Some years ago Kathy and I were camping in Switzerland. We both believed it was the “garden spot of the world”—so rugged and beautiful are its mountains, glaciers and green valleys. Late in the afternoon we pulled into a campground in the town of Grindelwald and pitched our tent by a roaring river whose waters came directly off the glacier that nestled between the enormous mountains. We had seen pictures of this place and had heard the stories told by others who had been here. The only problem was that it had been raining all day (as it does regularly in this country) and the clouds hung very low over the valley at nearly tree top level. In spite of all we had anticipated the view was non-existent. There was nothing there to substantiate any of the stories we had heard or the pictures we had seen. So we went to bed disappointed. But the next morning we awoke to brilliant sunshine streaming through the tent flaps. Instinctively we sat up and peered out of the flaps. It took a moment for our minds to cancel out the previous night's memories of the place and adjust to the morning’s staggering vista. There in all their glory were the saw-tooth peaks of the Eiger, the Monch and the Jungfrau. They had also been there the night before but only now could they be experienced.
I have often pondered that experience because it seems to provide an important metaphor for life. A casual traveler through that country who knew nothing about its world-renowned scenery would not have hesitated to keep moving had he encountered the heavy clouds. His goal would have been to find a dry and inviting spot to camp for the night. What brought us to that very spot was our belief that, despite the present situation, the glorious scenery we came to see would eventually show itself to us.
Even so, our faith in Christ often leads us into dark valleys and dismal circumstances. Church work and Christian ministry can often appear dark and unrewarding and we are tempted to quickly move to brighter camping spots. Only our trust that we have not been misled and that we are indeed in the right location at the right time keeps us in place. We know that, when the unwelcome mists eventually lift, we will be rewarded with what we came for—a glorious revelation of God Himself. Hang in there, friends, as we move through another year of service. He who has called us will not send us away empty.
Of all the religious festivals in existence the two that are the farthest apart philosophically occur at the same time of the year and revolve around the same event. Mardi Gras (literally “Fat Tuesday”) is the raucous holiday preceding Lent. Since Lent represents 40 days of sacrifice leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, Mardi Gras became the “last fling” of Christian people about to descend into a period of self-denial. Although begun more seriously in the Middle Ages, it has long since taken on a life of its own as a carnival given over to sensual indulgence in all of its forms.
Passover, on the other hand, was a deadly serious festival from the beginning. It celebrated the deliverance of God’s people from slavery and the beginning of a new nation. It was never forgotten that this was accomplished through death: the death of the Passover Lamb and the many deaths occurring when the Death Angel “passed over” the houses of the Israelites and struck every home of the Egyptians. The ultimate fulfillment of Passover was seen in the Lord’s Supper as the celebration of the Passover Lamb—Jesus Christ—and His death and deliverance from sin.
How then did we ever get from the celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ to its opposite “Fat Tuesday”? The answer to that question is seen in the gulf that exists between God’s view of our salvation in Jesus Christ and the view of sinful man. We insist upon seeing our faith as a thing that deprives us. The key word here is “sacrifice.” Somehow our passage into faith is seen as devoid of fun and filled with pain. But God sees exactly the opposite: as a rescue mission delivering us from certain death and presenting us with Eternal Life. That is why Jesus said, “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10).
The view that most nearly represents our concept of the Christian life has a lot to say about where we are in our progress toward Christian maturity. Join us this Sunday as we attempt to celebrate again that life which is ours through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on our behalf.
One of the unfortunate by-products of living in a wealthy, influential and vast nation is in thinking that what happens here is the only thing that matters. This “geographical arrogance” has also spilled over in the church. It is noticeable when we handle prayer requests. Most of our requests deal only with our own circle of acquaintances. Only occasionally do we hear requests concerning regional or national matters. Almost never do we hear about those from other lands. We might reply that we have our hands full dealing with local issues. But God doesn’t wear blinders. He has children everywhere and is as concerned with a problem in Nigeria as one in America.
I think one of the most beautiful facets of our faith is the tie that binds us to Christians everywhere. Are you aware, for instance, that Manzoor Masih of Lahore, Pakistan, was arrested for preaching Christ, released by the courts, then shot to death by his Muslim accusers? Or that five house church buildings near Wenzhou, China were demolished by Public Security Officials (two of them having more than 1,000 members)? Or that Pastor Ishak Christian, his wife, daughter, niece and a church worker were burned to death as a crowd of three thousand Muslims went on a church burning spree in Situbondo, East Java? By the time order was restored 25 places of Christian worship had been burned in seven cities. The “Suffering Church,” as they have been called, really understands what it means to live for Christ in a hostile environment. But these people are not “foreigners.” They are brothers and sisters who are part of that great family about which we sing, “Blest be the ties that binds our hearts in Christian love…”
Not only would knowledge of these events keep us better informed, it would also inspire us to live boldly for Christ here in our own country. If you would like to know more, one place to start is by writing to “Open Doors USA,” P.O. Box 27001, Santa Ana, CA 92799; or “Voice of the Martyrs,” P.O Box 443, Bartlesville, OK 74005. They will keep you informed about the Suffering Church and issue regular prayer alerts so that you can call down the power of God upon your brothers and sisters thousands of miles away. Isn’t it great how large our family is!
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship