Zona 3- Guatemala City, Guatemala
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37; cf. Deut. 6:5).
On this late Spring Ember Day, let us pause to ponder the most important words relating to the nature of God (which gives profound insight into our own nature as His earthly image bearers) and upon Christ Jesus’ commentary on them.
In the twenty-second chapter in the Gospel according to Matthew, he writes of a series of encounters, or rather, attacks made by the very ones John the Baptist called out as a “brood of vipers” (Mt. 3:7). Beginning in verse twenty-three the Sadducees (who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead) begin attacking Jesus’ eschatology as they confront Him with a preposterous question pertaining to death, brotherly obligations and marriage in the afterlife. During His giving of a uniquely Christ-like answer, the Pharisees were listening in. “One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law’” (Mt. 22:35-36)?
May I first put our Lord’s answer into a larger context by looking into all the profundity of His Jewish heritage by turning to The SHEMA: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut. 6:4).
The SHEMA is the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book (Siddur) and is often the first section of Scripture that a Jewish child learns. It sets their perspective on who God is for the rest of their earthly lives. During its recitation in the synagogue, Orthodox Jews pronounce each word very carefully and cover their eyes with their right hand. Many Jews recite the SHEMA at least twice daily: once in the morning and once in the evening. It is also sometimes said as a bedtime prayer. Thus, for the devout Jew, this three-dimensional view of God is central to their lives.
Perhaps it’s the fought of our early Sunday school teachers, or even those of us behind the pulpits, but we must remember that Jesus was born a devout Jew and He went to the cross as a Jew, along with all His disciples, and it is from this perspective that we must begin our search to know God. Christ Jesus answered His tricksters with, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37).
As Christians we know that the Godhead consists of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost and that this Trinity, is in fact, One. The SHEMA affirms this and our great Creeds further identify and break down the Trinity in all its glorious Triune nature. In our Lord’s answer, I want to point out that Jesus is commanding us to love the Triune Lord our God with our triune selves. How? Looking past the depth of man’s depravity, a result of Original Sin (Gn. 3:16-17), we must challenge ourselves to see, to actually come to grips with this immense reality, that it is only Man who walks the earth as God’s image bearer (Gen. 1:26-27; Ps. 8 ) and it is upon this incredible fact that our Savior is touching. The SHEMA has defined the Triune God, separating our Jewish forefathers from every surrounding people group and radically personalizing who God is. Now, in this magnificent response, His only Begotten is giving us the key insight to overcoming all of life’s struggles and strifes. Once again, how?
When we truly and deeply love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, souls and minds where is there room left for any of life’s vices which falsely attempt to fill any of those spaces connecting the two triune natures? There simply and elegantly exists no void for these counterfeit gods to dwell.
When we love the Lord our God with all of these three parts of ourselves then there will be no room for the addictions, lusts, sins, etc. whish sit as imposters and thieves of our affection.
Instead of all the energy, time and monies spent on attacking all these various vices which plague our world, we should be teaching others how and in what ways they should be understanding who God is and how to love Him. If each of our three parts, created to individually and uniquely sell-out all of their love and adoration solely to our Creator, are actually allowed to love the Lord in the profoundly personal ways they were created for, all of our human nature will perfectly fit into all of God’s nature just as it was designed to do so.
The Enemy has come only to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10) and it is upon this perfect union of our two triune natures which the Devil has drawn his evil focus. Whenever he can draw apart one aspect of our human trinity, our mind or heart or our very soul, he can cause us to become unequally yoked to a counterfeit god of our own making. This lie robs us of fulfilling and living out Christ’s words in Mt. 23:27 resulting in one or more of our parts of our triune nature becoming over or under developed. The great Reformer, John Calvin, wrote that our hearts are factories of idols and it is upon our earthly ability as creators (imitating our Creator) that the Satan has taken us captured. Knowing that we, in our fallen condition, are susceptible to falsely adorning anything and that we alone (apart from God) have been blessed with the ability to create (the Devil has no such power), the Enemy has fought to tear-away this ultimate truth on how we should both view and love the Lord our God.
This has left us in a weakened condition as we are only partly connected to God and partly connected to the created things in this world (Mt. 6:24; cf. James 4:4). May we come to approach our false gods from this new perspective. Instead of attacking them head-on, let’s first look to see which part of our triune selves is bowing in their temples. Is it our hearts, minds or souls which are giving adoration to the addictions or vices of our own making? Let us instead focus on attaching that wayward part of ourselves to the very part of God for which it was originally made in the beginning of beginnings.
This is not some new age gobbledygook nor an avant garde type of pseudo-Christian thought. Rather, this is the very perspective which first separated our Jewish forefathers from their pagan neighbors and the bases for which our Savior builds His entire theology: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37).
Chaplain Dana D. Craft -San Cristobal, Guatemala, Guatemala City (4.18.16)
Hermana Noemy’s Story
Standing back, in the shadows of humility, behind those of her neighbors who were sitting atop the broken plastic stools or overturned cinderblocks, I remember seeing sister Noemy for the first time. Why? Even though she stood just far enough away to not draw attention to herself while yet remaining part of the group, I remember her not because of her simple but clean dress nor because of her children clinging to its worn edges, but because of the tiny tan Bible she held in her hands. There are a great many things that I do not know in this life…but I can most certainly spot a well-used Bible. Now hers was one with the tattered and dog-eared corners one only sees when someone is reading the Lord’s word with passion and voracity. Its spine and cover had the scars and wrinkles of being overused far too many times. The edges of the text block were covered in the dust and dirt of the street and not from merely sitting on a table safely in her home.
It was in that very first service, some two years ago, that I happened to glance over in her direction as another sister was reading a Psalm that I saw the many stains of tears and how the ink had smudged from her finger’s passing over the same lines countless times that I knew she belonged to God. Only later did I come to discover that, like the Ethiopian Eunuch (Lk. 8:31), she had loved God but had never understood what the Holy Scriptures were telling her. Why am I sharing this part of her story? Because it will put into context the rest of what I am about to share.
She wasn’t out front trying to get a look at the new Gringo pastor and his Guatemalan wife; to see what donations we brought to give out. Nor were her kids overly rambunctious and boisterous ones. They just seemed to stand in the back, like foreigners, within this ragtag group of a dozen or so garbage workers, scavengers and the simply lost.
From that first day, when I announced that I had come to share something of eternal value with them, something which would go against everything that they had come to believe was of importance in their dog-eat-dog world and that I was giving it away at no cost, she has never missed a service or activity.
Hermana Noemy is the mother to six children ranging in age from 13 to just 4 years old. On any given day, when we are not holding services, she can be seen on the dusty corner behind a tiny wooden table sitting on an overturned milk crate selling tiny pieces of charbroiled chicken she cooks over an open flame back in the middle of her living room. Her youngest children are quietly playing in the dirt about her feet. She sells a single portion of chicken for Q6.00 (.76 USD). She needs to sell fifteen portions merely to break-even. Many days she sell only a handful of plates. In the late afternoon, her older children arrive back home. Their modest home consists of a single room measuring 12’ x 10’ and is made from corrugated aluminum pieces and discarded wood planks and decorated with items they salvaged from the trash of Guatemala City’s more fortunate inhabitants. She spends the late afternoons sitting with her kids as they cut up the soda cans, which the older ones gathered earlier in the day, to sell to the local recycling plant. By early evening her husband returns from work, where he recycles garbage for twelve hours a day for less than a few dollars a week. He is actually a butcher but has been out of work for too long for anyone to remember the exact amount of time.
Out of the 500+ families who live in their community, only a handful are actually living with their marriage partner. Again, Noemy and her family truly live as foreigners within the violent, noisy and chaotic mass of utter mayhem.
Here comes the part that has profoundly encouraged me to keep working so hard. Hermana Noemy, who, from the perspective of most, has every excuse to curse God or at least be running from Him. Yet, whenever you see her sitting behind that uneven wooden table quietly selling portions of chicken, take a good look at what she is doing. She is not making eye-contact with prospective clients, her children are supposed to be doing that. Instead, her head is down and she is reading her Bible laid open on her lap.
And now after approximately a hundred sermons, including a few lessons from the great creeds, she has come to know who the Lord our God is along with the unending love of His only Son. She can recite more verses than nearly anyone I know, which includes those I went to seminary with! She has now begun to also join us for Sunday worship at the second church plant in another part of the Guatemala City. This other congregation is composed of lawyers, a doctor, a judge and many other professional elites. Her children are now playing with their children during service. She is asking and answering questions after the sermon with all the others and, somehow, her clothes are clean and fresh and she fits right in. The others have no idea of where or how she lives. Upon her first time with this congregation my wife simply introduced her by name and said she was from here in the city.
However, the others arrive in air-conditioned cars, a few in SUVs or by bus, hermana Noemy and her six children (and occasionally her husband) walk nearly two hours, each way, to worship the Lord with us. Let me repeat, our beloved sister is walking in the dirty-smog-filled and steamy air of Guatemala City every Sunday for four long hours just to be in the “Lord’s House” for two.
Additionally, now that she knows who God is, she has become the Salt and the Light of the whole community. She is fielding theology questions from her neighbors when I am not there and she is living out Christ’s Sermon on the Mount as best as anyone can. All she needed was someone to come and unlock the door with the key which the Lord had already given her from before her birth (Jeremiah 1:5).
Many times, among those of us who plant churches, it is all too easy to get lost in the endless details, to lose the forest for the trees. We were never commanded to go out into the world and plant churches but rather to make disciples. Our dear sister Noemy has become one of the greatest disciples of Christ I have ever met. And she goes home each night to sleep within the Guatemala City garbage dump while holding that same little tan Bible.
“…Y él estaba en la popa, durmiendo sobre un cabezal; y le despertaron, y le dijeron: Maestro, ¿no tienes cuidado que perecemos?” Marcos 4:38
El Señor nos da nuestro pan diario cada día (Mt. 6:11) y muy raramente nos provee para el pan de mañana el día de hoy (Ex 16:16-21). Pareciera que Nuestro maravilloso Señor aplica la misma “metodología” cuando contesta nuestras oraciones personales. Adicionalmente, pareciere que entre más urgente es nuestra petición, su provisión viene en la forma más lenta y tarde posible. Pero de todas maneras, El siempre provee nuestras necesidades, incluso en las ocasiones cuando no estamos seguros de algo y cuando más nos quejamos (Ex. 16:2).
Esta fidelidad ha sido recientemente revelada con total claridad, al punto de sorprenderme. Recientemente respondiendo a una petición por guianza pastoral, he estado buscando la manera de ayudar a otro siervo y muy amado hermano. Su reto particular, me forzó a escavar profundamente en diferentes textos incontables, artículos y comentarios para buscar las respuestas.
La respuesta finalmente vino, pero no vino conquistando el más grande desafío de leer una lista sin fin de textos del seminario, e incluso en libros buscados en las estanterías de las bibliotecas cristianas, o por el trabajo a tiempo completo en un país tercer mundista, sino que simplemente la respuesta vino, atravez del bello rostro de mi pequeño hijo de 2 años de edad.
Es muy fácil predicar acerca de una verdadera confianza en el Señor cuando nos provee el pan diario, pero realmente nuestra confianza viene cuando enfrentamos otro gran “Goliat” mientras nos encontramos (aparentemente solos) en el valle de la vida.
Pero esta mañana Jesús, me dio mi pan espiritual y pastoral, bendiciendo mi corazón con una respuesta increíble a mi petición urgente. Este siervo, mi hermano, ha estado peleando la buena batalla de la fe, mientras trata de escalar una gran montaña (1 Pedro 5:8 ) de confusión y desorden. El ha estado nadando valientemente en contra de un diluvio de aguas turbulentas en contra de desafíos y tiempos de pruebas. Este Tsunami ha estado inundando su pequeña iglesia Bautista del medio Este, en donde asisten con su familia, y esto, está afectando la vida de su extremadamente talentosa y preciosa hija.
Mi hermano ha estado buscando ayuda, y un momento de refugio para su vida, por medio de la ayuda de varios santos y algunos buenos amigos seculares. Sin embargo la tormenta continúa y crece fuertemente cada día. Las olas están rompiendo la proa de su metafórico bote. Como padre, me he sentido identificado con su dolor desde la primera vez que escuche la noticia. Mis rodillas han formado callos por pasar tiempo delante de la presencia del Señor, Pidiendo que le guie con sabiduría. Finalmente, tan solo en esta mañana, El respondió a este humilde siervo (Heb. 4:16)
Cada mañana me acuesto al lado de mi pequeño hijo de 2 anitos. Y mientras hago una pausa para tomar una media hora cada día para estar con mi pequeño, he notado que esta, ha sido una de las más grandes bendiciones que nuestro Padre celestial me ha dado. Mirando a mi pequeño dormir, es una brillante y excesivamente dulzura reflexión que el Todo Poderoso me muestra, (Salmos 8 ) Este momento, trae a mi mente una imagen de como los discípulos de Cristo habían visto a Cristo Jesús dormir en la proa de una barca, mientras se encontraban en medio de una gran y supernatural tormenta.(Mt. 8:25)
Estos hombres valientes, quienes eran pescadores profesionales, descendientes de familias que vivieron en las costas del Mar de galilea, que trabajaron y murieron anónimamente durante generaciones, los discípulos, estaban asustados por sus vidas. Estas aguas que siempre habían provisto para sus necesidades diarias, estaban quebrando la proa de sus pequeñas barcas hasta el punto de trágaselos a cada uno de ellos dentro de las profundidades oscuras.
En este momento, mientras miraba a mi pequeño hijo Noah durmiendo en su almohada, escuchaba el silenciosos susurro del Señor (1 Reyes 19:12), y pude sentir como mi ser era inspirado por la inocente, apacible y dulce figura de mi pequeño descansando en mi regazo. Agradecí a nuestros maravilloso Señor por su vida y le confesé que aquel pequeño, es lo más hermoso que jamás hayan visto mis ojos azules.
Recostado y contemplando el rostro dormido de mi hijo y con mis oraciones aun dirigidas a mi Señor, pude sentir la respuesta a la petición de cómo podía ayudar a mi amado hermano, podía finalmente con esta revelación, ayudarlo a navegar en medio de esta dolorosa tempestad y simplemente imaginando esa tormentosa noche en el mar de Galilea. 13 hombres confinados a una pequeña barca de madera, 12 de ellos asustadísimos, y uno de ellos descansando con mucha paz, el cual era nada más y nada menos que el amado hijo de Dios. Pude imaginarme el pecho respirando agitadamente de Pedro, mientras miraba esas olas embravecidas. Y mientras el terror se apoderaba de él, se volteo para mirar a aquel, que calmadamente dormía en la proa de la barca. Estoy seguro que Pedro, al igual que yo, nunca había visto en su vida algo tan hermoso y tranquilo en este punto en su vida.
Como los fieles apóstoles, cuando las tormentas tratan de hundir nuestra barca de la vida, necesitamos parar un segundo, y mientras dejamos que nuestros ojos dejen por un momento de ver la tormenta, debemos de observar a un lado nuestro, la tranquila y durmiente cara de nuestro Señor. Su “Sueno”, no es negligente, es el sueño de alguien quien confía en la liberación que nuestro Padre nos brinda frente al ataque de las poderosas olas (Jn. 16:33) y nuestra confianza debe están en su liberación y provisión.
Su seguridad y confianza en nuestra victoria le permite, no solo ser un pasajero más, sino también estar durmiendo en nuestra barca.
Una vez más, estoy seguro que cuando Pedro vio el hermoso rostro de nuestro Señor encarnado, su corazón palpitaba aceleradamente y él sabía que todo iba a esta bien. Cuando Cristo reprendió los vientos y las olas (V. 15) inmediatamente ceso la tempestad, el temor en el corazón de Pedro ceso así como cuando fácilmente apagamos la llama de una vela con nuestros dedos.
Ahora sabía las palabras que iba a compartirle a mi exhausto y torturado hermano en Cristo, Jesús no lo había abandonado, y no lo abandonaría y todo lo que él tenía que hacer es posar su mirada en Cristo, y tratar de izar las velas hacia puerto seguro y descansar en el rostro apacible de nuestro Señor. En ese momento, el airado mar de la vida, instantáneamente se calmaría y “Los vientos dolorosos de este mundo” se apaciguaran.