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Nations Nearby | Part 10 | Respectfully Ready

May 18 2015 at 2:32 pm 1 Comments

Respectfully Ready
by Almasih Kahdost

It was my first time visiting the home of a friend and he was showing me around his suburban townhouse. It was a typical introductory run-through.

“Here’s the kitchen. Our garage is over there. These are our gods. Here’s our bedroom.”

“Ah. Very nice.”

Wait. What?!?

This was a casual, but intentional, introduction to his family’s Hindu deities.

Polite Company and Culture

From the time of my youth I was taught (implicitly and explicitly) that certain subjects were out of bounds unless you knew someone really, really well. Making conversation of politics, a person’s salary or (gasp!) religion was the social equivalent of eating with your hands at the table. (Something, as it turned out, we would do later in the evening!)

Understanding that religious discussion doesn’t bring the uneasiness in many other cultures that it brings for westerners enabled me to ask, “Which is your favorite god and why?”

Dialogue or Discourse?

Hearing that Ganesh (who blesses new beginnings) and Lakshmi (who brings wealth) were his favorites gave me insight into his values and desires. Asking questions lets people know we’re interested in a discussion rather than a diatribe. And discussion affords our friends respect as well as the opportunity to ask questions.

Paul modeled a similar approach in Athens where he found himself distressed by seeing so many idols in the city (Acts 17:16). “So he reasoned...in the marketplace day by day with whoever happened to be there” (v17). In fact, Paul is said to have conversed (NAS, ESV) or debated (NIV, NLT) with the Stoics and Epicureans (v18). It was a back-and-forth. Did Paul frequently engage in a unilateral fashion? Sure. But these verses indicate an occasion that was more of an exchange than a one-sided homily.

Primed but Gentle

So, if someone introduces you to their favorite deity, or tells you their present state is a reincarnated one, maybe it would be better to first draw them out before jumping down their throat with chapter and verse. Consider learning about their worldview so you can address it.

Back to Paul; the Spirit spoke through him telling us to always be ready  “...to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. ” (1 Peter 3:15). We mustn't shy away from telling folks Who we believe in and why. But how we do so is important too. The verse continues, “but do this with gentleness and respect”. 

“Almasih Kahdost” is a long-time friend of Covenant Life who desires to see the nations come to Christ. Though preferring to publish anonymously, Almasih Kadost welcomes your comments below.

See all the posts in this series.


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Nations Nearby | Part 9 | Meet Your Neighbors: Sikhs

May 4 2015 at 2:31 pm 0 Comments

by Almasih Kahdost

Sweat dripped down my back as I saw drapes sway in the breeze entering the gurdwara window. Given the ineffective nature of ceiling fans above, I was really hoping the breeze would make it my way, but no dice.

The occasional Sikh worshippers coming in and prostrating themselves didn’t seem to mind the excessive temperature. I wondered if perhaps they were reminded of the weather in the Punjab region of northern India and eastern Pakistan, home of Sikhism, one of the youngest of the world’s major religions.

ORIGINS

It was amidst this South Asian region, in 1469, a young boy was born who would become Sikhism’s founder, eventually being known as Guru Nanak. Influenced by and frustrated with both Hinduism and Islam, Nanak shaped Sikhism, removing idol worship, polytheism, the caste system, gender inequality and other tenets of his day’s prevailing religions.

Nanak would be the first of ten successive human gurus. (A guru is teacher who is full of knowledge). The eleventh guru, however is the Sikh holy book, called the Guru Granth Sahib. It contains the teachings and devotional hymns of the previous ten gurus, along with others.

BACK TO THE GURDWARA

Walking to the front of the gurdwara, I watched the granthi carefully uncover, open and fan the holy book, thereafter reading from it. His fanning brought some relief from the heat, but not as much as I was about to receive when he took us to a small room upstairs. Finally: AIR CONDITIONING! But it wasn’t intended for visitors so much as it was for the Guru Granth Sahib; the holy book, honored and respected (not worshiped) as a living being and accommodated with sleeping quarters, food and other comforts.

Afterwards, I was taken downstairs where I was offered as much (amazing!) Indian food as my tummy could hold. Someone was manning the kitchen practically around the clock in this ever-open Sikh place of worship.

Between the prostrated worshipers, the air conditioned Guru Granth Sahib and the fantastic South Asian food and hospitality, I felt as though I was northern India. But this was in the U.S.  In fact, you could probably have similar experiences at the corner of 124 and Warfield Road at the Washington Sikh Center. If you visit there for Sunday langar (a community meal) you may meet some very kind, generous people and even make a friend or two.

LIKEABLE BUT LOST

As kind as these folks are - as is true with so many in the world - they are equally lost. Sikhs agree one may potentially be united with God through meditation on his name, selfless service, living an honest lifestyle and sharing. There is a heavy emphasis on doing good.

Maybe you have Sikh friends or coworkers and don’t even realize it. Although some have adopted a more western look, many of the men are still identified by a bearded face and a turban covering their uncut hair. They may also wear a silver bracelet.

If so, Tuesday, April 14 was a Sikh new years festival, Vaisakhi. Ask them about it. How did it go? What is the spiritual significance of the holiday? Ask them about their beliefs. Be a learner. You could ask specifically about the “five vices” of Sikhism (lust, anger, greed, emotional attachment, pride) and, after confessing that you’ve committed these, gently ask if they have. If so, ask how they will know whether or not they will be good enough to be united to God. Ask, “If there was a way to be rid of your bad deeds, would you want to know?” Tell them that Jesus has the ability to give the credit of his good deeds to his followers and remove from them their bad deeds.

WE ARE THE WORLD

In this emerging multi-cultural county of ours, the customs and dress of our new neighbors are becoming decreasingly out of the ordinary. On one hand, there is something nice about that. These folks are humans just like us. However, as we pass by their places of worship, or see long beards and turbans, may those little cues of cultural differences be a reminder: God has brought the nations nearby so we can love them with the love of Christ.

“Almasih Kahdost” is a long-time friend of Covenant Life who desires to see the nations come to Christ. Though preferring to publish anonymously, Almasih Kadost welcomes your comments below.

See all the posts in this series.


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Nations Nearby | Part 5 | Do They Know It’s CHRISTmas?

December 22 2014 at 11:49 am 3 Comments

“Please tell me about Christmas,” said the young, smiling Persian woman, practically bouncing with curiosity. Her eagerness to learn the significance of this festive season surprised my friend.

“Would you like me to tell you the cultural significance or the religious significance,” my friend asked.

“There’s a religious significance?”

You might be thinking she was experiencing her first Christmas in the States, but the truth is that this well educated lady from Iran had been in the U.S. for four years. She was ignorant that Christmas was anything beyond a cultural phenomenon.

Icebreakers, Icebreakers Everywhere
Keeping in mind that westerners are typically more uncomfortable talking about religion than people from most other cultures, consider this: The Christmas season is the perfect excuse to share your faith with an international! Ubiquitous decorations, holiday food at the office and frenzied shoppers are all great conversation starters.

For your international friends or coworkers who have lived here for a while, make casual conversation asking them what they think about this time of year. Or, for those who have moved here recently, draw them out regarding their home country’s festivals and their religious significance.

Listen, Learn, Share
Answers will vary of course, but really listen and learn about your friend and his/her beliefs. (As you listen, you are earning the right to share your beliefs). Depending on the conversation’s direction, you may be able to interject the differences between the commercialized aspects of the holiday and the true meaning of Christmas. Explain that our culture has largely forgotten the original purpose of the holiday, and explain just what the true significance is.

The basic truths of Christmas aren’t nearly as well known as they once were in the U.S. However, even our culture’s blasphemously commercialized take on the incarnation can still be used by God to afford us opportunity to tell of the love and forgiveness offered in Christ.

“Almasih Kahdost” is a long-time friend of CLC who desires to see the nations come to Christ. Though preferring to publish anonymously, Almasih Kadost welcomes your comments here.

See all the posts in this series.


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Nations Nearby | Part 4

November 10 2014 at 9:04 am 0 Comments

Alone in a Strange Land
“My neighbor will talk to his dog, but he will not even say ‘hello’ to me.”

As I sat in the living room of my new friend from India (we’ll call him Rohit), the rawness of those words saddened me. Having lived in the United States for one year, working eighty hours a week, Rohit has yet to meet his neighbors or to have them even speak to him.

Just for a second, let’s try to put ourselves in his shoes.

Imagine moving to a country where the social norms and mores were as foreign as the language. Your nice white collar job has been replaced by one with twice the hours and three times the physical demand; so much so that you have lost 40 pounds and need to live with another family to make ends meet. Though the weight loss might be nice, laboring on your feet 80 hours a week has exhausted you such that your few moments of family time are spent trying to rest for the next day. Then imagine getting suspended from one of your jobs because an act of hospitality (perfectly acceptable in your home country) is interpreted as something intolerable in this strange new land. Imagine that the holiday in which your family celebrates the triumph of light over darkness is overshadowed by a macabre night of vampires, blood, ghosts and children(!) dressed as such demanding candy as they incessantly ring your doorbell.

That is a taste of my friend’s first year here.

God’s Take On It
Long ago, God’s people were told to look out for folks who were experiencing the above anxieties. He told his people to be proactive about caring for these folks and said:

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”(Leviticus 19:33,34)

Now, before the devil whispers to you, “That was the old covenant. You’re now in the new, no longer bound to such inconveniences,” ask yourself if you’ve heard someone—a carpenter’s son, perhaps—who said something very similar. Something like, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When Yahweh told the Israelites to treat the foreigner with kindness, he argued that they should do so because they too were once strangers in a foreign land. “Love your neighbors like you would want to be loved. Treat them like you would want to be treated. You remember how tough it was being in Egypt, right?”

Opportunity
With the holidays upon us, please consider reaching out to people like these in your relational network by inviting them into your home. It is a perfect opportunity to (1) show the love of Christ in action and (2) to tell of the love of Christ in word by explaining what you’re thankful for, and/or why we celebrate Jesus’ birth.

In working with international students and visiting scholars, I found myself constantly receiving gifts—ties, keychains and other assorted mementos—as a means of thanking me for teaching them English and/or the Bible. These giveaways were all clearly from the homelands of these dear people who had taken the time to pack their bags full of gifts for people who would invite them to their homes. More than once I heard stories of students returning home with the same gifts they had purchased in their country because no invitation had been extended.

Let’s seize the opportunity of the holidays to give these folks reason to empty the tchotchkes from their suitcases. May we treat our international neighbors better than we do our pets.

“Almasih Kahdost” is a long-time friend of CLC who desires to see the nations come to Christ. Though preferring to publish anonymously, Almasih Kadost welcomes your comments here.

See all the posts in this series.


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Leonce Crump Joins Us October 26

October 13 2014 at 9:58 am 0 Comments

All are invited to join us Sunday, October 26 at 10 a.m. to hear guest speaker Léonce Crump, lead pastor of Renovation Church in Atlanta, Ga., speak on the role and importance of diversity in the kingdom of God.

Originally from Louisiana and raised Catholic, Léonce began following Jesus at age 16. Always an athlete and a talker, Léonce outran his first mall security guard (and pregnant mother) at age 3, and spent most of his grade school years talking with his principals on the subject of public speaking during class. He has been in ordained ministry for nine years, is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and holds Masters degrees in Criminal Justice, with a focus on Case Law, Missional Leadership, and is currently finishing his Masters of Divinity at Reformed Theological Seminary.

At Oklahoma he was an All-American wrestler and played defensive end on the Sooner football team. After college he competed to make the world team in wrestling, played professional football for the New Orleans Saints and coached collegiate wrestling. He experienced an extended time of rebellion and running from God during college, but after 22 months of living as though he were not a Christian he surrendered to Jesus and ultimately to God’s calling into ministry.

Léonce pastored in three other churches prior to coming to Renovation Church, and started and led three college and young adult ministries. In 2006 he felt called to plant a church and through prayerful seeking of direction settled on the under-served area of downtown Atlanta. In early 2008 he and his wife moved to Atlanta from Tennessee to begin the process of planting Renovation Church. In 2009 Léonce was assessed and approved as a member of the Acts 29 church planting network and began a partnership with Perimeter Church in Atlanta in their commitment to local church planting.

Léonce and his wife Breanna have two daughters and have lived in the Grant Park community of Atlanta for over four years.


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2-A-DAY Reflections | Week of July 20

July 25 2014 at 7:02 am 1 Comments

More information about the year-long, 2-A-DAY reading plan, including the readings schedule, can be found on the 2-A-DAY page.

FRIDAY, JULY 25 | Exodus 25 and Matthew 5

Reflections on Exodus 25
By Jessica Kendal

Our God is In the Details

In Exodus 25 the Lord lays out, in great detail, instructions for building His Holy Place among His people. While I wondered, initially, what blue and purple thread would mean to a believer in Jesus Christ—He’s torn the curtain now, after all—I think part of the beauty in these details is God showing us how to worship Him. Here are just a few things to pull from this chapter:

1. Praise God that we can worship through cheerful giving and contribution to His works and His “house”! (vs. 2)
2. Praise God that He is the Holy of Holies, and he alone sits on the mercy seat! (vs. 22)
3. Praise God that He is our Bread of Life, and that He commands us in love to come before him regularly! (vs. 30)
4. Praise God that He is our Lampstand, the Light of the World, piercing the darkness! (vs. 37)
5. And lastly, Praise God that He knows us so well that He gives reminders to follow His instructions—may we not be tempted to adjust or embellish what He has said! (vs. 40)

Lord, we thank you today that You are still our God of details today. Please help us worship and trust You more with the details of our lives, give to you cheerfully, and follow Your Word exactly! In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen!


Reflection on Matthew 5
By Art & Jeannie Shenk

Matt 5:43 - 48 contains a snapshot of a brief but penetrating Q&A session conducted by Jesus with his disciples:

“You have heard that it was said,  ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

What is the conclusion on how we are to live with others? We are to love and pray for others even our enemies or those who give us a hard time. 

And “We MUST BE PERFECT, as our heavenly Father is perfect” in doing this. How can we possibly achieve this manner of living with others especially since the rest of Matthew 5 includes an avalanche of other holy standards for living? 

I find Charles Spurgeon’s perspective on “perfect living” helpful taken from A Call to Holy Living.

The regenerate never rebel against any precept, saying, “This, is too pure;” on the contrary, our new-born nature is enamoured of its holiness, and we cry, “Thy word is very pure, therefore thy servant loveth it. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes.

Let’s live in the good of Spurgeon’s prayer for us: “My desire, this morning, is to insist upon the precepts which tend to holiness, and I pray the Holy Spirit to excite desires after a high degree of purity in all believing hearts.”

 

THURSDAY, JULY 24 | Exodus 24 and Matthew 4

Reflection on Exodus 24 and Matthew 4
By Rhoda Dixon

I Need His Words Most.

Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” —Exodus 24:7

The words of God and the covenant would set the people of Israel apart as unto to the Lord. These words would direct every area of their lives, as ones who belonged to God, and they were to speak of who He is to each generation.

But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” —Matthew 4:4

More than what is temporal, what I need most are God’s very words, and the One who is the Living Word. For only His words bring hope to my days, light to my circumstances, and eternal life. His words remind me of His faithfulness throughout time and all He has done for His people; they speak of His gospel and eternal kingdom. 

In Exodus 24, God in His mercy had come near to the people, and they were to obey Him. And then in Matthew 4, God the Son had come near, with the call to follow Him.

Dear Lord, as Your people, we thank You for coming near to us, and for all You have spoken. Your words are truth, salvation and life. All that we are belongs to You, and we will obey You, and we will follow You.

 

WEDNESDAY, JULY 23 | Exodus 23 and Matthew 3

Reflection on Exodus 23
By Eryk Zimmerman

“Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land.” (Exodus 23:30)

Little by little, more and more, Christ is transforming our souls. His work is patient, because we are slow to understand and every area of life must conform to the Way. Every rebellious part of ourselves will be conquered by the renewing of our minds in our knowledge of Him. And then at last, there is only our love for Jesus.

We can also be corrupted little by little. It’s not a great crime that tempts us, but by committing many petty crimes our consciences are seared. It’s not one heroic test that we are called to endure. It’s the many small things that we have to bear patiently until our will is strong and our minds are peaceful.

“I will drive them out”. Thank You, Jesus! Only Your goodness and love can purge our sins and heal our wounded souls. It is Your strength that makes us strong, and the life You give is everlasting.

TUESDAY, JULY 22 | Exodus 22 and Matthew 2

Reflections on Exodus 22 and Matthew 2
By Tim Harvey

I have to admit I’ve often wished for the same kind of clear, unmistakable divine guidance like that Joseph experienced four times (four times!) during the events described in Matthew 1 and 2, and the divine guidance given to the magi through the star and their dream about avoiding Herod on the return trip.

Wouldn’t it be so much easier to follow God’s will if the occasional angel would appear in a dream and give me some specific instructions? Or how about the Old Testament Israelites – seems to me like they had it easy in some respects, too. Sure, there were a lot of laws to keep up with (as Exodus 22 illustrates), and a pretty complicated system of sacrifices, but as long as you were diligent and kept up with all those things, you were sure to experience God’s blessing, right? Just check off all the things on your Daily Laws Checklist and God would be happy. Just wait for an angel to appear and follow his instructions. Why can’t things be like that for us today?

When I think about it more closely I realize my desire for more “direct” divine guidance surfaces when I forget the rest of the story that is beginning in Matthew 2. l wish for a Righteousness Checklist (which the Old Testament law was never intended to be) that I could keep on my own and thereby take some credit for my own salvation – forgetting the far better and more perfect plan that God set in place through Christ. I want God to tell me what to do in a specific and unmistakable way because I’m afraid I’ll somehow “miss” His will and purpose for my life – and yet His plan carried on despite the wrath of Herod and its horrible results. How could He not be sovereign over my mistakes and missteps and even my sins? And I want an amazing experience of God’s unmistakable presence because I am prone to doubt He is really with me and cares for me – and yet His very name is “God With Us” and He came specifically so that my sins could be paid for and I could be adopted into His family. How could I ask for a better reminder of His love?

My prayer: Lord, help me to remember how deeply you love and care for me. Your promises are enough for me. Your Word and your Spirit and your people supply all the wisdom and guidance I need. Help me to rest in that truth more and more every day.

 

MONDAY, JULY 21 | Exodus 21 and Matthew 1

Reflections on Matthew 1
By Jose Troche

As I meditate on the first chapter of Matthew, I am blown away by its content and the cosmic repercussions of its announcement. It starts by compressing millennia of history that covers virtually the entire Old Testament from Genesis 12 and forward, and ends by describing the supernatural conception and birth of the very Son of God.

These are the opening words of Matthew: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” The first page of the New Testament makes it crystal clear who is the main character of the divine plot: Jesus, the Christ, whose lineage is unwound in the following verses (1:1-17).

The way I wrestle, trying to comprehend with my limited mind this most amazing genealogy, is by imagining myself reading to my kids the Big Picture Story Bible. We start almost at its beginning reading about God promising Abraham to make of him a great nation and in him blessing all the families of the earth.

Years went by and Abraham was still without a son. However, God remained faithful to his promise and miraculously brought forward the birth of his son Isaac. Then we read about Isaac’s son, Jacob, who in turn had twelve sons, including Judah. As we rapidly flip the pages, the promise of God is fulfilled generation after generation.

Then we read about David and God promising to raise up out of him a son whose kingdom will be forever (2 Samuel 7:12-13). But, because of the disobedience of his descendants, the kingdom is divided and people are scattered and deported. And yet God remains true to his word. He starts bringing his people back together. But, they are still waiting for the eternal King who will be a blessing to all nations.

After the perplexing silence of the intertestamental period, God speaks again, moving his plan forward, as he remains immutable in his faithfulness. And now the birth of Jesus takes place (1:18). Although, we can trace back his origins, there is something that absolutely separates him from the rest of the human race: his genetic makeup is divine! Everyone is born of the union of a man with a women, but not Jesus. No human male participated in his conception. That which was conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit (1:20).

The glorious and majestic God took human form and was born in the likeness of men, getting near his people like never before. He is marvelously indeed “God with us”! (1:23) and he was called Jesus (from the Hebrew name Yeshua, which means “Yahweh saves”1), for he will save his people from their sins (1:21). Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham and David. In this son of Abraham all the nations are blessed as they are offered salvation from their sins. And after conquering sin, Jesus, the son of David, has been crown as King forever. Alleluia!

1ESV Study Bible


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