Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

A whisper

A young preacher reminded me this morning that God spoke to Elijah in a whisper at Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19).  Why?

Perhaps because a whisper can be just as compelling in the right circumstances as a thunder clap.

In our Western world, we tend to increase noise if we want to catch someone’s attention.  But we often miss beautiful things in the midst of the clatter and crashing.  A bird’s song can be lost in the middle of rush hour in a large city.

God does grab our attention by dramatic demonstrations of his power and majesty.  We know that Jesus will return with a shout and a trumpet blast (1 Thessalonians 5:16) that will be heard throughout the world.

But, most of the time, the Holy Spirit works more quietly.

In Psalm 46:10, David quoted God as saying: “Be still and know that I am God.”  In effect, God was saying: “I want you to stop what you are doing and listen.”

This is not an easy thing for us moderns to do.  We are restless beings.

But those who have chosen this path have found it rewarding.

Jesus went off by himself to pray and listen to his Father – away from his friends and their demands.  Moses went up Mount Sinai alone to commune with his Lord.

And over the centuries, there have been many who have cultivated silence and contemplative prayer to draw nearer to God.

It is something that has attracted me over several decades.

In this as in much else, I am still a beginner.  I realize that I must start by being ready to hear from God, as Elijah was.

That means putting other things aside, quieting down, and waiting for God to whisper.

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Different

It’s tough to be different.

We are always under pressure to conform to the dominant culture around us.

At one time, Christians dominated society in Europe and North America.  Sometimes, Christians persecuted non-believers, a sorry chapter in the history of the faith.

Now, the shoe is on the other foot.  Christian values are often derided and attacked today – in our schools and in newspapers, television shows, books and films.

In this atmosphere, it is hard to stand out, to take a different stand.  We don’t want to lose friendships or prompt laughter.

But, as I wrote in an earlier post, Christians in other parts of the world are willing to be different, even if it costs them their lives.

Our best example, of course, is Christ himself.  He went against the religious establishment simply by speaking the word of God.  His parables and sayings were subversive in the eyes of the Pharisees and Sadducees and the Roman authorities.

Christianity is still subversive.  Many people refuse to accept that there is an absolute standard of good and evil.  They reject the idea that there is a God and that we are called to worship him.

Christ knew that there would always be opposition to his message – a message of love and hope to those who believe, but an offence to those who don’t.

His immediate followers knew that, too.  The apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 1:17 that we are “foreigners in the land”.  Paul said that “we are citizens of heaven” (Philippians 3:20).  The idea is that we are different because we belong to Jesus.

The question, of course, is how are we to be different?

Sometimes, it means speaking truth as Christ did when the Pharisees tried to trap him.

Sometimes, it means loving people that others despise – as Jesus did.

Sometimes, it means speaking boldly about the good news that Jesus brought.

Sometimes, it means accepting hurts without fighting back – as Jesus did on the night of his crucifixion.

All of these are big challenges for me – a person who hates conflict.

But if Christ had taken the easy way out, I would not have the great gift he has given me.  Nor would billions of other believers.

Go for gold

This week, I read about an excellent athlete in several sports who decided to concentrate on running in hopes of going to the London Olympics.

Happily, she was chosen for the Canadian track team at the Olympics.  Now, she hopes to win a medal – maybe even a gold.

She made a choice.  She would abandon her other sports loves – and everything else – to focus on one great goal.

Naturally, it takes discipline and hard work to do that.  It’s a point the apostle Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, using the picture of a runner training for a race.  He says:

“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!  All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”

I am not naturally disciplined.  I float from one thing to another.  I am also a procrastinator, putting off doing things until I absolutely have to.

Over the years, I have pounced on different methods or ideas to bring me closer to God and his power.  This has been good because I have grown in my understanding of God and myself.  Yet I have not been consistent – disciplined – in following through.

Paul is saying that there is no shortcut to growing close to God.  I must seek him with all my heart – and I must be disciplined as I seek him.

Is worshiping Christ my main preoccupation?  Do I want to please him above all?  Or, will I allow myself to be drawn away by other pleasant things?

Paul’s words call me: “Run to win!”  Go for gold!

How do I deal with regrets?

How do I deal with regrets?

A friend of mine told me this week that he said something years ago that he still regrets.  He spoke to a pastor who told him that Jesus forgave him for all he did – including speaking those words.  But my friend still felt burdened by what he had done.

Glibly, I told him that everyone has regrets.  Even Peter must have regretted denying Christ for the rest of his life.

I was too quick in my response.  It is true that you cannot undo what you have done.  But does that mean you will forever stagger under the burden of these mistakes – deliberate or not?

This is a real issue for me.  I have said and done – or not done – things that I regret.  I often turn these over in my mind.

I believe Christ would say that I must not let my past shackle my future.  By that I mean, I must not allow past misdeeds steal my joy in the Lord.

That doesn’t mean I must ignore what I have done wrong.  If I have hurt someone, I should seek that person’s forgiveness.  I will have done what I could, even if I am not forgiven.

For other sins, the general rule is clear in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins to him (God), he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (New Living Testament)

Who am I to dwell on these things if Christ has forgiven me and I have done what I could to be reconciled to others?

A young student pastor gave a good sermon in our church this morning about God’s mercy and grace, using Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son.  In that story the father runs out and hugs his wayward son who is returning home repentant after wasting his inheritance (Luke 15:11-32).

That is a picture of God loving us even when we wander away from him and eagerly embracing us when we come back to him.

The apostle Paul says in Philippians 3 that he has not reached perfection.

“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

Paul has put behind him all his victories and defeats.  Instead, he is focused on what Christ is calling him to do.

That is good counsel for me and for anyone struggling with regrets.

The 20-80 rule

Years ago, I heard someone offer a rule of thumb: “20 per cent of the people do 80 per cent of the work.”

It’s a catchy phrase, but it seems to reflect reality in many places, churches included.

Churches seem to have a hard time recruiting volunteers.  Why is that?

Probably various reasons.  One reason may be that families are extra busy these days – parents working, children in sports and music lessons and so on.

But the question of priorities comes to mind.  What were Jesus’ priorities? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and your neighbour as yourself.

As parents, my wife and I were involved in toting children to lessons and sports.  I realize that lessons and sports are important in a child’s development.  But they can become all-consuming.

Parents, too, can be swallowed up in their jobs.  I recognize that I was chained to my desk for longer hours than I should have been.

In the end, though, we have to think about what is eternally important.  Eternity wasn’t top of mind for me in my peak working years.  It is now.

I believe it is possible to work, help your children grow and develop, and serve the Lord.  But God should be at the centre of life.

Jesus was very direct about this.  In Matthew 6:20-21, he says:

“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus is saying we will be rewarded for loving God and loving others, rewarded in heaven if not in this world.  That is hard to grasp for us earthlings, but it is truth.

Of course, we can serve God wherever we are, not only in a church.  God asks us to do everything as if we were doing it for him.

But I suspect the volunteer problem in churches is due, in part, to people focusing more on earthly treasures than heavenly ones.  Many of these treasures are good in themselves, but they are less than what God wants for us.

It’s a truth that is, at last, sinking into my mind and heart.