Holy Hilarity Sunday

The first Sunday after Easter is celebrated by some denominations as Holy Hilarity Sunday. It comes from the ancient tradition of celebrating Risus Paschalis— the Easter laugh, God’s Holy Joke.

Things had been going Satan’s way right up to the moment that Jesus’ scarred corpse rose to glorious life again. On Easter morning, Satan suddenly realized he had played into God’s hands and had brought about his own defeat. What a horrible surprise! No doubt he and his forces smacked their infernal foreheads and groaned, “If only we had known!” But they hadn’t. God in His wisdom had kept His age-old plan of redemption hidden from Satan. Paul says, “If they had known, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:8)
No wonder “the One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.” Psalm 2:4 (NIV).

My wife and I saw Satan defeat himself in a similar way during our 22 year-long project of setting up an educational system among the Canela people of Brazil, and translating a partial Bible into their language. (Read the full story in “What’s so holy about the Bible?” in my book A Kick in the Pants.)

During one period, anti-missionary forces in the Brazilian government expelled all missionaries working with indigenous people groups from the villages and reservations. Our forced separation from the Canelas people was painful and extremely frustrating for both us and the Canelas, many of whom were eager to learn to read better.

We had prepared a variety of reading booklets in the Canela language and I was seeking permission to distribute them in the village. I was in a government official’s office when I realized the underlying satanic opposition to God’s Word. The official handed me a document giving me a one day permission to distribute literacy materials in the main Canela village but the final line read, “Specifically excluded from this distribution permit are the books of Sacred Scripture,” referring the copies of Luke and Acts.

“Sign here to indicate you understand the conditions, and that you will not leave any of the Bible books in the village when you are there to distribute the other books,” the official said, handing me a pen. Breathing a quick prayer, I signed on the dotted line.

Showing God BooksThe Canela chief and village elders welcomed me and were excited to see the reading booklets as I showed each book and described what it was about. But when I mentioned I could not leave the copies of Luke and Acts with them, they were confused and dismayed.

“But those are the best books of all,” they exclaimed. “They tell us about Our Great Father in the Sky!” I showed them a copy of the document I had signed and explained that the government had forbidden me to leave any of the God books in the village.

“What?” the Canela leaders exploded in anger, “Don’t all the rest of the Brazilians have God books in their language? Why can’t we read them in our language? Don’t we have the same rights as the Portuguese-speaking Brazilians?”

The next morning the chief came up with a solution. “You pack all those reading booklets and the God books back into that drum. Put it on your pickup truck and leave the village. My son will follow you on the village tractor. In 35 kilometres, you will leave the reservation through the great gate after which your promise does not apply.
moving drumMove the drum onto the back of the tractor and drive away. My son will bring it back to the village on the tractor. When he returns, we will distribute all the books to the readers, we already have their names. That’s my order. Do it!”

I did.

Years later, when Jo and I were able to resume our ministry in the village, we heard that the first books everyone had sat down to read were Luke and Acts—the special, forbidden God books.

For over 20 years the Canelas have been reading the published partial Bible. The title page says, Pahpãm Jarkwa Cupahti Jõ Kàhhôc. “The Book of the Highly Respected Words of God.”

Satan moved Brazilian officials to keep the Bible away from the Canelas. He would never have done this if he had known how his nasty plan would turn out. But because of his opposition, the Canelas recognized the God books as being special. God again had the last laugh.
Man’s futile wrath will bring you glory. You will use it as an ornament! Psalm 76:10 (TLB).

Why Is It So Hard?

“I wish all the Christian missionaries in Brazil were fleas,” the Brazilian government official said through gritted teeth, “I would squash them under my thumbnail like this!” pantomiming the action on the corner of her desk for the delegation of mission leaders who were seeking an appointment with a government minister.

It was yet another discouraging incident in the long, sad, saga of satanic opposition to bringing God’s Word to Brazil’s indigenous population when the government expelled all missionaries from native villages.

I will never forget those horribly discouraging years when Jo and I yearned to be back with the Canela people we so loved and longed for. We prayed for them, knowing that there was no one to give them medical aid, no one to teach them to read, and no one to help them translate God’s Word into their language. This mental and emotional anguish was even harder to bear than the bouts of malaria, hepatitis, trachoma, and parasitic infestations so many of us routinely suffered.

editors at workFinally, after five years of hostile antagonism, the government asked the indigenous groups what they themselves wanted, and the prohibitions were lifted. Villagers gladly welcomed the Bible translators who rejoined their indigenous fellow workers at last to continue medical, linguistic, literacy and Bible translation work.

Gates Open at Last

Gates Open at Last

When we, in the end, returned to the Canela village, the dried mud walled, palm thatched house we had lived in for ten years was gone along with everything in it. Government officials had encouraged the villagers to help themselves to our furniture, pots, pans and dishes, as well as the poles, lumber, doors and shutters. The house was torn down and replaced by someone else’s mud and thatch house. On our return, we built a 4 by 6 metre, two-room wooden shack in which we lived and worked for eight years as we completed the Canela education and Bible translation project.

“Why is it so hard?” we asked ourselves on one of our daughters’ birthdays when they were 600 miles away in boarding school. We always missed them so much. During this Holy Week, I thought about Christ’s suffering for us and how we, in turn, also need to suffer. Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” John 15:20.

It was in that light that I recently re-read Colossians 1:24. The apostle Paul wrote poetically, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” Jesus, our Master, suffered agony and death in order to bring salvation to the world. We Christians now take our turn to suffer as we pass on the message of this salvation to the world.

Jo and I experienced what Paul wrote about “feeling like a mother in the pain of childbirth,” Galatians 4:19. Like a mother, we felt a deep down, fierce joy as we suffered the hardships and opposition while “giving birth” to the Canela Church through God’s Word in their language.

As disciples of Jesus we need to be prepared to suffer, and do so gladly, in order that His Body, the Church, will grow larger and stronger. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus promised us, “but cheer up, I have overcome the world.”

This Good Friday, think not just about what Christ suffered on the cross two-thousand years ago to provide salvation, but ask yourself,
“What do I suffer because I am spreading this message of salvation to the world?”

Who is the Boss, You or Your Stuff?

Have you ever noticed, our possessions, which should be serving us, tend to influence our decisions and we often end up serving our possessions?

Here’s an example:
I’m in the second week of a six-week Wycliffe banquet speaking tour of California and I see and hear evidence every day that indicates that the things we own seem to actually own us. As I stand by the book table to offer my five books for sale, most people who stream past the table say the same thing. “I already have so many books I haven’t read yet, I can’t buy more.”

I smile and say “Thank you for coming to the banquet,” but meanwhile I am thinking,
You came to this banquet, so I know you are interested in missions and Bible translation. You interrupted my story-filled speech repeatedly with laughter and applause which makes me think you would probably also enjoy reading my story-filled books. So why are you letting the books stacked on your shelves back home–which you may never read–tell you not to buy and read these books that you probably will read and enjoy?

It’s a clear case of packed bookshelves telling their owners what not to buy.

Eeny meeny miny mo Which one of you has got to go?

Eeny meeny miny mo
Which one of you has got to go?

Okay, I confess, I understand the “too many books” problem. That’s why my wife and I formulated the following policy for buying new books:
“For every new book we bring into the house, and before we start reading it, we must go through our library and pull out a book to give away, to relatives, friends, church library, or even the thrift shop.”
Since we moved into a much smaller mobile home recently, we have amplified our policy temporarily to “1 book in, 2 books out.”

Our packed bookshelves are not the only things that dictate decisions in our lives. I have urged Christian people to go on a missions trip to use their skills to help build God’s kingdom. Here are some of the responses, “Yes, we should do that, but . . .

  • we want to finish the basement this year.
  • we just bought a trailer and plan to take a camping vacation.
  • our roof needs re-shingling.
  • we can’t afford the time, we need to organize the stuff in our garage.
  • we are in the middle of remodeling project.
  • it is such a hassle to get someone to look after our pets, the lawn, and the house plants.

We are followers of Jesus who lived without lots of stuff, Are we just floating along with our affluent, materialistic culture?

packed-garageDrive through a 50-year-old,  residential area of your town and you will see typical one-storey bungalow style houses, sometimes with a garage at the rear. Compare those three bedroom, single bathroom family homes with the massive homes in the newer residential areas.
Two-storey houses with a full, finished basement, multiple large bedrooms, several bathrooms, separate rooms for living, dining, home theatre, recreation, den, etc. etc. Plus a double car attached garage sometimes stacked with stuff.

Fifty years ago, North Americans threw out about a kilo (2.2 pounds) of trash per person per day. Now the amount has doubled, including nearly half a billion electronic products thrown away every year. All these things were, of course, replaced by newer, better models!

That’s our culture and it affects us.

Maybe we Jesus-followers have forgotten His warning, “Watch out! Be on your guard against wanting to have more and more things. Life is not made up of how much a person has” Luke 12:15 (NIRV).

How do you deal with the stuff in your life? Are you the boss?

Canada Combats Negative Side Effects of New Technology for Churches

01/04/14

Medicines solve problems, but also have unwanted side effects. That’s why the Food and Drug Administration tests new drugs to make sure they are safe, and that their side effects are not worse than the problems they are meant to cure.

Medical drugs are not the only things with surprising and unwanted side effects. When Henry Ford invented the assembly line to mass produce automotive vehicles, his goal, beside money for himself, was that ordinary working people could afford to own their own vehicles.

He probably never thought of the side effect on young couples who no longer had to court under the watchful eye of family. The couple could drive off in a car and within minutes be completely private to do whatever they wanted to do. Courting died and dating was born, as were babies to unprecedented numbers of pregnant brides.

More Surprising Negative Side Effects
Did the texting app developers foresee that texting while driving would one day top drunk driving in the number of traffic fatalities? What next MATD, Mothers Against Texting Drivers?

The inventors of ultrasound scans wanted to determine the health of unborn babies, but did they foresee that this would lead to the murder of millions of unborn girl babies by parents who prized sons over daughters.

At first incoming university students loved Facebook since they could get to know their fellow students and potential roommates on line during the summer. Did anyone anticipate the cyber bullying that would follow? Or the stalking? Or future employers seeing the pictures of drunk and naked applicants?

Churches Use and Control Technology
Many church goers now read their Bibles on their smart phones. But congregants following the Scripture passages on their phone, often check something else on line, like a Bible map, and from there read a relevant news items, and then go who knows where, totally losing the pastor’s message from God. Some churches now operate cell phone jammers during services.

And speaking of church, projecting the words of the hymn on a screen solves several problems. No need for new or growing congregations to buy expensive bound hymnbooks, introducing a new hymn to the congregation is easy, and new Christian songwriters can now easily put their music and lyrics before the Christian public.

ChristChurchCongregation4The negative side effect is the deplorable lack of musical and theological standards. Thousands of congregations all across North America now stand, and mostly listen, to a group perform music that is frequently unsingable by a congregation. Too often the lyrics are of dubious theological accuracy, and have little deep meaning, and yet they are mindlessly repeated, on and on, again and again, over and over, seemingly forever, with no end in sight, with as much spiritual value as the perpetually turning Tibetan prayer windmill wheel.

Canada Leads the Way
No one can see all the negative side effects of every new development. Happily, help is on the way. Canada is, once again, in the technological forefront in setting up a New Technology Administration (NTA) to test and check new technology, then publish warnings of potential problems, and recommend counter measures to mitigate the negative side effects.

What is even more encouraging is that the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) is taking similar action by setting up what amounts to a Hymn and Song Administration (HSA). They will be checking new worship songs for lyrics with sound theology and tunes congregations can actually sing. They will also deal with the current collection of songs.

Any worship team singing a non-HSA-approved worship song would do so at the peril of annoying and irritating the congregation. To prepare the unsuspecting congregation, a mandatory red flashing warning would appear on the opening screen.

You may want to write the EFC with your congratulations, but before you do, please check the date of this blog post.