Clueless

It has taken me all my life to discover how clueless I am.

It’s a kind of blindness – spiritually, emotionally and psychologically.

I don’t think I’m alone.

I’m glad, though, that I have found this out.  I believe it is Christ working in me.  He is changing me.

I am forever grateful that Christ opened my eyes almost 60 years ago to the most important truth in the universe – he is the only way to God.  As he said, he is the way, the truth, and the life.

It is not unusual for young people to feel that their way of looking at things is the only real way.  I was one of those.

But adults are not immune from this tunnel vision.

Like many other believers, I came to feel that my view of Christ and the church was the right way.  I was suspicious of other views and approaches.

I believe that there are completely wrong ways of looking at God and the world around us – views that have no scriptural basis.

But there are areas which are much less certain – opinions which should not keep believers apart.  Christ wants all believers to be one in the Spirit.

Perhaps the most difficult areas for me to see well are in the areas of the mind and the heart.

Gradually, the Lord has worked through others – particularly those I love – to show me that my way of thinking is not the way everyone else does.

The Bible certainly makes that clear.  Jesus was always dealing with people who disagreed with – and even denounced – him.  Most did not understand him.

Over time, I have learned that I should listen and ponder other ways of looking at things.  And sometimes I have started changing how I live.  In this area, I realize I have a long way to go.

This leads me to my heart.  With my mind, I know what God wants of me, but I still resist in some areas.  This is a heart issue.

But I am hopeful.

I seize on the words written by the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:6: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

He was writing to the Philippian church which was actively sharing Jesus’ love and words with others.

But I believe this is true of everyone who loves Jesus and is committed to him.

 

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Outsiders

How are we Christians to live in an alien world?

Do we fight it?  Do we conform to it?  Do we withdraw from it?

The apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 2:11 that we believers are “outsiders and wanderers” or “pilgrims” in this world.  Our home is not here.

And yet we live here until we go to be with Christ in eternity.  While we’re here, we face a society that is increasingly non-Christian and sometimes hostile to what we believe.

The magazine Christianity Today confronted this issue with a series of articles in November 2015.

In essence, the articles acknowledged that Christian values no longer dominate our society.  But they debated how closely we should work with non-believers who may object to our values.  They offered different thoughts on how we can help the most vulnerable in our society and how strongly we should defend our values.

This make me think about the prophet Daniel, a person I admire greatly and often write about.

Young Daniel became a captive of the Babylonians – a slave.

Almost immediately, he faced a tough decision.  He and three young Jewish slaves were chosen to serve the Babylonian king after a period of training – but to eat only Babylonian food which Jews found against their faith.

With respect and wisdom, he asked the king’s chief of staff to allow these Jewish slaves the right to eat their own food during a trial period and see if they did as well as others.  The chief of staff was reluctant not to carry through his master’s orders, but God was at work and he agreed.

Daniel gained a reputation of wisdom in Babylon and served the king well.  But King Nebuchadnezzar had a bad dream which none of his wise men could interpret.  He pledged to execute them all if they could not tell him what the dream was and interpret it for him.

Daniel took the issue to God who revealed to him what the dream was and gave him the interpretation.  Nebuchadnezzar was astonished when Daniel told him the dream since the king had told no one.  He made the young Jewish slave one of the highest officials in the land.

Many years later, Daniel’s enemies conspired against him during the reign of a later king.  They knew that he prayed three times a day to the Lord in the window of his home.  They convinced the king to agree to have no one pray to any god other than the king himself and whoever broke that law would be executed.

Daniel continued praying to God and was hauled before the king and thrown to the lions to devour.  But, again, God stepped in and shut the mouths of the lions so he was untouched.  And the king responded by telling his empire that God was the living god and everyone should tremble before him.

The lessons I draw from these events is that we must serve others well, wisely and with respect.  And we must depend on the Lord to guide us in all our dealings with people who hold different views and values.

Like Daniel, we should stand for what we believe.  Sometimes, that will lead to persecution.

The early Christians behaved that way – loving others while remaining true to what they believed.   And they had a gigantic impact on the Roman empire.

In our own small ways, we, too, can have an impact on people around us.

Evangelism and the power of God

Stephen D. Elliott says evidence of the power and presence of God is more important than great church programs in bringing people to Jesus.

Elliott says in his book By Signs and Wonders: How the Holy Spirit Grows the Church that he reached this conclusion after pondering why the Christian church is declining in North America.

He himself tried all kinds of programs to reach people for Christ in a new church he and his wife planted in Ottawa, Canada.  The church grew slowly but the surrounding community was growing far more rapidly.

Over time, Elliott began studying the New Testament in depth to determine why the young church expanded by leaps and bounds.

He realized that Jesus and the apostles combined talking about the good news of Christ with demonstrations of the power of God.  These “signs and wonders” – miracles -confirmed the message they were sharing with non-believers.

“The Holy Spirit’s power made all the difference in the evangelistic efforts of the first century.  The reason the Christian message was accepted and spread like wildfire throughout the Roman Empire had everything to do with the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.”

Elliott says that part of the problem the North American church faces is neglecting the Holy Spirit.  Christians have focused largely on God the Father and Jesus Christ while passing lightly over the Spirit.

But Jesus clearly said that he was sending the Holy Spirit to believers to continue the work he began on earth.

While the North American church is stagnant or declining, the Christian church is multiplying rapidly in Asia, Africa and South America.  In those countries, the work of the Holy Spirit is evident, particularly through miracles.

“I believe the number one reason people go to church is not out of need or desire to connect relationally with others, but out of a deep-seated longing to experience and encounter the God of the universe,” says Elliott.

“When people leave church week after week feeling that they have not encountered God, they eventually grow disillusioned, disappointed, and confused.  This, I believe, is at the root of our failing attendance.”

Elliott and his church leaders changed their approach, putting emphasis on worshiping God rather than focusing on programs.  The gifts of the Spirit began to appear in the congregation.

Some people received “words of knowledge” – gaining insights they could not have had except through God’s promptings.  Others gave “words of prophecy” – revelations of future developments.  And there were healings – mostly minor but some very striking.

Elliott says that the leadership learned that sometimes people said things that were more personal wishful thinking than godly leading.  The church developed methods to filter the wheat from the chaff.

As the church ventured down this path, people began remarking on the worshipful atmosphere in the church and the strong feeling that God was present.

Elliott, who went on to become a Bible College professor, says that some left the church because of the new emphasis but more came in.  The change was dramatic – six to 10 times the previous annual growth with most of the newcomers being converts.

For me, he makes a convincing case: The church in Canada needs more of the Holy Spirit.

Boasting about Jesus

Boasting about Jesus is good for God – and for you.

Joseph M. Stowell says “rejoicing in the Lord” flows from exalting God and his qualities.  The apostle Paul did it all the time.

Boasting is frowned upon when we focus attention on ourselves.  But when we turn to Jesus and away from ourselves, we can erupt with thankfulness and praise for who he is and what he means to us.

“This is what the Lord says,” Jeremiah wrote in Jeremiah 9:23-24, “‘Let not the wise man gloat in his wisdom, or the mighty man in his might, or the rich man in his riches.

“Let them boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who is just and righteous, whose love is unfailing, and that I delight in these things.  I, the Lord, have spoken.”

Stowell says in his book Simply Jesus and You that “rejoicing in Jesus is the liberating response that frees us from the endless task of trying to satisfy and fill our selves with ourselves and our accomplishments”.

“It frees us from the endless torment of worrying about being recognized, affirmed, and adequately appreciated,” he writes.  “It soothes fragile egos that are quickly frustrated and irritated when others don’t live up to our expectations or when we don’t get what we think we ‘deserve’.”

It does NOT mean that we put on a false front when we are hit by life’s tragedies.  Jesus wept just as we do.

However, it does mean we consciously give him – not ourselves – first place in our lives.  Jesus must be preeminent.

We are NOT called to run ourselves down when we do something well.  But “we need to cultivate a reflex response that immediately triggers gratefulness and praise to him for enabling us to accomplish what we do”.

“When we are blessed,” Stowell says, “we need to master the response that takes the spark of joy we feel about ourselves and lets it explode into the joy of celebrating his preeminent provision and grace in our lives.”

Paul recognized that his power in preaching and working signs and wonders came from God.  He saw Gods handiwork in his life during good times and bad.  He knew God was working things out for good in his eternal plan for Paul and the world (Romans 8:28).

Let’s boast in God.

Pathway to godly success

Most of us hope to make a success of our lives – perhaps through our careers, our marriages, or our good deeds.

But, do we think about success from God’s viewpoint?

Jesus says in John 15:5 that we can do nothing worthwhile in God’s eyes apart from him.  In that chapter, Christ tells us that we must “abide” or “dwell” in him if we are to bear godly fruit.

The apostle Paul says in Ephesians 2:10 that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”.

But how are we to determine the works that God wants us to do?

The answer, says Robert J. Morgan, is to know God well.  And to know him well, we have to soak ourselves in what God says in the scriptures and do what he says.

“We learn the Truth of God so that we can better know the God of Truth, and a primary way that happens is through meditation,” says Morgan, author of Moments of Reflection: Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation.

He supports his case for godly success by pointing to such great Bible figures as Joshua.

In Joshua 1:8, God tells the new Israelite leader:

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

Morgan notes that it is interesting God did not give Joshua a detailed military strategy to invade the land of Canaan at this initial contact with the new leader.  Instead, he urged him to meditate on God’s words and live by them.

As we meditate, the author says we “begin to see things as he [God] does, and the inevitable result is success”.  But it is “success as God defines it – a joyful life that bears fruit”.

Morgan said he was a shy college student with low self-esteem when he began to meditate on scripture to find out more about God and what he wanted him to do.

So, he trained himself to read the scriptures daily, memorize selected verses, and meditate on them throughout the day.  He would think about Bible passages as he got up in the morning, as he worked during the day, and as the evening came.  He sought God’s help to obey what he learned.

“That was my part, and the rest – the success and prosperity and fruitfulness and blessings – were God’s promises and represented his part of the equation,” says Morgan.

As I noted in an earlier post, Morgan declares that this approach helps to rewire our minds, turning us away from angry, lustful, destructive thinking and towards our loving and just God.

May this be so in my life.

Transforming words

Some years ago, a young university student picked up a stray pamphlet on public transit in Montreal, Quebec, read it and started on her journey to Christ.

I forget the details but I remember her smiling, joyful face as she told her story on a Power to Change campus ministry video a year or so later.  The word of God had awakened her heart to Jesus and faith.

I love stories like this.  It demonstrates the power of the word of God.

I became a Christian when I was 20 after months of reading through the gospel of John with a friend in a boarding house in Ottawa.

I began these evening studies and discussions with no understanding at all.  The good news of Christ was foreign to me.

But, as I read the gospel of John, God began working on my mind and heart.  He opened my eyes to a completely different view of the world and what really mattered in life.

That is the wonder of God speaking personally to each one of us.  He knows us as individuals even though there are billions of people in the world.  He wants us to know him as a person, too.

Many people consider the Bible an historical document, or a description of how people should live, or even a book for academic study.

But that is not how God sees it.  It is God speaking to us and we need to pay attention.

The writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 4:12: “The word of God is alive and active.  Sharper than any two-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

That’s powerful!

That passage tells me that God’s words can change me.  They strike right to my heart.

Of course, I can reject what God is telling me.  I can even laugh it off.  But I do so at my own peril.  God means what he says.

I thank God that he is patient and compassionate.  He knows me – the good things and bad things in my life.

He doesn’t expect me to know everything instantly or become perfect in my lifetime.  But he does want me to grow as a follower of his.

As I read and ponder God’s word, I learn something more about him every year.  I have come to see that he is overwhelmingly loving, kind, forbearing – but also the essence of integrity and truth and justice.

When I think about that university student in Montreal, I ponder God’s great statement in Isaiah 55 where he promises that his word “will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it”.

God’s word is at work in my heart and in the hearts of many multitudes around the world.

 

Change your mind, change your life

Robert J. Morgan says we can change our lives by changing our minds – with God’s thoughts.

First, he says we must change the lordship and leadership of our hearts by giving ourselves to the Saviour – Jesus.

But we still struggle with dark thoughts – “thoughts that are anxious, covetous, lustful, angry, resentful, fearful, or depressed”.  We need God’s thoughts to banish the darkness.

Morgan himself has used Biblical meditation – pondering the words of God in scripture – to refresh his mind and find the peace and hope of God, aided by the Holy Spirit.  He fights a tendency to anxiety by turning to scriptures and reflecting upon them until he finds the peace of God.

Great men and women of the Bible meditated on God, his character and his creation – people like Isaac, Joshua, David, Jeremiah and Mary, mother of Jesus, notes Morgan in his book Moments of Reflection: Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation.

The apostle Paul says in Romans 12:2: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

These words suggest that “though we are redeemed at Calvary, the process of repairing the mind isn’t a one-time event”, Morgan notes.  It is a continuing and growing process.  Gradually, our minds are rewired.

“As we ponder, picture and personalize God’s Word, we begin looking at life through his lens, viewing the world from his perspective.  Our thoughts become happier, and brighter – and so do we.”

So, how does Morgan recommend we meditate?

He points out that Paul says in Colossians 3:16 that we are to let the word of God dwell in us richly.  That means spending time thinking, memorizing, turning over in our minds, and applying to our own lives passages of scripture.

Here is Morgan’s approach:

  • Ponder: Read a Bible passage or verse and imagine the Lord speaking those words to you. Take time to focus your attention on each word and understand what the passage is saying;
  • Personalize: Consider what this passage means to you.  Let God speak to your heart.  What verse, phrase, word, truth, command, or promise affects you most deeply?; and
  • Practice: Jot down that phrase or verse to take with you into the day.  Write it on a card or sticky note or your phone.  “Review it all day, as you shower, drive, walk, work, or rest.”  Put it into practice and do what it says.

There is no better way to deal with our troubles than with God’s thoughts.  The Word of God is powerful.

Changing the world

We Christians often lament what is going on in the world around us – killings, sexual immorality, abortions, abusive and broken marriages, and a growing anti-Christian attitude in media and education.

Many of us feel impotent.  Some will go so far as praying that God will bring change.  And a few will tackle head-on some of these social ills.

But what does God want?

He wants to begin with us.  He wants us to change first.

The Lord made this clear to Israel’s King Solomon in a famous passage in 2 Chronicles 7.

Solomon had just finished dedicating a magnificent new temple to the Lord.  It was a spectacular ceremony with the glory of the Lord filling the temple and the people falling to the ground in worship.

That night, the Lord appeared to Solomon in a vision.  He promised to be with Solomon, his descendants, and the people of Israel as long as they were faithful to God.

However, if the leaders and people of Israel wandered away from God, they would face disaster.

But the Lord made this great promise in verse 14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

A growing number of Christians have seized on this verse in recent decades, praying for change in our society.

What strikes me from this promise is that it depends on the people of God humbling themselves, praying, seeking God’s face, and turning from their wicked ways.  Only then will God bring sweeping change – healing – to our country.

Do we Christians really need to change?

On the surface, Christians are mostly law-abiding, peaceable people.  But probe beneath the surface and you will see in our hearts many of the same problems that non-Christians have  – envy, pride, lust, anger, deceitfulness and so on.

One of the saddest things in my mind is that Christians often fight among themselves.  We fight within our churches and we fight churches in other denominations.

Jesus called on his followers to love one another as he loved them (John 13: 34).  He also urged believers to serve others rather than seeking to dominate them (Mark 10:42-45).

In his great prayer to the Father, Jesus said of his followers: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23)

In the past,  I have been as wary of other Christians as anyone.  But I have changed my mind as I have prayed with believers from other denominations in a city-wide prayer group.  I have learned from them and enjoyed great prayer times with them.

So, yes, I believe we Christians need to change.

Letting God do it

Bill Gillham was struggling as a young psychology professor when he decided to practice what he was learning from scripture.

Gillham, author of Lifetime Guarantee, had just graduated from Oklahoma State University with a doctorate in counselling and accepted an appointment as a college professor.  He was really proud that he could write “Dr.” in front of his name.

Trouble was he soon found he was often tongue-tied during lectures to his students.  It was extremely embarrassing.

Try as he might, he could not seem to climb over that hill.  He looked for help.

He found the help he was looking for in a pamphlet that talked about letting God take over his life – a process that is sometimes called the “exchanged life”.

The apostle Paul described it most succinctly in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

In other words, believers give up “self” when they put their faith in Jesus Christ and they receive his life and direction in exchange.  They are to act in faith on this biblical truth in their daily lives.

Gillham says Christians often feel they must work for God.  But God wants to work through them.

At first, Gillham had trouble understanding this concept.

But, finally, he gave up, fell on his knees and prayed to God: “You want me to depend on You to teach those psychology classes through me, using my personality and my earthsuit to do it.  Okay, Lord, I enter into that agreement.”

He didn’t stop there.

“I got up off my knees and walked down the stairs acting as though Christ was going to do it through me,” Gillham writes.  “If I had waited on my knees until I ‘felt’ Jesus take over and move me to the classroom and wiggle my lips for me, I’d still be there.”

It is our faith in God – not in our feelings – that matters.

Gillham’s act of faith led to a new confidence and a changed life.  He had relinquished control of his life to God.  The results were in the Lord’s hands – he just had to obey.

This new life is not without some setbacks.  God is not promising that we will become perfect or succeed in everything we do.

But he is promising us peace and rest as we rely on God’s life flowing through us.

Gillham found that obeying this biblical truth affected all aspects of his life – including his marriage.  The Lord was transforming him.

I am convinced that Gillham is right.

It is up to me to act in faith that Christ is living in and through me.

Snap judgements

Sometimes, I make snap judgements about other people.

That can be a problem – especially if I’m wrong.

Maybe you’ve had the same experience.  Perhaps you discovered that a person who let you down was going through a family crisis.  Or, the angry boss has just been told he has cancer.

I am learning that my vision is limited.  More often than not, I see only the surface in people’s lives.  I’m partially blind.

The only being that knows everything about everyone is God.

“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me,” David wrote in Psalm 139.  “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.”

So God is the only one who can judge people without making a mistake.

Yet what strikes me most about God is his mercy.  He is just, no doubt about it.  But he loves to pour out his grace on weak human beings like me.

There are consequences to my failures – and to those of everyone else.

But, as David said in Psalm 103: “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.”

Christ, the perfect image of God the Father, told his followers in John 13:34: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

In other words, Christ is my example if I find others fall short of what I expect and want.  I must be ready to cut them slack.

As God has mercy on me for my failings, so I must be merciful towards others.

I must not let instant judgements determine how I approach people.

On the other hand, the Lord is not asking me to walk blindly into trouble.

In Matthew 10:16, Jesus told his disciples to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” as they spread the good news to other people.

They were to be alert to potential evil and false teaching.  But that did not justify dealing harshly with others.

Ultimately, judgement is in God’s hands – not mine.