Sunday, October 23, 2011

Funeral for my father-in-law

For those that prayed for this weekend, thank you. We left after picking Ryan up from school on Thursday at 3:30pm, but the M0 freeway was blocked. After an hour of trying to find the next closest bridge to cross the Danube, we were in heavy traffic in the middle of Budapest. Realizing it would take another hour to even get out of the city, we gave up and headed for home exhausted. It was a rough 2 hours of time wasted on the road, but we were glad we didn't persist and start driving all night in the rain and traffic.

We got up at 3am, loaded the kids, and started driving again. This time everything was clear, the kids were asleep, and we made good progress. Luiza counted that we went through 64 villages on this two-lane road (reducing our speed to 50km in each one), but still we made record time (11 hours in all).  The return trip was even better. We got up at 4:30am and left at 5:45am Sunday morning, taking a different route near Cluj, very windy roads, but less villages, and less trucks (perhaps because of the windy mountain roads). We made the return in 10 hours and the kids slept most of the way.

The funeral went well. It was great to be able to comfort my mother-in-law, and Luiza. I met some new relatives. The boys seemed to process their grandfather's death pretty well. Ryan (age 6) got to help the gravediggers in wheeling the casket across the cemetery. He liked that a lot. Ryan said, "So it is kind of like a birthday for Bunicu, starting his new life in heaven." Kevin (age 3) said, "Isn't Bunicu going to come home with us? Why are we leaving him here (buried in the graveyard)?" Usually there are no children present at funerals. They try to shelter kids from death.

 It was a beautiful service, but an hour long in the cold room. It seemed like a good balance of expressing grief and condolences, and acknowledging that Stefan has entered a much better life. Over 100 people from church attended. There were piles of flowers on evergreen wreaths.  During the service the casket was open, and Luiza pulled back the vale so that we could see Stefan's face. She also went up and caressed his face, to remember it (her first time to touch a dead body).  The most emotional part for me was when they lowered the casket down into the 2 meter hole. It was so deep I could barely see a piece of the casket. The hole is a little deeper than normal I was told, to allow for another family member to be buried in the same location within 7 years if necessary. Then according to custom, family and friends throw in a few handfuls of dirt before the grave workers fill in the hole. Luiza said throwing in the dirt gave her a suffocating feeling, as she realized that her dad can't breath there, making the goodbye final.

Luiza explained that an Orthodox funeral in Romania is quite different. There is a lot of crying, in fact people are paid to come and cry. The priest tries to make it as emotional as possible. In one funeral she attended the priest had collected personal information about each relationship of people there, and said goodbyes for the dead person to each one in a personalized way. For example, "And Suzie says goodbye to her father Christy, tell him that I'm sorry I didn't listen to his advice and study harder in school." Luiza says it was awful, like pouring more gas on the fire of grief.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Bible is full of contradictions

...at least until you understand it.
Consider these instructions regarding spiritual growth and maturity:
Peter writes "like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (1 Peter 2:1)
Then James says "Let not many of you become teachers my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment." (James 3:1)

Now consider Hebrews 5:12-13
"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe."
So do we want to be like babes or not? Should we be teachers or not? The Bible is full of contradictions!

Answer:
Everyone enters this life as a baby. There are some things that babies do that are to be commended. One of these is how they love milk. This morning our one year old started crying at 6:40am, which meant that he wanted to be held and he wanted breakfast. The spiritual lesson is that feeding on God's word should be my first priority too. Nursing is also his habit before bed, and my habit should also be to end the day meditating on God's word, rather than the news or a movie.

Now our baby is also eating solid food, but there is something about milk from mom that he loves and is willing to search for and insist on.  In the same way we move on from spiritual milk to other deeper issues, but we should not tire of simple truth.  Even at my age I still like milk on my cereal. Notice the warning is about someone who takes only milk.

Now about teachers, there are some whose main role in the body of Christ is teaching, but we all can teach and should teach. Teaching is actually an important driver of spiritual growth that is missing for most Christians today. Since most churches are structured around a professional pastor who preaches a professional sermon, the average believer in Jesus is taught that spiritual growth comes from listening and learning. Not true! Being a disciple requires a lot more than just learning.

Application of truth comes first. About this the three chapters quoted above all agree. "He (Jesus) became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation." (Hebrews 5:9) "But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves." (James 1:22) Non-disciples "...stumble because they are disobedient to the word..." (1 Peter 2:8) You can not ingest spiritual truth and be indifferent, either you obey and do it, or you suffer the spiritual consequences: "dull of hearing", "delude themselves", "unbelief".

So if you are struggling with belief, try the remedy of daily feeding on the word, asking God to teach you, and look for how to immediately obey what you learn. There are several places where we see that God is able to teach us directly, especially using His word. (John 6:45, Psalm 32:8)

After obeying truth we are able to teach, and "ought to be teachers". But who can we teach?
"The things that you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (2 Tim 2:2) We see that part of learning is to teach others also, but it says "men". What about women?

I find it fascinating that a woman of low reputation who had known Jesus only minutes was already teaching men in her city. "And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, 'He told me all the things that I have done.'" (John 4:39)

Look at a famous passage on spiritual gifts. In Ephesians 4:7-16 Paul writes that Christ gave teachers and other specialists to equip each one of us for service. "Then we will no longer be infants... Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ." (4:14-15) Notice the connection between "speaking the truth in love" and "we will grow". If we don't want to be infants, we must find ways to speak truth as we learn it, this reinforces our learning and our faith.