Tuesday, September 27, 2011

International Delight

In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. (Isaiah 2:2)
Sometimes it feels like I can travel the world just by walking the streets of New York.

I've described living here as a culture shock, and I mean that not just because there's a different culture in the Northeast than in the South, but also because there are so MANY different cultures all in one place! You know, the whole melting pot thing. That should have been a "Duh!" from the beginning, but I guess I'm beginning to see people as belonging to another country or culture rather than just being another New Yorker taking up space on the sidewalk.

I've experienced glimpses of Eritrea, North India, Korea, China, Mexico, Italy, the Middle East, and the Islands... in the food I've eaten, the languges I've heard, and the clothing I've seen!

But the best part of having such a strong international influence here is at church. We have visitors who have never been to a church or read the Bible before! A couple weeks ago we met a girl visiting from Spain who happened to be staying at the hostel where we meet. She asked, "You speak truth. What are you all about?" and suddenly we had an opportunity to be in communication with someone overseas. And a few weeks ago, our Tuesday night Bible study on the Law of Moses was taught by a brother from India (who converted from the Hindu religion). This lesson was on idolatry, and he taught with the insight of someone who has been a part of idolatry in the past and the heart of someone whose entire family is still Hindu. It was powerful!

Thank you, God, for these opportunities. Thank you for the richness we find as we worship with your children from all walks of life and from all over the world. Thank you for the unity we have through Christ!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Power of God

Photo Source

In the midst of a sea of strange-looking people, sometimes I see a very nice and happy "traditional" family--the women in skirts and tops that aren't three sizes too small, the children obediently and calmly walking beside their parents, and men without tattoos or piercings or shorts to their knees. And while I want to think that this family is a beautiful picture of what the Gospel can do in the lives of Christ's followers... I usually notice these men have unshaven sidelocks and are wearing yarmulkes (a.k.a. yamakas), and realize they're Jewish, and wonder, "How can a family be so moral, and yet they don't even accept Jesus as Lord?"

It's been a hard and sometimes confusing lesson to learn: what sets us apart from other very religious people who are more devout than we are? It's easy to be fooled into thinking our being "conservative" is what saves us, and yet there are people in nearly all religions who are just as conservative. Or similarly, that because I pray several times a day, I have a faith that is stronger than other people's... and yet there are Muslims here who bow down five times a day to pray. What sets me apart from the world when there's also a particular sect of Jews who don't watch television, use cell phones, or wear the latest fashions?

Seriously. Stop and think about that for a second. When an outsider looks at your life, is there anything that sets you apart from the most devout of another religion, or is it just a different set of doctrine, or a different belief about God?

I have a hunch I know what it is, or at least should be:

Because of Jesus, we know love. And that love is redemptive. It has transforming power. And instead of telling us how, God has shown us how by coming to earth Himself. He demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The world has given us so many definitions of love that it's easy to miss the entire point of Christ's life and fail to see that Christ's sacrifice wasn't just motivated by love... His suffering and giving of Himself is God's very definition of love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might love through Him.

Christ's life of suffering, sacrifice, and service is the very life He calls us to. Does He invite us to eternal life? Yes, but only through His cross. We follow Christ by lifting up our own crosses. Why do we try to escape when life gets hard? Why are we surprised when following the Lord takes us out of our comfort zone?

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

What does Christianity offer? Not just a way to God; it offers God Himself, the perfect Lamb slain for our sins.

My life is entirely different for knowing Christ--not because I have a certain way to dress or worship--but because I know how to love. (Not that I've already obtained to this, but I press on!) And this love does change how I live, because I want to be entirely like Christ and no more like myself or those around me. And I've found that there's such power in this love; it's so pure and foreign to the world. A love that is patient and kind, even to enemies? A love that lays down its own desires and dreams to seek the good pleasure of Someone else? A love that willingly suffers for the good of others? A love that is never based on merit or worth? This is the love of God. This is the love that saves us, and this is the love that sets us apart from any and every other religion. Christ is the power of God, because Christ shows us the love of God.