“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
— Luke 2:8-14
In “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, Charlie Brown expresses his frustration with the commercialism of Christmas and begins to question whether he actually knows what Christmas is all about. Near the end, Linus answers him by quoting the verses of scripture above.
Now I know that in the church we refrain from celebrating Christ’s birth in conjunction with the winter holiday we call Christmas. I know that we don’t know when Christ was born. I know that we are neither commanded nor given example of a continued celebration of Christ’s birth.
However, I also know this - Christmas is fast becoming the one time of year that people in America are reminded of Jesus Christ. It may be a twisted, tainted, commercialized, and grossly unscriptural reminder, but it is a reminder nonetheless. For instance, Wal-Mart is running a commercial this season in which “O Holy Night” and “America the Beautiful” are both heard. How often does a large corporation like this risk violating “political correctness” by acknowledging a single religious group publicly? Almost never!
In Philippians chapter 1, Paul talks about various false teachers in verses 15-18, who proclaim Christ out of wrong motives. It would seem that our country’s skewed celebration of Christmas might fall under such a category. Despite such wrong motives, we look in verse 18 and see that Paul celebrates, for “in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed.”
So, this Christmas, while we may abstain from singing “Joy to the World”, viewing nativity scenes, and hanging angels on the top of our Christmas trees, let us be thankful that, for now, a small glimmer of the good news of Christ is still present in the mind of this world.
And next week, as we enter 2011, let’s do our best to tell the world about the rest of His story.
Revised and updated from Christmas, 2010.
To anyone who has followed my blog of late, specifically the “Jamaica” and “Lessons learned from Jamaica” - I very much appreciate you reading. However, I’d like to apologize for my absence for part of last week. I have several, several more “lessons learned” posts that I’d like to make regarding my trip to Jamaica, but unfortunately, life sometimes gets in the way…
Just to give you a bit of background for the story I’m about to tell. I’ve lived in Huntsville, AL for about the last year. I moved here so I could begin pursuing my Master’s and (if all goes well) my Ph.D. in Software Engineering. Before moving, I was blessed enough to be given the opportunity to live in a house owned by a local congregation with a couple of great guys, for free. All we needed to do was pay utilities and internet, and keep the yard mowed. It was a huge blessing, and it has continued to be for the entire time that I lived there.
However…there’s a tiny catch. Our congregation is building a new church building, and this house happens to be on the same property. The plan has always been for us to move out of the house after the building is finished. The new building has been in the planning stages for years now, but just a few weeks ago construction finally began. Now, a construction project of this magnitude involves lots dirt moving. Leveling the ground, taking off layers of topsoil, etc. The back of the new building also happens to be about 30 yards from the back of our house (with the thinking that the house will eventually be torn down). So, in the midst of all the dirt moving and bulldozing, one of the dozers took out our old septic tank…
…or so we thought. The keyword in that sentence is “old”. We quickly determined that this was not the right word. The term “currently in use” fits the bill a bit better. So, to summarize, no septic tank means no drainage of used water, in any form, which means…well, you get the picture.
We naturally had high hopes that the house could be tied into the city sewer, but the nearest line turned out to be at least 1,000 feet away, so that was infeasible. Which leaves the only remaining option - move out!
And now you have the explanation of why I haven’t been posting. I’ve been moving things like a madman, with the help of my wonderful parents and several of my great friends here in Huntsville. I’m officially moved…but I’m now understanding the difference between “moved” and “unpacked.” My new apartment looks like a disaster zone. But hey, it’s a work in progress. I love the new place, I love the neighborhood and the neighbors (so far). I believe it’s going to be a huge blessing to be here.
I will say this - while it was a bit startling to have to move out of the house, I indebted to the elders for letting me live there. It was a huge blessing to be able to live somewhere and to save almost all of my paycheck. I also had a great time getting to know the two guys I lived with better. I even got to plant my first garden and harvest a bumper crop of squash!
So, I hope to begin posting with more regularity beginning tomorrow (and hopefully I’ll have my own internet service by then). Thanks for reading!
Lesson #2: Avoid Spiritual Potholes
The picture above is from the side of Highway A2 between Maypen and Sandy Bay, Jamaica. As you can see, the pothole is over on the shoulder of the road…but our team leader (who is proudly standing in it) somehow managed to drive right through it.
This pothole is definitely not a unique occurrence in Jamaica. In fact, if you’re not driving on one of the toll roads (which are few and far between), you’ll run across potholes almost everywhere you go. Unless you’re in the mood to have perpetual body-aches, you’ve got to constantly be on the look out so you can avoid those potholes.
Our spiritual lives are often like that. We’ve got to be watchful to avoid “spiritual potholes” that can shake and damage us.
1 Pet. 5:8 tells us: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
If we aren’t watchful, if we aren’t vigilant, we’ll drive right smack into one of those potholes. Sometimes they just shake us up. Thankfully, the pothole above did no real damage to our car. However, other times they can do serious damage, and even shake the foundations of our faith.
In Jamaica, we knew that there were potholes. One finds that out the hard way, after driving through a few without watching. However, in our spiritual lives, we don’t have to find out the hard way. Peter lets us know that there are potholes. He also tells us who makes them.
We’ve been forewarned of the potholes. Let’s avoid the devil at all costs.
Over the next few days, I’m going to post some “lessons learned” from my trip to Jamaica. Some of these lessons are compliments of a sermon that Wes Hazel and Shelby Moorman collaborated on. Others will be things that I personally observed and learned from while I was in Jamaica. Regardless of the source, I hope that they are beneficial. I know they have been for me.
Lesson #1: We must do Spiritual maintenance.
If you went to Jamaica and drove through Kingston, or any other of the purely “Jamaican” towns (and by that I mean places where tourists don’t usually go), you might think that the entire area was either still under construction, or that it had been deserted for years. Buildings have cracks, crumbling blocks, and rebar sticking out of the roof. The insides of many buildings haven’t been painted in years, maybe even decades. New air conditioners, plumbing, and wiring may be installed…but nothing is maintained. When something breaks, it may just sit there for weeks, months, or even years.
The hotel we stayed at was a prime example of this. When we arrived on Friday, we were told that not all of our rooms were available, so 4 of our group had to stay in another section of rooms. These rooms were a bit older, and it seemed as though nothing worked in them. The toilet was broken, the air conditioner didn’t work, the sinks had holes in them…there were problems all around. Nothing had been maintained in these rooms.
How often do we have such an attitude in our spiritual life? When was the last time we learned something new? Sometimes it seems that we grow content with our knowledge. We know enough scripture, enough concepts, and enough doctrine to get by during Bible class, worship, and in day to day life. But we hardly ever learn anything new.
The Hebrews writer tells us exactly what happens when we stop learning. Hebrews 5:12 says:
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.”
When we stop doing spiritual “maintenance”, our spiritual lives start to decay, just like buildings, roads, and cars. If we ignore that maintenance long enough, we will “break”, and become useless. We’ll have to relearn things from the very beginning.
On the other hand, 1 Timothy 4:15 tells us:
“Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all.”
When we continue learning and building on our knowledge, we not only maintain our Spiritual lives, but we will grow, and the world will see that, too.
Well, today is our final day here in Jamaica. We’re done with “work”, so we spent some time being “tourists.” We got to eat with the Duncans this morning, and Vicky came along too. They were originally going to just eat with us at the hotel, and then go back home, while Thaddus accompanied us to the airport. However, they all decided to come along in the end. I’m glad they did. It was nice to be able to spend a little more time with them before we left.
We visited a straw market in Kingston after we left. Straw markets are sort of like combination flea market/tourist traps. There are lots of different trinkets and unique things that you can buy, but most of them are severely overpriced. You have to do some bargaining with the sellers in order to get a decent price. The last time I was in Jamaica, we visited straw markets in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. Both of those were a bit less fancy and a bit more overpriced than the one Kingston. However, I was still able to do some bargaining. Now, I know they’re still making a profit even if we bargain with them, but it still saves a wee bit of money. And it’s just fun to barter over things and see how low you can get the sellers to go.
After the straw market, it was off to the airport. We said our goodbyes to the Duncans and Vicky one more time, and then headed in to check bags and go through all the security mess. Daniel and Shelby both got searched. I believe Daniel ended up getting searched twice. Got to love airport security. I ended up passing through all security, both in Jamaica and Miami, without them giving me a second look. I guess I must just look innocent…
We had Burger King in the Jamaican airport for lunch. When we got to Miami, Brian, Willie, and I split a large supreme pizza. Talk about a day of eating well. Boy was it good to have some American food again. (I know pizza is Italian-ish, but you know what I mean) We had a pretty long layover in the Miami airport, from about 5pm to about 9:45, but it was perfectly fine. It was nice to have some down time to unwind and relax a bit.
We safely arrive in Nashville just after 11pm. Granted, I miss everyone in Jamaica greatly, but I have never been more thankful to set foot on the ground in Tennessee. I hope and pray that we did much good for those we worked with in Jamaica. However, I know that I learned a lot from this experience, and I hope to be able to apply what I’ve learned over the next few days and weeks.
This concludes my “daily” blogs from Jamaica. I realize that I posted the last two entries a couple of days late, but there was so much going on that I had little time to write and post. Even though my daily blogs are finished, I hope to post a few things over the next few days about lessons I learned from Jamaica.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed my blog. I’m thankful for all of your support and prayers during our trip. It means more than I can say to be in a far away place and know that people are lifting up petitions to God on your behalf.
I hope you’ve enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy, reading this blog! God bless you all!
So, remember what I said about today being a holiday? And how we probably wouldn’t have many studies today? Yeah…I was wrong. Today turned out to be our second busiest day this week, behind yesterday. We started out with just a couple of studies in the morning, but around lunch time we were totally swamped. I think we reached a point where almost everyone was leading or assisting in a study. The afternoon didn’t have quite as many studies, but we still had a few, including the new converts study group.
I believe one of the most beneficial elements of this entire week has been the studies that we’ve done with new converts. Some of the studies have been one-on-one, in peoples homes, while others have been during the new converts class each night. Either way, we were able to study with many of the new converts. Of the twenty that were baptized in the last two weeks, we were not able to locate every single one of them to do follow-up studies; however, we studied with those that we could locate and encouraged them to continue their studies.
Now, to slightly dampen the mood. I mentioned twenty who were baptized in the last two weeks. As I said previously, we couldn’t locate them all. There’s always the possibility that a few of them were baptized merely because they thought they could get money or other things out of the church. That’s discouraging, but unfortunately, it’s reality. However, it’s important to remember the parable of the sower. Sometimes seed falls among the thorns. It comes up, but gets choked out quickly. Perhaps this happened with some of those who were converted. But I firmly believe that some of the seed sown definitely fell on good soil.
It is extremely encouraging to see people like Vicky, who showed up at the building every day to help us make phone calls and locate people for studies, even though she’d been a Christian for less than a week. Or the couple (whose names slip my mind) who were married last week after they discovered that living together was wrong. They were then baptized, and have actively continued to make steps in their lives to eliminate sin. Or even Gerry-Ann, whom we met randomly walking down the road and asked to do a Bible study with. She studied and was baptized shortly thereafter. It’s amazing to see how God can work in the lives of His servants to bring people to Him, even in the most random and seemingly “coincidental” situations.
Sometimes it’s discouraging to see how much poor ground is out there. It’s discouraging to see so many seeds sown, and so few springing to life. But after seeing people like those just mentioned, I’m certain that there is still good ground out there. We just have to keep sowing.
Meals today were above the norm. Our breakfast was the usual, but lunch had fried chicken. I know we had KFC last night, but I’ll take all the fried chicken I can get. The members (specifically Mrs. Duncan) cooked a great meal for our dinner this evening. Jerk chicken, fried chicken (oh yes, even more), festival, and breadfruit salad. Breadfruit is a fruit that, according to the Jamaicans, can be substituted for and used as bread. It’s…interesting. The salad was similar to potato salad, but a bit dryer. Still, it was very good.
Brian preached for us tonight, and brought a very encouraging sermon to help send us away with the idea of “keep on keeping on.” We’ve been extremely blessed this week to have great speakers deliver the Word of God to us each night. We’ve also been blessed with good attendance each night, and with people that are ready and willing to both listen and sing! (This makes my life easier.) It’s been a great week of worshiping God.
Tonight was also “goodbyes” night. It’s a bit emotional to say goodbye to people that you’ve barely gotten to know, but grown to love so much. I love the fact that we, as Christians, can jump right in and work with other Christians anywhere in the world, and feel as though we’re right at home in no time. The bond that we share in Christ is absolutely amazing. We’re from so many different languages, cultures, races, places, but we have so much in common. Even though we had to say goodbye to many good people tonight, I am extremely excited about seeing them again in Heaven.
Request: If I ever complain about it being hot in a church building at home again, please smack me. If you ever think it’s hot, imagine worshiping in a building with open, barred windows and doors in 85 to 95 degree weather with horrible humidity every Sunday and Wednesday. There are 7 ceiling fans to cool you down. That’s it. We don’t realize how blessed we are.
In the morning, it’s off to Kingston! We’ll hopefully be stopping at a straw market, then the beach for a few minutes (just to say we did), and then off to the airport and the good ole’ US of A!
Thanks for reading!
Today has been a GREAT day! We have had more studies today than any other day this week. And, to top it off, two people obeyed the Gospel this morning, putting on Christ in baptism. Talk about an uplifting experience! Please remember the new converts, Jerry-Ann and Kimona, in your prayers. They will need a strong spiritual base to help them stay faithful, but I know that with the help of the church and the Lord, both can continue to learn and grow more.
We’ve had great studies today, too. Brian told me this afternoon that his study with a lady, Andrea, was the best and most uplifting he had ever had. It’s amazing how willing these people are to sit down and study. And many times they will study for as long as you’re willing to study with them. Hours even. I wish that kind of attitude existed in the States.
I ended up speaking at our devo this morning and talked about the idea of God giving the increase. As I discussed in an earlier blog, I felt like we all needed to think about how our job is to merely sow and water. If we were responsible for growing, then this week wouldn’t be that great. However, we are to sow the seed, and I believe that’s just what we’ve done. God sometimes does provide us with some irony, because after discussing that topic, we end up with the best day of studies yet. While numbers are certainly NOT what matters, it certainly does give us motivation when we have a day like today!
Our breakfasts this week have been pretty boring. Mostly just bacon, pancakes, sometimes eggs, fries, and sometimes fruit. We had some pineapple today though, which was fantastic (fresh Jamaican pineapple blows our pineapple out of the water).
Lunch HAS been pretty boring, except today. We ended up inviting 3 Jamaicans to eat at the hotel with us…which turned into 5…which turned into 8. The hotel only plans for 10-12 people, so a few of us made a slightly hair-raising trip to Old Harbour for jerk chicken. The chicken was great. The traffic was not (Shelby drove…).
The afternoon was quite busy, and our morning sessions ran late, so we had to forgo our normal rest time in order to stay on schedule. This means…we’re all slightly worn out. But that’s ok, the day was definitely more than worth it.
Some very good news - Vicky is back! She was still feeling a little off this morning, but she was back with us, which was great to see. She told us that she suffered from those spells occasionally, so it isn’t as big of an issue as we thought, but still, it was frightening. I’m glad she’s doing better.
Worship tonight turned out to be great, as it has been all week. Brother Kenloy and I shared the song leading, and Shelby preached a great lesson on Noah and salvation. If there was anyone in the audience that had never heard before, or anyone who was just not a Christian, they are now without excuse. We did have one response tonight - Ricky, the young man I mentioned earlier this week. He came forward asking for prayers and encouragement as he recovers.
So…supper tonight turned out to be one of the most interesting experiences of the week. We decided to have Burger King tonight, so half of us (Shelby, Wes, Daniel, Brian, and myself) went to downtown Maypen to pick-up everyone’s food. Now, Maypen is a different place. There are people standing around literally everywhere. Some are selling stuff, some are begging, some are talking, and some are just standing around, doing nothing. However, all of them have a knack for making you feel VERY uncomfortable. So we drive through downtown and get to (Mc)-Burger King. And it’s closed. Great. After a bit of discussion (and against my wishes), we go to the KFC drive-thru. We enter the drive-thru, and it turns out to be incredibly “comfortable.” There are people on every side selling and begging, and there is absolutely no way out. The lane is so narrow that there’s no way out, and we’re surrounded at the front and back by cars. Great. We finally make it to the ordering sign and Shelby orders the 21 piece party pack for our group. And then the lady says “that’ll be 15 minutes, come inside and wait.” Now the point here is for us NOT to leave the car, especially HERE, but being brave men, Daniel and Wes decide to go in and wait. The rest of us proceed to the pickup window through the drive-thru (because we have no other way out). When we reach the window, the lady motions for Daniel and Wes to go back outside, and she gives us our food. As we’re finally pulling out, some man directs us through traffic and stops us to ask for money. Shelby, being the generous fellow he is, gives the guy $50 (Jamaican). The man says “I need $50 more!” Very grateful.
In summary, I have never had KFC that tasted better than tonight’s.
Random Story: Shelby encountered a guy that walked up to him and said “I praise Jesus! Who you praise?” Shelby replied “I praise Jesus!” The man then said “Gimme $50!” Shelby said no, and the man walked off.
Continue praying for us as we conclude our final day of work tomorrow! It’s a holiday, but we still hope to do many, many studies.
Thanks for reading!
This morning started out pretty well. We are not getting a huge influx of people that want to study, but we get a few here and there. One of our big goals this week is to study with those who were recently converted. The group from last week had 17 baptisms, and all of these people need to be firmly grounded in the faith. Dwayne is teaching a new converts class each night at 6 to help solidify their faith and knowledge of God’s Word. While we haven’t ever had all of them show up at the same time, we always have a few.
One of our studies this morning was a contact we made yesterday. The caller forgot to get a location, so we had to call back and find out where he lived. (A note, there are no real addresses in Jamaica, just roads and communities. Some people will tell us “come to [neighborhood] and ask anyone for me. They’ll know where to find me.”) When we called back, the man said “come to the bar past the gas station near the church and ask for me.” Call me crazy, I never thought of going to a bar to find a bible study. However, Brian went with a couple of the Jamaicans, found the guy, and brought him here. The study went quite well, and the man wants to study more. There is simply no end to unusual things here.
In between sorting out studies and calling, I got the idea today to start giving some of the younger ones verses to memorize, and then giving them some candy if they could recite the verse to me. We hadn’t been doing anything like this, as we did not come with plans to do any VBS style work, but I figured it’d be worth a try. I started out working with one of our young, new converts, a girl named Precious. She memorized 5 verses today, and I’m hoping to give her 5 more to work with tomorrow. A couple more of the kids seem interested in studying, so I’m trying to work with them, too. I just wish I’d thought of this on Monday!
Our afternoon studies went well, too. We still weren’t overrun, but we had some. Sister Walker, Kenloy’s wife, cooked dinner for us, jerk chicken and festival, and boy was it great. I believe she cooks the best festival on the island. By the way, festival is like a hushpuppy/cornbread type bread, except it’s slightly sweet instead of salty. I’m sure it’s not the healthiest thing in the world, but it tastes excellent.
Before worship, we had another scary experience, similar to last night. The young man I wrote of, Ricky, is doing better today, and he’s gone home to recover. However, the young lady I wrote of, Vicky, passed out tonight and had to be taken to the hospital. Thankfully, she came to and recovered, but it was still quite scary. She’s gone home to Ocho Rios to recover. I hate so much that she got sick, as she is a great woman and one of our most faithful workers. Hopefully we’ll get to see her again before the week is out.
For worship tonight, Brother Otis led us in choruses, and I led the hymn singing. “Choruses” are a variety of devotional style songs that the Jamaicans all know well and sing from memory. However, they’re quite different from anything we have in the States. Still, they’re an uplifting addition to the service that gets everyone ready to worship. Daniel preached tonight on the subject of hell, and boy did he “shuck it to the cob.” He had a great lesson. We had no responses, but yet again, everyone there is now without excuse.
Random happening: A little girl I met asked me to sing for her. I told her that Wes could sing the Hippo song and it would be really funny. She said “No!” When I asked why I had to sing, she said “because you are handsome!” Needless to say, these Jamican women have good taste.
Random Observation: I love how God answers our prayers. Sometimes the answer is, of course, wait. But other times God sends us exactly what we need. I’m doing our morning devotional tomorrow, and I was very unsure of what to speak on. We’ve had three great devos by our team, each encouraging us to be workers for God, and to focus on doing what we should. I of course want to continue that trend and bring a relevant message to us. After praying about it, I believe I know exactly what to speak on. I pray that God will guide me and hopefully make what I say relevant.
Again, pray for our continued success in our campaign, that we may reach many souls, and that they would be receptive of the Gospel.
Thanks for reading!
Well, today was our first truly “normal” day, as far as setting up and performing studies. Just to let you know how our days normally go, its something like this: -Breakfast @ 7 -Morning devo and studies from 8-12 -Lunch at 12 -Some rest time during the heat of the day -Studies from about 2:30-7 -Dinner at church around 6ish -Worship at 7 til ? -Back to the hotel when we’re done
So, we had no Denbigh, no holiday, no weekend interfering, so we were finally set to go full speed ahead.
But the day started out slow. We had several studies lined up for mid-morning, but almost all of them canceled or rescheduled. We did end up having a few, but not nearly as many as we hoped. It’s very discouraging to have studies with people lined up and then have them just dissolve into thin air. But I know it’s important to remember that we are merely sowing and watering. God will give the increase in His good time.
Our afternoon started out slow as well. We had several studies line up for 3, as well as 5, but several of them didn’t show either. But then the “dam broke.” Starting around 5:30 we had an influx of people just coming in to study. Some were people we’d called earlier, others just attended the week before and decided to randomly show up. We had so many studies that we almost ran out of workers to study with the students. I ended up undertaking my first study of the week with a Seventh Day Adventist. It was very interesting and quite challenging. She was very well versed in the Scriptures, and very concerned with her spiritual state. She is hopefully coming back Friday to study more. I pray she will.
Our worship service this evening was good. Wes spoke, and did another great job delivering the Word. We had no responses, but anyone that was there and listening is now without excuse. Even though I said it earlier, I’ll say it again, just as I keep reminding myself. We are here to plant and water. God makes the seed sprout and grow.
Our service was marked by a slightly unsettling event. One of the members at Sandy Bay, Ricky, passed out and had to be rushed to the hospital. He’s doing better now, but still needs some recovery time, so please keep him in your prayers. He’s a good man, and he’s helped us out a lot.
I must mention one other person before I finish for the day. One of the new converts, a young lady named Vicky, is one of the most fantastic, hard working people we have. She truly shows what it’s like to “put on Christ in baptism.” She’s there, all day, every day, making calls, helping us find people for studies, and doing whatever she can. And she was baptized last week. That’s incredible to me. But I believe she’s doing exactly what Jesus wanted us to do when He said “…deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” She’s “all in”, doing whatever she can. What an amazing example!
If you all will, pray for our safety while we are here. Jamaica is already a country marked by some degree of turmoil, but some recent events this year have increased violence in some areas. While we aren’t directly threatened here in Sandy Bay, we still have to keep our eyes and ears open. Just pray that God, through His mighty power and providence, will continue keeping us safe.
Thanks for reading!