Archive for August, 2012|Monthly archive page

Politics and Christ

I believe the Christian church is least effective when it is intimately linked to the state.

My wife and I are leaving shortly to visit several European capitals.

At one time, the Christian church was a dominant force in each of these great cities and the surrounding countryside. Not any more.

One reason is that the church became too closely linked to the political authorities of the day. In many places, church leaders were also the state’s political leaders.

When the poor rose up against their rulers, they turned against the church as well as the state.

Some may claim that Jesus was a political revolutionary. He was not. He was calling for inner change with people turning back to God.

But his message of spiritual change did achieve social change over the 2000 years since he returned to heaven. That happens often when the Holy Spirit transforms people’s lives.

Yet, when the church becomes the state religion, it tends to adopt the state’s political ideology.  And the salt loses its savour.

Europe, of course, went through great religious struggles over many centuries.  Much of what emerged was good – great Christians who have left a mark on the ages.  We all benefit from the works and the writings of monks, priests, ministers, evangelists and missionaries from Europe.

But the light has dimmed over time.  Last fall, I saw a beautiful Protestant church in Amsterdam, built in the 1600s and now owned and occupied by a real estate association.  For me, it spoke about the strength of the reformed faith years ago and the weakness of the church today.

We face the same problem in North America. There is no state religion in Canada and the United States.  But many church leaders have consciously or unconsciously accepted the political and social philosophy of the day. Some of them are more politician than pastor.

I fully support Christians getting involved in politics.  We live in a society where there are many competing views.  As responsible citizens, we need to make our opinions known.

But our focus should be on people and their needs.  The greatest need is a heart change toward God.  Once we have a close relationship with God, we will find him sending us out to touch the lives of family, friends, neighbours and the wider world.

That was Jesus’ way.  The way of love – God’s love.

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“Boasting of my weaknesses”

In the 1950s, I remember reading advertisements about Charles Atlas and his muscle-building courses.

There was a drawing of a big , tough man kicking sand in the face of a 90-pound weakling and stealing his girlfriend.  The next drawings showed the skinny young man, transformed into a powerful, muscular man by a Charles Atlas course, taking back his girlfriend from the bully.

The underlying message was that you have to be big and strong to win in this world.  It was the age-old story of “survival of the fittest”.

I was thinking of this after a chat with my son-in-law about why the Christian church is declining in numbers, influence and spiritual strength in North America.  His point was that people feel they don’t need God until there is a disaster.

Canadians and Americans like to do things themselves without relying on others.  They believe in independence.  Indicating need is a sign of weakness.

Of course, men and women have felt this way since the Garden of Eden when Satan seduced Adam and Eve into believing they could be like God, knowing everything.

But it is not the way of Christ.

Jesus is God and yet, as the apostle Paul noted in Philippians 2:5-11, Christ gave up his exalted position in heaven to live in a human body, suffer, and die for ungrateful humans.

And Paul himself made the great statement in 2 Corinthians 12 that he boasts about his weaknesses so that “the power of Christ can work through me”.

His point is clear: As long as I rely on my own strength, I will not see the power of God working through me.  As Paul said: “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Jesus and Paul were strong because they lived in dependence on God.  That is the secret of spiritual power.

Many of us Canadian and American believers rely on our own strength.  Our churches rely on human strength.  We are not seeing the power of God.

Do we need a disaster to wake us up?

Perhaps.  But change can happen before a cataclysm.  The great Methodist revival in Britain in the mid-1700s happened at a time when the established church in England was virtually dead and the country faced deep social problems.  With similar issues, France had a revolution.  Britain underwent a spiritual awakening that lasted decades along with fundamental social transformation.

The great revival of the late 1850s in the United States began when a young businessman on Wall Street in New York posted a sign on a downtown church announcing a noon-hour prayer meeting.  No one turned up for the first half hour of the first meeting.

But Jeremiah Lanphier had started something extraordinary.  In the end, people flocked to similar prayer gatherings across U.S. and hundreds of thousands gave their lives to Christ.

The same thing can happen today.

The power of speaking truth

A friend was feeling “blah” this week so I shared with him something from Neil Anderson’s Victory Over The Darkness.

Neil Anderson, a Christian counselor and former seminary professor, has helped many people deal with sins, addictions, and other problems by pointing them to who they are in Jesus Christ.

There are many Bible passages which tell believers who they are in God’s eyes.  In his book, Anderson lists some of them under the general titles of “I am accepted”, “I am secure”, and “I am significant”.  After each scripture verse he adds a statement such as “I am God’s child” (for John 1:12).

He urges readers to read through the scripture passages and let these statements sink into their minds and hearts.

I read these statements a few years ago and felt uplifted right away.  Every time I have read them since, I have felt the same way.

Why? Because they are truth if you are a believer in Jesus Christ.  As you let your mind explore the truth in these words, your eyes are opened to how much loved and cherished you are by God.

This week, the following words in Hebrews 2:11 hit me right between the eyes:

“So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father.  That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters.” (NLT)

It struck me with great force: “Jesus is my brother.”  Wow!  For me, this was a big moment.  I pictured Jesus as my elder brother, looking out for me and cherishing me.  I saw him as one I want to emulate as a younger son looks up to his older brother.

Of course, I know the difference between Jesus and me.  He is God and I am not.  But that doesn’t stop the Father from making me just like a brother in spirit to Christ Jesus.

As you stop and meditate on all these great Biblical statements about our relationship to God and his plans for us, you can’t help but be joyful.

For believers, this is not the “power of positive thinking”.  For us, we know it is truth.

We need to speak it out as Anderson says.  Then, the power of speaking truth can change the way we see ourselves and our relationship with God.

Taking risks

Abraham was a risk-taker.

It’s hard to beat setting off from his home in Haran without knowing where he was going just because God told him to (Genesis 12).

It turned out to be a history-making decision. But it must not have seemed a very good move to onlookers at the time. After all, he was abandoning a relatively safe and secure home with his father’s family.

When I look at great men and women of the Bible, I see a lot of risk-taking.

There was the young woman Mary who accepted God’s mission of bearing the Son of God even though her reputation in respectable society could be destroyed.

And what about the prophets? They put their lives on the line daily in order to tell the truth to power – the kings of Israel and Judah.

I think there’s a message here for me.  God hasn’t put me here to sit back and enjoy a well-deserved rest after a life-time of work.  I’m sure he wants me to enjoy what I have – after all, he has given it to my wife and myself.  But there’s always more for me to do.

I admit I’m not a risk-taker by nature.  My wife and I have ventured beyond our comfort zones at different times in our lives.  When we have, we have felt stretched – just as Abraham must have felt stretched.  But, on the whole, we have led relatively calm lives.

Why would God ask Abraham to take risks?  Or, Gideon?  Because he had something for them to do in a grand plan.  His plan often means swimming against the tide – and that is not popular.  His plan will bring glory to God and is for the eternal good of the people of God.  But sometimes even the people of God will not understand.

It may be that my role in God’s grand plan is one small thing.  But, he does want me to do it, even if it means risking something of myself.

I like the stories of Abraham and Gideon.  They were not perfect men.  Sometimes they did the cowardly thing, just as I have done many times myself.  But, in the end, they had faith in God and they did what he asked them to do.

Imperfect though they were, these men were risk-takers.  And I believe God wants me – and every other believer – to be ready to take risks for the kingdom of God, too.