Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cruising the Mexican Caribbean: Belize – Willing Sacrifices

Clouds hovered ominously, the day our cruise ship stopped at Belize. It began to drizzle as we got off the tender and lined up to board the bus. Since we’d hoped to escape the cold and rain at home, this was a bit of a disappointment. At least the temperature was supposed to stay in the 70’s, so that was encouraging. But during the 45 minute bus ride, the sun came out and warmed our bones as we got off at the Altun Ha, Mayan ruins.  

It stayed warm and sunny through our tour, outdoor lunch, and two hour boat ride. We sighted howler monkeys, crocodiles, bright orange male iguanas along the river, and telltale bubbles of manatees surfacing for air in the Bay. 

What a treat to see and climb the ruins of this civilization from centuries before. The excavated sites reveal some of what life was like so long ago. What touched me most about their culture was how willing they were to sacrifice in worship. Their lives centered on gruesome sacrifices to the gods they believed controlled the sun, rain, and harvest.  

Our tour guide told us about a ball game that apparently determined who would be the supreme sacrifice. It was not the loser who lost his life, but the winner. They fed their deities the blood of the best to buy their favor. 

"Religion Facts" describes the gory ritual: “At important ceremonies, the sacrificial victim was held down at the top of a pyramid or raised platform while a priest made an incision below the rib cage and ripped out the heart with his hands. The heart was then burned in order to nourish the gods.”

Being royalty didn’t excuse them from having to participate, either.  The king and queen practiced blood offerings in priest-like fashion. The queen would pierce her tongue and run a thread entwined with thorns and rock chips, capturing the blood for a burnt offering. The king did the same, only he ran the thread through his manly part. You can only imagine the pain they endured, not just once, but again and again, to please these blood thirsty gods. The Indiana Jones’ movies pale in comparison.

How sad they worked so hard to satisfy gods who did not love them! They unknowingly worshiped demons who delighted in their terror, futile efforts, and tortuous pain. All the while, they had a Creator worthy of worship, who loved them, and longed to show them tender mercy. They were willing give their all to reach for what they knew was out there – a force more powerful and knowing than themselves.

For all who seek Him, the true God of the Universe is available and knowable. He sent His Son Jesus to show us the way to Him. He died in our place. He doesn’t require our blood, but He does want our hearts. The wise serve Him in fear, not because He is capricious, but because He is sovereign. The Mayans did have one thing right, however - God deserves our best, not our leftovers. He is worthy of more than Sunday-only scripture readings, mealtime prayers, a nod at Christmas and Easter, and occasional pocket change. He deserves our first and best attention, energies, and gratitude. 

The best part of being a living sacrifice is that instead of meaningless pain and depleted resources, the Sovereign God multiplies our gifts to Him, and pours them back on us. He gives joy, contentment, laughter, love, hope, and best of all, himself. 

I’m so thankful to know God, The Creator who reaches out to us day after day. If you’ve been yearning for spiritual answers, yet your search has only multiplied your fear and uncertainty, could it be you’ve been searching in the wrong places? I pray you will give God a try. Reach out to Him; speak to Him in whatever way you know how and ask Him to reveal himself to you. He is waiting. "'Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,' declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:12-14, NIV).

#youcanknowGod #whatGoddoyouserve  #Godwhobledforyou #Goddeservesthebest #Mayanworship

Monday, February 23, 2015

Cruising the Mexican Caribbean: Roatan – Contrasts

It's been a while since I posted. Life has been full to bursting lately, but now I'm ready to continue our journey of the Mexican Caribbean.

Our first stop was Roatan, Honduras. It’s a beautiful little island filled with lush greenery, surrounded by clear blue-green water. Our ship docked and we were able to walk off into a beautifully manicured area of shops and perfect beach getaway. The forecast was for rain, but it held off until we were just heading back to the ship. How wonderful to have a full day of sun! But not everybody on Roatan was excited we were there.

After entering several shops of the “tourist village,” I began to notice a pattern. Very few of the workers seemed glad to see us. Some leaned on piles of t-shirts or stayed busy with their cell phones. Others averted their eyes as we entered or gave an obligatory, unsmiling nod. Why such cold greetings? We were happy to be there for a day of fun, but didn’t feel welcome. Even our exclamations of delight over our pistachio gelatos didn’t bring a smile to the servers at the stand. Did they see us as rich snobs?

From there we rented a taxi to tour beyond the facade. Our driver and I struggled to communicate in limited phrases of English and Spanish. He was polite, but reserved. He took us to the highest points of the island to see the best views, always facing our ship. We wound through hillsides of small homes hung with brightly colored wash. We ended downtown, where the shops were more authentic. He seemed nervous to let us out and came looking for us when we lingered very long. Was it unsafe? We wondered.

But there, we met people willing to interact with us. We looked at their wares, hounded constantly by vendors desperate to sell us anything they could. Annoying as that was, at least here they were glad to see us. But there was one with whom we felt an immediate bond, a woman we will see again someday. 

As we walked into one alcove with tiny shops on either side, there was music blaring. We didn’t recognize the songs, but they were all about Jesus, and Him we know. Full of alleluias and praise with a beat that set our bodies in motion, our moods immediately brightened. I looked in the direction of the music and saw an old woman in a white plastic chair.

“I love your music,” I said. She smiled and patted her heart and nodded. “We love Jesus too,” I said.
“Yes…Jesus,” she said, and we were instant family. Despite the disparity of age, culture, language, and lifestyle, we knew we have a bond we will share for eternity. We are saved by the same Savior and living our lives in gratitude and service to Him. For now, we live in separate worlds, vastly different from one another. But we’ll see her again someday. In heaven, there will be no barriers to separate us, no more rich and poor - privileged and impoverished - only love and praise in our forever home.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Cruising the Mexican Caribbean: All Aboard – Pleasure Overload?

Cruising is such a fun way to travel. The first time my husband or I had ever cruised was on our honeymoon; after that we were hooked. All expenses are included in the package: food, lodging, travel, top notch service, and entertainment. The hardest part about sea days is trying to decide what to do next – lay in the sun, play paddle tennis, take a dance class, have an ice cream cone, work out in the fitness center, meet new people, watch a movie on deck, go to the show, or listen to live music. So many choices! And when we needed a break from the crowds, we had our room to escape to. It’s all about pleasure.
Kelly and I were much in need of a break and have anticipated this trip for months. Away from work, ministry responsibilities, family, and friends; we needed time to soak in each other and reconnect as a couple. We made a pact to limit cell phone use and keep our focus on God and each other, and be replenished. We had fun dressing up for “evenings out,” gazing into each other’s eyes, and uninterrupted talks about whatever came to mind. 
As is often the case, the enemy took this opportunity to plant seeds of guilt and doubt in me, to steal my joy. After conversations with staff about their long hours and months away from family, I began to feel guilty they were working so hard to provide the luxuries we enjoyed. It didn’t seem fair they couldn’t take a break and get a little rest too. 

And what about the people on the islands we visited, who work hard to earn an income, yet make far less than the average wage in our country? And what about those who can’t afford to go on cruises, or choose to spend their vacations doing mission work. Is it right to enjoy such exorbitant pleasures when there’s so much work to be done for the Kingdom?

I don’t know if you struggle with these questions or if you are able to enjoy the blessings God bestows on you with gratitude and ease. For some reason I have a hard time relaxing. Sounds ridiculous to admit, but I feel guilty if I’m having too much fun. 

I certainly don’t know all the answers, but as I talked to God throughout the trip and even after our return, I have listened for His response. The word that keeps resonating is balance. Work balanced with rest, ministry balanced with times of refreshment, healthful eating balanced with occasional treats, giving balanced with receiving - all in joyful service with grateful hearts to the One who makes it all possible. 
I know God supernaturally supplies when we don’t have the resources to meet situations when they arise in life - whether wisdom, energy, patience, finances, or whatever. But He also tells us in His Word to come away with Him and be refreshed at regular intervals. Just as airplane personnel tell us, we must don our own oxygen mask before helping others. It occurred to me that can also mean breathing in the pleasures God provides without letting the enemy spoil the gift. Then we are free to return to the work He gives us with renewed vigor and enthusiasm.

What are your thoughts and experiences along these lines? What helps you find balance in life?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Cruising the Mexican Caribbean: Houston – Art, Animals, and Atrocities

Our ship departed from Houston, Texas, and since neither Kelly nor I had ever done any sightseeing there, we decided to go a couple days early and check it out. We discovered they have a museum district downtown, which makes it easy to visit several places without a lot of driving or expense for transportation.
At the Fine Arts Museum we marveled at the talent and inspiration of artists over centuries of time. The subject matter ranged as much as the media and message of each piece. Of course, we had a few favorites. Since we’re studying Exodus in Sunday school, we especially enjoyed the Egyptian artifacts which reveal the world the Israelites lived in during their 430 years of slavery. I gravitated toward tender portrayals of love and personal epiphanies in many of the works.

The weather was not as warm as we expected the day we went to the zoo, but the sun was out and the animals were active. The giraffes were especially entertaining. We’re not sure if these two were sparring for fun or in actual combat, but they continued to bash each other, neck to neck, even as we moved on. Every time we look at the magnificence, variety, and even humor of the animal kingdom, it confirms our belief that creation didn’t appear by accident or evolution, but by intelligent design. By a Designer who loves and cares for His creations.

An animal of dubious lineage

Visiting the Holocaust Museum was sobering and sickening, yet a revelation I believe every person should experience in their lifetime. The tragedy is that we didn’t learn from the horror and atrocities committed against the Jews, Christians, elderly, mentally handicapped, and others deemed unfit to live by Hitler and his followers. The slaughter and persecution of one race or religion against another has persisted since the beginning of time, and continues even now around the globe.

When will we realize we’re all precious and beloved people formed by the hand of God? He made us to love Him and each other. Instead of beating others down because they are different from us, we should value the uniqueness of culture and appearance, and help others thrive and bring glory to God.

After two days in Houston, our brains and hearts were full. We saw the works of our awesome Creator God, the masterpieces of men and women made in His image, as well as the propensity we have for ignorance, ugliness, and appalling cruelty. I left with a renewed desire to declare the value of all human life and cheer for those who stand bravely against evil that seeks to kill others - body and soul.

Next week, I hope you’ll join our adventure as we board the cruise ship headed for the Mexican Caribbean.