Tuesday, February 24, 2009


It looks like the economy and about everything else we can measure lately is in trouble. The news outlets are all reporting bad news, so of course everyone says we should get more conservative, which reduces spending and sales and store traffic, and the spiral continues. Makes us think that there's no bottom but of course, there is one somewhere. In the meantime, we all have to be careful and hope that we make it through financially.

Then there's physical safety. Air travel safety is a huge concern, terrorism seems to be everywhere, and it sometimes our personal safety is in question.

What can we do in the middle of all this? God's word is very clear, that although we may go through trials and difficulties, he does not give up on us or ignore our needs.

Psalm 23 says "even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me." You may remember the famous "Footprints" poem, that reminds us that even in the hardest times, God walks alongside us.

Jesus, the Son of God who came to show us the Father's love for us (John 14, for instance), said many times that we shouldn't be afraid. He reminds us in Matthew 6:25-34 that we shouldn't worry, because the Father cares for even the birds, and we are more important to the Father than the birds are. Earlier in that chapter, the model "Lord's Prayer" has a section asking God for our daily needs, so it's okay to bring all those needs and worries to him too.

So we need to spend time in prayer, giving our worries to God and letting him fill us with reassurance and hope. He may even give us some encouragement that we can pass on to someone else! Let's not lose hope in uncertain times, but grow in hope and faith as we rely on God for our daily and eternal needs.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

We Are All One (5): Building Bridges

We've been talking a lot about how, under the skin, we're all pretty much the same. But the exterior differences, combined with our human way of mis-trusting each other and being suspicious of differences, have made our relationships less than open, to put it mildly. (Sometimes it's important to be wary, but that's different.)

On the higher plane, the spiritual one, we've all been made 'one people' in Jesus Christ. The Son of God, the immortal Word, took on human flesh with all its weaknesses, and by doing that as our 'representative', he completely brought us back to the Father. Not just the people at the time, and in fact, not just those who already believe it today (but that's a story for another time.) So every single human has been re-united with God, and that means we are all together in one family.

Paul gave this message, in terms of his culture of Jews and Gentiles, saying this in Ephesians 2:
"He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us."

In today's culture, that would say, perhaps: "He made peace between the races, and all the language groups, by creating one new people in himself from all peoples. So no matter where our parents came from, we are all one family of God through the same Holy Spirit, because of what Christ did for us." Maybe we also have to say, "Whether they believe this or not, we're going to believe it, and we'll treat them like it's true."

That's the truth, on the spiritual plane. Which means that's also the truth in our physical lives. So when I meet people of some other race or nationality or language, in the post office or grocery store or out for a walk, what's my response? I have to admit, it isn't always the welcoming smile or handshake that I know I should offer another person in the image of God.

And I have to stop and remember, kind of like this: I know God loves me, because of what his Son, Jesus did for me; hold on, Jesus also did that for the other guy too. Even if that other guy believes in Vishnu and karma and all that stuff. So what he really needs is for me to treat him like I really believe that Jesus united us all. That might change his opinion about people unlike him, and he might become willing to give Christianity a fair hearing, too.

I think it's worth a shot. How about you?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

We Are All One (4)

We're All Different. So What?

In England, many years ago, everyone lived and died within five miles or so of their birthplace, separated by hills and rivers that, for most, were too much trouble to cross. That separation produced unique dialects (dozens still exist) and separate ways of thinking and doing. In a way, that's a microcosm of the whole world: there are many different kinds of us humans, in an array of colors and shapes and sounds, dressing in different ways and living our lives in different manners.

God loves variety, I'm convinced of that. He made us humans and told us to go out and fill up the earth, and we sure did. Now we come in so many varieties it's hard to list them all. But, too bad for us, 'apart' is what we are, so often. We separate from one another over shape of nose, shade of skin, nuance of speech, and belief. We think we don't have much in common because of our differences. And when we draw away from one another, we allow suspicion and fear to come in between, and that pretty much ruins everything.

We all have our reasons, of course: those guys look like they're gang members, I don't like that music, why can't they dress better, I don't understand their slang, and so on. So we stick with those we understand and agree with, to be comfortable and safe.

In the end, though, none of those differences are going to matter. Here's what the Bible says is the ultimate reality -- speaking of the holy city that comes to us from heaven, John writes in Revelation 21 verses 24 and 26: "The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory...And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city." This doesn't speak of homogenization of the human race, but of the vast variety of all people, reunited in worshipping God.

And in truth, that's already the case. You'll find followers of Jesus Christ all over the world, worshipping him in just about every language and dialect and 'in spirit and in truth,' not in any one temple or mountain, as Jesus said in John 4:21, 23: "Jesus replied, 'Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem... But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.' "

You can see that happening in a lot of places already, as worshippers of Jesus bypass their differences and rejoice in their unity in Christ. I pray that the number of places, and the number of people, will increase. Will you join me?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

We Are All One (3)

A Man with a Big Nose

We all tend to accept people who look, sound and dress like us more readily than someone who is of a different skin color or uses language differently. We may have learned in school about other cultures, or we may have been taught that it's best to keep an open mind and learn about the other person before making judgments; but typical human behavior is to hold back until we're sure.

Renaissance artists knew this. There are a lot of paintings, sculptures and stained-glass windows of Bible characters, including Jesus, created by artists during that period. They tended to dress the characters in the same kind of attire worn by people of their culture. Now, perhaps they didn't have access to all the archaeological data showing the dress and manner of people of that time; or maybe, as artists, they were exercising their privilege to interpret the subject matter in the way they wanted! Or perhaps they were trying to steer their audiences toward acceptance of their work by making it look more familiar.

Some film-makers in the last century have tried to portray Jesus as understandable, 'like us but more so'. "Jesus of Nazareth" (1977) for instance, has a blue-eyed, British-accented actor in the lead role. Others tried to be more realistic, showing someone as Jesus who looked, maybe, a little Middle Eastern, in a robe we might recognize as looking something like maybe what they wore back then. There have been several movies with a black Jesus too. But they were all good-looking actors, the kind you might invite over for a barbeque this summer.

What did Jesus really look like? We don't know, except that the prophet Isaiah said in chapter 53 "There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him." And in the Gospels, the authorities had to have Judas point out Jesus for his arrest (see for example Matthew 26:47-49). And he was, undeniably, Jewish; so he looked Jewish, including perhaps a larger nose than Caucasians like me. And he dressed like the average Jewish man of his day, with a tunic (like an oversized t-shirt) and probably a robe over that most of the time. And he probably had longer hair than I wear, and it was probably wrapped up in a turban that had the ends of it hanging loose. So he might not make it through airport security today without a pat-down and some extra questions!

Would you invite someone like that to your barbeque? Maybe not. But the Gospel writers and the authors of the rest of the Bible say this is the one who came to die for us; to make us all into one family (Eph. 2) and bring us into God's presence forever, with no separation (Colossians 1). And if he has accepted all of us, with all our differences and all our weaknesses, and made us one, then can we accept one another in the same way?

I praise God that in many ways we have. And I pray that we can grow in it.