Archive for August, 2017|Monthly archive page

Offended by good news

People are offended by all kinds of things today – even the good news of Jesus.

Surprisingly, the apostle Paul would be pleased that the message of Jesus is still upsetting people.  In his view, that shows that men and women care about it – whether they hate it or love it.

But what about ordinary Christians like you or me?  Are we happy that the gospel offends?  Or, are we more likely to keep silent in case we might disturb someone?

Paul discusses this issue in Galatians 5.  In his letter, he is talking to believers who are reverting to Jewish legalistic practices such as circumcision to show they are deserving of salvation.

Paul’s strong message in Galatians 5 is that only one thing is needed for personal salvation – faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

So, he suggests that if he preached circumcision, people would not have persecuted him – throwing him into jail among other things.

“If I were no longer preaching salvation through the cross, no one would be offended,” he declares.

Paul embraced his task of sharing the love of Christ and the good news, no matter the personal cost.

He states this clearly in 2 Corinthians 2: “To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of doom and death.  But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume.”

He goes on to say that he is not preaching for profit, but in sincerity “with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us”.

For me, that puts the issue in a nutshell: Whose approval am I seeking?

God wants me to share the love of Christ and the message of Christ with others so that they, too, will have the opportunity of joining God’s family.  I know from the scriptures that God rejoices with every person who enters his kingdom.

I don’t believe God is asking me to be obnoxious in talking about Christ’s love and sacrifice for us.

I like the apostle Peter’s advice.  In 1 Peter 3:15, he says that “if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it”.   And he adds: “But do this in a gentle and respectful way.”

So, if the opportunity arises, I must be ready.

As Paul says, the message of Christ may be “life-giving perfume” to someone.

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Contentment

The apostle Paul said he learned to be content in all circumstances – bad or good.

For us, it seems impossible as we struggle with personal problems or the fear of terrorism or war.

Yet Paul was beaten and jailed, stoned frequently, shipwrecked, and often without food.  He was constantly harassed and always on the move because of his enemies.

So, how did Paul learn to be content in every situation?

Dictionary.com defines contentment as “satisfaction, ease of mind”.  Paul was satisfied with the circumstances in which he lived – any circumstances.  He had ease of mind – he wasn’t anxious.

Why?

There are clues in his letters to the young churches in the Roman empire.

For one thing, he knew what his mission was and where he was going.

He states this simply in Philippians 1:21: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

He goes on to say that he is longing to be with Christ in heaven – his destination.  Death is not a terror for him for he will spend eternity joyfully in the presence of his saviour, Jesus.

But, at the same time, he declares he wants to be with believers in the churches he serves so that they will grow in faith.

He is totally committed to Christ and what Christ wants from him.

Paul says 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.”

He had complete faith in Jesus and knew that the Son of God would be with him and take him through whatever troubles lay ahead for the glory of God.

What does that say to me?

It tells me that I must stop plunging into despair when bad things happen in my life. Trouble is normal.

I must remember that I belong to Jesus and he is with me as I confront problems.

And I must cling to the truth that whatever happens to me is nothing compared to the wonders of being with Jesus forever.

Above all, I must put my relationship with Christ and his mission for me before everything else.  As Paul says, Jesus loved me and gave himself for me.

I’m happy that Paul used the phrase “learned to be content”.

Even for Paul, it didn’t happen instantly.

It takes time, a willing heart, and a loving Lord to get there.

Vital questions

 

God-questions move into centre stage when we face major world crises – like a potential nuclear disaster.

The current standoff between the West and a belligerent, nuclear-armed North Korea make hundreds of millions of people feel helpless.  It seems out of the control of any single person.

That’s when questions about God have real impact.

Questions like David’s in Psalm 19 as he gazed at the greatness of God and his creation and asked: “What are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?”

David responds in faith, glorifying God for being intimately involved in the lives of human beings and giving them authority over his earthly creation.

But there are many others who ask: “Why should humans bother with a figment of the imagination like God?”

For them, mankind is the centre of the universe and God is an invention of weak or deluded minds.

How we see God affects our mental, emotional and spiritual response to great crises.

David believed that God has”established his throne in heaven and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19).  He sought God’s counsel and direction in war and peace.

But he also believed that God is more than a great general – he is a loving Father who knows our weaknesses and failings and is merciful and compassionate (Psalm 103:8-18).

Christ has promised his followers that, whatever may happen to us on earth, he has prepared a place for us with him in heaven (John 14:1-3).  Our eternal future with a loving God is assured.

Those who refuse to believe in God are left to their own devices.

Experience teaches us that no human being is fully trustworthy.  If we can’t trust someone human to take us through tomorrow’s uncertainties, who can we trust?

In my view, the only answer is God.

Jesus promised us that we would face troubles.  But he also said he would walk with us through the troubles.

For the believer, physical death is not the ultimate horror.

The ultimate horror is being lost without God.

 

 

My gardener

God is my gardener, pulling out the weeds and refreshing the soil in my life.

I admit, I fight the weeding he does.  And some of my weeds – particularly, self-centredness – are very resistant.

I was thinking of this as I was weeding clover from our lawn this morning.  The reason I pull the clover and other weeds is that I want a green, flourishing lawn.

God wants me to become more and more like Jesus (Romans 8:29).  So the weeds in my life have to go.

Jesus used the gardening picture long ago in John 15 to make another point – he wants me to bear spiritual fruit (John 15:5).

To do that, he says, I must abide or remain in him as a branch clings to the vine.  He pours life into me and I simply rest in connection with him.

What happens if I don’t abide?

Jesus says that I will become unfruitful and God will prune me (John 15:2). 

He also says that if a branch is completely dead, God will cut it off.  In my view, he is speaking here of someone who never believed in Christ because he says elsewhere that once we commit ourselves to Jesus we belong to God forever (John 3:16).

Still, the pruning activity can hurt.  I know it hurts.

I hang onto some sinful and hurtful practices – knowingly or unknowingly – and the Lord has to remove them.

 

As Jesus says in John 15:5, there is one thing I can do: I can submit to God and let him change me.

“If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

While weeding and pruning hurt, God is also busy watering and fertilizing my life.  Through the Holy Spirit, he is giving me the strength I need to grow.

And I know he will not give up on me.  The apostle Paul tells us that God is working in us, giving us the desire and power to do what pleases him (Philippians 2:13).

God has unlimited compassion and love for his children (Psalm 103).

Praise the Lord!