Archive for April, 2016|Monthly archive page

Slave?

Most of us like to think of ourselves as strong, independent people – especially, in North America.

But we aren’t, really.

The older I get, the more I realize it.  I depend on the people I love – and even on those I don’t know or love.

We depend on others, just to live.

We were made for relationship.  God created us originally to be his companions.  He seeks companionship with us still.  And we should be eternally grateful that he does.

Of course, the relationships we choose can deeply affect our lives – for bad or good.

The apostle Paul says in Romans 6 that we are not free and independent creatures but “slaves to sin” or “slaves of God”.

That sounds harsh to us.  No one wants to be a slave.

But is it not true that an addict is a slave to his obsession?  And can I say I have no obsessions?  No, I can’t say that.

 

Paul used the word “slave” as a way of getting his point across.

In Romans 6, he tells me that I am freed from the power of sin once I put my faith in Jesus.  Sin will still call out to me.  The difference is that I now have the capacity through the Holy Spirit to resist that call.

Without faith in Jesus, I would still be a slave to sin.

So my choice is clear: Do I choose to obey sin and Satan or do I choose to obey God?

There is a great difference to being a “slave” to Satan and sin and a “slave” to God.  On one hand, I will go into a downward spiral and on the other I will find everlasting love.

Independence is a mirage.

But there is critical decision to make about the master I choose.

Do I want the master of deception, false promises, and ultimate heartache?

Or, do I want Jesus who loved me enough to die for me?

What about Jesus?

Jesus is still the most compelling figure in history – he either fascinates you or repels you.

Author and pastor Bruxy Cavey said something at a Promise Keepers men’s conference a few years ago that has stuck in my mind ever since.

Cavey said non-Christians often tell him how terrible the Christian church is.  They talk about sexual sins, violence, and theft committed by people who call themselves Christians.

Cavey does not deny or debate what he hears.  Instead,  he asks: “But what about Jesus?”

Great question!

I remember asking that question when someone was raising a number of arguments against Christianity with me.  He didn’t know quite what to say.

Why is that?

I think it has something to do with the character of Jesus – loving, compassionate, and – most of all – self-sacrificing.  He was God but did not consider his shared glory with the Father something to be grasped, but became a man so that we might be redeemed.

That’s hard for us humans to understand.  We are born sinful and are far from the perfection of God.

So, we react to Jesus either by being drawn to him and falling at his feet or rejecting him in fear.  If we believe that he came to die for us and our sins, we can’t help but give ourselves to him.

Jesus had that effect on people in his time.

The Pharisees and Saducees debated with him and sought to kill him because he challenged what they stood for.  They rejected his claims.

But some leaders were touched – Nicodemus among them.  A Jewish leader, he came to talk by night with Jesus.

Nicodemus was trying to hang on to his position while half-believing Jesus.  In John 3, Jesus tells him he must be born again to see the kingdom of heaven.

It’s clear later in the gospel of John that Nicodemus becomes a believer, helping Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus’ body for burial after the crucifixion.

This is still true today.

People of all walks of life are struck by Jesus’ love and his self-sacrificing mission to draw them into the kingdom of God as his brothers and sisters.  They surrender to him.

Others reject him.  They don’t want to give up what they have – money, position, anger against others, ideology or whatever.

Unfortunately, it is easy to criticize Christians.

But, to argue against the God who loves you?

That’s hard.

Speaking truth into darkness

I have been thinking lately about the power of speaking truth into darkness.

I believe it has the potential to change lives – my life included.

The great example is Jesus in his confrontation with Satan in the wilderness just after John the Baptist baptized him in the Jordan river.

In Luke 4, Jesus fends off several attempts by Satan to get the Son of God to bow to his authority.  He does it by quoting scriptural truths.

Many Christian writers and speakers have pointed to this as a key to rising above temptation.

Some, such as Christian counsellor and professor Neil Anderson, also see it as a way of changing the way people see themselves and God.  Anderson says many people he has counselled have found joy when they realize what the Bible says about how God sees them.

Knowing what the Bible says about us and our circumstances can build our faith and free us from discouragement and even despair.

In a well-known passage in Ephesians 6, the apostle Paul says: “We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”

These unseen powers are constantly trying to use our weaknesses against us.  They can convince us we are worthless or that we will never triumph over our sinful tendencies.

But a simple verse such as “the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” (1 John 4:4) can be very effective in dealing with Satan’s attempts to tempt or discourage us.  We are saying that we believe God who is victorious over Satan – not the devil’s deceiving words.

Another example: We can fight Satan’s efforts to plunge us into despair by speaking verses that declare we are children of God and have eternal life when we believe in Jesus and his atonement for our sins.

Reminding ourselves through scripture of God’s amazing love for us can help us battle the devil’s attempt to suggest God has no time for us because of our failures.

Why is it important to declare these truths?

As I said earlier,  I believe speaking scriptural truths helps build our faith.  They are an excellent reminder of the greatness, power and love of God.  These statements turn our thoughts away from our own weaknesses to God’s strength and abundance.

But the example of Jesus in the desert also indicates that declaring Bible truths drives away Satan and his demons.  They help defeat Satan.  As Paul said, he is our main enemy.

I have often forgotten this truth.

Now, I am determined to apply it regularly in my daily life.

Dead or alive?

Will the Christian church in North America be dead or alive in another generation?

Some Christian leaders warn that, based on current trends, the church will virtually melt away.

Others say that the church in Canada and the United States may be on the verge of a New Testament-style recovery.

I’m an optimist so I see signs of transformation.  But I acknowledge that the church is heading into perilous waters.

This is astonishing in light of Christianity’s explosive growth in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  And this decline in North America has happened in just 50 years.

One survey quoted by Matt Carter in his e-book Released found that only 9 per cent of those who call themselves believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ believe in the basic tenets of the faith such as:

  • Absolute moral truth exists;
  • The Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches;
  • A person cannot earn their way into heaven by being good or doing good works;
  • Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and
  • God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today.

Even more dismaying, this figure drops to less than 1 per cent of self-professed Christians in the 18-23 age group – the next generation.

Of course, there are many reasons for this decline in faith. But surely one of them is a failure to introduce children of Christian parents to a vital, living faith.

However, I find it encouraging that Christian leaders are now beginning to deal with this issue.  Increasingly, they are saying that the church and Christian families need to work together to reach children of believers.

My wife and I are delighted that our three children are working closely with their churches to “bring them (their children) up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:14).  This is more than just hearing – it involves exercising their faith through what they do.

One daughter, an Anglican minister, has launched a “young disciples” program in her church where the church helps parents teach and encourage their children in the faith and give them spiritual tasks in the home – learning by doing.  The parents are asked to take an active role in working with their children on these tasks.

Our church, too, has a Sunday school program which calls on the family to reinforce what the children are learning on Sunday.

These may not seem world-shaking efforts.  But they are when you consider that many children in Christian families have no clear understanding of their faith and see no real commitment on the part of their parents.

The faith potential of children is enormous.  They can often show adults how to share the gospel with others.

Surely a starting point in reaching the world is reaching our own families.