Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

Above all, God

I have been thinking about why I am a Christian.

Is it because of the benefits of being a believer? Or, is it because of my loving relationship with God which begins now and lasts forever?

If I’m honest, I have tended to focus more on the benefits – everlasting life, answers to prayer, God’s promises, a way of life that is sane and fulfilling, a supportive community of people who believe the same way I do.

Of course, I believe it is important to cultivate a strong relationship with God. Increasingly, that has been my focus in recent years. It has always been a thread in the tapestry of my life.

But this loving relationship is now moving into the forefront of my mind. I believe it has implications for the way I live. And I think it affects the way the church carries out its ministry to people.

Recently, a comment by John Piper, author of God is the gospel, forced me to think: What would heaven by like without Jesus?

Sometimes, we Christians talk about the wonders of heaven – we’ll see our loved ones, there will be no tears, there will be joy unlimited. These are great benefits. But what about Jesus?

We will have a relationship with God that will be at least as wonderful as it was between Adam and Eve and God in the garden of Eden. There they talked as friends.

Nothing in heaven will compare with the joy of being with God – our creator, redeemer, and friend. We will have continual access to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Joy will be piled on joy. No relationship on earth can compare.

The significant thing is that this relationship begins now – here on earth. We will see and understand God much better when we are with him in heaven. But we can begin understanding him now – through spending time with him in prayer, studying God’s ways in the Bible, and obeying his promptings in our daily life.

This thought has been reinforced by chats with a friend about the importance of focusing on God rather than ourselves. And this morning, the visiting preacher said that what we believe about God will influence everything we do.

Do I believe he is the most important person in my life? Do I love him? Do I know he loves me? Am I excited about this? Do I want others to know him the same way?

This should influence the way I talk to people about Jesus.

Escaping hell and having eternal life is important. But far more important is a joyful, loving relationship with God – a relationship that is almost too wonderful to contemplate.

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Get up and go on

Do you sometimes whip yourself over sins and mistakes?

I do.

But I’m learning this leads nowhere. Obsessing over these wrong actions won’t make me a better person. And it won’t please God.

Of course, I’m called to confess my sins to God (1 John 1:9).. The tag end of that verse says he forgives my sins and cleanses me – not that he holds them against me.

I think David, King of Israel, had the right approach.

He sinned big time – having sex with Uriah’s wife Bathsheba and then arranging Uriah’s death. Then, the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin and David confessed and repented before God (2 Samuel 12).

Nathan told David that God forgave him and he wouldn’t die for what he had done. But Bathsheba had given birth to David’s child – that child would die, said the prophet.

The child fell ill and David pleaded with God for his son. He went without food and slept on the ground at night.

But the child died. When told of the baby’s death, David rose, washed, and ate. The people around him were astounded. Why would he make such a fuss before the baby’s death and then go back to normal life immediately after he died?

David said: “I fasted and wept while the child was alive, for I said, ‘Perhaps the Lord will be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But why should I fast when he is dead? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him one day, but he cannot return to me.”

In some ways, it sounds heartless. But that’s not the way I see it. David comforted Bathsheba after the child died. He felt the loss. But he did not wallow in it. He got on with life.

I think God approved of David’s way of looking at things.

When the prophet Elijah fled in fear from Queen Jezebel, God met him in a cave in Sinai and asked him what he was doing. Elijah was feeling sorry for himself, moaning that he was alone in standing up for God. Basically, he was saying all his work was useless – the opposition was too tough.

But God told him to get up and get going. He provided him with help – his ultimate successor Elisha. And he gave him assignments to carry out.

The apostle Paul puts it well in Philippians 3. He says he forgets what is behind – good and bad – and “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”.

God has work for us. He wants us to get on with it.

The Great Helmsman

Years ago, the Chinese Communists used to call their leader, Mao Tse-Tung, “The Great Helmsman”.

The idea was that Mao was like a ship captain, guiding the ship China through stormy seas to a wonderful earthly destination.

Of course, the Communists did not recognize that there was a greater helmsman – God – who was guiding everything in history toward an even greater eternal destiny.

It is interesting that Mao is now dead and the people of God are multiplying exponentialy in China, an athiest state.

It is understandable that the Communists are blind to God’s working. But what about us believers? Why are we sometimes blind?

Like many believers, I complain when things aren’t going my way. I blame these failures on others or, occasionally, myself.

Certainly, I am responsible for my own wrong actions and thoughts. But I sometimes overlook how God may be working in my circumstances.

There are a couple of Bible examples that spring to my mind.

The first is the story of Daniel and King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 4. King Nebuchadnezzar has a frightening dream and asks Daniel to interpret it.

Daniel gives the interpretation and tells the king that he will become insane and live outside in the fields for a time. He warns the king to break from his sinful past and to be kind to the poor or the dream will become reality.

Nebuchadnezzar ignores the warning and sometime later he becomes insane for seven years and lives in the fields. Only when he repents is his sanity – and his kingdom – restored.

Nebuchadnezzar did not listen when God was speaking to him.

But David, King of Israel, did. In 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan confronts David with his sinful seduction of Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. David was cut to the heart and repented. There was a personal cost but God restored him to favour.

I realize that God is speaking to me constantly – through circumstances, through people, through thoughts and dreams. Am I listening? Am I thankful rather than resentful?

God is at work in my life. I need to watch and listen. He is my Great Helmsman.

A soldier in God’s army

I remember singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” often in my elementary school class just after the Second World War.

The hymn begins: “Onward, Christian soldiers! Marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.”

No state-run public school would allow the hymn today. And I am sure many Christians would be reluctant to sing it now – they might feel it hints at crusades and jihads.

But there is an underlying message in the hymn that is as true today as it was when it was written more than 150 years ago. That message is that we believers are in a spiritual war and that we are in it together.

Our weapons are not AK-47s and supersonic fighters. Our main weapon is the love of Christ. Our mission is to advance God’s kingdom in a world that lies under the heel of Satan.

But, it seems to me that Western Christians – and I am one of them – too often feel alone in this struggle. So we hide rather than stepping out behind the banner of Jesus.

A soldier alone in enemy territory is more likely to hide than to stride forth in confidence. But if he is surrounded and supported by other soldiers on the same mission, he will gain strength.

For me, that is the joy of the church – the group of believers with the same vision and mission. We build each other up and support one another as we carry out God’s assignment in the world around us.

Like any soldier, we need training. We need to understand the plan. We need to work together. And we need experience in battle.

In Ephesians 6, the apostle Paul described the spiritual armour we need to equip ourselves with in our struggle against the “evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world”. The word of God, prayer, salvation, God’s righteousness are a few of them.

Most of all, we need to know that we are part of a victorious army. Our leader – Jesus Christ – has already defeated Satan at the cross and we are now taking part in a mopping-up operation.

That takes faith. The Western world is very secular – in many cases, anti-Christian. Like other Christians, I need to look beyond what I see around me and place my faith in my commander who tells me his plan is unfolding as it should.

He is calling me to action every day – in prayer, in testifying to Jesus, in acts of kindness. Each act is a blow against Satan and his empire.

It’s exciting to be part of the army of God.