Archive for January, 2014|Monthly archive page

Greater? Or lesser?

Our men’s breakfast group talked about the necessity of becoming less this week.

It’s an issue that is central to the Christian faith. And yet it is something I wrestle with continually.

We were discussing Steven Furtick’s book Greater. In general, the book says we believers should not be satisfied with mediocrity in living out our faith. We should strive for something greater.

But, paradoxically, we will not become greater in our faith until we become less.

The book mentions John The Baptist’s great statement in John 3 about Jesus and himself. John’s disciples are upset that more people are now going to Jesus than John following John’s baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.

John exalts Jesus and in verse 30, he says: “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”

Not many people willingly say those words. There is something in us that says: “I am number one.”

Furtick makes a good point: Jesus is the perfect example of this kind of humility.

In Philippians 2, the apostle Paul says that Jesus “did not think equality with God something to cling to”, but obeyed God the Father and humbled himself, becoming a man, suffering and dying for us.

In John 5:19, Jesus says the Son does nothing by himself – he only does what the Father is doing.

And yet, the apostle Paul points out in Philippians 2 that God the Father “elevated him (Jesus) to the place of highest honour” so that everyone will some day bow to him as Lord.

This principle of Jesus becoming greater in our lives while we become less applies especially to those who aspire to be leaders.

Jesus says we who are leaders must be servants to others – not lording it over them.

As a leader in my church, I am very much aware of the dangers of ego – putting myself first.

Paul’s words in Philippians 1 are a good antidote to that. How can I inflate my ego when Jesus gave up far more to save me?

Your story

One of our young grandsons has started reading and the book he reads most is his “action Bible” – a children’s Bible filled with stories and lots of pictures.

Stories and pictures have always been the best way of talking about God.

As I was on the way to becoming a believer, I was struck by how “human” the Bible was. The Bible was believable because it was about God dealing with people who sinned like me, who failed, and who were used by the Lord despite their weaknesses.

I have come to cherish the “theological” parts of the Bible – the letters of the apostles. But I was captured first by the story of Jesus in the gospels.

There is everything in the gospels – the nobility and yet humanity of Jesus, the plotting enemies of Jesus, the helpless people who flocked to him, the dramatic power of his miracles, and, finally, his decision to set aside his overwhelming power in order to die for us at the hands of his enemies.

The story of Jesus still grips millions who are not believers. You can see it in the great crowds who have filled movie theatres to watch the various films made of the life of Jesus in recent years.

The stories of the Old Testament are also memorable.

Years ago, my wife and I visited the Chora Church in Istanbul, Turkey. It was built under the Christian Byzantine Empire many hundreds of years ago. Its walls were covered by paintings depicting Bible stories.

We were told that many of the churchgoers in those days could not read or write. They learned their Bible by looking at the walls of the church and hearing the stories from the clergy.

As I think about this, I realize that our stories of what God has done in our lives carry more weight with unbelievers than talk about doctrines. Once we become believers, we must seek more of God and understand the great doctrines of our faith.

But people will be attracted to Jesus by hearing my story and your story. They will want to hear how Jesus has worked in your life – the way he worked in the lives of the disciples.

You have a story to tell – a story that may change someone’s life.

God’s heroes

God’s heroes are not always the people who make the national television news.

Often, they’re the quiet people who sacrifice themselves for others.

I remember years ago a young, up-and-coming official in the Canadian government who was already high up in the bureaucracy. He was also a star in Christian circles in Ottawa.

But he decided to take a quieter job and drop his high-profile Christian positions in order to take care of his wife who had a serious, long-term illness. His priority was where it should be – his wife who needed his care.

There are others I know who invest hours every day in helping their children with learning disabilities. Or, who pour themselves out in volunteer activities – often in the background.

These are God’s heroes.

I am reminded of Jesus’ wonderful story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.

Jesus tells this story -or parable – to Jewish listeners. He knew his listeners despised Samaritans who, in the distant past, shared their religious beliefs but were now considered heretics. So Jesus makes a Samaritan the hero of his story.

He describes a scene where a good Jew is robbed, beaten and left for dead on a road. A Jewish priest, one of the elite of his society, sees the beaten and bleeding man and passes by on the opposite side of the road, avoiding him.

A temple assistant also does nothing for the man and walks by.

The picture here is of men who were too self-important to be bothered with someone in need. They did not want to take the time and the effort in their busy days to help this man. It would cost them time and, perhaps, money.

But the hated Samaritan happens by and tends to the man’s wounds, gives him wine to revive him and takes him to an inn so that he can rest and recuperate. He pays the innkeeper to look after him while he is away and promises more money if the hotel bill is higher than what he has given him.

Of course, Jesus’ point is that the Samaritan was the “good neighbour” to the beaten Jewish man – not his religious compatriots.

It is a good reminder to me when I am preoccupied with the things I want to do and ignore the needs of those around me.

These things that I think important may be much less important in God’s eyes than the needy person right beside me.

God of the unexpected

God is constantly dropping something unexpected into my lap.

Sometimes it brings a smile to my face. Sometimes, I’m puzzled.

Like many people, I think in straight lines. If I do “A”, the result should be “B”. But God’s thinking – as the prophet Isaiah said – is way above mine.

More than 50 years ago, I became a follower of Jesus Christ. It was not part of my plans. I am eternally grateful that God moved in my life when I was at a low point. That was a joyful moment – a time of hope. In effect, God redirected my life.

I did not expect my wife to suffer a severe spinal injury in Milan, Italy at the start of a vacation this last November. God was not to blame for the accident – but he does allow bad things to happen.

Although my wife and I cannot yet see all the good that may flow from that accident, we were overwhelmed by the love we received at that time. We were flooded with good things – help from strangers, from family, from friends, from our church family.

Much depends on how we react to the unexpected things in our lives.

I think of Abraham who was told by God to “leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

That’s not your normal, everyday experience. But God promised to make Abram a great nation and to bless him and make him famous. Abram trusted God and obeyed even though he didn’t know where he was going.

The result was world-changing.

This week, I was reading the account in Luke 4 of Jesus visiting his home synagogue in Nazareth. The people of Nazareth are amazed at the gracious way Jesus speaks. They’re amazed because they can hardly believe that this is the same man that grew up as the carpenter’s son.

Then, Jesus does the unexpected. He says something that challenges them and their deepest beliefs. He sees what they are thinking and that they are demanding he perform miracles to prove himself.

He tells them that “no prophet is accepted in his own hometown”. He goes on to mention Elijah helping a non-Israelite widow – and not others in a major famine. And he notes that Elisha healed a non-Israelite leper Naaman.

The people of Nazareth were enraged. Jesus had effectively told them that he could work better with many non-Jews than with the skeptical Jewish people of Nazareth.

Jesus’ words were completely unexpected. But they were also a prophetic warning. Unless they were willing to put their faith in him, they were going to be part of a great tragedy – missing out on the saviour of all mankind.

The reaction of the people of Nazareth was to try to kill him.

Do we react to the unexpected like Abraham? Or, like the people of Nazareth?