Archive for August, 2013|Monthly archive page

A winner, no matter what

I heard a wonderful story this week of a man who approached cancer treatment declaring he was going to win, no matter what.

Some friends told me that this man, who attended their previous church, told them he was in a win-win situation. If he survived cancer, he won. If he died, he would be with Jesus.

He died.

But his glowing faith led to several people becoming believers in Jesus Christ.

This reminds me that how I deal with trouble can bring glory to God. It doesn’t mean that I brush off trouble with a set smile or try to cover up my real fears and suffering.

But it does mean that I learn to turn them over to God. And that is where I will find peace.

We talked about that this morning with young teenagers in a church group.

Several boys in my group talked about rejection by friends or fears about teachers who did not like them. Such fears can blight the lives of teenagers. I still remember some similar issues that plagued me in those years.

The question we were asking these kids was: “How do you deal with these stresses?”

We searched the scriptures for answers.

We looked at the apostle Paul who details some of the trials he faced – beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, hunger, thirst – in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. He constantly faced hostile crowds.

Paul did not take these things lightly. In his letters, he appeals to his readers to pray for him that he would continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ boldly. He must have been afraid at times.

Yet the apostle also tells his readers to “always be full of joy in the Lord” (Philippians 4:4).

Joyful in what? In the Lord. We belong to Jesus and no one can take that away from us.

He is present with us in every situation we find ourselves in (Matthew 28:20). He has a plan for us that is for our good (Jeremiah 29:11). He loves us no matter what. He delights over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

There are other things we found as well. But the underlying message was clear: Go to God with your troubles and find your joy in him.

That kind of life shines. And people who see someone like that want what he or she has.

That kind of life can’t help but bring God honour and glory.

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God and dreams

A friend told me last week about a vision of Jesus that gave her great comfort in her strained relationship with her son.

Author Margaret Feinberg says in her book The Sacred Echo that her husband had a dream three times that eventually pulled her out of a kind of depression in the midst of a serious stomach illness she was suffering.

The apostle Peter had a strange vision from God that seemed to ask him to violate his Jewish beliefs about eating food that was unclean spiritually (Acts 10). It opened the way for the good news of Jesus Christ to be preached to non-Jews, something that led to billions of people coming to the Lord.

For several years now I have been captivated by the way God speaks through visions and dreams. I have little personal knowledge and experience in these matters. But it seems to me I should open my ears and eyes more to this way of God communicating with me.

As a traditional evangelical, I approach the whole question of dreams and visions with caution. I am well aware of potential pitfalls.

For one thing, it is sometimes hard to determine whether the message is from God or from my subconscious. Am I upset with someone and I have a vengeful dream about that person? Such a dream is unlikely to be of God.

Another problem is interpreting a dream or vision which seems to come from the Lord. I had a series of dreams some years ago about my family which were filled with airplanes. I felt God was telling me something in those dreams, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.

Maybe God will open my eyes to the meaning of those dreams in time.

I do feel that God will give an interpretation of the dream he gives us if we seek it. That is the lesson that the prophet Daniel learned. God gave him very powerful visions and dreams which literally gave him insight into events that would shake Babylon. And the Lord blessed him with the truth that a Messiah would come.

Daniel sought the meaning of these dreams and visions with all his heart – and God answered.

The apostle Paul received a vision of a man from Macedonia beckoning to him to come. Paul obeyed and that opened Europe to the Gospel. Paul obeyed because he lived close to Jesus and he knew when God was speaking to him (Acts 16).

At the very least, I realize I need to take dreams seriously. God may be saying something I really need to hear.

Cling to the gospel

J.D. Greear has put his finger on a fundamental problem in my life – unconsciously, I had abandoned the glories of the gospel.

This is not a fatal disease. Thank the Lord, God has been gradually leading me back in recent years to embracing the wonderful truth that Jesus Christ died for me and now lives in me. God loves me because of Christ and what he has done – not because of my deeds.

Greear, author of “Gospel: Recovering the Power that made Christianity Revolutionary”, says that much of the evangelical church emphasizes performance – becoming worthy of God’s favour. But that, he declares, is the opposite of the gospel.

He sums up the liberating truth of the gospel in these words which open a prayer he has written:

“In Christ, there is nothing I can do that would make You (God) love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less.”

Once we belong to Christ, we are free to love God and others because God loves us – not because we have to gain his approval.

“He now sees me according to how Christ has lived, not on the basis of what kind of week I’ve had,” says Greear.

He deals with a common objection that this approach can lead to uninhibited sin with these words:

“God’s approval is the power that liberates us from sin, not the reward for having liberated ourselves.”

God already approves of us because of Jesus Christ who died for us.

When we turn to Christ and away from our preoccupation with self, we find the power to deal with sin and self-centredness. We stop jumping through hoops in an attempt to win approval of others.

He urges us to repeat to ourselves daily the gospel truths because we so easily fall into the trap of proving our worth to God and to others.

“We are changed not by being told what we need to do for God, but by hearing the news about what God has done for us.”

As we are captivated by the great story of Jesus, the “beauty of God comes alive in our hearts”.

“Having our eyes opened to see our part in that story creates in us a love for God that is strong enough to finally drive out our attraction to other idols.”

In effect, Greear says, we have been created for God – not for anyone or anything else.

“Jesus is the one essential thing that we must have. He is life itself.”

Jesus is the reason I became a believer. He is all I need.

Let’s celebrate!

Last Sunday, our church celebrated a great week of children’s Bible camp activities with a video of the event and a round of applause for each of the volunteers.

As I watched the video, I felt some of the excitement of the week and the flat-out energy of the children. To cap it all, 21 of the 100 kids who attended committed their lives to Jesus. There was good reason to celebrate.

We’re beginning to realize how important celebration is. It builds unity in the church and strengthens our faith.

Celebration and remembering great moments play a prominent role in the Bible. It should play a big part in our own lives as individual believers, too.

Of course, the major celebration in the Christian church is communion or the Lord’s Supper. Depending on the church you attend, this act of remembrance takes place once daily, once a week, once a month or once every three months.

During communion, we remember what was both a tragic event and a world-shaking victory. It was tragic because an innocent man died. It was a victory because it opened the way for billions of people to receive eternal life.

During communion, we have an opportunity to reflect upon what Jesus did on the cross. We can picture him dying in agony as a man, suffering terribly but willingly for each one of us. If we take advantage of this moment, we can gain new insights into God’s amazing love for each one of us.

In the Old Testament, we read frequently about great men erecting altars of stone to remember key events such as Jacob’s encounter with God at Bethel and the children of Israel crossing the Jordan River under Joshua. And annually, Jews celebrated – and still celebrate – Passover, the time when the Lord protected children born to Jews in Egypt from the heavy, murderous hand of Pharaoh at the time of Moses.

When we celebrate great spiritual events, we remember God’s gracious favour upon us. We remember how God acted powerfully in the past and it helps us believe that he can – and will – do so again.

It can be true in our own lives, too. I remember often the night on February 29, 1960 when I became a believer in Jesus Christ. There are other significant spiritual events in my life that I return to from time to time.

Looking back helps us to leap forward in new faith adventures.