Archive for April, 2017|Monthly archive page

Relationships and God

Imagine you are the only human being left on earth after a terrible calamity.  How would you feel?

I know how I would feel – lost, lonely, desperate.  And I say that even though I am an introvert and love times of solitude.

God knew that we needed relationships even before the creation of the universe.  He made Eve to be a companion to Adam.

Indeed, the perfect relationship is the relationship of love between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

But what about the tragic, abusive and heart-breaking relationships we have with family, friends and acquaintances?  Why does God allow this to happen to us?

I believe it is because relationships are the best way to shape us into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).  It is preparation for the life to come with God in heaven.

At one time, Jesus said that everything in the law of God in the Old Testament hangs on two commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind” and “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37, 39)

These commandments speak about relationships – with God and with others.  They are commands to love which runs against the inner selfishness in all of us.

The love that Jesus is talking about is impossible for me in my natural life.  I am too self-centred, demanding that my needs be met first before I care for others.

It is interesting that in the Matthew 22 passage, Jesus says that loving God is the first and greatest commandment.  I believe that it is only in loving God that we can truly love others unselfishly.

The apostle John says in 1 John 4 that we love because God loved us.  It is the love of God that transforms – not the self-love that seeks payback before caring for others.

John says that loving one another – even the most difficult and hard-to-love among us – is proof that the love of God is at work in us.

The kind of love that the Bible is talking about is illustrated in the apostle Paul’s great chapter on love – 1 Corinthians 13.  Here are just a couple of lines from that passage:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

That is not me.  But I do not despair.

God is working in me to smooth out the rocky parts.  He knows I am weak and that the older I get, the more I will realize my weakness.  The more I know I am weak, the more I will turn to his Spirit to change me.

That is the first step to being changed into the image of Christ.

Standing firm

I believe God is calling believers to stand firm against a rising anti-Christian tide in Canada and the Western world.

I am not advocating an angry campaign against other beliefs.  But I do believe that we Christians must be ready to defend our faith.

This may sound too dramatic.  But a quick glance at the world around us – our schools and universities, our governments, our media – will reveal a strong bias against Christianity and Christian values.

I am amazed at the swiftness of this change.  It is accelerating.

Some years ago, I read a poll that asked parents whom they would least like their children to marry.  Evangelical Christians topped the list.

That suggests to me that we Christians need to begin by looking at ourselves.  Why do people object to us?  Do they see us as judgemental?  Is it because we have made no effort to love them as Jesus did?  If so, we must ask ourselves why we have not ventured outside our cocoons to touch the lives of others.

But, I think there is more to it than that.

The good news of Jesus Christ is the “aroma of life” to some and “the stench of death” to others, as the apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:16.  The gospel divides people.

That’s because the news that Jesus Christ gave his life for us out of unimaginable love also calls us to repentance of our sinful past and a commitment to God for eternity.  Not everyone is ready to take that step.

Still, I think there is a vast swarm of people who don’t know what we Christians stand for.  They go along with the prevailing opinion of Christianity in our society – and that opinion isn’t pretty.

In my small way, I admit that I am often guilty of hiding my faith in the public arena rather than speaking out as Jesus did.

The apostle Peter famously said in 1Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect.”

That is the perfect approach to defending our faith.

The best way of changing people’s opinions of the Christian faith is to live like Jesus did – reaching out to others with acts of love and sharing the good news.  Barriers to Christ will fall if we live like that.

The Christian world is also blessed with people – lawyers, politicians, scientists – who are ready to challenge wrong views of God as the apostle Paul did in the early years of the Christian church.  We should support them and learn from them so we, too, can give convincing answers to questions people raise.

In any case, we Christians must no longer hide as I have done too often.  We must not be silent.

We must stand firm.

Unseen war

This weekend, Christians are celebrating a strange victory over an unseen enemy.

Onlookers at Jesus Christ’s crucifixion 2,000 years ago saw it as a final defeat for him and his followers.  In fact, it was a great victory over Satan and the forces of evil.

This reminds me that we believers must never rely on our human vision and wisdom.  God is master of our world, no matter what our eyes and our minds tell us.

I said “strange victory” because Jesus won by submitting to the will of God rather than calling legions of angels to rout his enemies – human and demonic.

By giving his life as a sacrifice for us weak and sinful human beings, he satisfied the legal requirements for permitting men, women and children to enter the family of God.

So, what seemed like a stunning triumph for Satan on Good Friday, turned into his ultimate defeat on Easter Sunday when Jesus rose alive from the grave.

A friend and I spent the morning of Good Friday this week talking about what it must have been like for witnesses viewing Jesus on the cross.

Think of the Jewish religious leaders jeering at Jesus, certain they had got rid of a threatening troublemaker.  Or, the Roman soldiers scoffing at the so-called “King of the Jews”.  Or, his heartbroken followers, some of them weeping.

I’ll pick one – Mary Magdalene – who was standing at the foot of Jesus’ cross.  She must have been crushed, with questions rushing through her mind about why Jesus was dying.  She loved this extraordinary man who had turned her life around.

What a change three days later!  She stood weeping outside his empty tomb, believing the body had been stolen.  But someone asked her why she was crying and she recognized Jesus – alive again!  What joy!

In Ephesians 6, the apostle Paul tells us that our struggle as believers “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.

God has equipped us for that struggle through his word and the gift of prayer.  Every believer can play a part in that war, knowing that the Lord has already won and that we are simply cleaning up the remnants before Jesus’ return.

While Canadian Christians may be discouraged, all we need to do is look at the rapid spread of Christianity throughout the world to see that God is marching forward.

God’s eyes

What does God see in my friend’s painful illness of more than eight years?

I ask that question because my friend is so discouraged that he is even losing hope in a divine miracle.  He has watched healing shows on television, contacted prayer centres and I have prayed with him every time I visit him.

On the medical front, he has been examined by medical specialists in almost every discipline along with trying various cures outside the traditional medical stream.  Some have given him different diagnoses but the solutions haven’t worked.

So what is God up to?

I can see that is the question behind my friend’s frustrations.

It’s a question that many of us have asked at various times in our lives.  I have never gone through anything like my friend’s illness but I have been disappointed at times that God hasn’t answered my prayers the way I thought he should.

I admit that my vision is limited.  I am shaped by my experiences and what I have learned in a long life.

But I am struck by God’s response to Job who had lost his entire family, his health and his wealth through satan’s attacks.

Initially, Job reacted admirably by saying he trusted God even if God killed him.  But finally he complained to the Lord after well-meaning friends suggested he was really at fault for his own problems.

God’s response to Job’s complaints seem harsh. He fires a serious of tough questions at the suffering man beginning with: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”

The point the Lord Almighty was making is that we do not know the big picture – only God does.

John Eldredge touched on the problem of unanswered prayer in his book Moving Mountains: Praying with Passion, Confidence and Authority.  It’s a book that our prayer group has been studying for several weeks.

Just after talking about God moving powerfully through healing prayer, Eldredge writes about friends who have not been healed.

One afternoon, Eldredge’s wife sat by the bed of one of their friends, lying in hospital with an unexplained disease which racked his body with fevers, chills and pains for months.  As she sat there, he gasped out the words, “I love you, Jesus. I worship you. I love you, Jesus. I worship you.”

“It was one of the holiest things she ever witnessed,” says Eldredge.

Eldredge asks the question: “What is the goal of this life?”

Paul’s says in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that “the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image”.

We are being moulded into the image of Christ in this world in preparation for the world to come with God.

Eldredge says: “The goal of human existence is union with God, an absolute union of heart, soul, mind and strength, the union Jesus knew with his Father.”

I don’t understand why some – like my friend – suffer horribly and others don’t.

But I believe God loves my friend – deeply.  And there will be a day when he rejoices with Jesus – pain-free.

And he will finally understand as he sees his life through God’s eyes.

The offence of the cross

A couple of years ago, an elderly friend told me he was horrified by the cruelty of God the Father sending God the Son to the cross to die for us.

Startled, I said I saw the crucifixion of Jesus very differently.

In my view, Christ gave his life so that those who trust him will live with him forever. Without his death for our sins, we have no hope.  Christ’s sacrifice in our place is the only way we can be with a good, perfect and loving God in eternity.

My friend was not convinced.  He hopes he will be judged good enough to enter heaven on his own merits.

I continue to pray that Jesus will reveal himself to him.

This exchange highlights for me the truth in the apostle Paul’s words where he says that sharing the message of Christ is the aroma of life to some and the stench of death to others (2 Corinthians 2:16).

In 1 Corinthians 2:2, Paul says he resolved to speak only about Christ and Christ crucified when he was among the Corinthians.  The cross was at the centre of Paul’s preaching.

I have been thinking recently that I need to understand more about the significance of the cross.  More than that: I need to approach the cross with the wonder and awe of the first followers of Jesus after the resurrection.

Every believer understands why Jesus died for us.  But sometimes we let the idea of the cross fade into the background in our thinking – not appreciating how wrenching and world-shaking Christ’s death on the cross was.

Think for a minute about Jesus’ young disciple John standing beneath Christ, looking up at his friend and mentor writhing and dying in great pain on that wooden cross.  Beside him stands Mary, Jesus’ mother, watching as her beloved son is about to expire.

What are the thoughts going through their minds?

Despite what Jesus has told them, they still do not understand what is happening.  They must be wondering why this good man who healed many and preached loving God and man should be nailed to a Roman cross like a thief or murderer.

If he was the Jewish messiah, why was he being killed?

For Mary, the pain must be unbearable – her first-born son dying so cruelly and hatefully.

Today, the crucifixion seems just as bewildering to people who hear about it for the first time.  They can’t comprehend why Jesus’ death and resurrection are so important.

I think that’s partly because they don’t understand that the real struggle is unseen – the battle between God and satan (Ephesians 16).  Jesus’ death and resurrection sealed God’s victory and opened the way for billions of believers to enter the kingdom of God.

Was Jesus forced to go to the cross?

No, as he said in John 3:16, he did it for love – love of us.