Archive for February, 2014|Monthly archive page

Courage and sacrifice

Like many other Canadians, I have been gripped by the Winter Olympics.

I have rejoiced with the victors. And I have felt for those whose dreams were dashed.

But, most of all, I have been captivated by the stories of courage and sacrifice.

I loved the “never-give-up” spirit of the Canadian women hockey players who fought back from a 2-0 deficit with four minutes to go in the championship game to win in overtime. That was courage.

And I was struck – as were many Canadians – by Gilmore Junio’s personal sacrifice by giving up his place in the 1000 metre Olympic speed skating event to another team member because that man – Denny Morrison – had skated better in practice. Morrison went on to win a silver medal in the event.

We all want to win – at something. And winning is wonderful.

But, in my opinion, courage and self-sacrifice are greater qualities.

I admit I don’t like losing. I don’t like finishing short of whatever mark I have set myself.

But what exactly is winning all about? Is it a gold medal that you can talk about the rest of your days?

If you were a newspaper reporter standing at the foot of Jesus’ cross, you might have concluded he was a loser. True, he was responsible for a lot of miracles and he had quite a following for a while. But, in the end, he was crucified – killed – like a common criminal.

But we now know that his death was a victory. He rose from the grave after three days and his small band of followers spread right across the world.

Jesus displayed the qualities of courage and self-sacrifice better than anyone else in history. It wasn’t easy for Gilmore Junio to give up his place on the speed skating team. But it was much harder for Jesus to die for all mankind – and be separated for a moment from the beloved Father.

We may be surprised by what God considers victories in our lives. We may find that acts of courage and self-sacrifice rank very high. Especially when we do them for Jesus’ sake.

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As for me and my house

My wife and I attended a funeral last weekend and heard the dead man’s children speak about their father.

What stood out for me were the family touches – and the references to his faith.

My career mattered a lot to me. There is nothing wrong with that. But, what is left when careers end?

Christ is what matters. And God created us to have relationships with others. Families built on Jesus and his love are strong.

It would be great to say that all Christian marriages are strong. But that would be wrong. I have read that the divorce rate among Christians is as high as it is among non-Christians.

Even the most solid Christian marriage faces trials. We are human. We are self-centred. But we are called as believers to look away from ourselves to Jesus.

I find it hard to admit I’m wrong. I am defensive. But God has opened my eyes to some of my mistakes and he has graciously nudged me in new directions during my marriage.

In fact, I believe my wife and I have both changed as the years floated by. We are closer to being one today than we were when we were first married – although, we are different in personality.

For me, the scriptures lay down a clear path for a thriving marriage and family.

Jesus says that when a man marries a woman, they are to become one (Matthew 19:4-6). Certainly, there is sexual union. But there is also union in spirit – a coming together in mind and spirit. I believe this is a gradual process – and happens best when Jesus is central to family life.

The rule for a good marriage is the same for a married couple as it is for singles – as the apostle Paul says: “For me, to live is Christ.” It is easier to say than do. It means giving up my personal desires so that Christ’s desires will become mine. It is something I am still learning.

As noted author and speaker Francis Chan has said, we are to find our ultimate satisfaction in Jesus – not loading onto our mates our own expectations.

A marriage that is centred on Jesus can have a considerable influence on the couple’s children. That kind of family can truly say what Joshua said many centuries ago:

“As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

Planting seeds

Our church’s youth pastor recently received a letter that would gladden the heart of any Christian minister.

A former student in his youth group told him that she recently felt a desire to read the scriptures. So she dug out a Bible from her basement and began reading the book of Romans for a couple of hours. That eventually led to her becoming a believer in Jesus.

Now, she reads the Bible daily and knows what it is like to “thirst for God’s word”. And she is recalling what she learned in youth group.

“It was a great e-mail to receive and you never know what seeds are being planted,” the youth pastor said.

Indeed.

Coincidentally, I was reading yesterday Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed in Luke 8. In it, Jesus talks about a farmer scattering seed. Some of it fell on good ground but a lot of it landed on rock or the path or thorn-infested ground. Only the seed that fell on good ground thrived and grew.

Jesus told his followers that the seed is the word of God and the soil is really the condition of the heart and mind of the person receiving God’s message. Sometimes the word strikes a chord in someone’s heart but is choked off by life’s competing demands. Only those who receive the word and persevere will bear fruit.

Once again, I am reminded that I need to scatter the seed constantly if God is going to produce fruit in those I meet who don’t know Jesus.

But also this story tells me that God is preparing hearts to receive the seed – God’s word. I don’t always know who will be receptive.

I am a timid introvert. I don’t want to offend people. But every once in a long while, I have stepped out of my comfort zone and scattered some seed.

In a couple of cases, I shared books which played a role in relatives becoming believers. In another instance, a friend was on the edge of becoming a believer because his family and others had shared Jesus with him. He simply prayed a prayer with me and believed.

On the other hand, a neighbour friend has heard the message of Jesus at a community-run Alpha course and yet won’t let the seed take root in his heart and flourish. I do not despair. Others may help him into God’s kingdom.

The issue with me is not the seed or God the gardener. It’s me. I need to get out and sow.

A friend when you need him

A number of our friends have gone through hard times recently – family problems, deaths, jobs lost.

Many people – even some Christians – ask where God is in these times.

For Christians, the answer is that God is with us. Christ said so himself in Matthew 28:20: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I need to remind myself of this constantly. Compared to most people, I have led a life that has been relatively free of heart-wrenching trouble. I am much blessed.

But even so, there were times when I grappled with hard issues at home, at school, or at work.

Sometimes, these problems seemed overwhelming. In my case, I tended to retreat inside, letting the world swirl around me.

But God didn’t want me to wallow. He wanted me to get up again – and lean on him even more.

In Psalm 40:2, the psalmist David says it well:

“He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.”

David had lots of experience of desperate situations. Early on, his royal master King Saul tried to kill him; he fought countless battles; and, toward the end of his life, his son Absalom briefly overthrew him as king.

Through these stormy times, David constantly turned to God. He knew he did not have the strength on his own to go on.

That’s the thing. God considered David “a man after my own heart” (Acts 13:22). Why?
Because the King of Israel sought God night and day, depended on him.

I am not claiming that there is a romantic Hollywood ending to every bad event. There wasn’t in David’s life.

But David’s deep trust in God and his passionate desire for more of him have inspired billions of people since his death. It is the character of David – forged through hard times – that stands out as brightly today as it did in his own day.

Right after talking about being lifted out of the pit of despair in Psalm 40, David says: “He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God.”

As I’m wading through troubled waters with Jesus at my side, I can look forward to singing my own hymn of praise to God some day.