Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

Why Did God Give the Law?

One of my very great desires for our church is that we be a people who understand the law of God and fulfill it in the Spirit of love. The law which God gave to Moses at Mount Sinai a few months after bringing the people out of Egypt has been the victim of some very bad press in the past several hundred years. My guess is that there is a good deal of confusion in our minds when we read on the one hand in Romans 6:14, “You are no longer under law but under grace,” but on the other hand in Romans 3:31, “Do we then overthrow the law by faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”

The Misunderstanding of the Mosaic Law

Part of our confusion is caused by the simple fact that the word law in the New Testament has at least three different meanings when used in different contexts. It can refer to the whole Old Testament, as in Romans 3:19 (where the preceding quotations come from the psalms and prophets). It can refer to part of the OT, as when Jesus says, “I have not come to abolish the law and the prophets” (Matthew 5:17). Specifically, it can refer to that part of the OT written by Moses, the first five books, called the Torah. For example, Jesus said in Luke 24:44, “These are my words which I spoke to you… that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” The third meaning of the term law is not a different part of the OT, but the OT understood in a different way. We will see in a few moments how many in Israel twisted the Mosaic law into legalism. That is, they severed it from its foundation of faith, failed to stress dependence on the Spirit, and thus turned the commandments into a job description for how to earn the wages of salvation.

That is legalism. But there is no Greek word for legalism, so when Paul wanted to refer to this distortion of the Mosaic law, he often used the phrase, “works of law” (e.g., Romans 3:20Galatians 2:163:25). But sometimes he simply used the word law, as when he said, “You are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). We will see that this does not mean: you don’t have to keep the law. It means you are not burdened by it as a job description of how to earn the wages of salvation. So whenever you read the word law in the New Testament, ask yourself: is this the OT, or the writings of Moses, or the legalistic distortion of Moses’ teaching? This will keep us from giving such bad press to the Mosaic law when really it is the legalistic distortion of law that should get the bad press.

What I would like to do today is vindicate Moses from the widespread accusation that he taught a different way of salvation and sanctification than the New Testament does, namely, “by grace through faith… not of works lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Now I know that hardly anyone says that God saved people differently in the OT than he does today. But many Bible teachers say (or imply) that the law of Moses offers a way of salvation different than the way offered in the gospel. That is, virtually everyone agrees that anybody that was justified in the OT was justified by grace through faith; it was a gift of God. But many will still say that the law did not call men to be justified this way; it called them to earn God’s blessings through works, and in doing this it showed men their total inability and drove them to the Savior.

Or to put it another way, many Bible teachers will argue that the Mosaic covenant (made with Israel at Mount Sinai) is fundamentally different from the covenant with Abraham (made earlier) and the New Covenant (established at Calvary) under which we live. The difference, they say, is this: in the Abrahamic covenant and New Covenant salvation is promised freely to be received by faith apart from works of law. But under the Mosaic covenant salvation (or God’s blessing) is not offered freely to faith, but instead is offered as a reward for the works of the law. Since only perfect works could merit salvation from a perfectly holy God and nobody can achieve that, the law simply makes us aware of our sin and misery and pronounces our condemnation. This is probably the most popular view of the Mosaic law in the church today, and it is wrong. It makes a legalistic Pharisee out of Moses, turns the Torah into the very heresy Paul condemned at Galatia, and (worst of all) it makes God into his own enemy, commanding that people try to merit his blessing (and thus exalt themselves) instead of resting in his all sufficient mercy (and thus exalt him).

I want to try to vindicate Moses from this misunderstanding by giving you a biblical theology of the law in a nutshell. It’s a huge topic, but sometimes if we press things together into a nut-size outline, we can plant it in the corner of our mind until it grows into a big tree of insight. Here’s what I will do: I’ll mention the five points I want to make, then go back and give their biblical basis, and then sum them up again. We will close by singing the beauty of God’s law with Psalm 19.

First, the law is fulfilled when we love our neighbor. Second, love is the out-working of authentic, saving faith. Third, therefore the law did not call for meritorious works, but for the obedience which flows from faith. Fourth, therefore we must obey the OT commandments the same way we obey the NT commandments—not in order to win God’s favor, but because we already depend on his free grace and trust that his commands will lead to full and lasting joy. Fifth, we should delight in God’s law, meditate on it day and night, and sing of its value unto all generations.

Love Fulfills the Law

First of all then, love is a fulfilling of the law. The crucial text here is Romans 13:8–10.

Owe no one anything except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (See also Galatians 5:14.)

Paul was not taking a big risk when he boiled the whole law down into one command. He had the authority of Jesus for doing so. Jesus said in Matthew 7:12, “Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” James said it a bit differently (2:8), “If you really fulfill the royal law according to scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well.” So we have three testimonies in the New Testament that what God is trying to do through the law is make loving people out of us. Every single commandment, says Romans 13:9, has love as its aim. So the first point in our nutshell theology of the law is that the law is fulfilled in us when we love our neighbor.

Love Is the Fruit of Faith

The second point is this: love is not a work that we do on our own to show ourselves meritorious to God; it is the fruit of faith in the promises of God. To be sure, genuine love will lead to great labor. But it is not synonymous with labor. It is deeper than labor and prior to labor and enables labor. There are many people laboring for God and neighbor who are not doing it out of love. Love is more than religious practices and humanitarian services. That’s why Paul can say in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “If I give away all I have and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Someone may ask, “Well, if you can die for someone and not have love, what in the world is love?” The answer is that love is not in the world. “Love is from God” (1 John 4:7). Where there is no faith uniting the heart to God, there is no true love. Love is the out-working of genuine, saving faith. Here are the key passages: Galatians 5:6, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” The origin of love is the heart of faith. Further down in Galatians 5:22, love is called the fruit of the Spirit. In other words, it is something we cannot produce without God’s enablement. So how do we become loving people? Galatians 3:5 answers, “The one who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you does so not by works of the law but by the hearing of faith.” The path on which the Spirit comes to us is faith in God’s promises; and when he comes, the fruit he produces is love. Therefore, love is the fruit of the Spirit and the outworking of faith. In 1 Timothy 1:5 Paul puts it like this, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.” Only genuine faith is going to issue into love….

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not seek to avoid a brother who differs, it does not wear a scowl, it does not spread rumors or speak evil of a neighbor, it does not close its ears to the evidences. Instead, love rejoices in the truth and is peaceable, gentle, open to reason. Love looks people in the eye and communicates goodwill. Love does not pout, is not self-pitying, does not use ultimatums to get its own way. That’s what love will look like in the next three months. And what a terrific opportunity we have to prove to ourselves and to the world that our peace is not based merely on sameness. It takes no Christian grace whatever to live in peace where everyone thinks and feels the same. And so the time of controversy in which we find ourselves is not bad; it is a good occasion to test whether there is really grace within us or not.

When I list before myself the demand of love, I know what I must do. I must buttress my faith with some promises. Promises like:

I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10, 11)

When I still my heart with these things and catch a glimpse of God’s bright and sovereign future, then I can love again. I don’t feel threatened anymore. I don’t feel angry or depressed or anxious. I feel like the future is taken care of. And if I am all taken care of, then it feels very natural to want to take care of you, to look you in the eye and smile and want only your good. The point is this: to whatever degree we achieve this divine love for each other, it will be owing to faith in the liberating promises of God.

The Law, in Calling for Love, Calls for Faith

So the first point in our theology of the law was that love fulfills the law. The second point was that love only comes out of faith in God’s promises. The third point, therefore, is that the law did not call for meritorious works, but for the obedience which flows from faith. If love is what the law aimed at, and only faith can love, then the law must teach faith. This is what has been overlooked so often. But it can be shown from Paul’s teaching and from the law itself. The key passage is Romans 9:30–32. Here Paul explains why Israel has not fulfilled the law even though she pursued it for centuries. He says:

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, the righteousness through faith; but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law (or: who pursued the law of righteousness) did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it (i.e., the law) through faith, but as if it were based on works.

That little phrase “as if” or “as though” is tremendously important. It shows clearly that Paul did not believe that God ever intended the law to be obeyed by “works.” That is, if you try to use the law as a job description of how to earn God’s favor you are doing something that the law itself opposes. The law itself is against “the works of the law.” The law never commanded anyone to try to merit his salvation. The law is based on faith in God’s promises, not on legalistic strivings. The mistake of Israel was not in pursuing the law, but in pursuing it by works instead of by faith. (See Romans 3:31Matthew 23:23.)

Now let’s look at the law itself. The ten commandments are the heart of the Mosaic covenant and are found in Exodus 20. Israel has arrived in the wilderness of Sinai three months after the exodus from Egypt. The agony of slavery and the spectacular deliverance through the Red Sea are vivid in their memories. (Think how vivid the concentration camp would still be three months after the allied liberation!) One of God’s purposes in the exodus was to cause his people to trust him, that he would take care of them and bring them to the promised land. So Exodus 14:31 says, “And Israel saw the great work which the Lord did against the Egyptians, and the people feared the Lord; and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.”

Therefore, when the ten commandments begin, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2, 3), God meant: “Remember how I demonstrated my love for you and my incomparable power on your behalf! Trust in me now, and look to no other source for help.” The ten commandments are based on a call for faith in the God of the exodus, just like the moral teachings of the NT are based on a call for faith in the Lord of Good Friday and Easter.

The exodus was a sign for Israel, just like the death and resurrection of Jesus are a sign for the church. The meaning of the sign is that God is for you and will work for you and take care of you if you will only trust him. The past event of the exodus is a sign of God’s willingness to help Israel in the future. Therefore, the faith God aims to produce through the exodus is a confidence that God will do for us in the future what he has done in the past. This is made clear in Deuteronomy 1:29–32 where Moses recounts why Israel refused to enter the promised land and was forced to wander 40 years in the desert. Moses had said to them when they first approached the promised land, “Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes…. Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God.” (See also Numbers 14:1120:12Deuteronomy 9:22–24.)

The exodus was a sign that God would take care of Israel in the future. Therefore, the exodus was the foundation of Israel’s faith. And this faith is the basis of the law. The law of Moses simply spells out the way Israelites will live if they genuinely feel their future is secure in God. You don’t steal if your future is secure in God. You can’t abuse others for self-gain by killing or lying or seducing another’s spouse or dishonoring your parents, if you really believe the God of the exodus and the God of Easter is at work to give you the future that is best for you. All these sins come from not believing God. The law is a description of the obedience of faith; it is not a job description for how to earn the wages of God’s blessings.

The Law Is Fulfilled by the Obedience of Faith

So the first point in our theology of the law was that love fulfills the law. The second point was that love is the outworking of faith. And the third point was that, therefore, the law itself does not demand meritorious works, but only the obedience which comes from faith. The fourth point follows naturally, namely: we must therefore obey (or fulfill) the OT commandments the same way we must obey the NT commandments—not to win God’s favor, but because we already depend on his free grace and trust that his commands will lead to full and lasting joy. Of course since Christ has come and fulfilled the sacrificial side of the OT (1 Corinthians 5:7), and has declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19), and has founded a new people of God which is not a national or ethnic group, many of the OT commandments do not apply to us (e.g., dietary laws, laws about sacrifices, laws pertaining to political organizations and national action). But vast portions of the OT describe dimensions of obedience which are true for God’s people in any age.

Romans 8:3, 4 teaches that the law itself is powerless to produce this kind of obedience. The letter kills; it is the Spirit that gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6). Therefore, God sent Christ to atone for sin (Romans 8:3), that he might pour the Holy Spirit into our hearts, “in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). Thus Paul teaches that we should not leave the law behind, not reject the law for something else, but fulfill the law in the power of the Holy Spirit through faith which works itself out in love.

We Should Delight in God’s Law and Sing of Its Value

In conclusion, then, the points are these: first, the law is fulfilled in us when we love our neighbor as ourselves. Second, love is the outworking of genuine, saving faith. Third, therefore, the law did not teach us to try to produce meritorious works, but only taught us to trust the gracious God of the exodus and to live out the obedience of faith. Fourth, therefore, the Mosaic covenant is not fundamentally different from the Abrahamic and New Covenants, for we should obey the commandments of all three from the very same motive—not to win God’s favor, but because we already depend on his free grace and trust that his commands will lead to full and lasting joy. The final point, then, is that we should delight in God’s law, meditate on it day and night (Psalm 119:97), and sing of his value to all generations (Psalm 19:7–14).

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Jesus was so large of heart, so large of spirit, so endless in consciousness. Like, you don’t even need to think he is the son of God. Just think of him, first, as a man. He was such a man of beauty. Impatient with hate, dismissive of judgement, large of heart. Jesus was a beautiful man. Giving, forgiving, listening, understanding, relating, empathising. He was what some call, a son of mercy. How did his followers get so angry, and faithful and full of the fury of condemnation, and … xenophobia.

It’s all this ‘heretical’ teachings that take symbols and words and twist and bed them to fit whatever prejudice is in vogue in that age. Every generation has had its interpretation of the book of Revelations for 2000+ years. To fit its social context, and in this generation, our apocalyptic influencers insist the job of Christians is to delay the anti-Christ. *Shudders* And delaying the anti christ often means, in their telling, fighting ‘sin’, attacking the ‘sinful’, fighting cultural wars. To do this, they often descend on the book of Revelations and stretch and pull every word and symbol until it fits that assignment.

I have no doubt that they truly, truly believe in what they say, and their hearts may be in the right place. But it’s oh so dangerous. When Christians leave the simple, clear words and teachings of Jesus and the example of his life and witness, to pursue… evil.

Like sometimes I understand why the world is so cynical, so suspicious of Christians and Christian motive. Why they disconnect from our culture, and attack beautiful experiences like worship, or tongues, or prayer. They don’t see what I see when I am in many gatherings and I see the family of God’s children in worship, in fellowship, Connected, broken, emptied of self and ego and ambition, and fear and hate. Ah, worship, it’s a blessing to watch people in worship.

Then, those same people get into the world after service and then they become this judgemental, angry set of people. It really confuses me. Really confounds me. Like, how did you lose that pure state, that Jesus-state, so soon? How did you let it go? How did you let love go? How did you let compassion go?

Jesus was a disruptor. He was a spiritual disruptor. And that disruption was to the Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and all of that of the times the eye-for-an-eye, God-of-wrath stranglehold. His disruption was love. If it wasn’t love, then there was no point of His coming. The religions of the time already had judgement, condemnation down to a part. If that’s what he came here for, then it was unnecessary. But he came because his message was radical and revolutionary.

The way I see it. God was tired of the disruption of his true image for millions of years. He sent Jesus to make it right. To reveal his true nature that prophets and priests had struggled with for years. Jesus came to earth to model God’s true nature. That’s why it’s so difficult to justify a gospel of hate with his life. You can’t use Jesus’s words to justify this self-righteousness. You often have to turn to flawed apostles, or visioners. I’ll stick with Jesus. I’ll always cast my lot with Jesus. Stop “fighting for God”. He doesn’t need your help. What he asked you do is work on your life and bring others to him through that life. 

Listen, Jesus didn’t send the church to fight the devil for him. Nope. Jesus already won that battle on the cross. It is finished.

Anytime the Bible teaches about the Devil, it’s in relation to a Christian’s personal life. Resist the devil and he will flee “FROM YOU”. It’s not for you to carry weapons and go claiming you are fighting the devil. God doesn’t need your help to fight the devil. God needs you help to fight for your salvation and to draw others to him. And his weapon for that is love. The more you spend time fighting the world, the less time you have living a better life as a Christian. 

Matthew 7:5

Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. (NLT) 

When Christians stop persuading and start coercing, we have moved so far from what Jesus thought, we’ve practically turned our backs on Him.  Here’s what Walter Brueggemann has to say about “Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God.” 

I so desperately want people to meet Jesus. To meet this beautiful, incredible guy. All this hate from Christians makes it so hard. 

Important reading: “The Problem with, Hate the Sin Love the Sinner” 

“Using “hate the sin” as a license for cruelty defeats the purpose of proclaiming truth.”

Before and after: two simple words frequently used to describe a city in western Guatemala named Almolonga.  The locals consistently refer to their city in terms of two eras: before the power of God came in the mid- 1970s, and after, when it is reported that 90% of the 18,000 residents became born-again Christians.  The way the people of Almolonga say “before” is reminiscent of how others might say, “in the dark ages.”

After:  The word signals a new epoch for the city, marked by family harmony, prosperity and peace in the Holy Spirit.  The contrast is stark and real to these people who remember how, just 25 years ago, demons, fear, poverty, disease, idolatry, and alcohol dominated their region and their families.

Some call Almolonga the “Miracle City” because of the radical   transformations in many dimensions of this ethnically Quiché society (descendants of the Mayans).  Some Christian leaders say Almolonga is the best example they’ve seen of how intercession, spiritual warfare, and evangelism can transform a community.

Driving into Almolonga, one is immediately struck by the brilliant green hues of the fertile fields spreading throughout this magnificent valley.  Even before the onset of the rainy season, when much of the Guatemalan landscape is still dry, Almolonga remains vibrant and lush.  Hence, Almolonga is nicknamed   “America’s Vegetable Garden”.

Almolonga, Guatemala

A weak church

But it wasn’t always so.  About 25 years ago, the Church was small and weak, the fields were undeveloped and the city was characterized by an alcohol-induced lethargy – the fruit of serving an idol named Maxirnon.  This perverse idol is associated with the vices of smoking, drinking liquor, and immorality.  Maximon is a 3-foot idol consisting of a clay mask and a wood and cloth body.  He receives the kisses of the faithful who kneel before him.  Placing at his feet bottles of liquor purchased with their meagre earnings, they hope against hope that their offering will bring blessing and healing.  The priest   offers lit cigars to the idol, and taking a mouthful of the liquor offering, spews it over the devotees.  The followers leave expecting a blessing, perhaps receiving a demonic display of power, but nonetheless slipping deeper and deeper into an abyss of oppression.

Sadly, his influence is so strong that he is considered the patron saint and protector of many Guatemalan mountain villages.  In addition to serving Maximon, many of the residents of Almolonga once sought the blessing of other idols as well.  Pastor Genero Riscaiché, one of the pastors at Almolonga’s largest church, Mission Evangelical Monte Calvario, notes, “Before, this was a very idolatrous town.  There were many different types of idols.  Many worshipped the silver image of Almolonga’s patron saint, San   Pedro.”

But in 1974-75 the Kingdom of God dramatically started clashing with Maximon and the ruling powers of darkness controlling Almolonga.  Following the pattern of historic revivals, God first began this community transformation in the heart of one of his consecrated servants.  Mariano Riscaiché (no relation to Genero), now the pastor of El Calvario Church, was a typical young man of Almolonga who sought the protection and blessing of idols before he encountered the living God.

At his conversion, Pastor Mariano heard the Lord say, “I have elected you to serve Me.”   He said it was like waking from a dream; his understanding was opened and the promises of the Bible became real.  Pastor Mariano’s burning desire was to see people come to Christ and find freedom.  Then, one by one, his own family was saved.

Power encounters


Jesus is Lord of Almolonga


A new season of power encounters with Maximon began shortly after Pastor Mariano’s surrender to Christ.  Mariano and other pastors in town, such as Guillermo Satey, founding and senior pastor of Mission Evangelical Monte Calvario, saw more than 400 people delivered from demons.  When believers asked a demon to identify itself, “Maximon” was sometimes uttered by the oppressed one.  This mass deliverance was similar to the book of Acts where people burned their possessions that linked them to a past consumed by witchcraft and idolatry.  “Those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them.” (Acts 19:19, NASB).  The eviction of these demons not only brought freedom to individuals, but the spiritual oppression over the city began to lift as well.

The early days of spiritual warfare were extremely intense.  Those being set free were sometimes thrown across the room, and at times coughed up blood.  The Church continued steadfast in intercession, spiritual warfare, and evangelism as the name of Jesus was demonstrated to be the dominant force in this battle.  Pastor Mariano asserts that the enemy had to be confronted directly and boldly.

One of those set free from demonic control was a powerful priest of Maximon named José Albino Tazei.  Many people in Almolonga sought him out to heal their illnesses, foresee their future, and to bless their businesses.  But one night, José, near death after a month-long drinking binge, cried out to God to save him.  At 11:00 pm, José woke his family to share the glorious news of his new-found freedom in Christ.  In repentance, the family burned all of their idols and witchcraft paraphernalia.  The following day José went to the mountains to fast and seek the Lord.

Witnessing this well-known slave to witchcraft come to Christ intensified the Church’s intercession for God to transform not only individuals like José, but their whole community as well.

Before his conversion José would abandon the family for eight to ten days at a time to drink and conduct witchcraft activities for Maximon.  He often left his family without any money for food.  As his dedication to Maximon grew, so did his addiction to alcohol.

José’s oldest daughter, Francisca, grimaces and lowers her voice as she recounts the memory of herself and the other children kneeling before Maximon, burning candies and bringing their offerings.  But quickly she diverts the subject to “after we surrendered to Jesus” and joyfully asserts that God changed everything 24 years ago.  She proudly inserts, “We were some of the first converts during the mid 70s.”

“Before we received Christ, we didn’t have any money, little food, or a decent house, and only clothes discarded by others,” she continues.  “My father started seeking God and fasting.  He began a business and started working diligently.  Now, God has given us a house, a small store, and a calm, hard-working, godly father.”

Francisca recounts, “The church accepted us and didn’t leave us in the middle.  They loved us and visited us, and really struggled with us as we became established in Christ.” This care for new converts is one of the key ways God has used to maintain and deepen the effects of this revival.

As his grip started loosening, the evil one instigated a persecution against the Church.  Some merchants would not even sell food to believers recently set free from the old ways.  Enemies of the Gospel would go into church and do witchcraft to disrupt the services.  The believers suffered under this backlash for years, but one particular incident stands out in Pastor Mariano’s memory.  Six men attacked him, tying his hands behind his back.  They knocked his front teeth out, then one man shoved a gun in his mouth.  Pastor Mariano prayed for God to cover him, and as the Lord’s presence descended he heard the  “click… click… click” of the gun, unable to fire.  Bewildered by this divine intervention, his attackers ran away.

Pastor Genero, a native of Almolonga, describes the early resistance to the Gospel as follows: “If a person from outside Almolonga came to someone’s home to share the Gospel, people would kick them out of their house with sticks, stones, and even shovels.  It was terrible!  They didn’t view the Gospel as Good News, but as something offensive.  Unbelievers circulated rumours about the Church and accused the Christians of being lazy.”  Some of the unbelievers threw stones at houses where the church met for prayer.  Pastor Genero notes, “Many of those who threw stones are now leaders in the church.  Things have now changed, for even the non-Christians respect the Gospel.”

As one who has pastored a little over one year in Almolonga, Pastor Joel  Pérez agrees and says, “Even unbelievers in Almolonga recognize the  marvellous work of God.  These few unbelievers acknowledge that the advances in their society and agriculture are due to the Gospel.  They do not resist the Church now, as we heard about in the early days.  More than once, I have been eating in a restaurant and someone has said, “You are a pastor, aren’t you?  I’m not a Christian, but let me buy your lunch.’”

Since the power of God started transforming the community, crime has taken a definite downturn.  Donato Santiago, chief of police, can sometimes be spotted resting in the shade during market days.  Armed with a whistle, this tranquil brother has seen it all during his 23 years as a policeman in Almolonga.  “We used to average 20 to 30 people in jail each month,” he recounts.”  Crowds would gather just to watch the drunks fight.  It seemed like I had no rest.  I was often awakened in the middle of the night to stop family violence.  Before, we had four jails and that was insufficient to adequately house all of our prisoners,” Donato recalls.  “Things were so bad we enlisted around a dozen citizens at night to help the officers patrol the streets.  But now things are different!  The people have changed their attitudes.  Crime has risen in many places over the past 20 years, but not here in Almolonga.”

What accounts for this dramatic change in the townspeople?  Donato is quick to respond, “The Word of God!  Once people were converted they changed their customs and left behind drinking.  They gained respect in the community.  Day by day the rest followed and joined the church because of the changes they saw in the lives of Christians.  People living with a deep respect for God accounts for the changed attitudes.  Crime and drinking are now viewed by the people as a waste of time and a waste of money.”

The last jail closed in 1989!  Now remodelled and called “The Hall of Honour,” it’s a place for celebrating weddings, receptions, and community events.   In addition to the drop in the crime rate, great societal changes can also be observed by the absence of prostitutes and the number of bars turned into small stores with new names like “Little Jerusalem” and “Jehovah Jireh.”  Before, there was a house of prostitution and people often waited in line to get into the packed bars.  “There was even a custom in which we threw a party and gave alcohol (in small portions) to the little ones,” says Pastor Genero.  In the 1970s, 34 cantinas did a brisk business in Almolonga; today there are only three.  After the bars started shutting down, a new one opened but the owner closed the doors when he met the Lord three months later.   He now plays in a Christian band called “Combo Israel.”

Miracles

God’s mercy over Almolonga is evidenced in many ways, but one often-repeated display of grace is the incredible number of miracles.  Many have come to Christ through signs and wonders.  Teresa and her family found new life in Christ after she received a last-chance miracle.  In 1984, the incision from her poorly performed Cesarean section became infected.  This gangrenous state progressed to the point where she couldn’t eat; drinking was extremely difficult.

Teresa continued to weaken.  Different doctors each said that she was in a very dangerous state.  Valeriano, her husband, remembers the days of just hopelessly waiting for her to die.  She died about 10:00 pm one night.  Her husband checked for a pulse and placed a mirror beneath her nostrils to see if she was breathing, but there were no signs of life.  For three hours she lay motionless.  Grief stricken, at 1:00 AM Valeriano went to look for Pastor Mariano to make funeral preparations.  As Pastor Mariano and Valeriano were walking back to the house, Pastor Mariano heard the unmistakable voice of the Lord saying, “Do not prepare for the funeral; pray for her.  I will lift her up.’

Pastor Mariano recalls coming into the home seeing distraught people frantically running back and forth.  He grabbed Valeriano and they began to pray for God’s miraculous intervention.  After 10 minutes, Teresa suddenly began stirring.  Her colour returned and she sat up on the bed! Valeriano was astounded at this display of God’s power.  Pastor Mariano began to preach the Gospel to all the neighbours and family who had gathered at the home that night.  And in the days that followed, many believed.

Teresa’s strength was restored day by day.  In deep gratitude, she and Valeriano also gave their lives to Christ.  Now people come to their home to receive prayer for healing.  Remembering her miracle inspires faith when Teresa prays for others; she has witnessed many miracles as a result.  Valeriano now preaches the Gospel and testifies of a miracle working Heavenly Father.  He joyfully says, “God is the only one who is on our side and only he can do these miracles.”

Just as Vateriano and Teresa’s family opened their hearts to the Gospel after this powerful miracle, in many cases the revival has spread through family units.  Pastor Mariano articulates a truth held dear in Almolonga when he says, “True success is when your whole family comes to the Lord.” Therefore believers seriously fast and pray to bring their family into God’s family.

Families redeemed

Although the women still weave and wear the beautiful indigenous dresses and carry heavy loads upon their heads (like Quiché women have for hundreds of years), they walk in a new dignity – a result of the redemption of the family.  Prior to God’s inbreaking, Pastor Genero recalls,  “The majority of men drank and the homes were disorderly.  Neglect and physical abuse were rampant.  It was common for men to hit their wives, sometimes even with sticks.”

“The family system before was at the bottom,” comments Pastor Francisco Garcia of Iglesia de Dios de la Profecia Universal.  Women were largely viewed simply as servants.  Pastor Genero comments, “Before, the custom was that only the men would study.  We believed that schools were not for women.  Since the Gospel came, we teach that both sexes have the same opportunities.  Today we see some women who are professionals.”

Ramon Cotzoy’s wife recalls the earlier days.  “My husband would sometimes treat me harshly and try to throw me out of the house.  Things have changed.   Now he is a humble man of God.”

Ramon admits that he neglected and mistreated his family prior to surrendering to Christ.  Now he ministers to men in the community and exhorts them to stop drinking and start loving their families.  Ramon observes, “Because the unbelievers see the peaceful example of how the Christian men are living with their families, they are treating their wives better now.”

“Today there is more communication within families and very little abuse in Almolonga.  In the church, we teach a lot on biblical family orientation,” says Pastor Genero.  “Couples solve their problems through dialogue and communication.”

This renewal of family harmony has opened the way for the Spirit of God to span the generations and impact all age groups, including the youth and children.  The youth do not view Christianity as simply something for the older people.  There is a new thrust of youth-motivated home groups with the focus to bring the remaining unsaved youth in the city to Christ.  Pastor Joel observes, “The youth are getting hold of God.  In different churches some of the youth groups even go on special fasting retreats.”

Chief of Police Santiago says, “The parents are taking better care of their children now.” Santiago explains why there aren’t teens loitering around town.  “The youth work hard to buy farm trucks.  This atmosphere of diligent work is the best atmosphere to grow up in.”

Seeing the youth and children cheerfully working alongside their parents in the fields and marketplace evokes a smile in visitors to Almolonga.  Pastor Mariano’s father, one of the oldest men in the city, observes, “Everyone in Almolonga works.  Even the 12-15-year olds fill a truck with vegetables to sell.   They throw themselves into God and into their work.”

Community transformation

This work ethic has produced an economic renewal, an incredible dimension of community transformation throughout Airnolonga.  There is no evidence of the unemployment, the beggars, the drunkards asleep in alleyways, or the loiterers that so often characterize similar places.  In other cities around this region people often appear exhausted with life.  Not so in Almolonga.

The people’s diligence and tenacity have seen this valley come alive with multiple harvests each year.  Celery, leeks, cauliflower, turnips, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, radishes, and watercress thrive under the skilful care of Almolonga’s farmers.  These vegetables are often incredibly larger than the size of those grown in the surrounding villages.  Pastor Joel attributes this agricultural blessing to the Lord of Glory.  He mentioned a time when agronomists from the U.S.A. visited Almolonga to test their scientific principles to produce better crops.  The result?  Pastor Joel says, “The wisdom God gave the farmers of Almolonga produced more than the scientific methods yielded.”

A subterranean stream provides a constant source of water for the farms.  These lucrative products have elevated the lifestyles of many of the believers.  Pastor Mariano’s father was one of the former bar owners who now runs a tienda (small store) and raises vegetables.  He reports that the greatest changes in commerce came in the 80s because the farmers not only quit spending their money on liquor, but they began to incorporate principles from God’s Word, saving and investing their profits.  Before the farmers would farm just enough to support their drinking habit; they had no vision beyond that.

Then God started giving the farmers understanding.  They began to plan ahead and invest in topsoil and fertilizers.  Some farmers have even paid cash for Mercedes trucks, emblazoning them with names like Regalito de Dios (“Little Gift from God”).  Many farmers have now hired others to work their fields.  They are even developing farms in the surrounding communities as they shift from being farmers to businessmen.  Mariano’s father marvels, “We never dreamed of selling our produce outside of Guatemala, but now we export to other nations.”

Church unity

Since this relatively small town has so many growing churches, a question often arises concerning the relationship between the pastors.  Pastor Joel describes the fellowship among pastors as “a tight fraternity of ministers.”  He further notes,  “We have an agenda of prayer and fasting.  We go outside the city to a hill to pray and earnestly seek the Lord …  When we have little things come up or if the enemy tries to interrupt our unity, we quickly restore it through seeking the Lord for more souls to come into the Kingdom.”

Pastor Genero says, “Presently we are strengthening our fellowship.  Years ago there was an association of pastors, but it faded out because of individuality.  This year we have restored the pastoral association again.”  Two Christian radio stations service Almolonga.  Pastor Joel reports that these stations enhance unity by allowing air time for all the evangelical pastors to use for a token price.

Reaching 90% of the city with the Gospel doesn’t satisfy the pastors’ evangelistic zeal.  Pastor Francisco emphatically asserts, “We are applying God’s guidance for the churches to keep growing.  We have the goal to reach the whole town!”

Pastor Mariano believes God is giving the Church insight into the strategies to deepen and extend this community impact into future generations.  His heart breaks when he hears about powerful revivals which were not passed along to the next generation.  To maintain the results already reached in Almolonga, Pastor Mariano’s strategy encompasses a fivefold focus:

living in the fear of the Lord,

maintaining intense prayer and fasting,

building Christian schools,

caring for new converts,

and establishing strong families.

Firstly, he urges his flock to, “always live under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Live your life in the fear of the Lord as a good testimony.  When we truly live the Christian life, demonic principalities are more easily overthrown.”

Secondly, to maintain the results won through intercession and spiritual warfare, the Church must continue steadfast in prayer and fasting.  Long past the breakthroughs in the 70s, many believers in Almolonga continue weekly disciplines of prayer and fasting.  At El Calvario Church, people are held accountable to participate in prayer and fasting.

Thirdly, Pastor Mariano is taking steps to build a Christian school, which he believes is critical to sustain the revival.  He says that the children not only need an education, but a Christ-centred education taught by Christian teachers.  “Education without Christian teachers can set up a counterattack from Satan by introducing traditions outside of Christianity.  Then all that we have reached [in the revival] can crumble.”

A fourth ingredient to maintain revival is an intentional plan to care for the new Christians.  Someone from the church personally visits the new believers.  They hold special discipleship meetings focusing on basic Bible doctrines.  Deliverance and a clear break with their past life are important.  “We inspire them toward diligent hard work, debt reduction and to live in the fear of God.  New believers are instructed to prepare themselves for baptism.  Fasting is one of the first spiritual disciplines taught to the new Christian,” reports Pastor Mariano.

The fifth and final major focus to sustain the revival’s impact is establishing strong families.  Christians are instructed to only marry fellow believers.  One counter-cultural measure El Calvario introduced in the late 1970s was the concept of letting people decide for themselves whom they would marry.  Today, parents are consulted and there is a process of obtaining parental blessing and approval in mate selection, but the decision rests with the couple.  Before, the parents would determine whom their children would marry.  A courtship period was also unheard of in their culture; now they recommend a 6-month to a year courtship during which the couple gets to know each other.  This has increased marital harmony within the Christianity community.  Consequently, other churches in the community also follow similar plans.

Testimonies of individuals being changed relationally, spiritually, and financially by God’s power are common in Christianity.  But the amazing distinctive of Almolonga is that Christians there tell their testimony not simply as individuals, but collectively, as families and as a people.

Visiting a service at El Calvario Church is a little taste of Heaven.  The church building is one of Guatemala’s largest and most beautiful.  This debt-free sanctuary (seating 1200+) is the gathering place of exuberant worshippers.   Their release of emotions toward the Son of God is noteworthy because culturally these people are generally stoic and very reserved in expressing their emotions.  To watch this passion for Jesus, especially among the youth and children, it is hard to imagine that only a generation back, their families were in bondage to alcohol, idols, and demons.  Perhaps that legacy of suffering explains the great abandon with which they worship Jesus: these people know they have something to celebrate!

__________

See Almolonga stories also in Great Revival Stories and Transforming Revivals

Mell Winger has a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary.

This article is reproduced with permission from Chapter 17 of The Transforming Power of Revival, edited by Harold Caballeros and Mell Winger (Peniel Press, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1998). 

Share this page to bless others – see links below. 

A video called Transformation, including a report on Almolonga in Guatemala and Cali in Columbia, is available from Toowoomba City Church, PO Box 2216, Toowoomba, Qld. 4350.  Ph: 07 4638 2399.  E-mail: tccemail@tcchurch.com.au 

See also Renewal Journal # 17 Unity “Shapshots of Glory” by George Otis Jr.

©  Renewal Journal #16: Vision (2000, 2012)  www.renewaljournal.com


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Sometimes finishing well looks different than you think it does.

You don’t have to be everything to everyone to finish well. You don’t have to do it all and then some to be counted among the greats. You don’t have to travel far and wide or spread yourself thin to be valued.

Finishing well has more to do with your character than your time, status or audience.

Finishing well might mean that someone carries you across the finish line when you don’t have anything left to give.

Finishing well might entail helping someone else break through the tape at the end of the race.

You don’t have to be the best, look the best, or feel the best to be a champion in My Book.

You might cross the finish line broken and bruised—like I did—but holding a victory that cannot be taken and does not spoil or fade (see 1 Peter 1:3-9).

Sometimes finishing well is getting last place, just showing up, trying again and not giving up.

My economy is so different than yours. I value the weak. I pass out awards to the banged-up. I fill up the empty. I lay down my life instead of exerting entitlement.

Bow instead of bulldoze.

Dance instead of despair.

Give instead of hoard.

Listen instead of sounding off.

Stoop instead of strut.

Pick others up instead of sprinting ahead.

Finishing well looks different than you think.

It’s not about applause but about attitude. It’s not about accolades but an ability to endure when no one is cheering. It’s not about advancement but about being faithful with what He has set before you.

Sometimes it’s about resting, relenting and relinquishing.

Sometimes it’s about giving in order to gain and conceding in order to conquer.

Don’t give up. I go with You. I am for you. You can trust me to be strong in your weakness.

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” –2 Corinthians 12:10

I finished well. Follow My Lead.

Love,
Me

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