What is the Worst Sin?

Large stone Decalogue monument in front of a hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Cultural Research
“What do you tell young Canelas to never do?” I asked a group of Canela leaders.
In our translation work we had come to the Ten Commandments and needed to know what Canelas considered sin.

Their discussion was loud but not long, then the chief said,

  1. You must never hit or fight physically with another Canela. It’s okay to fight against other tribes but not with each other.
  2. You must never bring shame to yourself and your family by being careless when you steal or have sex with someone who is not your spouse. It’s better not to do these things at all but letting other find out you did them is worse.
  3. You must never be stingy with what you have, especially with your food. You might cause others to steal from you.

Since Canelas have always been a minority society trying to survive in a hostile environment, peaceful relationships within Canela society are essential. No wonder, then, this anti-fighting prohibition is at the top of the list.

Anger in Church
I thought of this Canela list some years ago when I learned of a church leader who on several occasions was extremely angry with another leader. He expressed his anger violently and publicly and each time held it over a period of weeks.

Jesus said. “If you are angry with your brother, you have already murdered him in your heart.”

Yet no one took the leader aside to talk with him. There was no discipline. These temper tantrums were ignored and left to “go away”. They upset many people who had witnessed the outbursts and the tantrums never did “go away.”

“Moral Lapse” in Church
In that same church, however, it was discovered that another leader frequently visited pornography websites. Jesus said something about this too. “If a man looks on a woman to lust after her, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

This time the denomination’s supervisor was called. The leader was disciplined, put on probation, required to take counseling, and assigned an accountability partner.

Obviously that church ranked the Lust-equals-Adultery sin as worse than the Anger-equals-Murder sin treating it as rather benign and not worth the bother.

Since this happened in a North American church, it may simply be reflecting our culture. We never equate anger with murder. But our society shines a bright spotlight on sins of a sexual nature, not only on pastors addicted to pornography, but on bosses using sexist language and sexist behaviour toward those under their authority.

The Opinion of Jesus
To Jesus the worst sin was not loving God with all our heart, soul and mind. And the next worst sin was not loving our neighbour as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-39)

As followers of Jesus our motive for all we do must be love, first for God then for others. How can we love God and others when we rage at them in fury? How can we love others when we fill our minds with selfish lust?

So What?
The Canelas are concerned about fighting each other within the tribe.
Our society condemns sexist behaviour of men towards women.

But Jesus’ standards are far higher and broader,
“Love God and love people.”
That covers everything.

What the Angel Gabriel Saw

Here is her introduction and her Christmas poem:
“Of all the characters in the Christmas story, God the Father is the One we think of the least. Of course we know that without Him the incarnation would never have happened.
So how did He handle the gestation and birth of His only Son? I imagine that for Him it was not unlike how it is for fathers everywhere.
Here’s what the angel Gabriel saw.”

How the Natal Star was Born

The Son vanishes just after I am sent
to the Galilean virgin
and heaven isn’t the same.
Gone the laughter, mischief, hijinks.
Music replaced by silence
all monochromatic, sober
like the life of the party has left
and we don’t have the will
to keep partying or to go home.

The Almighty’s been moody since then
broods like never before
over calendars and seasons
looks down a lot, mostly toward Nazareth
at this blossoming virgin-still
and her earthmate.

The day this couple sets off down the road
He starts pacing      pacing       pacing
When they get to Bethlehem
it’s pace-pace-pace
then He pauses         Hush!

All the hosts of heaven stop their chatter
crowd behind Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David
peer over the balcony
focus on a dark building
near a sign that blinks  Sorry – No Vacancy.
It’s so quiet you can hear the stars hum.

Then cutting the night
tiny and tremulous
A-wah   a-wah   a-wah   a-wah

The Almighty laughs His magnificence
tosses His glory, flings His radiance
and then starts handing out
cig— no, trumpets
to every angel within arm’s reach
Go tell somebody, anybody!

After they’ve left He asks for the bubbly
shakes it up
pops the cork
sprays it all over heaven.

© 2004 by Violet Nesdoly.  Used with permission.
See more of Violet’s writing at www.violetnesdoly.com

A Blessed Christmas to all of you!

A Birthday Present for Jesus

Hansje, the boy who never got a Christmas present until he was twelve years old.

I was a deprived child. Yes, believe it or not, I was twelve years old before I received my first Christmas present.

It’s true. I am not making this up.

No doubt many of you are reaching for your cheque book exclaiming, “Oh that poor boy! Let’s send him some money to make up for all those years of not getting any Christmas presents!”

A great idea! It’s never too late to send me money. But before you do, my conscience compels me to explain.

Explanation
I grew up in the Netherlands where mid-winter gift giving was done, not at Christmas, but three weeks earlier on the December 5th – the birthday of St. Nicholas, called Sinterklaas by all Dutch children. We sang songs about him and placed our wooden shoes by the fireplace that night, where we found presents the next morning, December 6th, (the day you receive this blog post).

Christmas, therefore, was totally given over to remembering the birth of Jesus with no gift giving involved at all. It seems that the Dutch and the Flemish are unique in this practice. They are unique in many other ways too—highly intelligent, incredibly handsome, excessively hard-working and, of course, extremely humble—knowing me, you already knew that.

Sacrilege?
When we emigrated to Canada, our parents took a dim view of mixing Christmas and presents. They felt it was somewhat sacrilegious and detracted from the meaning of Christmas. And that was half a century before the current commercialized shopping frenzy that for many people eclipses the celebration of our Saviour’s birth.

On the other hand, there is something very appropriate about celebrating the birth of Christ by giving gifts. Jesus Himself was God’s gift to mankind—the greatest gift of all. The wise men worshiped Him by bringing three valuable gifts. In many cultures of the world, people celebrate the birthdays of friends and relatives by giving them presents.

200 Billion Dollars
But don’t you find it a little odd to celebrate Someone’s birthday by giving presents to each other, and not to the Person whose birthday it is? I doubt Jesus is positively impressed with the estimated 200 billion dollars ($200,000,000,000) worth of gifts that are expected to be exchanged on His birthday in North America. What probably does impress Him, however, is what many Christians are doing.

Remember the “reaching for your chequebook” attempt at humour a few paragraphs ago? Here is the serious side.

Reaching for our chequebook is exactly what Jo and I, and a growing number of Christians do at this time of year. We count up how much money we spend on presents to family and friends, and then give the same amount to benefit the desperately poor around the world.

Conservatively estimating one out of ten North Americans to be Christians, if all of us Christians did this, over twenty billion dollars ($20,000.000.000) would be given to make an immense impact in meeting extreme world needs.

Jesus Thought of it First
What’s more, this is a biblically sound policy. One day, Jesus told an end-of-the-world story about people who in their life on earth had helped the poor, fed the hungry, and cared for the sick and the homeless. At the end He concluded, “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, NIV).

This Christmas let’s use our money to help someone who is in financial need and is physically, emotionally or spiritually deprived.

It will be our birthday present to Jesus. He’ll be pleased!

 

 

 

How God Shapes and Equips His Servants

The Encouraging Letter

I recently received a complimentary letter from a friend and Wycliffe leader. He wrote,

“Through God’s grace, you are a wonderful example to me and many others, of being yourself before God and not allowing others to force you into their way of doing things. This has enriched your work in the many and varied roles you have had in Wycliffe both in Canada and on the field.”

His note stimulated my memory and, Yes, I have done many things differently.

Things We Did Differently

  • Jo and I left the Canelas with more than just a New Testament. We were the first translation team in Brazil to publish a New Testament-sized partial Bible, one-third of which is Old Testament.
  • To keep within the book’s size limits, we were the first to translate all of John and Luke and included only the unique portions of Matthew and Mark as additions within the Luke narrative.
  • Beyond the normal dependence on native helpers for language learning and Bible translation, we pioneered the concept of training scores of young Canelas in a wide variety of skills: teach others to read, author their own stories, touch type, draw illustrations, teach Bible classes, lead prayer and praise meetings, promote Bible memory, and even to extract teeth.
  • Returning to Canada after our decades of service in Brazil, Jo and I did not live in a house. For two years we lived in a small motor home, traveling all over North America, speaking in churches and visiting ministry partners.
  • When I became director of Wycliffe Canada, I was the first to use a new invention—e-mail—to write weekly updates to the membership which helped them understand the numerous changes that we were making in the home office. This led to decades of weekly blog posts years before the term “blog” was invented.
  • I led Wycliffe Canada to change Wycliffe’s traditional fund-raising practice from George Mueller’s “Pray, but don’t Ask”, to William Booth’s method, “Pray and Ask.”

How God Shaped Me to be Different
When I remembered these things, I wondered, How did God shape and equip me to be so willing to differ from other people? My autobiography notes supplied many answers:

  • I grew up in Holland in a neighbourhood was known as “Little Rome” our house was near the massive St. Vitus cathedral. Everyone for blocks around was Roman Catholic, I was the only Protestant boy.
  • In school, I was the only person whose father didn’t work in an office or in a factory. My dad was a fish-butcher and sold fresh, salted, smoked and deep-fried fish of every kind from a large shop behind our house.
  • I was the only boy who gutted and deboned fish after school and on Saturdays, girls often turned up their noses at my fishy smell.
  • My last name was pronounced Poop-yes. It sounds just as bad in Dutch as it does in English.
  • As a sixth-grade student in Holland, I was the only person in school preparing to emigrate to Canada.
  • In Canada, I was the only immigrant boy in the entire school, and while trying to speak English, provoked much laughter and name calling from my classmates.
  • I was the first one of my family to be born again and have assurance of salvation.
  • In high school, I was the only one who had a steady, after-school job and could not play any sports.
  • I was the first one of my family to be baptized by immersion.
  • I was the only person I knew who kept a daily diary.
  • Although I was the first one in my family to attend Bible school, I was also the first one to be expelled for a semester. (I did nothing sinful or morally wrong, just broke more house rules than anyone had ever broken in their first year.)
  • I was to first person to be elected to the Bible school board of management who had been expelled from that same school.

So What?
Obviously, God arranged the events in my youth to shape my personality, so I could be the right tool in His Hand for the work He wanted to do in my mature years.

Isn’t it good to know that God is in full control of our whole lives, from womb to tomb? We can trust Him, even during the difficult and unpleasant experiences. He has a purpose for it all.

 

That Other Good Friday

The Original Good Friday
For nearly two-thousand years, Christians around the world have remembered the day Jesus died an agonizing death on the cross. And we should remember. God’s Son volunteered to leave His home in heaven, come to this planet to fight against Satan, destroy his evil works and bring healing and peace. He completed his task by suffering, dying and then rising from the dead.

No wonder we assigned a special day to remember His sacrifice for us. We call that day Good Friday.

That Other Good Friday
For exactly one-hundred years Europeans and North Americans have remembered another Friday—the day the First World War ended. And we should remember. Millions of fathers, sons and daughters volunteered to leave their homes, and go to war to fight against fierce enemies, destroy their evil works and bring healing and peace. They completed their task by suffering and dying—multi-millions of them.

No wonder we assigned a special day to remember their sacrifice, and the sacrifice of countless other soldiers in all the subsequent wars this past century. We call that day Remembrance Day, the day the First World War ended when an Armistice was signed on Friday, November 11, 1918. It was the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month. This year, this other Good Friday falls on a Sunday, November 11.

How Do We Remember?
While we lived in freedom and comfort at home—enjoying our lives in college, career, church, and sports—these soldiers fought in far-away wars to bring this freedom to others. How do we best remember and honour those who suffered the fear of sudden attack, the horror of injury and death all around them, and, for so many, the loss of their own lives?

For some of us, this other “Good Friday” is simply another holiday, a time to spend with family or friends, to relax or catch up on some fall work around the house and yard. For others, it is much more meaningful.

Those whose loved ones returned on stretchers, in wheelchairs or were buried in a far away country, keep this day as a remembrance of a life well lived.

Those who benefited from the sacrifices these soldiers made keep this day with a profound and heartfelt gratitude. I am one of those. I will always remember the day, sixty-two years ago, when the Canadian troops liberated Hilversum, my home-city in the Netherlands from five years of Nazi occupation.

How Should We Honour Soldiers?
How can we, how should we, how must we honour these veterans, both living and dead? Abraham Lincoln, during the dedication of a soldiers’ burial ground near Gettysburg, reminded his listeners that those men had died for the ideals of freedom and democracy. He urged them to dedicate themselves to these concepts so that “. . . these dead shall not have died in vain . . .”

Canadian army surgeon, Dr. John McRae closed his famous poem with the same sentiments:
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The Cause of War
On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The thirty articles in this declaration read like a biblical description of the Kingdom of God on Earth.

God wants every human being to enjoy freedom of speech and belief, and freedom from fear and want. These are the biblical Kingdom principles for which millions of soldiers fought, suffered and died.

When leaders such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot reject God, spitting their contempt on His ethics, they turn into monsters, start wars, kill multi-millions of people, and outrage the conscience of mankind.

What We Need To Do
These are also the Kingdom principles to which we, the living, need to commit ourselves to bring about. We need to apply them in our own lives and families, then in our communities and as far out as our ability and influence reaches.

After His death and resurrection, Jesus told His disciples to evangelize the world, to disciple the nations, and thus to advance the Kingdom of God on this earth.

This Sunday morning, November 11, as I stand still in silent remembrance, I will be profoundly thankful for the soldiers who died in battle against enemies who despised the basic teachings of God’s Kingdom and attacked my home country.

All we who believe the Bible is God’s Word need to honour these soldiers’ memory by rededicating ourselves to the vision of spreading His Word which is the source of these Kingdom principles. Let us recommit ourselves to do whatever it takes to provide God’s Word to every people group around the world . . .  in their own heart language.

 

Halloween, the Celebration of Fear

This week, fear-inducing scenes surrounded us. Figures of demons, devils and ghosts startled us as we walked in the mall, ducking to avoid spider filled cobwebs hanging in doorways. Theatres advertise horror films, Halloween costume parties are replete with vampires, witches and warlocks. It’s Halloween, the yearly celebration of things we fear.

We usually think of fear as a negative emotion. Jesus kept telling His followers, “Don’t be afraid.” But there is also a positive side to fear. 

Fear Is Not Always Negative
Our bodies are important to us therefore we dread suffering a crippling accident or debilitating disease. That’s why we fear, or at least profoundly respect, loaded firearms and powerful machinery, why we look both ways before crossing busy streets, and why we submit to the doctor’s probing during our annual medical check-up. These fears motivate us to actions that keep us alive and well.

What we Fear Shows What We Value
One of the most positive aspects of fear is that it helps us to understand ourselves better. What we dread shows us what we value. To determine what things I value the most, I recently listed some of the things that frighten me the most.

  • I fear committing “moral lapse” sins. I hear of fellow Christians speakers and writers who, through pride, abuse their power as communicators. Others, through greed and envy, embezzle ministry funds. Others, through lust and gluttony, sin by inappropriate sexual conduct, overeating or drunkenness. I value my fellowship with God and my reputation with those who know me. I value being respected by my wife, my family, and my colleagues. I value my public ministry as a speaker, writer and former Bible translator.
  • I fear suffering a crippling physical or mental injury or disease. I value being able to exercise choices and options. I hate being boxed in. I value serving God with my mind and body. I also value physical comfort and freedom from pain.
  • I dread messed up relationships with my family, friends, and colleagues. I value our interdependence, helping each other to succeed. I value mutual respect and appreciation.
  • I fear poverty. I value having the financial resources to live where I need to live, to travel to places of ministry, and to meet my needs and those of my family and of my ministry.
  • I cringe at the thought of losing all my computer data, my creative writing, personal history, my fifty-plus years of daily diaries, a lifetime collection of photos, etc. I value the written record of what I have done and experienced in the past because I constantly tap into it for my writings.
  • I fear that our children and grand-children and their spouses may lose their close relationship to God, drifting into low moral and ethical behaviour, or suffering major losses of health or relationships. My prayers for my wife and our extended family touch on these fears. I agree with the old apostle John who wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 JN 4)

So What?
During this Halloween week, let’s remember that no matter what happens to our bodies, our finances, or our goods, our soul is infinitely more important. As children of God we can sing, “Though trials should come . . . It is well with my soul.”

Unfortunately, hundreds of millions of people continue to live in fear, beset by Satanic forces. They don’t know that Jesus, the Son of God, has overcome Satan. They have never heard Jesus say, “Don’t be afraid.” They never will hear, unless we, His children, translate His Word into the language each group understands best.