Archive for August, 2015|Monthly archive page

Growing together

My wife once said she felt I could be quite happy off by myself somewhere secluded – almost like a hermit.

I have never tested her theory, but I now realize I couldn’t do it.

In fact, I don’t think God made me – or anyone else – to live completely alone.  We are all meant for relationship with each other – and with God.

God knew that truth at the very beginning of time.  He made Eve to be a companion of Adam’s.

The interesting thing is that many North American Christians seem to think they can live their faith lives alone with God – not involving anyone else.

Some relatives of my wife’s decided that no church really fit their requirements.  So they worshipped alone at home.

Indeed, many Christians today decide to abandon a church that annoys them.  There is no attempt to work out disagreements and accept differences – especially differences over non-essentials.

But God uses troubles to shape us more into the image of Jesus Christ.  We are asked by Jesus and the apostles to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to be like Christ in the way we deal with each other.

In other words, we need each other – warts and all – to become the people God wants us to be.

I don’t like to be pushed.  And yet I realize that, if left on my own, I wouldn’t change.  I need to be moved along by God through other people.

I have learned a lot about myself and my weaknesses over the last few years, particularly in church leadership.

I didn’t like to go through the trials I faced.  Yet, I now realize I have a much better idea of human nature and our need for the power of God to surmount our differences.

Jesus says that we can do nothing without him.

I know that is true.

I learned that through relationships with others.  It’s unlikely I would have learned it any other way.

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Sheep outside the fold

I have been inward looking for much of my Christian life.

I spend much more time with Christian friends than I do with others.

It is good to love other believers – the scriptures say that people will know we are followers of Jesus by our love for one another.  But, Jesus never spent all his time in the synagogue – he went out and met people where they lived.

Just before his ascension to heaven, Jesus asked us to go and make disciples of all nations.  He clearly meant that we are to make disciples the way he did.

How did he do that?  He brought along some followers as he went out into the world around him, preaching the good news and healing people.

These followers – particularly 12 close ones – learned about Jesus’ mission as they listened to him and watched him in action with large crowds almost every day.  They joined him as he had dinner with people who were very unpopular with the religious elite of the day – tax collectors, prostitutes, and heavy drinkers.

My wife and I have always had some connection with our neighbours.  But, since our retirement, we have become much more intimately involved with them.

I am becoming more conscious that God is asking me – and other believers – to love other people in every way, both in word and deed.  We are to be “ambassadors” for Jesus Christ, as the apostle Paul says.

God wants a close relationship with everyone – through Jesus Christ, his son.  As Jesus is the shepherd, he wants everyone to be in the sheepfold under his care.

I believe God is calling me and other believers to venture outside our church walls and spend a lot of time with other people, just as Jesus did.

Those who are not believers will judge me and other believers by our actions as much as by our words.  They want to see that we care for them as people – not just as potential church members.

I believe this.  Now, I must live it.

Fear not!

What makes you afraid?

Is it death?  Is it snakes?  Is it rejection?

I would be surprised to find someone who has no fears at all.

Looking at myself, I think my most common fear is disappointing others and not being liked.  There are undoubtedly others which I have forgotten over my life or have not yet faced.

But God tells me: “Fear not!”

In Isaiah 41:10, the Lord says: “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.  Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.”

I was thinking of this today as I grappled with a few nagging worries – worries that are trivial in reality.

Think for a moment about what that Isaiah passage is saying.

Am I alone?  No, God is with me.

What kind of God do I have?  He is a God of power who is able to do more than I could ask or imagine.  But more important than that, he knows me inside out and still loves me.

I don’t have to pretend I’m perfect in his eyes.  He knows I am not – and he still loves me.

Are my fears greater and more important than God?  No.  God is with me and will take me through whatever big or small trials I face just as he has throughout my life with him.

I believe Satan exploits our fears to draw us away from God.  There is the great story of Elijah after his victory over the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 19.  His implacable enemy Queen Jezebel threatened his life and he ran away in fear.  Feeling sorry for himself, he asked God to take his life, but God spoke to him in a “gentle whisper”, sending him out on a last assignment before dramatically taking him up to heaven.

Elijah was exhausted and he wilted under Jezebel’s threats.  He forgot God and thought only about his problems.

But, the apostle Paul says in Romans 8:39 that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”

Knowing that, we can face death itself with confidence.

God has equipped me – and all of us – with two weapons to fight fears – prayer and thanksgiving.

With prayer, I can bring my problems to God and ask him to deal with them.  With thanksgiving, I can rejoice in what God has done and is doing in my life.

Praise God!

The gift of patience

I was annoyed today by my computer which swallowed a blank disk and refused to spit it out again.

As I sat there, I remembered a comment I read somewhere about Jonathan Edwards, the great American theologian and preacher, who decided one day to stop getting upset with inanimate objects – things without life or feeling.  After all, there’s not much they can do to change.

That got me thinking about patience – or the lack of it.

My wife reminds me periodically of my impatience when I’m irritated by slow traffic.  But I assure myself that I’m generally not impatient with people.

Is it possible to become more patient?  If so, how do I go about it?

I suppose I could tell myself there’s not much sense in pumping up my blood pressure over something that’s likely to be gone in a few minutes or a day or two.

But suppose I  have to deal with a problem that will last for years – perhaps the rest of my days.  How do I become patient in those circumstances?

The Bible gives me a few clues.

In Galatians 5:22, Paul lists patience as one of the fruit of the Spirit.  Just before that, Paul says that I must “live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature”.

In effect, he is telling me that I must give up control of my life to the Holy Spirit and patience will be one of the results.

I am also told to fix my eyes on Jesus and run the race of life with perseverance (Hebrews 12:1-2).  This suggests to me that I must take the long view of life.  What am I here for?  I am here to be made into the image of Christ and that includes coping patiently with troubles and irritations.

Paul also says in Philippians 4:4-6 I should always rejoice in the Lord.  In other words, I should take a step back and remember that I belong to Jesus and will always be with him.  Instead of getting into a snit, I can rejoice in God’s faithful and never-ending love for me.

This suggests I need a mind change.  When I sense my blood pressure rising, I need to take a momentary time out and recognize that, after all, my troubles are trivial in the light of eternity.

Something for me to think about.

Stepping into eternity

I chuckled this week when I heard about an epitaph on an actor’s grave: “I did not audition for this.”

It’s a funny line.  But I prefer the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:55:

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

Paul did not fear death.  In fact, he expected more wonderful things to come when he stepped into eternity to be with Jesus.

Paul wasn’t fed up with life, despite being stoned, whipped, starved and jailed for speaking about Jesus.  He wanted to stick around longer so that he could invest more of his life into bringing the good news of Christ to even more people.

His words in Philippians 1:23-24 sum up his thinking:

“I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me.  But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.”

Paul had been given a mission by Jesus and he was passionate about it.  He wanted more and more people to know the love of Christ and to become followers of Jesus.

There were times in my life when I worried that health issues would lead to what I considered premature death.  I did not want to die because I had a family and I didn’t want to leave them.  The first time, my children had not yet left home and I felt a responsibility to be with them and to help my wife care for them until they were on their own.  The second time, I wanted to enjoy my retirement years with my wife.

But I did not fear death.

As believers in Christ, we should not be afraid of death.  Even more, we should look forward to being with God where there is everlasting joy.

As I have mentioned before, I have been thinking and reading about heaven and seeing Christ face to face.  I believe that our lives on earth as believers are preparing us for being in God’s presence in heaven.  We are being shaped more and more into the image of Jesus.

We will be free of the trials and troubles of earth.

We will see Jesus; we will laugh with him; and we will speak with him face to face.

Nothing could be better.