Archive for May, 2018|Monthly archive page

Chariots of God

The prophet Elisha’s servant was terrified – hordes of enemy soldiers were massing in chariots outside the prophet’s home in Samaria.

But Elisha told him: “Don’t be afraid! For there are more on our side than on theirs.”

Then, he asked God to reveal his forces to the servant.  God opened the servant’s eyes and he saw a nearby hill covered with angelic soldiers and chariots of fire (2 Kings 6).

Hannah Whitall Smith uses the image of a chariot to make the point that we believers can either be crushed by our circumstances or we can mount them as we might a chariot which will carry us to spiritual victory.

I find this encouraging – even transforming.

Fundamentally, it means believing that nothing happens to us without God’s permission.  And everything God wills for us is for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28).

That does not mean that we celebrate evil.  God is not the source of evil of any kind.

But he will allow us to go through trials so that we grow in faith and depend more and more on him.  That is part of becoming more like Christ.

In her book The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life, Smith says the problems we face – tough family relations, a hard boss, criticism from friends, even ill health – can be changed into a chariot that takes us deeper into God’s love.

A good biblical example is the apostle Paul’s account of a severe “thorn in the flesh” which he pleaded with God to remove through divine healing.

As you may recall, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12 that he had an amazing vision of heaven but came down to earth with a “thorn in the flesh” – something he called “a messenger of Satan” to keep him from becoming proud.

He called on God to remove it three times, but the Lord did not.

Paul wrote: “Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”

And Paul goes on to say: “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”

Paul took the “thorn in the flesh” and made it a chariot of victory for God.

So can I.

So can any child of God.

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Shrewd as snakes, harmless as doves

As children of God, we are called to walk a perilous path.

On the one hand, Jesus tells us in Matthew 10 that we are to be “shrewd as snakes” – keeping an eye out for evil potholes in the road.

And, on the other, we are to be “harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16) in the face of evildoers.

How is it possible to live like this?

As Jesus suggests in Matthew 10, we have to trust the Spirit of God to open our eyes and provide the guidance and words we need.

When he tells us to be harmless as doves, Jesus does NOT mean that we are to roll over and let malicious people stomp all over us.

In context, Jesus is talking to his disciples before sending them out – two by two – to preach the good news and heal the sick in the surrounding countryside.

He is warning his followers that they will not have an easy time, but that they will have God’s help in the troubles they will face when he is gone.

Above all, he is urging them to remain true to the faith no matter what happens.  We are to stand up for God and his truth in all circumstances – but we are to do it with a spirit of love, not vengeance.

Speaking personally, that’s hard.  When I am hurt or attacked, I tend to react resentfully or defensively.

Yet, Jesus tells me: “Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:44)

And in Romans 12:14, the apostle Paul says: “Bless those who persecute you!”

Jesus showed us how to live a life that stands for truth while praying for those who hurt him.

He could be angry with people who defiled the temple and with religious leaders who distorted God’s word.

But, dying on the cross, he called out to God: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34)

“True blessing spoken over someone or something is describing the way God sees them,” says Kerry Kirkwood, author of The Power of Blessing.  “This is a prophetic insight to see the way someone or something is supposed to be, not how they may appear to be at the moment.”

Kirkwood suggests we bless people as we understand how God wants these people to be – though their lives may be far from him at the moment.  In effect, we are asking God to bless them so that they may become the children he wants them to be.

Not an easy task when we are angry or bitter about the treatment we may have received.

But Kirkwood says we are not agreeing with what someone is doing right now.  We are going beyond our feelings and the current situation and calling on the Lord to do what he clearly wants to do in the life of the person who is hurting us.

Something for me to chew on.

Trusting God through tough times

It’s tough to trust God when things look bleak.

But I believe God rewards this kind of faith in the long run – in this life and the next.

Great Bible characters suffered – the apostles Peter and Paul, Joseph son of Jacob, Daniel the prophet, Esther.  And, of course, Jesus.

They had their moments of weakness.  Even Jesus who asked the Father to spare him the trial of the crucifixion.

But, in the end, they stayed true to their faith in the Lord and God blessed their trust.  Their impact on those around them was so pronounced that their faith is recorded in the scriptures.

When I look at these people, I realize the trials I have gone through over the years are small in comparison.  I have so much to learn from them.

A men’s Bible study group I belong to has been looking at the life of  Jacob’s son Joseph in Genesis.  It’s a story of ups and downs – hopes raised and then dashed.

Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, was highly esteemed by his slave master and then was then tossed into jail when he was wrongly accused of attempted rape by his master’s wife.  After years in prison, the Lord arranged for him to interpret the dream of the Egyptian king and the king rewarded him with the highest administrative position in the land.

Running through this story is the phrase “the Lord was with him”.  After every setback, Joseph showed he was a responsible, hard-working man.

I am convinced that Joseph’s attitude was fuelled by his faith in God – his trust that the Lord had his future in his hands.

Indeed, he later told his brothers that while they sold him into slavery with evil intent, God meant it for good.  In his new position, he was able to save many from starvation and death in a major famine.

No matter what trial I go through – or my loved ones go through – I must hold on to the fact that God alone is good as Jesus said in Mark 10:18. Not only that, I must remember that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that he loves me and all those who put their faith in him (Psalm 103:11).

As the apostle Paul said, nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

The power of the seed

Sometimes, God’s seed sprouts with vigourous life in what looks like rocky ground.

Romanian Christian Richard Wurmbrand, author of Tortured for Christ, tells amazing stories in post-World War II Romania of Russian Communist soldiers eagerly putting their faith in Jesus despite a steady diet of athiesm throughout their lives.

This confirms to me that even a casual word about Jesus – accompanied by love – can have a lasting impact.  All it takes is the courage to speak when the opportunity arises.

I admit I have let many such opportunities pass.

Wurmbrand suffered unimaginable tortures during 14 years in a Romanian Communist jail after the Second World War.  His wife also spent years in a women’s prison and their young son had to fend for himself alone.

Wurmbrand had the distinction of being beaten and tortured under both the Nazis and the Communists because of his work preaching the gospel.  He saw the best and the worst of Christians in prison, many of them dying for their faith.

In one case, the prison guards tried to get a Christian leader to inform on fellow believers by torturing his teenaged son in front of his eyes.  When the leader was on the point of giving in, his son said: “Father, don’t do me the injustice of having a traitor as a parent.” The boy died,  the father did not break, but he was “never the same after seeing this”, says Wurmbrand.

Despite all this, Wurmbrand loved the Russian occupiers – not their brutality, but them as people and their openness to God.

“God will judge us not according to how much we endured, but how much we could love,” he writes.

The wonderful thing about Wurmbrand and other Romanians in the underground church was their desire to share the good news of Christ with the invaders, no matter what.

One story gives a flavour of the inspiring stories he tells of Russian soldiers becoming believers – seemingly out of the blue.

A Russian officer had no knowledge of Jesus but was referred to Wurmbrand by a Romanian Orthodox priest who could not speak Russian.  Wurmbrand could speak Russian and used it constantly in witnessing to Russians.

Wurmbrand read to him the Sermon on the Mount and the parables of Jesus.

“After hearing them, he danced around the room in rapturous joy proclaiming, ‘What a wonderful beauty!  How could I live without knowing this Christ!'”

Then, Wurmbrand read to him the passion and crucifixion of Christ without preparing him for it.

When he heard this, “he fell into an armchair and began to weep bitterly.”  He had believed in a Saviour and “now his Saviour was dead”.

“Then I read to him the story of the resurrection and watched his expression change.”

Wurmbrand adds: “Again he rejoiced, shouting for joy, ‘He is alive! He is alive!” He danced around the room once more, overwhelmed with happiness!”

What a story!  What a God!