Friday, May 28, 2010

Living as exiles

Last weekend, I was in Michigan's Upper Peninsula participating in a work weekend at my in-law's place. Over that weekend, I had the chance to reflect on some points regarding our Christian faith. Two of the points actually ended up interweaving with each other.

One point had to do with how some people have maintained a sense of living in their homeland, or within their home culture while physically being distant from that homeland. While I've witnessed a number of examples, perhaps the one that stood out the most for me is that of the British. Whether here in America, or in Canada, or even a Caribbean island such as the British Overseas Territory of Grand Turk, I have seen examples of those who have maintained a sense of their "Britishness" while thousands of miles from Britain.

Years ago, across the street from my first apartment, there was an individual who lived in a house across the street who prominently displayed a large British flag on the wall of his living room. At night, with no other street lights nearby, the lights from the owner's living room lit up that part of the street. With no curtains drawn in that house, one could easily see (more like not miss) seeing this very large (4 feet by 6 least) flag. It was obvious that someone lived there who wanted to maintain a sense of being British while living here in the United States.

A decade later, my wife and I flew to Montreal for a Christmas gathering sponsored by the travel agency at which my wife worked at the time. The aircraft was run by British Airways. Though I had never set foot in Britain, I felt that I was there once onboard the plane. The cabin's main view screen ran a series of pictures taken in England. The flight attendants had British accents. In addition, it was hard to miss the Union Jack motif in the cabin. I think a British citizen would have felt right at home onboard this plane, sitting on a tarmac in Romulus, Michigan, thousands of miles from home.

In my reflections from last weekend, I realized how similar this sense of maintaining "Britishness" is to a Christian maintaining a sense of "Kingdom of Heaven-ness" while here on Earth. Like a loyal ex-patriate British citizen, we as citizens of "the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10 NIV) need to maintain a sense of our true homeland. In Scripture, we Christians are likened to strangers and exiles (Hebrews 11:13). For me, the example of the British in who live in our country serves as a great example of what we as Christians should do in yearning for and living as if we were already in our homeland.

The second point I reflected on has to do with legacy and descent. Genetically, I have American, Polish and German roots. Yet, over the years, I have come to appreciate how adoption broadens our cultural horizons. The influences of a heritage into which you've been adopted can be just as powerful (perhaps even more so) as a genetic heritage. In the same way, when it comes to my spiritual heritage, it occurred to me that that heritage is overwhelmingly British. I've been strongly influenced by the Anglican Book of Common Prayer as well as the writings of Thomas Watson, Thomas Brooks, John Owen, Thomas Manton and Richard Sibbes, all of those individuals who were part of the Puritan movement in Britain in the 17th century. Jonathan Edwards was actually a British colonial subject during the entireity of his life, having died 18 years before America declared its independence. The writings of Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle, both from the 19th century, have been tremendous influences on me. Again, both were British. How wonderful it was to realize that in terms of my spiritual descent, I'm British!!!

The picture of the flag in this entry is known as the King's Colors or the original Union Flag (or Union Jack as "Jack" was a term for flag). It combined the then existing flags of England and Scotland, around the year 1606. It remained the British flag until 1801 when Ireland's flag was merged into the Union Jack we know today. As most of my British spiritual ancestors lived in the 17th century, I thought it proper to include the flag of that time.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Grandmother's Disappointment

Recently, I came across a true story about a faithful grandmother which I would like to pass along to you. The story talks about how the grandson turned his back on the faith she worked so hard to instill in her son and later, her grandson. I don't have all of the details of how this happpened. However, I think I can expand a little on information which I do have available to me. I think its an important lesson about turning your back on the faith taught to you from an early age.

Based on the information I do have about this account, I think that a conversation which the grandma would have had with a friend of hers would have gone along these lines:

GRANDMA'S FRIEND: "How are you doing today? You look like you've been crying. What's wrong?"

GRANDMA: "Its my grandson. He has turned his back on our faith. I am so heartbroken."

GRANDMA'S FRIEND: "When did this happen?"

GRANDMA: "It came out after his father, my son, died recently. You know that my son was leader in our community. My grandson accepted the fact that people would look to him to take over that role. But when he seems that he lost his mind."

GRANDMA'S FRIEND: "Why? What did he do?"

GRANDMA: "First, he fired all those nice young men who served down at the worship center as the hospitality committee. It was their aim to make those attending services feel warm and welcome. Now, they're gone. But if that weren't enough, he is going out of his way to find pieces of godly art which his father donated to nearby worship centers and then....destroy them."

GRANDMA'S FRIEND: "This is terrible. Why is he doing this?"

GRANDMA: "He says it has something to do with his great-great grandfather (on his father's side, definitely not my side). My grandson learned about this guy years ago. For reasons I will never understand, my grandson thinks he was a great man. Really, that man was a religious nut. And now my grandson wants to be just like him. This is simply breaking my heart."

GRANDMA'S FRIEND: "I am so sorry. What can I do?"

GRANDMA: "Thanks for being such a good friend. What really breaks my heart is that after all those years of teaching him our faith, he wants nothing to do with me."

GRANDMA'S FRIEND: "Oh no. How do you know that?"

GRANDMA: "He told me. Remember how my son would come to me for advice about being a leader in the community? Well, my grandson told me, straight out, that he rejects my faith and rejects me. He said he never wants to ever hear any advice from me, ever again. I'm so heart-broken. How do I go on?"

Well, that sums up the account. How many of us have experienced what this grandmother did? However, if you're a Christian, you see the grandson, not the grandmother, as the hero of this story.

I mentioned earlier that this is taken from a true account. It is. The account can be found in 1 Kings 15:8-14:

And Abijam slept with his fathers and they buried him in the city of David; and Asa his son became king in his place. So in the twentieth year of Jeroboam the king of Israel, Asa began to reign as king of Judah. He reigned forty-one years in Jerusalem; and his mother's name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. Asa did what was right in the sight of the LORD, like David his father. He also put away the male cult prostitutes from the land and removed all the idols which his fathers had made.He also removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother, because she had made a horrid image as an Asherah; and Asa cut down her horrid image and burned it at the brook Kidron. But the high places were not taken away; nevertheless the heart of Asa was wholly devoted to the LORD all his days.

The grandmother was Maacah. The grandson was Asa, a godly king of Judah. The "religious nut" was King David. (Hopefully, the other parallels are not too strained). The faith on which Asa turned his back was the Baal and Asherah worship embraced by his grandmother. It was most likely a family religious tradition. Asa was probably raised to think that this was proper and normal. Yet, somehow, he embraced the faith of his ancestor David.

Perhaps your family religious legacy is what the apostle Peter described as a "futile way of life inherited from your forefathers" (1 Peter 1:18 NASB). When one turns to Christ, they do indeed turn their back on the family's religious legacy if Christ was not a part of that legacy. For such a person, turning to Christ may severely disappoint your grandmother. Yet, in heaven, the angels of God rejoice (Luke 15:10).