Archive for March, 2016|Monthly archive page

Resurrection power

Many of us look down on Jesus’ disciple Thomas because he wanted proof that Jesus came back to life after he died on the cross.

But aren’t many of us the same?  Don’t we want proof of God’s supernatural power?

Even Jesus’ own brother, James, didn’t understand that Jesus was the son of God until after he rose from the dead.  In fact, it was probably harder for him to believe because he only knew him as his older brother.

Our pastor spoke about James and his skepticism in a sermon on Easter Sunday today.

He pointed out that James and his younger brothers virtually scoffed at Jesus and told him that he should go out and prove himself through miraculous deeds.  In fact, this passage in John 7 says his brothers did not believe in him.

Later, in Mark 3:21, we read that his family tried to grab him when he was surrounded by people, saying: “He is out of his mind.”

And it is interesting that Jesus, dying on the cross, asked his friend and disciple John to take charge of his mother – not his brothers.

All this evidently changed with Jesus’ resurrection.  In 1 Corinthians 15:7, we read that Jesus appeared to James after his resurrection.

And, finally, James becomes a leader in the young Christian church, writing a very influential letter that has had an impact on people for 2000 years.

When I think of James and Thomas, I examine myself.  I, too, want dramatic proofs that cannot be explained except by divine intervention.

But is that what faith is all about?

Jesus’ words to Thomas, when the disciple put his hand into Jesus’ wound, tell me a great deal.  In John 20:29, Jesus says to Thomas:

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Sometimes supernatural acts lead to faith.  But, more often, faith comes before God acts.

In the end, I am called to trust God that he will do what he says he will do – at the time of his choosing.

Above all, I must remember that Christ is in me and is working things out for my good.

The fact that Jesus is within me also means that I can learn about his “resurrection power” as Paul says in Philippians 3:10.

Paul wanted to know Christ better and better in every way – even in his sufferings.

May faith will grow as I grow closer to Jesus in my spirit – with or without supernatural proof.

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Anger

The Donald Trump phenomenon has highlighted a real issue in politics everywhere – anger.

We Christians can easily fall into that morass, too.  What should we do when we are faced with what we feel are injustices or bad policies?

I believe we believers should express our views.  But I also feel that Jesus would be disappointed with us if we tore other people’s reputations to shreds.

I have strong political views – conservative views.  I can get quite passionate about my opinions.

But I realize I must keep a check on what I say about those I disagree with.  I am especially conscious of this when I think about the polarized politics in several countries which sometimes lead to rioting.

Anger in politics really flows from anger in everyday life.

Jesus and the apostle Paul had a lot to say about anger and how we relate with other people.

In Matthew 5:22-25, Jesus says that we should go and be reconciled with our friends if we are angry with them or they are angry with us.

In Matthew 7, Jesus tells us not to judge others and, in fact, to take the plank out of our own eye before talking to someone else about the speck in his eye.  In other words, we should look at ourselves and our own attitudes before condemning someone else.

And we need to remember Jesus’ radical teaching on forgiveness – especially his words as he was dying on the cross: “Father, forgive them (those who executed him) for they know not what they do.”

It’s clear in the Bible that there is righteous anger – anger against things that anger God.  But judgement for these things are in God’s hands – not ours.

As a believer, I am learning that when I disagree with someone, I need to keep calm, express my views, and refrain from personal attacks.  And if I hurt someone, I need to apologize.

Above all, I need to remember Jesus’ example.  He was patient with his critics and yet never wavered from speaking the truth.  And never did he call on his followers to attack those who criticized him.

Indeed, he wanted the best for those he spoke with – critics and supporters.

Easter celebrates the evidence for that truth – he died for the sins of everyone so that they might have a chance to enter the kingdom of God.

Great expectations

Many North American Christians grab the latest church growth strategy and run with it.

And often we are somewhat – or even deeply – disappointed that what worked elsewhere doesn’t work for us.  The great strategy didn’t meet our expectations.

Part of this is the lure of numbers.  As a church prayer leader, I admit to being dazzled by numbers.

But, if we’re honest, we have to acknowledge that church growth strategies have yet to transform our society and the people in our nations.

Overall church attendance – especially among young people – is declining – even in evangelical churches.  And moral standards are no better in Christian churches than in society as a whole.

At the same time, the word of Christ is spreading like wildfire in Asia, Africa and South America.  In many of these countries, Christianity is persecuted or the people are very poor.

In many places, the strategy is simple – the Book of Acts.  It breaks down to the great commandments in action – loving God with total commitment and loving our neighbours with the love of God.

God is certainly interested in numbers – he wants everyone to enter his kingdom.  But he wants more than a lot of people sitting in pews.  He wants each one of us steadily becoming more like Christ and going beyond our comfort zone in loving other people.

I realize I’m not saying anything new.  I fall well short of loving God and loving others the way I should.

But I am convicted about this.

So, what should we do?

I heard Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle Church in New York, say something that sticks with me.  His church is a success story in North American eyes – it grew from 35 people to many thousands when Cymbala turned to prayer and made the prayer gathering the main event every week.

Cymbala said at a conference I attended that many pastors ask him what to do so that they can copy his success.  He tells them to go home, look at their own situation, pray and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  Then, they can decide what steps they should take in introducing their people to prayer.

Isn’t that what we should do in everything in our churches?  Didn’t Moses listen to God before acting?  Didn’t Jesus listen to the Father before speaking and healing many in the huge crowds he faced every day?

I say this to myself because, even though I am a prayer leader, I act too often before praying and seeking God.

Changed hearts come before numbers.

But once a spark flies a fire may well spread.

Cravings

Humans crave things – love, sex, food, money, approval from others.

But most people today don’t realize that there is within them an inborn craving for God.

Augustine, the great Christian North African bishop and writer, recognized this long ago.

Writing in the fourth century A.D., he said: “You (God) have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”

For me, this explains a lot of my restlessness – even dissatisfaction.  And it explains a lot of the problems in the world around us.

A growing number of Christian writers and thinkers are exploring this thought.

In effect, they say, we are looking for our ultimate satisfaction in the wrong places.

We are looking to other people or things to satisfy our cravings.  And Satan encourages this, knowing that this pursuit is ultimately fruitless.   And, at the same time, it keeps us from turning to God to find our satisfaction and rest.

Mike Bickle declares in his book Passion for Jesus that God has placed seven cravings in our hearts including longing:

  • For the asssurance that we are enjoyed by God;
  • To be fascinated;
  • For beauty;
  • To be great;
  • For intimacy without shame;
  • To be wholehearted and passionate; and
  • To make a deep and lasting impact.

“These longings are actually expressions of his image.  We feel delight because he feels delight.  We experience joy because he is joy.  Our longings are fulfilled in experiencing who he is and in walking out who he created us to become in his image.”

Paul David Tripp, author, pastor and Christian counsellor, says that even Christians expect perfection from their wives and husbands and complete happiness in their jobs and activities.

But he says in his book Forever that our full satisfaction only comes from God.  We are being shaped into his image in this life and trained for an eternity of joy with God.

King David had his cravings just as we do.  Sometimes, he sought his satisfaction in the wrong places as he did when he pursued Bathsheba, another man’s wife.

But his greatest passion was for God.  When the prophet Nathan pointed out his wrongdoing in stealing Bathsheba from her husband, he admitted his sin and turned back to God.

One of my favourite of David’s psalms is Psalm 27 where he writes:

“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”

David knew where his heart would find rest.

May I always remember this when I am restless.