Seeing a friend in a casket is a sad and sobering experience. Feelings especially true when the friend died suddenly, without warning and yet young. “Viewing” provides “closure,” the experts say, and the practice provides an occasion to express support and sympathy to members of your friend’s family. But it’s not fun, and only in cases when the deceased has left a life of suffering do we consider this time a relief.
People sometimes misinterpret the Christian theology of death. Some of them think Christians are pretty sanguine when it comes to death. Not usually. Christians are as bothered by death as anyone else.
God never told us we had to like death, only that we need not fear it. Death is still a separation, even from a person we know is now with the Lord. Death is still a transition. It’s an absence. It removes from our daily lives people we care about. So we feel the loss and we don’t like it.
Nor do we have to like death. It’s OK to grieve.
But Christians have hope, so we do not and should not grieve as those who have no hope. We know the end of the story and we know the Author of the story. We don’t just believe. We know God is still in charge, is not surprised by death, and is still a God of love. We know Christ has already defeated sin and its result—death—on the cross and in his resurrection. Our hope built upon certainty.
Christians do sometimes deal with death differently, so maybe that’s where the idea came from that we’re not bothered by death. For example, while there’s nothing wrong with wearing black to a funeral it isn’t really a Christian M.O. I know that’s what’s always shown in movies, especially funerals in New York City, but wearing black is more about tradition than Christianity. Christians mourn, but they recognize that it’s one thing to mourn and another thing to be morose. Sometimes Christians want to wear their hope in brightly colored clothing. It’s possible to do so while respecting the deceased. But again, there’s nothing wrong with wearing black either. It’s our knowledge and attitude that count for more.
Christians also sometimes conduct funerals that come off like celebrations. This is especially true when the deceased friend or family member has lived a long, full, and godly life. His or her time has come. He or she is spiritually and emotionally ready to meet the Lord, ready to go, ready to renew bonds with loved ones gone before. Such funerals are promotions. I recently attended a funeral for an 80-something friend that was all of that. Remembering him and his life was “fun,” if you can use that word at a funeral. He would have been much pleased, and we know he’s in heaven.
The most difficult experience is the funeral of a friend who, as far as you know, never placed his or her faith in Christ. How do you remain hopeful in this instance? You literally mourn his or her loss and you pray for, focus on, and invest in the loved ones left behind. Would to God that he awakens them and grants them a peace that passes understanding.
So, No, I don’t like seeing a friend in a casket.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010
This blog may be reproduce in whole or in part but must include a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.
I've often been reminded that Christian hope is not like any other kind of hope. Christian hope is not a vain wish for what might be. Christian hope is a trust in what will be. Christian hope is based upon Christ's completed work, so our hope may be confident...not anxious, not arrogant, but confident.
This is very important. We're told by some people that the future is a matter of chance, fate, or luck. Some of these people think God doesn't exist, and some believe God can't do much even if He does exist. People who think like this sometimes end up in one of two extremes. Either they go off the deep end of hedonism, trying to escape their meaningless life in short-term pleasure. Or, they end up in the severe despair of nihilism, wishing they'd never been born and sometimes even taking their own life.
Now there is another kind of misplaced hope. Some people believe they can control the future. For them, hope for humanity and their own lives is tied up with technology or other kinds of scientific advances. Their hope is optimistic but ultimately baseless. They place their hope in human potential while rejecting God and ignoring the reality of sin. Just check the history of the Twentieth Century for a record of technological advance run amok in world wars.
So what are we left with?
On the one hand we find no hope and on the other hand groundless hope. One is pessimistic the other is optimistic.
People faced with a pessimistic future seek relief in the drug culture, alcohol, or some other emotional tranquilizer. People who assume an optimistic future tend to worship the idols of materialism, eternal youth, or leisure.
But true Christian hope is balanced. It's never pessimistic, because Christians know the Creator and Savior. We know the beginning and the end of the human story, and we know it's all in God's sovereign care. Christian hope is realistically optimistic. We acknowledge the presence of sin in the world, but we know the Lord will make things right.
"Hope springs eternal in the human breast." For the Christian--hope really is eternal.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010
Revised "Making a Difference" program #012 originally recorded February 5, 1993.
This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part but must include a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.
Join Sarah and me for a trip to the Middle East. See the Holy Land, learn more about SAT-7's spiritually strategic ministry, see the Pyramids and more...
Learn more details and get complete sign-up information at All Points Cruising.
March 3, 2011 Depart JKF Airport in NYC
March 4 Arrive Tel Aviv - Hotel
March 5-9 Palestine - Bethlehem Bible College, Christmas Lutheran Church, Galilee and Nazareth area, Palestinian believers, Jerusalem/Bethlehem sites, Via Dolorosa, Calvary, Garden Tomb
March 9 Depart Tel Aviv - Arrive, Larnaca, Cyprus early Wednesday morning, visit SAT-7 Office and lunch with staff
March 9-11 SAT-7 Network, 15th Anniversary meetings, celebration, meet regional staff and European Partners, producers, directors, regional church leaders, spiritual challenge, Middle East ministry update, SAT-7 impact, beach, shopping
March 12-14 Depart Larnaca - Arrive Cairo, SAT-7 Studios, Egyptian believers, Pyramids, Bible Society of Egypt, Egyptian Museum with King Tut, Bazaar and shopping, Kasr El Dubara Evangelical Church, Cave Church and Garbage City, mosques, churches
March 15 Depart Cairo to JFK, NYC
*In development, so some travel details may change. Costs to be determined later when airlines establish airfares. Space is limited, so make your reservation early.
Learn more at All Points Cruising and sign up today.
For more information, contact SAT-7 USA, P.O. Box 2770, Easton, MD 21601. Toll Free (866) 744-7287, FAX (410) 770-9807.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2010 This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.com.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2010
This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.com.
Hussein Hajji Wario’s own story, Cracks in the Crescent (2009), is a truly remarkable testimony of God’s grace. Born and raised in Kenya, Wario grew up in a devout Sunni Muslim family, attended madrassa (Islamic primary school), and became a muadhin (a person who calls Muslims to pray). But just prior to beginning high school, Wario came to saving faith in Jesus Christ, a conversion that both changed his life forever and the world he lived in immediately.
Wario endured more than five years of persecution. His family rejected him, more than one brother attempted to beat him, a sister tried to poison him, members of his small tribal community berated him, chased him, threw rocks at him, stole his property, lied about him, and conspired with local authorities to arrest or otherwise harass him. While his family enjoyed financial means they refused to continue supporting his education. Yet God provided finances, a few Christian friends who protected and discipled him, and an amazing resolve to follow Christ at any cost.
How Wario acquired copies of the Scripture, growing up in a Muslim community, let alone heard about the truth of Jesus and eventually received Him, is an incredible demonstration of God’s providence. From a memory seared for life by emotional and physical travail, Wario relates the potentially life-threatening experiences he faced, simply because he decided not to be a Muslim.
Apologist Ravi Zacharias said that a person must be free to disbelieve or he or she is not truly free. This is Wario’s story. Though the Kenyan national constitution guaranteed his civil right to freedom of religion, his religious community recognized no such liberty. For his family, for his tribal relatives, for his fellow students at several schools, Wario’s rejection of Islam in favor of Christianity was tantamount to treason and deserving of forced re-conversion to Islam—or death.
When despite all odds Wario graduated at the top of his class he obtained employment translating the Orma language. And he emerged as a notable debater with Muslim contacts and clerics who would at least listen and perhaps respond without violence. A short time later through another series of providential provisions Wario secured a passport, traveled to the United States, and eventually completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Religion at Hope College in Michigan. As a 30-something Wario now lives in the United States and travels and speaks regularly about Islam and Christianity.
This book is both engaging and moving. You cannot learn about the challenge, risk, and total commitment of Wario’s young Christian life without comparing it to your own, which if it’s like mine, entailed no persecution and certainly no threat to life or limb. Reading the book makes you grateful once again for spiritual liberty in Christ and for political/personal liberty in a free society.
Wario concludes with two useful chapters examining controversial and vastly important topics: the Islamic depiction of Jesus Christ and the Islamic presentation of Prophet Muhammad as the Promised Comforter (the Holy Spirit). With his understanding of the Qur’an and the aHadith (sayings of Muhammad) as well as the Bible, Wario provides an articulate and concise resource for anyone wishing to learn more about Islam and how to speak respectfully and lovingly, but accurately, with Muslim friends.
I highly recommend this book. I cannot say that it is “enjoyable” to read because much of Wario’s story is heart-wrenching. But his story is an authentic reminder that God is great and his Son Jesus died and rose again for all who seek and received him. It’s also a reminder that American Christians must become wiser and more conversant in the ways of Islam so that we may properly engage Muslims spiritually and politically at home and abroad.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010
This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part but with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.
Traveling to the Middle East is an experience I’d recommend to anyone. For the past ten days I visited Istanbul, Turkey; Larnaca , Cyprus; and Cairo, Egypt.
In the news virtually every day, the Middle East is the most religiously and politically strategic region in the world: 22 countries, 7 time zones, 500+ million people, 50%+ illiteracy rates, 95% Muslim, 1% of the world’s Bibles, less than 4% Christian.
Americans worry about growing political religion, yet few American Christians know much about Middle East religion, Middle Easterners as people, or how to share Christ with Middle Eastern neighbors at home or abroad (me included until a few months ago). Now I believe learning how to minister to Middle Easterners may be the defining challenge of our times. One way to learn is to travel in the Middle East.
Here are a few things I learned:
--In a nation of over 72 million people, Christians in Turkey number about 3,000 according to a recent missiological study. There are actually more Christians in Iran than Turkey. While Turkey is a secular democracy religion influences the culture. On another trip I made to Turkey a few years ago, one of our guides said, “Turkey is secular religious” meaning religion influences culture but not everyone is religious, let alone devout. Yet living the Christian life in Turkey is hard and lonely, and on a few rare occasions dangerous.
--Unity of the brethren in Turkey is very important. Consequently, “denominational-ism” is not as much of a problem in Turkey as it can be in the States. Christians need each other, so they don’t fuss as often. At the same time, Turkey has the highest turnover of Christian workers of any nation in the world, in part because it’s a fairly easy country to enter and offers certain attractions or amenities, so people come who may not really be committed. Or, people come who think it’s going to easy and it turns out to be very hard, so they leave.
--Istanbul is diverse, cosmopolitan, European in dress, food, etc, and secularized and religious but with wide variance. I saw fully covered women in all black, saw many women wearing scarves or other head-coverings, yet saw mostly Western dress, blue jeans, iPods, cell phones, teen girls as well as boys (but mostly boys) going about in packs, professionally dressed women with jobs in commercial settings. Artists and writers in Turkey make Istanbul their home. I was told that people in Istanbul focus upon play as well as work, which people in Ankara tend to focus on their government work.
--Turkey is the third highest worldwide in number of Facebook users, behind the U.S. and U.K. Internet access is good and education levels higher, including among women, more than many other Middle East countries.
--More than 300 Turkish language channels now operate in Turkey, of which maybe 110 or so are national in scope.
--One cannot fly from Turkey to Cyprus, at least not Greek Cyprus. You have to fly to the northern Turkish Cyprus because Greek Cypriots do not recognize the north as a country or legal entry point. This dates to the war between the countries in the mid-1970s. Cyprus is a divided island, and Nicosia, the capital, is a divided city.
--Cyprus probably couldn’t be more conveniently located for traveling to other Middle East and North African countries. It is a secular democracy, fairly stable, economically well-off, part of the European Union, which uses the Euro, and a Mediterranean holiday destination for many Europeans.
--In Cairo, Garbage City is a place where poor people live in squalor surrounded by foul-smelling refuse and scavenge garbage to survive. It is emotionally gut-wrenching to see. I’ve been in similar horrid places like the barrio near Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and like the infamous dump in Manila, so I’ve seen families living in hovels amidst filth. But it’s just as ugly wherever you see such poverty.
--Within Garbage City is the Cave Church, a truly amazing illustration of God’s love and grace in the midst of human suffering. The church is difficult to describe. In the late 1960s, Egypt’s President Nassser sent about 5,000 garbage collectors, many of whom worshipped as Christians, outside the city. By 1978 a fellow named Father Simon, who still pastors today, began an outreach to these people that turned into a church, schools, hospital, and more. After worshipping for some years in the open air on the rocks near the dump, they discovered what appeared to be a cave underneath. Excavation and later pew and platform construction eventually yielded an incredible “auditorium” deep into the side of the mountain. As many as 10,000 people have attended services in this unique outdoor setting and the church thrives, ministering now to the some 65,000 or so people who live in the Garbage City area.
--The Bible Society of Egypt is blessed with a beautiful facility and the General Director Dr. Ramez Atallah is a gracious host. He is a noted Christian leader not only in Egypt but across the Middle East and in the West.
--After hearing about or seeing pictures of the Pyramids all your life, seeing them up close and personal is exciting to say the least. I went inside and up a narrow passageway to a tomb near the top of Cheops, the largest pyramid. There are about 100 pyramids in Egypt, known thus far, with artifacts and other ancient discoveries still being made every week. The Sphinx is unique, smaller than one expects, but a wonder no matter how you look at it.
--The Egyptian Museum is full of statuary 4,000 years old and older, including the famed King Tut (the Boy-King who died at 18-19 yrs after nine year reign) exhibit. The beauty and intricacy of the artistry, the amount of artifacts, including several coffins within several gold-layered wooden tomb housings, his incredible mask and sarcophaguses, the variety and number of tools, clothes, adornments, religious items, throne, beds, etc, are beyond description. Incredible. So was the Royal Mummies Hall with 12-14 male and female mummies still in repose after 3-4,500 years. Most, as one would expect, looked like a mummy—dried and brown and shrunken and abnormal. But one, Seti I, looked peacefully asleep with a smile on his countenance. He literally looked like he could awaken.
--SAT-7’s studios and offices in Egypt where Arabic programming is produced for SAT-7 Arabic and SAT-7 KIDS channels are a testimony to God’s blessing upon the ministry. I met several staff members, watched part of a live program in progress featuring two pastors answering called-in questions about the Christian faith, and in general enjoyed a great visit.
--Kasr El Dobara Church is a large and thriving evangelical congregation featuring a beautiful facility near Cairo’s center. It’s an important church doing a very significant work.
--In Cairo, men dress in Western style clothing. Women dress in Western styles, traditional outfits, and various expressions of religio-cultural strictness resulting in some with head-covering, some in dress robes, some in black robes, some in dark black robes and head-coverings with only the woman’s eyes visible through slits in the covering, and a few in dark black robes and head-coverings, including hands covered and full facial coverings. Every variety may be seen in any area of the city at any time. I saw about 8 women in total covering, including an apparently young woman at the mall sitting with a young man dressed in blue jeans and tennis shoes and playing with an iPhone. Egypt says it wants to avoid extremes of fanaticism in religion. Otherwise, the country and culture are open to differing expression.
--The Kahn El Khalili bazaar is one of the oldest and largest in the world comprised of two long main streets and several cross streets with hundreds of shops. Men hawk their wares saying, “I don’t know what you want, but I’m sure I have it.” Or, “All I want is your money, brother,” anything to get your attention. I’ve been in similar bazaars, like the one along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem and umpteen tourist traps in cruise ports in the Caribbean. This one is bigger, nicer, offers more locally-made goods, and more interesting.
--On several occasions I saw two older adult men or teen boys walking along holding hands. To Western eyes this is a jarring sight, but it’s purely cultural and does not mean anything untoward is going on. Apparently this practice is fading but still around. I remember when President Bush-the-younger visited a Middle East country, I forget which one, and was expected to, and did, walk about for a photo op holding hands with the country’s leader. Bush looked uncomfortable—of course he usually looks uncomfortable on camera.
--In Egypt, Muslims and Christians are buried in different Cairo cemeteries. Differences include not only the prayers offered, but Muslims are buried within 24 hours of death wrapped in cloth while Christians are buried in coffins. In Egypt, neither Muslims nor Christians are ever cremated. More interesting to me is that both are buried underground, inside structures that are built to look like houses. The result of this over time is that cemeteries look like abandoned neighborhoods. Indeed one of the most famous, along the highway, is one called the “City of the Dead,” a vast area of what looks like derelict one story homes or apartments. Muslim cemeteries also include some smaller mosques that are used like Christians use cemetery chapels to pray or as a gathering place for family and friends. Another difference is that Muslims are buried in layered graves while Christians tend to create family crypts underground that can be entered and where coffins are placed on shelf-type structures that stack coffins within the space. The City of the Dead once existed outside the city but is now surrounded by Cairo’s urban sprawl, which makes it stand out in contrast to “living neighborhoods,” if you will, when you drive by.
The population of the Middle East and North Africa is expanding rapidly at a rate of more than 7 million per year. Meanwhile, Christians are fleeing the Middle East, dropping an already small percentage even further.
As I noted earlier, learning about Middle East religion and people, and how to communicate love, forgiveness, and hope in Jesus Christ may be the greatest challenge of the new millennium. We should be leading the way.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010
*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com, or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.
Today, I attended morning services at both Crystal Cathedral with Robert H. Schuller and Saddleback Church with Rick Warren, about 20 miles-but-worlds-apart in worship format. It was an interesting peek at different segments of evangelical Christianity.
Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California is best known for its distinctive glass architecture creating an impressive aesthetic experience both within and without the structure. Inside is a huge pipe organ which along with the facility’s acoustics made the 45 member choir sound like ten times that many. The choir sang traditional hymns and Dr. Schuller’s daughter, Rev. Dr. Sheila Schuller Coleman, emceed the program. The auditorium was maybe two-thirds full with seemingly one-half the women and some of the men dressed in bold Valentine’s Day red. More interestingly, I was close to being the youngest person in the service. While a few younger adults attended this was very much an older audience.
Dr. Schuller is 83 years of age and still preaches with a degree of energy. But he also evidenced his age today by making mistakes in three separate statements. The program was constructed around today’s celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Dr. Schuller’s television and radio program, “Hour of Power.” While the service had its high points, in particular the choir, the overall experience of the service seemed lethargic to me and even a bit forced. I found it uncomfortable and wondered if others did as well.
It wasn’t long ago, within a few months, Dr. Schuller installed then removed his son, Dr. Robert A. Schuller, from heading the ministry and the flagship program. According to press comments, attendance and donations had been dropping and the ministry was drifting. But this was happening before Jr took over and is apparently continuing because recent staff cuts and program airtime reductions have been implemented. Dr. Sheila Schuller is now heading the ministry and as I noted today’s service. She seems nice, but she is not an inspiring speaker and at times lost her place or her pace in the program sequence. I’m not sure I understand why she’s been anointed to step into leadership. Not because I have anything against a female leader, but because I believe the ministry would be better served by announcing and completing a search for the next qualified senior pastor of the church.
I mentioned the service seemed “forced,” meaning it felt like they had a brand they had to keep promoting. And they do, it’s Robert H. Schuller and Positive Thinking-Possibility Thinking, so every few minutes someone emphasized the word “positive” or “possible” in a way that didn’t work for me. God or Jesus was mentioned from time to time, and when they were it was done in a biblically appropriate manner. But Schuller’s legacy, which was mentioned, and being positive and having hope were the bold print part of the message.
Saddleback Church with Rick Warren was a substantially different experience. The service on the main campus, one of five now plus the online church, was packed into a relatively modest-number-of-seats auditorium with the feel of a black box theater, music was lively, the congregation was vibrantly engaged, and all but a couple of choruses focused upon Jesus by name, the blood, forgiveness, or God’s love. The service was amazingly diverse with every age represented from crowds of children and young families on the campus going to their own facilities to the elderly in wheelchairs or literally on oxygen in the worship center. The congregation was as racially or ethnically mixed as you’re likely to find anywhere including sports events.
Rick appeared twice on video—today was his day to visit the outlying campuses—and a guest pastor spoke. This was not a big disappointment to me because I’ve heard Rick before. The message by a guest speaker was thoroughly grounded in Scripture—people were encouraged to open Bibles—and focused upon God’s forgiving us, thus making it possible and essential for us to forgive others, i.e. “Jesus’ pattern should become our practice.”
If I had to guess which church ministry would survive the sudden loss of its senior pastor I’d say Saddleback, despite Rick Warren’s national persona. At Crystal Cathedral, you can find huge paintings of Dr. Schuller on the visitor center wall, his quotes scripted on those walls, and people in the program or even the ushers repeatedly mentioning his name or what he said. Nothing wrong with paintings or quotes per se, but again, it’s become the brand.
At Saddleback, you can find Rick’s books in the book store, but the only picture I saw of him was a small one-among-many in the bulletin. Same can be said of the respective websites. Saddleback isn’t marketing Rick Warren. It’s marketing life lived authentically in and for Jesus Christ.
There are at least two additional reasons I believe Saddleback would survive the unexpected loss of its senior pastor better than Crystal Cathedral: leadership and young families. Crystal is still struggling through a generational leadership change that has not yet really transitioned. The leader is in his 80s and either never really let go or had to come back because the ministry has been for 40 years heavily focused on his persona and program. It’s difficult to undue constituent loyalties in a quick or short time. Saddleback, on the other hand, has a long list of pastors on staff and it’s knee deep in deacons who can and do lead an incredible array and complexity of ministries. In other words, Saddleback has a leadership bench to draw from in a time of crisis or transition, and despite what critics have said, Saddleback isn’t of, by, and for Rick Warren. He’s an evangelical star, but at the church the spotlight isn’t on him, it’s on Jesus. The church’s future can also be seen and foretold in those hundreds of families and thousands of children bee-hiving the campus and finding spiritual niches in the programs Saddleback offers.
Visiting both churches in one day was a worthy experiment, and I’m glad I did it. And I should say, I didn’t write this piece to be critical of Dr. Schuller. I respect much of what he’s accomplished for the Lord. But I’m also concerned for the future of that ministry. Saddleback has its own challenges, but leaders and congregants are bent upon meeting those challenges as God directs, which is a great thing to see.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010
*This blog may be reproduce in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.