The Story of Pentecost in Two Contrasting Versions

Why Stories from Different Cultures Are So Similar
I grew up listening to Dutch folktales, read voraciously in English during my early years in Canada, enjoyed Brazilian stories in Portuguese, studied Canela legends, and know all the Middle Eastern Bible stories by heart. I wondered why stories from these five different cultures seem to have similar plots and structure.

An anthropologist, Levi-Strauss, taught me that these timeless stories hang together because they all follow certain rules. Elements in each major tale relate to each other, both in the way they are similar and in the way they contrast. What’s more, one element in each pair is often positive, while the other may be negative, just as health contrasts with disease, and clean contrasts with dirty.

The Moses and Joshua Example
Here, for instance are how the stories of Moses and Joshua are similar: Both were chosen by God. Both led Israel. Both performed miracles. Both accomplished their tasks.

Here are the contrasts: One was old: one was young. One was a shepherd: the other a trained warrior. One led them out of bondage: the other led them into freedom. One was highly educated in Egypt’s royal court: the other was an ignorant slave.

Around the world, all enduring stories are structured similarly because they all reflect the greatest story of them all; the timeless tale of God, His creation, human sin and God’s redemption.

Now The Two Stories of Pentecost
Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks, in Old Testament times was simply a harvest festival. Eventually, this turned into more of a remembrance of the time Moses received the Law on Mt. Sinai. And of course, for the Christian Church, we remember that it was on the first Pentecost after Christ rose from the dead, that God sent the Holy Spirit to the Church.

So, doing a quick study of these two major stories, here, in list form, are some similarities and contrasts:
MosesJewish Observance of Pentecost: Receiving of the Law.

  1. God’s servant Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Law
  2. This happened 50 days after their escape from Egypt (10 days of travel plus 40 days on Mount Sinai)
  3. Moses found the people feasting and playing before the golden calf
  4. Moses ordered the Levites to draw their swords and execute the idolaters
  5. As a result, 3,000 people lost their lives

Christian Observance of Pentecost: Receiving of the Holy Spirit

  1. God’s Holy Spirit came down from heaven with Power.
  2. This happened 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead (40 days of seeing Jesus alive plus 10 days of waiting in Jerusalem)
  3. The Holy Spirit found the disciples fasting and praying before God
  4. God ordered Peter to use the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and preach to the crowds
  5. As a result, 3,000 people received eternal life.

The apostle Paul may well have had this contrast in mind when he wrote to the Corinthian church, “The letter of the Law kills, but the Spirit gives life” 2 Corinthians 3:6.

Try This Yourself
Pick a pair of characters like king Saul and king David. Or the prophet Jonah and the apostle Paul. Check out the amazing similarities and contrasts in their stories.

That Dumb Computer in Our Head

That Dumb Computer!
It happens to me almost every day. I’m working on my computer, tapping away at the keys, and clicking with my mouse, when suddenly, “Whoa! That’s NOT what I wanted!”

Sometimes a line I want in bold print ends up in italics; at other times a whole page of writing disappears.

Why don’t computers do what we want them to do instead of doing what we tell them to do?

It’s because all computers are dumb. They process data, but they can’t think. They can only process the information and instructions we put into them. If we put in good information, we will get good results. The opposite is true as well.

GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out) was the first acronym I learned when I first started using a computer way back in the 1970s. It’s still true. And not just for our electronic computers.

It is just as true for that biologic computer inside our heads. It too is dumb, and can’t think for itself. All it can do is respond to what information we put into it.

headfixProgramming the Computer in Our Head
We may not like computers. Some of us may not even own a computer, like a guy I know who still uses a cell phone with a rotary dial, but we can’t get away from the computer between our ears.

The apostle Paul, way back, two-thousand years ago, gave some excellent advice about programming our minds. “Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

  • True: nothing false, unreal, lies
  • Noble: nothing indecent, shameful
  • Right: nothing wrong, inaccurate, incorrect
  • Pure: nothing lustful, polluted, unchaste, tainted
  • Lovely: nothing unattractive to God
  • Admirable: nothing despicable, worthless
  • Excellent: nothing poor, cheap, common
  • Praiseworthy: nothing that deserves criticism, unworthy.

Telling Ourselves the Truth
We input data by what we tell ourselves. If we tell ourselves something that is true, like, “God loves me unconditionally,” we are going to end up feeling positive about our relationship with Him and ready to face whatever the day holds.

But if we tell ourselves something that is false, like, “God has turned His back on me,” we will end up feeling hopeless and make decisions that take us from bad to worse.

It’s not only what we tell ourselves that is data for our computer, but what we expose ourselves to when we hang out with friends, when we attend church or watch television, or movies,  read books or magazines, or visit websites. All these furnish impressions that feed into our dumb mental computer, and we end up thinking about them.

The dumb computer inside our heads will process those Thoughts and turn them into Words that we repeat to ourselves. Those Words develops into Actions, and our Actions tend to become Habits. Habits develop into Character, and Character determines our Destiny.

My Morning Habit
We tend to become what we think about all day long. That is why, as a long-time habit, I take time every morning to program my brain. I divided my life into seven areas: Spiritual, Physical, Marriage and Family, Personal Development, Ministry, Social, and Financial. Then I wrote down a couple of affirmations of biblical truth about each one, as well as a goal that I can visualize myself attaining.

Each morning, as part of my meditation and prayer time, I read through these facts about myself and see myself attaining the goals. This sets my mental computer on a course to positive, wholesome thoughts, words, actions, habits, character, and destiny.

What kind of data are you putting into that computer in your head?

In Search of Beauty

Canela People and Beauty
They looked neat and tidy. We noticed it when we moved into the village to live with the Canela people of Brazil. Their appearance was clean and sharp and it wasn’t their clothes—they wore hardly any. Their faces, hair and bodies were striking, even beautiful. We had been in contact with other indigenous people groups who, in comparison to the Canelas, were unkempt, messy and scruffy looking.

Canela flutists making beautiful music on the village central hub.

Canela flutists making beautiful music on the village central hub.

One of the principal reasons the Canelas look so good is the way they wore their hair. Both men and women cut their hair into bangs across the forehead, and then cut around the sides of the head leaving just a few centimetres at the back uncut. The hair below the cut is left to grow long. The result is that their faces are always free of hair. They also bathe at least twice a day and, for special occasions, they decorate their bodies with intricate red and black designs.

The net effect is beauty. This drive for beauty extends to other areas of Canela life too. When our mud and thatch house was almost finished, one of our Canela neighbours came along with a sharp bush knife and trimmed the overhanging palm thatch so that it would be neat and straight. It didn’t make the roof any better able to shed rain or provide shade, it just looked better. He needed it to look beautiful.

God and Beauty
God needs things to look beautiful too. An inspiring story comes from the history of Israel after Moses had led the Israelites out of their 400 years of slavery in Egypt. God wanted a portable temple, a place where the people could meet Him. He provided the design and the finishing details. Exodus 35 and 36 tell the story of its construction. Only the finest materials and the very best work were acceptable.

God picked two men, Bezalel and Oholiab, filled them with His Holy Spirit, not to preach, not to speak in tongues or do miraculous healings, but to create beauty and teach others to do so. “God filled them with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills, to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts.” (Exodus 35:31) He also gave them the ability to teach others to work as engravers, designers, and embroiderers.

John Keats said it well, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” Bezalel and Oholiab would agree.

The Purpose of Creating Beauty
Human creativity comes from God. Our imagination, from which flows good things—inventions, solutions to problems, works of beauty—was built into us by God. He means for us to use it to make beauty around us. He means for us to use the beauty that comes from Him to bring Him glory.

Satan Perverts Beauty
Satan, of course, seeks to pervert our abilities to create beauty and use it for our own glory. Or worse yet, to do evil and produce ugliness instead. There was a time, long after the creation of Adam and Eve, that God saw that “every imagination of human hearts was only evil continually,” so He sent a flood to wipe them out and start over again with Noah and his family.

Creative Beauty in Our Families
I see God given creativity in relatives all around me. An architect nephew who designs skyscrapers. A carpenter brother who builds houses. A niece who produces excellent videos to promote ministries all over the world. Grandchildren who are graphic artists. Another niece who writes devotionals, creates beauty out of old socks. Her husband paints stunningly beautiful landscapes.  Others are interior decorators, designers, cooks, bakers, and carvers. Each member of my extended family has skills to create beauty around them. By the way, we are not an exceptional family, all families have the potential to create beauty.

And God has given me, the old grandpa, the ability to write stories and blog posts, putting words together in creative ways, to produce new and distinctly different writings. All this creativity for only one purpose: to bring glory to the God who gave it.

Mother’s Day and Gender Equality: Some Thoughts

My Mother and I, seventy-nine years ago.

My Mother and I, seventy-nine years ago. She had only six years of school, but she raised five children who each had at least fifteen years of school.

This weekend, the second Sunday of May, billions of people around the world will be celebrating Mothers’ Day—not just in most European countries and North America—where the idea started about a century ago—but in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India, China, Japan and the Philippines.

This focus to honour our mothers made me think of the status of women in the world, especially when we learn of cultures that put women down, even to the point of denying them basic education.

Recent History of Male Chauvinism
Respect for women, even in our more “enlightened” western societies is a relatively recent phenomenon. Canada is 150 years old this year, but for the first 33 years, no province allowed a woman to vote. In Quebec, it took 74 years before women could vote. Switzerland, although famously democratic since 1848, did not allow women to vote for 123 years, finally granting this right in 1971, only 46 years ago.

Ancient History of Male Chauvinism
Western cultures were heavily influenced by the Greco-Roman cultures of the Mediterranean area who held a worldview that despised women. Although democracy was practiced 2,500 years ago by the Greeks and Romans, only free adult males could vote—one-third of the total adult population. No women or slaves could be involved in politics.

Biblical Christianity—the Source of Gender Equality

  1. This anti-woman, chauvinistic Mediterranean cultural attitude stands in stark contrast to biblical Christianity which has taught for 2,000 years that in God’s eyes “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Galatians 3:28.
  2. Jesus Himself deliberately chose to reveal some major theological truths, not to his male disciples, nor to male Jewish religious authorities, but to women. It was to a woman from Samaria that, for the first time, Jesus clearly stated He was the long-awaited Messiah, telling her, “I that speak unto you am He.” John 4:26. In the same story, the disciples, still steeped in their pre-Christian, Jewish culture, were surprised that He did the totally unexpected—talk with a woman.
  3. It was to Martha He disclosed His power over death, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies” John 11:25.
  4. After His resurrection, He showed Himself first, not to Peter, James or John, his closest male disciples, but to a woman, Mary Magdalene, John 20:16.
  5. Besides the chosen twelve disciples a large number of other disciples followed Jesus, many of them women. Jesus taught them as any Jewish rabbi would his male students. In one incident, when He was teaching inside a house, He was told his mother and brothers were standing outside wanting to see Him. “He looked at those seated around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3, 34-35. Had there been only male disciples sitting there, He would never have made a reference to them being His mother or sister.
  6. “Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to what He said.” Luke 10:39. The expression “sitting at the feet” of a rabbi was used to describe a disciple receiving instruction from the rabbi. Jesus was a radical who constantly went against the male chauvinism of his day by treating women as equal to men.
  7. The early church also valued women in various leadership, teaching and prophetic roles and called them disciples, a term, until then, reserved for men only. “In Joppa, there was a disciple named Tabitha who was always doing good and helping the poor.” Acts 9:36. When this woman died, Peter came, prayed for her, and raised her back to life—a notable miracle, performed on behalf of a woman!
  8. And the women disciples not only “helped the poor” they preached and taught as well. At the end of one of Paul’s missionary journeys, Luke mentioned them staying with an evangelist named Philip and specifically stated that he had four virgin daughters who prophesied. Acts 24:9.

Gender Equality is a Christian Concept
Biblical Christianity has always taught the concept of gender equality—that women and men can both participate equally in every area of life. Churches or individuals that put women down are influenced not by New Testament teaching, but by their own cultures, originating in a pagan Mediterranean worldview.