When Elephants Fight by Alan Kern

Why did Solomon Tate punch out a fellow missionary, befriend a witch doctor, experience a “holy laughter” manifestation, while trying to expose its dangers, and stare down a wild bull elephant?  How will he conquer his fear of confronting abusive church leaders? What choices will two Xhosa brothers make when they are confronted with the Gospel and compelled to choose between cultural witchcraft and biblical Christianity, and how will they live out those consequences? What spiritual connection is there between the lidloti spirits, dancing in the “borrowed bodies” of an African sangoma, and the involuntary convulsions of hyper-charismatics?

Why did Solomon Tate punch out a fellow missionary, befriend a witch doctor, experience a “holy laughter” manifestation, while trying to expose its dangers, and stare down a wild bull elephant?  How will he conquer his fear of confronting abusive church leaders? What choices will two Xhosa brothers make when they are confronted with the Gospel and compelled to choose between cultural witchcraft and biblical Christianity, and how will they live out those consequences? What spiritual connection is there between the lidloti spirits, dancing in the “borrowed bodies” of an African sangoma, and the involuntary convulsions of hyper-charismatics?

Blog 14: “Grace”

 

 

 

 

Yesterday, Laurie and I made our first visit across the bay to the island of Cozumel.
Half hour by ferry—they say if you’re prone to seasickness you shouldn’t worry about this trip. Half way across, I asked for the plastic bag, but thankfully, I didn’t need it. We went there for Laurie’s neurologist’s visit, but we had been given an incomplete address and several taxi drivers I spoke with had no idea where the doctor’s office was. So, I approached a police pickup and inquired. They didn’t know either, but they invited us onboard while they drove around and figured it out. And they did, getting us to the doctor with five minutes to spare. I reciprocated by buying the three of them lunch.20180712_064059

Afterwards, we taxied the twelve miles to Punta Morena, on the far side of the island, away from the tourists, much less developed, but far better beaches and ate fifty feet from the crashing waves. Laurie was in beachcombing heaven. On the ferry back, Laurie rode on the upper deck with the wind blowing through her hair, while I chose to read “The Good Years” by Walter Lord in the a/c, cushioned seats down below. I’m not sure where the term “Montezuma’s Revenge” came from, I’ll have to look it up.

 

 

In the gospels, there’s a scene where Jesus’ disciples want to know who will be greatest in the Kingdom. Jesus takes a child and sets him on his lap for a demonstration. Children in that culture were not viewed as they are today, like treasured things that adults revolve their lives around. In that day, children were not valued much at all. Another thing about children is that there isn´t one thing they can do, good or bad, to increase or decrease their parent’s love or position with them.

So, there were at least two reasons Jesus used the child to demonstrate God’s love. One: Jesus is not looking for the high and mighty who wear their blue ribbons of religious activities like prized bulls at the county fair. He’s far more interested in those whose halos are a bit tarnished, bent up out of shape, cracked, and occasionally sliding off their heads, but He has their heart. Also, God isn´t judging us by our perfections or imperfections but by His unchanging perfect righteousness that He is freely given to us.

Maybe this isn’t much of a revelation to you, but for me, having come out of a legalistic church group after thirty years, where you were judged by how many times you punched the time clock for church attendance, it is this grace that I desperately need. I remember part of a praise song from those days that went like this: “I have climbed up, that much higher, in that good old Gospel way.” Since we never heard any sermons on grace, it never occurred to me that you couldn’t climb up higher. They did, however, mock a church across town called “Grace Chapel,” for having “greasy grace.” But I need that grace, and I don´t care how greasy it is. In fact, I´ve got a lot of ”greasy grace” to catch up on, because my halo of self-sufficient religiosity has taken a hit.

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If you´ve been battered by life’s circumstances, at least you know you’re in good company with millions of saints that have gone before. In fact, the godliest of them all suffered the most rejection, abuse by religious Pharisee’s, family rebuffs, misunderstandings, slander, betrayals, not to mention physical torture and death. Now, there’s a happy thought.

So, man up Buckwheat, the best is always yet to come. This world is passing like a comet, never to be seen the same again. Those who are clinging to it as if it’s the greatest necessity in life will be the ones holding onto empty hopes and dreams. Our hope is unfading, untarnished, unblemished, “which is reserved in heaven for us, that is beyond the reach of change or decay.” 1Peter 1:4

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Blog 13 Father’s Day

I haven’ blogged lately because I’m doing the final edit of my novel: Working title, When Elephants Fight. It should be out in e-book by the end of June and I expect all three of you following my blog to buy ten copies each and tell fifty friends to do the same. Or not.

In shooting “hoops” this morning, a teenaged boy, who had been sleeping on the court, was awakened by my playing. He packed up his sleeping gear, and noticing a few coins I had by my stuff (I no longer bring my cell phone, for obvious reasons), he asked me if he could have a one-peso coin, about a nickel in U.S. change. I gladly gave it to him. Had he asked for much more he would have gotten it.
A recent sermon from our new pastor here at Cornerstone Church, preached recently on prayer. One particular statement he made has stuck with me: ¨When you pray, pray for large things. God likes to be challenged.” Just like that boy who only asked for a single peso, I know I have often asked too small of very large and generous God. So, Laurie and are asking for enough funds in our budget, after we visit family in Oregon, to be able to live wherever we like, in an English speaking Caribbean island, so we don’t have a language barrier.
Yesterday, as I was walking some distance to a pharmacy to get medications for Laurie, I felt God’s presence, actually I have felt Him closer for the past two months, ever since we arrived in Mexico and Laurie had her stroke. I thanked God for His presence, favor, and provision for our lives (the insurance company covered our medical bills). I felt Him speak back to me that He’s always been there. I knew this was true, in theory, but most of my forty-one years of salvation I’ve never felt Him this close. I don’t have anyone now between me and God interpreting this relationship for me, and that has made the difference.
Laurie received some wrong medications two weeks ago and it set her back physically. She’s back on the right stuff now and is much better again these past few days, the strongest she’s been since the stroke. She spent the entire day, church and a restaurant with no wheelchair, only a cane

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Today was Father’s Day and she took me out for the biggest ribeye steak I’ve ever seen. The owners of the restaurant, 500 Gramos Grill, Josie the Italian chef and Maury from Chile, told us Mexico has great cuts of steaks, but they don’t know how to fix them (no argument from me). 20180617_141246-1.jpgTruly, it was the best steak of my life. Happy Father’s Day to all.

 

Blog 13 “Mexican Justice at Dawn”

On the way to my pre-dawn basketball shooting routine, I pass by three mom and pop tortilla-making shops. Old machinery clacks away by the hour, stacking the corn tortillas that will supply the local restaurants. Other small shopkeepers are setting up their produce of fresh vegetables, fruit, and eggs in the narrow street. The bakery vender pedals his bike with a front-loaded basket on wheels, loaded with fresh bread and pastries, squeezing a toy horn to announce his arrival as he slowly moves through the neighborhood. A flatbed truck loaded with propane tanks cruises the streets, blasting recorded music through tinny loudspeakers, announcing its product to prospective customers. Workmen with reflective orange vests and bag lunches trudge toward their steamy ten-hour day. And then there’s me, an old white guy carrying a basketball, in shorts, tank top, and fluorescent orange tennis shoes. I catch their eyes and we nod and smile, greeting each other in our native tongues.20180524_162648.jpg

Yesterday morning´s shooting took a wild twist. He had been watching me and eyeing my backpack at the foot of the basket. He grabbed a trash bag and started helping the old maintenance man pick up trash, working his way closer to me as I was shooting hoops. I thought it strange; the old guy had never had a helper before. Did he just want to make a few pesos?

Then he made his move, from my left side. By the time I saw him, he was already rifling through my stuff. He went for my small backpack, an easy grab, but it was empty, but then he saw my cell phone under it and grabbed that instead. The race was on.20180526_044218

He was young and fast and bolted around the side of the court and into the street. One thing that he didn´t figure into his plan was how fast this old man could run. The thought of losing my phone in Mexico, a major hassle beyond just the expense, fueled my sprint, amazing myself, the thief, the elderly maintenance man, and several mothers who were walking their children to school.

Holding up my basketball trunks, that were not accustomed to this kind of speed, I kept yelling, “STOP, THIEF” to whoever would listen and care. After the first block, at which point I was totally gassed, a small posse began to form at the next crossroads. The thief hoped to allude them by bolting to the left down another street. Now, he was out of my sight and I feared he would get away.

I don’t remember if I prayed earlier, but now I shouted out to God, “DON’T LET HIM GET AWAY!” Whether it was angels or men who blocked his escape, I never saw them, but he quickly tore back through the intersection, back into my sight and into the next street, but now the net was closing in on him. My posse had fresh legs, and the thief had mostly used his up, but he made one last impressive surge to outrun them and he almost made it, before a young strapping man in a work uniform corralled him around the neck like a rugby front-liner and dropped him with an open-field takedown. Now, the posse formed around him like coyotes celebrating their kill.

When I lived in South Africa, I learned the term “township justice.” When the neighborhood vigilantes would run down a thief, they knew the police wouldn´t do much, so they owed it to the community to mete out the punishment themselves. Playing the role of judge, jury, and chastiser, they tied the thief to a tree and, well you can guess the rest.

My posse practiced their own township justice. As the thief laid on the ground, surrounded by four court members, they took turns punching and kicking him. Each time he pleaded his innocence, they kicked him again. By the time I finally caught up, I had missed the trial, but since it was an open and shut case, they didn´t need my testimony.

I yelled down at the thief, “WHERE’S MY CELL PHONE?” While the three others continued administering justice, the rugby front-liner thrust my phone toward me, as if he was presenting it as a trophy of his Mexican manhood. Winded, relieved, and grateful, I thanked the four of them, while they continued performing their duties.

20180525_120346.jpgPlaya del Carmen is a safe area—all of the State of Quintana Roo, also known as the Riviera Maya, is fairly crime-free, notwithstanding the lone thief and the occasional cartel member. They know tourists live among them, and they welcome them, boosting their struggling economy, and they and the police are motivated to protect them.20180516_084725

I´ve been thinking about that scripture that says, “faith without works is dead.” In prayer, I needed faith to believe God for what I was asking for. I had demonstrated at least mustard seed faith simply by asking God. But I also needed to do the part God wanted me to do. Sometimes God wants us to “stand down” and just trust Him with our prayers, but I´ve usually found He wants us to get involved.

If I hadn´t chased the thief, but instead, stayed on the court and prayed for God to stop him, though God certainly could have done that, I doubt He would have. But because I was participating, I saw God move in a way that gave Him glory.

I mean, what kind of story could I write if the thief had escaped?

Blog 12 “Freedom”

I love worship music, the kind where the singer is not just performing, but his song is his prayer, from the soul. For those who live overseas and still want their worship music, download WiTopia and you’ll be able to get the worship music you´re used to from the States

During worship in church last Sunday, the thought came to me about “freedom,” and how grateful I am that I was born in America, the freest country in the history of the world, and one that has defended other nations’ freedoms as well. But for some reason I enjoy living outside the U.S. No explanation for that, other than a pastor once singled me out, publicly, at a large Bible conference and gave me a “word” that I had a “wandering spirit.”20180520_153957.jpg At the time I had just lost my first wife to cancer and was single-parenting two small children, and I think it was his way of telling me that I wasn’t focused enough on the church.

Having traveled and lived in other countries for much of my life, I have found that compared to other cultures and people, Americans possess an optimism and independence that most others don’t have the privilege of knowing. The origin of these freedoms can be directly traced to the fact that America was established by committed Christian colonists, who put God into its founding documents. No other nation other than for Israel has had such a godly foundation. And it is no coincidence that even today it is these two great democracies that are at the forefront in fighting an evil that is threatening, through terror, to rob nations of their freedoms and bring them under its 7th century, repressive control and submission.

The other reason I feel grateful for my freedom is that I am a Christian. Many religions can make promises of having peace with their god or gods and offer its adherents some sort of hope of a glorious afterlife, but no other faith can actually deliver on those promises. In studying the gods of other religions, most are distant, at best, and constantly require appeasement of some sort to mollify their anger. And though I respect others whose faith is different from my own, I respectfully disagree with anything that contradicts God’s Word.

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I ask you, what god would allow himself to be completely humiliated, spat upon, have his beard plucked out, and then die a slow, torturous death?  And for what? To redeem sinful, weak, outcasts like us. Who does that? And this Man, Jesus, claimed to be God. And to put an exclamation point on it, after He was cruelly executed, over five-hundred witnesses attested to the fact that He rose from the dead, which kind of gives credibility to His claims. As someone once said, “You can debate your opinions, but you can’t dispute the facts.”

Another writer once said, “The search for happiness is largely an attempt to find a way to move from one state, the state of fear, to the other, love, and to stay there.” 1John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear.” But this is the part of that scripture that really speaks to me: “For fear has to do with punishment.” Probably because of my background in legalistic religion, I’ve had to battle against feelings of being punished when things go south in my life.

It’s been a rough week. Stroke recovery we’re told is not a straight line where you gradually get better on a predictable timetable. It’s more like a squiggly line, that zags forward and zips back, just when you thought you were moving forward. Knowing this helps with the sudden drops in energy and mobility. But today was still a banner day;20180520_141647.jpg we got to the Caribbean waters, physically, feet in it, for the first time. We found a beach that was wheelchair accessible, the one where the ferry docks for the trips to the isle of Cozumel, which we will take soon. After all, that was our original destination.

Thank you all for your prayers and love.

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Blog 11: “Resting in Him”

The drug cartel has moved into Playa del Carmen, our adopted city of residence. I didn’t learn this from any personal experience, just word of mouth. When I saw a police pickup truck with its lights flashing, with one officer standing in the back of the truck, outfitted in a full SWAT uniform, I had to ask “why all the muscle?”  When I saw a car being pulled over by the police, with one officer carrying an assault rifle while questioning the driver and another standing by looking all SWAT-like at attention, also holding an assault rifle, I wondered if there was going to be shoot-out.

The cartels had not been spotted here before, but we saw them in some of their activities while picking up some street food tacos. The cities of Cancun, Playa, Tulum, and others down the Caribbean Sea coast, make up the state of Quintana Roo, on the Yucatán Peninsula. To say tourism is their main industry would be like saying a cruise ship´s main function is to ferry rich vacationers around to luxurious seaports, that is to say, the economy here doesn’t have any other significant industry, other than I believe they make some tequila on the island of Cozumel.  The police have only two main functions here: hunt for drug traffickers and protect the tourists. So, it’s a very big deal that the drug cartels have been spotted.

We are entering into the hot and rainy season, the off-season, when all the sensible snowbirds have flown back north to avoid the heat. It doesn’t feel so hot, but I believe the humidity is around 150%. The sun is so intense, you have to shield your eyes and squint, even in the shade with your sunglasses on. I shoot baskets at an outdoor covered court as dawn approaches and come back as drenched as if I just walked out of the ocean. Then, if I get back before 7, I can race to the 5th floor roof and the pool before the maid comes up to clean. It’s the most beautiful time of the day for me; it´s cool, the water is cold, the ocean breeze is a natural air conditioner, and you can see the cruise ships coming and going from the island of Cozumel. I would love to share it with Laurie, but she won´t be up for two more hours. It’s now after 1, and it’s so hot I haven’t been out since.

Laurie reached a milestone yesterday, she got out of her wheelchair and walked with a cane.

But between that and her physical therapy and her pool exercises, it takes a lot out of her and she sleeps a lot, sometimes as much as sixteen hours a day. Experts say it’s normal. The brain normally takes up about 20% of our energy, but for a stroke survivor, it’s much higher. When neurons in the brain make connections, it creates over 100 trillion synapses. These synaptic connections are working at reconnecting what was disconnected and new cells are replacing the ones that suffered trauma. So, the affected parts of her body are learning like a baby how to function again. And what her body is learning in physical therapy, her short-term memory is transferred to her long-term memory while she sleeps. So, day and night, God is slowly healing her. I say “healing” because I believe she is recovering quicker than the natural process.

I´m also reading the three-volume set The Christian in Complete Armor by William Gurnall. It´s literally the only three books I brought with me from my massive library that I sold off or gave away before I left Portland. (Everything else is on Kindle). When I sold my roll top desk, a grievous undertaking for a writer, a woman, a lover of Gurnall´s books, bought it and so it helped to medicate the pain of my loss. As for Gurnall lovers: it’s a very exclusive club, so far, I just know about her and me.

I cried out to God this morning and He spoke encouraging words to me through Gurnall. He wrote, “we can´t stand the time of trial and testings in our own strength.” Of course, I’ve always believed and preached that, in theory, but I know prior to this trip I was depending mostly on my own strength to navigate through life. Finances were fine, I was doing some writing and driving for a retirement community once a week and doing a Bible study there. Laurie was working as a florist (until she totally burned out on it). I was relatively comfortable and coasting, which led to a diminishing purpose in life. I still prayed and read the Word in the morning, as has been my habits for over forty years, but quite honestly, I didn’t feel I needed Him too much—I was doing OK. But then life just didn’t have the right flavor.

Much of this trip has been designed by God to correct this. Like other such seasons in my life, I know I´ll be thankful for it, especially when it´s over. Then I read Gurnall´s words: “The one who abandons faith in the midst of a spiritual drought can be compared to the fool who throws away his pitcher the first day the well is dry.”

I know my frailties and know my soul needs to stay under God’s protection to overcome the fears of things we are facing, things mostly in my head—projective fears, fears of things that haven´t happened yet. It´s a strange thing about fear:  a) We can use it as a shield, like if we`re faithful to worry about something we`re doing our part to fix it, and b) If we don´t worry, I guess we just don´t care. And there´s always the right answer on the quiz: c) We´re not worried because we are trusting God.

He comforts me, even though my faith is weak. I sometimes dispute the mercy of God and wondering if He has forgotten us and will fail to rescue us. If I keep surrendering my doubts and fears, He sends His relief in many small and sometimes larger ways. Two scriptures come readily to mind. Jesus said that not even a sparrow falling to the ground escapes His notice. That being true, how much more does He look out for His own people? And then He adds, “Oh you of little faith.” (Ouch) In other words, why worry about something that He is already in full control of? And the other one: ¨My God shall provide all of your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus.”

 Mark Twain once said, “I´ve had many worries in my life, but most of them never happened.” I believe he would agree with Jesus.

 

Blog 10: It’s Not How You Fall, It’s How you Get Up.

This is supposed to be a travel blog of sorts, but since Laurie’s stroke, traveling has been reduced to grocery shopping, church, and physical therapy. But it is what it has become, not by choice. I was thinking how much I like retirement, especially that you don’t have to kiss up to a boss in order to get paid. I just go to Mr. ATM, give him my card, and he spits out the money. He never makes me greet him in a certain way when I’m having a bad day. There is no time- clock, so I can come and go as I please. There’s no “one-down” relationship to deal with—Mr. ATM treats me as his equal. And although Mr. ATM doesn’t smile, he at least doesn’t yell and get all worked up about something he thinks I did wrong. He’s actually very even-tempered.

20180506_170519I love shopping locally, picking out fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs and milk. Makes you feel like part of the community. These people are so poor and work hard, seven days a week to make ends meet. And they so appreciate your business, much more than Walmart. And the their food is much better. There’s nothing like a sun-ripened mango.

In my down time from caregiving, I’m reading Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn and realizing how grateful I am that God delivered us from that type of organization.  People who know me know what group I am talking about, and if so, I apologize for any offense you might take from my post, that is not my intent. I fully realize that there are many sincere believers in this group, and that God is using their lives in wonderful ways.

For the vast majority of those who don’t know me, I don’t mention the group because God may very well want them to stay, and I don’t want to do anything that would interfere with that.

I’m just beginning to understand the anger I’ve had against them since leaving ten years ago, which is helping me let go of it. It’s this: They started out as a supernatural move of God in the “Jesus people” movement, where hundreds of hippies like myself got delivered from a life of drugs, insanity, and aimless illusions. Never thought I would ever use this word, but it was organic, (that hurt), free-spirited, and our pastor was called a “brother.” But then it slowly changed. We didn’t notice it much at first, because we were ministering either in Canada or South Africa for 15 out of 17 years. But each time we came back for furlough, we began to see things that made us more and more uncomfortable.

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In a word, it became “controlling,” even though God was still using them to bring hundreds of souls to Christ. The word “headship” was introduced, and with it came a new sense of being dominated, which over the years has led to much spiritual abuse. The problem lies in the “headship” maintaining a “one-down,” parent-child relationship with the member.  I liken it to raising a teenager until about the age of sixteen, and just as the teen slowly begins to break away from their parental influence and begins the natural and healthy process of becoming their own adult, the parent clings on to them and  demands that they stay in a child-parent relationship.

So, the organization is a good place to be converted to Christ, if you don’t mind having a false spiritual authority placed over your lives, commonly referred to as “heavy shepherding,” an authority completely foreign to New Testament leadership principles. The Bible does refer to “headship” in the church, but it is always in reference to Christ being the head of the church. And in a real sense, these leaders have replaced Christ and His authority. In our first service at our new church, the pastor addressed the small congregation and said, “what a privilege it is to be your pastor.” We knew we were in a healthy church.

Back to my anger that I’m letting go of. If they hadn’t changed, I would still be enjoying the wonderful church experience I once enjoyed, the worship, the preaching, the fellowship, not to mention my career as a preacher, none of which I have ever regained. Ronald Reagan was once criticized for leaving the Democratic party for the Republican. He responded, “I didn’t leave the Democrats, they left me.” Likewise, I didn’t leave this religious group, they left me. So, the anger I’ve had with them is over the way they became more heavy-handed and intimidating, which shattered us and our children–all they stood and gave their lives for overseas, trashed in a moment of time. Children don’t recover from that sort of thing as quickly as adults, sometimes never. And we’re just one of hundreds of such families. But knowing where this anger was actually coming from, them departing from the healthy place they came from, is helping me deal with it.

This has been day 34 of our challenging Caribbean get-away. We have unmistakingly seen the hand of God in all of this.  If Laurie had had her stroke one day earlier, in Portland, we would have never gotten to the Caribbean Sea, so our dream would have stopped right there. She loves the sea and the sun and can relax here better than anywhere.  It happened in the city of Cancun, and we ended up at a hospital where a Christian nurse named Lucy is doing the laborious work of gathering all the endless hospital documents 20728273_10210133102419387_4125664610878013531_nfor the insurance and disability claims. She is emailing them to my daughter Rachel, another wonderful nurse, and she’s sending them on to all the right places. This takes an enormous load and frustration off us so we can concentrate more on Laurie’s recovery. These two women can’t imagine the incredible blessing they have been to our lives, in spite of own their jobs and own homes to run. And finally, unable to find a place in Cancun to live, we moved down to Playa del Carmen, where I believe we found the church God has for us and a home that’s perfect for physical therapy, with a rooftop pool and a very motivating view of the sea.

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Thank you, Jesus, and all those who are praying. God is good.