Archive for December, 2016|Monthly archive page

Not of this world

In a sense, I do not belong here.

I am a proud Canadian, but I belong to God first.

So far, that is not an issue for me or my country.  But, it is for many Christians around the world.

We live in a world where people often demand allegiance to the group above all, sometimes to the point of death.  This is the fuel for war.

Patriotism – willingness to sacrifice myself for the good of my country – is a noble idea.  But it depends heavily on what my leaders think and demand of me.

Are they asking me to renounce my faith?  Are they asking me to do something that is contrary to what God wants as laid out in scripture?

In many countries, that is the issue facing believers today.

I believe these pressures are growing and spreading – and the democratic West may not be immune.

I like the approach the apostle Peter takes in 1 Peter 2: 11-14.  For me, it balances our allegiance to God and our duties as citizens of the country we live in.

Peter says that we are “temporary residents and foreigners” in this world.  As Christians, we already have one foot in heaven.  Our ultimate citizenship is in heaven, not earth.

Yet, for our time on earth, we are to “submit [ourselves] for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men”.  He then points out that our governors are sent by God to “punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right”.

But the Bible also makes clear that when our earthly rulers oppose God, we are to stand up for what we are to believe.  The stories of the prophets show that this often means believers suffer imprisonment and even death.

As a Christian, though, I am not to react with the weapons of this world.  Peter says in 1 Peter 2:15 that it is God’s will that “by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men”.

Love is always God’s greatest weapon.

In the end, the kingdom of God is strongest when it is under attack.  The rapid growth of the Christian church in a hostile Roman empire is ample proof.

As a Christian, I know that my eternal destiny is with God – a god of love and peace and joy.

There is nothing better than that.

Warming God’s heart

For most of us, it warms our hearts to see our gifts delighting loved ones.

Is it so for God as well?  I believe it is.

He loves to give us good gifts in life.  And he loves it when we are thankful.

Remember the story in Luke 17 of the 10 lepers Jesus healed?

They pleaded for Jesus to heal them and he asked them to go show themselves to the priests.  They were healed as they obeyed his instructions.

Only one – a despised Samaritan – returned to Jesus and sank to the ground, praising God with a loud voice.  The others did not.

Jesus asked: “Didn’t I heal 10 men? Where are the other nine?  Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”

This may sound like a complaint by Jesus.  I don’t think it is.  He wanted to teach his listeners the importance of giving thanks to God.

Why?  Because it shows that we realize that God is pouring out blessings every minute of every day.  It shows us what our true relationship is with God.  We are dependent upon him even for being able to breathe.

Gratitude actually transforms us as many believers have found.  It is something I frequently forget.  But when I do give thanks to God it usually changes my outlook on life and brings peace and even joy.

I need to make this a daily practice in my life as Ann Voskamp has.

The author of One Thousand Gifts says she took up a friend’s challenge to write down one thousand gifts she received from God in the coming months.

She did and her life was changed.  As she noticed the little things we so often ignore in life, she  felt the joy of God growing in her.  And her friends and family observed her transformation, too.

But what about the terrible things that happen?

She mentions the death of a neighbour child – a time when she cried out to God: “Why?”

Like everyone else, she came up with no easy answers.  But she trusted God’s perspective on life was better than hers.

And as she worked her way through her questions, she recalled the words of G.K. Chesterton: “Here dies another day, during which I have had eyes, ears, hands and the great world around me.  And with tomorrow begins another.  Why am I allowed two?”

While we may not understand life’s tragedies, we can find God’s grace in the gift of life itself and the good things we receive every day.

God loves us deeply even when we ignore him.

But he is pleased when we delight in him and his gifts.

Grateful living

The bombing stopped, the sirens sounded the “all clear”, and David Steindl-Rast crawled out from under a church pew, stepped over shattered glass and debris and into the street in wartime Austria.

Outside, buildings, which had stood there just before he ran into the church for protection, were now reduced to smoking rubble.

But what he remembers most today is the few feet of gloriously green grass glowing in the sunshine.  It was life.  It was surprise in the midst of ruin.

“Surprise is no more than a beginning of that fullness that we call gratefulness,” writes Steindl-Rast in his book Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer.  “But a beginning it is.”

His book is a call to make gratefulness our basic attitude to life.

He takes delight watching a cardinal swoop down on a rock for the corn that Steindl-Rast has scattered for birds in winter.  He has come to expect the bird and yet is surprised at the same time.

Steindl-Rast calls these moments gifts from God.  These simple gifts are all around us.

In essence, he says, we need to wake up to the world.  The more aware – or wakeful – we are, the more we see and enjoy the little gifts of life.

Henri Nouwen, the great Catholic writer and priest, says in his introduction to Steindl-Rast’s book:

“In the midst of a world in which fear, apprehension and suspicion make us live stingy, small and narrow lives, Brother David stretches out his arms, smiles and says: ‘Love wholeheartedly, be surprised, give thanks and praise – then you will discover the fullness of your life.'”

Steindl-Rast says it takes practice to grow in gratefulness.  We need to engage our minds and hearts and spirits.

The apostle Paul was one who learned to be grateful.

In Philippians 4, he writes: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

And in the same chapter, he says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Repeatedly, Paul urges his readers to rejoice in God and be thankful.

This was a man who was beaten often, stoned and left for dead, imprisoned for long periods, and shipwrecked – all for the privilege and honour of sharing Christ with people who did not know Jesus.

Steindl-Rast and Paul have a lot to say to people like me who take blessings for granted and complain about little things.

Seeing God in the everyday

I am usually too busy with other things to notice God at work in the world around me.

But I realize I am missing an essential part of life.

Ken Gire touches on this in his book Seeing What is Sacred.

He mentions a time when his daughter came home from a Super Bowl party at a school friend’s home, deeply depressed because she felt rejected by other girls in her class.

He and his wife tried to comfort her, reminding her that Jesus was also rejected by many when he was here on earth.  They told her that she was getting insight into Jesus’ life and sharing his sufferings.

Gire also told her about times when he was rejected, too.

After drying her tears, his daughter asked him what he was doing the next day.  He had a busy day the following day, but he realized she was asking to spend time with him.

So they went to a movie together and shopped and ate lunch at a restaurant.

She told him: “Ya know, Dad, this is one of those memories I’ll treasure the rest of my life.”

It was a God-moment.

The Bible says that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Psalm 24:1).

If that is true, then God is making himself known in what I see – in people, in events, in books, in the Bible.  I just have to open my eyes to what he is saying and doing.

In Romans 1, the apostle Paul says that people have no excuse for not knowing God because he has made himself plain in nature.

Gire urges us to take time to reflect on what we see and hear during the day.  Even if it means stopping what we are doing for a moment.

He keeps a journal of things that catch his attention – maybe a newspaper article or notes about a movie or an encounter during the day.

Then, he will think about these things and go back to them later.

Writing helps.  But you don’t even have to do that.

There are moments in my life – particularly my family life – that I have stored away as memorials.  They are gifts from God that I consider treasures – as Gire’s daughter said.

I just need to make this a part of my everyday life.

He is here

A friend is seriously ill and has been praying for healing for years – without healing.

He is so discouraged that he says he can’t even pray anymore.

He is afflicted by doubts about God – he wants evidence that God is who he says he is.

He is not the first person to doubt God.  Many of us question God and wonder if he really exists.

What can we do when bad things happen and God appears to be asleep at the switch?

There are two choices – reject God or trust that he loves us and has our ultimate interests at heart.

I can think of many people in the Bible who felt abandoned by God in the face of trouble.

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah runs from Jezebel into the wilderness, telling God that he is the only one left of the prophets resisting the priests of the pagan god Baal.

But God tells him that the Lord preserved 7,000 in Israel who were true to him.  God was at work in ways that Elijah could not see.

Elisha’s servant learned the same lesson when he saw the Aramean army surrounding them in the town of Dothan in 2 Kings 6.  Terrified, he told Elisha about the enemy army and asked what they could possibly do.

Elisha prayed to God and asked him to reveal to his servant the great army of angels that were camped around them.  God answered and opened the servant’s eyes to the heavenly army, leading to miracles and the deliverance of Elisha and his servant.

In effect, we are not God and cannot see what he sees.  As Isaiah says, his thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).

But what about the times when we are not delivered from illness, or poverty, or family collapse – or even death?

Jesus did not say that we would have an easy time.  He promised us trouble if we followed him.

But he also promised that he would always be with his followers.  As our pastor said today, he is present with us each personally right now.

And ultimately we will be with him forever where there are no more tears and there is eternal joy.

As others have said, our reality is not here on earth but in heaven.

Right now, we are here on earth as part of God’s grand plan to triumph over evil.

That plan is good and we have a part to play in it.