Archive for March, 2015|Monthly archive page

Mind, faith, power and Easter

I like thinking things through – I’m a mind guy.  But I have learned that there are limits to human reason.

Even the brightest minds have been unable to develop the perfect society.  The problem is human beings are filled with emotions like jealousy, egotism, greed, and lust.  We fight among ourselves and hurt others.

We need outside help and here is where God stepped in.  At Easter, we remember the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, taking all our sinful actions and thoughts on himself so that we might be forgiven and have an eternal relationship with him.

But God asks us to accept this through faith. That seems to be too large a leap for many people.  It doesn’t fit their personal philosophy – their rational view of the world.

Most people in the Western world no longer follow Christ.  Many cannot even accept the supernatural.  This rationalism has even infiltrated the church in North America.

It is, of course, important that our faith be reasonable.  But does that mean the supernatural should be ruled out?  Is it not possible that God knows more than we do?  Is it not possible that God can do things we cannot do in our own strength?

The story of Christ in the New Testament is a story of God’s love demonstrated by miraculous healings along with words of hope culminating in his great sacrifice on the cross.

This has been a cornerstone of evangelical Christian theology.  But there is statistical evidence that evangelicals are leaving the church, many probably influenced by the philosophy of our society.

John Dickerson, an evangelical pastor, wrote in a New York Times article that while the population of the U.S. is increasing by about two million a year, total attendance in evangelical churches is gradually declining.

Are we looking at the gradual disappearance of Christianity?  I don’t think so.

Christianity is exploding in areas of the world where people believe in Christ as described in the New Testament – the supernatural included.

According to one report I read, Christianity in Africa accounted for nine per cent of the people while Islam amounted to more than 33 per cent in 1900.  A century later, 45 per cent of the African population was Christian and just over 40 per cent Muslim.

There is similar astonishing growth in South America and Asia.

Miracles are happening regularly in the developing world.  Many people are being healed and having dramatic answers to prayer. They believe in a God who is greater than they are and can do more than we can ask or imagine.

Jesus said in Mark 10:15: “I tell you the truth, any one who doesn’t receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

The simple faith and trust of a child is vital to our relationship with Jesus.

When we take that step of faith, the story of Easter makes sense – we see it through God’s eyes.

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The joy of children

There is something infectious about the joy of a child.

We have tasted something of that in the last couple of weeks, entertaining and being entertained by the children of our two daughters and our son.

My wife and I are used to our routines – comfortable.  But tiring as it sometimes is, there is nothing that will bring a smile to our faces as quickly as a joyful grandchild.

Of course, they have their down moments – tears here and there.

But, generally, the tears are gone in a flash and they are on to something else.

I imagine God looks upon us – his children – and laughs when we laugh.  There is the wonderful verse in Zephaniah 3:17 which I return to again and again: “. . . He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

Naturally, little children don’t know much about how to handle the uncertainties of life.  We were once children but have grown cautious about people and events as we have grown older.  We no longer take things at face value the way children do.

God knows this.  He knows us.

But one thing we can take at face value – God himself.  He does delight in us the way we delight in our grandchildren.

In fact, he wants us to come to him the way our grandchildren come to us.

Perhaps you remember the passage in Mark 10 where the disciples wanted to protect Jesus from being bothered by children.

Jesus said: “Let the children come to me.  Don’t stop them!  For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.  I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”

The faith of a child – that’s what God is asking of me.  And he’s asking me to enjoy him the way he enjoys me.

Failing your way to success

Christianity is a religion where it’s good to know you’re a failure.

That’s because you’ll fail as long as you think you can succeed at the Christian life on your own strength.

It took decades at failing before I had a “eureka” moment in reading about the “exchanged life” – basically, I died with Christ on the cross when I put my faith in him and rose with him to a new life, the life of Christ (Galatians 2:20).

The apostle Paul says in Romans 8:2: “And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.”

In other words, I can choose not to sin regularly because the life of Christ in me  – through the Holy Spirit – gives me the power to live like Jesus.

We in our church have been listening to an excellent series by American pastor and author Andy Stanley called “Free” which is all about this freedom from the power of sin.  Stanley says flat out that we can’t succeed in living the Christian life without relying on the power of God.

It takes a while for the whole idea of this dependence on Christ to sink in.  In our minds, we accept that this is the truth.  But we find it hard to live that way.  At least, I tend to lose my grasp of this truth in everyday life.

It is a major step forward just realizing that we can’t live like Jesus without God’s help.  Once we do, we are open to Paul’s message in Romans and Galatians.

Watchman Nee, a great Chinese Christian from the 20th century, says in his book The Life that Wins that we must begin by letting go and saying “O God, I cannot overcome, neither do I will to overcome, nor will I try to overcome.”  Sounds pretty drastic, doesn’t it?

But the second step is praying, “Lord, hereafter I commit all to you; from now on, you will do everything for me,” says Nee.

Then, after doing this, we must believe that “Christ is the only one left in us.”  This is a Biblical fact – Christ lives in us. We must believe that our old self spiritually died with Christ on the cross and our spirit is now filled with the Son of God.

As Stanley says in the final episode of his series “Free”, Jesus makes very clear in John 15 that the secret to living a fruitful Christian life is remaining in Christ – giving everything we have over to him so that he can work through us.

It’s not something I can force myself to do.  I must simply invite the Holy Spirit to make it real to me – and live it.

Leap before looking?

I like to look before I leap. It usually makes sense.

But, isn’t God asking me to leap before looking?

On occasion, I think he is. But, when he does, he also promises to have his arms outstretched as a safety net.

How can I tell when he wants me to leap?

God gives me several guidelines. He wants me to answer these questions:
• Is what I am seeking something he wants me to do?
• Will it bring glory to God?
• Am I listening to his voice through the Spirit? Or, is it my own spirit doing the talking?

I have been pondering these questions as I consider whether my mission is his mission.

For much of my life, I have been inward-looking as a Christian. I have been concerned about my personal relationship with the Lord.

Over time, I have broadened my vision to include others in my church. I am active in our church prayer ministry – praying for others in our congregation.

But, in recent years, I have begun thinking about others beyond our church walls – our neighbours, for example. I say that somewhat shamefacedly because I have been a believer for many decades.

While I have reached out to others sporadically over the years, I have quickly retreated within my shell.

Now, I am finding a real hunger and curiosity about God among some of our neighbours as, like me, they near the end of their lives.

So, I am tentatively sending out feelers to my neighbours, engaging them in discussions about Jesus when it feels appropriate. I believe God is asking me to leap out towards them.

The answer to the three tests I stated above seems to be yes.

I am inspired by Jesus’ words calling on believers to make disciples of all nations. And I am even more motivated by the actions of the early disciples when they faced persecution in Acts 4 – they prayed for boldness in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

My only question is: Am I yielded sufficiently to the Holy Spirit to know when and how I am to talk about Jesus? Am I loving and serving my neighbours as Jesus served the people he met? Am I considering my neighbours as potential trophies or as people God loves?

Those are areas where I need to grow.

Meanwhile, I am convinced God is calling me to jump.