Archive for May, 2014|Monthly archive page

The eye of the beholder

Spring has sprung – and so have dandelions on our lawn.

I am not a fan of dandelions. One of my jobs is to get rid of them.

But I realize that some people love dandelions. They make wine from them or use them as vegetables.

It’s all in the eyes of the beholder. It depends on how you look at things – and people.

It strikes me that God sees things in people that I don’t.

A good example is Jesus choosing his 12 close followers. If I were Jesus, I would have sought people with charisma, education and influence.

But he chose fishermen and tax-collectors. If I were Jesus’ advisor, I would certainly have counseled him not to pick tax-collectors. The Jewish people hated these men who served the Romans and added healthy profits for themselves.

What did Jesus see in them?

He saw what they would become. Impulsive Peter the fisherman would become a rock of the fledgling Christian church – a true powerhouse for God. Matthew the tax-collector would write one of the gospels of the New Testament – a book that has changed lives for 2,000 years.

In my life, I have often been surprised – pleasantly surprised – by the profound truths spoken by people with little education. I value education and knowledge, but God values living, active faith far more.

I am glad that God sees value in each of his children. I am glad that he has a place in his kingdom for all kinds of people.

I often think of the apostle Paul’s picture of the church in 1 Corinthians 12 as a body with different parts, each of them essential.

In verse 17, he says: “If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? If your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?”

The message is obvious: We need each other.

And I need to open my eyes to how God sees other people.

Aliens

I have a natural desire to be liked by others and to fit into whatever group I am with.

But, the apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 2:11 says that we believers are “aliens and strangers in the world”. We’re different.

I have been thinking about this because I believe one of the great temptations of the church is to make the gospel of Christ as easy as possible for non-Christians to swallow. Indeed, some churches have abandoned any attempt to preach the message Christ preached.

It seems to me that Christians must reach out in love and friendship to those who are not believers along with standing firm on what we believe.

In other words, we should follow Christ’s example. Jesus was criticized by the religious elite of his day for eating and drinking with “sinners” and “drunkards”. But he was not afraid to point out to these people their need for God.

In his book The Crucified Life, A.W. Tozer lamented what he saw 50 years ago as an attempt to water down the gospel so that it was easy for people to call themselves Christians. Some call this “cheap grace” – God’s mercy and love without any demands on the believer.

God’s grace should bring noticeable change into my life. I am not living the life God wants me to live if I am the same today as I was when I first became a believer. I should be becoming more like Christ.

I am encouraged that some churches are placing a growing emphasis on a closer relationship with Jesus. I will draw nearer to Christ as I pray, reflect on God’s word, and obey the leading of the Spirit in the world around me.

But if Jesus is an afterthought in my mind and heart, no one will see that I am different. I will look like everyone else.

So Christians face a fundamental question: Are we aliens in the world today? If not, why not?

Use or lose

Is the Christian church losing young people because it isn’t using them?

Some of our grandchildren are already ministering to older people – helping with the homeless, praying for healing, and giving words of encouragement through prophecy. By prophecy, I mean it in the sense of encouraging, strengthening and building up others as the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:3. I believe there is a close link to blessing as a result of God-given insight into what God desires in another person’s life.

This gift could easily be squashed by older people. I am thankful that is not happening in the lives of my grandchildren.

But are we older Christians wary of giving leadership roles to teenagers and young adults? Would young people feel more committed to the organized church if older people gave them responsible roles to fill?

I have just finished reading Wikichurch by Steve Murrell, a book about making people disciples of Christ.

When Murrell and his wife took part in a month-long mission in Manila 30 years ago, they realized the many young people who became believers had no one to lead them after they left. So, out of necessity, they gave the new believers some rapid training and made them leaders of new small groups.

With adjustments over the years, this is still the model of Victory Church in Manila, now a church of 52,000 spread out in many congregations in this large city in the Philippines. New believers are discipled in groups led by disciples not much older than themselves. And then they go out and reach others for Christ and form groups.

Murrell says he now realizes that he and the other leaders must simply work themselves out of their jobs, turning over leadership to new people. In the long run, our job as older believers is to prepare the way for new leaders.

It is interesting to me that God tapped David on the shoulder as the future king of Israel when he was a shepherd boy. It is true that David did not become king for a number of years afterward. But God ensured that he got the preparation in leadership that he needed. He was an active leader long before he became king of Israel.

Jesus astonished men in the temple with his wisdom when he was only 12.

I must say that, as an older Christian, I am wary of standing aside and watching silently as young people make the same mistakes I have made in life. I do believe we need to advise, counsel and give correction where needed.

But can we not begin by giving our young people increasingly responsible roles – actively helping others, leading events and church organizations, and providing ideas?

What young person would want to leave a church that is like that?

Choose your attitude

Victor Frankl, the great Jewish psychiatrist who survived the Nazi Holocaust, once wrote that “the last of human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude” – even in tough times.

Frankl chose not to let his mind and heart be destroyed by the Nazis in a concentration camp.

I heard this quote at a church seminar in Ottawa this weekend by Ken Sande, a lawyer, engineer and author of a book on peacemaking.

Sometimes, we feel helpless in the face of circumstances – health, job loss, family disputes, church divisions. But we still have a choice – we can choose despair or hope.

I looked up another quote by Frankl which I really like: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

I have been confronted by difficult situations in the past – in the work world and even in Christian churches. I have not always dealt with them well.

But I have good examples of people who found hope in the midst of serious trouble.

Perhaps the greatest example is Jesus Christ. The night before his crucifixion, he knew he was destined to die the next day. He was filled with horror at the thought of bearing the world’s sins on the cross and being cut off for a moment from his beloved Father.

But he obeyed the Father because he trusted him. And he knew the outcome was good.

My attitude must be to trust that God is working his will in my circumstances. There may be pain – but ultimately God’s plan will be worked out for good.

Frankl’s words about changing ourselves when things seem hopeless reminds me of the apostle Paul and his companion Silas in the Philippian jail. Badly beaten, they sang praises to God, something that must have impressed the other prisoners. God acted supernaturally and they were freed as a result of a quake.

In Ephesians 5:20, Paul says: “Give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s “everything” – bad and good.

That’s a hard to do when I’m dealing with hard things. But it changes me when I do it.