Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Sermon in shoes

This morning, friends told us that years ago they benefitted from a “sermon in shoes” – an active of kindness.

The husband was quite sick and only able to work part-time.  A Christian friend, with a large family of his own to care for, came to them and offered to help them financially.  As far as I know, they did not take advantage of his offer, but they were deeply touched.  In their eyes, his offer reflected his faith – a real faith.

It made me think of acts of kindness that I have received.  My family and I have never been in financial need.  But, 28 years ago, four friends drove down from Ottawa to a Montreal-area funeral home to comfort me and my family just after my mother died.  I have always remembered that loving gesture.

It also made me think of an opportunity I had recently to be a “sermon in shoes” to other friends – but I failed to act.  I rationalized my inaction.  Of course, there are other occasions when I have done something very small, but which meant a great deal to the people who received the little kindness.

My wife is always alert to people’s needs and follows through with offers of help.  She is a living “sermon in shoes”.

As Christians, we often talk about sharing our faith with people who don’t know the Lord.  We pray for them and we pray about opportunities to speak.  But clearly it is “sermons in shoes” that have the greatest impact.

We read in the New Testament how Jesus had a powerful effect on his listeners.  We assume it was because of his words.  That is certainly true, but the reason his words struck home was that his listeners could see his compassionate heart.  He healed people beyond even the limits of his strength.  And he gave multitudes some food on at least two occasions.  Always, he spent time with people who were unloved.

I need to see the needs of others as an opportunity – not a distraction and a burden.

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The pleasures of God

I have been thinking about the pleasures of God.

It’s important to me because the pleasures of the world often trump everything else in my mind.

My thoughts came to a head this morning when I read this advice of Paul’s to his young friend Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:22:

“Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

Paul draws a contrast between the evil desires of youth and the necessity of seeking God’s ways.  The “evil desires of youth” are not something that can be thrust aside easily.  I have to flee them.  And to find the pleasures of God, I have to pursue them.

Fleeing and pursuing are not usually my bag. I prefer to hang back, contemplate and hope that something magical will happen.

The issue, of course, is that the “evil desires of youth” are familiar to me – and concrete.  The pleasures of God are different.  As Paul speaks of them in this comment to Timothy, they are really fruit of the Holy Spirit working in me.

I have known the pleasures of God in my life.  There have been times of joy, peace, and the awareness of God’s love.  I long for more of these experiences.

But Paul is essentially telling me that the pleasures of God cannot co-exist in me with the “evil desires of youth”.  When I am indulging these desires, I am unable to enjoy the pleasures of God.

So, clearly, I have to make a choice.  I have to decide that I want the pleasures of God more than the pleasures of the world.

This requires faith.  It means I have to believe God really means it when he says he is with me, he loves me, he takes delight in me, and he rejoices over me with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).  I have to believe that God wants to fill me with his joy and peace which are beyond understanding.

And then I have to act on my faith.  I have to flee the darkness and open myself to God’s light – his joy, peace and love.

Imagining

Over the last couple of years, I have been thinking a lot about using my imagination spiritually.

One author, Gregory Boyd, speaks of using our imaginations in spiritual and emotional healing.

In his book Seeing is believing, he notes that many Christians are suspicious of using their imaginations to think of God.  In part, that stems from the commandment not to worship a “graven image”.

But does that commandment rule out our imaginations?  What is being spoken of in that commandment is worshiping a statue of stone or wood as if it was God.

Boyd notes that we all use our imaginations all the time, often for negative reasons.  We imagine failing an important exam or messing up at work or falling into sin.  Satan is adept at manipulating our imaginations.

Can we not use our imaginations for God’s glory and our good?  I believe we can.

I am sure the apostles used their imaginations when they prayed to God after Jesus’ ascension to heaven.  They had seen Jesus and their mental pictures of Jesus would have aided them in their prayers.

My guess is that most people have pictures of God in their minds when they think about him.  It is hard not to.

The important thing is that how I think of God must square with what I know of him from the Bible.  I would be wrong to think of God smiling as I commit a sin.  I would also be wrong if I imagined him rejecting me as a believer because I have sinned.  Neither corresponds with what the Bible says about God.

Picturing God being with me in my situation may help me deal with emotional and spiritual problems.  The apostle Paul says in Romans 28 that nothing can separate me as a believer from the love of God.  So I can picture Christ embracing me and leading me as I go through a difficult time.  After all, Jesus has said he will always be with me (Matthew 28:20).

The scriptures are full of imaginative language.  Christ told stories to convey truth.  The psalmist painted word-pictures to help us draw close to God.  And there is even a statement in Hebrews 12:2 telling us to “fix our eyes on Jesus” which would seem virtually impossible without having some image in our mind of Christ.

Imagination can help me see myself in Christ’s presence, too.  There are all kinds of declarations about believers which can guide my thoughts.  The simple fact that I am a child of God can lead me to imagine myself in God’s company, loved by him as his child.  This picture would represent a truth about me and my relationship with God.

I am now trying to “renew” my mind as Paul urges in Romans 12:2 with pictures of Christ helping me deal with sin and drawing me closer to him.  It is a formidable task as I have allowed my imagination to be used wrongly for so many years.  But I have set out on a journey of hope.

Enjoying the moment

Yesterday, I went for a long walk in the warm sunshine – through a little wood and into fields stretching forever.

I looked and absorbed whatever I passed – trees, school playing fields, a little creek, a duck and eight ducklings streaking along the water in fright.

I did nothing but enjoy the moment.

Like many Christians, I feel a moment is wasted if it isn’t useful in some way.  It may only be thinking about a lesson I am learning or a lesson I am about to teach.  Or solving a persistent problem.

Frequently in the last year, I have listened to sermons on my iPod as I walk.  I enjoy those sermons – I learn from them.  And I feel as if I am doing something useful, spiritually.

There is a lot of self in me.  I want my life to matter.

But yesterday I put that aside and just enjoyed the moment.

Yet now that I have done that, I am back to wondering what I can learn from it.

One thing that occurs to me is that I must accept each moment as if it comes from God – which it does.  The psalmist said: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).”

Does that mean I am only content when the day is good – as yesterday was?  The apostle Paul talks about learning to be content in whatever circumstance he finds himself – even when he is in want (Philippians 4:11).

Another thought flows from this: I must stop worrying about what will happen or what has happened.  Paul says he forgets what is behind and strains toward the prize (Philippians 3:13).  He doesn’t dwell on what has happened – good or bad – but focuses on Christ.  When he looks forward to the prize, he is not worrying because he knows there is nothing he can do on his own – it is all Christ.

It is hard for me to surrender control.  So I spend a lot of wasted time worrying about what can and should be done.

So, I feel God is telling me to enjoy the moment.  It is a gift from him – even the not so pleasant moment.  Each moment is there for a reason – God’s reason. 

And I cling to the truth in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Trust

Trust is at the very core of my faith in Christ.  And yet . . .

When I became a believer, I trusted what the Bible said about Jesus – that he died for me so that I might have everlasting life.

But, like many believers, I have not consistently trusted Jesus to take care of my needs.  Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.

I remember vividly a very small answer to prayer shortly after I became a follower of Christ.  I lost something at work and I couldn’t find it.  It was important to me that I find it.  So, I prayed that God would help me find it – I trusted simply and completely that he would.  And he did.

That little incident – not a big thing to most people – helped to build my faith and trust in God.

But what about the times when God doesn’t say “Yes” to our prayers?  Is he less trustworthy?

Any believer would answer: “No. He is always trustworthy.”

But often we don’t act as if he is.  We pray fervently for someone who is seriously ill and he dies.  Someone we love turns on us unjustly.  We begin to doubt God’s trustworthiness.  We stop praying or we stop risking our love for others.

Joseph is such a great example of a man who never stopped trusting God even though his circumstances were bleak.  Sold into slavery, he faced a calamity in his master’s house and wound up in jail.

No one could have predicted – least of all, Joseph – that the young Israelite would become the prime minister of Egypt with power over millions of people.  But God knew what was going to happen all along.  Joseph understood.  He told his frightened brothers who had sold him as a slave: “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Genesis 45:8)

As Jerry Bridges says in his book Trusting God Even When Life Hurts, we need to remember the apostle Paul’s great statement in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

We have to take that on trust.  We have to believe what the Bible says about God – he is sovereign and is in control – and he’s working things out for our good.

With that in mind, I can take a longer look at the unpleasant things in my life.  I may not understand everything, but I can be sure that God is working in me to make me more like his son whom he dearly loves.  And I can react the way Paul urges me to react – with thanks.

The Lord is my shepherd

The lowly shepherd plays a prominent part in the Bible.

Shepherds were given a privileged role in the birth of Jesus.  An angel appeared to some shepherds and invited them to come and see the new-born Messiah.

God chose a shepherd boy to be the next king of Israel after Saul.

And Jesus called himself the “good shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep” (John 10:11).

What is so special about shepherds?

A shepherd is someone who serves the creatures in his care.  He protects them; he looks for them when they are lost; he leads them to water and to good pasture.

In many ways, it is a thankless job.  The sheep can’t tell the shepherd how much they appreciate him.  And, like people, I guess most of them wouldn’t thank the shepherd even if they could.  They would think it is simply the shepherd’s job to do what he does.

David learned to fight off wild animals when they sought to prey on his sheep.  And Jesus laid his life down for us because we were helpless in the face of Satan.

It is interesting that Jesus so often compared us to sheep.  It is not a great compliment.  Sheep are stupid.  They don’t know when they are threatened until it is too late.  And they tend to wander off to areas where they shouldn’t go.

But Jesus is right.  Often, I do things that don’t make sense.  Indeed, I stubbornly do things that I know don’t make sense.

However, Jesus is the good shepherd and he brings me back to the fold.  I may bear a few scratches and wounds.  But I am safe again.

It is wonderful that Jesus chose the image of shepherd to describe his relationship with his people.  It shows something of his humility and his heart.  It shows how much he loves us, pursues us, and protects us.

As David said in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd.”