We’re not the same but we can be friends

This is probably my final 9/11 thought for a while. Most likely.
Last week I came across this article on the CNN belief blog titled “How 9-11 eroded our shared faith and American identity.”
The writer laments how the attacks of 9-11 distanced the Christian-Muslim-Jewish communities from each other. And obviously he is right. Folks are probably more wary of Islam than when I was in college in 1999. They may see more of a distinction with this religion. If branches of Islam lead people to fly planes into buildings and also kill other branches of Islam, then obviously that doesn’t seem like the same faith. 
And the truth of the matter is that he does have a point. Not all branches of Islam, particularly in America advocate violence. Nevertheless some do, and go on killing rampages like the disaster at Ft. Hood. And of course, “Christians” in the name of “Christianity” kill people in Jesus’ name.
Upon first glance, you could argue Christianity and a western form of Islam have some commonalities in regards to ethical claims like loving others and taking care of the poor. The writer goes beyond ethical claims to point out that the two faiths are essentially the same. Writing about his interfaith family:

Our mini “melting pot” succeeded because we focused on the commonalities between Islam and Christianity, the most obvious being that we worship the same God. How could we not? After all, we share almost identical prophets such as Moses, Abraham and Jesus.

If the bible depicted Jesus solely as a prophet, it would be a little harder to disagree with him. But we studied Colossians 1:15-18 in our CD (community/discipleship) group last week:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
If I’m praying to Jesus, who is more than a prophet, but the 2nd person of the Trinity, then its pretty hard to argue that someone who says, “Nope, Jesus was just a prophet, and a heck of a nice lad,” is praying to the same God. If Jesus called Jews who didn’t believe in Him “children of the devil” (John 8:44) and that our shared history of Moses and Abraham did not mean Jews and Christians were “on the same page”-Abraham rejoiced at seeing Jesus (John 8:56) then I don’t think it would be a great leap to think Jesus would have said the same things about a future religion which shared common roots but minimized or disbelieved in His deity.
We can just agree to disagree and still be friends, and extended family members with cordial relations, can’t we? Do we have to agree in order to be friends? While that’s a present American fallacy, I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t this way when we started. Regardless, Jesus prayed for those who ignorantly disbelieved in Him, and so can we (Luke 23:24). 

The problem is that there is no American paradigm for disagreeing with someone’s religion or sexual preference but at the same time still befriending and getting to know them. What that means is that Christians have an opportunity to prayerfully, lovingly, and patiently introduce and demonstrate that to our culture.

Only YOU: Lesson from 9/11 Part II

This is the 2nd of my 9/11 related thoughts, centered around the interview with the fireman pictured on the right, who survived the terrorist attack. The fireman resisted the question of, “Were you saved for something special,” and instead retorted, “Don’t put that pressure on me. I get up and do my job each day the best I can….” You can read my take on that here.
But does the question of being spared for something play any part in the Christian psyche? We need not elevate, center, dwell upon, demand, or expect the sensational out of ourselves or our children’s salvation. However, because as Christians we have been delivered, the concept of “being saved for something” should shape our thinking. 
After all, Paul instructs the Ephesians in chapter 2 that they have been saved. They were “children of wrath,” but have now been “seated in the heavenly places.” They have been saved for something. There is a reason why God saved them. 
Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
God does have something special enough for everyone: good works. Good works that can only be done by you. Think about that. Only you can honor Jesus by serving at YOUR family with YOUR kids in YOUR neighborhood and/or at YOUR workplace in YOUR city in YOUR lifetime with YOUR personality. That is pretty special if you think about it. Only you can do it. You were saved so that YOU could honor Jesus by following Him. Not the only reason, but certainly a reason.
And when you fail at following Him you only have to go back two verses, “by grace you were saved through faith.” It’s OK, your works never saved you in the first place and they won’t help you in the last place.
Instead of survivor’s guilt we should all have a great sense of “survivor’s grace.” We do have something special in store for us. We should feel like there is a reason we were spared. Whether or not it’s something sensational that brings us celebrity, fame, readership, accolades, or puts us in history books is ultimately none of our business.

Don’t put that pressure on me: A lesson from 9/11

Yesterday was 9/11 and is probably the next closest thing to Pearl Harbor. Ten years afterwards, and it still remains fresh in our minds and hearts. I imagine my kids will eventually understand 9/11 and perhaps even pass it on to their kids. I can’t see our country forgetting that event for a while. 
In light of this I saw a fascinating, though very brief interview with two 9/11 survivors still carrying with them the scars of their experience: one working in the towers and the other a fireman, if I remember correctly. The interviewer asked the fireman this seemingly appropriate question: “How do you live life differently because you were saved and others were not?”
His answer kind of astounded me in both its brutal honesty as well as its depth: “No, don’t put that kind pressure on me. I can’t deal with that. I just do my job the best I can each day.”
I don’t know if this man experienced “survivor’s guilt,” where one wonders, “Why wasn’t it me that was taken?” But clearly, he felt some pressure to “do something great” by this reporter. This is often the question we raise when someone is saved from calamity and the person siting next to them isn’t. Why did God save you and not them? He must have something pretty amazing for you to do? I guess I never thought about that kind of pressure before? That really puts pressure on folks to first of all, find that “mysterious” plan of God, and then the pressure to accomplish it.
Now perhaps God does have something “special” and extraordinary for such a person like curing cancer or something crazy like that. But to assume that is nonsense, because we have no idea why God allows one person to live and the other to die. I like this lad’s response, “Don’t put that pressure on me.”
But I also like the 2nd part of his response: “I just try to do my job the best I can each day.” Nothing sensational. Just trying to be a good husband, good worker, etc….We know God’s plan for us, and much of it isn’t sensational. When we’re told to find “the will of God” it is primarily in terms of our walking with Jesus and growing in Him (Eph 5:17, Col 1:9, I Thess 4:3). It is about sanctification, not our professional calling. Kevin DeYoung’s book Just Do Something really fleshes this out a bit more and better than I could if I had more space. You can download it for free here
Instead of thinking sensationally like there is something crazy out there, or something so specific that we have the burden of trying to figure it out, why not think more simply like this lad? Be a good husband, good parent, good Dad, love Jesus, follow Jesus daily, serve the church with your gifts. That seems a lot more biblical than the pressure of trying to figure out why you were delivered and the other bloke wasn’t.

God has made known to Christians the “mystery” of His will in Christ (Eph 1:9), so no other mystery should cause us to lose much sleep or put pressure on us.