Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

Does God really supply our needs?

A Christian friend asked a question this week that is hard to answer.

We were studying Jesus’ words against worrying in Matthew 6:25-34 where Jesus promises that everyone who seeks the kingdom of God and his righteousness will receive the food and clothing he or she needs.

My friend’s question was: “What about Christians who are starving in Africa?”

This is a deep question.  Some believers undoubtedly die from starvation.  Does this cast Jesus’ promise into doubt?

And if this promise is in doubt, what about Jesus’ other promises?

Of course, this promise comes with a condition – we must seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness in order to have our needs satisfied.  But does that mean all believers who are starving are NOT seeking his kingdom?  Personally, I believe some fine Christians whose lives are wholly given to Jesus die of starvation.

But, I think the point of this passage is less about our physical needs and more about our life with God.  Jesus says as much in Matthew 6:25: “Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?”

We have all been given life and a body by God and the vital question is: How are we using them for the Lord?

As I think about this, I realize that no believer in history has lived a life without pain.  Even those most blessed by God went through times of suffering. 

Does that make Jesus’ promise in Matthew 6:33 a bit frivolous?  It sounds as if the promise applies to all our physical needs all the time.  And yet we know that for some people, their physical needs are not met.

I don’t think Jesus is being frivolous.  I think there is more behind these words than we see on the surface.

I believe Jesus is saying here: “God is the supplier of all things – including food and clothing.  You may think it is coming from your hand, but it is not.  So, stop fretting.  You will get what you need when you need it.”

The apostle Paul is a good example of someone who lives in this truth.  He says in Philippians 4:11-13 that God gives him strength to live in need and in plenty.  He is content because he knows that God is with him.  But Paul did not say that he expected God to ensure he would always have plenty to eat.

It may be that God will supply the food that a starving African needs right now.  It may be that for his good purposes, he will allow that person to die of starvation.  Suffering and death are part of life on earth.

It is hard for us in our comfortable world to accept that suffering and death can be used for good.  But the Bible is full of such instances.  Famine drove Jacob and his family to Egypt where they found plenty.  The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, preparing them for their inheritance in Canaan.  Stephen died by stoning, leading later to the powerful ministry of his persecutor, Paul.

In the meantime, did God give good things to Jacob before his family faced famine?  Yes, indeed.   And others who suffered certainly saw their needs met before they died.

In my eyes, Jesus’ promise is true.  We just need to look at it in the larger picture of God’s plan for us – a plan that is bigger than our needs at this very minute.

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Dealing with disappointment

I have been interested in the reaction of Olympic medal hopefuls to disappointment.

One speed skater at the Vancouver Winter Games seemed to blame his less-than-expected result on his training program.  That implied criticism of his coach and the national sporting federation, although he later said he assumed responsibility for his result.

Another athlete said she spent a sleepless night after finishing out of the medals.  Clearly, she was disappointed in herself.

A skater who won silver instead of the expected gold said she skated as hard as she could and was happy with her medal.

Three different reactions mirroring many of the emotions I have felt when I did not achieve what I hoped I would.

In looking back over my life, I realize I have not always reacted well to disappointment.

Thinking of my working life, I can see that it was good I did not get one job that I really wanted.  From later experience, I now know that I was not suited for the job and would have been miserable.  God knew better than I did what was good for me and closed that door.

But, I also harbour some resentment that I was not considered for another promotion.  This came back to me today as I was thinking about those Olympic athletes.  Resentment is not good.  In the extreme, it can lead to bitterness and that is destructive.

On many occasions, I have also been disappointed with myself.  I can remember failing to meet my own expectations in my work and home life.  And I have often felt that I disappointed God.  If taken too far, these emotions can lead to depression.  Thankfully, that has not happened to me.

So, how does God want me to deal with my disappointments?

The answer seems to be to look away from myself and toward God.

In Paul’s wonderful letter to the Philippians, he says in chapter 4:4-7 that I am to rejoice in the Lord “always” – not once in a while, but always.  I am not to be anxious but to bring my concerns to God in prayer.  And God’s peace will fill my heart.  As he says in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, I am to be joyful and filled with thanksgiving in all circumstances.

Paul goes on to say in Philippians 4:11-13 that he has learned to be content whatever the situation – whether he is well-off or on the edge of poverty.  I am encouraged by the word “learned” because that tells me Paul did not reach that level instantly.  It took time and a lot of living.

Sometimes, the hardest disappointments are our failures to live up to what we feel God wants from us.

But, here I am so glad that the apostle John wrote about Peter’s encounter with Jesus after the resurrection.  Just before the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter had denied being a follower of Christ.  Later, he wept bitterly as he realized what he had done.

In John 21, we read that Jesus met the disciples while they were fishing in the Sea of Galilee.  As they ate on the shore, Jesus asked Peter three times whether Peter loved him.  Peter said yes and then Jesus told him to “feed my lambs”.

What is wonderful about this passage is that Jesus was showing confidence in Peter.  In effect, he was telling him: “I forgive you and I believe in you.”

That tells me that Jesus is ready to forgive me for my shortcomings.  And he counts me as one of his lambs.

The discipline of winning

Watching the Winter Olympics on television has increased my respect for dedicated athletes.

Just four years ago at the Turin Olympics, Maelle Ricker crashed while competing in a snowboard event and had to be airlifted to hospital with a serious concussion.  A few days ago, she won the gold medal in her event after years of hard training.

Yesterday, I heard of a Slovenian cross-country skier who fell into a gully a couple of days ago, breaking five ribs and suffering a collapsed lung.  She got out of the gully and continued skiing.  A couple of events later, she won a bronze medal.

These Olympic athletes were ready to give everything up for the joy of winning a medal.

Do I care about Christ that much?

The writer of Hebrews dealt with this issue in a famous passage in Hebrews 12:1-3.  Using the picture of a race, he tells us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

If that were all he said, I would nod my head.  But inwardly, I would groan because I know that I don’t have what it takes to run the race successfully and with perseverance.  Rules and regulations are not much of an inspiration for me.

But, thankfully, the writer of Hebrews does not stop there.  He tells me to look to someone bigger than myself – Jesus Christ.  I am to fix my eyes on Jesus who is the “author and perfecter of our faith”.  Jesus gave me the faith I have and he is perfecting it.

Why did Jesus go through so much more than the Olympic athletes – and I – ever have?  He did it for the “joy set before him”.  What joy?  The joy of an eternity with those he loves most – the Father, Holy Spirit and you and me and other believers.  This is more than the passing joy of winning an Olympic medal – it is an eternity of triumphant joy.

So, the writer of Hebrews concludes by saying in verse 3 that I need to consider what Jesus went through to achieve this crowning joy.  If he can do it, I can do it, because Jesus is within me.

And I will want to win the prize because I am learning more and more how much he loves me.

God sings

I am still grappling with an amazing truth – God loves me!

Intellectually, I have known this ever since childhood when I learned the words to the song “Jesus loves me”.  But in my heart I didn’t fully believe it.

But in the last year or so God has opened my eyes to the fact that God loves me to bits.  He loves me even though I grieve him by my sins and mistakes.  He delights in me.

Along these lines, I have been reading a fine book by Sam Storms called The Singing God.  His title is based on Zephaniah 3:17: “. . . He [God] will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

Think of that!  He sings over his children the way a mother croons over her infant.  He rejoices in me and you as believers.

We discussed this in our prayer group last night and one of our members noted that so many people in today’s churches suffer from feelings of rejection or hopelessness.

Some feel they don’t measure up to God’s standards – that’s the group I belonged to.  Some have had a tough time in life – rejected by parents or spouses or friends.  Some are just bitter and feel that life has given them a raw deal.

But the passage in Zephaniah and so many others in the Bible show how much God loves us, even when we fail.  This is a message of great hope.

Of course, the best illustration of God’s love is the story of the Prodigal Son which I have referred to before (see Luke 15:11-31).  The father in the story is a picture of God himself who is always eagerly waiting to embrace us even BEFORE we pour out to him our penitent hearts.  We just have to come to him.

Psalm 103 is another fine example of God’s literally boundless love for us.

We finished our prayer group discussion by asking ourselves how to respond to these truths. 

We looked first at Psalm 48:9 where the psalmist speaks of meditating on God’s “unfailing love”.  We can’t do much better than reflecting on how much God loves us.  It lifts our hearts and transforms our minds.

We also turned to Psalm 63:3-5 where David talks of glorifying God “because your love is better than life”.  As we praise God and think of his many benefits, we want to sing to him.  His love for us inspires our love for him.

Knowing that God loves me affects the way I live.

A humble beginning

Nazareth was not much of a town when Jesus lived there.

In fact, it had a bad reputation.  Nathanael said: “Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46)

My wife and I got a little insight into the Nazareth of Jesus’ time when we visited a recreation of the town in modern Nazareth just a couple of weeks ago.

We looked at the little stone houses, about the size of a small room in our house in Canada.  Whole families lived in those houses.

We were shown a typical carpenter’s shop while a man wearing first century robes worked with crude tools to fashion a chair.

Not much of a beginning for someone who was going to change history and the lives of billions of people.

If you were a betting person, you would have put your money on Herod the Great as the great history maker.  Herod built palaces and temples and left his mark throughout Judea.  He ruled with power, terrorizing and killing his opponents.

But, today, we know about Herod because of Jesus.  Herod plays a bit part in the greatest drama in history.

God is like that, isn’t he?  He surprises.  He does the unexpected.

That makes me think about my own world.  Am I missing what God is doing around me?

That quiet man without much education, has he been tapped on the shoulder by God?  Is he on the way to doing something extraordinary in God’s service?

Jesus’ example also makes me think about what it takes to be great in the kingdom of God. 

Jesus told the disciples that those who are to have the leading places in his kingdom are those who serve others (Matthew 20:24-28).  God comes first in their lives – and then others.

That is a lesson I have always been slow to learn.  It calls for humility – the humility that Jesus had.

Peace

While my wife and I were in Israel, several Christians asked us to pray for the “peace of Jerusalem” – a phrase taken from Psalm 122:6.

Those words from David seem to refer to freedom from war.  When you think of it, few cities have been more battered by war than Jerusalem.  People have been fighting over this small city for more than 3,000 years.

War is a real concern to people living in Israel – Jews, Christians and Muslims.  Rockets still land in Israel.  And there was hand-to-hand combat in East Jerusalem during the 1967 war.

On the other side, of course, Israelis have been fighting in Palestinian territory, too.

Peace seems a distant hope.  But it is a frequent refrain from Israeli believers we met.  They live with the threat of war and they want it to end.

However, it seems to me that any peace in Israel will not last forever, whatever today’s politicians are able to work out.  The book of Revelation indicates to me that there will be a final battle between the people of God and their enemies in Israel.

That doesn’t stop me from praying for the peace of Jerusalem.  It is worth having peace, however short it may be.  At least some people will be spared.

But, it also reminds me that there is a greater and surer peace – the peace of God.

In John 14:27, Jesus says:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

I am convinced this inner assurance of God’s presence and love is more important than anything else when you are under threat.  I have never faced the threat of war on my doorstep; but, I know I would need God’s peace within to carry on.  I know I would be a coward and an emotional basket case without it.

This offer of inner peace is open to me every day and yet I don’t take advantage of it.  I fret over little things – and sometimes big things.

But in the words of John 14: 27, Jesus tells me that he has given me his peace.  I already have it because Jesus is within me.  All I have to do is recognize that Jesus’ peace is Jesus himself.

It is an old story: When I put my faith in Jesus I received everything that Jesus is, including peace.  I just need to believe it and rest in that truth.

Walking where Jesus walked

My wife and I have just returned from a wonderful trip to Egypt, Jordan and Israel.  I am still thinking about what I have seen.

On the surface, the world has changed enormously since Jesus walked in Judea, Samaria and Galilee.  Cars have replaced donkeys and camels.  We stayed in hotels where we could watch events on television taking place thousands of miles away.

In modern day Israel, it is sometimes hard to look past the changes imposed on the people and landscape by successive conquerors and civilizations.

No one knows exactly where Jesus was crucified and buried; but the most likely spot is now crowned by a large, dark, stone church filled with precious icons and silver vessels.  It is difficult to imagine Jesus writhing on a cross slotted into the stone at this place.

And yet Jesus was here.  He did walk on the old Roman road discovered a few years ago under the Temple Mount.  He did sleep in a small stone house in Capernaum near a modern-day church building.  He sat in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, near where we cruised a few days ago.

As I try to sort out my own thoughts, I realize that Jesus was a man like us.  He was a carpenter’s son.  He suffered even more than we have suffered.  He was joyful.  He loved.

In a sense, very little has changed in 2000 years.  The issues we face – the human, every-day issues – are much the same as those faced by Jesus and his disciples.

In Jesus’ day, the big political issue was what to do with the Romans.  Today, it is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But Jesus did not come to overthrow the Romans and create a new political dynasty.  He came to deal with you and me – to bring us home to God.

That is still true today.  Jesus speaks to our hearts as strongly now as he did then.  Civilizations come and go, but Jesus’ words are for the ages.

That is one thing I take away from our trip of a lifetime.