Archive for May, 2016|Monthly archive page

From the mouths of babes

There is something wonderfully uncomplicated and effective in the faith of little children.

Unlike adults, little children don’t wrestle with fine theological points.  Once they believe in Jesus, they know he loves them and they trust him to do what he says he will do.

I have been thinking about this as our church – like many others – plans this summer’s kids’ camp.

Teaching children about Jesus is one of the most important activities in the kingdom of God.

Jesus placed a high priority on childlike faith.

In Mark 10, the disciples try to discourage parents from bringing their children to Jesus for his blessing.  But Jesus is indignant.  He says:

“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.”

In fact, children can lead adults into God’s family.

I know of a case where a father started on the road to faith because his sons were involved in church activities.  He was intrigued by their faith.

Children often pray with strong faith.

It can be startling for a Christian parent when a child suggests praying when a small family problem crops up.

In fact, Paul E. Miller, author of A Praying Life, recommends that we approach prayer like a child.

“Don’t try to get the prayer right,” says Miller.  “Just tell God where you are and what’s on your mind.  That’s what little children do.  They come as they are, runny noses and all.”

David was brutally honest with God in the psalms he wrote.

He let it all out – anger, disappointment, and joy.

But David had another great quality of children – he realized he was dependent.  He depended on God.

David consulted God in prayer because he knew he would not be where he was without the Lord.

He could see God in his spirit.  And he was overwhelmed by what he saw.

May we be in awe of God like that – trusting him to lead us and care for us.

Do you plan things? Or wing it?

I tend to plan things to the last detail in the church prayer ministry I lead.

But, like most people, I have learned that my efforts often don’t turn out as imagined.

Many others don’t plan at all.

What’s God’s view?  What does he want us believers to do?

I have been thinking of this as I reflect on Solomon’s well-known words in Proverbs 3:5-6:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (NLT)

This suggests to me that I should have a goal in mind – the goal that God has for me.  This also tells me that there is a specific path for me.

My task is to bring everything to God and seek his guidance and leading.

Does this mean that I should abandon any planning?

I don’t think so.  But I should be flexible.

And I should not be disappointed if my plans don’t turn out the way I wish.

I am struck by the way early Christian leaders responded to God’s leading.

Peter had every right to believe he knew what God wanted.  Jesus had once commended Peter’s faith by saying he – Jesus – would build his church upon that faith.

But God had to almost forcibly seize Peter’s attention in a vision the apostle had at his prayers in the middle of the day.  As a result of the vision, a reluctant Peter agreed to meet a non-Jewish man who was a seeker after God.

That encounter led to the Christian faith spreading beyond the early Jewish believers.

Philip, another leader in the church, was in the midst of a very successful evangelistic campaign when the Holy Spirit directed him to drop everything and speak to an Ethiopian official on a nearby road.  The official was reading the prophet Isaiah on his way home to Ethiopia but did not understand what he was reading.

Philip spoke to him and explained the passage which spoke about the Messiah – Jesus.  The official believed and eventually the Christian faith spread to that African nation.

The apostle Paul altered his plans according to the Spirit’s leading.

I think my problem is that I get too focused on what my logical mind tells me.

I believe some planning makes sense.  But my plans should not be a strait jacket.

Like the early Christian leaders, I need to be constantly listening to God.

He will speak to me through scripture, other people, circumstances, prayer and – ultimately – the Holy Spirit.

Heaven

Our views of heaven will influence our lives on earth.

That’s the message of a couple of books I have been reading recently on heaven.

These writers say if we believe heaven will be boring, we’ll try to pack in everything we can on earth.  But if we believe life with Jesus in heaven will be so much more than we could possibly imagine, our focus will be on God and eternity.

Jesus and the apostles urge us to look forward with anticipation to everlasting life with our loving God.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:20 that we are to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal”.

He adds: “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”

I must say I have not thought deeply about life with God in heaven for most of my life.  I accepted that it would be wonderful.  But my view of heaven was fuzzy.

Like many Christians, I have concentrated to achieving things on earth and winning admiration from others.  I have wanted to leave a lasting legacy of some kind.

But John Burke, author of Imagine Heaven, points out that we are quickly forgotten after our deaths.  Many of us do not know much about our grandparents and even less about our great grandparents.

Yet his research into near-death experiences of heaven reveal that Jesus knows us intimately and knew us even before we were born.  And he loves us deeply even though he knows our flaws.

Burke says Dr. Richard Eby fell two stories headfirst to his death in an accident and found himself before Jesus who said: “Dick, you’re dead!”

Eby, who was known by everyone except his family as Richard,  says he asked Jesus: “Why did you call me Dick?”

Jesus replied: “When I died for you on the cross, it was a most intimate thing.”

Burke, originally a sceptic about the afterlife and an engineer by training, studied more than 1,000 near death experiences to find out common elements – rejecting the interpretations that people put on them.

Universally, he found that those who found themselves in heaven were overwhelmed by Jesus’ love and did not want to return to earthly life.

They found Jesus knew everything about them – usually playing for them their past lives, showing their impact on others and the repercussions.  He was gentle – telling one person she was going back to live a life of love and forgiveness.

This person said she did not feel ashamed by his knowing her so well, but, she even wanted to tell him everything.

Burke suggests that loving God and loving others is what counts with Jesus in his encounters with people in these near-death experiences – just as the Bible says.

Not all the stories are of heaven.  Burke says almost 25 per cent of reported near death experiences are about frightening visits to hell.

In one such story, an art professor died in Paris and was being pulled against his will into hell when he called out to Jesus to save him and felt the Lord carrying him out.  That changed him for he gave his life to God when he was resuscitated.

Burke notes that people who die look down on their bodies as they leave and often see details of the rooms or the places where they die that they could not possibly have seen in their earthly bodies.  But they are confirmed by others when they come back to life.

In heaven, they are joyfully welcomed by family and friends who died before them and who put their faith in God.

People report that they feel more alive in heaven than they ever felt on earth.  The colours of birds and flowers and trees and grass are brighter than anything seen on this planet.

No wonder they want to stay with Jesus in heaven.

Loss, grief, love and joy

The sudden, raging wildfire that destroyed a city of 88,000 in Alberta last week confronted Canadians with the spectre of loss – loss of homes, jobs, memories, and even life.

The Fort McMurray fire that swept down on a city in a matter of minutes gave Canadians a taste of what is a daily story around the globe.  War in the Middle East, earthquakes in Nepal, tsunamis in Japan.

And it reminded us that suffering is common to everyone – although, on a much smaller scale.

Yet, if we look hard enough, hope can rise out of the ashes.

I am reminded of the great story in John 12 of the death of Jesus’ friend Lazarus.

Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha were very close to Jesus.  He visited them often at their home in the Judean town of Bethany.

Jesus receives a message from the family that Lazarus is very sick.  Clearly, the sisters want Jesus to come quickly, knowing the miraculous powers he has and sure that he will rush to his bedside out of love.

But, strangely, Jesus dawdles.  He says Lazarus’ sickness will not end in death – in fact, it will result in glory to God.  But, a couple of days later he says that “Lazarus has fallen asleep” and it is time to go to see him.

When Jesus and his disciples arrive in Bethany, it seems that Jesus was wrong – Lazarus is clearly dead.  Lazarus’ sisters are heartbroken and in mourning.

In fact, they subtly blame Jesus for not coming earlier to heal his friend.

But Jesus utters the great words: “I am the resurrection and the life.  Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.  Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.”

Of course, Jesus was speaking of eternal life – living with Jesus after physical death.

Seeing the grief around him, Jesus weeps.  He is angry, too – possibly because of Satan’s power to hurt and kill physically and emotionally.  Perhaps it is because he knows how hard it is to convince people of the power of God’s love.

Then, Jesus commands the onlookers to roll away the stone from Lazarus’ tomb.

He shouts: “Lazarus, come out!”

And the dead man walks out, still in his grave clothes.

The result is that many people believe in Jesus from that day onwards and God is glorified.

For me, it also illustrates a cycle that many believers go through in life – loss, grief, love and joy.

We suffer and don’t know why.  We go through grief – perhaps the death of a loved one or the destruction of a marriage.

But, if we look carefully, we become aware of love and, ultimately, joy.  Perhaps it is the love of people around us and, always, the love and compassion of God.

The hardest concept of all is joy in the midst of suffering.

But believers know that Jesus’ words to his disciples – “I am the resurrection and the life” – are seeds of joy.

As David wrote in Psalm 30: “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Hope

There is real hope for the kingdom of God in North America.

The outward signs are bleak – declining church attendance, closing churches, many young people abandoning the faith.

But I see the Holy Spirit moving here and there throughout the continent.  I believe this will lead to a renewal of faith in a very secular world.

A week ago, I listened to a 19-year-old woman who has the gifts of evangelism and healing.  She talked about being led by the Spirit to pray over people with emotional and physical problems and seeing them touched by God and healed.

She is a young Christian – a believer for only two years.  But she is excited about what God is doing.

She is one of a number of young people I know who are keen believers and reaching out to others for Jesus.

Indeed, as I look around at our children and many of their friends, I can see the same commitment to God.  Like Joshua, they are telling the world: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Looking at the broader world, I am heartened by what I see in the missional church movement.

Like Jesus, people in these churches love others by praying for them, serving them, spending time with them, and sharing the good news of Christ with them. In other words, they get outside the four walls of their churches and meet people where they live – at work and in the neighbourhood.

Our own church is providing food and clothes – and a listening ear – to the students at an alternate school – basically, young people going through a hard time in life.  Some of them have been kicked out of their homes and they are trying to get a high school education on their own.

These are steps to revealing Jesus to young people with hurting hearts – and, one hopes, to sharing why Jesus loves them.

Small groups in another area church incorporate monthly meals with non-Christian friends and joint projects such as help to needy families.  Over time, some of these friends become seekers and join the small groups to learn more about Jesus.

 

It is easy for us to be come discouraged like the prophet Elijah who complained to God that the king of Israel had killed all the prophets and he was the only one left to uphold the word of God (1 Kings 19).

God’s reply to Elijah is something we need to remember.  He said there were 7,000 people in Israel who were standing stalwart for the Lord and he had plans to continue Elijah’s work through another prophet, Elisha.

Sometimes we need to see the world through God’s eyes.

With God at work, we should always hope.