Archive for November, 2016|Monthly archive page

After death, life

Is death the end of everything?

I was thinking of this today as I walked through newly-fallen snow.

I glanced at the few shrivelled leaves still poking through the snow and at the bare tree branches.  The vibrant life of spring and the mature green of late summer have long gone.

I know, too, that my own days on earth are numbered.

But I am confident that my death is NOT the end of everything for me.

As a Christian, I believe my body will die on earth, but my spirit will live with God.  And while I’m here, I am to put to death what is wrong in my life and let Jesus pour more of his life into me.

In the spiritual sense, I am constantly growing as God works on me to shape me into a mature follower of his.  I will continue growing in the life to come.

The same is true of any child of God.

I do not seek death, but I am not depressed by the fact that bodily death will come for me at some point.

My God is a god of love.  He loves me and has good things in store for me.

It is amazing that he loves me.  I know I don’t deserve it – I never have and never will.

But Christ showed his love for me by dying for me so that everyone who believes in him will have life forever.  He paid for all the wrong things I have done with his life – taking my deserved place on the cross.

It’s so easy to take this lightly and for granted.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and forget what Jesus has done.

To my shame, I am often guilty of this.

May I turn to my God and let his life fill more and more of me.

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Persecution

Despite persecution, the number of Christian believers in China has reportedly risen to  100 million today from just one million in 1949.

In Western countries, the number of believers is steadily declining.

Why the difference?

On the surface, it doesn’t make sense.

Churches in Europe and North America have an abundance of well-educated theologians and pastors and lots of money for buildings and the latest technology.  The Chinese church lost its leaders in 1949, but the gospel has spread rapidly throughout the country.

This reminds me of the early church in Jerusalem and Judea.

In the book of Acts, we read about persecution of believers beginning just after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven.  Herod and Jewish leaders arrested the apostles repeatedly and had a couple of leaders executed in the early days of the young church.

How did the young believers react?  In Acts 4, they prayed for the courage to share the good news of Jesus Christ boldly.

And the number of believers multiplied.

That is what happened in China.  Many Christians were thrown into prison camps and told other prisoners about Jesus.  Some were killed, but those who survived kept meeting together clandestinely and moving from place to place as the early Christians did.

Like the early Christians, they prayed powerfully and trusted in God to extend his kingdom.  They were willing to risk their lives for Jesus.

How different they are from me and many others in the West.  Like others, I worry about offending friends and acquaintances.  I have shared the good news with a couple of neighbours in the last couple of years, but I do not look habitually for opportunities to speak lovingly and winsomely to others.

Our pastor touched on this today in a sermon on Matthew 5:14-15.

He noted that Jesus called on us to be light to others, using our good deeds as a spotlight on our Lord.  He asked us to show our love to others and make plain that this is Jesus working through us – and we are to pray for them.

Then, he pointed out this passage follows verses 11 and 12 where Jesus says we are to rejoice and be glad when we are persecuted for the sake of Christ.  We will be rewarded for being steadfast in our faith in spite of personal suffering for our Lord.

It seems to me that people like me are too comfortable.  We can attend church and be involved in church activities with no cost.  We don’t have to risk ourselves for Christ.

A major difference between many of us North American believers and Chinese Christians is that they often face and imprisonment for their faith – and we don’t.  So, when they decide to follow Christ, they do so with all their heart.

Chinese Christians are committed to expanding the kingdom of God even if they suffer for it.  They have to trust in the power of God through the Holy Spirit – not on their own wisdom or ability.

Just like the apostles Peter, John and Paul and the early Christians.

The value of uncertainty

The recent U.S. presidential election and the British vote for Brexit underline once again that we live in a surprising and uncertain world.

How should Christians react to unexpected change?

We can be angry if we don’t like the change.  Or, we can despair, feeling that the world is falling apart.  Or, we can rejoice, expecting that our plans are finally going to be carried out.

Or, is there another way?  I believe there is.

I think uncertainty is good for us.  It forces us to look beyond our world to God.  It makes believers recognize that we cannot put our ultimate hope in other human beings.

As I have said before, I am passionate about politics – probably too passionate.

I am now old enough to know that no political change is permanent and that today’s hero may well be tomorrow’s villain in the eyes of the people.  Too often, we political partisans put our faith in a new world order – the particular world order of our dreams.

As I think about this, it seems to me that the Jewish captive Daniel showed believers long ago how to live in a tumultuous and sometimes frightening world.

As his story begins in the biblical book of Daniel, he is a young man carted away from his conquered homeland in Judah to Babylon.  He and most of his countrymen are slaves and at the mercy of the great conqueror, Nebuchadnezzar.

Rather than despairing, Daniel remains true to his faith and trusts in God to take him through the trials ahead.  At the same time, he treats his new masters with respect and wisdom.

He goes through many trials in his long life – several times facing death at the hands of enemies and capricious monarchs.  But in each case, he turns to God for insight and guidance and God responds – even giving him interpretations to dreams that alarmed the king.

On one occasion, his enemies trap the king into demanding that everyone – Daniel included – worship him as a god.  Daniel openly prays to his Lord as he always has, showing that he is not willing to compromise his belief that God is the only god.  He survives this test as he survived others during his life.

Jesus makes clear that we are to worship God above all while living lawfully and peacefully under human governors.

God gave Daniel some insight into how history would unfold through an angelic vision.  There would be a series of kingdoms rising and falling until God would bring history to an end with a final judgement.

This tells me that there will never be a perfect, everlasting world order run by human beings.

Rather than despair, I believe Christians are called to live as Jesus did in whatever world we are in.

God will handle the rest.

Passion and politics

I am passionate about politics as my family can attest.

Passion can be good – it can drive change for the better.  But it can be bad, too, building lasting bitterness and hatred.

So, how should Christians like me react to disappointment in politics?  After all, someone is always disappointed in democratic elections like the one coming up in a few days in the United States.

Perhaps political animals like me need to put things in God’s perspective.

Here’s a question to ask myself: Is my candidate’s victory more important than loving my neighbour?

Jesus would say: “No.”  Christ called on us to love God with everything we have and our neighbours as ourselves.  (Mark 12:29-31)

Some might say that is close to impossible for them.  Perhaps they have had angry debates with a colleague or friend and have been hurt by what they said.

But Christ never said that following him would be easy.  On the contrary, he said there would be trouble for his disciples (Matthew 10:16-20).

Yet he did promise help – the help of the Holy Spirit.

In fact, the Christian life is all about discovering how weak we are and how much we need God’s strength.

The apostle Paul had to find this out for himself when he pleaded unsuccessfully with God to remove a “thorn in his flesh” and wound up embracing God’s response: “My grace is all you need.  My power works best in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8)

Jesus sets a high standard for my conduct.  He tells me to forgive others who have hurt me. And I am to ask forgiveness for the things I have said and done to others.

As I see it, love doesn’t mean agreeing with everything my friend says.  It does mean treating him as a brother or sister in Christ.

Or, as a number of us were discussing this week, the great words of Jesus in Matthew 7:12: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”

It would be wonderful if we Christians could take these words to heart and act on them.