Archive for July, 2016|Monthly archive page

Swimming against the tide

Increasingly today, evangelical Christians are swimming against the tide.

That can be daunting, but the rewards are great for those who keep on swimming.

General social attitudes on issues such as marriage and abortion are a sign of what is happening in the religious landscape in North America.

In my lifetime, I have seen a radical shift away from the traditional Christian view – based on the Bible – that marriage is only between men and women.  And the general population now approves of abortion.

This has happened bit-by-bit over the last few decades.

Attitudes toward evangelical Christians have also hardened.

I remember reading a poll published in a newspaper some years ago that asked people of different racial and religious backgrounds whom they would least wish their sons or daughters to marry.  The answer was they would least want their children to marry evangelicals.

The editors of Evidence for God have quoted a 2007 report published by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research which found American college and university faculty “overwhelmingly assert their desire to see Christian influence lessened”.

In fact, the report concluded that even atheist faculty “defend the right of Muslims to express their religious beliefs in American politics, while holding openly hostile views of fundamentalist Christians”.

We Christians have helped cause this reaction by some of the things we have said and done in the past.  But this widespread view among reasonably well-educated North Americans goes well beyond that explanation.

It represents a fundamental clash in world views: Do you – or do you not – believe in God and that faith in God is more important than anything else?

If you believe in Jesus, you will want others to find eternal hope and joy in God.  You will place Jesus ahead of anything else in life.

The evil one will fight this view with all his resources.  His principal weapon is deception.

Should we believers be discouraged and allow ourselves to be swept away with others in the tide?

There is no need to give up.  The story of God in the Bible tells of far worse situations which were surmounted by ordinary men and women who followed God.

Sometimes they died for their faith and saw no changes in their lifetimes.  But God moved and over the centuries, God triumphed.

The story of Moses, the story of the prophets, and the story of Jesus tell us that the battle is not as uneven as it seems in our eyes.  What seems like victory for the dark side is upended as time goes on.

The ultimate reward for faithfulness to God is waiting for us in heaven.

But even in this world, we have a foretaste of what is to come when we see the love of God touch someone’s heart – someone who seemed lost forever.

God’s love is greater than any force arrayed against it.

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Liberating cities

What does it take to liberate our cities from darkness?

Increasingly, Christians are realizing that they must pray and work together to help advance the kingdom of God in our cities.

Clearly, fighting among ourselves or going it alone isn’t making much of a dent in our society today.

The proportion of believing Christians in North America is gradually declining.  Abortion and other social ills are spreading.

I have become involved in a small way in a city-wide prayer network which is part of a group of Christian pastors and other leaders reaching out to the community.

Our city is one of many where Christians are banding together to bring the light and love of Christ to those around them.

This is not a movement to bring everyone under one denomination.  It is simply acknowledgement that we share a commitment to Christ and his mission to go into all the world and make disciples and destroy the works of the evil one.

In our city, there have long been outreach efforts to specific groups of people such as the homeless.  But now there is a growing acknowledgement that we need to become much more actively involved in meeting needs – and we’re starting to do it together.

Last January, a number of churches planned a week-long series of prayer gatherings where people prayed for our city and our country.  We met together and prayed together.

It’s a step forward.

With this in mind, I have been reading a book I bought years ago – The House of the Lord, by Francis Frangipane, senior pastor of The River of Life Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Cedar Rapids is a city of more than 100,000 people.  Like most other North American cities, crime was rising in the late 1980s when a number of churches in the city started praying together.

At a time when crime rates rose 11 per cent in the state of Iowa, they declined by 17 per cent in Cedar Rapids.  In the year 1988-89, FBI statistics indicated Cedar Rapids was the safest city in the U.S.

“When the church is obedient to Christ,” writes Frangipane, “it will be united with other believers and unstoppable by the powers of hell.  Through the church -its prayer, love and actions – the Lord will guard the city.”

“If we work together to build the house of the Lord,” he continues, “our strengths will be amplified rather than diminished.”

I’m convinced he’s right.

Battle for our minds

My mind is a spiritual battlefield.

I’m learning that my key weapon is surrender – to God.  And that is a battle in itself.

I have spent a lifetime letting my emotions, my desires, and Satan win many daily skirmishes over my better inclinations.

Ken Sande, author and Christian counsellor, said something at a conference a couple of years ago that caught my attention: The emotional part of our brains react well before the rational part.  So, too often, we allow our emotions to guide our decisions.

In Mark 7:20-22, Jesus said:

It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness.”

Our emotions and desires are often successful in governing our thoughts.  So, how do I deal with this?

Watchman Nee, a great Chinese Christian of the last century, says a beginning step is to admit I can’t win this battle on my own.

In his fine book The Life that Wins, Nee writes that I must confess to God that I can’t even will to fight wrong desires and thoughts by my own strength.  It has to be God who battles for me.

Nee says that the apostle Paul gives us the key in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

In other words, Christ has replaced my old spirit with his because my old self is dead as a result of believing in the crucified and resurrected Christ.  I just have to believe it and behave as if this is true – an act of faith.

Nee gives the illustration of a man climbing down a dry well with the help of a rope.  Suddenly, he reaches the end of the rope, but he hasn’t touched ground.  He is too tired to climb up so he prays to God and prepares for death from a steep fall.  He lets go and touches ground three inches below.

That, says Nee, is yielding and letting go.  We have to trust God that he will take over when we stop trying to do everything ourselves.

I believe in God through faith.  I am also called to live my life through faith in our Lord.

God grieves

When we look at the recent killings in the United States, we may be tempted to accuse God of indifference.

We may ask: “Why didn’t God stop the shooting of innocent black men?  Why didn’t he prevent the murder of police officers?”

Or, in our personal lives, we may wonder if God cares that we are sick or jobless or heart-broken.

The Bible makes clear that God is not a distant, cold-blooded robot.  He feels.  He loves. He weeps.  He grieves.

The Bible says that Jesus is the image of the Father.  Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus.  His heart filled with compassion when he saw the sick and needy flocking to him. He was angry with self-righteous, heartless, religious leaders.

While accepting that God has feelings, some may wonder what is stopping him from intervening directly to deal with their needs.

It is hard for a friend of mine to understand why God hasn’t healed him from a mysterious illness that has plagued him with pain throughout his body for eight years.  He has prayed for healing and healing hasn’t come.

I confess I don’t have answers.

God does heal.  The miracles we read about in the New Testament are repeated daily around the world today.

Why not heal my friend?

The only thought I have is that God’s ways are far higher than ours.  He knows things we don’t.

The story of the crucifixion is one example.

Jesus’ friends were appalled when the Messiah was seized and executed – the Messiah they expected to establish an earthly kingdom.  Jesus knew what was coming and embraced it because, through it, God would pour out his love on billions of people, ushering them into his heavenly family.

I am not saying that my friend’s illness is identical to the crucifixion.  God wants to heal – and sometimes healing takes much longer than we expect or hope.

But we live in a fallen, pain-filled world – a world brought about by our own human actions dating back to the beginning of time.  Jesus promised his followers that they would face trouble.

But throughout life’s problems, I am called as a believer to trust that God has a plan and is working things out for my good.

It may be that I won’t know why things happened the way they did in my life until I am with God in heaven.  Then I will see things through a very different lens.

And I will know without a doubt that he suffered with me.  Just as he grieves with those who lost loved ones in last week’s killings.

Yes, and I will know, as the children’s song goes: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Jesus and politics

The current U.S. presidential election makes me wonder what Jesus would make of it.

In his years on earth, Jesus resisted attempts to make him a political leader.

Followers hoped he would lead a military uprising that would kick the Romans out of the Jewish homeland.  Jewish leaders tried to get him to choose between God and the secular rulers.

From what we know now, Jesus could have called upon legions of angels to destroy the people who opposed him and ultimately crucified him.  But that wasn’t his mission.

Christ was interested in people’s hearts, not their votes or their weapons.

He was involved in a much larger battle than the American election – or any election.  And his weapons were spiritual, not military.

Jesus would never have traded false accusations. He was committed to truth.  When religious leaders attempted to put him on the spot, he replied by going directly to their hearts – their real reasons for attacking him and the good news he was preaching.

Jesus was on a mission of love – bringing lost people back to a loving God.  He cared for the sick and the poor and the spiritually hungry.

Elections are necessarily confrontational.  And, in my view, democracy is the best political system invented.

As well, I agree that many of the current issues can’t be solved with a quick bandaid.  They are often complex and technical.

But what about the personal and spiritual character of our politicians?  Shouldn’t that be a priority for Christian believers?

In my view, we should seek leaders who who are humble as Jesus was humble.  They recognize that they are not supermen or superwomen but dependent on God.  They make decisions based on compassion, justice and godly wisdom.

I acknowledge it’s hard to choose when none of the candidates shows these qualities.

In that case, I must rely totally on whether I believe the candidates will implement policies which I consider wise and good for the people of my country.  In a sense, that is a character issue, too.  Can I rely on them to do what they say they will do?

If I enter the voting booth baffled and uncertain, I can still depend on one person – God.

Great men and women have always thought they were directing the course of history.

But, like Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, they were wrong.

God was.