Honduras Mission Trip Part 1

honduras-mission-trip12 of us went from St. Patrick’s Murfreesboro to serve at an Anglican Children’s Home and to help with a clean water project. To summarize the trip, it could not have gone better. We worked hard, we laughed harder and we had our lives touched in new ways. Here is how I experienced it.

I wish that I could tell you about the view we had of Honduras as our jet came in for a landing but I cannot. I was in the last seat on the plane, next to a windowless bulkhead, on the last row next to the toilets. I had several conversations with myself about how a claustrophobic panic attack would negatively impact the team, so standing up and exiting the plane was my first highlight of the trip.

The airport betrayed the fact that we had landed in a third world country. (I will come back to this later). It was hot and noisy and unclean by first world standards. The personnel however came across as courteous and professional. I had recently had a shot of rooster comb in my right knee to relieve the bone on bone pain and so I was using a cane. Between the cane and my clerical collar I was moved to the front of the line to go through customs, leaving the team behind and opening myself up for some good natured ribbing.

We exited customs to met by the missionary Mike. (He is the gentleman kneeling on the front row of the picture above. Great guy! More about him later). Just outside he had two vehicles. One was an old black four by four where our luggage was piled and strapped down. The other was a large passenger van that sort of fit us all in it. I think that we must have looked like a circus clown car when we would make a stop and a dozen gringoes came pouring out.

Mike gave us a quick tour of San Pedro Sula, the town in which we landed, and which has a reputation of being one of the most dangerous towns in the world. Most of the violence is related to the drug cartels. Next we headed for the mountains where the Children’s Home was located. Turning off the main road we left pavement and for the next few miles climbed a dirt road into the mountains. Their habit is to drive on the wrong side of the road, presumably to avoid the washboards and ruts on the right side of the road. Then when they see an approaching vehicle they swerve to the right, sometimes at the last moment, to avoid a head on collision. This is all done while also negotiating around people on horseback, animals wandering the roads, pedestrians and buzzing motor cycles. Mike has been there almost 10 years and so it is second nature to him. Consequently he spent much of the time talking to me while looking at me rather than at the road. I in the meantime was making new and permanent finger indentations on his passenger seat.

The drive was over an hour until we came to the community in which the Children’s Home is situated. All the streets were dirt and there were few cars. People ride bicycles or animals or motorcycles or they simply walk. We met one gentleman who was 85 years old and each day he walks 5 miles up the mountain to sell cilantro and returns the 5 miles to his village when he has completed his business.

The homes in this community were made of painted stucco over cinderblocks. Most of the windows were without glass. They have outdoor kitchens containing ovens fueled by wood. Nearby is a “pila” which is an outdoor reservoir that contains rainwater and a washboard embedded into concrete block that they use to wash their clothes. When we would walk into the community adults would peer at us from their homes and children would come outside to observe the strangers. I never felt threatened just the object of a peaked curiosity.

The Children’s Home was an inspiration. To see how God used this one family, in a relatively short amount of time, to accomplish so much was nearly incomprehensible. Within the compound was a guest house, a dining hall, a home for the girls, a home for the boys, a home for the missionaries, a home used as an office, a home for the Honduran director’s family, a computer room, a psychologists office, and a charming chapel in  the style of a Spanish mission. The grounds were immaculately kept and the landscaping, done by Mike, was on a professional level. The whole compound was behind locked gates and guards and guard dogs were employed at night. Mike said that the safely of the kids was his chief priority.

Our living arrangements were 6 men on bunkbeds in one room sharing one sink and one toilet. We had a shower but no hot water which meant that strange high pitched sounds resounded during evening showers. The women also had a room with bunkbeds. One married couple, Andy and Amy, shared what we called the honeymoon sweet. There was also a large room in the guesthouse where we gathered each day for Morning and Evening Prayer as well as discussion time with Mike. There was no heat or air-conditioning but we didn’t need it because the nights were cool and we worked outside during the days. The views of the mountain ranges and particularly of the sunrise were breathtaking.

Why were we there and what did we do? To be continued.

Why Did God Speak To Satan?

satan-before-the-lord

“I’m re-reading the Bible (in a year) and am questioning why during God & the devil’s conversation about Job, why did God even have this conversation? It sounds like there was bargaining/betting going on with Job’s terrible obstacles even though he was told not to touch Job himself?”

This is called Stump the Rector and allow me to say from the outset, YOU WIN!

That said I still would like to offer some comments but they are only comments and not definitive answers.

I studied under a scholar who spent 40 years studying this book. He even learned the languages of the area during the period when Job was written in order to find idioms and nuances of the other languages in the story. It was his contention that this may well be one of the first books of the Bible written since Job predates Moses. If so it is fascinating to me that among the first things that God speaks to us about is why bad things happen to good people. (Yes I know the text that there is none good no not one, but you get the point.) Life can seem very unfair and how merciful of God to address that fact. So while I believe that Job was a true historical figure, this story acts as a parable to address the bigger questions of life.

The first thing to note is that God is in charge. Satan tagged along with the sons of God to present themselves to God. Just as you don’t barge into the White House to see the President, so subjects do not willy nilly appear before the King. They are summoned and they present themselves. Thus these are not equals meeting one another. These are subjects appearing before the King.

God is also shown to be in control when He sets limits on what Satan is allowed to do to Job. Lesson: While we still live in a fallen world and evil is very real, God is in ultimate control.

Second, God is not the author of evil. It was Satan and not God who struck Job. Yes God allows evil to continue but He is not the author of it. Jonathan Edwards put it this way. God is the permitter of sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes…” The most vivid example we have of God permitting sin but using it for His excellent ends and purposes is the crucifixion of our Lord. Satan entered Judas to betray our Lord. Jesus was unjustifiably executed and yet His death was the very thing that God used to take away the sins of the world. Lesson: When bad things happen to us rather than blaming God for them we place our trust in Him to work even the bad things to our ultimate good. God has the last word, not Satan.

Third. If we accept the premise that God is not the author of evil but nevertheless permits it, then the $64,000 question is, “Why does God permit it?”

If you read the end of Job that is the question that in essence Job asked the Lord. And God answers Job by first saying “Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” Translation. “Put on your big boy pants this is going to get rough.”  

Then God begins to asks scores of rhetorical questions like, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth.” Translation: (think Jack Nicolson… “You want the truth, you can’t handle the truth!” Lesson: His ways are above our ways and His thoughts are above our thoughts therefore we must be humble and admit there are some things (many things) beyond our ability to grasp.

Fourth. Job’s response to God is noteworthy. He says “I have uttered what I do not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I do not know.” Translation. “Well shut my mouth.” Lesson: While it is not wrong to question the ways of the Lord we need to accept that there are some things above our pay grade. In this case our response is simple trust. Job came to this earlier in the book when he said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

 

 

Why Was Jesus Baptized?

baptism-of-christ

There is a great scene in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou where Delmar, a runaway convict, gets baptized. If you don’t know the movie it is overtly a comedy about three escaped prisoners but in reality it is a modern take on Homer’s The Odyssey. The scene opens with scores of people dressed in white, singing as they were coming down to the river. Two long lines formed as the lone preacher baptized them in the muddy waters. Delmar became so convicted that he ran down ahead of everyone in line and threw himself into the preacher’s arms to be baptized. Coming out of the water he said, “Well boys that does it, I’ve been redeemed….the preacher said all my sins is washed away including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked over down at Yazoo.”

Delmar was right. Baptism does wash away our sins. But that truth begs the question. Why Jesus was baptized and why do we celebrate this event?

Two very important preliminary points. First Jesus was not baptized to wash away His sins because He was without sin. The countless spotless lambs that had been sacrificed for centuries after that first Passover all foreshadowed Jesus as the spotless Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. There was no sin in Him so there must be another reason for His baptism.

Second, it was NOT at His baptism that Jesus became the Son of God. That is a heresy called “adoptionism.” I bring that up because evidently this ancient heresy is raising its head again. I have recently scene clips of sermons preached by Joel Olsteen’s wife and a prosperity gospel preacher named Paula White who both made this erroneous claim. When the Father said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” it did not mean that Jesus at that moment became His Son. All you have to do is go back to the prologue of St. John’s Gospel to show that point. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God….and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen His glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” At Jesus’ baptism the Father was not making Jesus His Son rather He was proclaiming Him as His Son. There is not only a vast difference between those two ideas, it is a critical distinction to make. The implication of adoptionism is that Jesus was a regular guy until He was baptized and received the Holy Spirit and that is when He became the Christ. So if you and I get baptized and receive the same Holy Spirit then we too can become little christs. You can see why the Church Fathers called it a heresy.

So why was Jesus baptized? He tells us. He was baptized “to fulfill all righteousness” or as the New Living Translation put is, Jesus said, ”It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” Some mistakenly believe that Jesus came to do away with the law but as He says two chapters later, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them.”

What does it mean for Jesus to fulfill all righteousness? Back in the Jesus Movement days Jesus was sometimes painted as an anti establishment hippie but nothing could be further from the truth. He was a righteous Son who obeyed His Father. St Paul tells us in Galatians 4 “God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons.” What He fought against were the man-made regulations that only served to be a greater burden for the people. But when it came to the law, He kept it. In fact He kept it perfectly and that it is why He was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Another reason the Jesus submitted to baptism was because it affirmed the ministry of John the Baptist and it connected their ministries to each other. Why was that important? It was important because John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was a new Isaiah preparing the way for the Messiah. He was making a highway to the Lord by laying down the road of repentance. Jesus’ acceptance of John’s ministry shows that the old was making way for the new and that He was the one for whom the way was being prepared. John was saying “repent for the kingdom of God is near” and Jesus was saying, “the King is here.” John knew that he was paving the way for Jesus because when John’s disciples complained about Jesus’ popularity John said, “I must decrease and He must increase.” John made the way for Jesus just as the Old Covenant made way for the New.

The Apostles sermons, that we can find in Acts, argued this continuity between the Old Testament and the New. They were careful to point out that this belief in Jesus was not some new fangled religion but rather the fulfillment of all that was foretold by the prophets. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant that goes all the way back to Abraham.

I believe the Jesus’ embrace of John and the Apostles’ respect for the prophets model for us today how we should view the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. We should see the redemption story as one long seamless story that begins in Genesis and ends in the Revelation. You have heard me say before that we were taught in seminary “The New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New revealed.” If you know the Old Testament well then you will have all kinds of “aha” moments as you read the New Testament. For example if you know the story of the Passover in the Old Testament then the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament becomes even more meaningful. And if you know the New Testament well then you will see all kinds of types and shadows as you read the Old. As when Jacob has a dream and sees a ladder connecting heaven to earth and you realize that this is a foreshadowing of Jesus who will connect God to man and man to God. Jesus tells us as much in John’s Gospel. Embracing both Old and New and seeing the interplay of the two Covenants increases your confidence that this is truly the inspired Word of God.

I bring this up because it seems that it is growing in popularity today for Christians to ignore and in some cases outright reject the Old Testament. I have had some conversations where it is suggested by others that the two Testaments reveal two different gods. The god of the Old Testament they see as angry and vengeful while the god of the New Testament they see as love and forgiveness. But this is such a superficial summary of the two Testaments. Is the God revealed in Psalm 23 an angry and vengeful God? And no one speaks more of hell and everlasting damnation than Jesus. Even a cursory knowledge of the two Testaments will show that they do not reveal two separate gods. They reveal the unfolding plan of One God in Trinity of Persons redeeming a people for His own possession. So just as Jesus embraced John, we New Testament people should embrace the Old Testament and see it as one story that leads to its ultimate conclusion in Christ.

A further reason that Jesus was baptized was to fully identify with sinful man. Think of the gods and goddess that the Romans and Greeks worshipped. They were aloof on Mt. Olympus. They sometimes pitied mankind, often were angry with mankind and regularly had to be appeased. Some even found sport in human suffering and mortality.

Jesus could not be more different. In Christ God becomes one of us. He is born in the humblest of conditions and becomes a model for us in all things. He leaves His heavenly throne and humbles Himself before He calls us to leave all and follow Him. He submits to baptism before He ordains that we are to be baptized. He washed the disciples’ feel before He calls on us to serve one another. He suffers before He calls on us to take up our cross and die daily. He proves His love for the world before He calls on us to love one another. Everyone of us who is a leader or a parent can rightfully be accused at one time or another of being the incarnation of the saying, “Do what I say not what I do.” But this can never be said of Jesus. He became one of us, except for sin, and identifies with us in every way, even in the waters of baptism. Here too He connects the two Covenants. He was circumcised which is how you enter the Old Covenant and He was baptized which is how you enter the New Covenant. He experienced it all. He is one with us.

What impact does all of this have on us and our daily journey? Let me suggest several things.

First because Christ fulfilled all righteousness we don’t have to. Don’t get ahead of me and think that I am saying that we are free from righteousness and therefore can do whatever we want to do. What I am saying is that Christ had to fulfill all righteousness because we never could. He kept all of the law because we could not. He took on our sin and instead through grace gives us His righteousness. St. Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians. “We implore you, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” (20,21).

A practical application of knowing that Christ fulfilled all righteousness so that we don’t have to is that it frees us from legalism. As a teenager who wanted desperately to walk as a disciple I fell into legalism. This in turn filled me with guilt because I wasn’t good at keeping the laws. I believed that Jesus had forgiven me of my past sins and I may not have ever put it into these words but my daily walk was as if Jesus had simply replaced one set of laws for a new set of laws. My daily walk was not about grace, it was about trying to keep God pleased with me. My obedience was not as a result of love, it was really an attempt to earn God’s favor. Again I never would have put it into these words but my legalism was saying “If you are a really good boy then God will love you.” What I should have been saying to myself is “Through grace I have been accepted in the Beloved and I am living in a kingdom that cannot be shaken.” Jesus has fulfilled all righteousness and cloaks us in His righteousness. We don’t have to keep trying to earn God’s love.

Second, Jesus’ connection with John and uniting the New and Old Covenants gives us an ancient story with deep roots that makes us less vulnerable to cults and false religions and being led away by false prophets. Our ancient story tells us who we are and ultimately why we are here and where we are going and that knowledge is a real gift in this life.

I read a story last week of a writers experience with Scientology. It teaches that 75 million years ago a being called Xenu brought billions of people to earth on spacecrafts resembling DC8s. He placed them around volcanoes and blew them up with hydrogen bombs. This released billions of fallen souls called thetans and these are what attaches to us today and cause our suffering. But for a price Scientology will help you neutralize the effects of your thetans.

Now I have to admit, that story is a little more exciting than that of Father Abraham but if you ask me which one is more believable, I would have to say Father Abraham by a nose (or several thousand). Actually it boggle the mind that anyone could fall for this nonsense but if you don’t know the real story then you are vulnerable to anything.

Third, Jesus being fully identified with sinful man makes Him the One and only One to whom we should flee for refuge and strength. Hebrew 4 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then draw near with confidence to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We don’t have to pay money to have our thetans removed. All we have to do is call on the Name of the one who is fully man and fully God.

So that is why Jesus was baptized and why the Church has us celebrate it. 5th century Bishop, Maxiumus of Turin said that Jesus’ baptism sanctified the waters for our baptism. That is not only a beautiful image it is the truth. If you have been cleansed in those waters then you can be at peace that like Delmar, all yours sins is washed away, even if you knocked over the Piggly Wiggly in Yazoo. Amen.