Archive for June, 2010
I really enjoy the World Cup of soccer (or football or fútbol or however you choose to call it). I never have particularly enjoyed the different soccer leagues around the world, but there is something special about international soccer. It has an excitement that the regular games lack.
I remember the 1990 World Cup. I was living in Córdoba, Argentina. My colleagues and I had an office downtown where we would talk to people about the Bible and Christianity. Like good foreigners, we chose to keep the office open during the World Cup games, even though the streets were virtually empty of traffic.
On July 3, Argentina played Italy in a semifinal match. Since no one was coming to the office, I decided to slip into the coffee shop next door to watch the game. The tiny shop was packed with people, but I managed to find an empty chair. We watched as the two teams battled back and forth, ending regulation in a 1-1 tie and neither team scoring in the extra periods.
Then came the penalty kicks to decide the winner. The teams traded shot after shot, until the Argentine goalie came up with the stop that ended the game. The coffee shop exploded in cheers. I found myself hugging everyone around me, even though I didn’t know anyone. We weren’t strangers… we were part of the team that was in the World Cup final!
It’s interesting to see the bonds that sports can create. People who have never met treat one another as long lost friends because of their common loyalties.
During his ministry on earth, Jesus spoke to his disciples about something similar. He told them: “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age” (Mark 10:29-30)
I’ve found that to be true. God has given me the chance to travel widely, and around the world I’ve found that I had a home and I had family. People who hadn’t met me before have offered me a bed to sleep in, given me a place at their table, and made me to feel like family.
The sense of community I felt in that Argentine coffee shop was short lived. The euphoria faded, and we went our separate ways. The family ties among God’s people never goes away. Christians aren’t perfect, and our dealings with one another aren’t either. But we are family.
You’ve been invited to be a part of this community. God wants to adopt you as his child, making you a member of his family.
I know what they felt like:
I understand how Abraham felt when he said “I am a foreigner and a visitor among you” in Genesis 23:4.
I have experienced the loneliness that is expressed by Moses when he names his first born, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land” in Exodus 2:22.
I know what it’s like to travel to someplace for the first time, not speaking the language, not understanding the customs, not recognizing the sign for the bathrooms, being alone.
I have been a stranger in a foreign land.
I know those feelings, that dread, fear, because that’s how I felt when I went to Cuba for the first time two years ago.
Let me tell you about that first trip:
The flight was 3 hours late, arriving at 12:30 in the morning. After going through customs and immigration we stepped outside and saw Tony Fernandez, who had been Herald of Truth’s representative in that island nation for 14 years, waiting for us. I recognized him from pictures taken by my colleagues Tim Archer and Steve Ridgell on their previous visits.
After a very short night’s sleep in Havana, the trip to Matanzas, about two hours northeast, is somewhat of a blur only highlighted by the people we met: Ammiel Perez who is the minister of the Havana Church, some radio listeners who had learned about Jesus from Tim’s daily program, the men who were rebuilding an old city bus to be used to pick up members of the congregation living in the surrounding country side, the visit to the farm where food is grown to give to church members, and meeting Tony’s wife Liudmila and his young daughter Susana.
Then we went to the church building. I had seen it in pictures, but being there reminded me that a courtyard of a home with a corrugated sheet metal roof is just as holy as any building we have in the United States. Suddenly, I felt at home. I sat down and just thought about all that God had done there. And that tomorrow, Sunday, I would worship here.
I was both anxious and eager that Sunday morning as Tony drove us the 20 minutes from our hotel in Varadero back to Matanzas. The closer we got the more anxious and less eager I got. How would they greet me, an old white haired Yankee?
That morning I was the last of our group to enter. I, the stranger in a foreign land, was greeted with smiles, hugs, kisses; I was a distant relative returning home. It didn’t matter that all I could say was “halo”, “gracias”; it didn’t matter that I was different.
I had felt like Abraham and Moses, a stranger in a foreign land, but I was and am family.
It’s the same thing that the apostle Paul talks about in Ephesians 2:19-22.
Now, Therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
They and I are no longer strangers or foreigners. And while we live far apart, we are family! We are part of the household of God. We are brothers and sisters because of Jesus.
This last March I again traveled back to Matanzas and again worshipped with my Cuban church family. We were united physically and spiritually.
And I thanked them for welcoming me home.
So here is the question for you: Are you a stranger in a foreign land?
And another: Do you want to be part of a family and will always care about you?
And then: How do you think you’ll find it?
One of the ladies in my office washed my coffee cup this morning. And no, I didn’t ask her to do it. Evidently she was appalled by the fact that sometimes I drink coffee out it, and other times hot chocolate. I use it to drink diet coke, and for my hot tea. She was disturbed that I do not wash it each time. She reminded me that rinsing out a cup is not the same as washing it either. The condition of my cup never really bothered me before. I figured I drank enough hot beverages to kill any lingering germs. Until I saw how clean it was. I was amazed, happy, and grateful.
For many of us, our life can resemble my cup. I have stains from things I have done that I should not have. Then there are those things I should have done but didn’t. Mix in the poor choices, the bad thoughts, and the judgmental feelings. Pour in the stress of jobs, the pressure of relationships, and the uncertainty of our world. And sometimes we try to rinse out the mess of our lives, but we know something is still missing. We are still not right.
Jesus came to this earth to clean up the mess of our lives. To forgive the wrongs, to pay the price for our bad choices, and to free us from the addictions and expectations of a culture that just doesn’t really work for our lives. He offers a clean life of purpose, hope, joy, and peace. He changes lives – not just a little rinse job so the outside looks better – but real, genuine new life.
Maybe you have never realized life doesn’t have to continue the way it is now. You know deep down inside that it has to be better… different somehow. Jesus can do that for you. And, if you let him cleanse you, you will be amazed, happy, and grateful.
I know this because he did it for me. Just like he can do it for you.
Have you heard of the Winchester Mystery House? The sprawling house in San Jose, California, is famous for its huge size and irregular layout. It was under constant construction for 38 years, eventually coming to have almost 160 rooms.
Despite its great size, the house can be considered unfinished in many ways. There are dozens of doors that open on blank walls, others with knobs on only one side and inside doors with screens on them. There are stairways that reach no destination, chimneys with no stoves, and floors that you can see through.
The construction shows a fascination with the number 13. All the stairways are constructed in series of 13 steps. The chandeliers all have 13 lights. Every wall has 13 panels. Each glass door has 13 pieces.
Who would build such a house?
The mansion was built by Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Winchester (of the Winchester family that owned the famous rifle company). The June 1937 issue of Modern Mechanix states that, after the death of her husband and infant daughter, Winchester was told by a medium that she must build a house that was never completed; if the house were ever completed, Sarah Winchester would die.
Because of this, the fearful widow maintained her house in a constant state of construction. Her attempt to avoid death failed, of course. On September 5, 1922, Sarah Winchester died. Work immediately stopped on the house, and it remains as a monument to one woman’s fear of death.
Was Sarah Winchester the only person afraid of dying? How many others would do whatever it takes to avoid the inevitable?
A favorite passage of mine is found in Hebrews, and it talks about that very fear: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15) Jesus came to free everyone held captive by the fear of death.
Jesus has defeated death, and he invites us to share in his victory. There is no need to live fearing death. We have a champion who can rescue us from that fear.
Building a house can’t free us from death. Building a relationship with Jesus will do just that.