Archive for September, 2012|Monthly archive page

Hope

A great dividing line between believers and unbelievers is: What happens after I die?

The subject came up recently as my wife and I had dinner with four others in a cruise ship dining room.

A gentle, thoughtful retired school teacher said:  “Ever wondered what kind of legacy you leave when you die?  My guess is people will forget what you did pretty quickly.”

As a believer, I felt I could not let this pass without comment.

“As Christians, we believe there is life after death,” I said, indicating my wife and myself.

No one picked that up and the conversation moved on to something else.

In a sense, the retired school teacher was right.  For the most part, today’s heroes are quickly forgotten.  And most of us don’t make it into the evening news.

Then, there is the question of legacy – what did we do that will have a lasting impact?

Of course, the Bible has a lot to say about this.

Amazingly, God does not put a lot of store in riches or political power or clever thinking – things which are valued on earth.  Most of the great men and women of the Bible came from very humble beginnings – Jesus included.

Some accumulated wealth, but it was not wealth that made them stand out in God’s eyes.  It was faith, obedience and love.  It is that legacy that matters to God.

Jesus warned against placing all our eggs in an earthly basket.  In a famous passage in Matthew 6: 19-21:

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

If we love God and love others, we will leave a legacy that pleases God.

And we, who have placed our trust in Jesus, will have an eternal home with him.

That gives us hope where others have lost hope.

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A sunny life

How should we live as Christians?

Joyfully, contentedly, and worry-free, suggests an enthusiastic Bible-study leader on a cruise ship my wife and I are sailing on.  I agree with him.

But how do we get there?  How do we get beyond the daily annoyances, the pressures, the tragedies of life?

It all comes back to believing what God says – and then acting on it.

I am not a great example of worry-free living.  But I am working on it as, increasingly, I realize the truth of what our Bible study leader has been saying.

To begin with, I accept that the word of God says I must be joyful and thankful, handing everything over to God in prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). I am called to rejoice that I am God’s son and will be forever.  I am thankful for the many spiritual – and earthly – gifts he has given me.

The key here is that I am to bring my anxieties and problems to God – and leave them there. The apostle Peter underlines that in his famous statement in 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

That, indeed, is the hard part.

The reason I find it hard to hand over my problems to God is that, in my heart, I’m not sure that he will sort them out the way I want him to.  So, the issue is trust.

It’s not surprising that faith and trust are elements that run right through the Bible.  They are fundamental to living a life that pleases God.

I love the example of the apostle Paul in Acts 16.  He wants to preach the gospel in the province of Asia, surely a very worthy task.  But the Holy Spirit speaks to him in some way and tells him he is not to do that.

It is only after obeying the Spirit that Paul receives the instructions which are to change the face of church history.  He is called by a vision to go to Macedonia, taking the gospel into a new continent.

That is trust in God.  That is obedience.  And God works when we trust in him.

Paul was a man who trusted God for everything, even when things looked grim as they often did during his years of ministry.

In Philippians 4:11, he says “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances”.

If Paul could be content when he was hungry and beaten, why can’t I in my infinitely more comfortable circumstances?

The secret is trusting that God knows best.  As with Paul in Asia, I must trust God to direct me in my Christian life and service.  I must trust that he is working all things out for my good (Romans 8:28).

Then, I will be truly joyful and content – eager to see what God has in store every day.

 

 

The wrong way to do it

My wife and I drove through Belfast recently and saw the wall dividing Catholic Falls Road from Protestant Shankill Road.  It was a stark reminder of how not to “win friends and influence people” as writer Dale Carnegie used to say.

Of course, it is easy for me as an outsider to sit in judgement of northern Irish Christians who got into this fix.  I haven’t lived through the provocations on both sides which led to the 30 years’ of violence called “The Troubles”.

But I am certain Christ would not have approved the bombings, shootings and knifings which became a way of life in Belfast.

How could people who follow Christ get to the point of killing and terrorizing each other?

Perhaps it has something to do with forgetting what following Christ really means.

In a small way, I know what it means to feel slighted and hurt by others.  My natural reaction is to lash back.  The desire for revenge must grow exponentially when someone you know is killed.

I’m sure that many people on both sides felt that armed revenge was the only way to even the score.

But there are other ways to respond.

I remember some years ago the son of an Anglican minister in Alberta, Canada was shot and killed by another youth.  I was deeply impressed – and so were many others – when the Anglican minister and his wife publicly forgave the young killer.  In fact, they tried to keep in contact with him and to help him get straightened away.

As a parent, I would have found this very hard to do.  But I can’t think of a more powerful way of influencing people for good.  Guns won’t do it – but love will.

We all know that Christ called on believers to forgive others and to do good for those who hate us.

As the apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 2:15: “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

As a Christian, I need to remember this when I am next tempted to strike out against someone else for a real or imagined hurt.

 

 

 

The Triumphant Faith

On the surface, Christ seemed weak – he gave himself up to die on the cross.

In reality, Christ triumphed – he triumphed over death, he triumphed over Satan.

People have made the same mistake about Christ and his followers over the centuries.  Believers have died from persecution but their persecutors lost in the long run.

I was thinking about this recently as my wife and I toured St. Petersburg in Russia for a couple of days.

Vladimir Lenin, first ruler of the Soviet Union, called religion the “opiate of the people” and set out systematically to destroy Christianity and other religions in the new Russia.  But he and his successors failed.

We visited some great Orthodox churches in the city, churches which were used by the Communist Party for their clubs and organizations.  Indeed, we were told a swimming pool had been installed in the sanctuary of a Roman Catholic church to be used by sports groups.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, these churches have revived and are now active again.

Why?  Why did Christianity survive 70 years of propaganda and persecution in Russia?

Years ago, I remember reading a passage in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s great book A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich which gives a clue.

The hero, Ivan Denisovich, is a prisoner in one of the notorious Stalinist gulags in Siberia.  He joins a work crew going out in the freezing cold in the early morning.  One member of the crew is a Baptist who looks up at the dawn and smiles.  He praises God.

Ivan considers this man to be strange.  He reads the Bible and tries to talk to Ivan about the Lord – something Ivan rejects.

Another incident struck me a while ago.  I recall hearing about a Soviet KGB officer who joined in beating a young girl who was part of a Christian group worshiping God in the Russian forests.  She held on to her faith though she died from the beating.

This incident was so embedded in his heart that he later became a believer himself.

This tells me that nothing can destroy Christian love and faith.  People may die, but Christ will live on through others.

The prophet Isaiah had something to say about this.  Through Isaiah, God said in Isaiah 55 that as the seed leads to bread for the eater “so is my word that goes out from my mouth.”

He adds: “It (his word) will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

In other words, people who set out to destroy Christianity are up against God and his purposes.  They don’t stand a chance.

DESPAIR OR JOY?

There is a sense of desperation and even despair among young people in many Western countries today.

My wife and I were visiting Oslo the other day and passed a young woman in a long, ankle-length, mustard-coloured coat with the words written in English on her back: “We are the kids who feel like dead-ends.”

I have been mulling over those words ever since.  What did she mean?

Perhaps she meant that many young people today feel there is little or no future for them.

I have read that youth unemployment is as high as 50 per cent in some Western countries, supposedly the better-off nations in our world.  That doesn’t seem true of oil-rich Norway.

In my country, Canada, many students graduate from university and are unable to find jobs in their chosen fields.  Some wind up as waiters and waitresses or employed in jobs they could have got without the cost of university education.  Jobs are uncertain, disappearing suddenly unlike in past decades.

Or, perhaps the despair flows from rapid social change – there are no longer any certainties in the West.  Marriages break up, leaving children anxious or bitter.  Addiction to drugs is growing.

It is at times like these that God moves.

The Old Testament tells many stories of the people of Israel turning away from God and chasing other idols or devoting their lives to pleasing themselves.  God allows them to spend themselves on their pleasures.

Then, as they find themselves under attack from outside and their lives threatened, they turn back to God.  Economic and political breakdown leaves them without something to hold onto.  No longer self-sufficient, they realize their only hope is God.

God never promises an easy life.  But he does promise that people who trust him with their lives can be sure he will always care for them.  They will be with him for eternity – a much longer time than the current troubles they are going through.

Those who trust him find a new purpose to life.

As the apostle Paul said: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)  He lived to see Christ honoured in the world around him.  And he looked forward to being with him forever.

This enabled him to deal with all kinds of hardships – mental and physical – with joy.

For him, life was not a dead-end, but it was filled with hope.