Archive for August, 2016|Monthly archive page

The creative instinct

I believe God has planted a creative instinct within us which flowers in different ways.

For instance, my wife is a master gardener.  She loves the interplay of rock, earth, flowers, bushes and plants.  She has  designer’s eye and a feel for colour.

Acting on this creative impulse gives her pleasure and satisfaction.

I knew someone who spent years restoring a vintage Jaguar, even making his own parts when he could no longer find them in stores.

Others are skilled cooks or carpenters.

God values – and loves – creativity.

There is a great story in Exodus 35 where God chooses Bezalel to make decorations for the Lord’s sanctuary.  Moses says God has filled Bezalel with the “Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts”.

When you think of it, we are simply reflections of God, our own creator.

I love the story of creation in Genesis 1.  God had  a wonderful time making the stars, planets, mountains, seas, birds, fish, animals and a multitude of different plants.

We know he enjoyed it because in Genesis 1:31 we read: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

My creative impulse has led me to drawing, painting and writing.  When I am creating, my whole self is focused on what I am doing – everything else vanishes.

As I understand it, things like art and music are widely used as therapy for people who are feeling low.  I can understand why.  These activities draw you away from yourself and your problems and absorb your full attention.

I see it as therapy, too, for people who are burdened with work worries or family concerns.  I feel it is worth breaking away for a brief time every week to do something creative – something you enjoy.

Thank God for giving us creativity.

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Joseph’s strength

Joseph, son of Jacob, had the inner strength of a great Olympic athlete.

He knew all about pain, sorrow, and discouragement.  But he remained true to his God throughout the rough times in life.  And he was rewarded.

Last week, I mentioned the challenges that Canadian synchronized divers Meaghan Benfeito and Roseline Filion faced when Roseline broke her ankle just months ahead of the recently-concluded Rio Olympics.  They overcame this setback and won an Olympic bronze medal.

Joseph was a champion overcomer.  I have much to learn from him.

Like everyone, he had his flaws.  As a young man, he knew his father loved him more than any of his brothers and he flaunted his knowledge in front of them.

God gave him the gift of interpreting dreams.  He began by telling his brothers about his dreams of them bowing to him – a clear suggestion that he would rule over them.

They reacted by throwing him into a cistern one day and selling him into slavery.

That undoubtedly knocked the youthful pride out of him.  He went on to become a model servant to the Egyptian Pharaoh’s captain of the guard, Potiphar.  Potiphar trusted him and put him in charge of his household.

As the Bible says: “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered.” (Genesis 39:2)

But Joseph soon found himself in trouble again when his master’s wife wrongfully and vindictively accused him of sexually attacking her.  He was sent to jail.

Many people would have reacted bitterly to this.  What value was there to obeying God when you were thrown in jail for your pains?

Instead, the Bible says: “While Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness, and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warden.” (Genesis 39:20-21)

The warden put him in charge of everything going on in the prison.  Think of it – a prisoner running the prison!

Still, it looked like a lifelong sentence.  He was not even helped by a jailed official he assisted by correctly interpreting a dream that Pharaoh would reinstate him.

Then came Joseph’s big break.  The jailed official remembered Joseph when Pharaoh had a bad dream and no one could interpret it.

Joseph interpreted the dream, saying that God would give Egypt seven years of abundant harvests followed by seven years of famine.  He urged Pharaoh to stockpile grain in the good years so that there would be enough to feed the people in the famine years.

The Egyptian king was so impressed that he made the Hebrew slave his prime minister in charge of running the country.

And, ultimately, his brothers did bow down to him when they came seeking grain during the famine years.

I have always been fascinated – and impressed – by Joseph’s own interpretation of the troubles he went through.

He told his terrified brothers: “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:19-20)

What kept Joseph going was trusting that God knew best, whatever situation he was in.

It’s a reminder to me that I must never lose faith in God’s goodness, his love, and his all-seeing wisdom.  He does know best.

Strength through adversity

The Olympic story of Roseline Filion and Meaghan Benfeito is about perseverance, commitment, faith and self-sacrifice – qualities I need as a follower of Christ.

Filion broke her ankle last December, just months before the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.  This was a devastating setback for the synchronized diver, a bronze medal winner for Canada in the 2012 London Olympic games.

But she and her diving partner Benfeito looked upon this as a challenge – not a defeat.

Like all Olympic athletes, they had faced adversity before and they had persevered.  They had a goal and they were determined to get there.

Filion was unable to walk on the ankle – it was encased in a cast for weeks.  But she continued attending training sessions with Canadian swim team members and working on weights to strengthen her legs.

Meanwhile, Benfeito made personal sacrifices to help Filion, focusing on helping her friend get back on the diving board.  She toted Filion to physiotherapy sessions and helped her in other ways.

When Filion’s ankle had healed, she was forced to start at a lower level in order to work back to a championship level.  Benfeito adapted her own routine to fit with Filion’s so they could develop together – the two had to be perfectly in tune with each other to succeed in synchronized diving.

Last week, they won a bronze medal at the Rio games.

Filion and Benfeito can look back at the daily grind of years of practice and pain and beam with pleasure – they got where they wanted to go.

They got there because they had faith they could do it, they were willing to make the necessary sacrifices, and they were committed to their goal.

It’s a prime lesson for me as a Christian.

Am I trusting God with all my heart – no matter what happens to me?  Am I committed to doing whatever he wants me to do?  Am I willing to make the personal sacrifices to enjoy the reward of an ever-closer relationship with my Lord, now and in eternity?

Christians who have answered “Yes” to all those questions have left their mark on the world.

Like the apostle Paul, they are not defeated by adversity.

Instead, they grow stronger in the Lord as they meet the challenge.

How big is your God?

How big is your God?

Are you awed by God?  Do you tremble as you consider his might and his power?

Or, do you consign him to the sidelines in your life?

Joshua Harris says in his book Dug Down Deep that what you believe about God really matters.  His own view of God has changed dramatically in his lifetime

Harris’ book is a delightfully-written, often humourous attempt to show us how important it is to delve deeply into what the Bible says about the character of God.  He mixes in his own story with theology and doctrine – often dry subjects that are never dull in his hands.

In his teen years, Harris was a normal kid raised in a Christian home attending a “seeker-sensitive” church – a church which tried to be as entertaining as possible to draw non-believers to attend.

“The bottom line is that my parents’ faith really wasn’t my faith,” he says.  “I knew how to work the system, I knew the Christian lingo, but my heart wasn’t in it.”

He was interested in girls and bored by God.

The youth group was “geared to being loud, fast-paced and fun”.  Activities were often not linked at all to the youth pastor’s messages.

On one occasion, the youth pastor asked him to do a Michael Jackson impersonation because he knew Harris could dance.  He moon-walked and lip-synched his way through a Jackson song and loved every minute of it.  He was a one-night sensation in the youth group.

But over the years, Harris changed.  He found he had a thirst to know God.  He sought out a godly minister to mentor him.

He became enraptured with the God of the Bible and studied deeply.  His understanding of God grew and his interest in fundamental doctrine about God developed.

Over time, he became pastor of a mega-church with a strong focus on the person of God.

He now believes that God is much more than a weak after-thought in our lives, only there to guide us and comfort us while staying out of our way when we don’t want him around.

He is wholly different from us.  He is the creator – we are the created ones.  He existed always – we live for a short time on earth.  He is almighty – he can do things we cannot do.  He is holy – separate from us – and yet Jesus sacrificed himself for his enemies – you and I who were opposed to him until we gave our lives to him.

Not too long ago, Harris returned to an Oregon town where he had grown up and bumped into his old youth pastor in a grocery store.

The youth pastor looked just as he had years before, but a lot had changed in his life.  He said he had learned so much in the past 10 years about what kids really needed.

He had the kids studying doctrine from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, a textbook normally used in seminaries.

“They’re eating it up,” he told Harris.  “These kids are on fire for God like you wouldn’t believe.  They’re sharing their faith with friends.  It’s incredible.”

Sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it?

But it shouldn’t if God is who he says he is.

That God is overwhelmingly big and can’t be dismissed.

He should be more important than anyone or anything else in our lives.