Enok My Brother

Patrick Melson on November 24, 2015

pigs3 hosana crop

I waited for pigs to cross the road before turning into Hosana’s driveway.  Waving children lined the fence, most smiling and laughing, a few distracted by others I couldn’t see.  Hosana Baptist Church is nestled along a ridge in the Asaro valley, about fifty minutes from the Bible College, if it wasn’t raining.  The last 10-15 minutes snake and climb over dirt and clay, with two creeks and wooden bridges.  It was dry so I did not have to use 4-wheel drive.   

DSC01901-crop Abol and Sera

 I could see Pastor Abol standing and talking with a group of people in the distance.  He and his his wife Sera were sent by Hosana to Goroka Baptist Bible College (GBBC), and after graduating in 2007, they returned to their home church.  Sera learned to read and write at GBBC, and is now a respected teacher, faithful alongside her husband.  Both of them have quick and broad smiles, and Abol, for a short guy, can speak and sing louder than most.  He continues growing beyond his elementary school and Bible College education and is a leader of men.  It was last week he saw me, and asked if I could come and speak this Sunday.  Sometimes this request may be just the day before!

God had directed my preparations to the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10, Mathew 19, and Luke 18.  He was probably a leader in the local synagogue.  The disciples were confused that one so blessed would have difficulty entering heaven, but Jesus said it is impossible for man but not for God.  In usual fashion the disciples gloss over the critical point: God must work in a person’s life to rescue them.  He must step in because even the best of us are incapable of coming to God unless God is working in their lives.  Jesus loved (Mk 10:21) this man who turned away from him, this man who is hell-bound apart from a miracle of God.  It should cause the disciples to pause, to maybe pursue this man and persuade him to turn around, but instead they selfishly say “Lo, we have left everything and followed you, what then shall we have?”   We are not like the rich man who just turned his back on you, what will you do for us?  It is a fair question, What will be the reward of those who follow Christ?  And Jesus answers and removes all uncertainty, for those who follow Jesus will be blessed exceedingly above what they gave up, blessings a hundred-fold though with persecutions, and eternal life in a time when earth’s false standards of “first” and “last” will be exchanged for the true standards of heaven.  This is great stuff, worthy of every Christian’s contemplation, but what of this man who walked away?  What was going on with him?  What barriers stood between him and Christ?

Barrier of Position
”A certain ruler asked him…”
This man was a ruler, a leader, of his people.  As a young man (Matt 19:20, 22) he is to be congratulated for achieving a position of leadership.  Such a position is not easily reached, and would carry with it the respect and acknowledgement of the community.  Perhaps a bit of pride crept in, Look at me and what I have achieved, especially in one who is young and ahead of his normal station in life.  And he was rich, undoubtedly this was a part of his public persona, a status not to be given up lightly.  But would he be willing to give it up if a good teacher, Jesus himself, instructs him to do so?  When Jesus told him to sell his possessions, then “come follow me,” he was asking this rich young ruler to leave all this behind, for the better position of being a “Christ-follower.”  Don’t you see that following Christ, even with persecutions, is better than the prestige the world offers?  He chose the respect of men over Christ, as many do. 

Barrier of Goodness
“Good Teacher” …  “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.”
When this man called Jesus “Good teacher” Jesus immediately challenged his idea of “goodness.”  Only God is “good,” Jesus said.  All self-defined lists of goodness fall short, ultimately they are lacking some goodness, and therefore are not entirely “good.”  Creating a list of goodness, and measuring oneself and others by that list, does not make one “good.”   Goodness is defined by the only One who is good, and that is God.

While Jesus recognized the relative “goodness” of this man’s following of the law, He still pointed out to him there is more goodness he could pursue. On a human level, he could sell his possessions and give to the poor.  On a spiritual and personal level, he could have great gain by following Jesus completely.  But the man’s goodness had a self-defined limit.  He turned away from Christ rather than change.  

Barrier of Works and Self-righteousness
“What must I DO to inherit eternal life? … What do I still lack?
If Jesus answered as other teachers in his day, the ruler would expect something like “Keep the commandments,” and the man was prepared to answer (and did answer) “All these I have observed from my youth.”  Then he could say “See, I am doing all the teacher says I am supposed to!”  He even asked what else he could do, “What do I lack?”  In Pidgin it is “Mi sot yet?” How am I still short?  How do I not measure up?  As a leader with a known testimony, many probably thought This guy is the best man I know, surely he will get into heaven.  This explains the surprise of the disciples when Jesus said about him “With man this is impossible.”  For Jesus saw what others did not see, here was a person who trusted his good works, but was selfish, for there was a limit to what he would do.  And that is the point Jesus touched…Will you be “perfect” (Matt 19:21) in your works?   Then sell what you have to meet the needs of the poor.  No, no he would not.  So how do his works measure up, when he knows he can do more but refuses to do so?

Barrier of Possessions
“Go…sell whatever you have and give to the poor…and follow Me.”  But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions… “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”
Much of this story focuses on money, since it is a central part of the young ruler’s life.  Jesus tested his heart on two points, would he give his wealth to help others in need, and would he turn his back on his possessions to follow Christ?   His wealth was not wrong, the disciples and others correctly understood that it can indicate the blessing of God.  But his wealth and its pleasures had become an idol, and had become more important than following Christ.  His life was full of these things, and they took the place of the time, affections, and room that should have been for Christ.  Christ taught emphatically, but it fell on unwilling ears, and the disciples seemed slow to grasp the lesson:  The entrance to the kingdom is blocked by piles of possessions that are loved more than Christ.  The way is blocked, impossible for man, IMPOSSIBLE!  But not for God, not with God.

So what would become of this man who turned away from Christ?  I do not know, we are left to wonder, but I would hope he came to his senses, yet it remains uncertain.  But for you and I the choice is before us, this very day, What are you still lacking?  Are the barriers of position, works, self-defined lists of goodness, perhaps the pursuit of things, keeping you from fully coming to Christ?

I prayed and sat down in the front.  Pastor Abol summarized, and passionately called for change, “Don’t turn your back on Jesus like this man did, but COME to him, He is calling for you.”  He pleaded for a few minutes and then prayed.  “Are any of you lacking?  Is there one who needs to come to Christ today?   If so, raise your hand!  I see that hand, brother, there in the back,” and whispering he nodded to me, “Brata Pat, yu go” and he sent me outside with a lean man with deep-set eyes, and a strong handshake.  He seemed to be in his early forties.

Enok bench counseling bench

We went to the side of the church, where the bank fell away to the wide Asaro valley, and Enok and I sat on a low, leaning bench.  “Why did you raise your hand?” I asked.  I could tell by his sinewy arms he worked hard, but did he understand the gospel?  Who Christ was?  Was he unclear about anything, did he have questions?

“I am just like that man” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“Mi sot yet…”   
Enok explained how he was a man of position and authority.  In Pidgin he said “Mi gat namba,” I have “number,” as in I am counted among the leaders. “Though I have position and planti kago (cargo, possessions),” he said, “I still lacked, so I went to church and tried to live a good life.”  He used the phrase “pasin lotu,” literally, a “fashion of worship,” religious practices.  Pasin lotu describes habitual church attendance without change and growth, those who put on a veneer of good works for God and people to see.  Such people are active in the church, know the songs, even rise to leadership, but it’s a facade, just religious habits.  They defend and fight over religious practices but speak little of Christ, because they do not have much, if any, of a relationship with him.  They evaluate themselves and others by the list of good works they have created and then pat themselves on the back because they have done enough.  And yet they know, like Enok, they are “sot yet” (still short of something).  That is why Enok raised his hand.  Religion does not bring rest, good works cannot fill an empty soul.

Only Jesus can.  That is what Enok was lacking.  He was lacking Jesus, just like the rich young ruler who Christ challenged to get rid of all the hindrances, “THEN, come follow ME.”  The hindrances of works and their supporting beliefs must be replaced by actually following Christ, just him.  After years of spiritual emptiness, Enok came to the end of himself to find that is where the limitless grace of God begins.  As we talked he understood much.  He knew there was only one true and holy God, the Creator of the universe and of man.  Man’s sin results in spiritual emptiness and death, and apart from God stepping in, man’s spiritual condition cannot change.  That is why God sent Jesus his Son, both God and man, to be a mediator between God and man.  By dying on the cross as payment for man’s sin, his holy life and loving sacrifice of himself opened the way for sinners.  Enok knew and believed these things, what he lacked was faith in Christ alone.  He had been trying to live a life of good works plus Christ, which is like standing with one leg in and one leg out of an elevator, it does not work.  Christ is not half the answer, or a part of the answer, He is THE answer.  I turned in my Bible to John 14:6 and asked Enok to read it, that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and like the rich young ruler Enok was wrestling with the choice to completely follow Christ, or to walk away.  Enok paused, his brow furrowed, before whispering, “I believe in Christ.” And he prayed, asking forgiveness for his sins, asking God to save him because his works could not, and he thanked Jesus for dying for him.

I had tears in my eyes as Enok prayed, and I prayed for him as well, Enok, my brother!  I told him Pastor Abol would love to meet with him and help him grow in Christ, and he said he knew Abol and would like to do that.  “How many children do you have?” I asked him?  His head dropped a bit, and there was an awkward silence for about thirty seconds. The kind of silence where you start to hear the conversations in the background, the wind, your own heartbeat, as I looked at the ground I saw an insect and I think I could hear it crawling.  Enok was still silent, lost in thought, and I feared I had touched a sore spot. 

“Eleven,” he said, “I have eleven children.”  He wasn’t upset, he was counting! 
“Eleven?” I asked, and he nodded, “That’s a big family!”
“Yes,” he said, “I have been married four times, so I had to count my wives and the children from each of them.”  I listened as he described his marriages and children.  It not unusual for one who is a “bikman” (big man, a leader) to be a polygamist.  But he told me he was no longer married to all of them, he had sent three of them away, though he still supports them and his children.  He said “It is difficult to provide for so many so I work hard in my plantation and gardens.”  As we spoke of what it means to be a Christian husband and father, Pastor Abol came and joined us in the warm sun.  Enok told him he had become a Christian, in Pidgin the normal phrase is “tanim bel,” to change one’s heart and thinking.  And Enok my brother had done that, he had come to Christ and was a new man, you could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice.  We were all smiling.