Our Enemy

Why does Satan have a plan to murder every person on planet earth (John 8:44)?  Seventeenth-century Puritan writer Thomas Watson describes it this way in his book, The Lord’s Prayer:

Satan envies man’s happiness.  To see a clod of dust so near to God, and himself, once a glorious angel, cast out of heavenly paradise, make him pursue mankind with inveterate hatred.

Worshipping Above the Slaves

img_1307-dIt was built in 1482 just a few years before our own Columbus story. It is a massive stone structure on the southern coast of West Africa, one of West Africa’s oldest standing structures. They call it Elmina, Portuguese for “The Mine.” They chose this name because this was where they stored all the gold brought from the mines.  They would collect the gold for months, and then the ships would come and transport it back to Europe.  But this is only the beginning of Elmina’s story. Over the centuries a more valuable commodity was discovered and stored in the lower chambers of Elmina’s walls. You see, Elmina Castle became a gathering station for the slave trade.

04_4228189-elmina-castle-0At the height of the trade 30,000 slaves a year passed through Elmina on their way to the Americas. This continued for nearly three hundred years. Even after slavery was outlawed, Elmina was a part of the illegal trade, and the dark windowless storage rooms that once held gold, now held people. Hundreds would be crammed into one small room. They couldn’t lie down, and they would live this way for months at a time. Separated husbands and wives would never see each other again.

Door-of-No-ReturnAs they waited for the ships, most of the people would die in their rooms and would not be removed. Those who survived were taken to a final holding room. I stood in it. Even centuries later it was dark and damp and smelled of mold and mildew. This room was called “the room of no return” because from it the slaves would pass through a very small slit in the side of the castle. It was only large enough for a single person to pass through directly onto the ships.

I have toured Elmina several times and I already knew that it contained an upstairs church. But on one visit, I noticed that the church was located directly above the room of no return. I immediately thought of Jesus’ answer to the question, “What is the greatest commandment?”  I thought of the position of these two rooms, the house of worship and the place of slavery. The vision statement of my own church is “Passion for God, Compassion for People,” because in addition to his answer to the first question, to love God, he volunteered a second commandment. He said it’s like the first – love people.

This is the irony of Elmina Castle.  In just one small section, on the northeast side, those who managed the castle tried to obey the first commandment while grossly violating the second. What happened on the first floor, in the room of no return, nullified the offering in the chapel on the second floor. As God said in Amos 5:

“I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies (v. 21)

Why did God say this?

“You trample on the poor … You oppress the righteous … You deprive the poor of justice” (vs. 11-12).

Elmina is a graphic illustration of why the first and second commandments go together. They need each other. They define each other. They express each other. Jesus put them together. Passion for God fuels compassion for people. I cannot walk with God without caring for people.

Paradise Is Not a Place

Imagine that you are having your routine physical. The doctor checks your blood pressure, your heart rate, and your cholesterol.  In fact, she runs a whole range of blood tests.  She listens to your breathing, asks about your medical history, and checks for any allergies.   And then, she checks … your attitude, your outlook on life.  She wants to know how optimistic you are.  Are you hostile?  Do you carry anger or worry around with you?  And before you conclude that these last questions are too personal, let me correct myself.  I said, “imagine” a routine physical.  You don’t really have to imagine.  Paul Costa Jr., former head of The National Institute on Aging said, “personality has to be assessed as a standard part of health work-ups.”  Not only good food, but also good thoughts are important for physical, mental, and spiritual health.

And so, what kind of food do we serve our minds?  Criticism, complaining, bitterness, blame?  With this kind of nourishment, what will grow inside?  Probably not hope or joy or patience or optimism.  Carefully and thoughtfully read Philippians 4:8-9.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Isn’t it true that Paul is not just telling us to do the right thing; he is telling us to do what is right for us?

Ilene Siegler, of Duke University Medical School says that that “hostility is the most health damaging type-A quality.”  Carol Franz, of Boston University did a ten-year study of optimistic people and found that, “regardless of how much stress they had to cope with, people high in this kind of motivation had better health.”  Or, there is the twenty year Duke University study of more than four hundred men and women that found that the most suspicious and hostile people in the group stood the smallest chance of even surviving that twenty year span.

I always find it interesting when the “experts” of humanity reach a conclusion that God has been saying all along.  “Think on these things.”  “Put it into practice.”  “And the peace of God will be with you.”

Contemplation“think” Mull it over, repeat it to yourself, write it down, talk about it, sing about it.  It was Alexander Pope who wrote; “Some people will never learn anything because they understand everything too soon.”
Selection“on these things” Not on “those things” but on “these things.”  Fix your attention on what is good and change the channel on what is bad. Yes, there is evil in the world, and no, you can’t turn away and pretend it’s not there.  But, when you choose your focus, your center of attention; when you select the kind of thinking that you will serve to your mind, choose carefully.
Action“put it into practice” Because it’s not meant for my head, but for my heart.  Complete life change is the goal.  And if my diet is consistent and constant, then the outcome will be unavoidable.  My heart will change and my life (practice) will show the transformation.

I remember when my friend Rick, on a whim, applied for a teaching job on one of the Hawaiian Islands, and got it.  He was excited and amazed.  But after living there for a while and experiencing real life, even in “vacationland,” he wrote me and said, “I’ve learned that ‘Paradise’ is not a place, it’s a state of mind.”  Thankfully, Rick knew the Father and he knew what to serve his mind.