Wednesday, April 30, 2008

How to Help Someone Who is Suddenly Grieving

This side of heaven, we will all have grief. Even Christians grieve – although we most certainly have an unshakeable hope! I thought that I might give a few pieces of advice when we are considering how to help others in the early days of grief.

Don’t underestimate the value of prayer. God hears what you say in secret and God blesses wounded and grieving people with the comfort of His Spirit in response to the prayers of His people. God cares far more than we do about His children and will supply grace according to the need. Pray without ceasing for God’s mercy on behalf of the hurting.

Be careful to allow those that are grieving to set the parameters of their grief. What I mean is that it can be incredibly tiring if everyone wants to help at once and the phone keeps ringing and the door knocks keep knocking. If you aren’t someone who would normally be in everyday communication with the family, then pause before you call or show up at the doorstep. Call a person who is normally actively involved in their lives and ask – what can we do to help? If you want to let them know that you are praying – write them a card. Cards are an enormous encouragement. They remind us that we aren’t alone. A promise of Scripture written in a note can wonderfully encourage the heart. Ask someone who does have regular access, like a very close family friend, a pastor or an elder, to drop the card off for you. If you are eager to make a visit, ask someone who is close to ask them if they desire to have visitors. Respect their wishes. What you are showing is that you are more concerned to help them however possible, without making it more tiring for them, and without needing to be acknowledged.

Seek someone who is either a representative of the church family or a good friend of the grieving family to help to organize meals. If everyone drops off food on the first night, that may be too much help. Then again, if no one does, it also might be discouraging. Therefore, call and ask, a close and involved friend or pastor, “Would it be okay, if I dropped off something?” Or, ask “Can I get you to drop things off?” If you are asking the right person, they will be able to help you genuinely help the family.

Guard against the need to be “in the loop.” It may sound strange but all of us do like to be needed and we do like to be involved in times of significance in people’s lives. We need to be careful that our help is really about the people in need of help and not some need in our own hearts for significance. Always remember that if you do care, there will be plenty of opportunity for the weeks and months ahead to show someone that you truly care. Therefore, be content to take the role of a humble servant and avoid the temptation to be a “significant player” in a time of crisis. Be careful that you aren’t a person who thrives on crisis but is absent in the ordinary affairs of life.

Gather people together to pray – apart from those that are hurting. Send a message and tell them that you are praying for them at such and such a time. Let them know that people love them.

Find your peace in God’s sovereignty, goodness, and wisdom. It is the confidence of others in Christ that ministers most to the wounded. Sometimes, people who are grieving find that they spend most of their time ministering to people who they don’t know well, who sit there and say “why, why, why?” God often does use the wounded to declare God’s praises to a watching world, but if you are struggling – at least in the early days – seek the help of Christian friends and leaders who you can count on. Don’t go with the idea of helping but then place emotional demands on those that are in the midst of trials.

If you believe the Holy Spirit is leading you to do something or say something, confirm that with mature Christian believers and leaders. God may indeed be moving you to minister in some particular or unique way. If that is true, then God will also confirm that through those who are aware of the needs of those who are grieving. Remember, we always need the counsel and wisdom of fellow believers.

I am sure that there are other thoughts that could be shared. I know that when our family was going through a time of deep grief that we were so glad for the family of God and for those who loved us, walked with us, and cared for us not just in those first days but for the long period of growth and recovery that followed for the months and years ahead. May God allow all of us to serve God by helping those with grief and do so with pure intentions and faithfulness – to show God’s love in a way that brings honour to God’s name, and His name alone.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Why Paul loves to proclaim the gospel!

A study of Romans 1:16-17

In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, you cannot help but pick up his eagerness to preach the gospel. He is on his way to Rome, he hopes, after a quick trip to Jerusalem. His stop in Rome is actually just a temporary visit on the way to his next missionary field – Spain. No matter where he is going – his goal is to preach the gospel. He says in Romans 1:15 “So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.”

There is no doubt that Paul’s main mission and his number one passion is to preach the gospel. He doesn’t hesitate to preach it. Nothing seems to hinder him in preaching. No one has a gun to his head forcing him to preach it. He will climb over hill and dale to bring the gospel to the nations.

This letter is written after some years of ministry for Paul. He has seen and encountered much that might discourage a man from his task. Yet, Paul is as focussed and committed and eager and happy to be in the gospel ministry as ever.

William Barclay writes: “Paul had been imprisoned in Philippi, chased out of Thessalonica, smuggled out of Berea, laughed at in Athens. He had preached in Corinth where his message was foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews, and out of that background Paul declared that he was proud of the gospel.”

What is it about the gospel that makes Paul so eager to preach it no matter what the cost or consequence? Why does Paul unhesitatingly declare that he is “not ashamed of the gospel? Why is Paul proud of the gospel?

I want to suggest to you that it is the people who believe most confidently in the gospel who are most likely to share the gospel eagerly and consistently.

What had Paul discovered in the gospel that made him want to share it with others and made him unwilling to disown it, no matter what opposition or ridicule he encountered.

This is crucial to us – because if we are going to present the gospel in a convincing fashion in our day and age, and with love and joy, then we too must be absolutely convinced that this message is one that we believe in with all our hearts.

4 reasons for Paul’s proud confidence in the gospel:

I. The Effectual Power of the Gospel - Paul is confident of what the gospel is able to do.(vs.16)

The gospel doesn’t simply inform about change. The gospel has the power to change people’s lives and save them from their sin. It is the power of the gospel that makes Paul eager to preach it.

Paul is fully aware of what the gospel is able to do. It is the power of God unto salvation to whoever believes. Salvation is the general word for all that is involved in delivering people from their slavery to sin and its consequences. Remember this letter is written to garner support for Paul’s missionary journey to bring about “the obedience of faith among the Gentiles.” One of the consequences for sin is the inability to escape sin’s hold over our lives. Only the gospel, can deliver a person from the devastating effects of sin. All other solutions never work because what man needs is not advice or religious instruction. We don’t need guidelines for life. We need to be rescued from sin’s intrinsic hold upon our lives. God’s wrath exists in that God has handed us over to sin (Romans 1:18ff.) Only through the gospel, does God break the power of sin and set us free to trust in God and to follow Him.

This is what makes the gospel unique. All other teaching is just that – information. The gospel is the instrument that God uses to change peoples hearts as He brings them to faith in Christ. It has power to save lives.

Leon Morris: “The gospel is not advice to people, suggesting that they lift themselves. It is power. It lifts them up. Paul does not say that the gospel brings power but that it is power, and God’s power at that. When the gospel is preached, this is not simply so many words being uttered. The power of God is at work. When the gospel enters anyone’s life, it is as thought the very fire of God had come upon him. There is warmth and light in his life.”

II. The Universal Capacity of the Gospel – Paul is confident of who the gospel is able to reach.

The gospel has the power to save all kinds of people from all kinds of background. Paul is eager to preach it everywhere because it can transform people of every race and background.
It is for the Jew first and also the Greek. What the law could not do for the Jew and what philosophical reason (wisdom) could not do for the Greek, the gospel could do for both. The gospel had the power to turn man away from sinful foolishness and make him walk and live in truth and righteousness. The Jew could never live up to the law. The Greek could never reach the ideal. Greek philosophy was always forced to recognize the enormous gap between earthly reality and the ideal in the mind of man. The notion would arise that all matter had to be evil because while in our mind, we could imagine perfection and a utopian existence, we could never attain unto it. The gospel has the power to do what philosophy could not do, change the human heart and cause a man to live in ways that previously he had not power to realize.
The gospel has the power to save whoever believes – whether they are Jew or Greek.

III. The Righteous Revelation of God in the Gospel - Paul is confident of what the gospel reveals about God.

The God of the gospel is not an embarrassing God.The more you trust him, the more you see that God is righteous. (vs.17)
The gospel reveals the righteousness of God. There is no shame for Paul when he declares the gospel because the gospel upholds God as a righteous God who is able to rescue humanity from sin without ever acting unjustly or compromising his righteousness. In the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. The more you trust, the more who trust, from beginning to end, God is a righteous God who keeps His word, who upholds what is just, who promotes what is right, who provides what is best. God always comes out looking good and righteous to those who have the faith to follow Him and surrender their lives to His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul is eager to preach the gospel because He is confident of the God who stands behind the gospel and He is confident of what the gospel reveals about His God.

IV. The Reasonable Requirement of the Gospel. Paul is confident of how the gospel works. (vs.17)

Paul is confident in the gospel because he knows that all it requires of people is faith.
The gospel simply requires that we trust in God. As God is trusted, God proves that He is true and right. The biblical declaration is that the righteous live because they trust God. Or, as some say, the righteous by faith will live. It has always been the expectation that those with whom God is pleased and who God saves are simply those who trust in God. If salvation depended on human effort in anyway, Paul might have not been so confident in it or eager to preach it. But, what the gospel requires is simply that we trust God to save us through His Son. That is both reasonable and glorious.
Paul is eager to preach because the gospel is effective for the most helpless of people – all they are called to do is trust in the Lord to deliver them.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wrongly Assessing God

In Psalm 31:22, David writes "As for me, I said in my alarm, 'I am cut off before your eyes.'" (NASB). What David admits is that in the middle of a time of trial, he wrongly assessed God. He assumed that he had been cut off from Him. God had, it seemed to him, turned away. But, God hadn't.

Now, the real blessing for David, and the cause of enormous praise comes in the last part of the verse: "Nevertheless, You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried to You." What David is grateful to God for is that when David in a time of distress stated that God had cut him off, God didn't reject David. God didn't become angry at the false accusation. David marvels that God heard his cry and answered his prayer. Here is the amazing nature of God's grace. This ought to humble us, encourage us, and excite us. God has the tenderness and patience to hear our unjust complaint and yet look beyond our words to hear the true cry of our souls. God is holy. David is wrong in his assessment. I doubt David would say that it is okay to complain against God. Yet, David does marvel and praise the Lord because the Lord hears his real heart cry and cares for Him.

This ought to be an example for all of us. How often do people complain that we don't care about them when they are going through particularly difficult times? Sometimes, people seem particularly unaware or unappreciative of what we are actually doing when they are perplexed and trouble by particular events in their lives. Grace has the capacity to not easily take offence. Grace overlooks the sin and hears the cry of a soul in need. Grace is not easily offended but is more concerned to care for a person rather than get immediate credit for what is being done.

Imagine what this grace can do for marriages, or for ministries. Parents, who are able to respond like God when a child can't see above a particular circumstance, can give grace according to the need of the moment. Sunday school teachers who by grace can look beyond the child struggling with his or her emotions, can minister God's truth and love in a way that is not coldly corrective. Pastors can listen for the truth of a situation when complaints are spoken in a way that sound accusational.

Is it not a marvel to you that our God loves us and never leaves us despite our struggle to see Him aright in the middle of troubling times? If you read Psalm 31, you will see that the one thing that amazes David is the greatness of God's lovingkindness toward him, when David himself is troubled by his own sin. David says "I will rejoice and be glad in your lovingkindness, because You have seen my affliction; You have known the troubles of my soul, and You have not given me over into the hand of the enemy."(verse 7-8). David's hope is in this love alone. Verse 16 reads "Make your face to shine upon Your servant; save me in Your lovingkindness." David's hope rests in this deep unfailing love of God. David praises God because God's love was with him in a difficult place and never left David even when David struggled with understanding God. "Blessed be the Lord, for He has made marvelous His lovingkindess to me in a besieged city."(vs.21)

May you and I rest in God's unfailing love and may we imitate Him one toward the other. His love endures forever!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Paul's Prayer and Longing

Romans 1:8-15

This morning, I want you to begin by thinking about some of the most beautiful Christian people you know. By beautiful, I mean Christians whose character and faith and faithfulness stand out in your mind such that you are filled with gratitude whenever you think of them, and you are filled with a longing to be like them. I have had a number of such people in my life. I can remember the small town where I grew up and the remarkable heritage that I have of becoming a Christian in a strong bible-believing, cross-centred, Christ-centred church in this little village of Wheatley. There in that little corner of the world, pastors came and taught us the word, and men and women faithfully loved and discipled us to the best of their ability.

It was out of an environment like that, that God has been pleased to raise up Christians, and send out Christian leaders to the nations. I know literally of dozens of Christians who are in missions and ministry who came out of that little church in that little village where I grew up.

What if no one was willing to come there? What if no one was willing to faithfully spend his/her days serving there?

It has taught me that it is very important for Christians to keep clearly in mind that what God is often pleased to honour and to bless is faithfulness in seemingly unexciting places and we ought not to despise the ministry that goes unwatched by most of the world but is never unobserved or unimportant to God. A love for the peoples of the earth causes us to work and to serve faithfully and joyfully in some seemingly insignificant or dark and difficult places.

In this passage this morning, we see Paul’s determination to go and to serve where God has calls him to serve, even when he has long wanted to go and see firsthand where he has heard that God is doing a great work.

Ministry is not about going where it appears to you that God is working most. Ministry is about faithfulness. Ministry is going where God has sent you and faithfully praying and serving until God is pleased to do in you and through you what pleases Him for His glory. Ministry is thinking about what you would ultimately want, if you were an unreached person in an unreached community in an unreached and unresponsive corner of the world.

Ministry is about being faithful to serve where God has sent us to serve.

I. Paul’s Gratitude – Paul thanks God because of what He has heard about the faith of the Roman Christians (vs. 8).

Why thank God for people’s faith?
a. The existence of the faith: God is able to produce faith in difficult and dark places. Rome was a very dark place. In 49 A.D., the Emperor Claudius evicted Rome of Jews, and that would have included Jewish Christians. Christians would have been seen as a Jewish sect. Following Claudius, Nero (54-68 A.D.) came and he proved to be no friend of Christians. This letter was probably written around 57 A.D. – early in Nero’s reign.

b. The encouragement of such faith: Faith like theirs strengthens the faith of other Christians serving in difficult and dark places. The impact of God’s work under dark and difficult circumstances has an encouraging effect upon Christians in other places: “your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” It is often not necessarily the nature of the success of Christians but the faith and faithfulness that encourages us – when we see Christians serving and sacrificing against the odds. Jim Elliott’s mission to the Aucas was a faithful response to the call of God to go to an unreached people group. It hardly looked like success but Jim Elliott’s journal’s and his story has profoundly motivated and encouraged people. The story of the church in China continues to be of enormous encouragement to Christians around the world today.

We ought to rejoice when we hear of the faith and faithfulness of God’s people when they press on and serve where the going is tough.

II. Paul’s Longing: Paul asks God continually to allow him to go to the Roman Christians(vs.9-12)

Why does Paul have such a strong desire to go to see the Roman Christians?
a. His ministry to the Gentiles is a heartfelt passion (vs.9): Paul serves God from the core of his being. He writes “God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of his Son.” Paul’s heart is to see the nations come to Christ. When he hears of some growing in a difficult place, Paul longs to go and to help them.
b. He longs to see them established (vs. 11). With all that is against them, he wants to do his part to build them up and keep them pressing on for Christ.
c. He longs to be encouraged by them himself(vs.12). There is nothing more encouraging then to encounter Christians who sincerely love God and who are faithfully labouring against the odds. Such faith strengthens our confidence in God and our resolve to serve God.

We ought to pray for and seek to encourage and to be encouraged by believers who are faithfully ministering in dark and in difficult places.

III. Paul’s Limitation: Paul was unable to come up until this point in time because he too was called to minister faithfully where God had placed him. (vs. 13-15)

Why didn’t Paul go to Rome sooner?
1. He has been prevented (vs. 13). God has given Paul the responsibility as an apostle to go where others have not gone (see Romans 15:22). The opportunities in Asia Minor were part of his calling. He couldn’t leave places where Christ wasn’t known to go where Christ was (ie. Rome). Paul needed to be faithful where he was planted.
2. He is under obligation (vs. 14). Paul was often in the sticks with the hicks. He was an educated Roman citizen. Yet, God had called him to go both to the sophisticated (Greek) or the unsophisticated (barbarian – non-Greek). Faithfulness to God is realizing that the gospel is for all people, and not just those most like us, or most likeable to us.
When we see others faithfully and joyfully serving where God has placed them in dark and difficult places, it should encourage us to be faithful to serve God joyfully where God has called and placed us or it should compel us to go where God has calling us, no matter how difficult and challenging – because we really are concerned for all peoples.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Kings and Humility

Daniel and the cruel King
In Daniel 2, King Nebuchadnezzar tells all his magicians and wise men in Babylon that he will tear them limb from limb if they do not tell him the meaning of a troubling dream that he has had. In order to keep them from attempting to pull the wool over his eyes by agreeing privately on some fictional interpretation of that dream and then telling it to him in order to save their own lives, the king adds the proviso that they must first tell him the dream that he wants interpreted.

Nebuchadnezzar is not a man who warms your heart by his gentleness and compassion. He does not tolerate fools easily. I want to suggest to you that cruelty, in general, is tied to the desparate need of self-exaltation. The king's threats flow from the king's fears. He feels out of control, so he wields power cruelly.

Just think about this for a moment: If Nebuchadnezzar was so great, wise, and powerful, why does he need to ask for outside help to interpret his dream? Why does he spend sleepless nights trying to resolve the mystery of this dream? From where does all this fear come?

Nebuchadnezzar is simply wrestling with his humanity. He feels vulnerable. He lacks insight. Therefore, he ends up both miserable and mean. Cruelty flows from desperation and weakness.

The Difference is Daniel's God

Here is the short version of what happens next: God gives Daniel both the dream and the interpretation. The magicians and wise men don't die. Daniel gets a big promotion.

What is striking about Daniel in this scene and provides such a sharp contrast to Nebuchadnezzar is that Daniel knows that God has everything that Nebuchadnezzar lacks - wisdom, power, and insight. And even more than that - compassion! When Daniel is about to be rounded up and executed with the rest, he asks the King's commander why this is happening. When told of the king's decree, he asks for time to seek God and he gathers his three friends to ask God for something. What does he ask for? Daniel 2:18 reads "so that they might request compassion from the God of heaven..." He couldn't expect that from Nebuchadnezzar!

The thing that is so striking about our God as opposed to almost all other gods and all other human kings of biblical times - is that our God is not a God who uses threats to gain things that He somehow lacks. Our God has all power and authority and therefore, our God can and does act compassionately toward those who come to Him by faith. This foolishness of exalting ourselves and trying to force our wills brutally on others is one thing that most certainly offends God. God cannot tolerate men being cruel to other men under the guise of pretending that they are powerful and in control. Such pride is so hypocritical. It is so anti-God. If you find yourself starting to be cruel because you feel out of control, acknowledge humbly that you don't have control and ask for help, instead of rage, rage, raging against what you think is the dying light.

God is our Hope.

When we fear the future and feel helpless, what we are showing is that we do not possess certain hope. When the future for us is certain and good, then no one or no circumstance is a threat to us, and we need not whisper a threat or a complaint or a cruel word, for nothing can shake our lives. For Daniel, the future was in the hands of His God -the God who never trembled over any uncertainty because there is no uncertainty; the God who worked all things according to the counsel of His will. Daniel expected that such a true God could extend compassion towards him because this God, the God of heaven, was not struggling, insecure or miserable. Daniel simply had to ask.

Nebuchadnezzar's lesson:
The peace for the kingdom and the peace for Nebuchadnezzar would only come when the king bowed and recognized that he was merely a man who needed to look to the God in whom alone all kingdoms stood and all kingdoms fell. The predominant principle that echoes throughout the book of Daniel is that God alone is the ruler of all men, including kings and nations. No man is to exalt himself. Just read Daniel 3 and 4 and see what happens when Nebuchadnezzar does exalt himself. Nebuchadnezzar's conclusion after some very humbly experiences sums it up well: "For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heave and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can ward off His hand or say to Him, 'What have you done?" It is too bad it takes so long for us to realize this. God rules over all. God can be trusted.

Daniel's Peace
What strikes me in the second chapter of Daniel is how Daniel is very conscious of the truth that God alone rules over all and in that truth Daniel rests. Daniel doesn't struggle to be in control. Daniel doesn't become more determined to be self-sufficient and neither does he attempt to give credit to himself. Listen to how he explains the dream to the King. Daniel is extremely conscientious to point all credit to God. In Daniel 2:30, before he tells the dream, Daniel gives this precursor: "But as for me, this mystery has not been revealed to me for any wisdom residing in me more than in any other living man." Daniel is not the interpreter because he is more wise than other people and somehow figured it out. God was being gracious to the king by giving Daniel the message as an act of divine revelation rather than human deduction. Daniel says that he is simply giving the message as God's act of compassion so "that you may understand the thoughts of your mind."

How much cruelty would be replaced by compassion amongst men, when we realize that only those who arrogantly crave control end up being cruel? Those who give it up, and trust the One who rules all things well, can afford to be compassionate.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Why, Why, Why? A meditation on snow in April.

It's mid-April. Spring is here. That means one thing - snow! Yes, snow!
A few days ago, we got hit with six inches of snow (at least). The good thing about April is that it melts away reasonably quickly. It is almost gone already.

When my daughter, Kathy, came out in the morning, she stopped and stared out the living room window, and simply uttered the words "Why, why, why?" Since I was sitting nearby and no one else could hear her, I assumed she was talking to me. (Although, she did look like she was crying out into the great beyond). My answer was "Because God is good, and wise, and loves you so." I'm not sure she was awake enough to take it all in, or was in the state of mind to immediately rejoice in the Lord. But, I wasn't being sarcastic.

A favourite passage of mine in Psalm 127 reads "God gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes. He casts forth His ice as fragments; who can stand before His cold?" (see verses 16 and 17). Snow is given by God. Snow in April is given by God.

Now, that answers the how, but not necessarily the "Why, why, why?" In Psalm 147, the psalmist is recounting the greatness of God's love and faithfulness towards those that fear Him.
It is a psalm calling out for praise. Verse one declares "Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; For it is pleasant and praise is becoming (or fitting)."

From there we are told why praise is both pleasant and appropriate and good. "The Lord builds up Jerusalem; He gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds" (vs.2-3). From the perspective of why must it snow in April, I really think that we ought to consider this as an argument from the greater to the lesser. If God gathers the outcasts, and if He heals the broken-hearted, and binds up their wounds, can we not begin to imagine that maybe, just maybe, His snow, even when given in April, is an act of mercy and compassion towards his people? Our family knows what it is to be broken-hearted. When the girls' lost their mom to cancer in 2005, we all knew what it felt like to get our hearts crushed. Yet, we are living testimonies to the truth that the Lord does not abandon his people but rather "gathers... heals... and binds up their wounds."

Now, let's take it from another angle. Look up at the night sky. We live about 10 minutes out of the city, and last night when I got home, I had to put the garbage out. (Only a few weeks left probably for us to do that, before that becomes a draw for the bears.) The air was warm (which for us means that it was about 5 degrees celsius or 40 fahrenheit). The sky was dark. You could see every star brilliantly. This psalm declares "He counts the number of stars; He gives names to them all. Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite." So what? I don't mean that disrepectfully. It just seems that these words in verse 4-5 can sound a bit out of place. Unless, of course, we realize what the psalmist is saying. If God knows, numbers and personally names 100 to 200 billion stars in 100 to 200 billion galaxies, just maybe, He has the capacity to know, and to personally care for and carry 6 billion people on the face of the planet. Psalm 127:6 and 7 declare "The Lord supports the afflicted; He brings down the wicked to the ground. Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; Sing praises to our God on the lyre, who covers the heavens with clouds, who provides rain for the earth, who makes grass to grow on the mountains."

Now, I could continue to go verse by verse through the psalm and show you why praise is both pleasing and appropriate. Let me just summarize by saying the following. When the psalmist describes God giving "snow like wool", it is in the context of telling us how God blesses His people and cares for them personally and carries them through life's best and most difficult moments. Therefore, when we see the snow falling in April after a long winter, we ought to marvel that God knows so much more than us and cares so deeply and personally for His people, that He will give us what we need, even when we don't realize we need it, and even when we wouldn't choose to have His blessing.

In the final words of the psalm, the psalmist expresses wonder and amazement when he declares "He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His ordinances, they have not known them. Praise the Lord." We ought to thank God that He has revealed Himself and His ways to us... so that we can have perspective during April snowfalls and even during the more serious stormy seasons of life. (By the way, in verse 18, God makes the snow to melt, as well.)

Praise the Lord!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Looking for Higgs

Right now, physicists are excitedly working on a project designed to figure out how matter has mass. The proposed theory under which physicists have been working is that there is an invisible field in the universe made of what they call "Higgs boson" particles. The particles, nicknamed the "God-particle", are named after the theorist Peter Higgs who after postulating the idea in 1964 is still involved in the research. Bosons, supposedly, are particles made of mass and basically nothing else. At the time of the supposed "Big Bang", the idea is that all particles passed through the invisible field and these bosons attached themselves to the particles giving mass to them - thus allowing them to form into stars, planets, and people.

Now, what is interesting is that scientists are very near their climactic test of this theory. Because the theory states that the "Higg's Boson" only exists in extremely high energies, which haven't existed since the time of the supposed "Big Bang", a test "chamber" of sorts has been manufactured to create the kind of energy necessary to produce the never before seen bosons. A particle physics laboratoy near Geneva has built a 5 billion dollar "Large Hallodan Collider" where they will smash atoms and produce the energy necessary to test their hypothesis this year. The Collider is huge (a 17 mile underground tunnel) and the process is amazing. Listen to what is involved in this experiment in the following quote:

"Smashing atoms
— The European particle physics laboratory’s accelerator will smash beams of protons against one another at 0.999997828 times the speed of light. It is housed in a tunnel 17 miles long, about the same length as the London Underground’s Circle Line
— When the tunnel was cut, the ends met with only 1cm of error
— Each proton will go around the tunnel 11,245 times a second
— The proton beam will carry the equivalent energy of an aircraft carrier sailing at 11 knots
— The superconducting cables used to power the LHC would stretch around the Equator 6.8 times. All the filaments would stretch to the Sun and back five times, plus a few trips to the Moon
— The cooling apparatus could keep 140,000 fridges full of sausages at a temperature a little above absolute zero
— The beam pipes contain a vacuum similar to that found in space.
— Engineers look for leaks so small that they would cause a car tyre to go flat in 10,000 years."

I don't know about you, but when I consider these things from the mercy of God's sufficient explanation to us in the Scriptures, which declares that created all these things (Genesis 1:1) and did so for His glory and our good, I have a couple of worshipful thoughts:

1. Psalm 8 "What is man that you are mindful of him..." The world is a treasure chest of enormous realities that we are still trying to piece together and to think that God made these things for our joy in Him, this should cause us to rejoice in the wisdom and power of our God, and His enormous love for His creatures.

2. Ephesians 2:7 - We ought to anticipate what the new heaven and new earth will be like when for an eternity, Jesus will show us the eternal riches of His grace.

The complexity and order of creation (yes, creation) declares to us that this is no random, accidental mess. There is intelligence, order, and design. Romans 1:18-20 tells us that these things reveal to us God and the enormity of His power and wisdom. This should cause us not merely to pursue the postulated "Higgs Particle" but it should cause us to pursue the Mind who made it all, and who made it so good. Romans 1:18 and following teach us that it takes a deliberate and willful act of supression of the truth to see what God has done in creation and then deny that He exists. My question is - why would we? Worship seems all the more honest and exciting. Relationship with Him seems full of eternal promise. Again, it is a marvel to me that God has made things so sophisticated that we can enjoy the exploration of all these things with all our mental capacities for ages and yet, God was careful to leave a written note on human history in the person of Jesus Christ which reads "I love you. Come back home. Your Creator and your Father."

Many scientists who have yet to see if the Higg's Boson really exists have been functioning as if it does. They often criticize people of faith who, though they have never seen God, still live as if God exists. Let me suggest to you, whether the Higg's Boson exists in a proveable fashion or not, the evidence for God is overwhelming. God also has come to us and spoken in the person of His Son. Physicists should be excited to look at the evidence and anticipate even more discoveries and be able to go forward knowing that this confirms again and again - the reasonableness of the reality of a good and wise God.

Monday, April 7, 2008

God's Passion to Save His People

Seeing Our Ministry and Mission Through God’s Eyes
Romans 1:7

If you are writing a body of believers to encourage them to be passionate about your mission to the unreached nations and peoples of the earth how would you approach it? How would you call them to actively partner with you?

What Paul does is point to the highest motivation of all – God.

Paul draws their attention to the incredible passion of God for the project. God is passionately committed to saving a people for Himself from all the nations of the world.

The mandate for this mission is the unequivocal determination of God to save a people for Himself from the nations.

Even in his greeting, what Paul emphasizes is the way that God has viewed them as a people and who they themselves have become because of God’s passion to save a people from the nations.
Seeing our mission and ministry from God’s perspective ought to focus our priority, encourage our confidence, and harness our energies to see God’s passionate desire realized for the nations.
The drive behind all missions is the conviction that God has a people that He has predestined to be saved from among all the peoples of the earth. Success in the most difficult places is guaranteed not because of our ability or their responsiveness but because of the loving determination of our God to save.

1. The Motivation for the Mission: God’s Love. God’s love is the cause of the mission and not the consequence of the mission: God loves them deeply – “to all who are at Rome, beloved of God…” For Paul this is an enormous part of His understanding of the drive for the gospel. God has set His love on a people from all the nations. What shapes their position and standing in the kingdom of Christ is God’s love for them. What propels them forward toward holiness is the fact of God’s deep love for them. Look for example at some of the verses in this letter:

a. God’s love is unconditional - His love precedes any good in us. Romans 5:8 – “God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 9:10-14 shows that God’s love is His independent and free act toward undeserving sinners.

b. God’s love is thorough - His love produces all necessary and subsequent saving acts towards us. Romans 8:29ff. – “For whom God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” Foreknow means more that to simply know in advance. For God, foreknows everyone in that way. There is a special way that God knows His own. It is not God foreknowing their actions, choices, faith, or obedience. It is God so foreknowing them, that God predestines the outcome of their lives, and subsequently calls, justifies and glorifies them.

c. God’s love is unconquerable- His love guarantees complete salvation for those upon whom it rests. Romans 8:35 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress or persecution or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?.... But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, no powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The starting point for mutual ministry and shared mission is a clear and solid conviction that those who are truly Christians are such because of the Self-initiating, and never-failing love of God toward them. Not because of their holiness – but because of Himself.

Mission to the Gentiles is driven by a conviction that God loves the nations and that the love that God has for the peoples is the cause of their salvation not the consequence of their salvation.

2. The Realization of the mission – God’s direct and effectual call. God has a people that belong to Him whom He effectually brings (calls) to Himself out of the nations.

Literally… “called saints”. The word “called” unequivocally refers to divine initiative. It is God’s call upon their lives that makes them saints. Leon Morris makes this comment: “At the same time their being saints at all is by virtue of their divine calling, not their own moral achievement.” He also adds “We should not overlook the plural. We sometimes speak of an individual man or woman as ‘a saint’ or rfer to ‘St. Peter’ or ‘St. Mary’, or the like. This is not New Testament usage. The word is never used of believers, and the plural points to believers as a group, a community set apart for God. Again the term does not convey the idea of outstanding ethical achievement which we usually understand by ‘saintliness’. While the importance of right living is insisted on and may even be implied with the very term, the main thrust is not there. It is rather the notion of belonging to God.”(P.53)

a. God’s Call is Personal – “Called as saints” speaks not of our initiative but God’s. (see Romans 1:1;8:28; 8:30). God has done the calling. God personally brings people out of the nations to Himself. They are saints because God has called them as saints.
b. God’s Call is Positional/Relational - “Called as saints” – speaks not primarily of a spiritual condition but as a relational position. “Saints” is not a future goal. It is a current reality. They are saints. They are set apart by God to be His own people. They are a special people belonging to God. (See Romans 9:23-26). Called as saints is the act of granting the position of being God’s own special people through Christ. God is not recognizing their already existing holiness (saints means holy ones or set apart ones) and naming it. God sets them apart as His own. He makes them his people and that becomes the motivation for their pursuit of holiness. (see Romans 15:25; 16:15; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1)

Acts 18:9-10 “And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, "Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city."

c. God’s call is Effectual. To be “called as saints” is the act of actually bringing people out of the world to Himself.

John 10:16 "And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd.”

Acts 13:48 “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.”

What Paul is acknowledging here is that these people belong to God by God’s working and initiative. God’s love for a people leads God to work effectually to bring them to belong to Him as His own. This affirms the New Testament principle that God has an elect people who He effectually works to save out of the nations.

3. The Result of the Mission – God grace and peace - God grants to His people in Christ all that they need to live as the people that He has called them to be.

a. Grace – Is the active and continuous strengthening work of God in the lives of His people to enable them to become all that He has intended them to become in Christ. These are the blessings that come by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 6:14; 12:3,6)

b. Peace – Is the rest that God gives us not only from the enmity we once had with Him because of sin, but it is the calm assurance that we have regarding our circumstances and our future because it is in His hands and the guarantee of deliverance from all our enemies who threaten our soul. (Romans 5:1; 15:13; 16:20)

God has committed to saving, keeping and delivering us completely to Himself as His own special (holy) people forever.Paul’s passion and devotion to his mission to the nations is shaped by His conviction that this mission is something that God is passionately committed to Himself. God has determined to save a people for Himself through the gospel.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


It has pleased God that divine verities should not enter the heart through the understanding, but the understanding through the heart.
-- Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

My wife MariAnne's nephew Matthew and his wife, Cami were recently blessed with the arrival of their new son, Blaise Elliot. They chose the name Blaise in honour of the seventeenth century French scholar and theologian, Blaise Pascal.

I can't remember what year it was - for it was almost twenty years ago, I believe - that I read the quote by Pascal that is at the top of this article. When I read it, my heart resounded with a soul-gripping amen. Pascal's conviction was that the real issue in knowing the true God and knowing God's truth was not merely a matter of human reasoning and intellectual discovery. It was a matter of the heart. The evidence for God and the truth of God is all around us. Romans 1:18-20 teaches that no one has any excuse for rejecting God and failing to seek Him because the truth of God is not only around us but within us: "because that which is known about God is evident with them; for God made it evident to them." There is no lack of evidence or information about God for God is a self-disclosing and truth communicating relational being. The real sphere of struggle in knowing God is not in the mind but in the heart. God will not be known as a religious fact. He is not merely another great "Star" to be detailed and described on Wikipedia. Our God is the God who is determined to be known in relationship. As in the book of Genesis, when we are told that Adam "knew" Eve, knowing describes the most intimate of relationships. Likewise, we are to know God intimately as our Father, our King, our Lord, our Saviour, our Creator, our Friend. God will have our hearts and without our hearts we cannot know Him. Tragically, it is because of our hearts that we choose not to know Him. We do not seek God (see Psalm 14) and that is not because He is not available or attainable. We do not seek God because we choose lesser loves. Our hearts are directed to created things rather than their Creator. And our God stubbornly refuses to be known except for the purpose of being loved. That is why the gospel is first about changing hearts so then, subsequently, the mind is changed. Just read Ephesians 4:18. There Paul teaches that the problem with our understanding is our hardness of heart. It is not that our hardness of heart is caused by faulty understanding.

Praise God that through the power of the gospel He changes hearts so that we might not know Him as a fact, but rather love Him as a Father. I will add a few more quotes from Blaise Pascal below that you may find helpful.

"The Christian’s God does not consist merely of a God who is the author of mathematical truths—but the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. The God of the Christians is a God of love and consolation: he is a God who fills the soul and heart of those whom he possesses: he is a God who makes them inwardly aware of their wretchedness and his infinite mercy: who united himself with them in the depths of their soul: who fills it with humility, joy, confidence and love: who makes them incapable of having any other end but him."

"Man is full of wants: he loves only those who can satisfy them all."

"The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason. That is what faith is: God perceived by the heart, not by the reason."

(the last quotes taken from

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Conscientiously Conscious of His Reign

One of the most helpful truths to bring to mind deliberately at the beginning of each day is the truth that Jesus is actively reigning over this world at this very second.

It was the realization of the resurrection and the reign of Jesus as Lord over all things that gave both focus and drive to the apostles and early Christians. For example, in Paul's letter to the church of Ephesus, it is a dominant part of His pastoral exhortation to tell them that he was praying that they might be gripped by this reality. In Ephesians 1:18-23, Paul tells these Christians that his prayer is that they might know the power of the resurrected Christ and the certainty and blessing that came because of it. The way that Paul explains the greatness of the power that is available to the church is by pointing to where Jesus is now. Paul declares confidently that God has seated Jesus at His right hand "far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come." Paul prays that they would know that Jesus has daily and perpetual authority over every earthly power that exists. That is crucial for the Christians to know because as Paul subsequently adds "And He (meaning God) put all things under His feet (meaning Jesus' feet), and gave Him as head over all things to the church..." Did you hear that? Jesus is right now reigning over everything in the world. Every government, every employer, every element of nature and health and economics and policing... every thing is in subjection to Him. And God gave Jesus as head over all things to the church.

Let me state this simply. It has always been the one thing that has helped grant courage to Christians and focus to their daily existence - to remember that Jesus is working in all things to build His church and to expand His kingdom. In Acts 2, if you read the first sermon of the post-resurrection Christian church at Pentecost, what they declare is that God has made this Jesus whom they crucified, Lord over all.

As you start your day, are you deliberately mindful that Jesus is powerfully reigning over all things right now? Do you realize that God has given Him to us as the supreme Resource as we seek that God's kingdom would come and will would be done on earth as it is in heaven? Never live as if you do not have all the power in the universe at your disposal to live the life that God has called you to live. No fear. No fogginess. Be of good courage! Jesus lives and reigns, and He is leading you and me as His people triumphantly forward. You can do all things, through Christ who strengthens you.