Saturday, December 4, 2010

My Brother's Last News Letter

My youngest brother Bob Pemberton sent this letter to his supporters two days before he went to be with the Lord. He did not know his time on this earth was coming to an end but like all good servants of God he followed the commission of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 6:9-10 “… and did not become weary in doing good”, rather, was ready to continue to “do good to all people.” This letter was Bob being God’s servant till the day he was called home. May his example encourage us to be found doing good each day till Jesus comes!
In Him
Sherman Pemberton
Member of the Board of Directors, Hippo Valley Christian Mission, and Bob’s Oldest Brother.
When Nancy and I returned to Chiredzi for an extended period, we both felt that the word “bittersweet” would be the best word to describe our feelings. On the one hand we were not accompanied by our children. Stephanie, (22), and Mark,(19) who are enrolled at KCU and the separation was not going to be easy. On the other hand not only would we be reunited with our brothers and sisters in Christ but also were going to be living next door to Nathan and Tessa Lawson, (son-in-law and eldest daughter) along with our two Zimbabwean born grand children, Isabelle,(3) and Noah (22 months) with twin boys on the way, (now arrived). OK, so it was more sweet than bitter!

Now that we have been back for four months I can definitely say that although we miss Steph and Mark tremendously, so far our time here has been Sweet with a capitol “S”! After all, what could be sweeter than returning to the town you grew up in, where your children were born and raised, to work along side your brothers and sisters in the Lord and be a preaching elder in your home church, where you served as minister for over 20 years and where your son-in-law and daughter are currently ministering!

On the family side the two newest additions to the Lawson clan, Samuel and Jonah, made a six week early appearance on the scene, September 15. They were born identical weight, length and looks. To tell them apart Tessa dresses them, one in green and the other blue. Then, just in case, she drew a little fish on the bottom of Jonah’s foot. Babies and Mom are doing fine. So is Nathan. Raising this young family and being a Minister and our Managing Director’s special assistant, is an almost overwhelming task. I am constantly amazed at Nathan and Tessa,s ability to not only cope but serve effectively. Of course it is a joy for Nancy and I to be able to assist and fill in the gaps wherever necessary. In fact it’s downright sweet.

On the work side the sweet part is that my co-workers are family too. When we came to Zimbabwe Zebedee Togarepi was a family man with six children serving as a minister in our area. When Nancy started teaching Bible Knowledge at one of our high schools Zebedee was the Chaplain of the school and together they did amazing things with the youth. In fact many of our preachers and leaders today were former students Now, Zebedee is our Managing Director and a brother in every sense of the word except blood related.

We have been wonderfully busy these past few months. From fill in preaching to hosting a short term mission team to attending and participating in weddings, funerals and special event church services. Then there have been the meetings. Meetings with the preachers, with staff, with the Ministry of Education, with Headmaster(s), teachers, parents, doctors and church committees. Mostly these were with Zebedee.

To be honest meetings, especially schools related meetings, have never been my favorite thing. In Zimbabwe meetings are often long, very officious and in the past extremely adversarial. So, you will understand that I was less than thrilled when Zebedee asked me to accompany him for a meeting at one of our schools. Especially when he named the school and it was one of those I used to dread going to. A fiercely independent school, openly distrustful of the Board. We were going to officially announce the promotion of their Headmaster of 20 years to our largest High School, located in Masvingo. The Head, a strong member of the Church of Christ, had transformed the school from a rural school with a very poor record educationally and a very weak church to one with one of the highest pass rates in the area that attracted very well qualified teachers and is known for it’s witness for Christ in the community.

However, the spirit and the atmosphere were like no other school meetings I had ever attended. It was amazing. We basically had three meetings in a row to give them all what boiled down to bad news for them. First with the older students, then with the SDC, (PTA) and finally with the parents. In every instance, much to my delight, mutual co-operation was pledged and the priority of loyalty to Christ and his Church commited to. This was all capped by a party thrown in honor of the departing Head that, in addition to a great meal was nothing short of a full blown worship service led by the Head himself.

Lots of high points for me that day. Like when the Chairman of the PTA introduced me as the Responsible Authority and Zebedee reminded him that the RA was the Mashoko Christian Schools Board of which he was Chairman and me a member. My personal favorite was when the Headmaster made mention of the Revival Nathan and his team of youth from the Chiredzi Church of Christ, assisted by our Chaplain of Schools, (a former student of Nancy’s) had held in which 68 young people had accepted Christ.

Personal family and spiritual family coming together to glorify Christ without my presence. “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” Luke 1:50. Thank you for your partnership. Whatever generation you represent you have been and continue to be, an essential member of the family that made this possible.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I buried my youngest brother today.

Gara ndichawuya – wait I am coming – was a name Bob had earned from the leaders with whom he served in Zimbabwe. I told Zebedee that Dad and Mom often said of Bob as he grew that he would be late to his own funeral. The gathered found the fact that the hearse was 20 minutes late both humorous and fitting.

Makusha was there with Jimmy and Joyce his children – Bob had filled in for Mabona to preach Makusha’s wife’s funeral – Mrs Bungu says she thinks back now and believes it was his goodbye.

Mabona said Sekuru died in America and was buried in America. John Mark died in America and was buried in America. Bob died in Zimbabwe and it appropriate that he be buried in America. He also said that Sekuru never said follow me but follow Jesus – and he called on the churches to stop being divisive over who owns what and begin to be generous in supplying the needs of the church. He was very passionate about this and told the crowd that the Zimbabwe churches were lame – it was rather funny hearing that word from his mouth – for not financing their ministries. He said the people in America are not all rich and yet they send missionaries to Zimbabwe.

Bob’s love of children came up many times and Stephy presented her challenge to fathers similar to the one she gave at Grayson.
Tessa led some songs and had the women dancing and the three of them sang Mark’s special “Oh how He loves.”
The filing past the open casket was well done and though the partial embalming did not permit a repeat at Mashoko the people was so pleased with the decision to bury this son of the founding missionaries on the first mission station that it was not a problem.

Zebedee James spoke from James 4:13-17 – very approproiate.
13Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

He concluded with Psalms 139:14-16 – we likely disagree on specific points of theology (Pam will understand) but the message was clear non-the-less – God made Bob for a purpose and Bob did it. We need to as well.
14I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Fearfully and wonderfully made.

Spike (the Jack Russell terrier met us at Tshovani which was a mystery as it is a good two miles from the house. Turns out the intern staying in the cottage decided to walk to the church and Spike invited himself along. He was with us for a while and then someone took him home.

The number of people gathered was stunning. Well over a thousand and they had been there since morning worship singing and dancing. We were warmly welcomed by the Department Heads (Dr. Bungu was at the service at Tshovani and Mrs Bungu was at Mashoko) I renewed acquaintance with many friends of childhood. A young man told me he was the brother of the male leader of the dancers at our wedding. He remembers he tried to eat all the sweet cakes.
I met former fellow Boy Scouts, preaching club members and soccer friends.
I brought greetings from Mom for the women and asked them to dance for Mbuya as she would have danced had she been with us. Oh Wow how they danced – for a good 30 minutes.
Chief Mabika (who is presently one our former teachers from Chikomo who used to tutor Bob from time to time – spoke long but well bringing in the theme of the afternoon which could be best stated, “Now we have history on our station.” Zebedee referred to the command of God to the Israelites in Joshua 4:5-7
5and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

The casket did not fit the bricked in crypt prepared while we sang and talked but with some adjustment and muscle Bob’s remains were finally laid to rest. Mark and Stephy remained behind for some personal time and the rest of us made the 2+ hour journey over the rutted road back to Chiredzi. Had this funeral been one Bob had performed he have reached home and hugged his children a little closer and this wife a little more tenderly before going to his favorite chair to pick up his favorite book. May I learn to practice these simple but powerful actions.

In my final remarks I said that Dad taught me to preach, Mabona taught me passion, but, Makusha taught me Patience. Let add here that we need the desire to preach the word in season out of season with passion for the lost but patience as we watch His Spirit move in the hearts of the lost.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Do I trust the one who entrusted his gift with me?

Last night, at a memorial service for my “little” brother Bob, the Pastor talked about trust. In the last eight years my family have been to four funerals for men of God serving on foreign fields. My father had lived a full life and we celebrated his life while grieving his loss to us. My younger brother died at the age of 53 having accomplished more in that time than many do in a lifetime. My brother-in-law, voted less likely to serve cross-culturally, planted a strong church network and bible college in Kiev and was doing the same in Kyrgyzstan when he was taken suddenly after a relatively few years on the field so we celebrated all he did but were hurt by this strong man’s passing. Last week my youngest brother died in Zimbabwe while serving the lost, lonely and least in the region in which he was raised.
It is very natural to ask, “Why him? Why now?”
The Pastor pointed out that since the giving of the commission God has entrusted his highest priority to his church. So I wonder if He is saying to us, “I have intervened in the past to save a life for my purposes but in this case, I know you can do what I have entrusted to you without this particular person who succumbed to the natural falseness of life.”
If I follow this path of reasoning then I am forced to ask myself if I trust God who has entrusted me with his precious promise.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

An Ultra Brief Account of the History of La Habra Christian Church Part Two

In Accordance With Our Heritage We Publish This Description Of Who We Are:
We Are A Christian Church.
Our message is "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” We require no other creed than this one. He alone is Lord and Savior.
We Are A Church Of Christ.
The church belongs to Him. We have no authority to change the teachings, rewrite the rules, offer altered membership requirements or usurp His authority.
We Are A Church Seeking Unity.
We seek to be one in Christ with all others whom He calls His own
We Are A Church Seeking "Restoration."
As much as possible we are trying to imitate the New Testament precedents. That is why our baptism is by immersion, our communion is every Lord's day, our leaders are called Elders, our preaching is about Christ, and our prayers are in Christ's name. Even our church’s name is an attempt to imitate the earliest disciples who were called Christians first at Antioch.
We Are A Thinking Church.
The Christian faith demands the best of our minds, so we are a studying church wanting to know what the Bible teaches and how we can intelligently apply its teachings in today's world.
We Are A Worshiping Church.
Ours is not a dry intellectual approach to God. We rejoice in the Lord; we praise and pray and love and serve from the heart.
We Are A Free Church.
Like the earliest New Testament churches, ours is an independent congregation. We have no denominational bishop or superintendent nor national headquarters to determine the policies here. As a congregation, we elect our own leaders, call and support our ministers, decide where our missions money will go and locally determine the outreach programs of the church.
We Are A Growing Church.
We want to grow numerically because we are under Christ's commission to disciple the whole world. We want to grow spiritually because we know we cannot achieve all Christ wants of us without striving for maturity.
Because we believe we are not the only Christians, but seek to be Christians only, and because we desire to speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent, and because we have no book but the Bible, no creed but Christ, and no law but love, we believe La Habra Christian Church should be your church. If this common-sense approach to God's word and His teaching is what you are seeking, we sincerely desire your fellowship.

An Ultra Brief Account of the History of La Habra Christian Church Part One

La Habra Christian Church is from the church heritage referred to as The Restoration Movement (also known as the Stone-Campbell Movement) which is a Christian movement that began on the American frontier during the Second Great Awakening of the early 19th century. The movement sought to restore the church and "the unification of all Christians in a single body patterned after the church of the New Testament."
The Restoration Movement developed from several independent efforts to return to apostolic Christianity, but two groups, which independently developed similar approaches to the Christian faith, were particularly important to the development of the movement. The first, led by Barton W. Stone, began at Cane Ridge, Kentucky and called themselves simply "Christians". The second began in western Pennsylvania and Virginia (now West Virginia) and was led by Thomas Campbell and his son, Alexander Campbell; they used the name "Disciples of Christ". Both groups sought to restore the whole Christian church on the pattern set forth in the New Testament, and both believed that creeds kept Christianity divided. In 1832 they joined in fellowship with a handshake.
Among other things, they were united in the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; that Christians should celebrate the Lord's Supper on the first day of each week; and that baptism of adult believers by immersion in water is a necessary step in the new birth. Because the founders wanted to abandon all denominational labels, they used the biblical names for the followers of Jesus. Both groups promoted a return to the purposes of the first-century churches as described in the New Testament. One historian of the movement has argued that it was primarily a unity movement, with the restoration motif playing a subordinate role.
The Restoration Movement has since divided into three main branches in the U.S.: the Churches of Christ, the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). La Habra Christian Church is associated with Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. Further information can be found by reading the Stone-Campbell Journal (
The congregation now known as La Habra Christian Church came into being as a result of an evangelistic meeting held in July 1923. Clayton C. Root was the evangelist. The meeting was financed by the Clark Fund of Cincinnati, Ohio - a foundation to help start new congregations. The monies from this fund were under the oversight of the Christian Restoration Association.
On Sunday, October 14, 1923 after morning services and a basket picnic on the lawn, evangelist John LeGrande called for Charter Members and thirty-six responded. The first building was erected at Cypress and First Avenues, an old tabernacle style, with a chapel added to the back lot in 1934. It housed the congregation until the move to our present location in the spring of 1973.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

One of the questions that I was asked about the lesson from the outward movement of the church had to do with the millennial question. Revelation 20:1 – 6 refers to the thousand year reign. There are three different interpretations of what this means.
Pre-millennialism reap first of the believe that Jesus will come before the beginning of the thousand year reign. Before he comes there will be famine, wars, earthquakes and great apostasy. When he comes the antichrist will be slain and seated at the battle of Armageddon and Satan will be bound. Attached to this in most cases is the belief that there will be a final tribulation before his return and the rapture of believers.
Post millennialism holds the position that Christ will come after the thousand year reign of peace and righteousness. Life will get better and better until it's perfect and then Jesus will come. Along with this goes the belief that eventually the entire world will proclaim the name of Christ as a result of the missionary efforts of the church.
A-Millennialism considers the thousand years to not be literal in time but rather figurative in nature. Most believe that the thousand year reign began when Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God and that he will return to perfect the kingdom.

I am a pro/pan-millennialist because I believe that I'm for what ever God wants to do and it will all pan out to his glory. I believe that the book of Revelation tells us two very clear things; Jesus is coming again and when he does good is going to win and evil is going to lose.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Did Thomas write a gospel?

The Gospel of Thomas is one of the Nag Hammadi (A complete version in Coptic (an Egyptian language derived from the Greek alphabet) was found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. The complete text has been dated to about 340 AD, while some of the Greek fragments have been dated as far back as 140 AD) documents. It is not really a "Gospel" as we might expect, but, collection of random sayings attributed to Jesus. The author is unknown and since these sayings are not tied to historical events we cannot determine validity. There are also purported questions/statements from Simon Peter, Matthew, Thomas, and Mary.
Any of the discussions about this purported catalog of comments begin with disqualifiers such as:
How Many of the Sayings in the Gospel of Thomas come from Jesus? Who knows for sure?
Does the Gospel of Thomas reflect the views of Jesus? That is unclear.
Is the Gospel of Thomas Gnostic? It all depends on what you mean by Gnostic. Maybe.
When was the Gospel of Thomas written? This is a question hotly debated by scholars.
There are a couple things I would note. The Gospel of Thomas is very different in tone and structure from the four Canonical Gospels and even the NT apocrypha. It is not a narrative account of the life of Jesus; and while the text contains a possible allusion to the death of Jesus there is no mention of crucifixion, resurrection, or final judgment.
The Early Church believed it to be a false gospel. Eusebius, for example, included it among a group of books that he believed to be not only spurious, but "the fictions of heretics" that should be thrown out as absurd and impious.
The Gospel of St. Thomas is considered "Gnostic" in that it holds that salvation of the soul comes from a quasi-intuitive knowledge of the mysteries of the universe and of secret formula indicative of that knowledge.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The more you want the less you have.

It seems to me that when someone says, "More than anything in the world I would like..." they set themselves up for disappointment. Should they get that person, dream, thing, cash they will soon find it is not the panacea they at first thought.

This is not, I am sure the reader is aware, a new insight. The epiphane for me is that so many people seem to have a dream of how their lives will progress and even if most of what they dream seems to be in process they are depressed that it is not now available. They almost seem to resent the effort needed to make it thus or the time it takes for fruition.

So they wail, "I do not have my dream" when their joy could be found in, "I have and that is a joy in itself."

More is to often the salt of life when God has asked followers of Jesus to be the salt. When "more" is the salt we drink from the fountain of materials, sexual pleasure, substance intake and search for power. When followers of Jesus are the salt we drink from the water of life - and while never entirely filled - nor are we ever entirely parched.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When did "Jew" mean "Hebrew" and more

Ok – we can all agree that Sherman is still getting used to the technology. I posted this once but did something wrong and so I am posting again. My mistake from which I learned to “post” before exiting.
Question One from last Sunday was, “When did the Hebrew people become known as the Jews?”
The Torah (Hebrew word meaning "teaching" or "instruction", or "law" also known as the Pentateuch which are the Five Books of Moses and comprise the entirety of Judaism's founding legal and ethical religious texts) does not refer to “Jews” as it is found in the post exilic period. The word Jew comes from Yehuda, the son of Yaakov who become the leader after Shimeon lost that position over the tribe of Judah.

Question Two “Was Adam a Jew?”
Adam was the first human (his name is an ancient Hebrew word for any human) which makes him the archetype (when God made human male and female Eve became the archetype female) and given the fallen nature of human – I have to believe we have no idea what Adam looked like. He and Eve were a standard to themselves.

Question Three came from a text which was truncated but here is the question I received, “The assumption that Noah had a sex act that caused the family disruption is just assumption. It could just be what it says: That…”
Very good question as we don’t really know what happened. We do know that what ever it was turned out to be bad enough to cause curses to be placed by a father on a son. Here are some of the explanations I found on Wikipedia which is quoted in several other sites with Jewish contributors.
“The Talmud deduces two possible explanations (attributed to Rab and Rabbi Samuel) for what Ham did to Noah to warrant the curse. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 70a.) According to Rab, Ham castrated Noah on the basis that, since Noah cursed Ham by his fourth son Canaan, Ham must have injured Noah with respect to a fourth son, by emasculating him, thus depriving Noah of the possibility of a fourth son. According to Samuel, Ham sodomized Noah, on the analogy between “and he saw” written in two places in the Bible: With regard to Ham and Noah, it says, “And Ham the father of Canaan saw the nakedness of his father (Noah)”; while in Genesis 34:2, it says, “And when Shechem the son of Hamor saw her (Dinah), he took her and lay with her and defiled her.” According to this argument, similar abuse must have happened each time that the Bible uses the same language. The Talmud concludes that, in fact, "both indignities were perpetrated."
In more recent times, some scholars have suggested that Ham may have had intercourse with his father's wife. Under this interpretation, Canaan is cursed as the "product of Ham's illicit union."
This "curse of Canaan" by Noah was likely connected to the conquest of Canaan by Israel. Both the conquest of Canaan and the curse, according to the Book of Jubilees 10:29-34, are attributed, rather, to Canaan's steadfast refusal to join his elder brothers in Ham's allotment beyond the Nile, and instead "squatting" within the inheritance of Shem, on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, in the region later promised to Abraham.”
See you Sunday

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Why do we trust the Canon?

The Bible’s authority comes from its being the inspired witness to the revelations of God. God did not dictate the Bible but communicated His will through His prophets and apostles.
Religion is humankind’s attempt to reach God and Christianity is God’s attempt to reach humankind. Generally God reveals Himself in His creation. He gives His Special Revelation through specific revelations and disclosures. He revealed His name, His covenant, His Commandments etc. The Bible is God’s infallible special revelation and it is reliable and trustworthy in His revelation of Himself and His will.
The canon we have today comes from thousands of years of critical testing. In some cases, where the authorship is clear, as in the case of The Gospels, their inspiration is accredited due to their closeness to the source, Jesus. Other books are included in the canon because spiritual leaders who we know and trust in history proclaimed them as inspired. The external test lies in the number of copies of portions, in some cases, and, whole books in others, though separated by centuries are found to be substantively and functionally identical. With over five thousand manuscripts in hand – some dating back to 400 years before Christ – we find less that a tenth or a percent difference in the final collection.
This compares to the minuscule number of late copies of the writings of Plato, Aristotle, or Shakespeare. As archeological discoveries reveal time and again the truth of the Biblical record there is now more reason to believe God’s special revelation today than on the day of Pentecost immediately following the resurrection of Jesus in which 3000 accepted God’s promise through Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Men & Women & Sex?

I ran this past my wife last night and she was underwhelmed so feedback would be helpful.
I believe that women's curse, yes the one in Genesis, was that they would be willing to do anything to have a relationship with a man. Man's curse (one of them) was embedded in the woman's curse, "they will lord it over them," as is that a man will always want to conquer life - which includes women.
That has led me to the belief that women have been historically willing to trade sex for relationship. I don't mean to imply women do not desire or enjoy the act of physical intimacy only that it is part of relationship and they are willing to enter into a physical relationship if they feel they will in turn have an emotional one.
Men are the reverse of this - they will "give relationship" to get physical intimacy which I believe leads to frustration after marriage when the man feels entitled and the woman feels used.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Clear Conscience vs Guilt Free

What follows is a response to a penitent's concern that their remaining sense of guilt for past sins should prohibit them from submitting to Christian Baptism as they understood 1 Peter 3:8.

I am glad you are approaching this sacred responsibility with care and study. The point the Apostle is making says that baptism, when it is properly a symbol of the putting away of sin, and of the renewing influences of the Holy Spirit, and an act of unreserved dedication to God—now saves us. In that light the “pledge” prior to baptism is not to be confused with the promise received after baptism. The pledge is in your court – that you pledge your intent in coming to the sacrament of baptism is that you are wholly committed to giving your life, past, present and future, to Christ.
The issue of guilt is separate from “clear conscience” in that guilt is the sense of shame God gives to tell of wrong doing and conscience is the tool used by the Holy Spirit to communicate that shame. Guilt is useful when it is prodding us to repentance and right action. Guilt is harmful when oppressing us and bringing give up hope in our ability to right the wrongs we have caused. However, guilt is a wonderful gift that keeps reminding us that God’s forgiveness has freed us from the penalty and power of sin while at the same time prodding us to do the work the of repentance in setting right what we have wronged to the extent we are able.
It is in baptism we receive the internal presence of the Holy Spirit which gives us the strength to do all the above – something we are not otherwise capable. See Acts 2:38 , “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
One final thing about sin and guilt. When God forgives you are forgiven – however – our personal sense of forgiveness takes time for two reasons. The first has to do with the fallout of our sin – the people we hurt and the damage done still has to be righted to the extent possible. The second is like a wound that continues to hurt or itch long after it is healed – we have to accept the wound is healed even though we still feel the pain or itch left behind.