The Jennings Family

Husband, Dad, Papa, and Pastor Dennis Jennings

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What I Saw In Haiti

Damaged and destroyed homes are everywhere.

More than two hundred years ago, the country now known as Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake.  In those days, the death and destruction, while significant, was no comparison to what took place just before 5 pm on January 12 of this year.  Thirty-three significant aftershocks followed.  Drive around Port Au Prince today and you will see huge piles of rubble in places that used to be homes. Not just in isolated areas, this type of devastation can be seen from just about any vantage point in the city.  According to the locals, each one of those piles of rubble could be the unintended burial place of people unable to get out before the structure collapsed.

No one remains untouched by the loss, even if their homes are still standing, for everyone knows someone who lost family and friends in the quake.  Their third world economy, weak at best and decimated by the earthquake, is just now returning to normal, such as it is.

Crossing open sewer with water for his family

But what is normal to Americans, who sometimes struggle to live from paycheck to paycheck, would be wealthy to the average Haitian family.  They live in tiny, poorly constructed homes made from inferior building products.  In fact, it is this the poor construction practices that caused so much devastation.   As one Haitian pastor explained, “We do what we can with what we have.  We would do better if we could, but we do not have the means to buy better materials.”  It is hard for us to understand a culture where people live from day to day working for their next meal, live next to open, running creeks of sewage, and build their homes by purchasing individual blocks or rebar as they can.   Little children, especially the girls, are taught to carry water first in plastic gallon jugs.  As they get older they graduate to carrying open five gallon buckets of water balanced on their heads for long distances, just to provide water for the daily needs of the family.

One of more than 400 tent cities in Port Au Prince

Since the earthquake, many of these people, who had so little to begin with, are now left living in sprawling tent cities that cover seemingly every open space in Port Au Prince.  The UN says there are some 400 such tent cities.  While these offer temporary shelter from the heat, most of the tents and tarps will last only weeks or a couple of months at best.  Then when the rains come, the misery intensifies.  Only God knows what will happen when the rains come.  Some talked openly of their concern for the upcoming hurricane season, which runs from June through November.  Then of course, people are scared about the next earthquake or aftershock.  Even the government has advised some not to sleep in their homes.

A church property next to an open sewer in one of the slum areas

But Haiti is not without hope.  Most of the missionaries agree that most people’s lives are about back to what they were before the earthquake.  The street vendors are out again.  While it is very slow, clean-up is progressing.  Most of it is being done by hand.  We spent four days in Haiti and saw only two pieces of heavy equipment only in one place-working on the presidential palace.  Evidence of relief work is seen from the tents to water supplies to medical clinics.

Beautiful kids are every-and they need Christ

And something wonderful is happening in Haiti amidst all of this.  The Word of God is prospering.  There is an army of Haitian pastors and Christians who are preaching the gospel – in some places it is going on every night- and people are coming to Christ in the voodoo dominated country.   In fact, though virtually every church building is damaged or destroyed, these pastors report that although many of them lost as many as half their church members in the disaster, their attendance is stronger than before the earthquakes.  As one pastor said, “Haitians are looking for answers, and they are finding them in Jesus Christ.”

Pray for the people of Haiti and for the pastors who are there sharing the gospel faithfully.  Our church is planning mission trips to make a difference.   Personally, I am still processing everything we saw.  In some ways, the only way I know how to pray is, “Lord, what will you have me to do about what I have seen?”

Resurrection Sunday in Retrospect

Sometimes we go to church and when it is over, we say, “That was a great service.”  Yesterday when we left our Resurrection Celebration at Cherry Street Baptist Church, we heard similar comments.  But more frequently, we what we heard in some fashion or another was, “We have a great God.”

It was clear that we experienced a service in which God moved.  The psalmist expressed my heart when he said, “The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad (Psalm 126:3).

There was an expectation as we began to sing.  Brenda Correll played a beautiful medley that included parts of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.  Then our choir, under Doc Boland’s direction, was amazing.  People were moved to their feet as they sang:

Worthy is the Lamb,  Worthy of our Praise.

Worthy is the One Who has overcome the grave!

Worthy Is the Mighty King.  He’s Alive!  Forever! Amen!

When the choir was done, we sang our hearts out together, and then Kevin, Ben, Eric and Brian took us through the emotions of the resurrection with “Arise, My Love.”

After the message from 1 Corinthians 15 titled “Death: Easter’s Biggest Loser,” the invitation was extended and people began to come from all over the auditorium.  Some were born into God’s forever family, some joined our church family, and a host of children, teens and adults were baptized.

One thing is certain.  God did big things at Cherry Street Baptist Church yesterday.  This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes (Psalm 118:23).

Eph 3:20-21  Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,  (21)  Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

Resurrection Hope

In his fictional book, “A Skeleton in God’s Closet,” Paul Maier tells the story of a supposed archeological discovery of remains of Jesus Christ that was proof that there was no resurrection.  It turned out to be untrue, another plot to discredit Christianity.

This idea is nothing new.  Ever since the resurrection of Christ occurred, there have been ongoing attempts to discredit the fact of the resurrection.  And it makes sense that this would be a major part of Satan’s arsenal.  In the daily devotional, “Our Daily Bread,” M. R. De Haan wrote, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the keystone of the arch of salvation. Remove it and the whole structure of the plan of salvation crumbles in the dust.”

If indeed there was no resurrection, then there would be two major consequences.  First, it would be impossible for any person to be saved, for Christ would have been a liar. His death would have been for His own sins.  The result would be no payment available remaining for the sins of anyone else, much less for the whole world.  The scripture says it this way:

1Co 15:17  And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.

The second consequence is just as clear.  There would be no hope of eternal life.  This would not only true for us, but also for all our loved ones that have died in Christ.  Continuing the thought “if Christ be not raised…,” the Apostle Paul continues:

1Co 15:18  Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.

I have spent some time this week thinking about those whose lives have touched mine that are now in heaven- cherished family members, dear friends, co-workers, church members.  The natural processes of life mean that the older I get, the more loved ones have preceded me in death.  One of the great comforts every believer has is that we will see those who “are fallen asleep in Christ” again.  Believers do not have sorrow without hope (I Thess 4:13). And this hope is resurrection hope!  Again in the same passage, Paul exclaimed:

1Co 15:20  But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.

Tommy and Anna Lee Thompson are some of God’s most willing servants.  I had the privilege of being their pastor for more than a dozen years.  Today they will make the difficult trek to the cemetery with the remains of their daughter, Tammy, who was both my former secretary and friend.  I was privileged to talk briefly with Anna Lee after Tammy’s home-going to let them they are loved and prayed for during this time.  They are hurting for sure, but it wasn’t long in the conversation before I heard this resurrection hope spring forth from Anna Lee’s heart.  “We’ll see her again,” she said in calm assurance.  Then with a laugh, she added, “She beat us again!” indicating Tammy outran them in the race of life.

My prayer is that this Easter will be a time that resurrection hope is renewed in the hearts of believers, and is born in the hearts of those who will place their faith in Christ during this time of remembrance and celebration of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.

Hope:  It’s real.  I have it.  It is all because of the resurrection.

Good Friday?

This week, the City Manager of Davenport, Iowa, declared that Good Friday would be renamed “Spring Holiday.”  According to news reports, this was met with much uproar, which prompted Davenport’s city council to override the city manager’s edict and “resurrect” the name Good Friday.   Good for them!

But underneath the good news is the less reported reason for the change in the first place.  According to ABC news (http://abcnews.go.com/US/iowa-town-renames-good-friday/story?id=10233061), Davenport’s “Civil Rights Commission said it recommended changing the name to better reflect the city’s diversity and maintain a separation of church and state when it came to official municipal holidays.”  The spokesman for the commission reasoned, “Our Constitution calls for separation of church and state….we suggested the change.”   Of course, we know that the First Amendment to the Constitution simply states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  This is clearly to keep the government from establishing a state church, and prohibiting government intrusion in the expression of faith.  This is well documented (though much debated in our politically correct culture, but is not the main point of this post.

Here is my problem. I am not as concerned about the political ramifications of the Good Friday holiday in Davenport.  I am concerned about the theological implications for a lost world.  You see, if you do away with Good Friday (the day commemorating Christ’s death on the cross), then you do away with Easter.  You see, we rejoice in the empty tomb.  But before we can celebrate the resurrection on Sunday, there must be the agony of Calvary.    The victory that culminated on Easter was begun on the cross.  The Apostle Paul stated this both positively and negatively:

1Co 15:3-4  For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;  (4)  And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

1Co 15:17  And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.

God’s justice demands death as the only acceptable payment for sins (Romans 6:23).  In His love, God the Son, Jesus Christ, died for the sins of all mankind.  Without the cross and the resurrection, we would have no hope for eternal life.

It is no surprise that the world treats the cross as foolishness.  “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God,” (1 Co 1:18).  For believers, it is the difference between genuine salvation and vain tradition.

Is Good Friday important?  I see no mandate in the Bible requiring a national holiday.  But it is of paramount importance for the whole world because for there to be a resurrection, there has to be the death of the cross.  Without the cross and the empty tomb, there is no hope for eternal life!

Relationships Change

My Sweetheart!

Jana, the love of my life, impacts my life every day.  How I spend both my time and my money are affected by her.  My time with her encourages me when I am struggling, strengthens me when I am weary, challenges me to be a better man.  I am different because of my relationship with Jana.  Real relationships change us.

When those who gladly receive the Word of God (which leads to repentance and salvation) continue in the process of discipleship towards maturity in Christ, it is the Word of God that nourishes them, first with the “milk,” then on to “strong meat” (Heb. 5:12-14).  Sadly, it is often here that many of us get bogged down.  For some, it becomes all about the acquisition of knowledge, rather than a deep and intimate relationship with God.  Tozer said it this way:

Sound Bible exposition is an imperative must in the Church of the living God. Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term. But exposition may be carried on in such way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever. For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience, they are not the better for having heard the truth. The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.  (From the preface to “The Pursuit of God,” A. W. Tozer Chicago, Ill. June 16, 1948.)

When our relationship with Chris is what it ought to be, then from the heart we will pursue those things that mark His heart.  We love what He loves.  His desires become ours.  His will becomes our will.  In my opinion, the Apostle Paul encapsulated the living out of a right relationship with Christ in Romans 6:

Rom 6:17-22 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.  (18)  Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.  (19)  I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.  (20)  For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.  (21)  What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.  (22)  But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.

A right relationship with the living God will not have a neutral affect upon my life.  When I hear the truth of God’s Word as He speaks to me, and I am praying and sharing my heart with Him, it will affect my tolerance for sin in my own life.  It will impact how I view my service for Christ in the church.  It will produce holiness in relationship with the things of this world.

“Lord Jesus, Thank you for your gift of salvation, that has not only changed my eternity, but also my daily living.  Help me to hear Your Word daily, do Your will without hesitation, and recognize Your working in the circumstances of my life and those around me.”

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