“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35Many years ago, my father moved the family to Guayama, Puerto Rico. He was part of an engineering team that came to the island to build and establish a clean refinery on its southern coast and eventually turn it over to local workers.
This is where I developed my love for Latin people and their awesome culture.
I am thrilled to be back.
For the last several days, I have been speaking at a Catacumba Retreat on the beach of Boqueron. 1200 people have come from all over the island to participate.
If you’ve never been on a retreat with passionate, loving Puerto Rican believers, then you are missing something very, very special. After three days of interacting, worshipping, praying, answering questions, eating together, and wonderful fellowship, I am overwhelmed by the love I feel for these people.
Although they deeply blessed me more than I could ever give in return, I was privileged to teach about something that has been weighing on me for some time and about which I am now ready to speak.
Here it is without any sugar:
“The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me…” John 17:22-23
A few years ago, I had the blessing of traveling to Israel. Part of that trip included a visit to Bethlehem where we met with a group of absolutely awesome brothers and sisters in Christ. They know the deep cost of being a disciple.
While there, we visited the Church of the Nativity, where tradition holds that Jesus was born. It is built over a cave…a stable cut into the rock. Both Justin Martyr in the 2nd century and Origen in the 3rd, attested to this site as well as the birthplace of Christ being in a cave. I suppose our modern nativity depictions of a stable are easier to construct than caves.
As best we can tell, the original basilica was built in 333AD by Constantine’s mother, Helena, destroyed in the Samaritan Revolt of 529, and then rebuilt in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian I.
To enter, one must stoop and squeeze through “the Door of Humility”. Nobody really knows who made that small doorway or why. Once inside, any thoughts of finding anything close to your imagined “nativity” quickly evaporate. The church is heavily iconic. Winding stairs on either side of the sanctuary lead down to the “Grotto of the Nativity”, the supposed cave. But it doesn’t look anything like a cave. It is primarily an altar covering a marble alcove. The alter has lots of gold gilding, candles, rich tapestry, etc.
Quite honestly, I’m not into the gaudy, iconic structures that characterize many of Christianity’s historic places. I would rather walk through a quite shepherd’s field and look at THE cave…a plain, humble cave where Jesus was born.
However, all that being said, the Church of the Nativity is a very old and historic place.
It is also deteriorating. The roof leaks and the timbers are rotted. It has been 150 years since the last major renovation.
Why? Lack of money? Lack of professional restorers? Security problems? No. It is the bickering of Christian sects.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…” Rev 7:9
Last week (sorry, we’ve had more technical problems) when I wrote about attending a Lutheran Pastor’s Conference, I made this statement:
“Now, I am neither Lutheran, nor a pastor. Why was I there?”
It was my way of telling you that I was the conference speaker for the purpose of training them to be Truth Project small group leaders—and thrilled to do so.
However, Mark submitted a comment saying that he was concerned when I said I wasn’t a Lutheran because “it hurt to read the disassociation”.
I believe I understand where Mark was coming from, but it gives me an opportunity to reflect on the beauty of the diversity within God’s people.