Archive for September, 2014|Monthly archive page

Slim and trim

A guide in Cape Breton told my wife and me this week that the Catholic church closed five of the six churches in one town in one week.

It’s a story that is familiar to Canadians across the country. The Christian church in North America is slimming down.

Bad news? Not necessarily.

It may be a good thing if the remaining church attendees are fully committed to Jesus. It could be a sign that believers are returning to New Testament roots where Christians were on fire for Christ.

I have long believed that the church in North America will either disappear or undergo revival.

An impartial observer might judge that the church is rapidly going down the tubes, just as it already has in Europe.

Church attendance is a fraction of what it used to be. Its outward influence has virtually vanished.

In fact, society is now firmly against evangelical Christianity. I was astonished some years ago to read the results of a poll where Canadians were asked who they would least want to marry their daughters – and evangelical Christians topped the list.

This is partly due to the way evangelicals have presented themselves in recent decades – including on televised religious shows.

But I think it is more that anti-religious views and a more liberal approach to marriage and family have penetrated the church itself.

Many Christians have accepted the thinking of those around them. They question the Biblical standards that Christians have held over the ages.

This is not new.

The Old Testament is filled with stories of the Israelites abandoning God and then returning to him later on.

The church in England was corrupt and sin-racked when revival swept the country under George Whitfield and John Wesley.

Unfortunately, there are stories of serious decline in the church in North Africa and the Middle East just before the Arabs and Ottoman Turks imposed Islam on Christian populations. The church lost its fire, its love for people, and the message of hope through Jesus Christ so Islam was welcomed in many areas.

Pockets of Christianity survive there today, but the church has never recovered.

Which way will Canada – and the United States – go?

I’m praying that the Holy Spirit will purify the Canadian church and set Christians aflame again.

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Together

I am made for relationship with others – and so are you.

Like most churches today, our church urges members to join small groups. The idea is that, as we get to know other, we will share our hopes and fears and spur each other on to become more like Christ.

God saw the need for human beings to live together when he created Eve to be a companion for Adam.

Still, many believers prefer to go it alone. That is a lonely road – and sometimes a hopeless one.

Why do some Christians avoid relationships with others?

Probably because it can be costly. If a friend needs help, you may be called on to give assistance. That can cost you in time, money, and emotions.

And there is a chance you will be annoyed by someone in your group – maybe even get into an argument.

To avoid disputes, some Christians never associate with other believers even on Sunday. I know of one elderly couple who had Sunday services, but only with each other.

But that is not the way Christ wanted us to live.

He endorsed the Old Testament dictum that we are to love God and love our neighbours as ourselves.

I fall short on both measures. But I take solace in the fact that God is at work in me to make me more like Christ over a lifetime.

Christ lived a life of relationships with others – naming 12 disciples to become his close companions. He had to deal with different personalities; he had to referee disputes between his friends.

His friends weren’t perfect. But they were ready to turn the world upside down after Jesus ascended to heaven once the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them.

They had learned a lot in the three years they spent with him. They were able to take what they had learned and teach others.

Indeed, having relationships with others isn’t just for our benefit. We do benefit – others in our group support us when we need support. But reaching out to others brings eternal benefits to our friends and companions, too.

And, together we grow.

A few words transform a life

What power there is in a word of blessing – a word that can change a life.

Author, pastor, and professor Mark Buchanan tells of encountering a seven-year-old foster child and telling her that he saw the light of God in her.

A couple of decades later, she met him at a conference where he was speaking and told him that those words “changed my life”.

“I can’t tell you how often that carried me through dark times,” she told him.

Writing in the September/October issue of Faith Today, Buchanan says he wishes he had “poured more intentionally into young people” as a pastor.

Indeed, should we not all be pouring more intentionally into each other?

It is especially true of young people, but all of us need God’s blessing.

Blessing should not be haphazard. Buchanan’s words struck a chord in the young girl’s heart because there was truth in what he said.

In blessing people, we need look no further for fuel than the word of God. There we see how God sees us.

The apostle Paul knew how to pray God’s blessings on others.

In Ephesians 1:15-19, he tells his readers that he can’t stop thanking God for their faith in God and love for others. He goes on to say that he prays to God constantly that he will give them spiritual wisdom so that they will grow in their knowledge of him. He asks God that their hearts will be flooded with light and that they will understand God’s great power for those who believe him.

There is indeed power in words like Paul’s.

Blessing like that sink into your mind and heart. And God acts upon them.

In Numbers 6, Aaron and his sons were commissioned by God to pray the great blessing: “May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favour and give you his peace.”

The wonderful part of that command of God are the words that follow: “Whenever Aaron and his sons bless Israel in my name, I myself will bless them.”

When we bless people in the name and character of God, he will bless them.

Change

My wife, my sister, her husband and I reminisced a bit while they were visiting us a few days ago.

We talked about the very different world we lived in during the 1940s and 1950s – a world without Facebook and Twitter.

I realize that change in technology and lifestyle can have a powerful impact on us.

They can bring good things, making our lives easier to live. But they can create stresses, too, as people struggle to adapt, lose jobs, or find life increasingly impersonal.

But some things never change. People still love and hate; they are generous or stingy; they are self-sacrificing or selfish.

And God is still God – the same yesterday, today and forever.

When I look at the world around me, I remind myself that the changes in technology and society are less important than the fact that God is working out his plan on a grand scale.

That gives me hope.

When I look back, I am astonished at how much the world has changed in my lifetime. The Second World War introduced the atomic bomb, increasing the threat of global disaster. Empires have virtually dissolved; there have been terrible famines and wars; and the Internet has created an instant world open to everyone on our globe.

Yet God has not left us without his presence.

The message of Christ has spread like wildfire in Asia, Africa and South America. His love is winning hearts around the world. God is changing lives.

Ultimately, the end is already decided – God will enforce his victory over Satan, the victory Christ won on the cross.

In the meantime, God is working things out for the good of those who trust him and love him. That includes me even though things sometimes look grim when I look around. He sees the future and I don’t.

So, I praise God that he is unchanging and his plan is good. He will do what he says he will do.