Archive for March, 2013|Monthly archive page

Forgiven: Yesterday, today and forever

Recently, I heard about a man who won a medal in life’s great race – he gave his life to Jesus.

Coming from an abusive home, he began using drugs as a young teenager.  His life went downhill until he put his faith in Jesus.  He is now fighting the hold that drugs had on his life through an addiction recovery program.

What struck me is he still feels condemned for his past.

I am not surprised.  Many believers have trouble accepting that they have been forgiven by God for their sins – past, present and future.

I put myself in that camp – at least until a few years ago.

Most believers feel that God has forgiven them for the sins they committed before they allowed Jesus to enter their lives.  But many don’t believe he continues to forgive them for the sins they still commit today.

The other day, a friend gently questioned my view, suggesting that people will continue to do wrong if they feel they are already forgiven for sins.

It is a good point.  It is typical of our upbringing – we need the fear of punishment to keep us from breaking the rules.

But, that view of God runs counter to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  Did Christ die for only part of my sins?  Does that mean I have to be good enough to deserve forgiveness for my sins today?  If so, I have no hope because I can never be good enough for God.

The apostle Paul says in Ephesians 1:4: “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.”

For me, the last three words – “in his eyes” – say a great deal.  God is not looking at me through my eyes or the eyes of those around me.  When he looks at me, he sees Jesus who died for my sins.

It is true that I need to recognize – confess – when I fall down.  But I must not obsess about what I have done.  I need simply get back on my feet and continue following Jesus.  God has already forgiven me.

But what about my friend’s point?  Won’t I just sin more if I feel God has already forgiven me?

Not if I recognize what Jesus has already done for me.  If I know that God loved me so much that Jesus died for me, shouldn’t I be filled with gratitude?  Shouldn’t I love him more?  Shouldn’t I want to please him?  Shouldn’t that change the way I live?

I see this truth now.  Slowly, it is sinking into my heart.

Years ago, I accepted Christ’s Easter gift.  I was forgiven all my sins forever.

 

 

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A man and a Christian, too

Every week, I meet with a group of men who are men and Christians, too.

We laugh and poke fun at each other, talk a bit about sports.  Some of  us – not me – are good at building and making things.  We share our struggles.

Then, we get down to business – how to be Christ’s followers in this world.

Why do I mention that?  Because our group is more and more unusual.  Men are vanishing from church pews.  And many of the men who remain are there because their wives have dragged them to church.

It is phenomenon of our age – the feminization of the church.  I am personally glad that women have taken leadership in our churches because men have largely stepped away.  Someone has to shoulder the task of preparing the next generation of believers.

Why has this happened?  A number of reasons, I’m sure.  But one of them, I think, is that many men think that being a Christian is unmanly.

Particularly in the developed world, we men think of ourselves as strong, take-charge people who must not cry or show weakness.  Christians talk about loving others and admitting that they aren’t strong enough to go it alone.  They need God.

But there are still men – such as the group I belong to – who believe that men can be men and Christians, too.  They see Christ who was all man.  He challenged the religious establishment of his day and eventually was killed by them.  Yet he did it all out of love.

The early Christians were not sissies.

They were thrown into jail and some of them were executed.  But they did not surrender their faith.

Over the centuries, other men have plunged into dangerous circumstances, willing to give up their lives for what they believed.

In the Western world, we are unlikely to face death for our faith.  Yet the challenges to our faith are just as powerful.  They are big enough for a man – a man of God.

Jesus said long ago that “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).  That’s courageous love.  It was what he did when he died on the cross for us as the Son of God.

Sacrificing yourself for others today may not literally mean losing your life.  But it does mean giving away something of yourself for others.

It was what Jesus did.  And he was a man.

Taking a stand

When is it right to take a stand?

When something you believe in is under seige.

We all face tests – tests in our relationships, in our schools, in our jobs, in our faith.  Sometimes these tests are head-on clashes.  Other times, they seem small and not worth bothering about – but, in time, they grow to fill the room.

By nature, I avoid confrontation.  But I have learned that avoiding an issue can sometimes be costly.

In relations with others, it can encourage the critic to continue his or her attacks.  I recall one instance in my career where that was particularly true.

Where faith is concerned, we are called to be true to our convictions.

This week, I have been reading through the book of Daniel which tells the story of a young Jewish captive living in the service of King Nebuchadnezzar, conqueror of Judah.

Daniel’s first test came when he and three young friends were told to eat special meat and wine that the king was offering him so that he might become one of the king’s servants.

On the surface, this was a small thing.  In fact, it might seem like an honour.  Instead of wasting away on heavy labour and poor rations, he was going to have the best of food and work directly for the king.

But for Daniel, this was a test of his faith.  The food was unclean in the eyes of Jews.  If he gave in here, what would he have to surrender next?

Even as a young man, Daniel was a master of skilled negotiation.  He discussed the issue with the man in charge of the young Jews and suggested a compromise solution because the Babylonian keeper feared his master’s wrath if the young men were not properly cared for.

Daniel’s proposal of a 10-day trial just eating vegetables and water was accepted by the keeper.  And the young men prospered on this diet.

Daniel demonstrated how a Christian should approach conflict in faith issues.  We should be firm and yet self-controlled and kind and gentle in our approach.

Of course, sometimes this does not lead to as happy a result as it did with Daniel.  Down through the centuries, many Christians have died for their faith.  In the western world, loss of jobs or broken relationships are more likely than death.

But, as a believer, I know I must be ready to stand up for my faith – sooner or later.

 

Otherworldly?

As a young Christian, I remember hearing the saying: “Don’t be so heavenly-minded that you’re no earthly good.”

In a sense, it was good advice.  A Christian’s faith should not be hidden away but should be active in the world around us.

But, for me, the danger was more that I was attached so much to the world around me that I didn’t think about my ultimate destination – being with God forever.

It is quite natural – and right – for a young man to think about earning money for his family.  And so I was wrapped up in my job and my ambitions.

I didn’t turn away from God.  Ever since I put my faith in Christ, I have had a desire to know him better.  I was active in my church and tried to lead my family spiritually.

But now, as an older man, I have been thinking more about where I am going.   And I am realizing that Christ and the early Christians had a different way of looking at life than I have had.

The writer of Hebrews in chapter 11 talks about Abraham living in the promised land “like a stranger in a foreign country”.  And the apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 2:11 that we believers are “aliens and strangers in the world”.

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul says he “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord”.  And he makes the point that his aim is always to please God.  That’s because his eyes are fixed on Jesus.

It’s not that the good things of this world are to be rejected.  Work, family, friends, church, games – all these things are wonderful.

God has given me many good things to enjoy in this world.  He wants me to enjoy them.

Yet, at the same time, I am easily drawn into the everyday struggles and temptations of life as if they are what matter more than anything else.

As long as I am here, I will always be involved and interested in what goes on around me.

But I need to look at the world through the eyes of heaven.  What will really matter when I see Jesus?

The blessing of peace

A friend told me this morning he has been praying for peace in his busy life – and God answered.

He said he has a number of big projects to complete in the next few months and one, in particular, was going nowhere.  Neither his boss nor anyone else seemed interested in moving this project forward.

Fighting mounting anxiety, he asked God to give him peace of mind.  The next day, his answer came.  His boss – and others who were critical to the project – suddenly got involved in moving the project forward.

Why?  I believe it has much to do with surrendering our problems to God.  God is a god of peace.  One of his names in the Old Testament is Jehovah Shalom or “The Lord is peace” (Judges 6:24).

As I noted in an earlier post (https://rcdouglas39.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/struggling-for-peace/), Jesus promised to give us peace.

The Bible speaks a lot about peace.  Jesus himself sent out disciples on a trip to visit villages telling them to bless the homes they entered with God’s peace (Luke 10).

Ed Silvoso, author of Prayer Evangelism, says that Christians need to pray God’s peace for the people they meet.  Part of the reason is that we Christians are often very critical of those who are not – and our hostility is evident.

After all, we were at war with God before we surrendered to him.  He gave us peace through Jesus.  We need to have God’s heart for those who don’t know him.

As I say, praying peace for someone is a kind of blessing.  Everyone is afflicted with worries at some point – and some more than others.

Praying the blessing of peace on someone can change a difficult situation.  It changes us first.  We stop being critical.  And our change of heart can be an avenue for God to bring peace to the other person.

May I be a man of God’s peace.