Thursday, September 30, 2010

When Jesus Made My Muslim Friend "Feel Good"

Today's installment from the Our Daily Bread devotional speaks of what we do for others when we praise God. That set me to thinking. I wrote the following in linking to the piece over on Facebook:
A Muslim friend once asked me to come to a funeral visitation. His brother-in-law had just died. I was able to show up just before the public calling hours began and before a class I was teaching that night.

I spent some time with my friend and his family. He then guided me to another room in the funeral home so that we could speak privately. He thanked me for being there and then asked me what I believed happened to human beings at the point of death.

Long ago, I learned to be upfront about what Jesus, the Bible, and the Church teach about issues when my non-Christian friends ask. So, I told him that while I couldn't know everything for sure and that while I was certain that God will respect the choices of those who overtly reject Christ during this lifetime, one day we will all stand in the presence of the risen Jesus for "judgment."

But judgment will not depend on our "good works" or on being "nice people." I know myself, at least, and I am aware of all the sinful thoughts I've harbored, all the inhumane deeds I've done. I know my sins and that no cosmic eraser is big enough to alter the simple fact that I'm incapable of being righteous, incapable of being good enough to live--let alone, stand--in the presence of the perfect God of creation. I don't deserve heaven with God.

In a very real sense, Jesus won't even judge us. Jesus said, "God did not send the Son [that's Jesus] into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Those who believe [trust] in Him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the Name of the only Son of God" (John 3:17-18). We will judge ourselves, effectually, and be judged on whether we have dared to trust the goodness of Jesus, whether we have given up on trusting in ourselves or the world more than we trust in God, whether we repudiate our sins and grasp hold of Jesus Christ as our only hope.

Martin Luther put it well. At the judgment, Luther pointed out, Jesus will look on two different throngs of people, both throngs composed of sinners. But one throng will stand naked in their sin. The other throng will stand covered with Jesus. My hope for eternity, I told my friend that night in the funeral home, was not based on my works or my goodness, which are negligible at best, but on Jesus Christ alone.

I went on to explain that my relationship with Christ gave me confidence and hope for the living of each day, it softened my heart to the needs of others for justice and compassion, and it emboldened to me serve in Jesus' Name without regard to the opinions of others. (That is, my relationship with Christ does these things when I don't allow myself to spend too much time contemplating my own navel, worrying about my priorities, or worshiping at the altar of Mark.)

It wasn't clear to me how my friend would react to my answer to his question. In answering him, I tried to abide by the words of Saint Peter who told the oppressed churches of Asia Minor: "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:15-16). I wanted my friend to know that, like God, I loved him and cared about his family, whether he chose to trust in Jesus or not.

We talked about some other things. Then, it was time for me to go. I hugged my friend. As we approached the door of the funeral home, with tears in his eyes, he said, "Mark, I don't know what it was exactly, but something you said back there made me feel really good."

The truth about Jesus Christ can make us feel miserable, of course. Knowing that a just man who committed no sin died on a cross for my sins is an indictment of every member of the human race. Our sins put Jesus on that cross He didn't deserve. We deserved it instead.

But the compassion of Christ, the fact that He undertook this act of self-sacrifice for us and that all who repudiate their own sin and trust in Him (and commit themselves to the lifetime struggle against their own sin to which all Christian saints/sinners are committed) "makes us feel good." It brings joy and peace and hope!

The Bible says, "The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). And in another spot it says this gift comes to all with faith (Romans 3:21-26).

Whenever we praise God, as I tried to do in that funeral home room with my friend, we really do it for others. (This is true, even in our private times with the Bible and prayer to God, because these things fortify our faith and fill us again with the infectious love, grace, and truth of the God we know in Jesus.) Our gratitude to God for Jesus Christ, swelling up in words and deeds, as well as in "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" can bring hope and strength to all people...and it may plant the seed of a new life that will last forever with God. 
Share Jesus! The world needs Him...and Jesus is counting on you to help others "feel good" for all eternity!

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