Archive for June, 2014|Monthly archive page

Hope in darkness

For Christians in the Middle East, the future must look hopeless.

Will the day come when Christianity is extinguished in the region? I don’t think so.

I was reading this week about an Assyrian Christian priest whose flock in northern Iraq is melting away in the face of the lightning Sunni jihadist invasion over the last couple of weeks. Like other Christians from ancient denominations in the Middle East, this priest’s church members are trying to get out of the country.

A visitor to the Middle East these days must find it hard to believe that Christianity once dominated the region before the rise of Islam. In some ways, it is amazing that some Christian churches managed to hang on after the Muslim wave swept across the Middle East and North Africa and into Europe.

Still, in the last 40 years, the Lebanese civil war, the Iranian revolution, the Iraq war and other conflicts have forced many of the remaining Christians to leave.

But where Christ is active, there is hope.

Our son visited Lebanon for a couple of weeks a year ago and found a lively outreach to Muslims by local Christian believers. Christ is breaking down seemingly impenetrable barriers to Muslims through dreams. Our son reported that some Muslims are becoming believers through dreaming about Jesus and seeking out Christians to explain their dreams.

Iran is one of the toughest countries in the world to share the good news of Jesus Christ, but I read in Christianity Today recently that house churches are springing up throughout the country.

Some pastors are being jailed but that hasn’t stopped Iranians from becoming believers. You can read more of that at this link: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/september/monday-is-for-missiology-whats-going-on-in-iran.html.

In fact, persecution is one of the greatest ways to spread the Christian faith. The story of the early church in the Book of Acts is proof of that.

God said in Isaiah 55:11 that his word that goes out from his mouth “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it”.

The word of God will find a fertile home in the hearts of people in the toughest places in the world – as long as there are strong believers ready to sacrifice everything to talk about Jesus.

This is a caution for me. I live in a free society, and I don’t have to sacrifice everything to talk about my Lord. But, like many believers in our country, I am often silent when the door of opportunity opens.

May we Canadian believers be as strong and bold as the persecuted believers in other parts of the world.

On the move

Taking a new fork in the road is exciting and scary. You are leaving the familiar and you’re not quite sure what’s ahead.

Two of our children are currently on the move. Our son and daughter-in-law have just moved to a new location and started a new career at a Christian summer camp. Our middle daughter, an Anglican minister, is moving to a different city and a new parish.

How we face change is very important in life. Some of us are timid and fearful. Others relish change.

Our son and Anglican minister daughter are doing what they love. They feel called by God to do what they are doing.

For many people, though, change has been forced on them. Perhaps there are no jobs available where they are and they have to move elsewhere.

But, we believers have help to take us through uncertain times – Jesus. We are told to trust in God, that he knows best and is working things out for our good (Romans 8:28).

Trust in God is a theme running through the Bible.

In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, Abraham leaves home in what is now Iraq because God has told him to go to an undetermined destination. He trusts God and takes his family with him until God tells him where to stop in his new land, Canaan – modern-day Israel.

Abraham’s trust in God is celebrated in Romans 4:3 where the apostle Paul writes that “God counted him as righteous because of his faith”.

The apostle Paul himself lived a life of constant change, seldom putting down roots in any city for any length of time. He was beaten, jailed, threatened with death, sometimes homeless and hungry.

But he could say that, no matter what, he was content (Philippians 4:11).

He adds: “For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.”

Paul, of course, was looking beyond life to a time when he would meet God face-to-face. The trials of life seem less overwhelming when we realize that some day we will be able to see and talk with our loving God.

For me, the great men and women of the Bible who trusted God in the midst of change are an inspiration.

I love naps

“I love naps!”

I laughed when I read the words on a tee-shirt my wife has just given me. She knows me too well.

I do love naps. My eyes start closing in the early afternoon. A nap refreshes and gives me new energy for the rest of the day and evening.

The same refreshment comes when we deliberately stop our busy days to spend time resting in the Lord.

In his fine book The Divine Invitation, Steve McVey notes that Jesus felt rest was important. After his disciples returned from a ministry trip, they told Jesus all the exciting things that had happened (Mark 6:30).

Instead of urging them to go out again and keep the momentum going, Jesus said: “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.”

“For many, it’s easier to be busy with activity than to patiently wait on the Lord in solitude,” McVey says.

I am guilty of impatience. I can’t wait to get at something that I feel is important. Sometimes, I feel that my project or idea will fail if I don’t do something about it right away.

My problem, clearly, is that I am not giving my concerns into God’s hands and relying on him to get the job done. Perhaps my project isn’t as important as I think it is. Perhaps rushing into it would be worse than letting it die.

In Psalm 46:10, God says: “Be still and know that I am God.”

I like those words because they remind me that I need to worship God more than anything else. I need to stop and realize that God is present – he is with me at this very moment.

Knowing God is here should help me see things in perspective. Is anything too difficult for God? And what matters more than adoring the Lord and enjoying him?

So, yes, I love naps. But even more, I need to rest in the Lord.

Revelation

A friend of ours is teetering on the edge of committing his life to Christ.

But he can’t believe that God would forgive him for his sins. And he has a number of other objections to faith.

Yet he is clearly thirsting for God.

I have offered the answers to his questions that convinced me many years ago. He clings to his old beliefs that if he is good enough, God will let him into heaven. And yet he feels he will never be good enough.

More than ever, I realize that I can’t argue anyone into the kingdom of God. I see the Holy Spirit working in his heart and I long for the day when he surrenders. But I can’t do it for him.

Somehow, the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of those who are seeking and they understand what Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is all about.

The apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that Satan has “blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

In effect, Satan has dropped a hood over the heads of unbelievers so they can’t see Jesus. The only one who can lift that hood is the Holy Spirit.

In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul says “the rulers of this world” did not understand the gospel of Christ. “But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit.”

I am encouraged as I think of people I know who were blinded for a long time and could not grasp what the gospel was all about. But, suddenly, it all became clear and they understood and took the step of faith.

There are similar stories in history as men and women struggled with the story of Christ and his sacrifice for us. And, finally, they understood and believed.

I am praying now that our friend, too, will have the hood lifted from his eyes so that he can see Jesus – and believe.

Spirit to Spirit

I am so glad that the Holy Spirit is constantly praying for me.

All I need to do is get out of the way. I am starting to do that.

The apostle Paul says in Romans 8:26-27:

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”

By yielding myself to the Spirit, I gain greater trust and hope, knowing that he is praying for me according to the will of God.

There have been a lot of times when I did not know what to pray. Recently, this has been particularly true.

In essence, I am surrendering to what God wants when I hand over myself to the Spirit. I am saying: “I don’t know what to do, but I know your will is best.”

I picture the Holy Spirit within me praying to the Father. And I imagine Jesus with me. I know he is because he promised in scripture that he would be with all believers always.

I know that God is speaking to me in response to the Spirit’s prayers.

Of course, Paul was acutely aware of the Spirit – and dependent on the Spirit.

In Acts 16, he and Silas and their companions were in Galatia (now modern-day Turkey) preaching Jesus Christ. They tried to go further into Asia “but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to”. Instead, God gave Paul a vision of a man beckoning to him from Macedonia – in Greece on the European continent.

Paul obeyed and went to Greece, introducing the good news of Jesus to Europeans for the first time. It was a breakthrough with historic results.

Occasionally, I come to the point where I have prayed as well as I can with my mind and I run up against a brick wall. I seem to be getting nowhere.

Then, I do what I should have done all along – I yield to the Holy Spirit who is praying within me. He knows better how to pray. I trust him to express my needs better than I can.

Paul tells us that he prays with his mind and with the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14).

I should do the same.