Monday, March 30, 2009

Presenting Praan!

Last December I posted a blog titled Dancing with the non-stars. It was a poignant reminder of the simple but profound power of music and love. More recently I had a friend e-mail me to enquire about that post and so I had occasion to watch it all over again. I discovered that I was just as moved by it as I was the first few thousand times I watched it. I was motivated to research it some more. While the title "Where in the hell is Matt" does an absolute disservice to the strength of the video, it's message is just as profound.

During the planning stages of the video, the producers searched high and low for the "right voice" to carry the song (which incidentally happens to be a Bangladesh poem). They auditioned tons of established musicians and even had people submit videos of their music. Nothing seemed to fit until they found seventeen year old Palbasha Siddique. She was perfect for what they intended, and so she became the voice of the song "Praan", the music behind the youtube video that's been viewed over seven million times.

Palbasha has a vision to help the poor and less privileged of Bangladesh and she is using the leverage of her new found fame to promote that laudable agenda. In my own small attempt to help spread her message, and as a tribute to my friend who rekindled the memory of the original video, I present Palbasha doing Praan on her eighteenth birthday. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Chief Architect and Master Builder!

Lately in church, we've been talking a lot about Seasons of Silence. Those seasons when God's voice is undiscernable and the resulting silence is deafening. Yesterday, I stated that while there are definetely seasons of silence in our lives, God is always actively at work to bring about His purpose. You see, He determines when a season begins and when it ends, because He alone is the Chief Architect and the Master Builder (I thought it would be a good idea for me to illustrate that in the message yesterday, complete with blueprints, hard-hat, and all). Read what the Bible has to say about this in Daniel 2: 20 - 22:

..."Blessed be the name of God, forever and ever. He knows all, does all:

He changes the seasons and guides history. He raises up kings and also brings them down, He provides both intelligence and discernment, He opens up the depths, tells secrets, sees in the dark - light spills out of Him!..." (The Message)

Jesus was patently aware of God's control over the "times and seasons" of life. In John 2: 4 He declared, "My time has not yet come..." But in John 17: 1 He boldly and confidently prays, "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you." It is pointless to waste our lives in feckless pursuit of satisfaction, when that satisfaction can only be found in the center of God's will. It would be like a construction crew trying to construct a building without the blueprints. It would undoubtedly be an exercise in futility. In the silent seasons, God is still actively working out His purpose, and if we have the slightest velleity to give up before the Chief Architect and Master Builder has completed His work in us, then we would be like a partially completed edifice that serves no real useful purpose.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Flivorous Fliday... Engrish ressons!!!

Well Fliday... I mean Friday, sure came around rather quickly this week. It seems like just yesterday that we were 'hanging out' in China together. Well we're back there again this week with some hilarious signs courtesy of I now proudly present for your viewing pleasure... Flivorous Fliday!!! I certainly don't mean to offend your delicate sensibilities, but I thought it wise to prepare you for your impending trip to China. I didn't want you to be blindsided by their 'in-your-face' honesty and choice of language. Since the WC is free of washing, you need to be sure and leave off after...

One thing's for sure, the Chinese will never be accused of caring about political correctness! Hey I guess we should be grateful that they even remembered to give some consideration to the "deformed." No doubt, Quasimodo would really enjoy a visit to China. There is something else you should know before you purchase your flight ticket to China. While Communism is no longer the order of the day, and we are increasingly influenced by Democracy and the Western lifestyle, we want to make sure that we preserve some of the legacy handed down by 'Maoism.' With that in mind, we want to remind you that while in China, "Having fun is prohibited." Have a frivolously fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

400 Silent Years?!

I've been so swamped the last couple of days, that I haven't even been able to update my blog, so I apologize to those of you who 'religiously' look for a daily update. Any way, enough of the platitudes and let's get down to the business at hand. You see, I've been thinking a lot lately about a fascinating truth I discovered while listening to a friend. I spoke in church this past Sunday about the fact that God is at His most active in the 'apparent silent' moments of our lives. Those moments in time when we think that we need to hear from God the most, and the heavens appear to be 'brass' (when our prayers don't seem to go beyond the ceiling), are often the moments in which He is working His greatest work in us and for us. He's preparing us for something and preparing something for us.

Consider the time between the Old and the New testaments. The page in the NIV Bible that separates these two time periods, is generally inscribed with the words "400 years of silence." Amazingly the New Testament opens up with the genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the story of His birth. What happened during the 400 silent years? Well, for one thing, Alexander the great conquered the known world (356 BC) and then wept because there were no more worlds to conquer. The Old Testament closes with the knowledge that Persia is the ruling power of the day, while the New Testament clearly shows a shift in the balance of power from the East to the West, as Rome is now the emergent ruling global power. Consider the fact that God always planned that Jesus would die on a Roman cross to pay the penalty for the sin of mankind. Alexander had no idea that he was an unwitting tool in the hand of God to orchestrate that shift in power so that Rome would be the ascendant power in the days when Jesus walked the earth, therebye paving the way for God's purpose to be accomplished. This plan was not set in motion at the birth of Jesus, but during the 400 silent years when Alexander conquered the reigning global powers.

God does not react to the human condition, so regardless of how dire your straits may seem to be at this point in time, God isn't about to change His plan in direct reaction to your plight. In much the same way that God was silent in the 400 years between the Old and the New Testaments, yet He was orchestrating a masterplan that would free the world from the bondage of sin, He is still at work in your life and mine (especially in those silent seasons) to ensure that His plans and purposes are accomplished. His plan was always the ultimate and best plan for all of our lives, and "In the fullness of time" (Galatians 4: 4) it will be played out. So even when there are '400 seemingly silent years' in your life, the fact that God is silent, in no way suggests that He's not actively working to bring about His best for your life and mine. Pause and think about that!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Road to Destiny

Not long ago my wife, Sola, and I went on a 'movie-date' and saw the movie "The International." It was quite the intriguing movie and it was peppered throughout with aphorisms that seemed to me to be really great life lessons. Here are a couple of them posted below. What do you think? Do you agree with them or not? Why?

Sometimes a man finds his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.
-- (Clive Owens’s character in The International)

Sometimes the most difficult decision is knowing which bridge to cross and which one to burn. -- (Clive Owens’s character in The International)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Frivolous Friday!

As you'll know if you've followed my Frivolous Friday posts for any length of time, I enjoy a good laugh at Japan's expense, as some of the funniest signs come out of there. However, I've just discovered the joys of China and so, while I'm sticking with the Far-East theme, I'm crossing borders today, so sit back and enjoy these for your weekend relaxation. When the Chinese say "no louding" they mean it, so I suggest you pay attention, stop louding, and begin 'quieting.'

This beautiful, sacred, Buddhist temple is expected to stand for the rest of time, so we don't want you to even go near it. Whatever you thought you could do at this temple, including looking at it, even if it's not included on the sign as one of the things not to do, don't do it! Don't litter up! We're very particular about that. How else do you think we've preserved the pristine beauty of our botanical gardens? However, 'littering down' is certainly an option that's available to you and is entirely your prerogative.
This sign has absolutely 'sod-all' (that's a 'classy' English expression for 'nothing') to do with China and Chinese signs. In fact more than anything it might be Scottish! How so, you ask? Well the only person I know who says "Shcool" is the great Sean Connery, who is himself, a Scotsman. So, this may well be a "shcool" crossing being painted on in his honor (otherwise these sign painters need to go back to "shcool.") Any way, enough of all that nonshenshe! Now, make sure you have a shplendid day, and a shuper weekend!!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A mega toxic rock!

This week we’ve been talking about ‘rocks’ of dishonor, toxic rocks, and we’ve even taken a toxic test. If you tested ‘positive’ for toxicity, then I need to give you a real incentive to let go of the bitterness and find it in your heart to extend forgiveness to whomever the source of your pain, hurt, anger, bitterness… (I’m sure you get the idea) is aimed at. How do you let go of bitterness? Well, like I mentioned previously, you must take the attention off yourself and place it squarely on Jesus. You must remind yourself that there are other people suffering much worse indignities than you will ever come close to suffering, and Jesus needs you to be Him to them during this season of immeasurable pain and difficulty.

Consider the following story from
DOSHU, Congo - Zamuda Sikujuwa shuffles to a bench in the sunshine, pushes apart her thighs with a grimace of pain and pumps her fist up and down in a lewd-looking gesture to show how the militiamen shoved an automatic rifle inside her.

The brutish act tore apart her insides after seven of the men had taken turns raping her. She lost consciousness and wishes now that her life also had ended on that day.

The rebels from the Tutsi tribe had come demanding U.S. dollars. But when her husband could not even produce local currency, they put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. When her two children started crying, the rebels killed them too. Then they attacked Sikujuwa and left her for dead.

The 53-year-old still has difficulty walking after two operations. Yet she wants to tell the world her story, even though repeating it brings back the nightmares.

“It’s hard, hard, hard,” she says. “I’m alone in this world. My body is partly mended but I don’t know if my heart will ever heal. …I want this violence to stop. I don’t want other women to have to suffer what I am suffering.”

Wow! I guess it puts a whole new perspective on 'toxic rocks.' Zamuda’s got the right idea though. The only way to cope with the pain and release the bitterness is to take the focus and attention off the wrong done to you, and focus on how you can use it as a blessing for someone else. It takes a real understanding of God’s greater purpose to find the place of forgiveness, and I love the way Matthew West says it in his song, The Motions.
I don’t wanna go through the motions
I don’t wanna go one more day
Without your all consuming passion inside of me
I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking,
“What if I had given everything, instead of going through the motions?”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Detoxing from toxicity

So, yesterday I spoke about being hit by ‘toxic rocks’ that may well have shaped your outlook and approach to life, and I suggested that you might be interested in taking a toxic test to determine whether or not you actually have toxic residue clinging to you like cologne. I would make the case that many of the negative words that have been spoken over us throughout the course of our lives, have left us extremely vulnerable to a build up of toxicity. While the old school yard taunt implied that sticks and stones (which can break your bones) are more deadly than words (since they can never harm you), I beg to differ. The Scriptures tell us that death and life are in the power of the tongue and so words carry tremendous creative and shaping force. While sticks and stones can break your bones, words can destroy your entire life and purpose.

So how do you know if you’re toxic? Just take the following quick, unscientific survey, and mark a yes or a no for each one of these statements with regard to how accurately they describe you. If you can answer yes to any of them… well, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re toxic.

  • Toxic people keep a detailed list of wrongs done to them
  • Toxic people are extremely mistrusting, and pollute relationships
  • Toxic people justify their pollution by trying to get others to accept that they have valid reasons for being the way they are
  • Toxic people have a tendency to be overly critical
  • Toxic people secretly celebrate the misfortunes of othersToxic people form judgments and opinions about whole groups of people based on their experiences with one person

So how did you do on the test? Yeah I know, and I’m sympathetic ‘cos I discovered the same thing when I took the test. I wanted to give you some real world examples of toxic rocks that are destroying a whole generation of people, as well as whole nations, but that would require an entire post so I guess I’ll just wait until tomorrow. Meanwhile, I’ll give you a few sure-fire ways to get rid of the toxicity in your life.

  • Keep your eyes fixed squarely in Jesus (Hebrews 12: 1-4)
  • Stay humble and gentle (Ephesians 4: 2)
  • Don’t let the sun set on your anger (Ephesians 4: 26)
  • Get rid of all bitterness by choosing to forgive (Ephesians 4: 31) Remember that forgiveness is not a feeling but a choice.

Well, I’ll let you go so you can begin to work on detoxing. See you tomorrow.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Toxic rocks!

This is a photo of me delivering yesterday's sermon at The Well! I know, I know, you wish you went to a church like that too, huh? Seriously, this was my sermon illustration and it just so happened to be 'Mission Sunday' as well, and so I was dressed in my traditional Nigerian attire in addition to donning the debonaire mask and gloves. Makes for a great picture don't you think? Enough about the outfit already and tell us what's up with the mask and gloves, you're thinking? Well, like I said, they were my illustrated sermon props as we were talking about rocks of dishonor that are hurled at you through pain, abuse, rejection, and all the stuff that life seems to so readily have available to make our journey that much more 'interesting' (I had to wear the protective gear so that I could handle the toxic rock which I took out of the box). Our key verses were taken from the story of the woman caught in adultery in John chapter 8, and we talked about the fact that the Pharisees and other leaders of the people were lined up as far as the eye could see, waiting for Jesus to authorize the 'Moses-sanctioned-stoning-party.'

We explored the very real possibility that if Jesus had not been present she would have met an untimely death at the hands of men who, like her, were sinners (certainly the one with whom she had committed adultery, even though he was conspicously absent from the receiving end of the stoning party), yet felt it their religious duty to ensure that they hurled their rocks of dishonor at an already publicly shamed woman. Then we took it a step further and examined the idea that some rocks of dishonor that are hurled at us have more far reaching consequences than others, because they leave a toxic residue on us that begins to color and destroy our outlook on life and wreak havoc on our testimony as bitterness begins to take root in our hearts. Here's how the writer of Hebrews expressed the danger of toxic rocks:

Work at getting along with each other.... Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. (Hebrews 12: 14-15 - The Message Bible)

Evidently, when toxic rocks are hurled at us, their residue can give root to thistles that can destroy the garden of our lives in no time at all. What a great plan! If the enemy of our souls can get us to develop whole gardens full of "weeds of bitter discontent," we are much less likely to be a threat to his kingdom objectives since we will be of little consequence to spreading any real, authentic message of love. There are toxic rocks being hurled in every direction and maybe, just maybe you've been hit by one at some point in your life. The real question is: did it's residue stick to you without you even realizing it, so that now you are spreading toxicity like a wildfire and you have no clue as to what, when, or how it happened? Tomorrow we'll take a toxic test and look at some real world examples of toxic rocks. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Frivolous Friday!

I decided that in view of all the bad news lately, and the various news stories about the Madoff's of the world who are hell bent on breaking the law, I would make today's Frivolous Friday a tribute to cops. Hope you enjoy these snapshots of a tedious day in the life of a police officer.
I personally think donuts should be banned from the diet of police officers. Having said that, I applaud these safety conscious officers for at least leaving the lights on to ward off troublesome, and inquisitive passers by while they take a nap, just in case someone gets the foolish idea of taking a photograph of them thinking they were sleeping.I've read about the budget cuts in many PD's across the nation but I seriously didn't realize how bad it had gotten. I think we might have to take up a special collection this Sunday for our local PD to ensre that they aren't saddled with the difficult and near impossible task of having to chase down criminals on their new 'scooters,'What's even more amazing about this photo is the fact that the guy was simply trying to follow the traffic cops (officer Hugo) directions . I guess parking can be somewhat hazardous when you're any where above ground level.This photo has absolutely nothing to do with cops whatsoever, I however thought it was worth showing you as the resemblance is remarkable. I wonder if they're related?! Have an absolutely frivolous weekend.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stone him, stone him, stone him...!!!

Bernard Madoff, 70, bilked and swindled 'investors' out of more than 64 billion dollars in what is arguably Walls Street's grandest ponzi scheme, over a period of more than thirty years. No one was safe, from actor Kevin Bacon, to Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, to Charities and foundations, everyone fell under the greed-driven 'knife' of Madoff's unrelenting pursuit of wealth. Evidently, his 'apparent success' gave him the Chairmanship of NASDAQ for a season, as well as a comfortable 7 million dollar penthouse in ritzy Manhattan. For years Madoff lived the good life, deceiving and manipulating people out of their life's savings. The revelation of his duplucity caused some of his investors to commit suicide, while others lined up in court wanting to catch a glimpse of the man to whom they'd entrusted their livelihoods.

Here's what Madoff had to say in response to his crimes: "I am actually grateful for this opportunity to publicly comment about my crimes, for which I am deeply sorry and ashamed..." Seriously? You've just destroyed the lives of myriad people and you have the gall to think that all you have to do is say you're "sorry and ashamed," and that makes it all better? I know this kind of disheartening and dishonest experience first hand (albeit on a much smaller scale), except that the hedge fund in which I invested was run by a self-professed Christian man who was "looking to help build the Kingdom of God" but decided to take a detour along the way and build an empire for himself. Sadly, to his families great chagrin, he is languishing in a maximum security prison for an interminable amount of time as retribution for his 'empire building.' I have prayed for this man and his family, knowing that the consequences of his choices are more far reaching than he can ever hope to understand or imagine.

This past Sunday in church, we discussed the story of the woman caught in adultery. We highlighted the fact that Jesus, while not condoning her actions, did not condemn her even though she was caught in "the very act of adultery." Brought to him by the pharisees for judgment, they armed themselves with their rocks of dishonor ready to stone her to death in penalty for her choices. But Jesus said, and I paraphrase, "I'm sympathetic to your position and fully well understand the law of Moses that requires that you stone to death anyone caught in adultery (forget the fact that the man with whom she had committed adultery had been conveniently left out of their judgmental blood lust), I would however suggest that whichever one of you that's without sin cast the first stone." Well, incase you're unfamiliar with the end of that story, each one of the men, beginning from the oldest to the youngest, slowly dropped their rocks and walked away. Here's a sampling of one of Madoff''s investors reactions: "I don't think he has a sincere bone in his body, I'd stone him to death." So, what do you think? Should we all pick up a few rocks as we head out the door to work today, just in case?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Let's talk about sex...!

Let’s talk about sex…

I’m just playing with you! I only said that to get your attention (we probably will talk about sex one of these days, just not today) because I really need your input on this. Seriously though, while we won’t be directly talking about sex today, in a roundabout sort of way we will be. You see I’m closely following a story about stem cell research, which obviously has to do with reproduction and so you can make the argument (quite a stretch I admit) that we are talking about sex. Here’s the headline on from a couple of days ago: Obama to reverse Bush-era stem cell policy. As you well know if you haven’t lived under a rock the last eight years, stem cell research has been a hot-button issue primarily because Bush took a moral stand on the use of embryonic stem cells for research, claiming that it could lead to the harvesting of embryonic stem cells for research, or potentially lead to human cloning. In essence a modern day Jurassic Park with cloned humans instead of dinosaurs, just waiting to happen. In case you are truly in the dark about this, embryonic stem cells are master cells that can morph into any cell of the body. Knowing the depravity of humanity, his fears were not totally unjustified.

Obama has stated that he will reverse Bush’s policies limiting federally funded stem cell research, while adding a statement in his new policy, declaring that science – not political ideology – would guide his administration. Harold Varmus, a Nobel Prize- winning biologist who also serves as chairman of the White House’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology said, “We view what happened with stem cell research in the last administration as one manifestation of failure to think carefully about how federal support of science and the use of scientific advice, occurs.” Dr. Curt Civin, founding director of the University of Maryland Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine was quoted as saying, “We’ve got eight years of science to make up for now that the silly restrictions are lifted.”

Melody Barnes, Obama’s domestic policy adviser, in an attempt to downplay the harsh divisions that exist between both sides of the debate, had this to say: “I think we all realize, and the president certainly understands, there are people of good faith on both sides of the issue, and we recognize there are a range of beliefs on this.” Hold the phone! Didn’t the President clearly state that his administration will be guided by science and not political ideology? Well, here’s the definition of science according to Webster’s unabridged dictionary: Systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation; knowledge, as of facts and principles; knowledge gained by systematic study. How does Melody’s statement line up with these definitions, and why does the Obama adminstration even care that there are different beliefs on both sides of the issue since they are governing through science? If, as indeed is the premise of Christianity, God created mankind, then science is not competent to address the inner workings of God’s creation because science deals with the physical or material world and not the spiritual world. What are your thoughts about stem cell research? Can you help a brother out???

Monday, March 9, 2009

Blackened pots

Yesterday we celebrated our 're-emergence' service. It was a really exciting day and my message was simply the fact that God uses 'blackened pots.' (If that analogy is completely lost on you then you're going to have to download the message from our website once it's up). Any how, my point was made that much stronger by the use of my wifes cooking pots from home, as I managed to smuggle them out without her even knowing. The basic premise of the message was: It's time for the church to stop judging and condemning people who have lived less than stellar lives, as this would consign everyone (including us) to the ash heap of worthlessness. I further suggested that God gave Jesus the highest honor according to Philippians 2:9, and he had in turn bestowed honor upon the woman caught in adultery (John 8) who was presumed by the religious leaders of the day to be of the lowest honor. That is the mandate of the Church! To honor those that are presumed to be without honor.

It's vital to the very survival of the Church in our country that we become known more for what we stand for and care about, than for what we stand against. According to an report today, Fifteen percent of respondents in a survey said that they had no religion, compared to 8.2 percent in 1990. Apparently Vermont reported the highest rise in the numbers of people that said they had no religion (34%), but every state in the country reported a rise in that number. The statistic that struck me the most though was from the following quote:

"The current survey, being released Monday, found traditional organized religion playing less of a role in many lives... About 12% of Americans believe in a higher power but not the personal God at the core of monotheistic faiths. And, since 1990, a slightly greater share of respondents - 1.2% - said they were part of new religious movements, including Scientology, Wicca and Santeria." Clearly people are looking for someone or something to believe in but I guess the Jesus we've presented in the way we live our lives doesn't quite look like the Jesus of the Bible, and so people are less likely to think of the Church as able to provide relevant answers to their questions about faith. That's why we must re-evaluate and repackage how we present the message in order that we may "win all the more for Christ."

Friday, March 6, 2009


A little while ago I posted a blog about The tendency of Presidents of the USA to 'grey' rather quickly after their 'ascension' to the most powerful political office in the world. I suggested that it wouldn't take much longer than a year for Obama's hair to grey. In today's world of political, economic, and even spiritual uncertainty, I guess the process is happening a lot quicker than one might have imagined. It's not even been 100 days yet and, judging from the contrasting photos below, the 'weight of the office' is already beginning to take its toll. This is just a friendly reminder that, if you're a praying person, our president really needs your prayers during this difficult season of his historic tenure.
The photo on the left was taken as recently as March 4, 2009, while the photo on the right was taken in December 2008. Allowing for variances in lighting and such, it is fairly obvious that our president is definetely beginning to show the weight of his encumbered office.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

All questions and no answers?

Here are a couple more questions for you to ponder as we approach the weekend.

  • What, in your opinion would be the starting point for a conversation about Jesus in today's world, bearing in mind that we live in a world which largely considers Christianity irrelevant and Christians to be hypocritical and judgmental?
  • Who speaks for God in today's world? How and where do we find the voice of God?
  • What does it mean to be fully human?
  • In your opinion, what is the central question that people are asking in the 21st century?

Okay so I lied when I said a couple more questions, I'm actually on a roll and came up with four that I think will spark considerable discussion, if not here then at least in your head and your heart. Remember, it's only fun if you participate.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A radical Islamic Taliban Roman...? (Part 3)

Over the last few posts we’ve been on a quest to answer the following questions:

Is it possible to have an authentic relationship with God without ever having heard of or knowing Jesus Christ?
Are we saved by cognitive acceptance of certain dogmas or by reciting a rote prayer, or are we saved by the trajectory of our lives? Are we saved by both these things or by neither of them?

As you know by now if you’ve taken the time to read parts 1 and 2 of this post, I’ve taken Acts chapter 10 and the story of Cornelius’ conversion as a case study in answering these questions. We established that neither Peter nor Cornelius was a Christian, and that while Peter was a Christ-following Jew, Cornelius was in fact a God-fearing gentile. Peter knew the message and the heart of the gospel as a Christ-following Jew and Cornelius did not, yet God was at work in both of their lives, propelling them on a trajectory towards their greater purpose. If you don’t listen carefully you might misconstrue my words and my intentions as less than honorable. You might mistake me for one who is set on deriding and subverting Christianity, but you would be completely wrong. I’m simply aware of certain truths about the varying cultures in today’s post-modern world.

In many circles Christianity has become a synonym for the “West.” Many non western cultures equate Christianity with Anglo-Saxon or western culture. I have personally been castigated for preaching “too white,” or for adhering to the “White man’s religion.” I have heard numerous minorities innocently explain how we’ve been brainwashed by the white man to follow his religion. Some who have grudgingly given in to the idea that Christianity may be universal after all, have adorned their offices with statues and paintings of a more palatable ‘black’ Jesus. Others remind me that Christianity is infamous for the Spanish Inquisition (witch-hunt), the Roman massacres in the Coliseum, and numerous other oppressive acts throughout the course of human history. They forget what may be the most significant fact of all: Jesus was not a white man, nor a Christian, but a Jew from the Middle East. They forget that long before Christianity became a religion and an institution, converts turned to Jesus not Christianity. If the Spanish Inquisitions were a true representation of Christ, if Rome’s inhuman massacre of Christ-followers was ordained and sanctioned by God, then it would be true that Christ has little to offer. True Christianity is not a western ideology. It is not the oppression of the less privileged by the bourgeoisie. The enemy of our souls would like to imprint this picture in the hearts and minds of people so that they are immediately resistant to any thing remotely Christian.

The reality though is that Cornelius’ fundamental transformation was a turning towards Jesus and not towards Judaism or Christianity. Salvation is not found in becoming a Christian and reciting a rote prayer or believing a specific dogma as espoused by your particular denomination. No, a thousand times no! Salvation is found only through a true turning towards Jesus. A turning towards Jesus is a turning towards becoming fully human again. We were created in God’s image and likeness, yet made fully human. That privileged position was lost in the Garden of Eden as a result of the sin of our ancestral parents, Adam and Eve. Jesus’ purpose is to reconcile us to God so that we can become fully human again, there bye fulfilling the purpose for which we were originally created. Fundamentally, the essence of my thought process here is simply that people are in need of a conversion to Christ, more so than a conversion to any particular religious or cultural expression of faith.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A radical Islamic Taliban Roman...? (Part 2)

(To make better sense of today's post you'd be well served to read part 1 first)

Clearly, when Peter was saved he became a ‘Christ-following Jew’ since there was no group or organized religion to belong to. By the same token when Cornelius was saved he became a ‘Christ-following gentile.’ This is key in recognizing that our goal is not to make people Christian, but to make them Christ followers. Neither Peter nor Cornelius was Christian. In fact, they were called by many other monikers such as “Followers of The Way,” “Disciples,” “Apostles” and various other designations that spoke to having experienced a vertical transition as opposed to a horizontal or lateral transition. Peter didn’t go from being a Jew to being a Christian which merely marked a change of religion. This is not just a semantic difference. We are all acquainted with Christians that aren’t Christ followers, and, if you live in a Muslim country that’s hostile to the gospel, you may well be a Christ follower that’s not a Christian because, while you may have experienced a conversion like Cornelius, you’ve never been introduced to the Church and Christianity.

If we take a hidebound approach to thinking that people must become Christians or there is no transformation at all, we might miss the work of God in the Cornelius’s of the world. I would argue that a man who is saved by divine revelation (such as Paul was on the road to Damascus), who happens to live in the epicenter of radical Islam and has no church to belong to, does not become a ‘Christian’ but a Christ follower. In other words he doesn’t change religious camps. If we grasp this idea, then we are less likely to try and convert people to Christianity as much as we would seek to convert them to Christ.

God creates in all of us an awareness of His existence. He woos us and draws us to Himself, and He paves the way for all men to find a personal and intimate relationship with Jesus, which is the only way to true salvation. I like the way a friend of mine puts it: “Before there can be an acceptance of certain truths (such as the resurrection of Jesus) or an adherence to a humane life (such as giving to the poor or prayer) there must be a prior connection to God.” Please understand me clearly; it is impossible to find salvation outside of a relationship with Christ. Jesus Himself stated, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life…” but God draws men to Himself by His sovereign will, and provides opportunities for ‘Peter’ to encounter ‘Cornelius.’ Do you recognize that, in order for Cornelius to experience his transformation as he heard Peter unfold the truth about Jesus Christ, Peter had to first experience a paradigm shift of his own. He had to come to the realization that Salvation was for both the Jew and the gentile (the “clean” and the “unclean”) and that the social taboo of crossing the threshold of a gentile home was worth violating in order to present truth to Cornelius.

Tomorrow, I’ll touch on some deeper heart issues about Christianity and salvation.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A radical Islamic Taliban Roman...? (Part 1)

Last week I posed a couple of questions that stimulated some discussion on whether or not one can experience an authentic relationship with God without having ever heard of, or knowing Jesus, and if indeed we are saved by believing the dogma of a church or the direction of our lives,by both or by neither. We all have a tendency to be rather pedantic about what we know, which seldom allows room for error. As far as I know though, the only sinless man, and therefore the only one able to be pedantic without fear of error, was Jesus Christ.

The fascinating answer to the question of knowing God without ever having heard of Jesus, is only answerable in the affirmative when we exclude the premise that all men must be saved… into Christianity! No where in the Scriptures is this ‘sacred cow’ ever indicated. People are saved into Christ, not into a religion, doctrine, or faith community. Acts chapter 10 introduces us to a first century gentile named Cornelius. I jokingly say that, transposed into today’s culture, Cornelius may well have been a member of the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Note that the Bible says he was a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. That would be like being a part of the movement of radical Islam and being a member of the Taliban.

The Romans were the first century oppressors of people and culture; imposing their will and their way unreservedly on everyone and anyone, while meting out and dispensing ‘Roman justice’ on any who opposed them (Jesus felt the direct brunt of that Roman rule). To have been a centurion in the Italian Regiment, clearly meant something to the people of that day; enough that the Holy Spirit saw fit to record that fact for posterity. Having established Cornelius’s provenance, let me quickly establish something else before you begin to look upon him with the same eyes that you would look upon Osama bin Laden.

Cornelius was a religious man. He and all the other people who lived in his house worshiped the true God. He gave much of his money to the poor and prayed to God often. (Acts 10: 2)

What? He didn’t so much as even know about Jesus, yet he knew and worshiped the true God? The rest of the story unfolds in the most remarkable way. While Cornelius experiences the visitation of an Angel who further directs him to send for Peter so that he can take the next step in his faith, Peter experiences his own personal transformation through an encounter with God on the rooftop of the house in which he’s staying. Peter’s encounter transforms his world view enough that he recognizes that Salvation through Jesus is not just for the Jew but for the gentile also. It is Peter’s rooftop encounter that paves the way for Cornelius’s own life changing encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.

How long had Cornelius devoutly worshiped God before his encounter with Jesus? What was Cornelius saved into, and for that matter, what was Peter saved into? Before you answer Christianity, let me clue you in on the fact that that word hasn’t even been invented until chapter 11. Now that your ‘creative juices’ are flowing, I’ll let you ponder these questions until we pick up the story again tomorrow.