What Others Say

We use your column in our Saturday Spiritual Life section, so I always read it. The new one about Rafael is just totally cool. Again, great column. It touched me enough to email you.
- Greg Jaklewicz - Editorial Page Editor, Abilene News Reporter

Monday, August 27, 2012

Are All Religions the Same?

I had just settled into my aisle seat on the first leg of our flight home from Nuremberg, Germany last week when a young woman indicated she had the window seat. When I stood to allow her access, her younger brother joined her sitting in the center. They immediately initiated a delightful conversation. I found Alex. 22, and Jake, 20, to be remarkably friendly and intelligent young adults. They had been touring Europe with their family and were returning home to Detroit where their father practiced medicine.

Halfway to Amsterdam I asked both of them if church and faith was important to their family. They told me they were Jewish, had attended religion classes, but did not enjoy it much, and, while they liked the sound of the Hebrew language, did not understand what was being said. I told them that I have a deep appreciation for the Jewish people without whom we would have little knowledge of the nature and character of God. I went on to explain that I am a Christian and that I have become convinced that everything that is best and beautiful in Judaism is fulfilled in Jesus.

They then talked about some of their Christian friends they have known who go to church every week and Jake concluded by saying, basically all religions are the same. They all basically teach kindness and goodness. It doesn’t really matter what you believe.

I did not try to correct Jake or enter into an argument about his point, but the comment continued to bother me. I have heard this statement many times before, usually from people who have little religious knowledge or experience. It is a way of sidestepping any serious discussion about religion. But the fact of the matter is that religions of the world are not the same. In fact, they are vastly different.

Most who assume that all religions are basically the same, also assume that all religions teach the Ten Commandments. But the first commandment clearly states, “You shall have no other gods before me.” The second states, “You shall not make for yourself any idol.” Right up front, the Commandments let us know that religions are not all alike and that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is unique.

No other faith claims what the Christian faith boldly asserts, that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob visited us in the person of His Son, Jesus who lived a perfect, sinless life, and, after willingly laying down His life as a sacrifice for sins was raised from the dead. Jesus’ claims are astounding, “He that has seen me has seen the Father.” “I and the Father are one.” “He that lives and believes in me shall never die.”

The Scripture plainly teaches that God “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossian 1:13-15).

Monday, August 20, 2012

Nuremberg

For the past three months Jackie and I have been serving an English speaking church in Nuremberg, Germany. Tomorrow we will return to the United States. We have found a beautiful city, a beautiful people and a welcoming country. We have made life-long friends in the church from around the world, most of them young adults just starting their careers. They come from such places as Cameroon, India, China, England, Ireland, Austria, Brazil, Poland, Ukraine, U.S. and, of course, Germany. Nuremberg has become a cosmopolitan crossroads.


Of course, Nuremberg hasn’t always been that way. While here, I have often reflected on that dark period when Hitler led this nation and the world to the brink of the abyss. During those days, Nuremberg played a pivotal role, the site where the Nuremberg laws were passed in 1935 that launched the deadly persecution of the Jews. Nuremberg was the site of the annual Nazi rallies where up to a million people assembled to worship Hitler and cheer his programs of prejudice. And, of course, it was here that the Nuremberg trials were conducted in 1945 to hold the Nazi leaders accountable to International law.

My father’s brother was among the occupying forces that entered Nuremberg on April 15, 1945. His memories of this place and the atrocities of that time are far removed from the Nuremberg that has grown up in its place. But his sacrifices, and those of millions others, are largely responsible for creating the freedom, justice and peace that have taken root and flourished more than half a century later.

The Nazi rally grounds have been turned into parks where couples stroll beneath shade trees and families play with their children beside a tranquil lake. Near by, the Document Center (Doku Zentrum) “documents” what happened in the Second World War, an attempt to understand how a nation could be led to commit the atrocities unleashed by Hitler’s regime. It is a sobering place that looms over the peaceful park that surrounds it. Last week we attended an open-air concert by the Nuremberg Symphonic Orchestra in the same place where thousands once hailed Hitler and cheered his speeches. Sixty-five thousand people gathered in clusters with family and friends to picnic on blankets while they listened to classical music.

Nuremberg, the largest city in Franconia and gateway to Bavaria, is impressive as an idyllic and tranquil place. But always, underneath the surface, there lurks the memory of the Second World War and the questions it raises.

Nuremberg is a constant reminder of our potential for good and evil, our infinite capacity for the divine and the demonic. The evil that lurks within the human heart, that raised its head in Nuremberg more than half a century ago, continues to raise its head among us today. We witnessed that evil recently in a movie theater in Colorado, a year ago in Arizona outside a local Safeway where Gabriella Giffords was attacked, in Syria where hundreds are daily gunned down in the streets, in Iraq and Afghanistan where terrorist bombings continue, and countless other places too numerous to list. Nuremberg is a reminder that each of us, every people and nation of every generation, need Jesus our Savior to deliver us from our own worst passions.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Acts of Kindness

Most of us are inspired by great acts of heroism. Sully Sullenberger, the captain who skillfully landed US Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, has become a household name. After striking a flock of geese that disabled the engines, Sullenberger flew the plane like a giant glider and landed safely on the Hudson River saving the lives of 155 people on board. For thirty years Sullenberger flew airplanes in an uneventful career. This one act made him a national hero.

A couple of years ago New York City was captivated by the heroic act of a French tourist who plunged into the river to save a two-year-old child. When Julien Duret saw Bridget Sheridan slip through the guard rail and fall into the East River, he did not hesitate. He immediately jumped into the river to save her. Later, amid all the commotion, he took a taxi and disappeared without waiting to be thanked.

Few of us will be given such significant opportunities to perform heroic feats that make the news. And even if the heroic opportunity were given to us, we might miss it.

Celebrated heroic actions make a difference. They burst upon us like a torrential downpour that sweeps us off our feet. But it is the little known act of kindness that often make the greatest difference. These acts are like the raindrops that pool into fresh water lakes and rivers to nourish the earth.

Jesus recognized the importance of heroic and sacrificial actions. He said, “Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friend.” Of course, this is what he did when He went to the cross and laid his life down for us. But he also taught the importance of little acts of kindness. In fact, it might very well be that the little acts of kindness we choose to do every day have a far greater impact in transforming the world than a few famous acts of heroism.

All of us have opportunity every day to perform little acts of kindness. We all have opportunity to let someone else in line before us, to hold a door open for a stranger, to speak a kind and encouraging word to the cashier who wearily scans countless items at the checkout counter. We can all be kind to a waitress who works for a minimum wage to support her child, or a student working nights to pay for college. The little acts of kindness change a culture.

A friend recently recounted his visit to Arby’s. Completing a cell phone call, he watched from his car as a woman frantically searched the back seat of her car. He asked if there was a problem. She told him she had a roll of quarters she was going to use to buy lunch, but she could not find them. He pulled out a $10 bill and asked, “Will this help?” She refused. He insisted. Inside he stood behind the rattled woman as she thanked him profusely. She said, “God sent you, you know.” When the cashier delivered his order she said, “The manager was watching and he went ahead and gave you a free sandwich.”

Little acts of kindness add up. All put together, they can change the world.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Spiritual Myopia

Myopia. I learned the word when I was ten years old from the optometrist who checked my eyes and told my parents that I was nearsighted. I didn’t know I was nearsighted. I thought everyone saw everything the way I saw it. Trees were green blobs, the landscape blurred into blotches of pink, green, brown and blue, like an Impressionist painting. (Maybe Monet was near sighted and created Impressionism by painting what he saw.) I have to admit I wondered how other kids could catch and hit a baseball. I never saw the ball until it was on top of me. I could see some vague arm motion in the distance and then, wham! The ball was in my face.

My first pair of glasses changed my world. I discovered leaves on trees. I could see people’s faces inside their cars. I could read the blackboard from the back of the room. As a teenager I became the cleanup hitter on the all stars, and could catch a fly ball over my shoulder while galloping toward the centerfield fence like Joe DiMaggio. When I returned to the dugout, I heard the coach say, “I always knew if he could see it he could catch it.”

Myopia is not only physical. It is spiritual. We are all born spiritually nearsighted. Like my childhood years, we think we see things clearly, but we don’t. We are unaware of what we don’t see. The only person who ever had perfect vision was Jesus. That is why He said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness … if anyone walks in the night he stumbles because the light is not in him.” (John 8:12; 11:10)

When the prophet Elisha and his servant were surrounded by an enemy army at Dothan, the servant was gripped with fear. But Elisha told him, “Do not fear. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” When God opened the servant’s eyes, he saw that “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6) When we are gripped with fear and despair we need God to open our eyes so we can see clearly. “If God be for us,” Paul said, “who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

Jesus once met a blind man in the village of Bethsaida. Jesus laid His hands upon him and asked him, “Do you see anything?” The man responded, “I see people; they look like trees walking around. Once more,” the Bible says, “Jesus put His hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened … and he saw everything clearly.” (Mark 8:22-25) Many of us are like that blind man. We may be religious. We may attend church. But we need a “second touch” from God so that we can see clearly.

We are born with spiritual nearsightedness so that we only see things close up, our own self interests. As a result we are often filled with fear, doubt, anger, resentment and despair. When we turn from our sins and place our faith in Christ, He is able to touch us so that we see clearly and walk in the light. Only Christ can cure the spiritual myopia that afflicts us from birth and enable us to see the world as God sees it.