Showing posts with label Gospel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gospel. Show all posts

Monday, October 3, 2016

Let the Barbarians come in

   When I was a junior at the University of Illinois Champaign/Urbana in 1984 I took a course called "Roman Achievement" and it was taught by a Professor Scanlan.  He was an incredible teacher and even though it was taught in a large auditorium of over 2000 there was still a waiting list to get into the class.   He covered the entire 700 year history of the Roman Empire from its early beginnings to the fall in the 5th century.    I was amazed at how similar their culture was to ours.  Their buildings, there culture, their education, their sports and arts and even their politics and military.   I never missed a class the entire semester.   Towards the end of the semester he began to cover the fall of the Roman Empire.  How the barbarians of the north had disguised themselves and pretended to be Roman citizens and soldiers in the military.   I remember him talking about the final collapse and how within a 100 years much of Romes knowledge was gone completely.  I remember leaving the class and walking down the Quad lined with buildings that looked like they were from the Roman Empire and wondered to myself "Why God?  Why did you have to let it collapse?".   I thought of how much more advanced we would be today if we did not go through a 1000 years of darkness.

    The question of "Why?" haunted me for many years.   It seemed so pointless to lose all this knowledge and culture.   Even more so, when you realize that near the end of the Roman Empire, Rome had turned from a pagan culture to a Christian culture.    Even its very emperors became Christian ( Constantine was the first ).   So why should God allow it to collapse now?   Shouldn't God have been MORE pleased with where it was going culturally? By most evangelicals today in our country, God should have been so pleased with Rome he should have been showering them with more peace and prosperity than ever before.   But just the opposite was about to happen.

     The answer would not come to me for many years.   Just recently as I was writing a blog about how God used the Roman Empire to spread the Gospel.  He used the Roman highways to allow missionaries to travel.  He used Greek language to allow them to talk to countless cultures across the Mediterranean.  He used Roman coin to pay for these missions and help build churches across the region.   He used the Roman military to provide a time of peace to the region it had never seen before.    All these things the Jews despised were useful to God and his plan to save the world.   It was at that moment I realized, God had maximized his mission to the Roman Empire and it was now time to reach beyond Rome and into the barbarian countries.   These people were not going to be receptive to the Gospel as long as Rome was fighting with them and enslaving them.   God needed to let the barbarians IN so now they can hear the Gospel for themselves.   And hear it they did.   They turned from their pagan myths to Jesus Christ.   They became believers and were baptized.

   In short, for God to win the barbarian's souls, Rome had to lose.

   And that is what God always wants to accomplish.   I don't think God cares about Global Economics or National boundaries.  He has a completely different agenda: saving souls.   In the end, all nations will be thrown down.  In the end, all the money of the earth will be burned up and lost.  In the end, all the knowledge of the universe will be forgotten.  In the end all that will matter will be whether your name is in the Book of Life or not.

   Today, like Rome, the barbarians are at the door.   This time they are not northern Germanic tribes wielding large swords and axes but instead are members of ISIS seeking our destruction.   But along with them are many people caught in pain and suffering of being Islamic who are in need of hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   I don't often agree with President Obama, but on a recent occasion I did.   He was giving a speech about how to confront Islamic terrorism and he offered his opinion that we need to provide a "better alternative to Islamic extremism".   Of course he was referring to high paying jobs and better opportunities for them.    I say, Christianity offers the ONLY solution for them and it is so much better than what they have right now.   The problem for us right now is that so many of these countries where they live don't allow missionaries to preach to them and our efforts are thwarted.  So our only way to reach them is for them to come here inside our country.

    Does this strike fear into my heart?   Some.   Will some of these people from the Middle-East be terrorists?   Probably.   But if God can save more people isn't that what I should want too?   I hurt for the ISIS followers.  I pray for their souls and that God can somehow reach them.   Imagine the passion a former ISIS follower turned Christian would bring to the Church!   St. Paul you might say was an early anti-Christian terrorist.   In Acts it says he went from town to town rounding up all those who were believers and brought them back to Jerusalem to stand trial.   He called himself "a man of anger and a violent man".   But God was able to re-channel that misplaced passion to be used for good.    If God can do it for Paul, how many  ISIS-Paul's are out there today he can use as well?

    This is why God calls for his children to "pray for those who persecute you" because he wants them to come to the truth as well.  It's not just for you!  It's for them as well!   All too often we fall victim to the Jonah-reaction.   Jonah saw 10 out of 12 tribes of Israel taken away by the Assyrians never to be heard from again.   Jonah HATED the Assyrians and the last people he wanted to receive God's grace and forgiveness was them.   That is why he fled on a ship to the west rather than go east as he was told to.   Even after God sent a violent storm and Jonah admits to the sailors that he is at fault, he still doesn't want to go.  Instead of asking for God to forgive him and send him back to Assyria he tells the sailors to "bind me hand and foot and throw me overboard".   He essentially is telling them "drown me!". (side note: a Jewish myth was that the sea was bottomless and that "maybe" a person might be out of God's reach for judgment day).   God has the last laugh and sends him to Assyria anyway and Jonah sends God's message to them and they repent (Jonah spending 3 days in a fish was probably bleached head to toe and was a hard preacher to ignore).    God accepts their repentance and spares them.   When Jonah in anger tells God "This is why I didn't want to go because I knew you would forgive them!" God smacks Jonah on the side of the head when he says "Don't you know there are over 10,000 who don't know their left from their right in Nineveh alone (that means little children) ?".   God doesn't want to destroy them.  He wants to save them.

    We too must not become like Jonah and let our hatred get in the way of God's love and forgiveness.  God wants to save the ISIS followers too.   He wants to save the Islamic people too.

    He wants to save ALL people.




Tuesday, September 8, 2015

We need to see more than just Christian movies

     Recently there have been a large amount of new Christian movies that have hit the scene.  Most of the movies are the product of Kirk Cameron who grew up on TV's sitcom "Growing Pains".   Starting with the movie "Fireproof" Cameron has capitalized on a small group of evangelical Christians who feel their views are not emulated well in Hollywood.   As a Christian I feel compelled to see these movies and support these artists and producers.   But I don't see it that way at all.  Most of these movies follow a common and almost predictable plot line.  First there is the main character who is either a coach (Facing the Giants) a fireman (Fireproof) or a policeman (Courageous) whose family life is falling apart while their work life is in shambles   Next comes their pastor who challenges them to return to God's word after which everything thing changes. Their wife returns back to them, their children do better in school and their work becomes amazing. In the end everything works out gloriously and even the villains are saved. 

     But that is not how life really works nor is it guaranteed by God in his word. Jesus often even showed quite the opposite when he talked about being hated and being chased from town to town on account of him.  While I appreciate people trying to reach a dying world, the problem is that almost 100% of the people who see these films are already saved and therefore don't achieve their goal. 

    Another reason I don't support Holy-wood is because I am sick and tired of seeing Christians cloister themselves off like a bunch of monks so they don't have to touch the world they walk in.  We have christian music, schools, movies, radio stations,TV stations, bookstores, gyms, coffee shops, dating sites, businesses, and even cruises!   How can you relate to your neighbor if you have NOTHING IN COMMON WITH THEM!!  Here is how your conversation will go with them if you cloister yourself off and only see Holy-wood movies

Jim:     Hey Bob have you seen that new movie The Matrix?
Bob:     No.  I only see Christian movies. Did you see Fireproof?
Jim:     No.  Too religious (alternative:  "Never heard of it")
            (End of discussion)

     This is not how Jesus intended for us to live.  Instead he said exactly opposite when he told us to:
                    "Be in the world but not of the world".   
     How can you be "in it" if you don't participate "in it"?   Granted that doesn't mean I am free to go to strip clubs and the like, but it doesn't mean I sit at home and watch re-runs of  "The Walton's" every night on DVD either.   We have to find a happy medium here and for my Holy-wood is not where the line should be drawn.  To me, it's like saying that you can only discuss your faith if you are inside a church building and since your neighbors never want to go to church with you then ....oh well...guess you never will have that chance to share your faith then.  Of course we see that as an absurd path of logic but often that is exactly what we do.

    St. Paul exhorts his readers to "Always have an answer for the hope you have inside you"

    Translation: Find answers to questions as they arise as we live in this world

    Let's take the conversation earlier and see how it "might" play out differently

Jim:     Hey Bob have you seen that new movie The Matrix movies?
Bob:    Yes I did.  I saw all three.Pretty intense movie I must say.  I wouldn't take my kids to it but I found it interesting
Jim:     Yeah. me too.   I liked the story line
Bob:    Yeah I did too.  I found it very biblical in nature
Jim:     How?
Bob:    Well the names for example.  Trinity is the name of our Christian God. Father,Son and Holy Spirit.  Then their is Neo, which is Greek for NEW so he is kind of like Jesus.   He has the amazing powers no one else has.  Smith is sort of like the Devil that he has to fight.   In the end, when he is connected to the matrix and laid out in a cross formation and is fighting Smith its just like Jesus.  The Bible says of Jesus, "He who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that the power of sin could be destroyed once and for all".   That is just like Neo turning into Smith at the end and then destroying Smith from the inside.  Then their is Zion, which is also a biblical name for Jerusalem, and they cry out at the end "The war is over!".  We as Christians believe too that the war with God is over.  We are no longer enemies but his children now.

Jim:  Wow!  I missed all of that.  Do you think the writer intended that?
Bob:  I don't know.  Maybe.  It just seems all to coincidental to be an accident.  I think he is trying to get across a deeper message of salvation possibly.

And the conversation goes on from here....

I am not saying that every movie we go to has a direct application of the Gospel, but we should try to look and find ways of using our culture to reach out to a dying world.   Take for example St. Paul when he visited Athens.   Did he only go to the synagogues?   Apparently not.   When he visited Mars Hill to talk to the philosophers of his day, he mentioned their temples and even gave them credit for being very religious.   He also quoted one of their poets which means he either read their writings or attended their plays.   He uses this as a spring-board to the Gospel.  A way to connect to them.  In other writings Paul talks about athletes running with no clothes on which could mean he attended these competitions personally (something most Christians today would avoid like the plague).

    We, like Paul, might not agree with all of our world's "poets" but we must take want God gives us and use it wherever and whenever we can.  Who knows maybe a rap-artist might even have some social commentary that we can use to talk up our faith.   We must be more like Paul who even though he doesn't agree with all the greek poets writings, takes what he can and even gives credit to them.   We miss these chances when all we have to say is bad things about our culture and nothing good.  How do you think these Greek philosophers would feel if Paul approached them like this instead

Paul:  Hey I have been here for a week but could only hack walking around your city for a day because its covered with these shameless nude statutes of these "so-called" gods which really aren't gods at all but are stupid idols you guys think are so great.   I was also invited to go to a poetry reading but because I heard the poet was a heathen who has no religious background I told my friends that it would not be good for me to ingest that tripe.  But hey!  While I am here let me tell you about this man I follow named Jesus of Nazareth who is the Son of God and was crucified by you gentiles and was raised to life 3 days later.

How many do you think would have stayed around to hear?   None.

Yet that is how we sound too.