Transforming words

Some years ago, a young university student picked up a stray pamphlet on public transit in Montreal, Quebec, read it and started on her journey to Christ.

I forget the details but I remember her smiling, joyful face as she told her story on a Power to Change campus ministry video a year or so later.  The word of God had awakened her heart to Jesus and faith.

I love stories like this.  It demonstrates the power of the word of God.

I became a Christian when I was 20 after months of reading through the gospel of John with a friend in a boarding house in Ottawa.

I began these evening studies and discussions with no understanding at all.  The good news of Christ was foreign to me.

But, as I read the gospel of John, God began working on my mind and heart.  He opened my eyes to a completely different view of the world and what really mattered in life.

That is the wonder of God speaking personally to each one of us.  He knows us as individuals even though there are billions of people in the world.  He wants us to know him as a person, too.

Many people consider the Bible an historical document, or a description of how people should live, or even a book for academic study.

But that is not how God sees it.  It is God speaking to us and we need to pay attention.

The writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 4:12: “The word of God is alive and active.  Sharper than any two-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

That’s powerful!

That passage tells me that God’s words can change me.  They strike right to my heart.

Of course, I can reject what God is telling me.  I can even laugh it off.  But I do so at my own peril.  God means what he says.

I thank God that he is patient and compassionate.  He knows me – the good things and bad things in my life.

He doesn’t expect me to know everything instantly or become perfect in my lifetime.  But he does want me to grow as a follower of his.

As I read and ponder God’s word, I learn something more about him every year.  I have come to see that he is overwhelmingly loving, kind, forbearing – but also the essence of integrity and truth and justice.

When I think about that university student in Montreal, I ponder God’s great statement in Isaiah 55 where he promises that his word “will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it”.

God’s word is at work in my heart and in the hearts of many multitudes around the world.



Change your mind, change your life

Robert J. Morgan says we can change our lives by changing our minds – with God’s thoughts.

First, he says we must change the lordship and leadership of our hearts by giving ourselves to the Saviour – Jesus.

But we still struggle with dark thoughts – “thoughts that are anxious, covetous, lustful, angry, resentful, fearful, or depressed”.  We need God’s thoughts to banish the darkness.

Morgan himself has used Biblical meditation – pondering the words of God in scripture – to refresh his mind and find the peace and hope of God, aided by the Holy Spirit.  He fights a tendency to anxiety by turning to scriptures and reflecting upon them until he finds the peace of God.

Great men and women of the Bible meditated on God, his character and his creation – people like Isaac, Joshua, David, Jeremiah and Mary, mother of Jesus, notes Morgan in his book Moments of Reflection: Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation.

The apostle Paul says in Romans 12:2: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

These words suggest that “though we are redeemed at Calvary, the process of repairing the mind isn’t a one-time event”, Morgan notes.  It is a continuing and growing process.  Gradually, our minds are rewired.

“As we ponder, picture and personalize God’s Word, we begin looking at life through his lens, viewing the world from his perspective.  Our thoughts become happier, and brighter – and so do we.”

So, how does Morgan recommend we meditate?

He points out that Paul says in Colossians 3:16 that we are to let the word of God dwell in us richly.  That means spending time thinking, memorizing, turning over in our minds, and applying to our own lives passages of scripture.

Here is Morgan’s approach:

  • Ponder: Read a Bible passage or verse and imagine the Lord speaking those words to you. Take time to focus your attention on each word and understand what the passage is saying;
  • Personalize: Consider what this passage means to you.  Let God speak to your heart.  What verse, phrase, word, truth, command, or promise affects you most deeply?; and
  • Practice: Jot down that phrase or verse to take with you into the day.  Write it on a card or sticky note or your phone.  “Review it all day, as you shower, drive, walk, work, or rest.”  Put it into practice and do what it says.

There is no better way to deal with our troubles than with God’s thoughts.  The Word of God is powerful.

Changing the world

We Christians often lament what is going on in the world around us – killings, sexual immorality, abortions, abusive and broken marriages, and a growing anti-Christian attitude in media and education.

Many of us feel impotent.  Some will go so far as praying that God will bring change.  And a few will tackle head-on some of these social ills.

But what does God want?

He wants to begin with us.  He wants us to change first.

The Lord made this clear to Israel’s King Solomon in a famous passage in 2 Chronicles 7.

Solomon had just finished dedicating a magnificent new temple to the Lord.  It was a spectacular ceremony with the glory of the Lord filling the temple and the people falling to the ground in worship.

That night, the Lord appeared to Solomon in a vision.  He promised to be with Solomon, his descendants, and the people of Israel as long as they were faithful to God.

However, if the leaders and people of Israel wandered away from God, they would face disaster.

But the Lord made this great promise in verse 14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

A growing number of Christians have seized on this verse in recent decades, praying for change in our society.

What strikes me from this promise is that it depends on the people of God humbling themselves, praying, seeking God’s face, and turning from their wicked ways.  Only then will God bring sweeping change – healing – to our country.

Do we Christians really need to change?

On the surface, Christians are mostly law-abiding, peaceable people.  But probe beneath the surface and you will see in our hearts many of the same problems that non-Christians have  – envy, pride, lust, anger, deceitfulness and so on.

One of the saddest things in my mind is that Christians often fight among themselves.  We fight within our churches and we fight churches in other denominations.

Jesus called on his followers to love one another as he loved them (John 13: 34).  He also urged believers to serve others rather than seeking to dominate them (Mark 10:42-45).

In his great prayer to the Father, Jesus said of his followers: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23)

In the past,  I have been as wary of other Christians as anyone.  But I have changed my mind as I have prayed with believers from other denominations in a city-wide prayer group.  I have learned from them and enjoyed great prayer times with them.

So, yes, I believe we Christians need to change.

Letting God do it

Bill Gillham was struggling as a young psychology professor when he decided to practice what he was learning from scripture.

Gillham, author of Lifetime Guarantee, had just graduated from Oklahoma State University with a doctorate in counselling and accepted an appointment as a college professor.  He was really proud that he could write “Dr.” in front of his name.

Trouble was he soon found he was often tongue-tied during lectures to his students.  It was extremely embarrassing.

Try as he might, he could not seem to climb over that hill.  He looked for help.

He found the help he was looking for in a pamphlet that talked about letting God take over his life – a process that is sometimes called the “exchanged life”.

The apostle Paul described it most succinctly 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.”

In other words, believers give up “self” when they put their faith in Jesus Christ and they receive his life and direction in exchange.  They are to act in faith on this biblical truth in their daily lives.

Gillham says Christians often feel they must work for God.  But God wants to work through them.

At first, Gillham had trouble understanding this concept.

But, finally, he gave up, fell on his knees and prayed to God: “You want me to depend on You to teach those psychology classes through me, using my personality and my earthsuit to do it.  Okay, Lord, I enter into that agreement.”

He didn’t stop there.

“I got up off my knees and walked down the stairs acting as though Christ was going to do it through me,” Gillham writes.  “If I had waited on my knees until I ‘felt’ Jesus take over and move me to the classroom and wiggle my lips for me, I’d still be there.”

It is our faith in God – not in our feelings – that matters.

Gillham’s act of faith led to a new confidence and a changed life.  He had relinquished control of his life to God.  The results were in the Lord’s hands – he just had to obey.

This new life is not without some setbacks.  God is not promising that we will become perfect or succeed in everything we do.

But he is promising us peace and rest as we rely on God’s life flowing through us.

Gillham found that obeying this biblical truth affected all aspects of his life – including his marriage.  The Lord was transforming him.

I am convinced that Gillham is right.

It is up to me to act in faith that Christ is living in and through me.

Snap judgements

Sometimes, I make snap judgements about other people.

That can be a problem – especially if I’m wrong.

Maybe you’ve had the same experience.  Perhaps you discovered that a person who let you down was going through a family crisis.  Or, the angry boss has just been told he has cancer.

I am learning that my vision is limited.  More often than not, I see only the surface in people’s lives.  I’m partially blind.

The only being that knows everything about everyone is God.

“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me,” David wrote in Psalm 139.  “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.”

So God is the only one who can judge people without making a mistake.

Yet what strikes me most about God is his mercy.  He is just, no doubt about it.  But he loves to pour out his grace on weak human beings like me.

There are consequences to my failures – and to those of everyone else.

But, as David said in Psalm 103: “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.”

Christ, the perfect image of God the Father, told his followers in John 13:34: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

In other words, Christ is my example if I find others fall short of what I expect and want.  I must be ready to cut them slack.

As God has mercy on me for my failings, so I must be merciful towards others.

I must not let instant judgements determine how I approach people.

On the other hand, the Lord is not asking me to walk blindly into trouble.

In Matthew 10:16, Jesus told his disciples to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” as they spread the good news to other people.

They were to be alert to potential evil and false teaching.  But that did not justify dealing harshly with others.

Ultimately, judgement is in God’s hands – not mine.

What is truth?

“What is truth?” asked Roman Governor Pontius Pilate during the trial of Jesus Christ.

Canadian Governor-General Julie Payette, a former astronaut and engineer, this week indicated in a statement to a scientific group that she believes the only truth is scientific truth – presumably something you can see, touch, smell and measure.  She went on to comment critically on people of faith believing in creation.

Pilate’s dismissive question about truth came after Jesus Christ said in John 18 that he came to earth to testify to the truth.  Earlier in John 14, he said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

Payette’s statement ignited a storm of controversy in Canada – some like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – supporting her unequivocally.  Others, such as the Conservative Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer and Christian and Muslim leaders criticized her for her comments.

So, what is truth?

Many scientists believe in God, though they may not believe in Jesus or a personal god at all.  Albert Einstein, who developed the theory of relativity, believed there was a god behind the universe, a mind infinitely superior to a human being’s.

“A legitimate conflict between science and religion cannot exist,” he wrote.  “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”

He also said: “My religiosity consists of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit . . . That superior reasoning power forms my idea of God.”

Indeed, it is hard for inquiring minds to ignore the possibility of God.  The intricacy of the universe from planets down to the makeup of the human body cannot be dismissed as a cosmic accident.

“For since the world was created, people have seen the earth and the sky,” the apostle Paul said in Romans 1:20. “Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature.  So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

The truth that Jesus spoke of is much greater than debates about scientific theories.  He was talking about God and his love for human beings and his great plan for bringing them into his kingdom of everlasting love.

Closing our eyes to God is a tragic mistake.

Growing through serving

Our prayer group leader raised a question this week that refuses to let me go: How can you grow in serving others?

Christians believe we should be serving God and serving others.  But what difference does it make in our relationship with God?  Does it change us?  Does it make us more like Christ?

Serving others is a good thing.  But you can grumble while you’re serving – and that isn’t the kind of service God wants.

The word our prayer group leader used was “ministry”.  I have chosen “serving” instead because I think all believers can get involved in a ministry or service of some kind.

In my opinion, the person who is cleaning the church washroom is ministering to people just as much as the pastor preaching the sermon.  It’s just that we human beings tend to exalt the preacher and overlook the person cleaning the washroom.

I confess my first reaction to the prayer group leader’s question was to think of the cost of serving people.  There is a cost in time, effort and emotions.

Yet the cost is part of growing more like Christ.

For example, I have found that there are conflicts in churches as well as in the wider world.  Dealing with issues like that has thrown the spotlight on my own weaknesses and failings.  And I have learned that God loves people who disagree with me just as much as he loves me.

In other words, God is using these problems to change me and the way I view other people.

But there is much more to serving others than having the rough spots in my character smoothed.

My wife pointed to the real reason for serving others – doing everything for God.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” Jesus said in John 14:15.  And he said the great commandments are to love God and to love our neighbours.

Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) as an example of loving others.  The Samaritans were despised by orthodox Jewish believers in Jesus’ day but it was a Samaritan who helped a grievously wounded man while pious Jews avoided him.

In Matthew 25, Jesus makes clear that God takes seriously our acts of love to one another – separating people at the judgement according to whether they helped others or not.

In 1 Corinthians 10:31, the apostle Paul tells us that “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”.

Someone once asked Brother Lawrence, a 17th century French monk, about his close relationship with God.  He said that “he was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking him only, and nothing else, not even his gifts”.

That means I must do everything with God in mind.  I must act as if I was doing it for my Lord.  I may be helping someone – but it is more than that.  I am offering my help to God.

Sing against darkness

Try singing to God the next time you feel low.  It may bring light into your darkness.

That’s a suggestion of Terry Laws in his book The Power of Praise and Worship.

Laws says he used that approach after the sudden death of his wife Jan decades ago.  He was angry against God and Satan was trying to discourage him from continuing his worldwide ministry leading a worship group.

He notes that Christ used the words of scripture to refute Satan when the evil one tempted Jesus in the wilderness at the outset of his ministry on earth.  God’s words are powerful defensive weapons.

“The devil does not flee the presence of God’s Word in your mind,” Laws says.  “He’s also not afraid of God’s work in your past.  He flees only when you resist, and you do so the same way Jesus did in the wilderness.”

To resist, you must speak out the word of God, just as Jesus did.

“There must come a time when you make a deliberate choice to launch the warhead of God’s Word against the stronghold of the devil,” says Laws.

Then, he adds: “Why not sing God’s Word right there in the middle of your battle? Just sing it right into the darkness, and set yourself to keep on singing it until the darkness starts to flee.”

That’s what he did when he was in despair after his wife’s death.

“I quoted and sang Psalm 34:1 over and over:’I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall constantly be in my mouth.’”

Laws continues: “I was shining the light of God on a dark lie sent to convince me that I couldn’t praise him anymore.  That light exposed satan’s stronghold for what it was.  The light was already there, in my memory, but I had to aim it into the darkness.”

Thankfully, Laws is not suggesting you have to be a good singer.  That would count me out.  You don’t even have to know a particular tune with which to sing the words.

Just sing however you wish – a made-up tune will do just fine.

Somehow, singing lifts our spirits.

Indeed, God sings over us as the prophet tells us in Zephaniah 3:17: “He [God] will take delight in you with gladness.  With his love he will calm all your fears.  He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

And the psalms were written to be sung.

As well, praise songs routed an attack of Moabites and Ammonites in King Jehoshaphat’s reign in the Old Testament.

Laws says we can turn to the scriptures to find words to fit our circumstances as we face doubts and evil thoughts sown by the Devil.

Sing God’s words until the darkness turns to light.

Only love

Sometimes, all you can do is love.

You can’t prevent your child from being bullied in the schoolyard or stop cancer from spreading in the body of your spouse or friend.

But you can love them in word or deed or prayer.  And you can hug them and join in their tears.

Love matters a lot.  I can remember many incidents of love from family and friends – they are burned into my memory.

They are as simple as my wife and eldest daughter showing concern for me immediately after I was wheeled out of prostate cancer surgery some years ago.  Or, unexpected acts of affection or kindness from my children and friends – too many to list.

Of course, Jesus placed priority on love – telling us to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).  He also told us to love others as he loved us – a very tall order since he gave his life for us (John 13:34).

The apostle Paul also stresses loving others in a passage in Romans 12:9-21 –  something our weekly men’s group discussed this last week.

He gives practical advice on how to love others – we must be sincere, cling to what is good, “be devoted to one another in brotherly love”.

He goes further to urge believers to “honour one another above yourselves” – very difficult for us without God’s help.  I am naturally self-centred and I believe many others are, too.

Paul then calls on us to  show hospitality and give to those in need.

And then he asks us to do the impossible – “bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse”.

When was the last time you blessed someone who attacked you or criticized you?  Exactly.  Very hard to do.

In fact, it’s impossible unless we submit to the Holy Spirit.  I believe it can only be achieved by asking God to empower us through the Spirit.

Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

It seems to me that blessing those who persecute you is asking for good things for people who hurt you.  It is a really loving act.

It is like Jesus asking God the Father to forgive those who had just nailed him to the cross.  He did not seek revenge on them, but did the opposite.

In Romans 13:10, Paul says: “Love does no harm to its neighbour.  Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

In other words, I can’t go wrong if I love others with godly love, the love of Jesus.

Letting go

Letting go is hard to do.

When I want something, I plan and work to get it.  But God may have other ideas.

Sometimes, letting go is the key to opening the door to something amazing.

What is more ridiculous than a worship band leading the army of Judah in praising God as they advance to fight a huge invading army?

Yet we know from 2 Kings 20 that is exactly what Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, ordered when the great army of Ammon and Moab invaded Judah.

Jehoshaphat and his people were desperate when they called on God for help.  A prophet, Jehaziel, told the king and the people they would win a resounding victory without having to fight.

They decided to set out against the invaders, simply praising God.  The Lord took over, throwing the enemy forces into confusion, fighting each other.  And the Ammonite and Moabite forces were destroyed.

Jehoshaphat and his people had to let go of their good sense and their natural instincts and let God take over.  They did it because there was nowhere else to turn – their only hope was God.

Catherine Marshall tells a similar story in her book Adventures in Prayer.  

She had been sick for six months in 1943, suffering from a serious lung infection.  A bevy of specialists and passionate prayer had failed to deal with it.

Then, one day someone gave her a pamphlet about a woman who had been sick eight years, praying without seeing any improvement.  Finally, she told God that she gave up.

“If you want me to be an invalid, that’s your business,” the woman told the Lord.  “Anyway, I want you even more than health. You decide.”

In two weeks, the woman was out of bed completely cured.

Marshall finally reached the same point, weeping as she surrendered to God.  She told him: “I’m beaten, finished, God, you decide what you want for me.”

“Within a few hours I had experienced the presence of the living Christ in a way that wiped away all doubt and revolutionized my life,” Marshall writes. “From that moment, my recovery began.”

Letting go means giving up control to God.  It means acknowledging that he is my shepherd – the one who loves me, leads me, guards me and cares for me.

It’s a lesson I’m learning slowly.