Archive for July, 2013|Monthly archive page

“I am with you always”

Jesus is with me – always.

For me, there is no greater encouragement. I may be going through a bad time, a time when I can see little hope. But there is always one great truth – Jesus is with me.

I know this because Jesus told his followers, just before ascending to heaven: “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20)

Think about what this means.

Jesus lived among us and faced all the temptations we faced. He was surrounded by hostile religious leaders. He saw people suffering and dying and his heart went out to them. He loved and was loved.

At the same time, Jesus is God. He has all power. He can intervene in – and transform – any situation if he chooses.

This man who is God is always with us. He knows what we are thinking and he feels what we feel. And, most important of all, he loves us. And, if it is for our good, he works in ways that sometimes surprise and amaze us.

My reaction in times of trouble is to plead anxiously with God for an answer to prayer that I would like. I’m human.

But sometimes the easy answer isn’t there. Does that mean that God has abandoned me, or is punishing me, or isn’t listening?

Several of us were talking this week about waiting for answers to prayer during times of trouble. Some mentioned trials they were going through, heartbreaking problems with their children. Another mentioned his first wife’s death after fighting cancer for years.

A couple of women said they were sometimes so drained they didn’t want to think about their problems any more – or talk about them with others. Occasionally, they felt almost hopeless.

Many of us have had similar experiences. Sometimes, we question God, wondering why he is allowing us to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death”.

While we were talking this week, I was reminded of a story told by Pete Grieg in his book God on Mute. Grieg, who founded a world-wide prayer movement, was battling doubts as a result of his wife’s serious illness, a brain tumour followed by epilepsy.

One morning, Grieg asked his wife Samie if she doubted God or his power to intervene.

She replied: “No, I never doubt God these days, Pete.”

Then, she added: “How can I doubt God? God is all I’ve got.”

Trouble helps bring us back to what really matters in life – God. When we lose everything else, all we have is God.

If we don’t know now, we will know in eternity what a great treasure Jesus is.

As the apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:8: “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

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Love notes from God

Have you heard God tell you he loves you, recently?

We were talking about that this week in a Bible study group. I found the answers fascinating.

One grandmother said she was feeling down when a grandson came up to her, wrapped his arms around her and said: “I love you.” She knew it was a gift from God just for her at that moment.

Another friend said her heart was broken as her mother was nearing death. The old woman had not recognized anyone for a while. Then, one afternoon, she opened her eyes, saw her daughter, and said: “I missed you.”

Still another friend said she was visiting her father a week or two before and he seemed depressed, struggling with dementia and all that it implied. They were at a gathering of some kind where people were dancing. She urged him to join her in a dance and, at first, he refused. Then, he got up and danced with her and they were filled with joy.

All these were love gifts from God. But, I confess I would have missed them because my mind is too busy with other things. Is that true for you, too?

The study we are going through is The Sacred Echo based on a book by Margaret Feinberg. In it, she talks about God reaching out to us with repeated messages to catch our attention – perhaps a word of scripture followed by a friend’s comment or something we hear on radio. We miss them unless we’re listening for God.

Ken Gire, author of Seeing What Is Sacred, talks about “reflective living”, seeing God in everything around us. He writes:

“Much of what is sacred is hidden in the ordinary, everyday moments of our lives. To see something of the sacred in those moments takes slowing down so we can live our lives more reflectively.”

How do we know God is always talking to us and giving us gifts?

The Bible tells us so. Jesus said that he is with us always (Matthew 28:20). In Revelation 3:20, he tells us he is knocking on the door of our hearts and wants to come in and commune with us.

And in Romans 8:28, the apostle Paul tells us: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” That’s everything – pleasant and hurtful.

He is in everything that goes on in our lives, sometimes allowing hard things into our lives. Often, those hard things turn out to be gifts when we look back.

What I am learning is that I need to slow down, as Ken Gire says, and reflect on what is going on around me. What is God telling me and showing me? What love gift is he giving me right now?

Hope for the future

Despite all the gloom, I see hope for the Christian church in the Western world.

The statistics are all against me. People are abandoning the church in droves – many of them young people.

My confidence is based partly on my own experience observing our own children and grandchildren. Our three children and their spouses are all actively involved in their churches and their own ministries. Our grandchildren are growing in their faith in Christ.

But my hope is based on more than that. I see young people flocking to the International House of Prayer in Kansas City and the 24/7 prayer houses around the world, launched years ago by Pete Grieg. I see idealistic youth engaged in inner city mission work.

I see a new generation of young pastors and church leaders speaking eloquently about Christ. They are turning the spotlight on God while the rest of the world is focused on self.

But I want to go even beyond that evidence and point to what God has promised.

In Joel 3, God speaks of the final days of history when the Holy Spirit is poured out “upon all people”. He talks about people having dreams and visions and prophesying. He mentions wonders in heaven and earth. Many will find faith in God.

Some may object that the final days of history may be centuries away. Possibly, but we already see God moving in signs and wonders in nations around the world. The growth of the Christian church in Africa, Asia and Latin America is nothing short of spectacular.

There is another promise that gives me hope.

In Isaiah 55:11, God says: “It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.”

As long as there are people who stand firm on God’s word, the church will survive. In fact, I believe it will grow with deeper roots than it has now in our sceptical Western world.

The church in the West is going through a refining fire right now. What will emerge is a purer church, a stronger church, a church that is advancing the kingdom of God on earth.

Accepting grace

What would you think about a criminal who refused to be set free from jail because he felt he wasn’t good enough?

Probably something like: “He’s weird!”

You would certainly think it strange that the prisoner would choose to remain behind bars rather than accept the gift of freedom.

But I wonder if we Christians are often guilty of the same thing when God offers us grace. We say all the right things about believing that we are now free from the penalty of our sins because Jesus took our place on the cross and died for us, rising again in victory over Satan.

But, like the prisoner in my analogy, we live as if we were still in jail for the wrong things we have done. We can’t believe that God has given us freedom from the punishment we deserve.

I have been thinking about this for a while. I am convinced that I have eternal life and will be with Jesus Christ when I die. But I still try to deserve this gift by my actions. And I get discouraged by my sins.

Yet the message of the Bible is that God loves me and I don’t have to prove anything to him. I am free to love him and be loved.

Tullian Tchividjian, author of Surprised by Grace, puts it well: “Real freedom (the freedom that only the gospel grants) is living for something because we already have favor instead of living for something in order to gain favor.”

Tchividjian says that most of us long for acceptance and affection.

“The truth is that in Jesus, we have all the acceptance we long for,” he says. “The gospel rescues us from the fear of being rejected.”

Noting his own tendency to try to win favour with men and God, Tchividjian remarks: “If you’re a Christian, you are forever, unchangeably accepted by God, the only one who matters.”

Also, as Romans 8 makes clear, nothing can separate us from the love of God. He loves us, no matter what.

“Once we know that we are forever loved by Jesus,” says Tchividjian, “we’re free to love others regardless of the risk, because our deep need to love will be satisfied.”

What I need – and many Christians need – is to “renew” my mind as Paul says in Romans 12:2. I need to change the way I look at Jesus and what he has done for me. I need to think about him constantly. I need to grasp how much he loves me.

I need to accept his grace.