Gabriel’s Oboe

There was a very unusual news report doing the rounds last week about a young man trying to approach some remote islanders with a view to converting them to Christianity and getting killed by arrows or spears for his trouble.

Reaction on social media from mainly liberal opinion was that this young man – John Allen Chau – was reckless and stupid for attempting contact with the North Sentinelese who a) could have been exposed to Western diseases, b) were in danger of colonization and having their unadulterated state corrupted (i.e they were better off being left alone) and c) and I quote “if you support what John Allen Chau attempted to do AND support the building of the wall, you’re a … hypocrite” and “White privilege at its finest. I have NO doubts he knew it was ILLEGAL to be on that island.” (Source: Twitter).

It seems clear from a cursory reading of social media that many, particularly in America, viewed Chau’s visit to the island through the lens of derision for Trump and domestic U.S. politics. However, that does not capture the larger picture.

My initial assessment on seeing the headlines was that Chau was reckless, however a reading of the underlying facts show that he had a good reason to be there and that he was careful and deliberate in how he tried to approach the North Sentinelese.

Chau’s attempt to reach this tribe evokes very strongly for me the opening scene of ‘The Mission’ (1986; distributed by Warner Bros.) where a Jesuit missionary is tied to a crude cross and tossed into the river which spills out into a fatal waterfall.

This murder of a Jesuit missionary leads to the next Jesuit missionary – Gabriel – to approach the tribe, announcing his presence in their jungle by playing an oboe.

Chau had made fleeting contact with the tribe before. Some of the tribe were seemingly okay with his gradual presence whereas others clearly were not. He had been recruited by an organisation named All Nations out of Kansas City, MO. They briefed him and explained the risks and sent him out.

The Indian government in whose territorial waters this island is found forbade contact with the tribe, so he did commit an illegal act. Of course, the Indian government and people in its territorial waters falls under the jurisdiction of God and Chau therefore was on solid ground – Biblically – in adhering to a larger legal framework to reach out to these people.

From a Biblical standpoint, the Great Commission was given to Believers to make disciples of all nations. John Allen Chau knew the risks but he evaluated that the result may be worth it. The basis for All Nations to do what they do is the Lausanne covenant, an agreement to do everything possible to reach the world.

This in turn is based on the Great Commission: to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19) because ‘all authority under heaven and earth’ are given to Christ (verse 18), and in this He will be with the Believer (verse 20).

The island is reportedly the size of Manhattan, and the North Sentinelese have apparently dropped in number from 117 at their peak number to around 39 today according to estimates. The risk of a Western disease being introduced by a missionary is real but as the dwindling numbers of the tribe reflect, so is the inevitability of death and introduction to eternity.

My initial assessment was wrong. Chau was no cowboy, storming into town on his horse, raising a ruckus. He was doing the right thing in the way he knew how. Contact with the tribe had been established slowly over three years.

His murder evokes for me another narrative: that of Cain killing Abel, the first murder. Perhaps it’s the first murder on the island that we know about but it may not be the first murder on the island. Murder is a sign of a fallen human state. Advocacy groups suggest that the tribe is better off without contact with the outside world. At the risk of guessing I imagine groups like that believe civilization is a corrupting influence and the so-called ‘noble savage’ does exist in a pure state. The North Sentinelese are also descendants of Adam and Cain.

They are also in need of the message of salvation. 

Of China and cisterns

Let’s call the guy Stuart (not his real name).


This past week at Bible study, the congregation’s missionary at large, Stuart, was invited to speak about his time in China on short trips: what it was like, the people in China, the Christians and their struggles, what they’re getting right and wrong.


One of his most striking recollections was being invited to a large Buddhist temple, walking in and seeing the hopelessness of real-life human beings, bowing to and requesting help from a shiny metal figure.


The human beings are real and their needs are imminent but the so-called power or force they are appealing to is effectively, theologically, and practically nothing. That is all the motivation any missionary needs to keep doing what they’ve been doing.


And this is not a dig at the Buddhists and saying Christians are better. As Stuart noted, what they pray for is pretty much identical with what Christians in the West pray for: blessing, an absence of troubles, healing and help for their family.


I think immediately of Jesus’ teaching about prayer and his observation that pagans babble and try to get heavenly results through being loquacious and full of words. We are to approach a Heavenly father who already knows what we need.


China is so far apart from the West culturally and in many other ways, almost another world. Let’s journey over two thousand, six hundred years in the past, to the southern kingdom of Judah, before they are taken away by the Babylonians into captivity…


…God sends the prophet Jeremiah with a message to his people: He reminds them of when their relationship was like a honeymoon:


““I remember how eager you were to please me

as a young bride long ago,

how you loved me and followed me

even through the barren wilderness.” (Jeremiah 2:1b NLT)

Looking after good plants, uprooting the bad

In my mind’s projector room with reels of old movies, I picture a young couple, poor and unsophisticated but happy. Then the bride turned away, and God through Jeremiah asks Judah what he supposedly did to turn them to idolatry:


“This is what the Lord says:

“What did your ancestors find wrong with me

that led them to stray so far from me?

They worshiped worthless idols,

only to become worthless themselves.” (Jeremiah 2:5 NLT)


Inspired Jeremiah makes the point that for their faults, the pagan cultures tend to show loyalty to their gods (in reality, idols of wood, or metal that their hands have made).


The Canaanites had their Baal and they never got rid of that, never stopped with worship of this thing. The Philistines retained their worship of Dagon. And here Israel is, far more blessed to be in covenant with the real (Only) God and they forsake him for the senselessness of idols.


“Has anyone ever heard of anything

as strange as this?

11         Has any nation ever traded its gods for new ones,

even though they are not gods at all?

Yet my people have exchanged their glorious God*

for worthless idols!” (Jeremiah 2:10b, 11 NLT)


And its at this point that God likens the senselessness to thirsty people eschewing a fresh spring in front of them and turning their backs to try build their own cisterns, basins hewn out of rock to catch and retain water.


For a people living in a semi-arid land, its crazy, and a perfect idiom:


“ “For my people have done two evil things:

They have abandoned me—

the fountain of living water.

And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns

that can hold no water at all!” (Jeremiah 2:13 NLT)


People – whether pagan, Israel, the Church – do illogical things. Imagine not taking advantage of a perfect spring to try building your own religion. I know people build religions because some of them are still here today with hundreds or thousands of years of error behind them. Having been conceived in error they only take their adherents further and further away from Truth.


Some are just more subtle than others.


It’s good to do what Lt Cmdr Data of Star Trek (Next Generation) often did and perform a self-diagnostic. Lately I’ve become aware that spending time meditating on Scripture is a good thing, like going back to the spring that brings life, pulling out the weeds, sweeping the nooks & crannies and setting things in their proper order.


This past week marked 100 years since the ending of WWI. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.


WWI is all but forgotten – there are no known veterans alive from that ‘war to end all wars’. European leaders do well to commemorate the soldiers who fell, but even they inject current virtue signalling into the ceremony, like French President Macron who in complete abandonment of logic said that ‘patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism…nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.’


Sometimes, in trying to sound sophisticated, a person can end up making no sense at all. My take on WWI, and remembering what it means for me in 2018, is that often good men are ordered into harm’s way by political leaders with ulterior motives, but they end up accomplishing the right thing in the end.


Wars aren’t fought by the craven politicians who cause them but by the ordinary soldiers pressed into cleaning up the mess and I find it highly appropriate that in remembering WWI, people honor the fallen soldier and the veteran, rather than the president or prime minister. I read an article which suggested that Veterans day (also known as Armistice day) was a time to remember that America’s wars (or any war for that matter) is also a history of ‘political rascality’.


Soldiers find themselves in a curious position where to succeed in their mission they have to suffer incalculable losses. Casualty figures do not account for lives and family left behind. In the build-up to Armistice day, the media were writing of heroic deeds a hundred years ago.


According to historical records (which may be embellished), the US Marines in the battle of Belleau Wood fought with such tenacity that the Germans were particularly impressed and gave them the nickname, ‘Teufelshunde’ – devil dogs.


While the nickname is distinctly unholy (referring to hounds from hell), the tenacity of US Marines is pictured as a bulldog, and it does make me wonder what drove those soldiers to be so tough and take such hits in service of the mission?


If I may presume to answer, if I know anything at all about veterans from the books of Stephen Ambrose and others, soldiers simply want to get the job done as quickly as possible to get to go home in time for Christmas – of any given year.


Don’t we all feel sometimes like soldiers facing a front with implacable enemies in superior number? What keeps the Christian soldier going?


The first available answer is commitment to the mission. Purity of purpose. In 2 Corinthians 7, in the context of God’s promises for us, Paul tells the Corinthians: ‘since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.’ (verse 1, NIV).


Where does this start? I like David’s perspective after drifting from God:


“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10, NIV)


What it reduces down to is a plea for God to do a work, because we cannot ourselves.


When asking God to ‘create’ a new heart in him, David uses the same word used in the first chapter of Genesis in verse 3, where God creates the universe out of nothingness (ex nihilo). David recognised that you can’t tighten the bolts and slap on some Polyfilla and paint. The heart cannot be reformed; a new heart is needed. A miracle.


A steadfast spirit that David also asked for refers to continual reliance on God. After the miracle comes the maintaining work by God.


As Christians, we may get the grudging respect of those who oppose God, but that isn’t relevant. If we have begun to follow Him, it is because of a pure heart, created in place of the old one.

A bunch of first dates

A headline on an article online caught my eye recently.


Which means that the author did a good job of enticing the reader (me); I like clever turns of phrase and complex ideas distilled into snappy headlines. What you think about when presented with a headline like this?


“Are you in a real relationship with God, or just going on a bunch of first dates?”


As the author, Christen Limbaugh Bloom, writes: she typically in prayer ‘prayed AT Him, never waiting to hear what He said back.’ In a relationship we’re supposed to listen as well as talk.


To be fair, most of us probably don’t take the time to listen. After all, there is so much to do and so little time to do it, especially around November and December.


You might think that Christmas is a season when we draw closer to God. I humbly submit that you’d be wrong. In general, we get more frazzled and busy and tend to focus on other things. Although, it’s not merely about Christmas.

In this past week God reminded me that I’m supposed to be serious about him and not compromised with worldliness. And that holds true for all Believers.


In looking up supporting studies for the idea that the Christian should not love the world, I came across an oldie from John Piper:


In summary, “The commandment is, “Don’t love the world or the things in the world.” The first incentive is that if you love the world, you don’t love God. The second incentive is that if you love the world, you will perish with the world. And the third incentive is that if you love God instead of the world, you will live with God forever.”


I came across another article which examines characteristics of worldly believers and looks at this through the example of Lot. It saddens me to think of Christians living in a state where they lack intimacy with God, have compromised morals, lack spiritual influence, lack fear of God and are reluctant to give up sin.


The state that describes Lot (and worldly Christians) is arrived at incrementally. Small compromises. Listening to a Chris Tomlin song this week, I was reminded that the world corrupts us but can never love us, and will thus always be unfulfilling.


We should eschew the world and the things of the world and re-orient ourselves with Him and see the love that He has for us.


Sunday’s sermon just past, based on the first chapter of Isaiah also reinforced the message for me that we need to take a step back and look at the things we are doing, the way we are living and ask questions and then correct course to align ourselves more with Him. It’s easy to be led incrementally away from Him towards the world. The world is a magnet, but if we take ourselves briefly out of our milieu we can track towards true North again.


From Colin’s sermon on Sunday (DCC, 28/10/2018): In the first chapter of Isaiah, the prophet receives a vision of Judah and Jerusalem, God’s people and God’s city (verse 1). God’s point is that the people have rebelled and are more clueless than an ox or a donkey, which at least knows it’s Master and its Master’s household (verse 3).


The children of God were putting themselves in harm’s way, not dissimilar from the stars of the sophomoric move ‘Jackass’. The picture is one of a people injured, busted heads, wounds, welts, sores (verses 5 and 6). A self-inflicted wound from not doing things His way.


In verse 10, God calls them ‘rulers of Sodom’ and ‘people of Gomorrah’, which would likely have shocked Israel.


God tells them that he’s had enough of their religious rituals and sacrifices (verses 11 to 15). It’s become institutional and muscle memory. Would it be unfair of me to compare it to us during Christmas, assuming that we miss the point, we miss the Christ and busy ourselves with ritual?


God wants action, correction (verses 16 to 18): we need to (a) purify ourselves, (b) stop doing wrong, (c) do right, (d) seek justice and stand up for the oppressed and (e) meet with God to make things right. (Isaiah 1, NIV).


The language and sentiments might seem strong, but I realised that God wants us to be better than a clueless people, wallowing in slop and mud. He wants us clean.


Just this week I was reading Hebrews 12, which details how as children of His, he disciplines us sometimes, corrects us, puts us back on the narrow road, not because He is a Regimental Sergeant Major, but because we are His children.


Chris Tomlin’s song is a glorious unpacking of His motivation for getting our attention and correcting our course:



We are not to be on a level where it’s ‘a bunch of first dates’ with Him. He’s committed to us and the proper response to grace is genuine acceptance, genuine praise. And he will sort out the rest.