Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

Looking for God

I have been thinking about seeing and celebrating God in everyday life.

This is an old story – going as far back as the Bible.  Christian mystics have written about it down through the ages.

But I decided to put this into practice today as I looked at the world around me and thought about the events of the last couple of days.

For example, was God somewhere in the tense disagreement I had with a Christian friend a couple of days ago?  I was ashamed of myself and apologized but couldn’t lift the feeling of discouragement with myself.

On looking back, I think God was there.  Through this episode, I saw myself in a different way – in need of God.  I realized that my ego had been at play in the discussion.  God was shaping me through this experience.

God was present, too, when my wife gave me comfort and support after this dispute.  God was working through my wife in the empathetic way she spoke.

As well, I believe God was there when our church pastor and I took a defunct television set to a store for recycling this morning.  Our pastor gave the gift of his time without complaint to clear the set out of our church prayer room.

And God was everywhere this afternoon as I went out for a stroll in the warm sunshine of an autumn day.  He is the creator of the trees with colours changing, of the high school kids laughing and talking together, of the genius of man who invented cars.

I thought, too, of the well-known Bible passage about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.  In it, Jesus talks about how he will separate people into two groups – one group he will bless and the other he will condemn.

In each case, he will judge them on whether they fed him, or gave him something to drink, or clothed him, or visited him in prison.  And the people will say: “When did we see you hungry and feed you?”

His response is powerful: “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

These words tell me that Jesus is always with me.  I am just blind to him and his works.

It’s a bit like putting on 3-D glasses to watch a movie.  I have never done it, but friends say these glasses make you feel as if you are part of the movie itself.  You are in the scene that is being played out on film.

I need to put on my own spiritual 3-D glasses to see Jesus at work around me.

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Success

My son and I had a chat last weekend about ambition, success, and failure.

It’s a topic that many of us think about – especially men.  It is certainly true of me.  Many people dream of making a mark in the world in some way.

As I grew up, I subconsciously thought of life as a competition.  School was a competition.  I competed with others in hopes of being tops in the class.  I tried to be first in track and good in soccer, gym and hockey in our small elementary school.

I had some successes, but I also tasted failure.  Failure in my studies and failure in some relationships.

At least, that’s how I viewed things.

It is clearly true that some people are better artists than others – or better politicians, or whatever.  Some writers – like Shakespeare – stand above all others.  Some political leaders make a mark for the ages.

Does that mean that if you aren’t Shakespeare or Napoleon that you are a failure?

Most people would laugh at that suggestion.  But we all have our own objectives – our own dreams – and if we don’t reach them, we may feel we are failures.  The key is how we perceive ourselves.

Anyway, this morning I pondered how God views success and failure.

By God’s standards, I am a failure and so is everyone else – Shakespeare and Napoleon included.  As the apostle Paul says: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

I can’t possibly by my own efforts achieve what God wants for me.  I will never be good enough for him.

The wonderful thing is that God knows that and he loves me anyway.  He sent Jesus to die for me so that I can live with him forever.  Once I put my faith in Jesus I am forever embraced by God.

Strangely, though, that “success-failure” way of looking at things clings to me.

It is true that God wants me to live a life of love and self-sacrifice.  And when I don’t live that way, I am falling below God’s perfect standards.

But the big thing is that he does not reject me.  He loves me still.

I am learning that success in God’s eyes doesn’t depend on my efforts.  It depends on me letting Christ do his work through me.

When John the Baptist’s followers came to him to ask about Jesus, he said: “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)

That’s the standard of true success – more of Jesus, less of me.  It’s a lifelong journey to the ultimate goal.

A mighty wind and fire

There are few more dramatic pictures in the Bible than the coming of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts: A wild wind and tongues of fire!

I was re-reading the first few verses of Acts 2 this morning and tried to put myself in the shoes of the first believers as they sat in the upper room, waiting.  As Jesus had commanded, they had been praying for 40 days, waiting for the Holy Spirit.

I can imagine the sense of anticipation in that room.  They had seen the resurrected Jesus.  They believed that he who rose from the dead would deliver on his promise of the Spirit.

But even they must have been bowled over by this demonstration of godly power.

There are few more awesome things than a hurricane.  Very little can stand in the way of such mighty winds.

While the Spirit did not blow the upper room down, it sounded as if he did.  I can imagine the sound of this screeching and booming wind striking terror and awe in the hearts of the small band of followers.

Then, as a follow-up, tongues of fire – falling on people.

Even if they wanted to, they could not resist such power. The Spirit answered their prayers by filling and transforming them.  They were never the same again.

This picture enthralls me.  It shows me what God can do – if he wishes.

But God chooses not to act unless we pray.  The believers had been praying for 40 days.  They desired the Spirit; they were ready for him.

It shows me, too, that God could destroy us all – if he wished.  But he chooses not to eliminate us, undeserving as we are.

Instead, he pursues us, offering us love if we give our lives to him.  He pursues us with gentleness.  That is God’s preferred approach – love.

But we know that God can destroy – he has in the past and he still does today.  Sin is not compatible with righteousness and sometimes sinful man goes too far.

The Book of Revelation teaches us that God will eventually confront the forces of evil in a final war.

What amazes me is God’s patience.  He has the ultimate power, but he restrains himself out of love for us.

Praising God in hard times

I am convinced that praising God is not only right – it brings great benefit to me as a believer.

But is it right to thank God for the bad things of life – the deaths of loved ones or crippling accidents or lost jobs?  I say “Yes” even though I know many Christians feel this is almost blasphemous.

In the end, this comes down to a question about God’s sovereignty: Is he in control of what goes on in the world?  Or is his power limited?

People, who oppose this view of praising and thanking God for the hard things of life, declare that God is not responsible for evil.  I agree with that.  Satan is behind evil.

But there are passages of Scripture which show that God can use evil for his own purposes – and those purposes are good (Romans 8:28).

One of the best examples is Joseph’s reaction when he was reunited with his brothers who had sold him into slavery.  He told them not to be distressed because “it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” (Genesis 45:5)

No doubt Joseph was angry and bitter toward his brothers when he first went into slavery and later into prison.  But he learned to trust God.  He believed God was in control of these evil circumstances and was working things out for good.

When we’re going through troubles, it is not always obvious what good will come out of them.  But we do not see with God’s eyes.  Someone may be watching how we deal with trouble and may be touched by our attitude of trust.

Jesus and the apostles warned that we would face difficult times in life.  But they did not complain against God because they knew God is sovereign and is working things out according to his purposes. They understood that God’s purposes were good.

Paul urged us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and “always (give) thanks to God the Father for everything” (Ephesians 5:20).

“For everything” includes everything – good or bad.

It’s hard to praise God and thank him for the hard stuff.  But I have resolved to do exactly that.

I have long found that praising God for himself and for the good things in life have lifted my spirits.

Now, I am working on thanking him for allowing bad things to happen in my life.  I want to stop being a complainer and start trusting that he is working things out for good in the painful areas of life.

From what I have read, such an attitude has transformed lives and released people from bitterness and anger.  I want God to change me, too.

Laughter

I have just finished chuckling my way through a little book – Bold’s Fold – about a year in the life of Tony Bold, a fictional British charismatic church pastor.  It pokes gentle fun at the culture of evangelical Christianity.

It left me thinking that we Christians need to take ourselves less seriously.  I am speaking to myself as I write these words.

The little book is a year in the life of Tony Bold, a somewhat bumbling and clueless pastor.  It is written and illustrated by a British cartoonist, Darren, who is a member of a Vineyard Church.

A good thing about the book is that it is written by a believer.  It shows that we can laugh at ourselves.

I get very serious about the things that matter to me in my spiritual life.  Issues such as faith and prayer are serious and vital.  But, shouldn’t I laugh about some of my bumblings in the pursuit of God?

I am sure Jesus must smile – lovingly – as he sees me saying something silly or strange. From the vantage point of heaven, I may laugh myself as I look back at how I have reacted to events in my life.

The gospel writers don’t talk about Jesus’ sense of humour.  The gospels were written to highlight his major teachings.

But I am sure he must have shaken his head at some of the pretentious behaviour of the religious leaders and the flounderings of his own followers.  Yet he was not one to use humour to hurt others.

It has been said that laughter is a tonic.

I agree.  But I also think it can bring us back to reality – to see things as they really are.