April 16, 2012
Why is That in the Bible?
The following is an adaptation of a post on our Brazilian blog, which in turn is an adaptation of the message preached last night at the Kerigma congregation.
In our congregation here in São Luís I am preaching a series of messages from the book of Gênesis. Yesterday, we arrived at chapter 9, verses 20 through 29.
To summarize, after the flood, Noah gets drunk and ends up naked in his tent. His son Ham gets a kick out of this and tells his brothers about it. They are horrified, and take measures to protect the dignity of their inebriated father.
Upon waking up, Noah pronounces a curse on his son Ham, and his grandson Canaan, as well as a blessing on his other two sons, Shem and Japheth.
And my question, whenever I arrived at this passage, was what in the world is this doing here? This is not one of the well-worn paths in Scripture. Indeed, I don't think I remember a single flannel graph presentation from this text.
But, after studying this passage, I believe there are three keys to opening our understanding of this text.
1. The Author It is important to understand that God used Moses to write this portion of His word.
2. The Context The original intended audience of this text was the nation of Israel, as they prepared to enter into the Promised Land. As we interpret this section, we cannot forget this fact.
3. Canaan Noah's grandson is included in the curse, even though he evidently had little to do with his father's actions. In fact, as the curse progresses, he gets mentioned more than his father. What's up with that?
Taking these three factors into consideration, the purpose of this text becomes clear. As they entered into the Promised Land, the Israelites would encounter the occupants of that land, namely, the Canaanites--descendants of Canaan (see Genesis 10:15-19 and Exodus 33:2). Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Moses relates this story with two purposes:
1. A Warning If God's people let down their guard (as Noah did when he hit the bottle a little too heavily), the enemies of God would take advantage of it (has Ham did when he shamed his wasted father). And, in fact, this is what happened. The book of Judges is the sad tale of God's people repeatedly letting down their guard, and God's enemies (the descendants of Canaan) taking advantage of them.
2. An Encouragement When he relates the curse that Noah pronounced on Canaan's head, Moses was communicating to the children of Israel that the destiny of their enemies was already sealed. They would in the end be defeated and reduced to slavery. Therefore, when the Israelite armies went out to do battle with the Canaanites, they could be sure of eventual victory.
And, as I told our congregation last night, for us today remain the same warning and encouragement.
1. A Warning If we let down our guard, our enemy will take advantage of it. In I Peter 5:8 we read that,
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour
It falls to us to be alert and vigilant through meditation on the scriptures and prayer.
2. An Encouragement Our enemy, though a roaring lion, is already defeated. On the cross, when Christ cried out "It is finished!" it meant the ultimate defeat of Santan and his hosts. And so, when we do battle, we know that we are dealing with a defeated enemy.
May we be sufficiently warned and encouraged by the story of a tipsy Noah and his disrespectful son!
April 7, 2012
Look to Jesus!
The following is an excerpt from our most recent prayer letter:
I wish I could transmit to you the beautiful scene I witnessed at the cemetery on Wednesday. After the short devotional the casket containing Pastor Francisco's mortal remains was wheeled out of the little chapel and towards the grave site. The crowd (and it was a large crowd--two buses and about twenty cars accompanied the hearse from the church to the cemetery) followed close behind...singing. First they sang "It is Well With My Soul", then an old Brazilian hymn imploring sinners to trust in Christ. Finally, as they approached the open grave, they broke out into a chorus that is very popular in churches here which echoes, almost verbatim, the words of Romans 8: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?"
After a few short words from the pastor's brother, the casket was lowered into the ground, and the cemetery workers began to pile the dirt on top. (Unlike Americans, Brazilians stick around for this part.) Suddenly Pastor Francisco's aged mother, Dona Terezinha, spoke up through her tears, in a voice so loud and clear all could hear it:
"People, look to Jesus!" she exclaimed. "Look to Jesus! Look to Jesus!"
The next months are apt to be some of the most challenging of our ministry...but with God's help, and with Dona Terezinha's words echoing in our ears, we will look to Jesus.
March 22, 2012
When the French set foot on the island that is now São Luís, Maranhão, they were met by a native tribe known as the "Tupinambás". Daniel de la Touche, the French (Huguenot) leader of the expedition had the wisdom to make friends with the Tupinambás, and was successful in enlisting their help in several projects--such as fighting against the Portuguese and building the rudimentary fortifications that formed the embryonic nucleus of modern São Luís.
A map of São Luís and surrounding areas made by early explorers
Accompanying La Touche on this expedition was a priest named Yves de Evereux, who has left for us a detailed account of the events that transpired during São Luís' brief French period. De Evereux was fascinated by the Tupinambá culture, and much of his tome is taken up with descriptions of their life-style, put in the most admiring terms.
Tupinambá village under attack
At one point, he describes how the Tupinambás turned out in droves to help with the construction of the fort. The work gangs consisted not just of men, but of women and children. Curious, Yves asked one of the chieftains why children were included in the task. After all, they impeded the progress of the work, and were more susceptible to injury.
The chieftain responded:
We have great pleasure in seeing our children with us working on this fort. One day, when they are old, they will tell their children--and their children will tell their descendants--"Behold, the fortifications that we and our fathers built for the Frenchmen!"
And that--as I told our congregation last night--is an often overlooked, but critically essential aspect of discipleship. Namely, discipleship is doing.
Two mentalities militate against this in our churches. First, we seem to have a knee-jerk tendency to solve issues with a didactic approach. Is there an area where the church needs to grow? There's a class for that! (or seminar, or conference, or series of sermons, etc)
Second, there is a tendency to leave church matters to trained professionals. The idea is that if we give young people responsibility, they will just mess it up and get in the way, so it is much better to do things ourselves.
Both of these mentalities spell death for a church. Of course there is a place for the didactic approach. Christ used it...a lot (see Matthew 5-7, for example). Yet, Christ also set his disciples to work, as seen in Mark 6:7-13.
And in reading the above passage, let us bear in mind that these were the immature, uneducated, infighting, blustering, pre-resurrection disciples, not the mature, informed, united post-resurrection apostles. Yet Christ put them to work, giving them hands-on experience. And when Christ told us to make disciples, I firmly believe he had the same thing in mind.
One of the most exciting aspects of our ministry at the Kerigma Congregation is how the young people are eagerly seeking out opportunities for ministry--and how the leadership is encouraging this. In the last two months we have had three of our young people preach in the youth group, and one in the Wednesday night service. Two more are scheduled to preach in the youth group next month.
Several young men have approached us (Pastor Francisco and myself) for preaching tips. Pastor Francisco has been working with eight of them (some of them elementary age) on some basic hermeneutics and homiletics.
Other examples of this principle at work in our congregation are the Carnaval retreat (where the church family worked together as a whole, instead of the retreat being organized and administered by the pastors), the youth group sessions (totally planned and carried out by the young people), and Itacyara's Sunday School class (all the lessons for the last semester were prepared and given by the students).
In a very real sense we are practicing "Tupinambá Discipleship--that is, we are letting the children help build the fortress--so that future generations will know that the fortress is theirs.
February 28, 2012
My Name is Deivid
On Wednesday the Rio de Janeiro teams Flamengo and Vasco faced off in a hard-fought game. The final score was 2 to 1 Vasco, to the sadness of Mikey and the great joy of his mother.
What made this game memorable, however, was not the score, or even the spectacular goals. No, what everybody remembers about this game is the spectacular missed goal by a player named Deivid.
It was a beautiful setup. Ronaldinho kicked the ball upfield to Leonardo Moura, who placed it perfectly in front of Deivid. The goalie had left the goal, too worried about Leonardo Moura to pay attention to Deivid behind him. And there was Deivid, the ball at his feet, and an empty goal yawning less than three feet in front of him.
And he missed. The ball bounced harmlessly off the goalpost and a disbelieving Deivid watched a Vasco player snag it and run it back down the field.
Here's the play, in all it's gory detail:
Since that moment, Deivid has become a national punchline. Comedy shows have spoofed his epic choke. This evening as I was walking through a local mall, I saw a sign featuring his picture, and the words "Only Deivid could miss a sale this big!"
When asked about his now infamous "fail" on a TV show, he appealed to fans to remember all the goals he has scored for the team.
That might take a while.
In my spiritual life, I am much like Deivid. How many times have I "kicked and missed"? How many times have I snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory? (These are rhetorical questions, no need to leave comments speculating on the actual numbers...)
And in fact, my own situation is worse than that of the star forward for Flamengo. For I have no stellar career to look back on. Even the "good works" that I did--and thought at the time that they were the stuff of heroes--even these are as filthy rags in the eyes of God.
And my situation has not improved now that I'm a believer. It's not like I got saved, and suddenly became a star player on Christ's team. In fact, there is only room for one craque on that team, and that is Jesus Christ himself. He is the one who made the spectacular play, and if there is to be any boasting on my part, it must be of Christ.
By all accounts, Deivid is an outstanding player. He will score a game-changing goal in the near future, and be able to leave his shameful moment behind.
I too can leave all my shameful moments behind--but not because of any spectacular play on my part. No, all is forgiven and forgotten because of Christ, and because of Him alone.
July 27, 2011
Law vs Grace
This little poem, found over at Justin Taylor's blog, made my morning.
Run, John, and work, the law commands,
yet finds me neither feet nor hands,
But sweeter news the gospel brings,
it bids me fly and lends me wings!