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What is a Christian?

bobbyemberley —  March 15, 2013 — 1 Comment

The following are some thoughts I wrote down in my devotional journal this week. It may contain a theological perspective that I am still uncertain about.

John 6:38 says, “For I [Jesus] have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Later in I Corinthians 4:4, Paul, also speaking of doing the will of another, said, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ.” As Paul invites us to follow him and ultimately to follow Christ, we too are to do the will of the Father. We are to do what pleases God. We are to do right. However, as God changes my heart, doing my own will becomes doing God’s will. Or we had best put it the other way around- doing God’s will becomes doing my will. This is a way of life, not something you get done for the day and forget about. It really is silly to think of getting God’s will done so that I may move on to my own. As if there were portions and times of my life in which God has no explicit way for me to act or obedience for me to exhibit.

So we immediately run into two problems:

1. The sheer impossibility of actually doing this even if we wanted to.

And the greater of the two,

2. Actually wanting to.

I think here we find the essence of what it means to be a Christian. It also speaks much about what God does when he saves a person.

You see, no one actually wants to surrender his life to live it in the service of another person. At least no one I’ve ever known. At least not to the extent that the Bible speaks of it when we come to fully understand it. Those who seem to want it inevitably do so for selfish motives, and that is perhaps worse than simply admitting rebellion and being done with it.

And so God must change us. He must make our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. He must take what is dead and make it walk again. No, not even again, but for the very first time. It is still unclear to me when this change occurs. Of course it has not fully occurred in any of us, and perhaps we can say it has more fully occurred in some than in others. But could it be that this change has not occurred in every person who has faith in Jesus? Or does their faith presuppose that God has at least planted the seeds of change? Of one thing we may be sure: the change will come. It must. For to grab hold of God is to grab hold of doing his will as a servant and in the process eternal life.

Truly, we should hardly think of the two (doing God’s will and eternal life) as separate. Did not Jesus say that whoever loses his life for my sake will find it? So it would seem that eternal life is found along the way of doing God’s will. Yet, we must not forget that doing God’s will and more importantly wanting to do it are gifts from God from the start.

If we must think of them as separate for the sake of better understanding, let us suppose that to lay hold of God is to lay hold of a rope consisting of two strands- one being doing God’s will as a servant, the other, the attainment of eternal life. You could no sooner simply grab one strand of the rope than you could jump into a lake on a hot summer day with the hope of staying dry. You can jump into the lake to enjoy relief from the heat, but you will most certainly also get wet, and you had best prepare yourself for that. Indeed, we could think of the rest of the world’s religions as attempts to untangle these two strands. Because everyone wants eternal life. No one wants Jesus. Not in their natural state. Not when it means becoming a servant as he was. Not when they really understand him and what following him entails. Even if they were to succeed in untangling the rope, it wouldn’t be strong enough to save them. I am reminded of preachers who speak of the danger of coming to Jesus as simply a fire escape from hell. I think their warning is much-needed because those who think of Jesus in such terms are not really thinking of him at all.

To lay hold of God is to lay hold of doing his will as a servant and in the process eternal life.

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God’s Anger: For Us!

bobbyemberley —  March 7, 2013 — 1 Comment
I am amazed to realize that the terrible and awesome description of God in these verses is a result of God’s anger against David’s enemies. God was moved emotionally and volitionally because of opposition to His chosen king. I think there is application for me too. Since I am one of God’s children, chosen and redeemed, God’s anger is roused not against me but in my defense.
Psalm 18:6-17
6In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.
7Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations also of the mountains trembled
and quaked, because he was angry.
8Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.
9He bowed the heavens and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
10He rode on a cherub and flew;
he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.
11He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him,
thick clouds dark with water.
12Out of the brightness before him
hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.
13The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
and the Most High uttered his voice,
hailstones and coals of fire.
14And he sent out his arrows and scattered them;
he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.
15Then the channels of the sea were seen,
and the foundations of the world were laid bare
at your rebuke, O Lord,
at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
16He sent from on high, he took me;
he drew me out of many waters.
17He rescued me from my strong enemy
and from those who hated me,
for they were too mighty for me.

I just finished reading through II Peter in my devotions. Here are some meditations I wrote down from chapter 3:

God’s character leads him to be patient. This patience leads to salvation. So, I can conclude then that God’s character leads him to provide salvation. He is a salvation-providing God. These truths give me some framework for understanding how God works in specific situations. There is a lot I may not understand in a given circumstance. But I do know something: God desires to bring salvation to people. He desires to save lost people, and he desires the continual salvation of found people. So, when I long for the new heavens and new earth and grow tired of the groanings of this life, I need to remember that in this time God is patiently waiting. And as he patiently waits he accomplishes salvation, not just for others but for me; not just for me but through me.

Doubt

bobbyemberley —  July 22, 2012 — 2 Comments

There is a song that has come out in the past year or so by Laura Story entitled “Blessings.” It has been a tremendous encouragement to many people I know. The lyrics are as follows:

We pray for blessings

We pray for peace

Comfort for family, protection while we sleep

We pray for healing, for prosperity

We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

All the while, You hear each spoken need

Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops

What if Your healing comes through tears

What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We gravitate towards this song because of its inspirational nature. It brings us face to face with the healing, protection and comfort we all lack but desperately need. Then it gives us the answer.

But what if we hear this song and wonder if it’s actually true? What if we think of our own problems and hardships as we hear this song, and it causes us to become cynical? What if raindrops are simply raindrops? What if tears are wasted? What if a thousand sleepless nights lead simply to despair?

I would like to submit that while this response certainly isn’t ideal, it has been the response of Christians throughout the Bible, and it does not necessarily signify a lack of faith.

  1. Abraham responded this way.

In Romans 4 he is set up as an example of faith. Romans 4:19-20 says, “19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.”

Yet, let’s go back to the passage in Genesis that this account refers to. When it seemed impossible for Sarah to give him a son, Abraham turned to his servant Hagar in order to have a child (Gen. 16:1-6). When God told Abraham again when he was 99 years old that he was going to have a son, Abraham fell on his face and laughed (Gen. 17:17).

2.    David responded this way.

In a numbers of psalms David questions God. He struggles to trust, and he doubts God’s protection, power and provision. Frequently, David follows his discouragements with an inspiring discourse on God’s faithfulness. Yet, in other psalms David doesn’t come back to reassure himself of God’s character. He begins and ends in doubt and questioning. Perhaps he fell asleep with no assurance and awoke feeling no better. Whatever the case some psalms don’t end on the mountaintop, or even on the plain; they end in the valley.

3.    Peter responded this way.

 At one point in Jesus’ ministry when he was teaching some hard truths, many in the crowd of people who had been following him began to desert him. Jesus turned to the 12 disciples and asked them whether they were going to walk away as well. Peter responded by saying, “To whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life.” His response did not indicate he knew all the answers and had everything figured out. He simply knew he couldn’t walk away.

I think any one of us would be honored to have our name included in this brief list of men. Abraham, David and Peter, all great men of the Scripture. Yet, they all responded in doubt and questioning at some points. We could even extend the list to include many others: Job in his affliction, Paul and his thorn in the flesh, the father who believed but needed help in his unbelief.

What do these responses tell us about doubt? They tell us we are safe simply being ourselves before God. Even at low points when songs and biblical truths should encourage us but fail to do so, God accepts us. He listens to us, and we remain in his care. They tell us that if the Bible sets up these men as examples of faith despite their doubt, then our doubts do not exclude us from having faith. Indeed, for some certainty and faith is most acutely forged in the fires of doubt. For some, it can be no other way.

The challenge of putting the experiences we had over the last week into writing is comparable to squeezing the entire solar system into a zip-loc sandwich bag. I don’t know where that silly metaphor came from (it just randomly popped into my head) but seriously, that is what it is like. The first thing I want to do is give a broad overview/skeletal outline of the trip. Then I will go into greater detail about each stop, after you have gained a feel for the whole and can fit these details into their proper context.

Outline/Trip Itinerary

Monday, July 2

– Leave to go to the Airport in Port Vila – 5:30am
– Depart for Espiritu Santo – 7:00am
– Arrive in Espiritu Santo, the city of Luganville (Southeast of the Island) – 8:00am
– Meet Pastor Veesan (Pastor of the Luganville church) at the airport and spend some time at his house
– Pastor Marcel come to pick us up from Pastor Veesan’s
– Take a drive all the way up (to Port Olry) and back down the West coast of Santo in Pastor Marcel’s truck
– Head West to Pastor Marcel’s village named Ipayato
– Stay the night in Ipayato
Tuesday, July 3

– Head out again in Pastor Marcel’s truck, from Ipayato to The coastal village of Tasiriki
– Hire a small boat in Tasiriki to cruise north, along the west coast of Santo
– Land on a small beech and begin our “walk-about” on foot into the bush of western Santo
– Walk to the village of Tana Koro, where Pastor Kemedy shepherds the village church
– Have a church service/welcome ceremony
– Stay the night at Tana Koro
Wednesday, July 4

– Morning church service/devotional
– Take a walk to see the the neighboring village
– Around 2:00pm depart Tana Koro and walk to Pastor Stephan’s village Lalowlo
– Have a church service/welcome ceremony in Lalowlo
– Sleep in Lalowlo
Thursday, July 5

– Have breakfast with Pastor Stephan and his family
– Depart Lalowlo and begin the long trek back from deep in the bush to the small beach to catch a boat
– Cruise in the boat southward to Tasiriki
– Commence another long long “walk-about” from Tasiriki to Ipayato
– Arrive in Ipayato in the evening and stay the night
Friday, July 6

– See the Bible school in Ipayato and meet the current students
– Ride in Pastor Marcel’s truck back to Luganville
– Walk around Luganville until our flight back to Port Vila on the Island of Efate departed at 7:30pm
– Arrive home
Details/Stories/Experiences/Play-by-Play

Monday, July 2nd
– Leave to go to the Airport in Port Vila – 5:30am
– Depart for Espiritu Santo – 7:00am
– Arrive in Espiritu Santo, the city of Luganville (Southeast of the Island) – 8:00am
– Meet Pastor Veesan (Pastor of the Luganville church) at the airport and spend some time at his house
– Pastor Marcel come to pick us up from Pastor Veesan’s
– Take a drive all the way up (to Port Olry) and back down the east coast of Santo in Pastor Marcel’s truck
– Head West to Pastor Marcel’s village named Ipayato
– Stay the night in Ipayato

Leaving the airport in Vila was the most pleasant airport experience I have ever had in my life. They didn’t even check our passports or I.D. of any kind. The airport is so small that no such measures are necessary. As we sat in the airport awaiting our departure Steve told us that one major culture shock we should prepare ourselves for is the way that time will slow down when we get to Santo. In remote island life there is no rush to go from one thing to the next. There are no real schedules. There are no crucial times. Generally, planning is unnecessary because there is nothing different to do on any given day than there was an any other day. Bush village life is simple in that way, but still oh so complex in so many others ways. Steve’s pre-trip airport remark proved to be spot on as our time in Santo progressed. We were leaving the hustle and bustle of the United States and Port Vila and entering a whole new world.
Each of us had one backpack. No more. Our bags weighed around 7 Kilos each (or 15.5 lbs). We departed on time and arrived in the airport on Santo without a hitch. Bobby and I couldn’t get over the weirdness of such a short plane trip! Usually when you are flying somewhere, pretty much one entire day is devoted to travel. Not in this case! When we arrived in Luganville we still had the whole day ahead of us. Interestingly, the same trip we did in 45 minutes by plane would have been a 30 hour boat ride.
During the plane trip, Steve had been explaining a complex “situation” that is very prevalent in regards to the ministry on the island of Santo. There is a missionary family who has been here for two generations now. The patriarch has left Vanuatu within the last few years and is continuing to do missionary work in another country. His son remains doing work in Vanuatu. Their ministry is fraught with controversy. There is a history of immorality and less than acceptable conduct for a man supposedly devoted to serving Christ in a position of leadership. They have extremely fundamentalistic tendencies and are strong proponents of the KJV only position. They are very much into being INDEPENDENT Baptists. They are strong seperationists. The smallest disagreement or variation of interpretation is enough for them to shut the door on other Christians. These missionaries’ lack of a biblical understanding regarding the universal church has caused all kinds of problems on the island of Santo. Many local pastors have a church started, and great things are happening. Unfortunately, this missionary’s obsession with all of these local village churches taking the name “Independent Baptist” and being part of his “empire” so to speak has caused him to steal these churches out of their denominations and transform their methods of church polity to the sadly unbiblical Independent Baptist mold. He goes about accomplishing these church denominational transfers by making huge promises to the pastors of these existing churches, such as funding the building of roads, laying pipes for fresh water, new church buildings, etc. As sad as it is to say, truly this man is trying to BRIBE people into his particular denomination. In the context of Vanuatu the denominational divisions are far less significant than they are in the U.S. Steve works closely with many different denominations including the Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, and many others. Here in Vanuatu, all of these denominations are far more similar to one another than they generally are in America. There is a Christian unity on these islands that, frankly, I wish could be reproduced in the United States. This man is trying to destroy this unity and it is heartbreaking to see. Getting these churches to subscribe to his denomination and “rules” makes for great prayer letters and supporting church updates for this particular missionary. He can say things like “Three new Independent Fundamental Bible believing Baptist churches were born in the bush jungle of western Santo!” A statement like this rings out as beautiful music in the ears of supporting churches in Australia and America but has an underhanded spin making it far from the truth. A more accurate statement would be “We were able to bribe three existing, thriving, bush congregations on the island of Santo into our denomination so that we can control their every move, micromanage their ministry, and take the credit and glory for their hard work.” In analyzing this situation Steve, Bobby, and I were heartbroken, angry, and in some ways helpless to know what to do! The longer we stayed in Santo the more we heard tell of ways this man’s ministry philosophy is destroying the church on this island. One of Steve’s goals for the trip was to better understand this difficult controversial issue and with this new information, shape his thinking and planned course of action. It is a tragedy to have inner controversy and false gospels being promoted by missionaries in this country. We must trust that God has a plan that will work all this out for His glory and the good of His people. We must passionately fight for the advancement of the true gospel and the defeat of the false, yet still maintain gentleness and humility. We desperately need the help and strength of Christ to do this… so please pray!
When we arrived to the island of Santo in the city of Luganville the pastor of the church in this city picked us up from the airport and took us to his house for a time of fellowship over fresh baked local bread and a cup of coffee. After talking with Pastor Veesan for a while, Pastor Marcel (the pastor of the church in Ipayato) arrived at the house in his “Land Cruiser” truck and we set out to take a drive up the east coast of Santo. This Land Cruiser proved to be quite an interesting part of our time on Santo. On our drive up the east coast it was easy to tell that shifting was quite a struggle. The clutch was virtually totally burnt out. Fortunately for us, Pastor Marcel is an expert mechanic! After driving north up the east coast for about an hour we stopped at a place called Port Olry to see pastor Marcel’s son who attends high school there. While they went to see him Bobby and I couldn’t resist taking a little swim in the gorgeous clear blue waters of north eastern Santo.
We had lunch with Pastor Marcel’s son’s “adopted family”. He stays at there place on weekends etc. At one point they apologized that all they had to give us was “black man’s food”… (rice and some bits of fish dark meat). We assured them that we quite enjoyed the meal, which was certainly the truth! One girl from Pastor Marcel’s village (Ipayato) who attends the same high school there in Port Olry, had some kind of sickness. She had been taken to the clinic and treated but apparently it didn’t work. The medical personnel told her that someone must have worked black magic against her and that is why she is sick. They told her she needed to go back to her village and see the witch doctor about what needs to be done. She got in the truck with us to ride back to Ipayato. Pastor Marcel said that he thought she was just lying and simply wanted to go home. She definitely seemed to be in considerable pain throughout the long drive to Ipayato. This was the first of our encounters with the deep rooted power black magic and witchcraft hold in the bush.
The good paved road ended as we got closer to Ipayato so it took us twice as long to cover half the distance. we were literally driving through rivers in Pastor Marcel’s Land Cruiser. At one point I got stung by a small scorpion! He had tried to hitch a ride on my arm as I brushed past some low hanging banana leaves. That was a new and exciting experience for me. It got dark about an hour before we reached Ipayato and the headlights on the truck didn’t work. For a while, Pastor Marcel’s wife, Rachel, was holding a flashlight out the passenger seat window to illuminate the road for Marcel to avoid the largest pot holes. Eventually Pastor pulled over to jerry-rig the headlights and get them working again. He pulled some wire from one place that wasn’t crucial and spliced it into a few others and the headlights came on! BUT then the truck wouldn’t start… Steve, Bobby, and I joked that Marcel must have used the wire from the starter cable to fix the lights. But no, Marcel is an expert. Another quick adjustment or two and we were up and running. The moon was full and gorgeous. Its blue tinted light beamed through the night sky as we wriggled, jiggled, bobbed, and weaved along the pothole filled jungle road. We saw HUGE fruitbats, or as they call them here, “flying-fox” gliding gracefully above us. One pooped on Steve’s head. We all had a good laugh!
When we finally arrived in Ipayato we were shown the place where we would sleep and then headed over to Pastor Marcel’s kitchen where his wife, affectionately known to us as “Mama Rachel” was busily preparing our evening meal. It was cooked over an open fire, and we ate sitting on woven matts on the ground. There is no electricity in this village (or any of the villages we visited on Santo) so we ate and talked by the glow of one small candle. The meal we had that night will go down in the history books as one of the best things I have ever tasted. Mama Rachel is an exceptional cook! We had this beef strip stew on top of rice. The flavor of the beef was mind boggling. They never drink with a meal. Only afterwards. This took a bit of getting used to. At the end of the meal we had coffee. It was hilarious to see how the locals drank their coffee. Their mix was three heaping tablespoons of sugar and a small teaspoon of coffee. In Vanuatu, just being together is huge. They are not afraid of silence. In the U.S. any spell of quietness or cease in the conversation when guests are over is highly awkward. Not here! Dinner was a long time of sitting, talking, laughing, and just being together. Every once in a while one of the Marcel’s seven or so skinny dogs would wander in, get slapped, yelp, and scurry out. It was rather humorous. The dimly candle lit hut and the scrumptious feast that sat in my satisfied stomach was enough to make sleep most desirable. We headed over to the hut we were staying in to find that someone had made up our beds and set up mosquito nets for us to sleep under. And so our first day on Espiritu Santo came to an end.
Tuesday, July 3
– Head out again in Pastor Marcel’s truck, from Ipayato to The coastal village of Tasiriki
– Hire a small boat in Tasiriki to cruise north, along the west coast of Santo
– Land on a small beech and begin our “walk-about” on foot into the bush of western Santo
– Walk to the village of Tana Koro, where Pastor Kemedy shepherds the village church
– Have a church service/welcome ceremony
– Stay the night at Tana Koro
We woke up and headed back over to the Marcel kitchen for breakfast. Coffee and bread was the morning menu. Mama Rachel prepared our “sack lunch” for us to eat later during our hike through the bush. It was rice, eggs, and some veggies wrapped in these huge leaves to keep it all warm. It reminded me of the elvish lembas bread from Lord of the Rings! We met the man who would be our guide as we walked about in the jungle. His name was Matchkoli. He is one short, fast, fit, hunk of muscle! Little did I know that the hand I shook that morning at breakfast would become the hand of a true friend with whom I shared life shaping experiences. We loaded up the truck and headed out to the village of Tasiriki. We said our temporary goodbyes to Pastor Marcel at Tasiriki and got on a boat to take us to a little ways up the west coast of Santo to save us some walking.
 We were on the boat for about half an hour then jumped off at this convenient landing beach to begin our hike into the jungle. The bush trails are hard to lose, as there is about a foot wide path of exposed topsoil in contrast to the jungle vegetation on either side. Every once in a while we would pass through a coconut plantation or the garden of some locals. The hike was certainly intense. Straight up. The hills of west Santo are nothing to sneeze at! We saw a cocao tree (where chocolate comes from). Matchkoli scurried effortlessly up its trunk to pick us a few. The slime on the outside of the beans is deliciously fruity! The inside of the cocao fruit resembles a pumpkin. We arrived at a river, had a refreshing swim, and a bit of a bath before eating our “lembas bread” lunch which mama Rachel had made for us.
At one point we stopped and Matchkoli scaled the trunk of a palm tree to get some coconuts for us to drink. That stuff is liquid energy in a round natural green mug. The BEST!
We also stopped at a peanut garden. Santo is famous for the peanuts it grows. Pastor Stephan (the pastor of the church in the village of Lalowlo, which we would later visit) gathered some up for us to taste.
After walking up the hills all day in the bush of west Santo we arrived at the village of Tana Koro. Pastor Kemmedy cares for the church in this village. He gave us a brief tour of the small village on top of a hill. We saw the church building and the church bell (which was a hanging WWII gas tank). It was interesting to learn that the small village on the crest of the hill was a group of seven families who were basically driven out of the main village of Tana Koro because of their Christianity. The Tana Koro that they left is down the hill a little ways. This is literally a case of these people being forced out of their homes and having to uproot their families and move for the sake of their faith in Christ. The children were a bit scared of us, but also extremely curious. They followed us around, but kept a safe distance. Bobby and I enjoyed playing games of sudden movements in their direction or sneaking around unsuspecting corners to scare them. Some of them had never seen white people before and apparently the white people they had seen were doctors. Pastor Kemmedy told us that the children thought we were doctors. Steve broke the ice a bit by showing them some pictures and movies on his iPhone. This was a well worth while use of his precious battery! We had a small rest before the evening church/welcome service. At this service Pastor Stephan played guitar and lead in a few songs. The hardy voices and beautiful harmony were a joy to listen and sing along with. Then there was a welcoming ceremony for us and our companions. The women of the village stood up and presented each of us with a lei hand made with REAL FLOWERS! They gave us some nice decorative fans as well. The lady that presented my gifts to me gave me a nice piece of pottery that none of the others got. The whole thing was quite the ceremony, and we felt like honored and welcome guests. After this Bobby and I did a language-less drama. We were trying to get them to laugh and didn’t succeed quite as much as we had hoped. But, it wasn’t a total flop. Steve got up and gave a short message from Matthew chapter 4 on Jesus’ temptations. It is remarkable, but after just two short weeks of being in Vanuatu I could pretty much understand everything Steve was saying in Bis Lama. When he is preaching or praying I am able to understand virtually everything. Conversation is harder to pick up but getting better every day. Speaking is a whole different animal. Hearing Steve vividly explain the desert of Israel (the settings for Satan’s temptations) to these people from a tropical island was quite amazing.
After the service we had a fantastic feast of lap lap drizzled in coconut cream, chicken, beef, taro root, manioc, yams, rice, noodles, peppers, and milo.
We went to bed that night with a strong sense of warmth and welcomeness. They loved us being there and made us feel right at home despite the incredibly different cultural context. We slept under the colorful decorative banner of Bob Marley that hunt in Pastor Kemmedy’s house, and it was a sound sleep indeed!
Wednesday, July 4
– Morning church service/devotional
– Take a walk to see the the neighboring village
– Around 2:00pm depart Tana Koro and walk to Pastor Stephan’s village Lalowlo
– Have a church service/welcome ceremony in Lalowlo
– Sleep in Lalowlo
In the morning we had crackers and milo for breakfast. Shortly after the church bell was rung for the village morning gathering at the church building. Pastor Stephan led some songs playing by ear on the guitar (which had some interestingly jungle manufactured pegs).
Afterwards they asked if Bobby or I wanted to share something for the devotional/message of sorts. Totally put on the spot without any warning Bobby stood up and shared some of the thoughts he had been dwelling on since he is preaching at Steve’s church in Vila the coming Sunday. It was a good challenge from 1 Kings 16 to remember God’s provision and power. Steve translated Bobby’s words into Bis Lama.
After breakfast we took a small walk-about to the village that Pastor Kemmedy and the seven Christian families had been run out of. The empty houses of the families who had left this village to go form the Christian community sat vacant. Pastor Kemmedy explained their abandonment all of their earthly possessions to follow Christ as it is spoken of in terms of Luke 18:29-30 where Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” It was amazing to see the fear, darkness, and just over all total contrast to the demeanor of the “Christian” village up on the hill. Pastor Kemmedy explained that he has many enemies in this village. He is daily challenged to live out his faith and be as Christ to those who hate him. As he does in many places in the bush, Satan uses the powers of witchcraft, demonism, and spiritism to hold these people captive to fear and darkness. The whole aura of the village was dark, sad, and hard to look upon. We came to the charred remains of a building and Pastor Kemmedy explained that it was the village school which had been burned down just a few days prior. Some in the village are totally apposed to modernization and any outside influence. These people got together and got someone to go to the school building at 1:00 in the morning and burn it to the ground. No one knows who actually set fire to it. The regional chiefs are in the process of interviewing, and seeking to ascertain the truth so they can execute justice.
Later, as we continued our walk through the village we came to a house where an entire family was gathered in the midst of their ten day mourning period at the loss of their young son. When we came to the house all the aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, grandparents, and cousins of the deceased were sitting around and inside the hut. They emerged one by one with sorrowful expressions on their faces and shook our hands. One old man came out who had no hands, only stubs. His back and head were severely burned. Come to find out this was the dead child’s grandfather. He and the small boy had been sleeping in a “copra house” (a place where coconut is dried and prepared for selling). The copra house caught fire and the old man managed to get out. Then he went back in to try to rescue the boy who was sleeping under a mosquito net. The synthetic net had already burned and was melting on the boys skin. Remember, this old man has no hands and it was extremely difficult for him to pull the boy to safety. In the end the boy died and the old man was left with terribly charred flesh. We later learned that the family was extremely angry with the old man since he had not saved the boy. They beat him up even in his physically dismal condition as retribution for the fact that the boy had died. Eventually the mother and father of the boy came out and shook our hands. Steve expressed deep sorrow on their behalf and very tactfully and graciously explained that God is trying to get their attention! We left the house strongly impacted by the things we had seen and heard. As we continued down the path the burned old man followed us and wanted to talk to us. He had us sit down and this toothless, handless, marred, shell of a man began to speak. He told the history of how he came to this village, explained some of his superstitious, demonic beliefs, and proceeded to bash Pastor Kemmedy and explain that he is a bad man, who causes disruption in the community. All the while Pastor Kemmedy sat patiently enduring this man’s accusations. The whole scene was complex and had multiple factors that are difficult to communicate in writing. It was an experience unlike any other.
Pastor Kemmedy later told us about some of the history between himself and this old man. At one point the old man was extremely sick, on the verge of death. He was so sick that his bed was full of his own human excrement because he had no control. One night, during this time when the old man was sick, Pastor Kemmedy had a dream. He dreamt that a ton of rainbow lorikeets (birds) came and were crushing the roof of his house down on top of him as he slept. As he thrashed about in his sleep because of the nightmare his wife woke up. She tried to wake her husband, Pastor Kemmedy, but her efforts were futile. She called the kids in to try and wake him as well. For three hours Pastor Kemmedy was under the influence of this demon. White saliva began to drip from the corner of his mouth and his family was almost certain that he was dying. Eventually he did wake up. Later, Pastor Kemmedy went to this sick old man and asked him, “Why did you send those birds to try and kill me in the night?” The man began to laugh hysterically. He was able to weakly mutter that it was the work of a special black magic devil that he had learned when he was working at the coconut plantations. As he lay on his probable death bed he had sent this witchcraft trying to kill Pastor Kemmedy. The pastor responded to the dying man by saying “I just want you to know that Jesus is stronger than your witchcraft, He preserved me.” The old man was sorrowful and teary at what he had done. The Lord preserved him from dying of his sickness. There has not been any lasting change and certainly no saving faith. But perhaps it is in God’s plan yet to save this poor deceived man in the end.
I asked him to explain how he lost his hands. He told us that when he was young he had normal healthy hands. One night he went to a “tabu” place. A place that, in their spiritualistic ideas, was cursed or forbidden for him to go. He fished in this tabu water, and camped that night on this tabu land. As he slept, he dreamed that a snake came and was rapidly striking at his hands. The snake bit him over and over again. When he awoke, his hands were filled with sores. These sores got worse and worse. He traveled the long way out of the bush to go to the medical clinic, but his hands were not savable. Seeing the real tangible results of the work of Satan the deceiver, and the strong sway demonic power has in this part of the world was truly eye opening.
I have been studying the book of 2 Timothy during my time here in Vanuatu. Observing Pastor Kemmedy interact with this man and his many enemies in the village reminded me of Paul’s instruction to another young pastor like Kemmedy named Timothy. In 2 Timothy 2:24-26 Paul says that:
“The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
I saw these qualities of patience, gentleness, and endurance so clearly lived out by Pastor Kemmedy as he interacted with his “opponents”. The people of this village, and so many in Vanuatu and around the world, have been taken captive by the devil and are doing his will! But we must never forget that God may yet grant them repentance! Keep praying. Stay faithful. God will do His work, and NOTHING can thwart his plan!
We also stopped at a small pond near the village. This particular pond is the source of much superstition amongst locals. It never dries up, and our natural explanation for this is that it must be spring fed. The spiritualistic people of the bush have quite a different story. They say that there was a village right in the place where the pond is at one time. A devil appeared to two young boys in this village and told them that they needed to get everyone to abandon the village and move away from that spot or everyone would die. The two boys tried to convince the people in the village that they were standing in the way of impending doom, but failed to be taken seriously. One night the village was having a big feast and they were slaughtering several pigs. They came to one pig, and shot it in the testicles with a bow and arrow. Immediately vast amounts of water started pouring out of the pigs balls and the whole area began to flood. The boys climbed a coconut tree for safety. Everyone in the village died from the flooding and these two boys sat stranded in the coconut tree in the middle of the newly formed pond. They were afraid of the water, as it clearly had some mysterious power so they decided to toss a couple of coconuts into the water. If they floated safely to shore, then they would know that it was safe to swim to shore. If not… well, they were in trouble. The coconuts floated to shore, and the boys were able to swim to safety.
The remarkable thing is that this is not “just a story” to these local people. Their extreme bent toward spiritualizing everything, giving everything a deeper meaning, as well as Satan’s work in this culture to deceive, causes them to believe such stories and accept them as true facts. Steve, Bobby, and I had a lot of discussion about demonology and the work of Satan in the world. It doesn’t seem biblical that Satan actually has the power to create water ex nihilo, which is why this story is particularly perplexing. Often, other demonic encounters can be explained by Satan using a dream or vision (playing tricks on people’s minds) and confusing it with reality. But, this one is interesting because of the physical remains of the water. Perhaps satan unblocked the natural springs in that area just as they shot the balls of that pig. Who knows for sure? All that we can be certain of is that his prowls about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour! He is a master deceiver, and has the power to twist reality and cause people to not have rational thinking. In the U.S. Satan is able to effectively use so many other means of deception… Materialism, greed, pleasure seeking, lust, and pleasure just to name a few. Out in the bush his lethal weapon of choice for his evil work of deception is black magic. In the face of these realities we can rejoice that CHRIST IS STRONGER! Pray, trust, and believe that He will achieve ultimate victory over the powers and principalities in the world, and true comfort will come.
When we got back to the Pastor Kemmedy’s village after our morning walk-about in the neighboring village we had a small rest and then lunch. Pastor Kemmedy had done the funeral for the boy who died in the copra house fire and they gave him a portion of a pig they had slaughtered. This was nice for lunch! Afterwards we set out again with Matchkoli (our guide) and Pastor Stephan to hike deeper into the bush to his village. Parting with the saints in Tana Koro was sad but sweet. They formed a line and we shook every one of their hands on the way out of the village.
Just a few hundred meters away from the village Matchkoli accidentally led us down the wrong trail briefly. He laughed and explained his mistake using the Bis Lama phrase “Me missem road!” We had a good laugh about it and backtracked to regain the correct trail. Meanwhile, Pastor Stephan, who had left Tana Koro just a few minutes after us and was planning to catch up, took the right trail while we were on the wrong one and unknowingly passed us! He was hurrying to try to catch up with us but in reality he was ahead! The funniest part about it was that Pastor Stephan was carrying the fresh bananas they had given us for the hike in Tana Koro. We jokingly accused Pastor Stephan of planning the whole thing so he could have all the bananas for himself. Being able to share humor with these guys in such a diverse cross-cultural context was so much fun! The humor continued when we stopped on the trail for a small break. I pulled out my pack of gum and gave it to Bobby and Steve to take a piece. Then I tossed it to Matchkoli, he took one, put it in his mouth, and then proceeded to put the rest of the pack into his bag instead of giving it back. I was happy to give it to him, but it was just funny the way the whole thing went down. It never even crossed his mind that he was only supposed to take one piece and then give the rest back to me!
When we arrived in Pastor Stephan’s village called Lalowlo it was strangely abandoned! Come to find out, the entire village had gone to a funeral in Ipayato that Pastor Marcel was doing. During our visit, the usual population of two hundred people or so was reduced to us, Pastor Stephan’s family, and three older folks. Despite the small number of attendance  there was still an evening devotional/welcome ceremony for us. Again we were all presented with leis. Steve gave a message from Ephesians 4 on unity. After supper in Pastor Stephan’s kitchen we turned in for the night in the quiet, peaceful village of Lalowlo.
Thursday, July 5
– Have breakfast with Pastor Stephan and his family
– Depart Lalowlo and begin the long trek back from deep in the bush to the small beach to catch a boat
– Cruise in the boat southward to Tasiriki
– Commence another long long “walk-about” from Tasiriki to Ipayato
– Arrive in Ipayato in the evening and stay the night
In the morning we had breakfast crackers and coffee and set out for a long hike back to the beach to catch a boat back to Tasiriki.
While on the boat to Tasariki Steve called Pastor Marcel to see if he had been able to fix the clutch on his truck and could come to Tasariki to pick us up. As it turned out he was right in the thick of working on it and would be unable to get us. The entire truck was completely taken apart and Pastor Marcel was working his bush-man mechanical magic on the vehicle. This meant that instead of a bumpy ride from Tasiriki to Ipayato we would be walking!
During our long walk from Tasariki back to Ipayato we had some major rain downpours. We embraced the soaking, and kept on walking in as high of spirits as ever. Matchkoli was excited to pull over for a small break at this waterfall where we could do some swimming and cliff diving!
We walked the entire day except for the brief boat ride to Tasariki. When we got to Ipayato we enjoyed a small rest and yet another fabulous meal prepared by mama Rachel.
Before bed we said goodbye to Matchkoli. He had really become a great friend and I will never forget the times we shared. Bobby, Steve, and I all contributed something to give to him as a thank you present. Bobby gave him a pair of shorts, Steve his LED headlamp, and I gave him my platypus handsfree hiking hydration system. Matchkoli goes in the books as the best guide I have ever had, even though he did miss one road one time 😉
Friday, July 6
– See the Bible school in Ipayato and meet the current students
– Ride in Pastor Marcel’s truck back to Luganville
– Walk around Luganville until our flight back to Port Vila on the Island of Efate departed at 7:30pm
– Arrive home
In the morning we headed over to Pastor Marcel’s kitchen for coffee and crackers. After breakfast we saw the small Bible school that is in Ipayato and meet the current students before heading to the airport in Luganville.
We had one last delicious treat prepared by mama Rachel before driving to Luganville. Fried plantain!
We had received a fair bit of rain over the last couple days so crossing the rivers in Pastor Marcel’s truck on the way to Luganville was interesting, but we made it! Our flight left in the early evening so we entertained ourselves around town while Pastor Marcel attended a meeting he had. We said our goodbyes to Pastor Marcel at the airport and flew back home to Port Vila on the island of Efate.
 Our trip to Santo was an opportunity and experience that has been, and will continue to be used by God to shape my thinking, broaden my understanding, and increase my dependance on and awe of Christ! Thanks, for those of you who took the time to read this lengthy update. Your prayers and support are a blessing. I hope this small smattering of the sights and sounds of the last week here in Vanuatu has been helpful for you to read. In the end I just want to express immense gratitude to God for everything about the past week. His protection, His strength, His illumination, His grace, His love, and His sovereignty were all seen in unique ways! Praise the Lord!

Our Thoughts

bobbyemberley —  May 23, 2012 — Leave a comment

I read this morning in II Corinthians 11. Paul says that he is concerned for the Corinthians that their thoughts would be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. Our thoughts do not drift and wander at their own will. They are led and directed, and if we aren’t doing that through the power of God, then something else will. This passage focuses not on what we shouldn’t think about but on what should fill our minds. We need to direct our thoughts towards a sincere and pure devotion for Christ. The fight for godliness begins in the mind, a mind that think correctly and devotedly about Jesus, his spirit, and his gospel.

Themes In Isaiah

bobbyemberley —  April 26, 2012 — 1 Comment

I’ve been reading through Isaiah recently. It’s a tougher book to read through, but I’ve been trying to pick up on some major themes.

1. God takes sin seriously.

2. God will save a remnant.

3. God is the one in control, accomplishing his purposes.

These are basic truths that we need to be continually reminded of. What I think is cool is that these are all truths that are directly related to the gospel. Yet, we see them in the OT. Another reminder of the continuity and grand storyline of the Bible- salvation is found in Jesus Christ!

 

The God of All Comfort

bobbyemberley —  April 18, 2012 — 1 Comment

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

It is encouraging to know that the difficulties we face are ultimately for our good as God works to make us more like Christ. They are also for others’ good as God uses our difficult circumstances as a tool to teach us how to comfort others who are going through similar hardships.

Verse 6 from the same chapter says “6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.”

Paul says that we experience comfort when we patiently endure suffering. So in some way comfort comes to us as we patiently endure. I don’t know how this all works nor do I know how to do it very well. Yet, it is a challenge for me to endure keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus and to pray for others that they would do the same.

The following is a quote from the book A Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent. This book has revolutionized the way I think about the gospel and how it applies to my life. This is what Christ has accomplished and secured through his death and resurrection!

“The gospel encourages me to rest in my righteous standing with God, a standing which Christ Himself has accomplished and always maintains for me. I never have to do a moment’s labor to gain or maintain my justified status before God! Freed from the burden of such a task, I now can put my energies into enjoying God, pursuing holiness, and ministering God’s amazing grace to others.

The gospel also reminds me that my righteous standing with God always holds firm regardless of my performance, because my standing is based solely on the work of Jesus and not mine. On my worst days of sin and failure, the gospel encourages me with God’s unrelenting grace toward me. On my best days of victory and usefulness, the gospel keeps me relating to God solely on the basis of Jesus’ righteousness and not mine.”

Lamentations 3

bobbyemberley —  April 4, 2012 — 1 Comment

Read Lamentations 3 this morning. Very encouraging. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.”

Haven’t been on here as much as I would like. Let’s not let this site die. It’s been a great blessing to me hearing from you guys and how God is at work in your lives. Keep on in the fight!