Archive for June, 2013|Monthly archive page

Contentment

I am pondering a great lesson the apostle Paul learned – how to be content.

I find myself wanting more – more things, more experiences, more influence, more recognition.

This desire for more can be good and bad. It has fueled ground-breaking explorations and science. But it can poison lives, too, leading to disappointments and bitterness.

I believe Paul teaches best how to pursue more good things while being content with what you have.

“I have learned to be content with whatever I have,” he says in Philippians 4:11-12. “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything.”

This contentment did not come from passive surrender to the world around him. He did not retreat into a shell and stop striving.

No, he says in Philippians 3:14 that “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which, God through Christ, is calling us.” God has given him a task and he is focused on carrying it out, come what may.

How is he able to strive and yet be content?

One key is that “for me, living means living for Christ” (Philippians 1:21).

He is not living for his own comforts or prestige or gain. He is living for Christ.

Then, he says in Philippians 3:19 that many people “think only about this life here on earth”. But believers are “citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus lives”. Our focus must be on loving Jesus and pleasing him – not on the passing pleasures of earth. After all, it won’t be long before we are with him in heaven where we will be filled with incredible joy.

That, I admit, is a tough call for us as we live here on earth. It’s a tough call for me.

But David’s words in Psalm 24:1 strike a gong in my mind and heart: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.”

What I have – my material possessions and my natural gifts and talents – are not mine. They are what God has given me. It’s the same with everyone else.

There is no room here for jealousy or bitterness. What I have been given is to be used for the glory of God.

That is the foundation of true contentment.

Relationships

Beginning with Adam and Eve, God has made us for relationships – particularly family relationships.

I have been thinking of this as my wife and I prepare for our annual “Summer Christmas”. My wife puts a lot of planning and ingenuity into preparing for an event to remember for our eight grandchildren – and, incidentally, their parents.

It’s the one time of the year that we can be sure our three children and their families can all come together at our house. We really look forward to it.

I recognize that some people prefer to be alone. But I believe most people want relationships, whether family or friends.

I am naturally an introvert. At one time, I thought I could easily live as a hermit with my books and interests. But then I met my wife and now I know I was never designed to live without relationships.

When you think of it, there are relationships in the Godhead. In Matthew 3:17, God the Father tells the world how much he loves the Son. And after Jesus’ resurrection, God the Holy Spirit takes residence in the hearts of believers to share whatever Jesus tells him.

God recognized that Adam needed a companion – Eve – after he created him.

Clearly, relationships can go wrong – even family relationships. Cain killed his brother Abel. Jacob cheated Esau. And so on.

But that does not mean we should abandon relationships if we have struggles with family members or friends.

Relationships help us grow emotionally and spiritually – if we allow them to.

Much of the Bible is about grace, mercy and forgiveness – all qualities which develop best in relationships.

I recognize in myself that there are people I need to forgive. I see in myself a judgemental attitude. I need the heart of Christ within me.

When I am wrestling with relationship problems, I need God’s help. I know I am not naturally forgiving or merciful.

The greatest example of relationships is Christ’s relationship with us as believers. He sought us out and gave his life for us. He forgave us and had mercy on us.

He is urging me to deepen that relationship with him – and with other human beings.

Doubt and faith

There is no doubt that doubt can kill faith. But doubt can also deepen faith.

I have been thinking about doubt because a good friend of mine is questioning the faith he has held for decades.

He told me this week that he now rejects many of the positions he considered truth as a younger man. He did not go into detail, but it seems he is disillusioned with the church. And I suspect it is affecting his view of God.

I am not alarmed. I believe he is a child of God and that God will not let him go.

Still, much depends on how he handles doubt. It can take him into a new level of spiritual growth, or it can be a blight on his life.

As a young Christian, I was ready to throw up my faith. But, in the midst of my anguish, I found myself praying to God. For me, it was proof that God had his hands upon me and I belonged to him, no matter what.

Many of the great men of the Bible questioned God.

Job, king of sufferers, was steadfast in his faith in God despite losing his children and being struck with boils from head to foot.

But he began to lose heart after his friends started criticizing him and offering well-intentioned but hurtful advice. He tried to defend himself before God and men. In effect, he was questioning God.

God responded in a whirlwind with words that asserted his wisdom, power and his sovereignty over everything. He did not fully answer the questions that Job and his friends posed.

Job is humbled. He confesses he was wrong to question the Lord. And he moves to new spiritual heights, placing his trust unreservedly in God.

“I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes,” says Job in awe (Job 42:5).

God wants to deal with our doubts. Our job is to take these questions to the Lord and look for his answers.

His answer may not be what we expect. But he will show himself in some way – enough to restore our faith.

When I am weak

Most people despise weakness. Maybe they’re wrong.

The apostle Paul, one of the greatest men in history, said: “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

He was talking about an affliction that he couldn’t get rid of. He said God told him that God’s grace was enough for him – he needed nothing more. God said that his (God’s) strength “was made perfect in weakness”.

In effect, God was telling Paul that he had to rely on God to take him through whatever problem he had. God was his strength.

I challenge anyone to say he has no weaknesses. The only man who had no weaknesses was Jesus.

I admit that I have not taken on some tasks because I did not believe I had the moral or spiritual strength to carry them out well. I was afraid of my weaknesses.

But I now see that is a wrong reason to avoid something God may be calling me to do. If he wants me to do it, he will give me the strength to do it.

Paul boasted of his weakness because he understood his real relationship with God. He depended completely on God to take him on his historic mission trips which spread the good news of Christ into Europe.

Men, in particular, are afraid to admit weakness. We want to appear competent and strong, able to do all things for our families.

But dependence – not independence – is the very foundation of our faith.

Mankind fell when Adam and Eve felt they could be independent of God – becoming like God in understanding.

King David was a great warrior who still had personal weaknesses and admitted them. Psalm 51 is a great confession of his sins to God after seducing Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah killed.

In Psalm 18, David says: “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock in whom I take refuge.”

David certainly knew the source of his strength, the spiritual strength that enabled him to carry out God’s plans for Israel.

Rather than obsessing about our weaknesses, we need to turn to God to supply the strength we do not have.

Syrian clouds

In times like these, many Christians think about the great war described in Revelation which brings the current world order to an end.

The latest Middle Eastern crisis in Syria threatens to expand to Lebanon and draw in Iran, Russia, the U.S., Israel and various Arab countries. Is this the prelude to the apocalypse?

I think not. In my view, more pieces need to be fitted into the puzzle before that time arrives. Yet the possibility should not be brushed off.

Like many believers, I have tended to take a ho-hum approach to the events in Biblical prophecy describing the final days. They seem hard to understand and eminent scholars take different stands.

I believe that is a mistake.

Jesus made clear that we will not be able to predict the exact time of Jesus’ triumphant return. But he did tell us to be prepared.

In Mark 13:34-37, Jesus says we are like gatekeepers watching for our master’s return from a trip.

“Don’t let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning,” Jesus remarks. “I say to you what I say to everyone: Watch for him!”

Why does Jesus put such emphasis on being alert and watchful for his return? What does it matter whether we are ready or not?

I think one reason is that it shows how much we want to see him in all his glory. A lover is anxious to see his beloved – he can’t wait to see her. The same should be true of our relationship to Jesus.

If you are courting your beloved, you want to appear your best. You certainly don’t want to forget your date.

In Matthew 25, Jesus’ uses the illustration of 10 bridesmaids who are waiting for the bridegroom to come to the wedding. He is delayed and they fall asleep.

When the bridegroom arrives, five bridesmaids have enough oil to light their lamps for the festivities – the other five do not. They have to turn aside and look for oil and are too late for the feast as the doors are closed.

This suggests negligence on the part of the five bridesmaids who did not have enough oil. They did not pay enough attention to their task which was to celebrate the wedding.

I admit that, mentally, I tell myself there is time to give myself completely to Christ. I can put off the things I know need to be done to prepare myself for Jesus.

The apostle Paul had a different attitude. He longed to be with Jesus face-to-face. He talked about the joy of seeing his Lord.

In Philippians 1, he says: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He lived for Christ and yet he most wanted to be in Jesus’ presence in heaven.

That should be my guidepost to life, too.