New Year’s Resolution – No More Photobombing Jesus

Common New Year’s resolutions would be commitments to quit smoking, to stop drinking, to manage money more wisely, and to spend more time with family. By far, the most common New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, in conjunction with exercising more and eating more healthily. These are all good goals to set.

This year though I am making a new Year’s resolution you’ll probably not find in a top ten list anywhere. I’m going to quit ‘photobombing’ Jesus. As I have pondered the past year… for that matter the past few years, I have discovered that I have a repeatable tendency to try and photobomb Jesus. I say ‘try’ because Jesus can never actually be photobombed… but it seems I try just the same.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term ‘photobomb’, the dictionary’s definition is: “To spoil a photograph of (a person or thing) by unexpectedly appearing in the camera’s field of view as the picture is taken, typically as a prank or practical joke.” In other words, trying to take away the glory moment from the other person.

I photobomb Jesus when I serve God with mixed motives. When I hope lost people will be saved – but I want to be the evangelist God used, I photobomb Jesus. When I desire Christians to be encouraged – but I want to be the instrument of edification, I photobomb Jesus. When I want people to think God was awesome, that is of course a good thing. But when I want them to think that I was too – well that’s doing the photobomb thing again. Get the idea?

Having said that, it’s not a wrong thing to want to be part of what God is doing – we’re created for this purpose as Paul speaks to the church in Ephesus, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:10

Jesus even said that It’s not wrong to want people to see God glorified in your life. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that  they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16

If we need more convincing listen to Peter tell us that It’s actually a good thing to serve with the hope that people will be convicted of their sin and trust in Christ because of your good works being recognized. “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” – 1 Peter 2:12

So, it appears that God’s Word shows us that it’s wrong and even sinful if you don’t desire these things since that should be a part of a sanctified life. God being glorified through me is the height of my created purpose, but there’s a fine line between wanting God to use you for his glory and wanting everyone to know about it. We must pay careful attention to our hearts so we don’t seek to steal glory from Jesus.

What does that look like then? What does a photobomb look like in the realm of discipleship? Probably best to use examples in my own life since I’m the one making this particular New Year’s resolution.

I must admit that there have been times as a preacher where I’ve left a great Sunday service only to feel discouraged because I didn’t hear someone tell me, “That was the most amazing message I’ve ever heard.”

As I thought about why I felt that way, I realized that I was seeking satisfaction in my efforts. However, true useful servants are those who find their satisfaction in simply serving, even when no one affirms them, as long as Jesus gets the applause. Problem is that when I seek affirmation to be satisfied, not only will I not find my satisfaction realized, but I also end up stealing from Jesus.

And then adding insult to injury, I have found that photobombing Jesus for attention often leads to a depressed devotional life. As an example, when I become more concerned about my public performance than my private devotion I neglect my prayer life, because other things feel more pressing. Photobombers feel hurried out of the prayer closet because we value being before men more than before God.

Continuing on in my public transparency, I have seen where photobombing has presented occasions where I have become discouraged and even bitter when God has used others instead of me for what I thought were my goals.

Stepping into my role as ‘rookie’ lead pastor a few years ago, I knew that God was going to grow his church. What I didn’t expect was that numerical growth wasn’t going to happen in the specific location I was a part of. God had other plans which ultimately, I saw and gave him praise for, however during that time, another church down the road grew like nobody’s business.

Though I loved the pastor of that ‘other’ fellowship, I’ll admit that I became bitter. I felt discouraged because I felt that God had “overlooked” me. Hadn’t I spent enough time in prayer? I had even fasted; didn’t that count for something? I must say that this season was a good time to re-evaluate why I served Jesus.

Looking at John the Baptist, you quickly realize that he would never have been accused of photobombing. Crowds flocked to John, but he had one mission – to make Jesus known. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John was content serving in the background so that Jesus could be seen more clearly.

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.’” – Mark 8:34-35 

…And, “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” – Matthew 10:38

When the Roman Empire crucified a criminal or captive, the victim was often forced to carry his cross part of the way to the crucifixion site, often through the heart of the city. The picture Jesus gives is of a man or woman, already condemned, required to carry the beam of his or her own cross to the place of execution.

Disciples from Galilee knew what this meant, since hundreds had been executed by this means in their region. The modern equivalent would be to walk down a hallway toward an electric chair. Death in this case is the obvious destination, and so the idea is that in this life of submission to Jesus, we are in reality in a death processional.

In other words, if we “deny ourselves”, and commit ourselves to death, we can no longer place any hope in this world. By “taking up our cross”, it is as if all our natural passions and desires are doomed, giving up any claim for our self and selfish wants and needs.

Paul said, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:1-2

What was Paul saying here? It’s only as we give everything up… only as we allow our self to be sacrificed are we able to be changed. Dead people don’t make very good photobombers.

My New Year’s resolution for 2018 then is to live a life that is dying to know Christ and then living to make him known in a photobomb free zone.

Jesus came to save photobombers like me from ourselves. In fact, he gave up his own glory and then died for all the times we steal God’s glory. He alone is worthy of praise in 2018 and into eternity.

What Is The True Spirit Of Christmas?

It doesn’t take very long to notice that Christmas is only one week away (unless you don’t own a radio, TV, have no friends and never step a foot outside your door). Everywhere you look you can’t help but see the lights, decorations, and store front signs declaring great deals to entice the dollars out of one’s pocket in order to ‘help’ celebrate the spirit of Christmas.

But what is the spirit of Christmas – really? Is it about turkey and stuffing? Is it about presents and family? Is it about time off from work and the start of the World Junior Hockey tournament? Go Canada! Or is it something more?

If you asked the average person on the street, you may hear answers such as the spirit being about generosity, giving, kindness, world peace, or that it’s a general feeling of emotional goodness to everyone at least once in the year.

I don’t know if I’d necessarily disagree with any of those sentiments but I would have to say that they have only given a glimpse into the true spirit of Christmas. That’s because I believe it’s all about a gift from God which includes parts of those other answers but is so much more as well.

I really think that because the nativity story has become so familiar to many of us it’s easy to forget how profound this gift from God really is. We receive Christmas cards that contain simple, yet startling phrases that should help us recapture the awe of this season yet often they don’t because we have become so used to them, so much so that they’ve lost their impact.

It can be so easy for us to throw around words without taking the time to explain or understand their importance. Words like Emmanuel which means “God with us.” Do we really understand what that means? We sing songs with that word in them, we read cards that use that word, but do we really understand the meaning? Emmanuel literally means, “God is with us”.

That name tells us something amazing about God. He is not some distant deity separated from our daily struggles; rather he uses that name to tell us a very special & deeply meaningful message. What is that message?

Well… if you were to ask me, “Steve, what is your favourite Christmas passage?” I would have to say that other than the Luke passage it’d have to be the chapter three passage that’s found in John’s Gospel, and more specifically the following verse. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but will instead have eternal life.” – John 3:16

John is saying that the creator of the cosmos is deeply interested in us, much like a father getting down on his knees to be with his kids on their level. That’s the picture we have in John 3:16 – God bending down and leaning into our lives as he offers the most incredible Christmas gift to us, his kids.

That’s the meaning behind the name Emmanuel. God is with us and keenly interested. He’s with us when we’re lonely or afraid or hurting or worried, even when we’re stuck in our sins. Emmanuel captures the essence of Christmas. In fact, the spirit of Christmas is really the infinite becoming an infant.

The back story to Christmas is that there had been a broken relationship. In the beginning of the human narrative, Adam & Eve broke the one relationship that meant anything, that all other relationships stemmed from – a relationship with God.

There obviously needed to be a reconciliation. Reconciliation entails the coming together of two parties in order to make right what went wrong in the relationship.

The truth of the matter is that our relationship with God was broken, but not because God said the wrong things, or did the wrong things. Rather, it was we who said and did the wrong things. And we’re still saying the wrong things, doing the wrong things, failing to say and do the right things. And we’re all suffering for it. And it all stems from our selfish desires.

If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we live for self. You can call it selfishness, but I like Luther’s way of talking about it – in Latin. Not because I understand Latin, but because it just sounds cool! “Sin”, Luther says, “is INCURVATUS IN SE”, which means ‘to be curved in upon the self’.

The rupture in our relationship with God occurs when we decide that we are independent, autonomous individuals who are quite capable of living life on our own, thank you very much.

And because of that decision we work to make all of life curved in upon self, such that we are holding up our own little world like little Atlases of Greek myth fame. Problem is however that our personal globes are getting very heavy, because our little worlds are too much for us to bear.

If that is where you are at, finding that the weight of your world on your shoulders is much too heavy a burden to bear, then this Christmas I invite you to accept the message of the season.

The message that the baby Jesus came for all who recognize that they are tired of living INCURVATUS IN SE, and who realize that they can’t continue carrying the weight in their own strength and so are now ready to give up all that load they carry and give it to someone (Jesus) who can and will carry it for them if you give up everything for him.

The spirit of Christmas is a proclamation of good news of great joy from God that tells us that we don’t have to live for ourselves anymore and that we don’t need to carry that heavy weight any longer.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  – Isaiah 9:6

Here’s the amazing thing. You see, according to the word of God, we are all sinners which means that left on our own, we would never have sought God because we never would have understood him and would never have recognized him, so he had to come looking for us. That is the inescapable conclusion of the Christmas story.

The Christmas story is about God tracking us down, each and every one of us, to find us and reveal himself to us because he wanted us to know him. Christmas is God coming to us, entering our world, stepping into our time and space because we couldn’t get to him.

He wanted us to know the depth of his love for us, but because words weren’t enough, he came to be with us by taking the form of man, incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ – the Prince of Peace. And as the Prince of Peace we can finally be reconciled with God the father and enjoy peace with him as we were originally created to enjoy.

Over the coming days, focus on and celebrate who Jesus is and all that his coming means. His miraculous birth was the start of something that history will never repeat. And as we are heading toward Christmas day at the end of this very week,  let us focus on the spirit of Christmas – which is only Jesus, which is always Jesus.

How Can We Forgive When We Can’t?

We all love to pull out the following verse from Matthew when someone doesn’t seem to forgive us and present it to them as if it was written ‘special’ for them. “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’.” – Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV)

The reality is that when the shoe is on the other foot we often find It harder to accept that verse as written for ourselves. If truth be told I need to seek forgiveness much more often than I extend it. So, if I expect grace extended to me, I better extend grace to others, easily and willingly.

Still, I can’t think of a more difficult command given in scripture. It goes against our nature. Every pore of our body screams, “No, I won’t do it – I can’t do it!” And then Jesus says, “If you do not forgive, I will not forgive.” We know what is right to do. We even want to do what is right. But we feel paralyzed.

I read a story of Yoko Ono requesting that the anniversary of John Lennon’s death be made into an international day of forgiveness. What a wonderful thought, just imagine (do you like what I did there?). The thing is that Yoko added a disclaimer in the same conversation. She stated that though she wished for an international day, she herself couldn’t be led to absolve the murderer of John.

She herself couldn’t forgive. When it comes to us Christians however, forgiving others is not an option even if we feel we can’t. How can we forgive when faced with that dilemma – how can we forgive when we can’t?

First of all, Jesus gives us a great example of what our hearts should be like in the whole area of forgiveness found in John 13:3-17…

After washing the feet of his disciples, he drops a bombshell on the group, announcing that one of them is going to betray him. Our images of the last supper have largely been shaped by renaissance masters such as DaVinci who portray Jesus sitting at the centre of a long table with six disciples on either side, much like a team photo. But DaVinci got it wrong.

The last supper would have been eaten according to their custom’s and their cultural norms. The practice would have been in the fashion of a Greco-Roman triclinium which meant that the Jesus’ guys would have been reclining on their left hips and elbows, freeing up their right hands to eat from the settings on the floor or on slightly raised tables instead of sitting upright on chairs.

Place settings in this fashion would be shared by three people, where one diner could lean back to place his head on the chest of the person to his left, or if someone was to the right, lean forward into his neighbour’s back if he wanted to share a private word. It was certainly a much more intimate way of breaking bread than what we’re used to.

With that picture in mind imagine that at one point in the meal John leans back into Jesus’ chest to ask him a question. Knowing that Jesus was the host, this would place John in the “best man” position immediately in front of Jesus.

Meanwhile, Mark tells us that Judas shared the third spot in that place setting when he records, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me.” – Mark 14:20

Given that the spot immediately in front of Jesus was taken up by John, the only spot left was immediately to Jesus’ back, the spot reserved for the guest of honour. And that was where Judas was breaking bread that night. Imagine that! Judas was Jesus’ guest of honour at the last supper. This seating arrangement was equivalent as saying… “I trust you my friend… you’ve got my back.”

Jesus knew who would betray him and yet he continued to extend grace to Judas, even washing his feet and giving him the honoured place at his table. Sadly, Judas was given the chance to repent all the way to the end but didn’t accept it, ultimately refusing Jesus’ amazing grace while leaving the party to carry out his plan of betrayal. When he did this act, he condemned himself.

Here’s my point. Should we not live in the same way as Jesus did with Judas, with those who may have wronged us? Should we not continue to extend grace and forgiveness and love no matter their response to us even if they reject us?

Rebecca Pippert relates the powerful story of the late Corrie ten Boom. This Dutch woman and her family were sent to Auschwitz for hiding Jews in their home during the Second World War. Corrie was a Christian woman and had been invited to speak at a conference in Portland Oregon. This is what she said,

“My name is Corrie ten Boom and I am a murderer.” There was total silence. “You see, when I was in prison camp I saw the same guard day in and day out. He was the one who mocked and sneered at us when we were stripped naked and taken into the showers. He spat on us in contempt, and I hated him. I hated him with every fiber of my being. And Jesus says when you hate someone you are guilty of murder.”

“When we were freed, I left Germany vowing never to return,” Corrie ten Boom continued. “But I was invited back there to speak. I didn’t want to go but I felt the Lord nudging me to. Very reluctantly I went. My first talk was on forgiveness. Suddenly, as I was speaking, I saw to my horror that same prison guard sitting in the audience. There was no way that he would have recognized me. But I could never forget his face, never. It was clear to me from the radiant look on his face while I spoke, that he had been converted since I saw him last. After I finished speaking he came up and said with a beaming smile, ‘Ah, dear sister Corrie, isn’t it wonderful how God forgives?” And he extended his hand for me to shake.

“All I felt as I looked at him was hate. I said to the Lord silently, “There is nothing in me that could ever love that man. I hate him for what he did to me and to my family. But you tell us that we are to love our enemies. That’s impossible for me, but nothing is impossible for you. So, if you expect me to love this man it’s going to have to come from you, because all I feel is hate.”

She went on to say that at that moment she felt nudged to do only one thing: “Put out your hand, Corrie,” the Lord seemed to say. Then she said, “It took all of the years that I had quietly obeyed God in obscurity to do the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I put out my hand.”

 Then, she said, something remarkable happened. “It was only after my simple act of obedience that I felt something almost like warm oil was being poured over me. And with it came the unmistakable message: ‘Well done, Corrie. That’s how my children behave.’ And the hate in my heart was absorbed and gone. And so, one murderer embraced another murderer, but in the love of Christ.” [Hope Has It’s Reasons p. 189, 190]

There is something deep within fallen human nature that thirsts for revenge and urges retaliation in kind. We just can’t seem to forgive – naturally. Someone seeks forgiveness and I think “Yeah, but don’t do it again”. In fact, we naturally want to inflict the same type of injury on the one who injured us – an eye for an eye seems only fair. But we must give up on the idea that we are the judge, jury and executioner and instead leave the judging to God.

I’ll admit to you that I have struggled to forgive someone who technically is on the same cosmic level with me and yet have expected God, who is light years above us in the same scale, to forgive me. But for the Christian, forgiving others is not an option. If I can’t forgive I guess the question is whether I am truly trusting in God’s transforming power – in my life and others’.  At the end of the day I need to forgive a human being who is like me with all the faults and weaknesses that come with being a human if I in turn expect God, coming from all his perfection and holiness, to forgive me.

That being the case, just how can I forgive someone when I can’t? Corrie got it right. What is impossible for us is completely possible for God, which is why forgiveness can only come about through the transformational power of God in our lives. We all need to rely on the Holy Spirit to forgive through us. That’s a God job and only God can do God jobs well.

Why Are Christians So Narrow Minded?

To be accused of being narrow minded is considered to be among the biggest and baddest insults which can be levelled at an individual in our Western culture. The thought is that being narrow-minded implies that one is not open to new ideas because you must obviously think you already know all there is to know. The common fear of having such a ‘rigid mind’ is that some believe that it means one is not open to change because of some deep seeded ignorance, which can only lead to fanaticism. But is this true?

A few years ago, there was an interview between Oprah Winfrey and Tom Cruise about Scientology. Oprah was clearly skeptical of Cruise’s religious beliefs, but she then asked the million dollar question: “You don’t believe Scientology is the only true religion, do you?” 

Of course Cruise answered the question as Oprah would expect, denying that Scientology claimed to be the only true religion, (apparently only conservative evangelical Christians are foolish enough to make such a claim). After making that clarification, it was obvious that Oprah’s tension immediately lessened.

It’s taboo in our modern culture to say that another person’s alternate lifestyle, religion, or different perspective is wrong. However, one exception to that rule seems to stand out, which is that It seems perfectly acceptable to be intolerant of those who claim they know the truth, in particular, evangelical conservative Christianity.

However, whenever you accept one idea over another, you’re simultaneously closing yourself off to that other idea by consequence. Happens all the time and it happens to everybody. In fact, for someone to claim that Christians are narrow minded is in itself a narrow minded view because that individual making that claim believes it to be true and so rejects the counter view that christians are open minded. See the irony? So if I say that 2 + 2 = 5 and you come along and say that no… it equals 4, are you narrow minded? 

Imagine that researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton Canada this very week discovered the ‘pill’ that could instantly cure all forms of cancer, painlessly and 100% effective every single time it was administered. I couldn’t imagine anyone accusing them of hatred or bigotry or of being “cancerphobic” if they made the claim that this was the final and only treatment for cancer that anyone would ever need.

Or imagine you and I in a deep conversation while standing 50 feet away from the edge of an 1500 foot cliff with no guard rails. Suddenly we see a blind boy of about 10 years of age walking slowly toward the edge with no idea of the danger he is in. What if he called out and asked, “Which way should I go?” And I answered, “It doesn’t matter, go any way you like?”

I know for a fact that you’d call me an idiot. If I care about him even in the slightest (as I would because he is a fellow human being), I’d yell at the top of my lungs, “Please stop! Don’t take another step. I’ll come and get you.” And then I’d run over as fast as i could, take him by the hand and lead him to safety. Love compels me to speak the truth and act it out.

Even knowing this, we can tend to get defensive when someone calls us ‘narrow minded’, because it suggests that we aren’t open to ‘new things’, that we are closed to ‘new and innovative’ ideas and as such we are the ‘ignorant ones’ of society.

I think though, that what most people consider being narrow minded is in reality being closed minded, the two often being confused with each other and used interchangeably as though they are the same thing. However, they aren’t the same thing. In fact we should be open minded when it comes to ‘questions’ and to ‘new ideas’, and we should be scientific in much of our approach to life. We are to search things out and to seek out truth. But if those new and innovative ideas lead to wrong choices, or hurtful consequences, or simply a wrong answer (as on that math test), then I’d suggest that being narrow minded is actually the best place to be.

I am not saying that Christians are better, smarter, nicer, more deserving, chose better, or anything else in and of themselves compared to non-Christians. They are Christians only because Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, has given them new hearts of flesh, renewed minds to understand, and new and true eyes to see Jesus for who he is. As a result, It then is natural for those Christians to accept the narrow way that Jesus laid out.

And Jesus’ ways and his words are always narrow, because he never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.  And even when his ways and his words make us feel uncomfortable with our broad ways of thinking,  that should bring us back to focusing all of our attention on him.  Once we have done that, and have been brought back to a place of narrow focus, he opens the eyes of our hearts and we begin to see more broadly (from an eternal perspective) than we ever have before.

So are Christians narrow minded? Absolutely! Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” – Matthew 7:13-14.

If you want to find your way to God, you have to travel the one and only course Jesus laid out for humanity. Other roads might look attractive and might seem like shortcuts, but only one ‘narrow’ road leads to heaven and brings us into a right relationship with God. And the truth is that the Love of Christ should then compel us to let the world hear about our narrow point of view, because in the end, it opens us all up to so much more of what God wishes us to know.

Five Ways to Respond to the Horrific Church Shooting in Texas

On November 5th 2017, 26-year-old Devin Kelly burst into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, and killed (at least) 26 people and shot approximately 20 more. The youngest victim was reportedly two and the oldest was in their 70s. The pastor’s 14-year-old daughter was also murdered. This little town near San Antonio is reeling in agony. For them, this tragedy is Apocalyptic in scale.

Families were decimated, an entire community for the rest of time will be remembered as the place where it happened. No doubt, this little hamlet of civilization has been flooded with news agencies from around the world, agents with the FBI and ATF, ambulance-chasing opportunists of the worst varieties, and well-meaning helping hands (who often get in the way). Whenever schools resume, they will need an army of people trained in crisis therapy. Life will not get back to “normal” in this town for a long, long time – if ever.

I don’t know if anyone is able to tell us the real motive behind the shootings yet. We don’t know with certainty if it was religiously motivated or not, but if it is an attack on Christianity,  is it to be expected?

Whatever the reasons, we do know one thing… It’s evil. How do we (Christians) respond in the face of evil? As disciple’s of Jesus we need to go to our master to find out. Jesus said in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you.”

Tertullian, one of the 2nd century Church Fathers wrote that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church”. This implies that the church grows as others see the way Christians respond to death. The martyrs’ willing sacrifice of their lives leads to the conversion of others. Could we see the beginnings of a regrowth of the church through the blood of martyrs?

Last year was the worst in the past 25 years for the persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors, a non-denominational mission supporting persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries.

It was just two and a half years ago that nine people were murdered during a Bible study at a church in Charleston, S.C.  How did Christians in Charleston react in the face of evil? They said to the shooter, “I forgive you.” This is not natural. It is supernatural. But it’s what Jesus commanded, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you…” – Matthew 5:44

Persecution doesn’t just come from a person bent on murder. We have recently witnessed boycotts and even legal actions taken against Christian bakers who refused to bake a wedding cake for same sex couples. I’ve personally witnessed anti-Christian graffiti on church walls, employees being fired for pro-life stands, subtle and not so subtle undertones of intolerance in the media, or outright abuse of power in the government.

In the June 21st, 2014 edition of the National Post, journalist Rex Murphy wrote an article that spoke to a very troubling issue with regard to the suppression of personal choice based on conscience, religious or otherwise. Rex said, “Elected Liberal MPs are under Justin Trudeau’s direct order that, in any legislation that touches on the abortion issue, they must — mindless of their faith, their previous professions on the subject, or their conscience – vote the “pro-choice” dogma. Pro-abortion is the party line. And it is the only line allowed.” – full article can be found by clicking on the following link: http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/rex-murphy-in-justin-trudeaus-world-christians-need-not-apply

My question is how are we Christians supposed to respond to the growing anti-Christian sentiment and in some cases the growing outright persecutions?

I am convinced that what we are seeing are events in our world that we, as Christians nearing the return of Jesus Christ to this earth, need to understand will increasingly become an expectation rather than an exception.

That being the case then, just how should his followers respond? In answer to those who say we need to protest or seek revenge I would like to point us back to the words of Jesus himself, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” – John 18:36

So… what is our response to the horrific shootings in Texas? There are many more, but allow me to share five.

1) PRAY

No matter how frequently such persecutions occur and increase, our first response should always be the same: turn to God in prayer. After the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting in 2012, Scotty Smith provided a model for how to pray in the midst of pain:

“Dear Lord Jesus, we abandon ourselves to you tonight—we come running with our tears and our fears, our anger and our anguish, our lament and our longings. We collapse in your presence, with the assurance of your welcome, needing the mercies of your heart. Some stories are just too much for us to absorb; some evil just too great to conceive; some losses beyond all measurability. We need your tears and your strength tonight. That you wept outside the tomb of a beloved friend frees us to groan and mourn; that you conquered his death with yours, frees us to hope and wait. But we turn our thoughts from ourselves to the families who have suffered an unconscionable violation of heart and all sensibilities. Bring your presence to bear, Lord Jesus, by your Spirit and through your people. May your servants weep with those who weep and wail with those who wail. Extend your tear wiping hand—reach into this great tragedy with an even greater grace.”

2) GRIEVE

As Christians, we are called to weep with those who weep. That was one of the identifying markers of Jesus. “Jesus wept.” – John 11:35. Yet in times of tragedy we just might be tempted instead to try to explain away and justify rather than to simply be silent and grieve with those who are grieving. When a friend or co-worker is weeping it’s hard to say, “I don’t know, I don’t understand.”

The truth is, we want to know. We want to bring comfort and we want to “fix it.” But in our attempts to “fix it” we can forget that there’s a real person in deep sorrow. Your friend, coworker, or relative is not a project to be fixed – they are real people who at those moments just want and need love. Most often without words… more often only with your presence. A hug along with the words, “I’m so sorry” can be the most therapeutic and amazing words and actions that your friend needs at that moment.

3) LOVE

The death of anyone should lead to grieving, whether they were the victim or the perpetrator. Loving is not easy especially if it for the ‘murderer – the offender. It’s a sacrifice, but we need to remember that Jesus did it for us. When he came to rescue us, we were all lost in sin. We were “risky” for him, even to the point of crucifixion. Yet he entered into a world filled with filth, and willingly laid down his life in love. This is how we share Christ with those desperate for saving grace.

4) HOPE

I think that we Christians should certainly support certain policies and solutions that we believe can foster peace, however we should also be realistic about the root cause and the ultimate solution. We need to always be quick to recognize that the root cause of violence and hate is sin. The shooting of these folks is First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs TX, is a heart-wrenching reminder of the devastatingly painful and absolutely brutal result of sin. At its most fundamental sense this tragedy is rooted in a rebellion from God. The fact that people had to die in this church is a testimony to the vicious recourse of sin. The Scripture is clear that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

Knowing this should cause us to look away from superficial hope during these times of tragedy.The Scripture tells us of Jesus who himself being God became a man with the expressed purpose of defeating sin & death by disarming sin of its power. It is Jesus Christ, the Son of the most-high God, who is Sovereign and good, able to save sinners from the deadly enemy of death. It is Jesus who gave his life as a sufficient sacrifice to pay the death penalty due to rebels like us. He died upon the cross and rose victoriously from the grave. His resurrection from the dead is the proof that death and sin have been defeated.

5) MEANWHILE…

Yes, we continue to live in a fallen world where evil flourishes. However, one day when the Lord returns, evil will be defeated forever. And that is the hope Christians have. Meanwhile, let us pray for those who are persecuting the church and for those who are controlled by evil. And let us live so that others may know Jesus who sees with the eyes of compassion and gives us all a hope for a future where there will be no death or evil. 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matthew 5:43-45

When a Loved One “Comes Out”

 

Dear sister, perhaps you just received some surprising news.

It could be that your son just showed up at the front door and said, “I’m gay.” Perhaps your sister introduced you to her partner today. Or maybe the friend you’ve known for years tearfully revealed she’s struggling with same-sex attraction. It could be that someone you know is “transitioning,” going by another name and gradually changing their appearance to reflect the opposite gender.

If any one of the scenarios above resembles yours today, you may be feeling despair, ashamed, frustrated, wounded, confused, guilty, betrayed . . . or even angry with God. But in the midst of your emotions and uncertainty, God’s Word offers hope-filled answers for you today.

Seven Truths to Consider

1. Being “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow
to become angry” is always a wise reaction.

It is easy, when emotions are high, to either lash out in anger or (in the name of love) to start throwing out Scriptures toward your loved one. Though sharing truth is right at its proper time, consider it may not be the first thing God is asking you to do. In the heat of the moment, the Bible gives us another way to respond—the way of wisdom:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19–20).

The Lord, through James, tells us that a quick, emotional reaction will not change your loved one’s heart. Instead, your efforts to listen to them patiently may be what God uses to help them.

Their decision to tell you probably wasn’t made overnight. It’s more possible that they’ve been wrestling for a while . . . and have been experiencing some deep pain. They may even be expecting you to reject them. Letting them share honestly lets them know they are heard and loved—and will actually help you minister to them better. Their situation may not actually be what you assume, and the Scriptures you initially think they need may not be helpful for their struggle. Are you willing to wisely listen before you speak?

2. Regardless of their choices, your loved one is
made in God’s image and has value and worth.

Here’s some deep, beautiful doctrine: God has graciously placed the imago Dei (image of God) in every person (Gen. 1:27). From the Garden of Eden, each man and woman has been given the privilege of reflecting God and His glory in Creation. Yes, sin—including sexual sin—has caused that image to be displayed imperfectly. But every human being is endowed with the gift of dignity, value, and worth in the eyes of their Creator.

That’s true for the ones who seem most violent and inhuman and the young baby who cannot yet consciously choose to disobey God’s law. Our enemy wants you to forget this truth so you’ll reject and disrespect your loved one . . . because Satan hates God and all who bear God’s image.

Your son changing his name or your cousin coming to Christmas dinner with a same-sex partner doesn’t mean their value before God has diminished. His Creation ordinance still stands—and with it, our need to show all people respect as bearers of God’s image. Recognizing this does not mean approving of all your loved one’s choices, but it does mean approaching them with an attitude of respect.

3. Your and my sin (and need for the gospel)
is the same, no matter our temptations.

We will never fully value and demonstrate the beauty of the gospel until we recognize our own neediness before God. Paul writes about this in Romans. After explaining that God has given His people spiritual advantages, he writes this:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested . . . the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a giftthrough the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:21–24, emphasis added).

If you hold to the biblical teaching on sexuality and don’t struggle with the same temptations, it can be tempting to look at your friend or relative with disgust. But do you look at your own sin and feel as repulsed? God has offered you grace in Christ—His overwhelming gift of love and blessing—because you needed it and couldn’t earn it. Your sin, whether it’s gossip or overeating or anger, needs God’s forgiveness, mercy, and grace as much as your neighbor’s—and that is true if they do practice homosexuality.

If you’re thinking, I do recognize my neediness . . . and it’s overwhelming!, here’s hope: Your neediness is exactly what qualifies you to help others. As you experience your weakness and God’s grace in it, you can then be a humble, effective vessel of God’s mercy toward your loved ones.

4. According to Scripture, embracing their
same-sex desires isn’t God’s best for them . . .

This is one of the hardest truths of Scripture: God is not honored by sexual relationships between people of the same gender. If you’re reading this post, you may already embrace this truth (or you’re wrestling with it). You know verses like Romans 1:26–27, where Paul describes these acts as “dishonorable” and “contrary to nature.” You’ve read the lists of sins elsewhere in the New Testament where the practice of homosexuality is listed as a mark of unrighteousness (1 Cor. 6:9) and “contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:10).

Yes, homosexual acts are sinful. This statement is true, but it’s very tempting to just stop here. There’s more to the story—and it requires more than simply throwing out Bible verses without love as grenades. (Do you see the ellipsis on the header above? Let the next truth finish the thought.)

5. . . . but obedience to God’s commands
and design can be a very hard road.

Consider the implications for your loved one to follow Jesus in their sexuality:

  • They may have to give up someone they are deeply connected with.
  • They may have to give up their community and identity.
  • They may face deep loneliness.
  • They may have seasons of depression and feeling unloved.
  • They may face misunderstanding in the Church and outside.
  • They will probably battle desires that cannot be fulfilled obediently.
  • They may never have a family or children of their own.
  • They may not be able to enjoy the physical intimacy of sex.

Jesus said following Him would be difficult and full of self-denial (Matt. 16:24). You probably feel some of that “cross of discipleship” each day—praying for a prodigal, feeling rejected by friends who want to gossip, submitting to an unwise decision of someone in authority. Let your experiences give you compassion toward your loved one. If they’re struggling against their desires, look at that list and be willing to ask questions about their fears and pain. And if they are pursuing a same-sex relationship, consider that those may be some of the reasons. Can you enter into the difficulty with them? Is there a way, as their mom or sister or friend, that you can you help provide for some of those needs?

6. God desires and is able to restore what
is broken by sin’s curse—including our
sexuality, but it may not happen in this life.

After that last point, you may be feeling heavy-hearted. But there is hope. God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20). With this truth in your pocket, you can look at your loved one and think, If Jesus is their Savior, He can change them.

That said, while praying and hoping, we have to avoid creating an idol called “completely free from temptation.” God’s plan for your loved one, even if He draws them to Himself, may not mean they’ll experience automatic transformation. They will still struggle with temptation (probably even same-sex attraction). God may have marriage in mind for them; He may not. They could be on a long road of both victories and failings. But the goal is the same for all who follow Christ, whether they experience homosexual feelings or not. God’s purpose for His children is always their sanctification and His glory—not attraction to the opposite gender.

The redemption of our bodies (and your loved one’s sexuality) will not be complete until the day Christ returns. But take heart: In that day, there will be no sin, no temptation, no sorrow, no loneliness, and no pain for all who belong to Him. So as you trust the Lord with your loved one’s situation, remember that He is able to turn it to good, and for His people, He will.

7. Showing Christ-like love means sacrificially seeking
your loved one’s welfare while pursuing God’s glory.

This is where it gets practical and personal. Your loved one (like all of us) needs community, a family . . . and hope. Where better to experience these things than around your dinner table, in your church, and in the everyday stuff of life? This is especially important if they’ve already experienced rejection from others. As you long for their restoration and walk with them, your friendship and love are the most beautiful gifts you can give . . . because it reflects the heart of Jesus.

Our Saviour ate with both the religious and the prostitutes and swindlers of His day. Remember that Jesus didn’t make a distinction in welcoming people into His life based on their behavior, temptations, or lifestyle, as we’re often prone to do. All sorts of people were welcome at His table, because that’s where He taught and displayed the gospel. When the Pharisees questioned Him on the company He kept, He was bold and unashamed:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:12–13).

Consider this: If our meals are more of a meeting of self-righteous religiosity than a welcoming feast to a motley crew, are we really reflecting the heart of Jesus? When a loved one says, “I’m gay” or “I’m struggling,” should we not do the same as Christ did—showing hospitality to those who need a family, making room at the table for the outcast, and demonstrating mercy toward sinners?

Perhaps this last truth is difficult for you—it may raise questions in your mind about the implications. Yes, it looks messy. But grace rarely comes in when things are washed-up and clean. You may end up sitting by your loved one’s side in the hospital after a suicide attempt and making room for them in your home (as Rosaria Butterfield once did).

Let’s be honest: Your church friends may judge and look askance at you when your daughter, in a short haircut and men’s clothing, walks through the door. As you show love and share your table with your loved one, you may face the same rejection as Christ did from the Pharisees. But remember, our Lord says, “I came for the ones (including us!) who need my friendship and salvation.” By sacrificing your comfort in this way, you can be God’s means of showing Christ’s grace in the world.

Also know that loving and welcoming does not negate any of the other truths above. We must seek God’s best for our loved ones, which always means honoring Him first. We are never to sacrifice truth, but we also are not to sacrifice love. First John 3:18 says it best: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

As you work through your own emotions and choose to show Christ’s love, rest in the comforting truths above. And consider . . . our sovereign God is working behind your friend or relative’s confession. They’re sitting next to you for a reason; perhaps you are in their life “for such a time as this” (Est. 4:14).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hayley Mullins

Hayley Mullins

Hayley Mullins is a musician by training, a writer by calling, and a child of God by grace. Her passion is helping people find abundant life in Christ through life-on-life discipleship and the written word. She serves with the Revive Our Hearts team in editorial services. When she’s not writing, you can find Hayley chasing adventures in libraries, on hiking trails, and through deep conversations.

3 Counter Cultural Approaches to Thanksgiving

Today is the day that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving. Typically, the most common reason for this day is that it is an opportunity to take time out and give thanks and appreciation for what we have.

In Canada it is usually associated with lots of food, turkey, stuffing, football, sleeping, more food, dessert, drinks, family and friends and more food, maybe a sibling fight or two, and the possibility to help serve at a homeless shelter…. Oh yeah, we must not forget the moment when we all share that one thing to be thankful for as we sit around the table, most notably being all the great blessings which we’ve received throughout the year of family, fitness, freedoms, finances, etc.

Now of course that is generalizing, however I think it pretty much summarizes the feel most of us have at our Thanksgiving celebrations. Please don’t get me wrong, I think those things are great (minus the tendency to gluttony and the sibling fight thing), but really, why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? Maybe a better question is what should we be thankful for?

For the disciple of Jesus Christ, I’d like to share 3 non-traditional approaches to being thankful and to what thanksgiving is about, that run counter culture in our world today.

1 We are to be thankful in all circumstances, even in the bad stuff

 “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Did you catch that? Give thanks in all circumstances. Thankfulness should be a way of life for us, naturally flowing from our hearts and mouths. That surely doesn’t mean that we should be thankful even during the nasty bits of life – or does it?

We often look to Thanksgiving Day as a day to celebrate all the good things that are going on in our lives and we don’t or won’t talk about the bad stuff. But the truth is that for us Christians we need to give thanks even in spite of the bad stuff.

“I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me. O Lord, you brought me up from the grave; you spared me from going down into the pit. You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever” – Psalm 30:1-2

Here David gives thanks to God following an obviously difficult circumstance. This psalm of thanksgiving not only praises God in the moment but remembers God’s past faithfulness. It is a statement of God’s character, which is so wonderful that praise is the only appropriate response. David always wanted God to receive glory and for God to be made known – to be made famous.

There are examples of believers’ thankfulness in the New Testament as well. Paul was heavily persecuted, yet he wrote, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him” – 2 Corinthians 2:14

Peter gives a reason to be thankful for grief and all kinds of trials,” saying that, through the hardships, our faith “may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed” – 1 Peter 1:6-7

In each of these moments the writer, while in distress is giving glory to God, making him famous. They are revealing a faithful, worthy, amazing God to the world around them in how they react with thanksgiving in all circumstances… even the bad times.

When we react and respond to the stuff going on in our lives, what do we reveal about God?

2 We are to be thankful because of God’s constant goodness, not with my happiness

Paul wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose”. – Romans 8:28

God works in all things, not just isolated instances, for our good. That doesn’t mean that all that happens to us is good. Evil is prevalent in our fallen world, but God is able to turn everything around for our long-range good.

It’s important to note btw, that Paul isn’t saying that God’s will is to make us happy. Paul isn’t saying, believe in yourself which is the path to realizing that you can be all that God has meant you to be. Nor is he saying that you can realize a better you. No – God’s will isn’t to make us happy, but rather to fulfill his purpose.

Notice also that this promise isn’t for everybody. It can be claimed only by those who love God and are called according to his purpose. ‘Called’ meaning, those who the Holy Spirit has convicted of their sins and has enabled to become disciples of Jesus Christ, and so have a new perspective, a new mindset on life.

A true disciple of Jesus’ trusts in God, not life’s treasures; they look to heaven for their security, not to the things on earth. And they learn to accept, not resent pain and persecution because they have learned to trust in God’s ultimate plan, knowing that God hasn’t stopped being good simply because the circumstances of life surrounding them have become difficult.

3 We are to be thankful because of Jesus’ sacrifice even if my life isn’t fun

If we really understand what Jesus sacrifice on the cross meant we’d naturally become thankful every day and live lives full to the brim with gratefulness even if our lives seem to be heading south, because Jesus sacrifice gives us an eternal picture when understood, that clearly sees the future with him, taking our focus off the temporal today. In fact, this is precisely why we celebrate the Lord’s supper. It is a thanksgiving celebration if there ever was one.

The Last Supper was both a Passover meal and the last meal Jesus had with his apostles before his arrest and subsequent crucifixion. One of the important moments of the Last Supper is Jesus’ command to remember what he was about to do on behalf of all mankind, which was to shed his blood on the cross thereby paying the debt of our sins.

Keep in mind that this tied in with the Passover feast which was an especially holy event for the Jewish people in that it remembered the time when God spared them from the plague of physical death in Egypt.

The Last Supper was a significant event and proclaimed a turning point in God’s plan for the world. In comparing the crucifixion of Jesus to the feast of Passover, we can readily see the redemptive nature of Christ’s death. As symbolized by the original Passover sacrifice in the Old Testament, Christ’s death atones for the sins of his people; His blood rescues us from death and saves us from slavery.

“And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood’” – Luke 22:17-20

Jesus’ was linking his death to the offering of the Passover sacrifice. The Passover lamb was the animal God directed the Israelites to use as a sacrifice in Egypt on the night God struck down the firstborn sons of every household.

This was the final plague God issued against Pharaoh, and it led to Pharaoh releasing the Israelites from slavery. After that fateful night, God instructed the Israelites to observe the Passover Feast as a lasting memorial.

Just as the Passover lamb’s applied blood caused the “destroyer” to pass over each household, Christ’s applied blood causes God’s judgment to pass over sinners and gives life to believers.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23

As the first Passover marked the Hebrews’ release from Egyptian slavery, so the death of Christ marks our release from the slavery of sin.

“For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death”. – Romans 7:5

When we recognize the nature of our depravity and understand that, apart from God, there is only death, our natural response is to be grateful for the life he gives.

As our society becomes increasingly secular, the actual “giving of thanks to God” during our annual Thanksgiving holiday is being overlooked, leaving only the feasting.

May God grant that he may find us grateful every day for all of his gifts, spiritual and material. Remember as we celebrate this season that God is good, and every good gift comes from him. May he find us to be his grateful children.

Do Miracles (Like In The Book Of Acts) Still Happen Today?

There are many people who wonder why God doesn’t show up in the miraculous like he did in the early days of the church. Lame guys getting healed by Peter & John at the temple gate kinda stuff or dudes being brought back to life by Paul type events. The main reason I believe we don’t see that happening today is quite simply because we’re living in a time marked by few miracles. I said few, not none. I do in fact believe in miracles today.

I believe that God will do as he wants, when he wants in any manner he wants. God does still perform miracles – many of them simply go unnoticed or are denied. However, the facts are that we aren’t experiencing the rate or scope of miracles that happened during the earthly ministry of Jesus, or the early days of the church when the church was being birthed where it seemed that miracles were a common, everyday and expected occurrence. Isn’t the church supposed to look like that today?

Although miracles occur throughout the book of Acts, two facts become clear. First, the number and frequency of miracles don’t approach the level of miraculous activity during Jesus’ ministry. Second, as you read Acts and the New Testament letters, you will notice some hints that the intensity of miracles began to decline during the seventy years following Jesus’ resurrection.

In what is probably the earliest New Testament letter, James tells Christians who are sick to call the elders of the church for anointing and prayer instead of seeking out a ‘faith’ healer with the gift of healing.

Early in his ministry, Paul talks about his suffering from a physical illness: “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself” – Galatians 4:13-14.

Nobody knows what Paul’s illness was precisely, but the question I think that begs to be asked is, if Paul was sick, why wasn’t he miraculously healed if that is the expectation as many (most) faith healers and health & wealth proponents claim today – especially given it was Paul?

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks several times about gifts of healings and gifts of miracles that were operative in the church but then interestingly enough a few years later in 2 Corinthians, Paul says that he was suffering from “a thorn in [the] flesh.” Apparently, he had a physical affliction that God allowed to continue in his life to keep him from becoming conceited because of the wonderful revelations he had received. Paul even pleaded with the Lord to remove the thorn, but God gave him grace to endure the affliction rather than granting a miraculous cure.

In his letter to the Philippians, a book written near the end of the events recorded in Acts, Paul brags on his friend Epaphroditus, who became deathly sick in Rome. Even though Paul couldn’t heal him, God did ultimately bring Epaphroditus back to health, but not through a miraculous healing.

Paul’s final letter, written just before his death, we read these words, “Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus” – 2 Timothy 4:20 Why would Paul leave a fellow labourer sick if he could have healed him?

And then there is Timothy who seemed to suffer from “frequent illnesses,including a troubling stomach disorder. Paul counsels him to use wine in moderation to calm his stomach. If miracle healings were the norm and to be expected then why didn’t Paul say, “I’ll heal you,” or “Find a healer”? Instead he tells him to take some medicine.

Here’s the point, we shouldn’t miss the contrast between the beginning of the book of Acts where we see multitudes being healed and the end of New Testament history. In fact, it’s important to note that the New Testament writers don’t even express any regret that the intensity of spectacular miracles had begun to decrease. Nor do the apostles write any chastisements to a single individual or a group of churches for their lack of faith. That’s because they simply recognize that the period of abundant miraculous works was ending.

But didn’t Jesus say that his followers would perform greater miracles than he did? I remember hearing a pastor address the issue of whether we should expect miracles today by appealing to Jesus’ words, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father”. – John 14:11-12

Based on this passage, that pastor contended that we Christians should not only expect to see the same outpouring of miracles that Jesus saw in his ministry, but even greater evidences of God’s power. But is that what Jesus meant? If it is what he meant, shouldn’t we see an increase in the number of miracles as we read through the book of Acts and on through the rest of the New Testament?

Why don’t we read of the apostles doing more miraculous works than Jesus did – or greater works – or at least the same number of works? What we do find, however, is a gradual decline in the frequency and number of miracles. The writers of the New Testament never seem surprised by that; they never admonish the church for its lack of miracles or for its lack of faith.

I believe that the apostles knew that the number of miracles would gradually decrease. As the New Testament writings became available and as the gospel became established in the known world, spectacular, public miracles occurred less and less. Even the historical writings of the early church fathers after the first hundred years of the church, record only a very few miracles. And none of the leadership past the apostolic age ever accused the church of failing to pursue the greater works that Jesus promised they would do. All this leads me to believe that Jesus had something different in mind when he said that the apostles and those who came later would do greater works than the ones Jesus himself did.

As wonderful and as powerful as Jesus’ miracles were, they met only a temporary need in people’s lives. The sick people Jesus healed and the disabled people Jesus made physically whole eventually died. Hungry people who were fed by the miraculous multiplication of a few fish and loaves of bread became hungry again. Lazarus, who was raised from the dead at the spoken word of Christ, died a second time. The Sea of Galilee that became calm at Jesus’ word has been rocked by many storms since then.

However, as the apostles went out to the nations with the message of the gospel, they saw eternal changes take place. People who were lost in sin found forgiveness and cleansing in Christ. Men and women who were far from God and who were excluded from the covenants and promises of God to Israel were drawn near to God by the blood of the cross.

Those who believed in Christ were made new creations; the old life passed away and the new life began. These were the “greater works” Jesus spoke of. The miracle of salvation met humanity’s deepest need and met that need permanently and eternally.

Since Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, many disciples of Jesus’ have led more people to saving faith than the Son of God did in his entire ministry. I am convinced that these “greater works” of reaching lost men and women with the gospel are God’s basic program for the church until Christ returns, because the gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” – Romans 1:16

In the end, here is why I believe that the question about what our expectations and understandings regarding miracles is of importance – maturity. Paul said, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” – Colossians 1:28-29.

We are to be maturing in the faith but when we look to miracles or miraculous signs and wonders to strengthen our Christian walk, or used as signatures and determining markers of our faith, we stunt our spiritual growth.

Think of it this way… Jesus performed countless miracles, and yet the vast majority of people didn’t believe in him. If God performed miracles today as he did in the past, the result would be the same. People would be amazed and would believe in God for a brief time, but the faith they embraced would be shallow and would disappear the moment something unexpected or frightening occurred.

A faith based on miracles is not a mature faith. God performed the greatest “God miracle” of all time in coming to earth as the God – Man Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins so that we could be saved. As I said earlier, God does still perform miracles – many of them simply go unnoticed or are denied. However, we don’t need more miracles, nor do we need to seek out miracles. What we do need is to believe in the miracle of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and share that miracle to the world.

What to Do If You’re Chronically Frustrated at Church

September 14, 2017                                                  by: Brett McCracken

Stopping the Cycle of Discontent

We live in an age of constant dissatisfaction. Because of our digital connectedness and access to everything all the time, we have never been more aware of the “other options” at our disposal and how what we have stacks up against what we want (or what Instagram or Facebook reveals that others have). Furthermore, the deeply ingrained nature of consumerism tells us to never settle for what we have but always to strive for more and better. And so we live in a constant state of glass-half-empty unsettledness, hyperaware of what could be a better fit for us, what might make us happier and more comfortable.

This attitude is everywhere, including in our churches. Most of us can relate to feeling unsettled and a bit disgruntled in our churches. The reasons are manifold. The pastors never seem to speak to the current-event topics that occupy your mind and stir your heart. The worship band always adds annoying contemporary additions to perfectly good old hymns. Your suggestions for social justice initiatives or small-group curriculum never gain momentum. Everything about the church is just so predictable. Week after week it’s the same thing. It doesn’t feel relevant to what’s happening in the world, at least as you see it.

Could it be that our own self-centered approach to church is the problem?

These feelings of frustration are aggravated by the constancy of media, which bombards us with images and ideas and other stimuli that are dynamic and always changing. Any church would feel stifling and boring by comparison! Furthermore, the nature of social media is predominantly negative, conditioning us to view the world through the lenses of grievance and complaint. We naturally bring these lenses to bear in how we see our church. We have eyes to see what’s wrong, but no patience to dwell in the goodness of what’s right. What starts as small nitpicky things grow in our minds over time, snowballing to become larger grievances that eventually become deal breakers. We slowly disengage from the church, from a place of bitterness and anger, or we just leave.

How can we stop this cycle? Rather than letting dissatisfaction fester to the point that we leave the church or become embittered, what can we do to deal with our frustrations?

1. Search your own heart.

The pervasive “culture of complaint” in today’s internet age has led us to focus our anger and frustration externally, blaming this person or that institution for the things that are wrong. But what about us? What role is our own sin playing in our disgruntled state? Could it be that our own self-centered approach to church is the problem? Perhaps we should start where G.K. Chesterton starts when he answered the question, “What is wrong with the world?” with two simple words: “I am.”

2. Focus on God.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the nitpicky particularities of church that we forget what it is all about. We are there not to be comfortable, nor to be affirmed in our preferences. We are there to worship God; to hear from him; to proclaim his glory and to rest in his goodness. Choosing this posture can go a long way in softening our edginess about church. Don’t look inward in worship, rehashing bitterness in your heart. Don’t look around you either, finding fault in what your fellow churchgoers or leaders are doing. Look upward to God. Focus your gaze on him. That’s why you’re there.

3. Talk to your leaders.

Another unfortunate way social media is changing us is that it frames our complaints in a distant, anonymous, decontextualized way. We air grievances with the ease of a tweet, with the protective buffer of screens and distance, but we rarely do the harder work of hashing things out in person, in longer, more nuanced, and more civil conversations. But this is crucial in a church community.

If you have problems or grievances about the church, talk to your leaders in person. Emails aren’t the best. Texts are worse. Ask them for a meeting, one where you do as much listening as talking. Frame your issues not as demands or critiques but as observations and suggestions. And approach it all in a spirit of love and edification. This is not about you and your comfort; it’s about you as one member seeking to strengthen the whole body.

Brett McCracken

Brett McCracken is the managing editor of Biola Magazine at Biola University and the author of Hipster Christianity and Gray Matters. He writes regularly for the Gospel Coalition website, Christianity TodayRelevant, and his website, BrettMcCracken.com.

4 Reasons Why We Must Commit To Prayer

If you knew that Jesus was going to come visit you personally in real time this afternoon and you could make one request of him, what would your request be? If you could ask him anything, would you ask for protection, a new job, more money, deeper relationships? What would you ask for?

The disciples came to Jesus one day with a request. “Lord, teach us to pray…” – Luke 11:1 I don’t know if you find that request especially interesting but I sure do. Think about it for a moment. The disciples had just watched Jesus preach the greatest sermons ever, they had been there while he performed miracles, but never once did they say, “Lord, teach us to preach” or “Lord, teach us to do miracles” or “Lord, teach us to raise the dead”. Instead they said, “Teach us how to pray.”

I think they asked that question because they saw the results of prayer in Jesus’ life. They saw him pray and they observed the impact and even experienced the results. From watching the example of Jesus, these men knew that prayer was the key to what they needed in their life.

We need to understand that as well. Prayer is crucial to the Christian’s walk and growth. I’ve heard it said before that just as air is vital to our physical existence, so prayer is vital to our spiritual existence. If you have never committed to a life of prayer allow me to share 4 reasons why we too need to make prayer a daily and growing habit of life.

1 We Recognize Our Dependence on God

When I pray, I am saying to God, “I need You.” For some reason, many of us have a problem admitting this. Perhaps it’s a part of the Canadian mindset – we value independence, hard work, and making it on our own. And while that can be a good thing, if you learn anything when you come to Jesus Christ, it is that you don’t have the ability to make it spiritually on your own.

Quite frankly I believe that one of the key reasons why a lot of people don’t pray is because it is humbling. “I admit I am inadequate – I am helpless – I need ‘Your’ help in this situation.” But when we pray we are declaring our dependence upon God as our Lord and Saviour, and we are calling upon his power and strength to equip us for the work he has called us to accomplish. In our humbling of self, we are admitting that we are but mere humans that do not have the ability to save the world, that do not have the strength to keep going, that do not have the staying power to keep on keeping on. We are saying to God, that while we do not have these abilities, we know that he does, and we are asking him to fill and sustain us through the struggle. God has the ability to change us and use us for his ultimate glory.

When the tough things happen, God invites us to place our dependence upon him to see us through. It does not all depend on me; it depends on me allowing God to work through me. But as long as you think you’re self sufficient, prayer can have no meaning for you.

2 We Grow In Our Relationship With God

Communication is essential to a relationship. It is safe to say that for two persons to get to know each other, they must take time to communicate. In talking together, they share not only ideas but something of themselves as well. Christ so longs to communicate with us. He has wonderful news that he is just waiting to share with each of us about who we are and of the plans he has for us if we’d just listen.

Christ promised, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” – John 15:7. It sounds like there is a communication thing happening here.

The wonder of it all is that the God of the universe wants us to call on him. In fact, unlike the annoyance we earthly mothers or fathers sometimes feel, far from being bothered, our heavenly father loves to hear the voices of his children at any time. “The prayer of the upright is his delight” – Proverbs 15:8

I remember an incident in our home a number of years ago, when my daughter was vying for my attention. She had just turned three and of course everything to her was of vital importance. I was watching a very important hockey game, after all the boys couldn’t win without me watching you realize. She had some important information that she wanted to share with me and had made a couple of attempts to get my attention. Finally, she climbed up onto my lap, grasped both of my cheeks with her cute, chubby hands, looked me full in the eye and said, “Daddy listen to me with your eyes”. She knew that to truly communicate there had to be interaction with both parties.

God desires a fully engaged relationship with us. A big part of that is to turn our eyes to him for ALL our requests. As we grow in our relationship with him we learn that we never have to call him twice. He is, in a sense, already waiting for our call. We have his full attention at all times.

3 God Wants Us To Ask from Him

In Verse 3 of Luke 11 Jesus said, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Jesus was teaching the disciples that when you come to God we come, as it were with hat in hand, recognizing that everything we receive is from God alone. And not only that, but that truth must be recognized every single day, because let’s face it, we all have short memories and before we know it we get that pride thing going again and soon think that all we have and all that has been accomplished in life is because of ‘me’.

I’ve heard others say that as we grow in our relationship with God that we should never ask God for anything, or if we have to, it should be at a minimum. The thought is that the more mature a Christian becomes, the less they will request from God, and the more they will spend their time just praising his name.

My theological response to that idea is to use the Greek word, “Malarkey!” In fact, that’s about the biggest bunch of nonsense I’ve ever heard! God wants us to ask and receive from him in prayer. The longer I’ve been a Christian, the more I ask from him, because I have learned to believe in his ability, as I recognize my disability, to a much greater extent than ever before.

4 We’re Participating In His Kingdom Work

This is the most exciting thing about prayer. God invites us to pray about his work being accomplished and in that way, we are working in an act of cooperation with God in the building of his kingdom on earth. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – Mathew 6:10

Prayer is God’s program – Prayer is God’s modus operandi. Prayer is God saying, “I have chosen to limit myself to what I accomplish on earth simply by limiting myself to the faith of My children on the earth. What they believe Me for, I will do.” When we pray for other people, we are cooperating with God. We are teaming up with God to accomplish his work in the world.

M. Bounds was a Methodist Pastor around the time of the American Civil War. It is said that he prayed daily from 4 A.M. to 7 A.M. before he would begin his work. E.M. Bounds wrote in one of many of his writings: “The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men [women]…What the church needs today is not more or better machinery, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men [women] whom the Holy Spirit can use – men [women] of prayer, men [women] mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men [women]. He does not come on machinery, but on men [women]. He does not anoint plans, but men [women] – men [women] of prayer.”

If you knew that Jesus was going to come visit you personally in real time this afternoon, let it be that you have already been talking with each other and it would simply be a continuation of the worship you have been giving him – every day – already.