Archive for February, 2017|Monthly archive page

Perfection

“You must be perfect,” Jesus said, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Wow!  For me, that statement by Jesus in Matthew 5:48 is an impossibility.

Yet, unconsciously, I try to achieve that goal – and constantly fail.  And I find my efforts discouraging.

So, why did Jesus make that statement in his great “Sermon on the Mount”?

I think he was telling the religious teachers of the time – and believers today – that self-effort will never get us anywhere.  Only God can be perfect and only He can help us.

The people Jesus was addressing were trying to live up to a religious legal system that was launched centuries earlier under the great Israelite leader and prophet Moses.  It had been modified with other laws in the intervening years.

As with me, people tried to invent ways of excusing their failures to live up to the legal requirements of their faith.

But Jesus told the people that their efforts to get around the Jewish law were fruitless.  Indeed, nothing short of perfection was acceptable to God.

Jesus was preparing the way for his sacrifice for the sins of his listeners – and for all people, me included.  He was the perfect man who paid the price for my sins and failures.

But, despite Christ’s sacrifice, I am still not perfect.  I still do many of the wrong things I used to do.

So, what changed when I put my faith in Jesus and what he did for me on the cross?

Well, I am learning that I am weak and virtually helpless.  That’s a positive step.

And I am learning the lesson that the apostle Paul taught throughout his letters to young Christians – I have to die to myself and let Christ live through me.

That’s a really hard lesson to learn.

Everything in me rises up in opposition to this truth.  I want my opinions, my comforts, my wants to come first in my life.

It’s a challenging goal, but it is achievable.  The apostle and countless believers over the centuries have shown the tremendous power of living a life given over to Christ.

Paul put this principle clearly and simply in these words in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

When I put my faith in Jesus, I died to my previous life and rose with him to a new life empowered by the Holy Spirit.  This is a matter of faith, recognizing that Christ’s power to live a life for God is now within me.

Yet, as long as I live on earth, I will never be free of temptation – the attempts by Satan and my natural longings to draw me away from God.

So, I am called to see myself in a new light – a beloved child of God completely dependent on him and his great power.

The Bible talks about fixing our eyes on Jesus as we run the race of life.

That is what God is asking of me – turning my eyes away from myself and towards him.

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Does God heal?

Does God heal supernaturally? 

I believe he does.  In my view, there is incontrovertible evidence from scripture and our own day, showing that God can – and often does – act miraculously.

But what about the times when people cry out to God for healing and nothing happens?

That’s the case with Joni Eareckson Tada who sought divine healing after becoming a quadriplegic decades ago following a diving accident at the age of 16.

Tada is convinced that God heals today as he did when Jesus lived on earth 2000 years ago.  But she also believes that God does not always heal everyone in this life.

In her book A Place of Healing, Tada describes her own understanding of divine healing after unsuccessfully seeking God’s healing over many years.

She notes that she has attended healing crusades where leaders of healing ministries have insisted that if people have enough faith, they will certainly be healed.

Clearly, faith is a major factor in people being healed.  In a number of instances, Jesus said that faith was the reason the people he touched were healed.

But, is that faith in healing or faith in God, the healer?  Tada believes it is the latter.  So do I.

Tada takes this a step further.  Do we have faith that God has our best interests at heart? Do we believe that God has a plan to bring glory to his kingdom and that it involves us?

For her, the real question is not whether he heals.  She is certain he does.  But the issue is “whether or not God wills to heal all those who come to him in faith”.

“Is it a sure thing, a slam-dunk that miraculous healing is always his first and best option?”

Her response – her view – is that “God reserves the right to heal or not . . . as he sees fit”.

She has reached this conclusion after years of reflection and counselling people who are desperately ill and have been told that they are not being healed because of sin or lack of faith.

She points out that the apostle Peter told Christians that they are to follow the example of Christ who suffered for them (1 Peter 2:21).

“Christ and the manner in which he approached suffering is to be our focus, especially when the weight of the cross seems overwhelming.”

She refers to scripture passages where people were not healed – the apostle Paul’s friend Timothy, among others.

But a key for her is Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart.”

The desires of her heart have changed as she has learned to delight herself in the Lord.  His wishes are increasingly becoming her wishes.

“As many have said so eloquently, sometimes he delivers us from the storm, and at other times, he delivers us through the storm.”

In her case, she no longer thinks of physical healing in the way she did years ago.  Instead, she looks forward to be with God, free of pain and “racing with the angels”.

While Tada did not say this, God has used her greatly as a testimony of faith, endurance, hope and love to the world.

She has brought hope to people like her around the world.  Her foundation has provided wheel chairs to multitudes.

And her story has inspired millions.

I will yet praise God

If ever I suffer terribly, I hope I will emulate Joni Eareckson Tada in her devotion to God.

I have admired Tada ever since reading her first book Joni about her diving accident at the age of 16 which left her a quadriplegic for life.  That book is a testament of faith in God that has touched millions around the world and given hope to multitudes of disabled people.

I admire Tada even more now as I read her book A Place of Healing which, paradoxically, is about a new bed of suffering thrust upon her in recent years.

For several years now, she has been struggling with excruciating pain from a fracture in her sacrum, a large triangular bone at the base of her spine.

Amazingly, pain shoots through limbs which have been without feeling for decades from her swimming accident.  It is unrelenting pain – night and day.

Tada has been unable to care for herself without help since the fateful day she dove into Chesapeake Bay as a teenager.  She depends entirely on her husband Ken and a group of dedicated friends and fellow workers at the foundation she has founded to help the disabled.

Now, she fears she is wearing them out with her new affliction.

“Some days I do attempt to sit up for as long as I am able, trying to complete as much work as I possibly can before pain drives me back to bed,” she writes.

She asks herself – very honestly: “Is my life beginning to unravel?  Have I reached a limit in what I can endure?”

But she is a determined woman – tried through trials.

Like the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6, she believes that her greatest enemy is Satan who tries to distract her from following Christ.

“I believe he (Satan) views disabilities as his last great stronghold to defame the good character of God.”

So, she is turning to Jesus – the warrior Jesus – to fight her battle for her.  She is not looking for the children’s picture book Jesus, surrounded by fluffy sheep.

“You want mighty,” she says of people struggling like her.  “You want the strong arm and unshakable grip of God who will not let you go – no matter what.”

To build her spiritual strength, she considers the resurrection of Jesus, the greatest triumph over evil in history.

She tells of a gathering of Christian friends, including her pastor and elders, who came to anoint her with oil and pray over her.  Her darkness of spirit lifted as her pastor read Psalm 57:2-3 which declares that God “sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me”.

Tada declares: “I know that it (her pain) drives me to a nearer more intimate place of fellowship with Jesus, and so I take pain as though I were taking the left hand of God.”

“Yes, I pray that my pain might be removed, that it might cease,” she says. “But more so, I pray for the strength to bear it, the grace to benefit from it, and the devotion to offer it up to God as a sacrifice of praise.”

Yes, Joni is praising the Lord in the midst of her pain.

Wow!

Forget yourself!

Timothy Keller has some advice for Christians: “Forget yourself!”

Keller, author of The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, says that many Christians are putting too much emphasis on self-esteem.  Basically, we are often guilty of replacing God with self-esteem or pride.

That is the root of a great deal of harm in the world, in the church, and in our lives.

Keller, founder and senior leader of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, writes that the apostle Paul himself argued against this self-pride in 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7.

The apostle noted that men were boasting about their personal relationships with different Christian leaders – so much so, that there was conflict among believers. Pride was involved.

Paul was saying that believers already have everything in Christ.  They don’t need to assert themselves over others by claiming allegiance to Paul, or other leaders such as Apollos or Cephas.

He goes on to say that he is not perfect, but he doesn’t worry about the judgement of men: “It is the Lord who judges me.”

Keller points out that there is a widespread view today that “people misbehave today for lack of self-esteem and because they have too low a view of themselves”.  But he says psychologist Lauren Slater declares that “there is no evidence that low self-esteem is a big problem in society”.

Basically, the word Paul is using for “pride” means to be overinflated, swollen, distended beyond its proper size, says Keller.  That is the natural human ego.

In other words, our egos are “empty, painful, busy and fragile”, Keller writes.  Our spiritual pride tells us that we are competent to run our own lives and “find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God”.

But, we are easily hurt and upset if we don’t get the recognition we feel we deserve. “It is very hard to get through a whole day without feeling snubbed or ignored or feeling stupid or getting down on ourselves.”

 

“The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself; it is thinking of myself less.”

People feel themselves to be in a courtroom daily, worrying about how others judge them – and how they judge themselves.

But Paul says he is out of the courtroom “because the ultimate verdict is in”, writes Keller.  It is only God’s judgement that matters.

As believers, Christians have received “the verdict before the performance”.  The moment we believe, God says we are his sons and daughters because Christ has died for us.

As Paul says in Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

“Because he loves me and accepts me, I do not have to do things just to build up my resume,” says Keller.  “I can do things for the joy of doing them.  I can help people to help people – not so I can feel better about myself.”

What a concept!