The Good Old Days

I handed my cheque to the hardware store clerk. He wrote out a receipt and taped it to the stock of the 12-gauge, pump action shotgun I had just bought. As I walked out of the store, gun in hand, the thought popped into my teenage mind. I hope I have enough in my bank account to cover that cheque.

No problem, my bank was just across the street, so I crossed Gaetz Avenue, walked into the bank, and shotgun in the crook of my arm, waited in line behind the other customers. When it was my turn, I stepped up to the teller’s window, laid the shotgun on the counter, pulled my passbook from my pocket, and asked the clerk to update it. He did so, and I noted happily that there was enough to cover the cheque. Picking up my shotgun, I ambled out of the bank and walked for half an hour through town to my home on Michener hill.

It was the mid-1950’s and no one raised an eyebrow in Red Deer, Alberta. Rifles and shotguns were a common sight. Most farm pickup trucks had gun racks across the back window holding a shotgun or a rifle, or both.

Those were the “good old days.” No mass shootings in schools or churches. No elbows or cell phones at the table. No oranges or bananas except at Christmas time. No pineapples except in pieces in a tin can. No pizza, pasta, kebabs, or chicken fingers. All drinking water came out of a tap, not from bottles. Prunes were for medicinal use only. Sugar was used everywhere, as was lard for baking and cooking. Muesli was plentiful, it was called cattle feed.

Seat belts were installed only in airplanes. Nearly every man and many women smoked cigarettes constantly. At recess, every Monday morning, us high school guys would tell funny stories of our dads, uncles or neighbours driving drunk over the weekend. Comics on the Saturday night radio shows always had some drunk-driving jokes.

A visit to the principal’s office to “get the strap” was a serious matter for troublemakers like those who chewed gum in class. That heavy leather strap caused a good deal of pain on the open hand. The “Three R’s” song about “Reading and ‘Riting and ‘Rithmatic, taught to the tune of a hickory stick,” was all too true. That hickory stick was not just for pointing out things on a map!

In the 1950s, and before, evangelical Christians in Western Canada did not smoke, drink alcohol, enter beer parlours, attend dances, play billiards, or go to movies. Hollywood was typified as Sin City where actors were forced to passionately kiss persons they were not married to. And it was general knowledge that any young woman wanting to succeed as a movie actress would need to “give herself” to the men who could advance her career.

A good deal has changed since those “good old days”. What was “par for the course” back then gradually became no longer acceptable.

Fortunately, police cannot retroactively ticket every 1950s driver who was not wearing a seat belt. People suffering heart attacks do not sue their mothers for using lard to make those fabulous pie crusts. Red Deer police will not be charged with negligence for letting a teenager walk into a bank carrying a shotgun.

Cultures tend to change from one decade to the next. In the late 1960’s seatbelt use became law. In the 1980s Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) changed the culture about driving drunk from a joke to a criminal offense. In the 1990s laws were passed to keep all firearms out of sight and locked securely when not in use. Smoking is generally seen as an unhealthy habit and non-smokers feel sorry for those still addicted to tobacco.

Lately we have noticed some changes even in the entertainment and business communities. Now movie actresses and women in business, insist they should not need to “give themselves” to the men who have the power to advance their careers.
There are not yet any laws against this practice, but it does seem as if a little bit of Christian morality is finally seeping into the entertainment and business culture.

As a Christian I’m happy to see this.

Why Do We Listen to Others?

We all know the admonition, “Everyone should be quick to listen.” (James 1:19 NIV) But we need more than just this bald statement. Here’s why:

Three Self-Centred Reasons for Listening.

1. Listening to Top the Speaker’s Story.
As a teenager I worked in a pick-and-shovel crew with three older men who were recent immigrants from several countries in Eastern Europe. We often shared experiences and I noticed that every time one of us was talking the rest all listened intently.

But when the speaker stopped talking, one or the other two would say, “In my country this happened to me and . . .” He would then tell of his own experience which was more dangerous, more thrilling, or ended in worse trouble than the story of the previous speaker.

The other two appeared to be listening carefully: they were not. They were focused on their story they were about to tell to top the current speaker’s story. Each speaker acted as if his status in the group depended on his story’s Wow factor.

2. Listening for a Break and Jump in with an Off-Topic Story.
I was greeting people in the church vestibule after I had preached on the need for God’s people to get personally involved in some form of ministry outreach. Three couples were grouped around me.

“We have been financial partners of a missionary family in Africa” one woman said, and her husband mentioned they had spent a month’s vacation on the field, to help build a medical clinic, living and eating together with the African staff. The other two couples were listening intently. I was hoping to hear similar ministry-experience stories from them.

The moment the story teller paused for a breath, the wife of one of the other couples jumped in with a vacation-in-Mexico story and how Mexican food had made her sick. It totally derailed the personal-ministry-in-missions conversation and deteriorated into sharing bad foreign food experiences. She had been listening closely but only to jump in quickly at the first break and speak herself, even though it was off-topic.

3. Listening to get Ammunition Against the Opinion of the Speaker
We have all witnessed people talking with each other about debatable subjects such as sports teams, politics, religion, or economics. The listener is intent on what the speaker is saying, but only so that he can use something the speaker said as a weapon against him. All the listeners want to do is pounce on something the speaker is saying and use it to win the argument.

One Biblical, Other-Centred Reason for Listening
The apostle Paul expands on what James wrote about being quick to listen and slow to speak.
“Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing.” (Philippians 2:3-4 TLB)

The motivation for listening biblically is to focus on the person speaking, to meet their needs—to understand the other person; to learn what they value, what they think or feel about a situation, event or person.

We listen biblically when we want to meet a need in the other person—to mourn with those who mourn; to rejoice with those who rejoice; to encourage the downcast; to build up the ones we listen to.

Biblical listening is other-centred listening—the kind of listeners we all like to have when we speak—the kind of listeners we need to be when others speak.

 

How Churches Miss Out on One-Third of Their Mandate

The pastor’s response to my tears astonished me. It happened forty years ago, but I remember it vividly.

How A Pastor Stunned Me Into Silence
I was on a flight from Brazil’s capital Brasilia to Belem at the mouth of the Amazon; my seatmate was an elderly pastor. I had just spent a week in emergency mission board meetings. Strong leftist anti-religious actions by the Brazilian government had forced all our colleagues working in the villages as teachers and Bible translators to leave the villages and return to the city. My wife and I were also forced out, even though the people we worked with protested, saying they had invited us and wanted us to stay.

As I told the pastor about the desperate situation—scores of indigenous people groups left without teachers, without medical help and without anyone to tell them about Jesus—I started to sob and could not continue. He looked at me and quoted Lamentations 3:27, “It is good for a man to bear the yoke when he is young.” Then he turned to his book and continued reading. I could not believe his response!

I sat stunned, I wanted to say, “It’s not about me! It’s about 100,000 indigenous people, living in Brazil’s jungles, in fear of evil spirits, without the Word of God in their language, and no way of being born again to live under the protection of God’s Holy Spirit.”

Pastors Who Over-Focus on Their Congregation
Then it came to me. As a shepherd pastor, he saw me as a hurting sheep, a frustrated young man feeling sorry for himself. As a pastor, his daily concern was for his flock, for his congregation, even for a young man on a plane. He meant well, wanting to remind me it is good for hard things to come into our lives when we are still young.

He was focused so strongly on his pastoral function; he had lost sight of a lost world. He didn’t realize I wept for Brazil’s hopelessly lost indigenous populations. He had forgotten that Jesus, his Shepherd model, had said, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also,” John 10:16 (NIV).

A decade later, I visited with an old friend from Bible School days. We both had 25 years of ministry behind us, he as a pastor, I as a missionary. We chatted about the difference between us. When we parted, my Bible School pastor friend said, “Jack, we folk serving in ministries at home simply do not have the same fire in the belly for missions as you missionaries do. If we did, we would be out on the field too.”

Up-Reach, In-Reach, and Out-Reach
It is true that God calls and equips different people for different ministries. And yet, it is also true that Jesus gave the Great Commission, “Go into the whole world and communicate the Good News to every person,” to the whole Church. He was not talking only to those individuals called to specialize in cross-cultural missions.

The Whole Church must be involved in going to the Whole World, through supporting and encouraging the workers on foreign fields with understanding prayer, and regular financial support, and encouraging notes, etc.

Tens of thousands of churches across Canada and the United States are staffed with people called by God to serve in church positions. It seems that many of these servants of God are so strongly committed to the Up-reach of worship and the In-reach of meeting needs in the congregation, they have neglected the Out-reach of cross-cultural missions, confining that aspect mostly to local evangelism.

Is God saying, “Oh well, two out of three isn’t bad?” I don’t think so!

When missionary colleagues tell me that many church leaders display little vision, and even less passion, for cross-cultural missions, I remember my seatmate on that long-ago plane flight.

Some Do It Right
Some churches, however, are led by pastors who are concerned about Out-Reach.

  • They practice and preach Jesus’ Great Commission.
  • They lead mission trips and visit the mission field to rekindle their passion.
  • Cross-cultural missions are part of their church’s strategic plan.
  • They welcome missionaries who are good communicators and encourage them to tell challenging and faith-building stories to their congregation.
  • Some pastors are so on fire for missions I’m astonished they aren’t on the field.

In these cases God is answering the fervent prayers of missionaries around the world.

Just a Little Bit Pregnant?

Currently I’m writing the God-stories of my life to publish in several books. Researching my diaries some time ago, I read how concerned Jo and I were for the Canelas during the first year we were back in Canada. Here is the story from nearly thirty years ago.

The Story
We had planned for a missionary family to live in our village house and continue to teach reading and present Bible studies. But they encountered many delays. Instead of a missionary, a well-funded community developer from Germany arrived with medical personnel, teachers, and other workers. The leader kept ridiculing the Canela believers. “Why are you reading that book?” he would ask whenever he saw a Canela reading his Bible. “That’s not for you people.” The Canelas wrote us these bits of disconcerting news in sporadic notes we received from the village.

A Reassuring Visit
We prayed much for them and God gave us His peace, but we kept longing to see them again. We returned to Brazil eighteen months after we had left to renew our permanent residency visas. During the few days we were in the village many Canelas came to tell us how they loved reading the newly translated Bible—great evidence of God’s work among them.

“I just love reading God’s Word.”
“I read it every day.”
“I read it through once right from the beginning to the end, then I read it through again, and now I am reading it for the third time.”
“People in my house are always asking me to read it to them.”
“When I read, I understand.”
“I pray the songs of King David every morning.”

The Note That Made Us Cry
The day we left, a young woman handed me a note as I pushed through the crowd with a bag to load into the jeep. I glanced at it then gave it to Jo in the back of the house, saying, “This is from Jirot”, and walked out with another bag. When I came back into the house Jo was crying. “Read this” she sobbed, holding out the note. I read it, sat down with Jo and cried too.

Here is the note translated from Canela:
Hello Prejaka and Tehtikwyj, (our Canela names)
Listen to my short thought. You are now going back to your children, Pjekar, Tehtyc and Kwyrxomkwyj. (our daughters) May the Creator of this earth, who also is our Creator, take care of all of us. We Canelas are always together with each other. And we, including you, will surely someday be together with each other again. To that end I surely pray for you like this:
“Good Father, look after all of us here. And my relatives, Prejaka and Tehtikwyj, who are the ones who revealed You to me, look after them, and also look after me.”
Yes, that is the way I pray. Done.
Jirot

We had received many hundreds of notes ever since the Canelas learned to read and write in their own language. But this one was special since it not only contained a prayer, it had the words “who are the ones who revealed You to me” showing deep spiritual understanding. And it was the only note we ever got that didn’t end by asking us for something.

That note was a tiny evidence of a growing Church—almost insignificant. But a woman who is just a tiny bit pregnant will surely give birth to a baby in due time. In the same way the Canela church is alive and growing, nothing tiny or insignificant about it.

Whose Church is it Anyway?

The New Canela Children’s Bible

Jo and I need not have been so concerned during those eighteen months. We should have remembered that Jesus said “I will build my Church.” Not “Jack and Jo,” or “a strong denomination.” He, Himself, will build His own Church, among the Canela, and every other people group that is reading and hearing His Word in their own language. Yes!

Now nearly thirty years later, Jesus’ Church among the Canela is thriving. Instead of an atheist German development team leader, a godly German missionary family has been there for well over a decade, What a contrast! A whole new generation of Canelas has grown up gladly reading God’s Word.

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!