Politicians who pray?!

Another political fiasco in the news and another torrent of letters to our local newspaper. The opinions expressed were damning too, for and against, and the letters ran to two pages. How angry people get when it comes to politics.

Politicians infuriate and exasperate me too. I can’t stand their waffling on without answering the question, their inability to apologize, their patronising tone, their constant harping away at the other parties, and using questions they’re asked to put in a plug for their own party. I change channels when certain politicians come on. They are more than I can bear.

It surprised me to hear, then, that there are politicians who pray – and have people pray with them, too – because they know how politics can so easily corrupt people, and they don’t want it to happen to them. I was humbled! I’d dismissed all politicians as dishonest, devious and out of touch, but some clearly aren’t. They really are concerned about their God-given role to do good and stop evil (Romans 13:4). How quickly I judge without knowing the facts!

But that’s the culture we live in. It’s full of opinionated people, who talk as great authorities on any subject you care to mention. Talk radio fills up hours and hours of air time each day, encouraging people to express their opinions, regardless of whether they know the facts, or not, and I get caught up in it, too.

Fortunately, Jesus didn’t tell us to stop judging people, but when we do judge, do it well, that’s all. “Make a right judgment,” he said in John 7:24. How? “Stop judging by mere appearances.”  Ah, that’s the problem. It’s judging a person based only on what he looks like to me.

Jesus, for instance, was being judged in John 7 for healing a man on the Jewish Sabbath. People actually wanted to kill him for it they were so angry (verse 19). Why? Because he didn’t fit their picture of what was right – and that was that as far as they were concerned! They weren’t the least bit interested in his reasons for doing what he was doing, or his motives. If Jesus agreed with them, he was fine. If he didn’t, they wanted him destroyed.

One day they will be very embarrassed when they meet Jesus face to face, and realize what they did. It was actually a very simple problem though, of making a wrong judgment based only on their limited view of him. It’s an easy problem, it seems, and I’m reminded of it every time a politician comes on TV!

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Inspiration that lasts

     I remember reading about a Catholic who drifted away from the church and lost interest in religion all together. But one day she was passing a Catholic cathedral, walked in when the organ was playing, and she burst into tears.  

     It really surprised her, how intense her emotions were after all that time away from church. But what a wonderful moment, that sudden lifting of the soul, and if only it could’ve lasted forever! It wasn’t to be, though. It wore off after a while, and she left the cathedral, absorbed by whatever came next.   

    And isn’t life like that? It has its inspiring moments – a song on the radio reviving a memory, a hobby you can’t wait to get back to, a worship service that charges the batteries, or a concert that has you dancing in the aisles. A book will do it, too, so can a movie, a favourite TV series, helping someone in need, an early morning walk, watching kids open gifts, listening to a choir, seeing someone take advice – they’re all wonderful sources of inspiration. 

     But they’re all so temporary. Once the concert’s over and the song has finished, the brain automatically clicks back into cold reality mode and it’s back to the business of survival. I’d hate to be dependent on these things for my inspiration, then, because they only last so long.  

     I like what Paul said, therefore, because it was his dream to keep people inspired all the time. “My aim,” he wrote in Colossians 2:2, “is to keep them in good heart,” always feeling encouraged, positive and hopeful. Why? Verse 2, “so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, and grasp God’s secret, which is Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” It wasn’t Paul’s purpose to lift people’s emotions for the moment, it was to get people discovering the treasures hidden in Christ, because once they got a taste of that, there’d be no stopping them.  

     This was the secret to keeping people inspired all the time. It wasn’t trying to create a really moving sermon or a cleverly orchestrated worship service to win the youth, because they only last for a while, and if people become dependent on emotion for inspiration, they’ll need more and more. But if people hear the gospel and experience for themselves that Christ “is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24),” that’s what will keep them inspired forever!

We can actually see God

     Some people have amazing faces. Like the face of the little girl with huge, haunting eyes that stared at me from a photo in a store window I was passing. So many emotions in so young a face – innocent and wistful, but that tragic hint of sadness, loss and hardship, too. How a face tells a story.

     Some faces I can’t help myself staring at. Like the TV reporter I see occasionally who has a rather plain face when serious, but when she smiles it’s like a sudden window into this other life she lives, full of humour and mischief. How our faces give away what we’re really like!  

     There’s nothing like the human face in all creation. But there’s one face above all faces I’d like to see, because in that face, the Bible tells me, I can see what God is really like. It acts like a window, 2 Corinthians 4:6, into the “glory of God.” We can actually see the brilliance of God himself. How? “In the face of Christ.”

     But how can I see Christ’s face when we have no record of it? And what would it tell me even if I did see it? But Paul explains himself in verse 4. “The god of this age,” he writes, “has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

     The way we see Christ’s face is in “the light of the gospel.” To understand the gospel, therefore, is to see the “glory of Christ.” And why is that important? Because Christ is the “image of God.” See Christ in his glory and we see God in his glory. And how do we see Christ in his glory? In the gospel. It’s in the gospel that we see what Christ is like, and in seeing what Christ is like we see what God is like. It’s a simple formula: understand the gospel, we see Christ; see Christ, we see God.  

     No wonder the “god of this age” blinds people to what the gospel is all about, because it’s through the gospel we see God. The gospel is the face, or the window, into what God is really like. And who understands that? We do, verse 6, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

     We can actually see God. How? In Christ. How in Christ? Through the gospel. How important is it to know the gospel, then?

Defeating death before we die

     I have a funeral to do today, and I always get nervous doing funerals because all eyes, if only briefly, are on me. And for what, pray tell? For a message that tries to make sense of death.  

     There is no sense in death, though. Here’s a person who’s lived for 90 years and we’ll compress his lifetime into a 30 minute funeral service, followed by a reception and a gravesite interment, share a few memories and all go home. 

     It’s awful. He’s got nine decades of accumulated wisdom and memories to share, and he’s dead. The stories people tell of him, the great services he performed, and the wonderful legacy he left, will soon be forgotten, too. And for some odd reason, people like to call funerals a “celebration of life!”

     But actually, they’re right. A funeral for a Christian IS a celebration of life, because the man’s not dead! “Whoever lives and believes in me,” Jesus said, “will never die (John 11:26).” Now that’s a whole new twist on death. Death is no longer death when a person believes in Christ. Shocking? Yes. Even Jesus had to ask, “Do you believe this?”  

     Believe what, though? Verse 25, it’s believing that Jesus is the “resurrection and the life,” because anyone who believes that “will live, even though he dies.” In other words, for simply believing that Jesus is the source of our eternity, a Christian receives a life that will carry him right through a physical death. He can die physically but not be dead. 

     We can actually defeat death, then, before we die! Or defeat death while we’re still alive! And the secret? Believing Jesus is our eternal life.

     But why should we believe he’s our eternal life? Because he defeated death himself, for starters. Proof? He came back to life again. So Jesus knows all about defeating death because he’s already done it. For him to say, then, that he’ll do the same for us, carries the weight of his own experience behind it.

     But it’s more than that. When Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” she answered, “Yes, Lord, (verse 27), I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” And she believed this BEFORE Jesus was resurrected, not after, too.

     So what made her believe even without the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection yet? Simple. It was the Bible, because the Bible had said the likes of Jesus would come along (John 6:14), and that was enough for her.

     But how do I get that across at a funeral? One can only try.