Archive for May, 2017|Monthly archive page

Enemies

The murderers who killed innocent people in Manchester and Egypt this week probably call themselves warriors of God.

In fact, they are enemies of God.

They clearly believe in a god who kills indiscriminately.  But, that is not the God I know.

Jesus and God the Father are one.  Jesus said that “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9)

Jesus made clear that we are to love one another – not kill each other.

It is often easier to hate than to love.  Jihadists have chosen the easy path.

Jesus sets a high bar for his followers.  He tells us “love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

It’s fascinating to see what impact that loving your enemies has had on the world in the 2,000 years since Jesus was born.  Many people became believers because their hearts melted when Christians loved them despite their antagonism toward Christ and his followers.

Godly love is more powerful than hate.

The hate displayed in Manchester and Egypt this week flows from satanic forces.  But Satan has already been defeated by Christ on the cross.  He is lashing out but his time as prince of this world is drawing to a close.

Meanwhile, there is time for Christians to spread the love of Christ and the good news of Christ in all the dark places in our world.

That is what God wants us to do.

He will triumph over this enemies.

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When losing is winning

It’s all about winning in the world we live in.

But, in God’s eyes, losing is sometimes better.

Take Jesus’ words in Mark 9 as he deals with the disciples privately arguing about who will be the greatest in Christ’s kingdom:  “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

That turns upside down the normal way we view our world.  We may be surprised by the people we meet in heaven who have received the greatest rewards – some may be the quiet ones out of the limelight in the world we live in.

I recently attended a men’s conference where men who have attended one of these conferences before are encouraged to invite others to come – and to serve them.  The idea is that these people serve at tables, carry suitcases, park cars, and do additional tasks for the general good of others.

Voluntary servanthood involves self-sacrifice – I am called to give up time, money and personal ambition to help others for the sake of Jesus.

As I look at myself, I am ready to help others but I grumble inside if it is likely to cost me anything significant.  I left that conference with something to work on in my own life.

I ask myself, was Jesus not the perfect servant, giving up his life of glory to come down to my world to die for me on the cross?  Am I justified in my grumbling about the little things I am called to do?

There is another area where losing is more important than winning – giving up control of my life to Jesus.

That is one of my toughest battles and I believe it is the same for most Christians.

To begin with, taking the step of faith in Christ means admitting we can’t meet God’s standards for eternal life.  We can never be good enough.

We are accepted by God because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross and his resurrection, defeating Satan.

But even after that surrender of my life to Jesus, I find myself still trying to take back control of my everyday life, doing my own thing.

Watchman Nee, a great Chinese Christian who died in a Chinese Communist prison camp, wrote a book called The Life That Wins which declares that winning over our character flaws and sins means giving it all up to God.  It means admitting that we can’t do it ourselves.  We have to depend on God to do it in our lives through the Holy Spirit.

In this sense, losing means winning.

Invited to a party

Many people can’t believe that Christ really loves them and wants them to join him in an eternity of joy.

They are like a little child who refuses an invitation to a birthday party because he doesn’t believe the birthday boy wants him to come.

This is certainly true of some non-believers I know who seem drawn to Christ but believe that God cannot accept them because of their past.

In a different sense, some believers have accepted the invitation, but are going to the party still doubting that they are really wanted.

It can be a crippling issue.

This struck me again last weekend at a men’s conference I attended.  The conference was about God’s love for us and who we are as believers in Christ.

During a discussion at our table, one of the men who was not a believer said he does not believe that God could accept him because of the things he has done.  He has had a rough life, including time spent in jail.

I pointed out that many of the Bible heroes did things that were terrible in our eyes, but that God had his hand on them.  They were accepted and loved by the Lord.

Here are some examples: Jacob cheated his brother out of his inheritance; Abraham was ready for his wife to become concubine to another man because he feared for his life; David had sex with another man’s wife and then arranged for that person’s death; and Paul threw believers into prison.

For me, that increases my wonder at God’s love.  It is not because we are worthy that God loves us – it is because Jesus gave himself for us that we might believe and enter the Lord’s family.

I am not saying that God wants us to have sex outside of marriage, or arrange someone else’s murder.  As believers, we are to become more like Christ – not less.

But I confess that I, as a believer, have sometimes felt that God could not possibly approve of me because of my failures and sins.

That’s where the other part of the conference came in – who we are as followers of Christ.  As the apostle Paul says in Romans 8, we are no longer under condemnation because of our faith in Christ and what he has done.

I need to constantly remind myself of Christ’s love and the power of the Spirit available to help me live the life God intended for me.

I am going to the party with gladness.

The power of questions

A question can change an opinion – and maybe a life.

A question such as “Can you tell me why you believe that?” can prompt people to re-examine their views.  Some may even ponder that question afterwards and start on a new path.

I was thinking of this after listening to a brief discussion about religion at a lunch gathering of retired men in our neighbourhood.

It began with one man saying he was less religious than he had been as a young man. He talked about chatting with men from two other faiths on their burial practices which he thought made a lot of sense. Another said 90 per cent of people around the world were good.

They seemed to be implying that all faiths were equally valid or that religion doesn’t matter at all.

I believe your faith does make a difference – if truth has any meaning at all.  And athiesm is as much a faith as any other.  But I did not declare my views for fear of offending.

Afterwards, I regretted not asking questions as a way of raising important points without flat-out offending the other men.

Randy Newman, author of Questioning Evangelism, says a simple word such as “Really?” can start a much deeper discussion after someone makes a declaration.  Questions aimed at learning more about someone’s opinions are not direct challenges but a way of opening minds to other ways of viewing the world.

The apostle Paul was a master of asking questions, sometimes uncomfortable ones.  He used questions to make a point to believers and unbelievers alike.

Our church men’s group looked at Romans 2 this week where the apostle asks Jewish people whether they were living by the Jewish law that they were trying to impose on others.  It is not clear to me whether he was speaking to Jewish believers in Christ who did attempt to impose their laws on non-Jewish believers in the early church.

But the question would certainly force his readers to examine their own conduct.

Newman notes that Paul “reasoned” with Jewish people and with non-Jews, suggesting discussion – questions as well as statements.

The author says discussion does not alone lead to a change of heart.  In the end, it is the Spirit of God that brings people into the kingdom of God.

But a good question, asked with respect, can be a good starting point.