Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Gospel Brings People Together

There is a conference called Together for the Gospel.  What an apt title though in general for the work of the Spirit of Christ among God's people?  God calls people from every tribe, tongue, and people group.  More than any conference, the gospel crosses barriers beyond backgrounds and countries of birth and denominations.  So when the church assembles anywhere in the world, it is a refreshing thing, because God overcomes barriers that man or woman might set up such as "how they were raised," and instead replaces our petty issues with the greatness of His Son, Jesus and the doctrine of His person.

It is a great reminder in Scripture when Paul, a Jewish educated semi-well off man in seasons of life, writes to his friends the Philippians from the city of Philippi who were doing ok, but definitely not Jewish, "therefore my brothers whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved."  He speaks as if they are family, though they are from very different cultures and backgrounds.  He speaks as though they have value, though people naturally in the world do not value those who are different.

Paul is able by focusing on Jesus Christ to love those unlike him in so many ways.  He can then ask two people who do not get along, to get along, in the Lord right after that Scripture.  He can say "let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand...."  Wow.  Such a radically different picture we see here, of unity around Jesus Christ.  It is a great application to our lives to live this out.

Likewise Jesus in what we have recorded of his living Word in the Gospel of Luke, says in chapter 7, verses 36 to 50, that the woman who was a "sinner" is welcome to come to worship Him as Savior.  She is completely (verbal form meaning started and continues indefinitely with effects to present tense) forgiven of all her sins (same for us once we believe, forgiveness continues).  She is an outcast in society, and yet she manages to get into a place where Jesus is, where she would not be welcome in that home, but Jesus welcomes here.  He commends her example of stepping out in faith to worship, despite a societal reason she would not be accepted.  She wanted to be where Jesus was at work.  May that not be a great thing to be said about all of us?  Wow.

Clearly the most common proof of this gospel bringing people together is the command to take the good news to all peoples (or all nations).  As the gospel is in every nation, it is typically taken that Matthew 28 refers to all people groups.  We are to teach people to worship God, no matter their place or family or country.  How amazing is that.  God is truly a great and awesome God to unite completely disparate people groups in worship.  Amen.

ISIS requiring Christians to pay Muslim Law Tax for "Protection" as Muslims Have Demanded over Centuries

In the newly captured territory of ISIS, Christian residents are being called and told they only get protection if they pay a special Islamic tax that Muslims do not have to pay.  This tax is part of the teaching of Islam, and it is against non-Muslims of the Christian faith.  This is unjust, immoral and a witness against following all of Islam's teachings (obviously in the West, as a minority group of the population, such a tax is never brought up nor can it be forced).  In places throughout the centuries taken over by Islam, this same tax has been forced upon Christians in many places and times.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Job 7:7 "remember that my life is a breath...."

Today I attended the funeral of my last grandparent who was alive, my Grandma Alice.  What do you do with a funeral?  As Christ followers we believe in the resurrection of our bodies from the dead when Jesus returns, so that we may reign and rule with Him.  But we talk at funerals much too about how a person lived, as a witness this side of heaven.  My grandma, born in the early 1930's had a perspective many had of that generation.  It is one that is just hard to find today.  She was for instance very optimistic, which showed as she exuded a welcoming and outgoing personality that was uplifting whenever you would visit her.  She believed the best about a lot of people, and would really have her heart go out to them.  Alice would reach out to anybody and make them feel at home with hospitality.  There are so few people like that in our hurried society.  Perhaps there are lessons in this about hospitality and kindness and patience (1st Cor. 13).  It reminds you of the importance of setting an example and calls you back to things that matter...



Her funeral was held at a church she attended from another era, complete pipe organ, old style wooden pews, and 1970's lights.  This is not my style of worship, but I can appreciate its pointing a worshipper to transcendence, which I value.  That church building built very recently in the past decade is entirely new, but it was built in a previous style to attract older members and people in the aging area of Richardson, Texas.  It was a strategic choice, no accident.  The funeral hymns reflected that style she liked, so much so that they were not hymns I recognized or most under 45 would.  Ironically, she also listened to very modern music, people like Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel.  She had met them too.  Irony exists in that, and in that generation too; with their church style versus personal music.  Today the funeral video tribute showed family in generations past as they grew up, people I knew in another time, another world almost.  Today we discussed her legacy, what is remembered, and how it changed us.  How did she help us relate to God and others.  What were her struggles, such as becoming a single mom due to her husband dying at a very young age, while raising seven, yes seven, children.  It reminds you of the importance of setting an example and calls you back to things that matter...

The most powerful thing a Christian funeral does is point to Jesus, who has risen already from the dead, so that we can reflect on our hope in the same.  I attended a Pakistani funeral service in North Texas recently, and the message (being a Christian one) did the same.  I always am awed by the power of the resurrection especially in connection to a dear saint's hope.  This is when the man or woman most deeply feels the tentativeness of life, and the raising from the dead makes the most sense, not as a wish, but as a sense God placed in our inner man or woman.  A funeral can be an excellent time for someone to consider the claims of Jesus and become a genuine follower of Him.  It's the nature of it, what do you speak, what do you believe?  How does it fit the reality of suffering and death, which the Bible says, comes as a result of the choice of sin by Adam and Eve.  A funeral of a loved one:  It reminds you of the importance of speaking beliefs and calls you back to things that matter...

Funerals remind you that you need to cling to God.  As dear family members are taken away from you, it is a lesson too in that God does not change (Malachi 3:6) and that He loves you (John 3:16) and so you can cling legitimately to Him.  This is mainly the realization that you cannot hold onto anything in this world forever. This world is passing away, therefore you and I must pursue the eternal things of Jesus' will more consistently.  The belief that God is worthy of your trust and leaning on is not foolish, He is Creator, so this makes full sense.  Who else can sustain you, since He sustains all creation at the word of His power and through Jesus Christ (Colossians 1)?  Such a truth is not a hope in a foolhardy way, but a real way to live to be most effective today (research history of Colgate family, Isaac Newton, Colonel Sanders, James P. Boyce family, Borden family, missionary Lottie Moon, and Adoniram Judson, John Knox, Martin Luther, and Jean Calvin, many successful people and companies in the West, etc to see this principle).  This fact reminds you of the importance of holding beliefs dearly and calls you back to things that matter...

And yet my grandma, as your relatives whom you love are not perfect, was not perfect.  The minister who did the funeral service whom she had gone to his church, really tried to play up how great she was, and how influential.  He almost overplayed it.  I love my grandma and wish she was still with us.  However, a tendency we all have to over exalt or over judge someone is risky.  The fact is she had sins and need for growth in some areas, as do I, as do you, as do your family.  Yet this truth that we are imperfect is practical:  This too teaches you to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior.  The fact is this too is a reminder of the importance of living in a walk of trust in Jesus and calls you back to things that matter...

Family differences.  In any family, there may be one or two or more who do not get along.  Add in a big family and you just have more opportunity for that.  Funerals have a way of forcing people to get past themselves and come together.  It can still be awkward, absolutely.  But in the midst of that, there is a pointer that there are things bigger than us, and it points toward how things should be, how people should come together despite differences, which is like in some ways the Old Testament Hebrew idea of shalom, or peace.  Peace that makes whole.  Heaven is a place of peace where negative differences and sin do not reign.  Funerals have a way of reminding you of the importance of your faith in practice and call you back to things that matter...

What are you living for?  What attitudes do you let rule in your heart?  Do you want to change the world instead and leave a legacy and be an example of beliefs applied to real life?

When I lived in Kentucky for several years, the grocery stores up there all over seemed to have scenes from a previous era on the walls above the food and fridge cases.  I think it was meant to give some Kentucky charm.  However, that is a slight reminder of the full sense at a funeral you get, that this earthly life does end.  Then the question will be:  what kind of legacy did you leave, and who did you reach out to and bless, and how did you point them to God?  Funerals remind us not only of the raising from the dead of the deceased in a church, but also that your life is but a breath....