April 14, 2014 — by Rev. Mateen Elass


Another Reason For Gratitude

Thoughts of heaven


heaven-light


I’ve been a follower of Christ for over 38 years now, and with two Masters degrees and a Ph.D. rooted in biblical studies, I’ve been seeking to integrate my learning and faith all that time. Sometimes I fall into the feeling that I’ve sort of arrived. Many people in the congregation come to me with faith and life questions, hoping I have answers. I try not to disappoint them.

But yesterday, I received a gentle reminder of how much we need one another in the body of Christ, especially in those areas we don’t typically think we need much help.

Just yesterday, I preached on the question of what heaven is really like, so all day my mind and heart were taken up with this theme as we gathered to worship and study. Later that afternoon, after my last meeting ended, one of our younger members, who would consider herself a fledgling in the faith (let’s call her Jane), asked for my advice.

She explained she had an older friend whose daughter (a lapsed Catholic) intends to marry an older man (a lapsed Muslim) from Afghanistan. Jane is worried for them, and wanted to know if she should raise questions with the mother or daughter. So we began investigating options, talking about age differences, about being unequally yoked, whether it’s better for the groom and bride to be classified as unbelievers rather than a Christian and a Muslim, whether, as time wares on, their original cultural and religious views might resurface and lead to insurmountable problems later in life, and particularly, whether any children from the union would be raised in one religion rather than the other. I thought we had covered the question quite comprehensively and I started to close out the conversation, when Jane said, “And then there’s the most important matter.”

“What’s that?” I asked, still certain that we had covered all that mattered.

“Well,” she said with genuine compassion, “if the wife and children end up following Jesus and the husband remains Muslim, even if they manage to create a lasting home in this life, they won’t be together for eternity!

I was stopped in my tracks.

“You’re right,” I admitted. “That is most important.”

Here my thinking had been totally focused on the temporal hurdles this couple might face in bringing their lives together, and my young, church-member friend saw the bigger picture—on the day I had just preached about the centrality of heaven for the life of the believer!

As we parted she said, “I should have talked with you six months ago—it would have saved me so much agony.” I thanked her and thought to myself, “I wish you had. You would have helped me see so much earlier how much integration still needs to happen in my mind and heart concerning faith and life.”

I am so grateful for Jane’s presence within our fellowship. She brings so many spiritual and natural gifts to our church body, yet, I had never expected to be tutored by her into a deeper theological understanding of life. Through Jane, I was reminded of another reason for gratitude:

The Spirit of God can use anyone to bring us wisdom beyond our present understanding. Without such encounters, we might not discover how many gaps there are in our thinking about life.

I thank the Lord for Jane. I thank Him for the body of Christ, and the reminder that we need each other in so many ways. Mostly, as I reflect on yesterday’s conversation, I thank the Lord for His mercy and patience, and for teaching me through a dear sister in Christ.

Photo credit.


Rev. Mateen Elass

Mateen was the second of four children born to a Syrian Muslim who had married an American while studying at the University of Wisconsin. Some years after Mateen’s birth, the family moved to Saudi Arabia where his father worked as an oil company executive. During his early teens Mateen began a search for God, largely through reading. For six years he focused on eastern mysticism and meditation including a stay at an ashram in India. His heart is for those who walk where he once walked, those who search but have not yet found the love of Jesus. For that reason he particularly appreciates the church’s welcome to visitors, its willingness to walk beside them as they move toward God, and its growing enthusiasm to move outside the confines of the church campus to share Christ’s love with all who wish to hear. A frequent speaker about Islam, Mateen sees his experience on both sides of the Christian-Muslim divide as providing a unique opportunity to create bridges of understanding. His great hope is that God will use him to reveal the love of Jesus to both sides. “God will provide guidance to those who seek him, and will equip his people to do his will.”

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