We came, we saw, we ate

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After riding out in the plains of Africa, we got hungry.  We ended up back in Windhoek at Joe’s Beerhouse.

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I was intent on living the legend.  I couldn’t wait to see what the menu options were.

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I looked through the menu and finally made my decision.  (You’ll read about it tomorrow.)  Any guesses as to which I couldn’t wait to try?

While we waited for our orders, I couldn’t help but look at the walls.  Some of the walls contained the following items:

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These are reminders of Namibia’s past – a German colony.

And some of the wall reminds us of their present.

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Why the story of Samaria matters today

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Last week during a bible study I lead, we talked about Acts 8:4-40.  It’s the story of Philip in Samaria.  To our modern ears, that sounds like Philip got in the car and drove down to the next city over and started preaching.  But it’s far from that.  There’s a ton of history underlying this situation – centuries of animosity and deep-seated division.

It’s this deep-seated seething that makes the parable that Jesus tells about the “good Samaritan” so shocking.  But explaining all of this takes some time.

So I’m going to offer a modern-day version of the parable so you might get the effect of what Jesus was saying.

There once was an American who traveled to the Holy Land.  He wore his American flag shirt so everyone would know he was an American.  He was traveling along and seeing all the sites in the region when he was mugged and beaten by some local thieves.  They beat him badly and left him for dead.

As he lay there, wondering if he would survive, along came a tour bus full of American tourists.  The bus driver knew that this was not a safe area that he was driving through, so he kept on going for fear of robbers jumping the bus and robbing everyone.  As they pass, the tourists snapped pictures of the poor local who benefited from American’s generosity with our clothing.

The man was distraught and was starting to give up hope when along came a pastor on a motorcycle.  He saw the man on the side of the road but kept going – he had many committee meetings to get to and had to make an important presentation about the finances of the church he served.  He reasoned that someone else would stop.  As he left, he offered a quick prayer and went on his way.

The man who was beaten lay there, dying.

A third man approached.  This man looked nothing like the people from two other groups.  He was a member of ISIS – a sworn enemy of the American.  He came across the man who was beaten badly and he was moved with compassion for him.  He took what first aid materials he had and used them on the American.  Then he lifted him up and took the man to the local emergency room and told the intake person that he would pay for the care of the man.

And Jesus asked “Which of these three was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

So, now do you get how radical Jesus’ parable was?  Do you get how unlikely it was that the Samaritans would have listened to Philip?  And yet, they did.  Amazing!

The highlight of the trip

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The absolute highlight of the trip was seeing two rhinos.

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Yes, two real live rhinos.  Our driver walkie talkied some of the other employees of the ranch to see if we could find the rhinos.  After driving around for about 1/2 hour, we found them.

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This was an awe inspiring experience.

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We did get a little nervous when the one got up and faced our vehicle.  But all was well.  No charging took place.

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No sooner did this large beauty stand up, then he/she laid back down again.  That’s what happens when they realize we didn’t have food for them.

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To give you a sense of how close we were, look at the picture above.  We couldn’t have been more than 10 meters or 30 feet away.  Extremely close.

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Until next time rhinos. I only hope there is a next time.

What it means to be a Christian

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I don’t pretend to have all the answers, especially on such a touchy topic of defining what it means to be a Christian.

I think there are a range of answers to this question.

But I also think there are some basic tenants that go into defining what it means to be a Christian.

Like this: Being a Christian means that one has identified themself as a follower of Jesus Christ.  Even that might be a bit tricky since we need to define what it means to be a follower.  In this sense, a follower is someone who is committed to a way of life and teachings of someone else.  They aren’t just a fan or have an interest in something, but have actually committed time, energy, and other resources towards the person or cause they are claiming to follow.

So, if this is true (And that’s debatable), then what would it mean to be a Christian?

I would say that it would be someone who does their best to follow the teachings and commands of Jesus.  Like the Sermon on the Mount.  Like the end of Matthew 28 which calls on Christians to go and make disciples and baptize.  Like John 6 which calls on Christians to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  Like Matthew 25 which implores us to take care of those less fortunate like the hungry.  And many more examples throughout the bible.  Like Luke 9 in which Jesus calls on us to pick up our cross and follow him.

I don’t see how Christianity means to dedicate oneself to the path of domination and acquisition of power.  I don’t see how Christianity means advancing a partisan political party, leader, or cause.  I don’t see how Christianity is about lining up your faith beliefs with that of your political convictions and finding they match up perfectly.  But I could certainly be wrong.  I welcome people showing me how Christianity is actually about this – show me where Jesus talks about this.  Show me how Jesus wanted to advance the Empire in order to advance God’s kingdom.  I welcome those references.  I’m not going to hold my breath waiting though for those references.

 

Idols

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An idol is an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship.

The definition sounds more harmless than it really is.  Especially in light of one statement by Jürgen Moltmann, the German theologian.  In his book The Crucified God, he states the following about idols:

There is no threat to man which arouses more hostility than to threaten his idols or those of his group.

Let that sink in for a moment.  It’s a powerful statement of truth.

Want to see how this plays out in the world.  Just take a look at wars and violence – where those things are occurring, there’s a good chance that there has been a threat to another person’s or group’s idol.

The danger with idols isn’t that they separate us from the true God of the universe.  It’s the byproduct of putting our faith in these idols.  When the idols are what we put our salvation in, then they are bound to fail us.  And we have to commit ourselves even more to them.  It’s like a black hole – sucks everything within its gravitational pull and ends up destroying it and everything around it.

Why evil is allowed to exist

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This is an age-old question – If we have a good God, then how could a good God allow evil to exist?

Good question.  And like most really good questions, there are very few answers.

The reason this question has been asked so much over the centuries is because there isn’t a good answer.  And I don’t have a good answer either.

Someone asked me this questions today during a bible study.  My answer went something like this – Because God is love.  And love doesn’t force its way into others or force others to do things.  That wouldn’t be love.  Love invites, but doesn’t force.  Love allows.  And sometimes that’s really painful.  But would it be love if God forcefully changed humanity instead of inviting us to relationship with God?

Is it a good answer?  I don’t know.  But it is my attempt to rationalize why evil is allowed to exist.  And maybe that’s the problem.  We think we have to have all the answers to life’s many questions.  Including the questions that have no real answer.

You want a real honest answer to the question of why evil is allowed to exist?  Because it is.  It’s a part of our existence and is comes from sin.

That’s probably not a satisfying answer to anyone, yet, it’s probably closer to the truth than anything else I’ve heard.  And even then, it’s still way off the mark.

But this hits a wider issue – difficult questions and problems.  Things like why violence happens, why abuse occurs, why wars break out, why senseless murders and mass shooting happen.  Too often we want a silver bullet solution – something that seemingly makes sense and can solve the problem.

The problem with this is that all of these problems involve people.  And people are complicated and messy.  If we could legislate away evil, then we would have by now.  If there was a nice easy fix, then I figure we would have done it by now.

Legislation may very well be a part of the solution.  But we are kidding ourselves dangerously if we believe that it is the sole or even most important solution.  We have a heart problem.  We have a culture problem.  We have a sin problem.  These problems certainly come out in the form of gun violence, but they also come out in the form of other violence too.  And what criminal justice looks like.  And how we do education.  And our focus on sick care instead of actual health care.  And our entertainment.  And the fact that our nation was founded on the basis of mistrust.  And…

Do you see why a simple solution to this problem isn’t so simple.  It’s mixed up with a whole bunch of issues.  You can’t just address one and think that it will be that simple.  This requires a change in culture, which doesn’t have over night.  It requires a change in attitude.  It requires a change in how we view our neighbor and who our neighbor is.  It requires a change of the heart and mind.

But we’d rather not deal with that – we’d rather just deal with the material.  It’s much easier to control.  But it will never solve the problem.  It’s much more complex than that.  It’s about humanity.