Archive for September, 2013|Monthly archive page

Grace

Author and pastor Alan Wright recently told the story of a tearful granddaughter talking about her grandmother at the elderly woman’s funeral.

She said that as a child, she remembered her parents driving from their Florida home to her grandmother’s North Carolina home. She never visited Disney World, only waving as they passed Orlando. But she had no regrets about missing Mickey Mouse.

“I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world,” she said of her visits to her grandmother’s house. “It was the most comforting, interesting, exciting place to be on earth.”

She remembered her loving grandmother who spoke to her of Jesus. And now she used the same phrases as she instructed her own little son as he sat on her lap.

“I know the home my grandmother lived in will live on through the legacy of her life and influence,” she said.

Wright, who is pastor of Reynolda Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was using this story to illustrate his theme that God’s love – his grace – is greater than anything in the world. Greater than our troubles, greater than earthly counterfeits such as Disney World.

We who believe in Jesus have the great hope of sharing in God’s glory as Paul said in Romans 5:2. We have tasted God’s grace already as we have put our faith in Jesus’ sacrifice so that we might live eternally with him.

Yes, we have our troubles, Wright said. But “Jesus’ love trumps all that.” No matter how difficult our trials, we know we will be with him and enjoying him forever.

“I will take the love of God and never give up,” said Wright, “because the love of God never gives up on me.”

This speaks to me because I get all twisted up in the daily issues of life. I want to please people who are not pleased with me. I want to please God and sometimes forget that he is already pleased with me – because he sees Jesus in me.

But I can always be sure that God never gives up on me. He loved me yesterday, he loves me today, and he will love me tomorrow.

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A prisoner of Christ

The apostle Paul wrote to Ephesian Christians that he was “a prisoner of Jesus Christ” for their benefit. What an amazing statement!

In essence, he was saying Jesus Christ had captured him to bring the good news of God to others.

That statement jumped out to a friend of mine as our men’s group was studying the book of Ephesians a couple of weeks ago. Immediately, we all were caught by the same image – Paul, a prisoner of Christ.

Of course, Paul was writing this letter while he was a literal prisoner in Rome. Later in the same letter, he says he is a prisoner “for” Christ – he was imprisoned for his preaching on behalf of Jesus.

But here at the outset of chapter 3, he talks about being the prisoner “of” Christ. Isn’t that a negative thing? It makes it sound as if he is being held against his will.

The way we interpreted this statement in our group was that Paul was completely committed to Jesus – he was tied forever to Christ. As one of our group said, “He (Paul) was all-in for Jesus.”

Although we western Christians aren’t accustomed to thinking this way, it was something Paul talked about elsewhere in his letters when he used the word “slave” to describe his relationship to Jesus.

John MacArthur, noted author, pastor, and teacher, says the original Greek text of the New Testament is littered with the word “slave” while talking about our relationship to God. But English translators did not like using the word “slave” because it raises evil pictures in our minds. Usually, they translate it as “servant” and occasionally “bond-servant”.

MacArthur says that in Galatians 1:10 Paul literally says: “If I was trying to please men, I would not be a slave of Christ.”

“This is the singular focus of being a slave,” MacArthur says. “You don’t have to please a lot of people, you just please one. That metaphor is critical to understanding our relationship to the Lord.”

In effect, Jesus is calling us to give ourselves completely over to him – nothing held back.

But we are also slaves for a purpose – a purpose prepared for us by God. That’s the other aspect of Paul’s statement about being “a prisoner of Jesus Christ” for the benefit of the Ephesians.

God dramatically intervened in Paul’s life on the road to Damascus for a purpose – to be a messenger of the good news of Jesus Christ to non-Jews.

So I am a slave of Jesus Christ. I must yield everything to him – something I fight against. And more than just a slave – I am a slave for Jesus to “be Jesus” to those around me.

The gospel and me

As a teenager, I remember jeering at a television broadcast by evangelist Oral Roberts. I was surprised when my father said Roberts had some good things to say.

A few years later at the age of 20, my mind and heart were in a very different place. I was feeling down after dropping out of university and was living in a boarding house while holding down a job.

One of my fellow boarders was a Christian soldier. He saw my interest in English literature and suggested we study the Book of John in the Bible since so much of English literature is rooted in the Bible.

I agreed and a few months later I became a believer.

What had changed? Why did a scoffing teenager become a follower of Christ?

As I look back, a number of things happened.

For one thing, my self-confidence had taken a beating. One of the big barriers to believing in Jesus is a feeling that I don’t need God. I can handle things on my own. The world revolves around me.

Another thing: I had never really understood the good news of Jesus Christ. I had attended confirmation classes at an Anglican church, but the reason Jesus came to earth had never sunk into my consciousness. The Anglican priest’s words did not break through into my heart.

Finally, the Holy Spirit chose the precise moment I met the Christian soldier to open my eyes to the gospel. As my friend and I worked through the gospel of John, I came to understand that the Son of God offered to bear the penalty of death in my place so that I might live eternally with God.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that God had planted a few seeds long before that as I was growing up. But I wasn’t ready until I was 20 years old.

I write this because it gives me confidence that God is at work in the lives of many, preparing the way for them to enter his embrace.

The gospel – God’s words about his loving grace – has great power.

Knowing this, I continue to pray for people who haven’t yet had their eyes opened to Jesus.

Christian revolutionaries

A long-time friend of mine said something that caught my attention yesterday – today’s Christians are revolutionaries!

He meant that Christians in North America are no longer part of the mainstream, but are “cultural revolutionaries”. It’s a good point.

My friend speaks from experience. He was a Marxist socialist for some years, working in small groups to change Canadian society. Then, several decades ago, he became a Christian and now sees the world through a very different lens.

As we all know, society has changed dramatically in the last 50 years. In Canada, the province I grew up in – Quebec – was one of the most religious states in the world in the 1950s. Today, it is the most non-religious in Canada with few holding to any faith.

Social changes such as open abortion and gay marriage are now generally accepted in this country – something that was unthinkable when I was a teenager. The left-wing liberals and socialists that my friend once worked with as a young man are in the ascendancy.

So much so that Christian believers are now swimming against the current, just holding on to their beliefs.

If we stand by the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ – we are considered strange, intellectually-deficient, and perhaps people to be shunned. Years ago, I saw a poll in a Canadian national newspaper which found that Canadian parents would least like their children to marry evangelical Christians.

Already, action has been launched in courts and human rights tribunals against Christian schools for demanding that teachers hold to Christian social and spiritual values.

So, my friend is right: If we remain true to our beliefs we are revolutionaries – cultural revolutionaries. On some issues, we find ourselves opposed to generally-accepted social standards.

For me, it is important that we don’t confuse the gospel with inherited practices. The good news is that God sent Jesus to save us – to reconcile us to himself by dying on the cross and rising again. God acted in love and is still seeking those who don’t know him.

We should not be surprised that we find ourselves aliens and pilgrims in this world – it was predicted in the scriptures long ago. In fact, it is probably better that the lines are being drawn more clearly today than they were 50 years ago when many people were “cultural Christians” simply because it was good for business to go church.

I believe the Christian “revolutionary” should be different than bomb-throwing political revolutionaries of past centuries. We should be like Jesus, loving people and filled with his compassion and mercy.

In many ways, it is harder to be that kind of revolutionary – a revolutionary of love. But we can be sure that God looks down on us with a heart bursting full of love.

God is here!

Even in our toughest times, God is with us.

We may not see him at work, but that’s not his problem – it’s ours. The fact that God is with us should give us courage and hope.

In his book Lost in the Middle: MidLife and the Grace of God, Paul Tripp tells about visiting a family in deep stress early in his first pastorate. The husband was addicted to drugs and alcohol, his wife was depressed, and their children were suffering as a result of their parents’ problems.

Tripp says he was scared as he approached the house, feeling completely inadequate. Loretta, the wife, greeted him at the door while her husband was upstairs vomiting from the alcohol and drugs.

Tripp suggested they pray while they waited for Greg, the husband. He prayed as if God wasn’t there, but he realized in the next hour that he was. As Tripp puts it: “I saw the hand of God.”

Despite the depressing circumstances, “everywhere I looked, I saw the presence, the power, and the love of God”.

When he looked at Loretta, he saw a woman who “held on to her Redeemer”. Even though discouraged, he saw that she trusted Jesus – “I saw the persevering power of his grace”.

He found a completely unexpected warmth and affection between Greg and Loretta. There was also “a tenderness and approachability to Greg”. His life was a mess, but he seemed to have a “genuine hunger for the Lord”.

He realized he was seeing more than human efforts to deal with a hard life. “I was seeing the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit in operation.”

He also saw a “strength of relationship between Loretta and Greg and their kids that caught me off guard.”

That night, he pointed out to Greg and Loretta the “concrete signs of a living and active Redeemer”. He has been doing that since as he sees God at work in the people he is counseling.

In Matthew 28:20, Jesus promised to be with us always. In David’s great psalm 139, he says: “I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence.”

In 2 Kings 6, the prophet Elisha reveals the presence of the Lord and his armies of angels to a frightened servant who only saw enemy soldiers flooding towards Samaria, out to capture the city and the prophet. God delivered Elisha and Samaria.

Sometimes, it is only after trouble that we see God at work. Sometimes, we might be able to see if our eyes were open.

One thing we can always count on as believers: God is always with us.