Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Giving Up What Cannot Be Kept to Gain What Cannot Be Lost

Martyr Jim Elliot (1927—1956), missionary to the Auca people in Ecuador, often expressed this classic piece of wisdom: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
There are a myriad of things that we can never possess in life; one of these, and the most significant one, is having ultimate control over our life. Yet, we seem to struggle for years, and for many, through the whole lifespan—not acknowledging this fact—enduring torment. In a way it’s senseless, and altogether meaningless—certainly when looking back from the end-of-life view.
Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” — Mark 8:35.
We are apt at skipping over the fundamentals thinking we’ve got them covered. The interesting thing about this verse above is that it’s every bit as hard and all-encompassing to achieve as it is to achieve anything Jesus preached during the Sermon on the Mount.
In fact, it sort of sums it all up—as a foundational unit in the base program of the Christ-follower’s life.
Think about total daily surrender of our desires and selfishness. Think about reality. There’s a divide, a great abyss between the two, it doesn’t matter who we are. We want to do what is good, but many times we miss the mark. Paul sums it up as he laments: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.— Romans 7:15.
So, how do we get there, or is living like Jesus Christ only something of an ideal? I don’t think Jesus meant for us to think only idealistically. In fact, that’s the Devil’s program, to convince us obeying God is too hard.
Assuming we’re already Christ-believer’s, and conceding Jesus’ statement is conditional, chasing the lost life to truly save our life (hence, finding it) requires us to consistently give up on our own personal desires, plans and dreams and to start loving others as we want to be loved. It’s the perfect search of selflessness and wisdom, noting the difference here between perfection and a search. Searching like this is a devoted investigation, leading us to spiritual progress, and abandoning the false hope of attaining spiritual perfection.
And this can’t ever be done overnight. It’s a process of practising the practice over the years and decades, commencing with the seconds and minutes. It’s less about our own effort and more about the ease of trusting God’s grace. It’s about listening to, and cooperating with, the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. It’s about becoming professional as a Christlike human being. And if this is our sole focus, all other things we need will be given to us.
Enter the concept of good faith, and right living before God and with humankind.
When we give up what we cannot keep (our life, control over it, and elements of extraneous desire over life) for a life in the surrender before God, we get to keep a slice of eternity (here) as a sort of down payment on life kept in eternity (to come) with God—something we cannot lose, provided we remain in him. And if we learn to give the material resources we cannot keep God teaches us something eternal we cannot lose.
I think this is what Jim Elliot meant in his quote at first.
Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” What are “all these things?” To name a few, these are what we'll eat and drink, and what we’ll wear. We can extend this out (safely) to any material possession. What we truly need, God will provide.
See John 15:1-17. Jesus’ command for those “remaining” in him... “Love each other.”

Sunday, November 27, 2016

When Resurrection Means Belief

I’ve been criticised for being too soft and emotional, and I know women pastors who’ve been criticised for being too firm, too hard, and I wonder, where does this criticism come from. It actually doesn’t matter where it comes from. But there is a perception that any and all of us are unbalanced. Of course, that’s got to be true.
But it’s not how God sees us, and isn’t that an important distinction?
When we see ourselves lowly, others, at the very same time, are seeing something else; some people are seeing us as God sees us. We don’t always find out. They don’t always speak up. It’s good when they do.
Then, we could just believe God, who thinks we’re tremendous. Without doing anything as far as a good work is concerned, God sees us through the lens of His Son.
We could focus on the naysayers or we could focus on God’s wonderful redemption in His Son, and on those genuine Christians (and others) who are for us.
We know the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, don’t we?
If we believe the Christ died on the cross and rose again in a manner of life that He has now promised to us, we have an obligation to live that life, now first and foremost, before it becomes an eternal reality.
Resurrection requires belief. We must believe Jesus was resurrected before we can partake. And we must believe His resurrection is available to us. There, in that belief place, is the power for resurrection. We make it happen, because it has already happened; Jesus, our Precedent.
We must believe before we can be resurrected. Our belief must mount up on the ride of faith to take us all the way to the resurrection circumstance in our situation.
That is, to access the infinite power of the Holy Spirit which resurrects our hope, we must believe God is able and will do it.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

What New Converts to Christ Usually Never Hear

“I really do not know how non-Christians get through life without faith.” Ever heard that said? Ever said it? I have. And I’ve heard it said many times. Perhaps the truth is non-Christians probably do fine in the main, because they live their lives in their own strength. They know no different.
There would be exceptions to what I’m about to say, but they would be few. Besides, would new converts readily hear how tough the Christian life is? Would they back out before they started?
I’m sure many embark on the journey with Christ thinking it will be easier. It’s not. But, thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.
It is harder to live life relying on God’s strength, because we must surrender our pride, greed, anger, envy, etc., which is something that’s only possible through the Holy Spirit’s power, together with our aligning volition. This is a miracle: that a Christian would surrender their sinful nature, one event at a time, and prefer to do God’s will.
New converts probably aren’t briefed on the realities of spiritual warfare they’ll encounter. Again, there are exceptions, but in the main how many recent converts would even know what to watch out for? Spiritual attack is something that must be experienced to be believed. Are new disciples trained in how to deal with spiritual warfare, or even how to become aware of it?
It’s hard living the Christian life. Many people backslide out of their faith (read the Parable of the Sower) because the faith life is difficult. It’s not the life that the comfortable live. It’s a life lived out of a conviction that God is real and alive in the Person of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit present within. In this way, the Christian life chooses us, not the other way around. “We love because He first loved us,” as 1 John 4:19 puts it.
Notwithstanding all I’ve said above about how hard it is to live the Christian life, I wouldn’t live without Christ for anything. I would prefer to live the full reality of life — tougher than the non-Christian life as it is — because I believe the full reality is inherently part of the abundant life Jesus came to give us access to. And in living the abundant life, only then are we granted secret understanding of and access to the power which has already overcome the world (see John 16:33). Christian life is tougher than non-Christian life, yet only through Christ is there victorious life.
There are many massive discouragements and gargantuan tests in Christian life; events and situations that will push us regularly into the abyss of despair. Those who are armed with the Spirit have a very real enemy to contend with. But those who are armed with the Spirit also have the risen Lord’s power, which is power to obey as the tests come.
There is a cost to discipleship, and only the true disciple bears that cost. It takes them deeper into the love of God, for there is only one way to love God: to trust by obeying.
Being Christian is surrendering the sinful will, one event at a time, to do God’s will. That’s never easy.
Just to say it again so the point is made: the Christian life is the hardest life, but it is the only life with a genuine living hope.

Thanksgiving and Thought for the Unfortunate

At Thanksgiving, the American and Canadian holiday, families get together and celebrate many things, not least being together. It’s a time of festivity and food.
But it’s not such a festive time for some, indeed many, due to circumstances often beyond their control.
Some are lonely. Others are grieving. Some cannot be at home. Others are reminded of how good things are… for others. Some are retraumatised because of memories of past. Others find that they have such poor associations for something apparently good that life feels weird at these times at best. Then there is the person whose world was rocked the day or the week before the festivities began. How do they celebrate when their world has been swept away in a shocking torrent?
It is good to experience sorrow in a festive season at least once in our lives. It changes things. Suddenly there is empathy for an ever-present situation in some people’s lives, every year, be it Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, etc.
Every festive season is a reminder of the vast dichotomies in the injustices of life. There are people who have the best times of their lives, just as there are people who have the worst times of their lives. It’s good to bear this — both realities — in mind.
The apostle Paul offers wise advice for Thanksgiving: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)
The vulnerable need to be loved, and more than ever at Thanksgiving and during other celebrations, for they’re reminded how unfortunate they are. The unfortunate suffer more during celebrations because they must suffer the fortunate.

Monday, November 21, 2016

It May Just Be a Gel Pen, But It Means So Much More

A school teacher is beckoned over to a desk where a student has lashed out at a fellow student for ‘taking things’. The teacher is tempted to chastise the student who lashed out, but has the presence of mind to investigate the matter further. He finds out that the one gel pen that this student has was borrowed by the student with whom he lashed out. It turns out that the student who borrowed the gel pen has a thirty-pack of her own.
Things are often not what they seem on the surface.
Having taken the student aside who had lashed out, a child not normally given to losses of emotional control, there seemed a preoccupation with gel pens. The student asked how much a thirty-pack would cost. The teacher estimated them to be no more than $10. The student says, “Well, that’s not much, but my parents don’t have much money at the moment.”
As the teacher reflected, he thanked God for the biblical insight of Nathan’s parable of David’s hypocrisy and harshness — to take what was not his, when he already had so much, from a man that had nothing else:
The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.”
— 2 Samuel 12:1-9 (NIV)
Talking with the aggrieved student it was clear that the one gel pen he did have was very precious to him; it was a cherished resource. The student who had taken his one and only gel pen without bothering to ask did not value his one pen; she had thirty of her own, so what did one from someone else matter? She treated that one gel pen as one of the thirty without regarding it as unique as its owner did.
The rich must learn one thing when it comes to using the resources of the poor: they must value the few resources preciously, which is very hard for a rich person, because having little is not something with which they can readily relate.
Anyone with a lot of anything ought to be careful not to exploit the resources of someone with next to nothing.

Monday, November 14, 2016

A Promise of Hope When Overwhelmed

The scariest of places is reserved as a mix of the emotions of sadness, fear and surprise.
Unparalleled in human experience is the moment when life renders to experience something very foreign. And although we won’t have a bar of the idea that this is normal, given what’s occurred, because, how could this be normal when I’ve never experienced anything like it before? — it is normal, given what’s happened.
Life overwhelms us to the maximum — and beyond — of our capacity to cope, at least once in life. And we’re wise to allow life to do that, given what’s taken place. Then we find that one time when we’re overwhelmed, that that time becomes a season.
Grief is like that. It takes us out of our own control, even though we fight to remain in control. We may wonder how callous God is to allow such a living torment to take place. Well, what we’ve lost is love; a central part of our identity, psyche, memory, past.
But God is making something very special out of the experiences of being overwhelmed. He is performing open heart surgery and it feels like the anaesthetic has worn off. Some things God wants for us can’t be learned when we’re in control. His will is for us to completely surrender our will for His, and He can only get us there when we’re broken. Being overwhelmed breaks us for a time. But He is putting us back together.
Although it feels harsh, this grief is set to prepare us for future iterations of hardship, in making them more manageable, for grief matures us, though we hate it in the process.
The promise is this: don’t despise the present hardship, for this hardship presents us with the opportunity to grow. God knows we cannot grow unless we’re made by our circumstances to grow. Therefore, surrender is essential for growing in God.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Prepare to Be Shocked By God’s Kingdom Reversal

Paradoxes of the Kingdom abound to confuse the ‘righteous’ and encourage the broken. Don’t believe me? Read the Old Testament. Then read Jesus.
How’s the outworking of Isaiah 61:1-10 in the Septuagint (LXX):
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me; he has sent me to preach glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken in heart, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind; to declare the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of recompence; to comfort all that mourn; that there should be given to them that mourn in Sion glory instead of ashes, the oil of joy to the mourners, the garment of glory for the spirit of heaviness: and they shall be called generations of righteousness, the planting of the Lord for glory. And they shall build the old waste places, they shall raise up those that were before made desolate, and shall renew the desert cities, even those that had been desolate for many generations. And strangers shall come and feed thy flocks, and aliens shall be thy ploughmen and vine-dressers. But ye shall be called priests of the Lord, the ministers of God: ye shall eat the strength of nations, and shall be admired because of their wealth. Thus shall they inherit the land a second time, and everlasting joy shall be upon their head. For I am the Lord who love righteousness, and hate robberies of injustice; and I will give their labour to the just, and will make an everlasting covenant with them. And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring in the midst of peoples: every one that sees them shall take notice of them, that they are a seed blessed of God; and they shall greatly rejoice in the Lord. Let my soul rejoice in the Lord; for he has clothed me with the robe of salvation, and the garment of joy: he has put a mitre on me as on a bridegroom, and adorned me with ornaments as a bride. (Bolding done for emphasis; italics in original)
God’s key Kingdom reversal is this: He wants to use the broken to bind up the wounds of the broken. He uses the broken with power, but those who are proud toil fruitlessly for years. If life has smashed you up, prepare to be part of God’s Kingdom reversal; and be used greatly (which is measured in the eternal realm; certainly, not by numbers).
God has no role for the self-righteous priest. The priest is necessarily from the broken. If the priest is not from the broken, they will be ineffective for they haven’t borne witness to the power of the Spirit in the realities of Isaiah 61:1-3 in their own lives. They cannot take persons through places they themselves have not gone. And they have insufficient empathy and compassion. God cannot use them who do their ministry for their own kudos. And be careful, for it is difficult to discern the right minister from the self-righteous minister.
But God will use the one who has been smashed and dashed on the rocks of life.
It is the broken person that God has predestined to work great deeds for His glory. Not just the person once broken and caused to be prideful, but the person who remains broken.
The Holy Spirit works maximally through broken people who lead as if they don’t.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

There’s More to Life Than Simply Politics

Photo: The Federalist.
I entered my only bodybuilding competition in 1991. As I walked out a placegetter but not a winner, one of the organisers consoled me. He said, “There can only be one winner.” It was a harsh truth that I had to accept. I had placed third against two better built and conditioned athletes.
There are winners and losers today. Some herald with hysterics the spoils of victory. Others are in disbelief, not sure that this sort of result was even possible. Others will be bemused as to what, if anything, to feel.
Whichever side of the political divide Americans find themselves on, it certainly has been a long and arduous roller coaster ride. And only one side would ever win.
Once the disappointment or elation has subsided we inevitably come back into the practice of life: the sun will still rise tomorrow morning, God willing. Obama said it and it remains the same always. There’s nothing new under the sun, to borrow a line from the ancient Bible book of Ecclesiastes.
As we mourn with the Democrat supporters and rejoice for the Republican supporters, we can also agree that, despite myriad concerns of the unknowable, there’s more to life than simply politics.
Especially for those who believe in Jesus. For those who know the Sovereign: the One who presides over not a nation, but a whole creation.
As Christians, we have the duty to love everyone, notwithstanding political allegiances, and we do that because of our devotion to the Lord Jesus. Let us keep everything in its daily context. God is in control. Our families and loved ones and community need our love. And what the world needs more than ever is true unity.
That begins with us. Always has. Always will.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Smallest Gift, Sizeable Encouragement

Arriving home one flustered day, I was greeted with a clump of unattractive mail, cluttering up an otherwise neat dining room table, set for the evening meal. It had been a profoundly disenchanting day. And the first letter I open was an unexpected bill, and then there was the reminder of a parking fine to pay that we had transferred from my wife’s name to mine. I was feeling pretty beaten at this stage, and what with the meal to finish, and our three-year-old son acting his age, my wife was already engaged.
Then, from the pile, she shoved a smaller, distinctive envelope toward me. Immediately I was curious. I slid the card out, opened it, and was struck by such little white-space.
Words. I like words. I do like them very much. Words of encouragement, but words also of reminder; of God’s eternal goodness. I personally like words of encouragement, but the words of Psalm 16 were a covenant reminder: He is with us, for us, never against us.
It was a small gift. It cost all of a dollar to procure the card, perhaps five minutes to write it out, and another dollar to post it. But the card (I later found out) was kept prayerfully for several weeks, without a good deal of intention, yet it landed in my hand at precisely the right time.
God times encouragements for when we’re discouraged, and hope for when we’re despairing, so expect joy amid sorrow.
Not only were we mightily encouraged by the words in that card, we were doubly encouraged by the timing of its receipt, and triply that the giver of the card was encouraged by God’s use of it.
Small gifts are sizeable encouragements, and can prove to be catalysts for turning points in people’s journeys.
It’s amazing how significant are the good gifts God gives, which are ever small, because small things convey love with power.
May you be blessed in both the giving and receiving of encouragements that serve to build up the Body of Christ.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Trusting the Vision Sown Deep in the Heart

Something I’ve long held to is a vision — a compendium of visions actually — that God has sown deep into my heart.
These are realities many would call dreams, because they’ve not occurred, yet they seem so real to me, in that they (within my mind’s eye) have already occurred — within eternity’s history of my soul. That’s the weirdly spiritual thing about visions of this kind; the view we have of them is past-tense when they haven’t occurred yet.
I cannot go into any depth as to what these visions are — they’re personal until the day of redemption — but all I will say is I think I’ve had them as long as I remember, and I know I must believe God. There is no effort in belief. It makes only sense to believe these images for my life. They’re only applicable to my life. They only have meaning for me.
None of these visions are spectacular. That’s not the point of vision that comes from God. It’s not as if I can overlay my own desire into these visions, but vision no doubt inspires my desire.
Memory of these visions is given daily. This is God reminding me of something so deep, His Presence in them, which creates a determining drive to realise these visions — but, as is appropriate, only in His time and by His method.
I believe each of us has a vision, a series of visions within it, that compels our lives forward. It is something every human being has been given. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (GNT) says:
[God] has set the right time for everything.
He has given us a desire to know the future,
but never gives us the satisfaction
of fully understanding what he does.
The vision He has set into your heart — whether you’re aware of it or not; it’s there — compels us to know the future, in realising the vision. This is both a trust and a frustration; what a gift to receive! But, oh what a burden! What makes life so brimming with purpose will drive us crazy at times. But only because God’s knowledge is making its attempt to assimilate with our own, even as our desires attempt to thwart and thieve God’s knowledge.
There are things within the vision that God has given us that seem awkward, as if they don’t fit. Whether they fit into the time we’re allotted on earth is not certain. But vision stirs the imagination, and must be held lightly as a spiritual (not actually physical) gift.
The vision calls for maturity in the accepting of it; that God knows best. Many things we cannot understand.
God is the giver of good gifts, and our calling is to trust the vision He has sown deep in our hearts. We allow the vision its place as part of who God has purposed us to be.
Trust His vision, given to you, for your life; not simply as proof He is real and that you’re an eternal being, but as a sweet promise for your life; your predestined God-appointed place in this life.
But be careful. Don’t make of the machinations of your own mind what should only come from God. It does not end well for those who procure for themselves to be a god.