Here is a link to the sermon I preached recently at Vredelust Dutch Reformed Church in Cape Town. It was part of a series they were doing called “Change Your World”. This message was called “Change Your Work” The text was Colossians 3:17 & 23. The first few things I say are in Afrikaans so if you know that or Dutch you can understand. Don’t worry, the English part comes pretty quickly. Basically I told the church how much I love to be with them and that they are a favorite of mine. The core of the message is how to make your job and act of worship.
I have traveled enough to have seen my share of Third World Poverty. From Swaziland, to the Amazon Basin, to India poverty has a somewhat familiar face. There is a difference between the rural and urban face of poverty but generally speaking when you see rural poverty in one country it looks a lot like rural poverty in another. The same can be said of urban poverty. Or so I thought. A few days ago I was introduced to rural poverty like I have never seen it before. The Western Province of Zambia is about the size of England yet has only a million people. Mongu is the largest town in the province with about 30,000 people. But don’t let the word “town” fool you. From what I could tell most of those 30,000 people live in grass huts no different from the rest of the province. Folks outside the town live in small grass hut villages ranging from a few dozen to a few hundred people.
It is estimated that in Western Zambia there is close to a 50% HIV/AIDS infection rate. Before the introduction of ARV’s or antiretroviral drugs, the infection rate was about 30%. So why the rise in infection rates? The ARV’s are helping people live longer. The tragedy in that is that lots of those folks are not changing their sexual habits and simply passing on the disease to more people. Included in that culture is what young girls go through after they experience their first menstruation. I small, closet sized straw enclosure is made outside the house. It has no roof and no door. It is a glorified walled fence with no door. it is built-in such a way that you can’t see directly in. The girls are placed their as the place where they now live and are forced to keep silent in order to learn submission. But every sex offending guy in the area knows this. So it is common for these young girls to be repeatedly raped and they must keep quiet the whole time. Not only do they suffer the trauma of that violation butit comes with the astronomically high risk of HIV infection.
As if it could not get more shocking, three out of five children in Western Zambia die before the age of five. So 60% of all children never see their fifth birthday. What do they die from? Well AIDs is a big factor but so are very preventable and basic things. Scores of children die from drinking water that is not clean. In little ones, the diarrhea that results is quickly followed by death. Also high on the list is death from malnutrition. Even though Zambia is a net exporter of agriculture, the western province has been shut out and ignored by the central government. There are almost no roads leading into the area. Roads the do exist are either crater filled dirt roads or subject to flooding several months out of the year. So because of tribal disagreements, apathy, and the lust for power, children die.
As painful as that reality may be, the most shocking reason for this mortality rate was that some children are killed by their own parents in obedience to the dictates of the local witch doctor or shaman. Friends who I stayed with told me of the horror of learning that a family just a hundred meters down the road killed their baby. The local witch doctor told them the baby was cursed and the needed to kill it. So they buried the child alive. By the time my friends heard this and rushed to save the baby, it was too late. Lest you think that is one, extreme, unique situation we heard similar stories on several occasions.
But there is hope. My friends, Paul and Marinette Van Coller are living in Mongu and leading an effort called The Zambia Project. Along with an amazing team of people, including their 5 and 3-year-old sons, the Van Collers are providing education, health care, job training, a safe house village for abused children and are taking the Gospel to all parts of the province. Their vision is to plant a church within walking distance of all 1 million people in the province. Walking distance for them is not what it is in the west. Six or seven kilometers or about an hours walk is their target. That means they are working towards planting 6,000 churches.
The reason for planting the churches is simple enough. The only way to break the hold of animism and witch doctors, and sexual abuse of kids, and provide clean water and dignity is if there is a healthy church that is serving people in Jesus name. These folks need the freedom and power that can only come from the Gospel.
The process is actually rather simple. A group of people, including Zambians who are being raised up for leadership will head off into the bush in four by fours. They will go to a village and live out of their vehicles for a week or two at a time, building relationships and talking about Jesus. Eventually some people come to faith and become the beginning of a church. The team then stays in contact and trains local leaders to begin the process of improving their lives in the village. Eventually those new believers duplicate the process in villages nearby. If that all sounds very “first century Book of Acts” to you, you’re right. It is exactly that.
What inspires me is that people like Paul and Marinette and James and Jess, Lehana, Moses, Stephen, Maurice, Scott and Naomi, and Ruani, have dedicated themselves to serve others as Jesus would. Some of them are from the province and they are struggling desperately to bring Jesus to their homeland. Others are from outside Zambia but they know that God would not let them ignore the needs of others. In the developed world we find it easy to insulate ourselves from the harsh realities faced by most people on the planet. Just by reading this blog you have allowed yourself to move out of your isolation and see the stark reality of life that is normal for others. The question is, will you slide back into your comfortable world in the next five minutes or will you allow what you have learned to change you into a different person? Will you live more simply so you can give to others? Will you give up your vacation in order to go and spend two weeks feeding babies or even planting churches in Zambia? Will you reach out to the homeless person you pass each day on the corner? Will you spend more time with Jesus so you can learn to love as He loves and tell others about Him?
Young 5 year old Ava went home to the Lord last night. Here is the link to her Dad’s blog. Continue to pray for the Hunter and Gable families.
One would think that a world-renowned physicist would be more precise in his language. Surely he cannot mean what it sounds like he is saying in this BBC report. Hawking, who once thought there was room for a supreme being in explaining the origins of the universe has changed his mind. There is no need to include God in the explanation for how the universe came into being. Now I realize that Hawking is considered one of the most brilliant thinkers on the planet with a reported I.Q. of 160. But even the most brilliant of us can develop tunnel vision and fail to see how our preconceptions have led us down an illogical path.
Hawking is quoted as saying “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing,” “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch-paper and set the Universe going.”
So what is wrong with that statement? I don’t have a 160 I.Q. but a few things jump out immediately. First, Hawking invokes the existence of laws such as gravity. Since such laws of physics exist, it is those laws that account for how the universe came to be, “from nothing”. One could stop at that point and say, “Aha, that answers it. No need for God because gravity and the other laws of physics work together and the necessary outcome is a universe created from nothing”. But if there was in fact, nothing, then where did these laws come from. On a very simple level, the existence of laws implies some source behind the law, some law-maker. But even if you don’t want to have a lawmaker, if there was nothing, how and why would there be laws which govern this nothing. Why would such laws exist if there is nothing for them to rule?
Secondly, there still exists the question of where the physical material came from that makes up the created universe. Hawking wants to have creation out of nothing based on existence of the laws of physics. The most widely accepted scientific explanation for the existence of the universe is what we call “The Big Bang Theory”. In short is says that prior to the universe coming into existence there was nothing. Then about 13.7 billion years ago nothing became a something that we call a singularity. (Star Trek fans hear about singularities all the time) So with this singularity, something with physical properties, the universe started. Hawking says the laws of physics explain that. Yet large numbers of his fellow scientists, especially physicists are at that point saying “God just might be behind the whole thing”. Why? because the laws of physics can help explain what happens once you have matter, physical, material stuff. They can explain how large bodies of planets impact and are impacted by gravity. They can explain how the motion of matter accounts for heat. They can explain a great many things if you already have physical material. What the laws of physics cannot explain is how that physical material came to be in the first place. Those laws certainly cannot take credit for causing the existence of matter.
We can rely on the laws of physics to explain the physical world as it exists. That is what physics is all about after all. What we cannot do is rely on them to explain how something that did not exist was made by the very nature of those laws. Far from leading in the direction of saying there is not need for God, more and more evidence from the realm of physics is actually supporting the need for God behind it all. In the end the laws of the universe will ultimately point us to the law-giver.
Okay, it has been awhile since I have posted on what I consider to be a stupid move by Christians. Not that there hasn’t been any material to work from. But this one is over the top and I just had to say something before my head exploded. It is being reported in CNN that a Florida preacher is planning a burning of the Quran, the book considered holy scripture by Muslims. His hope is that this will have some evangelistic impact and cause Muslims to repent and follow Jesus. Are you kidding me?
Look I am all for trying to bring Muslims to faith in Jesus Christ. I am convinced that only by faith in Christ can one be assured of a place in heaven. So my objection to this burning of the Quran has nothing to do with thinking that every religion is as valid or true as the next. My objection is that this is as far from a biblical way to act as one can find and will in fact have the exact opposite effect. Far from causing any Muslim to reconsider his or her faith, this will only serve to alienate them further from the Gospel and will have that same impact on countless non-muslims who see this as one more angry Christian who is out of his mind.
Let’s look at this from a perspective that Jesus so clearly teaches, “love your neighbor as yourself”. Let’s suppose for a moment that this scenario is turned around. Instead of a Christian pastor burning the Quran to get Muslims to repent, it is a Muslim Imam burning a Bible to get Christians to convert to Islam. What do you think the reaction of Christians would be? Exactly! Many would be screaming about the horrors of Islam and how the Bible is our sacred book and that Muslims are just showing once again how evil they are. So why do we think that Christians burning the Quran will have any beneficial impact and cause people to want to follow Jesus?
It is far to easy to make an outrageous statement and burn a book for Jesus. What Jesus wold rather have is that we do the hard work of preaching and demonstrating the Gospel as He tells us to. The Bible says “speak the truth in love”. We don’t hold back from declaring that Jesus is the only way to heaven. But we do it as we serve people in need and as we weep over the fact that they are lost without Jesus. I mush prefer what Christians in Lebanon did a few years ago during a time of fighting between Muslims in Lebanon and the Israeli army. Instead of standing around and burning Quran’s and being excited that the Muslims where finally getting their due, the Christians sheltered and clothed and fed Muslims who had lost their homes or were simply fleeing the violence. When asked why they were doing this the Christians replied, “because Jesus said we are to love our neighbor and care for the hurting in our midst”.
You tell me, which kind of Christian would you rather be associated with? Whose Jesus would you rather follow?
Ava is home from Pediatric ICU after another surgery. The outlook from a strictly medical viewpoint is dire. Read her dad’s blog from Tuesday evening and continue to pray for the Hunter and Gable families.