Archive for January, 2017|Monthly archive page

Who are you?

Who are you?  For Christians, that’s a big question.

It’s more than your role in your family, workplace, school, or leisure activities.

It’s about your relationship to God.

Most believers would say that they have put their faith in Christ and know that, someday, they will be with God in heaven.  But, like me for many decades, they would believe they must live perfect lives to please God.

Although most would deny this, it’s almost as if we have to earn our way into heaven even though the scriptures say the only requirement for becoming a child of God is believing that Jesus paid for our sins and mistakes on the cross.

For most of us, this belief that, somehow, we have to work our way into God’s good graces can be discouraging and negatively affect our daily lives as followers of Jesus.

A friend in our church touched on this in a sermon last Sunday as he talked about our “identity in Christ”. He painted a much more positive picture of our relationship with God, noting that we are already “saints” in the eyes of the Lord.

His sermon happened to come at a time when I was renewing my resolve to regularly go over Neil Anderson’s list of scriptures under the title “Who I Am In Christ” in his book Victory Over The Darkness (pp. 38-39).

Anderson has used these scriptures in his years as a Christian counsellor, dealing with people who have fears or struggles with sin.  And his clients have found them freeing and motivating to become more like Jesus.

“As believers, we are not trying to become saints,” says Anderson. “We are saints who are becoming like Christ.”

That does not deny that Christians sin.  But it does change how we view God and the resources he has given us to live for him.

My natural tendency is to focus on what I have done wrong.  I am easily tempted to feel God is especially displeased with me.

Anderson’s list brings my focus back to God and his great love for me. It makes me glad and inspires me to worship him.

His list is too long to go through in a blog post.  So, I will simply share a few, listing Anderson’s brief summary “Who I Am In Christ” with the scripture in brackets:

  • “I am God’s child” (John 1:12);
  • “I am united with the Lord and I am one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6:7);
  • “I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins” (Colossians 1:14)
  • “I have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18)
  • “I am free from condemnation” (Romans 8:1,2)
  • “I am assured that all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28)
  • “I am confident that the good work that God has begun in me will be perfected” (Philippians 1:6)
  • “I am a citizen of heaven” (Philippians 3:20)
  • “I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7)
  • “I am the salt and the light of the earth” (Matthew 5:13-14)
  • “I am a branch of the true vine, a channel of his life” (John 15:1,5)
  • “I am God’s co-worker” (2 Corinthians 6:1)

The apostle Paul calls us to meditate on what is good, lovely and true (Philippians 4:8).

I can think of no better way to meditate than on what God has given us through Jesus.

Goals

I have a growing appreciation of the apostle Paul: He set a goal and went all-out to achieve it.

Our Wednesday morning men’s group has been going through the Book of Acts for some months.  It’s helped us get to know Paul better – his undying commitment to Christ and his willingness to risk his life just to tell others about how wonderful Jesus is.

Our group agrees that, as a person, Paul must have been a bit intimidating.  He was somewhat “in-your-face”.

But flocks of people became believers because of his passion for the Lord.  And those close to him gave up everything to accompany him on his travels.

He loved Jesus with all his heart and his letters drip with love for those who gave their lives to Christ.

In his second letter to his young helper Timothy, Paul writes: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

He could say that truthfully – not everyone can.

What race was Paul running?  He was running to please Jesus and ultimately to receive his reward in heaven.

But he knew he would not succeed in running that race without self-discipline as he says in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.  We are to “run to win”, Paul says, and then he adds:

“All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.”

He goes on to say that he runs “with purpose in every step”, disciplining himself as he goes.

This may seem discouraging for us as believers.  How could anyone be so single-minded?

Like most people, I am easily distracted by things going on around me and the many technical toys available to me.  So, how should I get on the right track?  How can I run the race that Christ has set before me?

I need to remember that the process of becoming like Christ doesn’t happen overnight.  The apostles Peter and Paul talk about growing in Christ – it’s a step-by-step process as we rely more and more on the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

But I do need to constantly keep the goal of pleasing Jesus and becoming more like him in view.  If I am not aiming for this goal, I will stumble.

A conference speaker I heard a couple of years ago said something helpful.  He advised against trying wholesale change all at once.  Instead, he suggested establishing one goal and working toward that until it is a habit and a natural part of my life before moving on to something else.

I need to remember that I am helpless without Jesus.  I can’t do it on my own.

But with him, I can run with purpose – just like Paul.

In charge

God’s in charge – even when we can’t see him at work.

Or is he?  What about terrible wars and famines? What about rampant crime?

A friend read Psalm 97 at a gathering this week – a psalm which triumphantly declares:

“The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice.”

How can I reconcile this joyous declaration with the war in Syria, the refugees pouring into Europe, terrorism, and sabre-rattling by the great powers of the earth?

I need to look at things through the eyes of God.

Human beings brought trouble on themselves when Adam and Eve disobeyed God at the very beginning of time.  They gave themselves into Satan’s hands.

In John 14:30, Jesus describes Satan as the “prince of this world”.  He is actively trying to destroy the works of God.

But the contest is not equal.  Jesus won the victory when he died on the cross for the sins of men and rose to life, defeating Satan’s ultimate hold on human beings.  Now, God offers us entry into his kingdom if we give ourselves to him.

However, the earth remains a battleground as Satan fights a rearguard action, trying to stave off the inevitable reckoning when Jesus returns.

But Satan is not in control – God is.

A great illustration – one I have used before – is Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, boasting about his power as he surveys his capital city one day: “By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendour.” (Daniel 4)

But the Lord replies that Nebuchadnezzar will no longer rule his kingdom and will be driven from human society, living in the fields as he is stricken with insanity.  This fulfills a prophecy of his Hebrew servant Daniel which he had ignored.

As Daniel prophesied, Nebuchadnezzar regains the throne after he acknowledges God’s sovereignty.  He declares openly to his people that “I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honour the King of heaven”.

He notes that God “does as he pleases among the angels of heaven and among the people of the earth”.

It is a lesson that many great men and women of history have failed to learn.  Unfortunately, some leaders today still repeat Nebuchadnezzar’s mistake, thinking they are all-powerful.

No, God is in charge.

Great memories

Great memories help us fuel a thankful heart.

I noticed this week how my friend’s eyes lit up as he recalled the joy of long-distance bicycling.  For a moment, it took his mind away from the constant pain he has been dealing with for more than eight years from a mysterious illness.

As a Christian, I am called to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  Remembering the blessings of God in the past – often family events – can spur gratitude when things are hectic or gloomy.

I believe the key is recognizing that all good gifts come from God (James 1:17).  They are the Lord’s way of giving us pleasure and showing his love for us.  They are a reminder that God is good.

These pleasures can be very simple.

In her book One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp tells of her world-travelling aunt’s reaction to Voskamp’s little daughter’s ecstasy as they rolled a ball back and forth.

Weeks later, Voskamp’s aunt – an airline steward – sent her a note: “I will never forget your daughter’s wild joy in that ball – a happiness like I have never seen in all my travels through all these years.”

I recall a number of seemingly small moments in my life that shine in my mind many years later.  Somehow, I believe God has embedded them in my thoughts.

Of course, great events in our lives – and in the lives of others – can feed gratitude, too.

For example, Psalm 104 outlines God’s actions in Israel’s past as a means of offering thanks.

The writer says: “Remember the wonders he (God) has done, his miracles and the judgements he pronounced, O descendants of Abraham his servant, O sons of Jacob, his chosen ones.”

Sad memories can often cloud my view of God.

Happy and inspiring memories are the antidote.

They remind me that God loves me – and is always giving me good things.