to His immediate followers: “Do no think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Mt 10:34). We never hear the subject of “Christian serpents” preached. We feel that most indifferent Christians have no desire to bite back with the truth when threatened … ever. But when the truth of the gospel is threatened, Christians must be reminded that it is time to sling the sword of the Spirit in standing up for the truth. When political “messiahs” arrogantly blaspheme the cross by which we are saved, it is time to bite back with the venom of the truth of God.

Church: The Serendipity of Loving Others

Because we as Christians are emotionally wired for community, we naturally seek out others who have likewise been spiritually born anew. “Church” is simply the plan of a Creator who designed us to function together socially as a collective of born again disciples of Christ. Though we are spiritually born anew individually into the universal body of Christ, it is not natural for us to function autonomously from the body in our spiritual relationship with all those who have likewise come individually into an obedient relationship with the Son of God.

Our innate desire to be with others who have been born again sends us as individuals on a quest.   We seek to function in fellowship with the “church of the firstborn ones” (Hb 12:23). It is for this reason that the body (church) is always defined in Scripture to be a relational function of all those individuals who have been individually born again, and thus lovingly function under the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. When our Founder stated that we would be identified by our love of one another, He was saying that we would be known by our relational function of love (Jn 13:34,35).

Jesus taught that His disciples would be defined by loving relationships, not as a legally defined corporate institution. Christians are identified by their mutual gratitude for the grace of God, not by the restriction of perfect law-keeping. Grace excludes justification through perfect keeping of law, but especially the restrictions of man-made laws (Rm 6:14). We are saved by grace through faith in God’s grace to save us (Ep 2:8).

Law challenges the relational nature of the body of Christ, for law sets aside mercy. But mercy rejoices over judgment according to law (Js 2:13). If we would seek to be under the legalities of the laws of man-made religious institutions, then there would continually be strife or competition among individual members of the universal collective (church). There would be continual dissention as to which lawgiver the members should follow in a legally structured organization. In our dissension as to which legally defined religious institution we would adhere, we would naturally denominate into our favorite groups. Lawgivers would choose their favorite names for their groups, and thus, offer options for us concerning which group to which we would “place membership.”

In legally defined institutions there is always competition “to climb a ladder of power” for influence and recognition. Where love should be exalted, seniority marginalizes the weak, or those who are unfamiliar with the accepted laws of the legally defined institution.   Lordship always encourages competition.   However, love always considers others before one’s self. Lordship always prevails in institutionally defined groups. But where fellowship is based on love, relational servanthood prevails. We must never forget that lordship among leaders in the body always marginalizes the Head of the body.

Legally defined institutions are defined by organizational structures that encourage lords, judges and lawgivers to reign. On the other hand, the New Testament definition of “Church” is the relational behavior of the members with one another that is based on love (Jn 13:34,35). The more legally we define the church of Christ, therefore, the less relational the members become in their patience with one another through love. The relationship between lawgivers and judges is always strained.

The more the members focus on maintaining the institutional ordinances that define a man-made religious organization, the less they function relationally. The more the body of Christ is defined by institutional structures, the more stringent we seek to maintain legal codes that define our existence. We become legally stringent because we are afraid that we will lose what we believe defines who we are.   Leadership in such institutional organizations turns from teaching the word of God to lords who see their duty to regiment the members of the body into conforming to legal structures that define the institution. Lords always function as regimenting leaders.

In lordship scenarios, relationships are always sacrificed in order to sustain the legalities that define the institution. It is for this reason that the religious institutions of men work contrary to the relational identity of those who have individually been born into the body of Christ. And it is also for this reason that the more we identify the body of Christ as a legal institution, the less relational the membership becomes, and subsequently, the more divided the members become in their debates over defining the legalities of the organized church. The problem with a legally defined church is that judges and lawgivers always seek to insert and bind their opinions. We thus end up squabbling over whose opinions must be legally bound in order to define who we are.

At the end of our journey in life, and when it is time for all of us to stand individually before the Creator in judgment, each one of us will not be held accountable for keeping or forsaking any legally bound opinions that were established by men to define a legal religious institution. Each one of us will be held accountable for his or her relational behavior with all other individuals of the body. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” are relational identities that are not enjoined on the members of the body through law (See Gl 5:22,23). They are inspired by love. Nevertheless, these are relational standards by which each member will be held accountable.   And because the degree of each of these qualities in our lives always falls short of perfection, there must always be grace to make us perfect in Christ. Being judged by relational abstracts, therefore, must always be by God’s grace and through our faith in Him to bring us into His glory (Rm 4:16).   Grace and mercy, therefore, must always reign in the hearts of body members in order that we be at peace with one another.

That which destroys peace in the body are relational dysfunctions as “fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, etc.” (Gl 5:19-21). These behavioral dysfunctions are not based on the love by which the disciples of Jesus are to be identified (Jn 13:34,35).   They identify those who are void of love for other members of the community of born again disciples.   These “works of the flesh” are relational dysfunctions for which we will be held accountable, since being identified by such character qualities and behavioral practices disqualifies one from cohabiting with others in eternity. Social dysfunctions of the body on earth make it impossible for one to transition into an eternal society that will dwell in peace in the presence of God.

Individuals are born into a fellowship wherein they are held together as one body because of the fruit of the Spirit that is emulated by each member. The members of the body are identified as the collective body of Christ because of their relational function with one another through love. Their function through relational identities, therefore, results from their love for one another (Jn 13:34,35).   When the New Testament historian stated, “Now all who believed were together and had all things in common,” he was defining the relational function of the body according to the implementation of the fruit of the Spirit, not the submission of those who were born again to a legally defined institution (See Act 2:44). Those first believers knew little or nothing about “church,” but they knew everything about Christ. And because they were obedient to Christ in their baptism for remission of their sins, they were church (At 2:38,41). They were born again through baptism into a relational function of love whereby each member was communally loved into eternal glory through the fruit of the Spirit. When members so function, any efforts to define the body through legal statues pales away under the power of love.

It is for this reason that we must first identify the church through love, and not by the adherence of the members to legal identities. Do not be mistaken. We seek to be obedient to the commandments of God, but being so obedient without the love that generates the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, is futile in reference to salvation. Perfect attendance without love will not take anyone to heav