Monday, November 30, 2009

Sermon Text for Sunday, December 6, 2009 (2nd Sunday of Advent)

Luke 1:5-17, NIV

The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold

5 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.

8 Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

For His Glory!
Pastor Joe

Monday, November 23, 2009

"Don't Miss the Party!" Sermon Text for Sunday, November 29, 2009, Luke 15:25-32

This week's sermon text is Luke 15:25-32, the conclusion to the larger passage of Luke 15. Last week we saw a picture of a God who is infinitely greater in His display of grace than we could have ever imagined. The Prodigal Son discovered that he could come home again and that his father would welcome him. It was a Thanksgiving to Remember. The dutiful older brother had never left home, but in our passage this week, we discover that his heart too was in the far country. There is hope for the embittered and the angry. The cross of Jesus brings the sweetness of God's grace into our lives. This Sunday we will also be sharing together in the Lord's Supper. I hope that you are planning on joining us. "Don't Miss the Party!"

25 "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'

28 "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'

31 " 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "

For His Glory!
Pastor Joe

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Thanksgiving to Remember, Luke 15:11-24

The Sunday prior to Thanksgiving Day is an appropriate time to reflect upon our blessings and to give gratitude to God for all of His good gifts. Join us this Sunday as we corporately express our thanks to God. Sunday's message, "A Thanksgiving to Remember" will be based on the beloved redemption story known as the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-24.

11 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.

13 "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20 So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 "The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 "But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

For His Glory!
Pastor Joe

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Based on my conversation, October 21, 2009 at First Indian Baptist Church, Gallup, New Mexico, by Joe Alain

Lorenzo, or Juan as I was introduced to him is a traditional Navajo Medicine Man who lives with his wife Kathleen on the Navaho reservation at Church Rock just outside the city of Gallup. Juan is probably in his early 50s and has a warm and likeable personality. Kathleen is a little bit more reserved but she too warms up to you once she gets to know you. The Navajo in general are a little hesitant at first to open up to Anglos. This is understandable as there is a long history of mistrust between the Native Americans and the Anglos. Two shirts for sale in the Gallup Flea Market intimated the cultural divide between Native Americans and Anglos. One shirt had a rendering of an Indian in traditional dress and stated, “Sure you can trust the government. Ask an Indian.” The other shirt had renderings of various Indians with traditional weapons, some standing and some on horses, with the slogan, “Homeland Security . . . Fighting Terrorism Since 1492.”

During our brief stay, I observed that it would take a substantial investment in building relationships to really make a lasting impact among the Navajo people. Mark and Beverly Chandler have been doing just that, working with Juan and Kathleen for some time now and have developed a wonderful relationship with them. Juan and Kathleen are one of the main families that they work their ministry through on the reservation. This in itself is quite a miracle considering Juan’s religious upbringing and traditions. Juan and Kathleen live in a one-room Hogan, an octagonal-shaped ceremonial home. The Hogan is considered sacred to those who practice the Navajo religion. The doorways of the Hogans always face east. Juan attempted to describe to me the story behind the Hogan in this way. A baby was brought forth and dropped through the center of the roof (which is circular at the top) and the woman of the house threw the baby out the Eastern door. I really didn’t quite understand this origin story and did not find anything like this in my research. However, I did discover that according to Navajo legend, Talking God instructed First Man and First Woman on how to construct and build a Hogan. All Navajo ceremonies and sings for curing the sick are conducted in Hogans.

Next to their one entrance is a lone wood stove which provides their heat and a cooking source. In this one room Hogan is a bed, a small kitchen area and a work table where Juan and Kathleen make handcrafted jewelry from silver, turquoise, and other precious gems. They make their jewelry under contract. From speaking with them, we learned that the contractor had threatened to let them go for some apparent reason. Juan and Kathleen probably make very little for their jewelry. I’m sure they could do much better if they would market their jewelry in another way, but maybe they do not know any better or do not desire to do things differently. It was sad to see this couple making this beautiful jewelry working almost as indentured servants or slave laborers. Fortunately, some of our team was able to purchase some beautiful pieces from them, offering them substantially more money than they receive under their contract work.

On Wednesday, Robert Fontenot (a young man from Louisiana who is working with Pastor Mark) and Beverly (Mark’s wife) brought Juan and Kathleen to the church for lunch. After lunch, Juan asked me to play some music for him. He pulled up a chair right next to me and observed my music book from which I was playing. He especially liked the song, “Amazing Grace My Chains Are Gone,” singing along with me the best that he could do. He asked me to send him a recording of me singing this song and other songs that I would like to include which I plan on doing. In between songs Juan really opened up to me in a way that was truly amazing. He told me that he felt comfortable around me and that God was speaking through me. This surprised and humbled me, especially since I had not spoken that much to him up to this point. I sensed that this was a special moment and I felt honored that here was this Navajo man who I barely knew that was so open with me about the Navajo ways and spiritual matters, which in the Navajo tradition are inextricably intertwined. I just knew that this was a special “God moment” and I prayed for wisdom as I listened to and spoke with him.

Juan enjoyed my music and he said that it soothed him. I felt as if I were David gently plucking the strings of my guitar for Saul. Juan actually speaks English fairly well, but that does not necessarily mean that you can understand everything he is trying to say. The Native American world view is so different from our Western world view. Navajo time, sequences, stories, and concepts do not always find a parallel in Western thought. Mark, the Pastor of First Indian told me that there are a good number of words in English that simply have no Navajo equivalent. This makes understanding the Navajo culture a real challenge.

As we sat together, Juan explained to me his journey of faith. He said that once he held the Navajo ways (religion) very high, while he held the Bible in low regard. He illustrated the difference by holding his right hand up very high which stood for the Navajo ways and his left hand very low which stood for the Bible. He then told me that now the Bible and the Navajo ways are about even for him. He held his hands out and even to illustrate to me how far he had progressed in his appreciation for the Bible. I complimented his openness to the truth of the Bible and encouraged him to continue discovering what the Bible has to say to him. I told Juan that the Bible was God’s truth and that Jesus Himself had said that if we continue in the Word of God, we will know the truth and the truth will set us free.

During our conversation, Juan shared with me a vision that he recently had. Through my reading about Native American culture, I have discovered that Native Americans place a great value and importance in visions and dreams. They are an accepted way for God, the Great Spirit, to speak to people. Juan related the story of his vision in a very tangible way. Even though he did not fully understand what took place physically, there was no doubting in his mind that this was an actual spiritual occurrence that had happened to him.

I will try to restate as accurately as I remember what Juan said he witnessed in his vision. Juan said that he was in his home with his eyes closed for some time. Suddenly he was transported and was standing in front of a large door in Bethlehem. He entered through the door into a large temple-like area. He noticed a bright ray or beam of light. He did not speak in the vision. I can not recall if Juan said he did not speak or that he could not speak. This ray of light was very bright and beautiful. There were specks of dust visible in the light and He reached out to touch the light. This went on for several minutes. As he stood in the light, there were orbs (that’s the best way that I can describe how Juan described them to me) that were like fuzzy balls that were varied in color. These colored orbs were bouncing around the temple area. They eventually came into contact with Juan as he stood there in the room. Juan said that these round lights that came upon him made him feel very peaceful, happy, and full of joy.

About this time, Juan heard a voice that was at first almost like the hum of the Navajo as they hum a sacred song. Juan hummed a traditional Navajo tune for me to illustrate what the sound was like to him. He said that the humming became louder and clearer all the time that he was experiencing the round orbs that came upon him making him feel loved and joyful. The voice finally spoke from the light telling Juan that all of things he was experiencing (the orbs of joy and love and peace) were being experienced because Jesus died and gave his life for him. As Juan was telling me this, tears came to my eyes. Here was a Navajo Medicine Man who was telling me about an experience that the best I could tell was a direct revelation from God Himself.

I’ve always known that God does some amazing “out of the box” things in cultures where there is none or very little Christian influence. I could not help but think that God had come down in that little remote Hogan and chosen Juan to salvation in a way similar to the way He chose Saul on the road to Damascus. Maybe God knew that the only way a Navajo Medicine Man would be completely convinced was to make a divine personal visitation to him. I had no doubt that Juan had received a message from the Lord in that trance, vision, or dream. Juan told me that not long after this vision some people from Georgia (a mission team) came to minister at the reservation. Apparently, one of their team members led Juan to a deeper understanding of Christ and salvation. Juan spoke very fondly of this person from Georgia who helped him understand the Lord. Obviously, this man from Georgia was Juan’s Ananias.

Juan recounted that he had a similar type of vision experience when he was five (5) years old. At that time, he was present at a healing ceremony. During the occasion, one of the elders at that ceremony prophetically pronounced that Juan would one day become a medicine man. I told Juan that God obviously had something very special for him to do, that God wanted to use him for His glory. I again seized this opportunity to encourage Juan to continue in Christ so that he could discover what God wanted him to do.

Mark and Beverly tell me that Juan and Kathleen are attending Bible studies at the reservation and are encouraging others to do so as well. Juan even wants to be baptized this upcoming Good Friday! God is definitely at work in this small remote Navajo community. Who could imagine that a Navaho Medicine Man living on the reservation would be used by God to bring salvation to the Navajo people? But that is exactly what God is doing! Because of the tight-knit communities the Navajo live in, Mark and Beverly have been praying that God would raise up a key person in each area of the reservation who could reach out to the community. God is answering that prayer!

There were several other stories that Juan shared with me during my conversation with him. He briefly told me about the four (4) Sacred Mountains that serve as the boundary markers for the Navajo nation. As I researched this, I discovered that these four mountains are (1) Mount Blanca, the sacred mountain of the East near Alamosa in San Luis Valley, Colorado (Sacred stone: White shell stone), (2) Mount Taylor, the sacred mountain of the South east of Grants, New Mexico (Sacred stone: Turquoise), (3) San Francisco Peaks, the sacred mountain of the West near Flagstaff, Arizona (Sacred stone: Abalone and Coral), and (4) Mount Hesperus, the sacred mountain of the North at La Plata Mountains, Colorado (Sacred stone: Black Jet stone). Juan told me that according to Navajo tradition, at the end of time only the land within the four Sacred Mountains will be left. Our ministering took place closest to the Mount Taylor area. Not surprisingly, there were many places where you could purchase all kinds of beautiful turquoise and silver jewelry. I believe the area that we were in is considered the capital for Navajo handcrafted jewelry.

Juan also told me the Navajo creation story. The Navajo, or Diné as they prefer to be called (which means “The People”) believe that the great Mesas North of Gallup and that extend for many, maybe hundreds of miles burst open in the beginning and a great flood came out of the earth. It is said that the Navajo were birthed out from the earth and flood when the Mesas split open. As I researched this story, I discovered a wide range of details related to the Navajo creation story. According to one source, the Diné emerged from three previous underworlds into this, the fourth or “Glittering World,” through a magic reed. Once in the “Glittering World” the First people lived in a Hogan made exactly as the Talking God had prescribed. In this Hogan, the people began to arrange their world, naming the four sacred mountains surrounding the land and designating sacred stones that would become the boundaries of their homeland.

In their creation story, the birth of Ever Changing Woman saved the Earth People from the evil monsters that appeared. Changing Woman married the Sun and bore two sons, twins, and heroes to the Navajo people. They were known as “Monster Slayer” and “Child-Born-of-Water.” Later on, even though the Sun visited her every evening, Changing Woman was lonely during the day and she decided to make four clans of people. These were known as the Near Water People, Mud People, Salt Water People, and Bitter Water People. These four clans heard that there were people to the east who shared their heritage and they wanted to go meet them. Changing Woman gave them permission to travel from the western sea to the San Francisco Peaks. They traveled through the Hopi mesas and continued on to Mount Taylor. Finally, the people arrived at Dinetah, the Diné traditional homeland, and joined the other clans already living there. Dinetah is located in the many canyons that drain the San Juan River about 30 miles east of Farmington, New Mexico (Compiled by Glenn Welker, 2009).

The above creation account bears some similarities to the creation account that Juan shared with me. Farmington is about an hour north of Gallup which would coincide with the Mesas north of the city. The “Child-Born-of-Water” and the fact that the names of the four clans are all associated with water also shares some parallels with Juan’s account of creation. There is no difficulty in the fact that there are multiple accounts of Navajo origin stories. The Navajo are not concerned with the historicity of their creation accounts as we are in the Christian West. The Navajo are an oral culture and traditions and stories are passed down from one generation of elders to another who might freely add to, subtract, and/or embellish accounts. Even within the Navajo tribe, there are many clans with their own unique traditions. This too would explain the wide variation in accounts even from one clan to another.