Wednesday, May 28, 2014

You Can't Take it with You

As teachers in Kuwait, we have mixed feelings about our status here. My wife and I are provided with a furnished apartment that is part of a 12 floor apartment complex, which is a great deal for us. There isn't much that we've had to add to it.  Because we can never become citizens of Kuwait, we can also make a reasonable assumption that we will not be here for the rest of our lives, but that is up to the Lord to decide. For this reason, we make do with certain things that are not our preference. Yes, we have spent money to buy things that we need and decorated some to make it feel like a home; we fix things that break, and add items that will make it more comfortable, but we are careful about accumulating too many things.

For example, we have these super ugly gold curtains that Stephanie has never liked but lived with for six years. Our dining table is a little wobbly and our chairs have seen some better days. We have also not bought certain items that would be difficult to bring back.  While it would be nice to have a brand new mixer or a high quality blender, we have lived without such things.  It would be great to buy a new desktop computer with a big screen, but we survive with our outdated laptops.  We would love to have a nice stereo system and a grill where we can enjoy good music and barbeques, but we live without them. I'm not saying that having any of these things is wrong, but that we live this way because we know "we can't take it with us."  Even the things we have bought, we will either sell at a fraction of the price we paid for them or mostly likely give them away. If we did try to keep some things, they would probably be damaged or destroyed in transport, and the cost of shipping would be not worth the stuff we have. 

Our time in Kuwait is a bit analogous to the Christian life.  In the same way that we try not to invest too much in our apartment in Kuwait, we should not invest too much in the things of this Earth.  Ultimately, none of us will be able to leave this life with any of the stuff that we have acquired on this Earth.  We won't be remembered for the quality of our curtains or the amount of toys we've collected over the years.  The Bible says that we've come into this world naked, and that is the way we leave it. If the value of the things we've accumulated in Kuwait will be greatly diminished when we decide to leave, how much less will the value of things on Earth be when we enter into our eternal home?  I think we will look back from heaven and say to one another and to ourselves, "Wow, I can't believe I invested so much of my time and energy in _______!"

Similar to the things we do have to make our lives a little easier or more efficient, there are things on Earth that do add value to our lives or are helpful and useful to us.  What we have to realize though is that we are only stewards and not owners of any of the things we have.  I do not own the furniture or apartment that I live in, but I am able to use it to serve the purposes of my family while I am living here.  I believe that we should be a bit reflective before we just run out and buy the latest gadget or replace our furniture at the first sign of wear.  I try to ask myself, "How will this help me serve the people around me better or grow closer to Christ?" before I make large purchases.  There are many things I have said yes to, because they either blessed my wife or enabled us to serve people more effectively, but there are also things I have said no or not yet to, because I thought our time and money could be better invested elsewhere.  This is where prayer, discernment and wise counsel come in. 

If we look forward to one day returning to a house that will still decay and things that will break down, how much more should we look forward to our eternal home!  We will live in mansions built by Jesus, we will have every desire of our hearts satisfied by Him, we will have bodies that will be literally perfect, and we will be with the people we love for eternity.  My prayer is that we would fix our eyes on that Place and that Person, so we can maximize our faithfulness and fruitfulness while we are on Earth.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

Is Church Important to Jesus: Part II

As I mentioned in my last post, church is important. Yes, we are saved and redeemed by Christ alone, and going to church for a lifetime does not save us. However, Jesus still valued and loved the church, and it is a part of our sanctification process. It's like giving. Giving does not save us. However, if we claim to be a Christian and never give and aren't generous, then we need to seriously think about whether Christ has transformed us and made us into his image. Jesus was extremely generous, and if our deepest desires have been changed to become more like Him, then there will be a desire to give. It is the same with the church. If we have no desire or interest in church, then that is an area in our lives that we need to re-evaluate and refocus back to God. Last time, I focused on what Jesus did in church. I will continue that discussion today, and also what he said about the church.

Jesus served in church

Yes, Jesus went to church, he did miracles in church, and he even served in church. The gospels record in many places that Jesus "taught in their synagogues" (Luke 4:15). Jesus was not merely a consumer of church, but he was a producer and a giver. Many in the church today, and especially for expats in Kuwait, have a selfish mindset when it comes to church. It needs to meet my needs, serve my purposes, and accomplish my goals. However, Jesus does not agree with that standpoint. Jesus went everywhere and preached in the synagogues, using His gifts to serve others. This was not a job he was paid for, but actual volunteering, even though Jesus was quite poor and didn't have his own home. I think we need to have the same mind that Jesus had(see Philippians 2:5). I think by serving in the church, we grow to love it, and I think Jesus did as well. If people come to church only to receive, I think we will ultimately become dissatisfied with it and will only go when it is convenient for us, if at all. However, I have learned that as I serve the local church, I become more invested in it and grow in love towards it, even though it's imperfect. It's one thing to say that I love the universal Church in some nebulous emotional way, but it's completely different when I'm concretely doing something for my local church. It's the same with anything; as we become invested, the more we value, love, and guard it. If you ask your pastor or another spiritual leader what you can do to serve, then I can guarantee that not only will you be a blessing to others, you will end up more blessed than the people you serve. Jesus said it this way: "It's better to give than to receive."

Jesus promised victory to the church

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." This is a powerful promise for us today. The church has survived and thrived for 2000 years, and will continue to do so until Jesus comes back. Jesus does not promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against your job, your campus ministry, or even your marriage. But he does promise it for the church. While this refers to the universal church, it also refers to individual local churches. I'm sure Jesus had in mind all the churches that would be started afterwards, and how they would continue on and be a sanctuary against the sin and death that exist in this world.  The gospels and epistles were originally given to local churches. The bible calls Satan the god of this world, and that the world value system and all the citizens therein are under his sway and domination. If it were up to him, he would destroy it, and he is always looking for weaknesses to exploit and bring it down. The church certainly has weaknesses and failures and flaws. There have been moral failures, abuses, and many hurt people caused by the church. This is why Jesus made that promise, so that we would persevere in our churches.  Let's not run away from the church, but rather run towards it and do what we can to help and to serve and to remove the blemishes from the churches we are apart of.  We are part of the process that moves the church toward victory!

So, the next time you are tempted to give up on your church because you don't like some aspect of it, or some individual in the church, remember that Jesus didn't give up on His church, and He doesn't ever plan to until He returns.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Is Church Important to Jesus?

I recently had a discussion with a friend about church.  She mentioned to me that she was no longer coming to the service I attend.  She said she didn't like the preaching style.  I told her I was sorry to see her go, and she mentioned that she did miss the worship and the people that were a part of the service.  I then asked if she found another church that fit her style better, and said she hasn't been going to church at all since she left, and said that she'll just try again in the fall after the summer break.  I didn't know exactly how to respond, so I just gave my typical American, "yeah." 

That conversation made me think about what makes a good church and whether it's even important to go to church.  There is no specific command in the bible to go to church, although there are a number of biblical principles that point in that direction.  I then realized that Jesus definitely went to church (synagogue), and I think we can learn a lot from him. Jesus is both our Savior and our model of how to live this life in the way He did.

Jesus heard sermons that were not as good as His

I wonder what it would be like to be Jesus at church.  Even as fallen, broken sinners who probably have no idea what it's like to preach, we can be critical of preaching, as my example above shows.  But what about Jesus?  Do you think that The Man who preached some of the greatest sermons in the history of the world was occasionally not thrilled at the content of the messages?  Probably.  He is someone who could have honestly said to himself during any sermon, "I could do that better."  And yet, we never see in the Scriptures that he told other Jews that church was not important and he was just going to hang with the disciples in the Galilean countryside and do his own thing.  No, he went to church weekly.  In Luke 4:16 it says, "And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day."  There are plenty of other verses about him going to the Temple and the synagogue.  Jesus valued gathering with other believers, he valued sitting under the teaching of Bible, and he valued spiritual authority.  I think that we can learn that as long as the sermons are preaching truth, we should be going to church, unless we think that we are in better spiritual shape than Jesus.

Jesus did some of his greatest works at church

From what we see in the Bible, Jesus drove out an evil spirit, healed a man with a withered hand, and healed a crippled woman who was bent for 18 years in the synagogue.  Jesus did miracles in church!  He also did other miracles on the Sabbath, probably walking to or from church, or at another person's house for post-church lunch.  Can you imagine the guy who decided to listen to his favorite sermon podcast or sleep-in that morning?  "Yeah, I listened a sermon online from my home church because I wasn't sure about this new guy, Jesus."  Fail.  If you believe that Jesus heals today, then going to church is probably good idea, because that seems to be a great place for him to show up.  Jesus is still healing today, in our bodies, in our minds and in our souls.  I know many people who were healed in church, and we should be available for Him to heal us as well.  

If Jesus thought that there was value in going to a local church enough that he would hear teaching that wasn't as good as his own and would even do miracles in church, than perhaps this is something we Christians should value as well.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Easter in Kuwait

Easter is the largest holiday on earth, celebrated by a few billion people world-wide. This is the holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, showing that he conquered sin and death, and that all those who follow Him will also be raised to life again. His resurrection is the proof that Jesus was not just some unlucky Jew who was crucified. After being on Earth and spending time with his disciples for around 40 days, he went up into heaven.

However, Easter is not really celebrated in Kuwait and in most of the Middle East. It is less popular than Christmas. Most schools and some other places of employment give Christmas Day off. I think this is because many locals celebrate Christmas in some way, at least by giving gifts or having a tree. Another possible reason is that Christmas gets more attention through Western media than Easter does. Kuwaitis and Arabs hear Christmas music, movies and concerts for Christmas, but there are not nearly as many for Easter. The final reason is that it would not be necessarily wrong to celebrate the birth of Jesus, because Muslims believe in Jesus. They celebrate the birth of Mohammid, and because they believe that Jesus is another prophet, it's not a problem to celebrate Christmas.

Easter, on the other hand, is completely different. Muslims would not want to celebrate this holiday because it clearly shows that Jesus goes far beyond being a mere prophet who brings the truth. It shows that He is the Truth, and there is something uniquely powerful and amazing about Him. It even shows that he is like God, with the power to raise Himself from the dead, which would be blasphemy. So, this is the reason that most people have to work.

Because of this, the holiday can just become another day of work. I had the idea to let my students out a little early so I could celebrate, but I decided to keep them because we had a lot of work to do. Many people had to work, and had their normal commitments after work like tutoring, putting in extra hours at the office, or just unwinding at home.

However, my life group planned a few weeks prior to have an Easter dinner on that day, which breathed life and meaning back into the holiday. It was at the house of one of the couples in our group, and we made a celebration out of it. People brought deviled eggs, potatoes, green beans, dessert, drinks and even ham. It made the holiday a lot of fun. We were able to eat around the dinner table together and pray like a family. It was very meaningful and powerful to have a Christian family even though we were all away from our biological family.

My wife also wanted to attend an Easter choir that was performing at The Lighthouse Church. There were some other friends of ours that were performing in the choir, and they were playing a lot of worship songs along with choir music. I wasn't really excited about leaving the Easter party and then go back, but I consented to go.

The choir was a lot of fun with a lot of good music. There were worship songs that the audience sang along with, and it was a celebratory atmosphere. I believe that Easter should be a celebration, a party and a feast. When Jesus comes back, it will be the greatest celebration ever, and we will weep for joy and party forever.

After the concert, we hurried back to our life group Easter party and we played some games and looked at some pictures from our friends' travels. We stayed about another hour and we decided to go home.

Easter can be a lot of fun in Kuwait and can really accentuate the meaning of the resurrection, but we have to look for it and fight for it. The culture here does not merely push you along the lazy river of the holidays like it does in the West. If I don't make time to think about and make Easter meaningful, then it will have no value for me. In a way, that's more appropriate, because it pushes Christians in Kuwait to make it meaningful instead of a larger culture celebrating the shell of Easter without understanding its meaning.