Do you see the Church as an abode of the righteous.. or as the refuge of sinners..?
The Book of Revelation begins with the message of Jesus Christ our Lord, to the seven churches of Asia Minor [modern day Turkey]. The messages – which can be applied to churches and individuals, even in our times – reflect the spiritual state of each church, which are quite distinct from each other. One church in particular though, sets itself apart from the rest.. and it isn’t for the best of reasons – the Church of Laodicea.
The Laodicean church is better remembered as the lukewarm church; the one that is, as Jesus says, neither cold nor hot – in a spiritual sense. And among the seven, this is the only church that does not receive even a single line of commendation from our Lord; our Lord who is quick to applaud the good He found in the other six churches. So.. what kept the church in Laodicea in such a state of spiritual bankruptcy..?
For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
Historical sources agree with the Bible on the fact that Laodicea was noted for its abundance of wealth. And it was this state of prosperity that acted as a stumbling block to the church at Laodicea. Don’t get me wrong.. I do not intend to make wealth appear an evil in itself nor do I wish to say that wealthy people are spiritually bankrupt. But to point out from our Lord’s message to the churches that a healthy financial state can lead to a false sense of sufficiency in riches, from which it is vital that we guard ourselves.
When I read the words that reflect the state of the Laodicean believers, “I need nothing”, I am reminded of words spoken by a famous man in the Bible – the psalmist David. In Psalm 23:1 he says, “I shall not want”. The meaning of the words are similar, but the trust of David wasn’t upon the riches he possessed [which must have been much, considering he was the king of Israel], but in the Lord who is his Shepherd. Let us pause a little to consider our lives.. where have we placed our trust..?
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
While the Lord finds nothing worthy of commendation in the Laodicean believers, He doesn’t leave them feeling despised by Him. As a loving Father, He directs them on a more desirable path. He also makes it a point to affirm His love for them, lest the enemy make them believe otherwise. Can you imagine this..? Even to those of us in the most wretched of spiritual states, our Holy God desires to say, “I love you”. While we are convicted in our hearts over the ways in which we have gone astray, what a comfort it is to know, that despite our lack of good works we are still loved by Him, who has done far more for us than we ever could deserve….
“Is the God of the Bible really a loving person..? Christians keep parroting the words ‘Jesus Loves You’, yet all I see when I look into their message is a pistol pointing right between my eyes saying, ‘Believe in Jesus or Die’. How is that love..?”
That is a question I am pleased to hear as it means one thing – the one posing the question has considered the message of the Bible. At the same time, there is a sense of failure when I realise how lousy us Christians are – me included – at sharing the Good News.
In this post, I’ll explain why as a Christian I feel this falls short of the truth. In the end I know that it’ll all come down to faith – believing if the Bible is true or not is a matter of one’s own choice. But my purpose for writing this is to explain what the Bible has to say as an answer to this question – which I believe it does with absolute clarity.
Firstly, what is my stand on that statement mentioned above. According to the Word of God is it true that ‘unless you believe in Jesus you will die’..? Frankly, yes. Plain speak – the way Christians are commanded to share the Truth in 2 Corinthians 4:2. But still, I do not agree with the quoted text above. And I hope you’ll bear with me a little as I tell you why.
I’ll start off with a little story….
There once broke out in a city a fever that affected all – both young and old, rich and poor, the strong and the weak, men and women. At least one person was affected in each household. Leading doctors in the city concurred that the fever was caused by a virus known to exist elsewhere in the world. They began to administer medication as per their diagnosis. All was going well – or so they thought.
In the same city lived an old man – a scientist. Through his own private research he noted that the virus was not the same as the doctors had observed it to be. This in fact was a previously unknown, lethal cousin. Having understood the nature of the virus, the scientist developed a cure in quick time – spending a fortune. He took the cure to the leading hospitals in the city, but to his astonishment he faced rejection everywhere.
Disturbed at the thought of the fate of the people, he decided to reach them directly. With the little money he had left, he set out to spread the message of the nature of the disease and how it wasn’t as benign as the people thought it to be. He spoke about how his cure tackled the disease and offered the life saving medicine for free. He stood on the streets and cried, “Hear me, please. Unless you believe me you will die”.
The people he so loved, shunned him. He was mocked and humiliated – despised of all. In the end only a handful of people gave ear to him – people who had hit the depths of poverty that they could not afford the medication sold at the hospitals. To all who came to him, the scientist with a glad heart gave the medicine for free. And the poor lived.
I guess you see where I am getting. ‘Unless you believe me you will die’, the line used by the scientist in the story is similar to the condensed message the Bible shares with us today. As much as people must have hurt the scientist by rejecting his message, they did not die because of him but because of the disease that spread. So too, people will not die a spiritual death because Jesus has judged them for rejecting Him. Jesus Himself says in John 12:47 – “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” Spiritual death however will come because of the disease of sin.
But is there really such a disease..? Can I prove to you that humanity is dying in sin..? Perhaps not. But the fact that I want to state is that that is what is said in the Bible. In Romans 3:23 the Bible says that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. Then we head on to see in Romans 6:23 that the ‘wages of sin is death’.
And where in the Bible do we find the cure to our deadly illness..? The Scripture from beginning to end – from the prophecy in Eden’s Garden to the apocalyptic vision of John in the Book of Revelation where he looks upon the slain Lamb standing in the center of the throne – points us to that. Jesus Himself testifies to that at the Last Supper. In Matthew 26:28, the Lord says that His blood is ‘poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’. His contemporary John the Baptist in John 1:29 proclaimed, ‘Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’. The clincher though comes from a text far ahead of the time in which John lived. In the Book of Isaiah Chapter 53, Isaiah prophecied in the 7th century BC of all that Jesus would have to go through in the years of the 1st century AD. In verse 5 he says, ‘But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed’.
Before I conclude, let’s shift our gaze for a moment back to a verse I mentioned earlier, having touched upon the first part – Romans 6:23. The verse that begins as ‘For the wages of sin is death’ – which is the core of the Biblical message – continues, ‘but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’. Like the good scientist in our little story, our good God – having done all that is required to win it – is calling out to offer eternal life as a gift to anyone who would come to Him.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The message of the Bible – Not a threat with a pointed gun. But rather, an invition dressed with love to receive a gift beyond price.
Life has been a lot more down than up since Easter this year. Mummy fell severely ill with a lung infection. After a phase of improvement post hospitalisation, her health started detoriating gradually until the Lord took her to be with Him. All the while she was kept in sedation, denying us an opportunity to say any meaningful last words in this life.
She was the sweetest person I have ever known. Truly. I depended on her a lot more than most other sons depend on their mothers – for care and comfort – right through the 26 years of my life and she has never failed me. She had to go through a lot, first with the cancer and its treatment. Then even as she was putting up with it with a smile on her face and lots of cheer in her heart, the infection caught hold of her – refusing to let go – adding pain upon pain.
‘Ma was a woman of strength, but all that strength was concentrated in her inner being. On the outside she was as delicate as a flower. Yet somehow she managed to make full use of her brittle frame to serve as many as she could – denying herself what many would consider as basic needs.
Things of the world didn’t attract her much. There was very little that she wouldn’t let go of, if she knew that in letting go, it would be of better use to another – or even if it could just put a little smile on another’s face. But she cared for people. A lot. I wish she had kept back a fraction – even a small amount – of that care for herself. But then, that was her being her.
Her siblings tell me, that she was so always, even as a child. Not too easy when you’re the middle child. But it’s not as though she wasn’t loved, being neither the youngest or the eldest of the lot. She was a darling to her parents. I mean, why wouldn’t they love this little girl who was quiet, bashful and meek in the truest sense of the word..? Yet at the same time, she was crafty and resourceful and always willing to be of help.
In her passing, I got to hear some stories of her from her younger days that reflect these words in her life. Her elder sister told me of how when they would get a pack of assorted biscuits or any treat rather – in a time when such surprises were rare – her siblings would fight it out for the best piece, while mummy would quietly wait till everyone had what they want in their hand so that she could have what’s left over in the pack. Eating whatever is left over/what’s least desired – a habit which I could testify that she carried on till the day she was diagnosed with that dreaded disease.
The same sister was the one who picked mummy’s wedding saree due to circumstances. ‘Ma didn’t even mind fore going that most cherished choice, aunty said. She told me, “she never complained”. I told aunty that ‘ma loved that saree. The fact that she wore it on many festive days is testament to that. And it was in that saree that she was draped in as we laid her to rest.
Her younger brother told me how to him she was a nurse at one stage in her life after he got gored by a bull under his lip and was afraid to tell their mother. He was afraid that he’ll be scolded. So mum decided to spare him more pain and looked after him with the little nursing skills she had till his wound healed. Amachi – my grandmother – didn’t know this story till much later on in life. To her youngest brother – who was much younger than all her siblings – she was a mother, teaching him to brush and helping him to put on his shoes before school, he told me.
When I think of all that I heard from people during these days, she was all that she was to them and more for me. A mother who didn’t just take up the occasional role of a nurse for me as a child but even later on as a grown up, she was a nurse for me for four years before becoming sick – and even for a little while after she knew she had cancer. For a major part of those years I was completely bed ridden, and heavily dependant on her. She worked during the day, and I demanded work from her before she left for work and as soon as she came back. She slept late, and at times at night I have disturbed her short sleep for my needs. There’s not a day or moment when she complained for all that she did – rather that precious smile of hers was what I woils always get in return. Even when I hardly appeared grateful for all that she has done for me – even at moments like that when in my foolishness my tempers flared – she never lost her calm. She never saw herself as a person worth fighting for – even though she was among the rarest of people who was.
She was my financier – as my dad loves to pull her leg over [though he wasn’t any less of a spender for my desires]. Any request I had, was granted – unless of course, she felt it wouldn’t do good to me. The cost was never a constraint. Though we didn’t have any money isssues, we were a family in the middle class bracket, yet I lived the life of affluence as a child. No friend of mine could’ve easily guessed that I came from a middle class family – until they saw my mother perhaps. Not that she lacked style – she could pull off elegance with ease – but she spent so little on herself that her dressing hardly reflected the high positioning she reached in her career. As a child, I was ashamed of that at times. I wanted a mother who was stylish and all that, while my mother seemed so keen to be anything but. I’m glad though, that that part of me changed as I grew up under her influence. That I saw the beauty in that simplicity long before she passed. I admired her more than any man or woman for her beauty and style.
The pain of being separated [even if it is but for a short while] from such a beautiful person is one thing. To have such a huge void in your life. To know that while you write the lines of your life you wouldn’t be able to write it with her by your side, to read and appreciate or to disapprove and correct. That has been something I have dreaded for long. But there is something worse. Even worse than having to watch this woman – the sweetest of them all – endure physical and mental agony. The guilt that weighs in on you when you start to think of the things that you could’ve done – that might well have spared her this suffering, or at least have made it more bearable – but did not do.
And it is in the midst all this guilt and pain that I realise which of all that I have received from my mother is the greatest gift she gave me. Introducing me to my Lord and Saviour – Jesus Christ. The source of all the comfort that I find in these trying times.
She never sat me down and made me study the Bible. At least, not that I could remember. When I was little she would read stories from a Children’s Bible. But even then the tales I loved to listen to were of people like Noah or a David or a Jonah. Jesus and the New Testament tales were not the ones I loved the most. No that wasn’t how she introduced me to Him. She lived a life that held on to His principles. Through her I learnt what is mercy and forgiveness. Through her I learnt what is patience and what it means to never act in anger. Through her I learnt the joys of giving. Through her I learnt impartiality – a trait my sister would testify to. Through her I learnt what is humility. I learnt that all these were good [, though at many times I couldn’t act the way that I knew was good]. And when the time came for when I finally met the Lord and got to know Him as a person, I knew that He was and is and ever will be, all that is good.
He is the Truth that keeps me in the race, to keep me from giving up. His promises take away my anxiety and sorrow. When the Bible says in Romans 8:28, that “All things work together for the good to those who love God”, there is a peace knowing that there is a purpose to all this chaos – and a good one at that – even if I am at a loss to explain how. But I do not just believe that all this will work together to the good for me and those who are alive in this world, but for my dear ‘ma too. For she believed in Him and loved Him. Though our time here on Earth may come to an end, there are still many more days reserved for us, days where we can enjoy His goodness for eternity.
Death is but a sleep to those who have come to the Lamb. And that is the promise that fills my heart with cheer. This separation is only for a moment. For eternity we will be together – mummy and all our loved ones and me and the Lord. I so long for that day, when I will see her smiling face once again. And I will. For,
“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
1 Corinthians 15:52
“You’ve been a sweet daughter, a loving sister, a devoted wife, a cherished friend and a perfect mother. You’ve given it your all. You’ve given it your best. Now take a rest that you well deserve until that blessed reunion in our Lord’s Kingdom. See you soon, ‘ma….”