River of Life

There are a few things that set Christianity apart from other religions and make it distinctly attractive. One of these is the deep inner joy and peace evident in the lives of those who grasp the essence of the faith. I have been in the presence of Christians whose faces are radiant. Light shines from their eyes. Many have been drawn to Christianity by noting this and wondering about it.

Around the globe there are significant differences in understanding of the Christian faith. Teachers in certain faith groups have been revered on the level of prophets. Traditions have been added over the generations which have no basis in the Bible.

In some Christian circles reading of the Bible is not encouraged for the average person. It is relegated to those in authority in the church who may or may not have theological training.

The benefits of personal Bible study far outweigh the risks of possible misinterpretation. Admittedly, the Bible is a difficult book to understand but the Holy Spirit helps us to grasp its meaning. One of the most fundamental distinctions of Christianity is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit for the one who believes.

Jesus instructed his disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit whom he promised to send to them after his ascension. “You shall receive power, after the Holy Ghost is come upon you,” he told them (Acts 1:8). He also told them that the Holy Spirit would comfort them and teach them and bring to their remembrance all the things he had taught them (John 14:26). John the baptist said of Jesus, “I baptize you with water, but there is one who comes after me who will baptize you with the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33). John said he had been told this by the one who sent him to baptize.

Here we have two examples of foreknowledge, or prophesy. John the Baptist knew he would encounter Jesus who would “baptize you with the Holy Ghost.” We read of this event occurring in the book of Acts. A very helpful online resource in the study of the Bible is BibleGateway and I recommend you go there and read the book of Acts. It is a remarkable account of the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers.

Many religions have a Holy Book, but I have not encountered one that has an indwelling Holy Spirit. This is the “river of life” which Jesus promised would flow from our innermost being. I cannot tell how many times I have been led by the Holy Spirit in my daily life and guided and enlightened and comforted in my Bible reading.

In Mark 12:36 we read that David, in the Old Testament, spoke prophetically, “by the Holy Ghost,” concerning Jesus. The Holy Spirit was active before the time of Christ, in prophesy.

The revelation of Scripture by the Holy Spirit, the knowledge of the future through prophesy by the Holy Spirit, and the personal receiving of power by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, for the believer, is what makes Christianity distinctly unique from other religions.

Things Won’t Come Easy

I’ve read through the laments in the Psalms and asked why the writers were so often at the edge of despair. There is constant reference to opposition from enemies. Real, or imagined, in my life I definitely experience what can only be explained or understood as attacks and assaults from enemy forces. Things don’t come easy.

I say imagined, because I don’t see physical enemies, so I tend to think I am imagining that I have real adversaries who hinder me, and even attack me. In our enlightened era of science and logic it is easy to dismiss anything supernatural, but travel to an underdeveloped country and people will tell you of indisputable experiences with evil spirits. Just because we do not believe a thing, does not mean it does not exist.

I spoke with a missionary who confessed outright that he did not want to confront demons because of the story of the seven sons of Sheba in the book of Acts who were overcome by the very demons they tried to cast out. Confronting demons is serious business. If we believe in Christ, we cannot deny the existence of demons. In the gospels we read that the major part of Jesus’ ministry involved teaching, healing the sick and casting out demons.

It is easy to be spooked and be fearful of the idea of demons. Maybe this is why we tend to ignore the subject. For me the question is not whether there are demons, but how do we deal with demonic manifestations.

I am reminded of reading the story of Smith Wigglesworth who awoke one night and saw a demon sitting at the end of his bed. “Oh, it’s just you,” was his response, and he turned over and went back to sleep. This is the kind of acceptance that comes from a rounded understanding of the activity of demons. Faith in God dispels demons. It takes away their power. Jesus came to destroy the works of the evil one, Satan, and his demons. He made an open show of them and he triumphed over them. Satan threw everything he could at Jesus. He even killed him. Jesus triumphed over sin and death by his resurrection. If we place our trust in him, we can do likewise. We do not need to be fearful or intimidated.

However, things will not come easily to us. We are going to face trials. We are going to encounter incredible opposition. I have seen people go through unimaginable pain and loss and suffering. And I have seen them come out on the other side.

One thing I tell myself when I am in the middle of a very challenging situation is not do anything that would make it worse. Don’t say anything I will regret later. Don’t indulge in any behavior that would hinder my judgment. Don’t yield to self-pity and be petulant. I may not have much strength to rise to the occasion, but I don’t need to diminish the little I have. I need to use what is available to me. It has always been sufficient and I’ve lived to see another day.

What is available to us in this fight? First of all we must recognize that it is a fight against evil, and we can withstand it. The Bible instructs us to gird ourselves with our spiritual armor. So much attention has been given to the various pieces of armor that we tend to overlook the significance of the components, namely, faith, righteousness, truth, the word of God and the Holy Spirit, the gospel of peace, and prayer.

When Cain killed his brother Abel, he was warned beforehand. Cain’s sacrifice was not as acceptable as Abel’s and Cain began to sulk. Inevitably trials require that we humble ourselves and become contrite in the realization that we do not fully understand what is happening nor do we possess all that we need within ourselves to overcome the temptation to respond in a harmful way. We are dependent on God’s grace. “Sin is crouching at the door, and it desires to have you,” Cain was told. This is the reality we face. There is a choice to be made. Yield and be overcome, or stand up inside and resist and be the overcomer.

Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness and then angels came and ministered to him. I think this is the cycle we experience. Angels minister to us when we choose the high road. It may feel like we are at the end of our road, but faith can always take us one step further.

 

When My Best Isn’t Good Enough

As a Christian I admit I have often struggled with what to do when I sense that my best isn’t good enough. Yesterday I made a few choices and later in the day I felt like they were the wrong ones. I had done my best but it wasn’t good enough. I had even prayed, however, in the end I thought I had let myself down and I had let God down.

I’ll tell you what it was. I put a purchase on a credit card with the intention of paying it off over a period of months. I did not have the cash at the moment to pay it. At the time I thought it was the right thing to do because I found just the item I had been looking for. But when I got home I suddenly second guessed myself. It was not like I committed some great sin, but maybe I got it wrong.

For Christians, Christ is set before us as a standard of perfection. In the Bible we are called to perfection, to holiness. How do we do this? Is this even possible? And if not, do we end up in a state of constant disappointment and even discouragement over our failure?

I have heard Christians get around this one by saying that God’s grace covers all of our sin–past, present and future. Does this mean, then, that I no longer need to concern myself with whether what I am doing is good enough?

In the Old Testament (the first section of the Bible before the record of the life of Jesus begins) we read that God’s chosen nation, the Israelites, were given the “law” by God to instruct them about right and wrong. In the New Testament Jesus said that basically all that was written in the Old Testament could be summed up as, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.”

While this may sound simple, Jesus also taught that no one is good, except God. He told his disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone to enter the kingdom of God. His disciples asked him, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus’ response was, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27.

Jesus set an example of how we should live. He set an example of true, sacrificial love when he died on the cross. And he came to do the thing that was not possible with man. He came to forgive sins. He actually demonstrated that he had the authority to forgive sins. When Jesus forgave a paralyzed man of his sins, religious leaders challenged his authority to do so, saying that only God can forgive sins. His response was, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” Jesus then healed the paralyzed man and demonstrated that he had the power both to heal and to forgive sins.

Before Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph, an angel appeared to Joseph to tell him that Mary, a virgin, would bear a son and he was to call him Jesus, because he would “save people from their sins.” The angel earlier told Mary that she would give birth to “the Son of God.” Jesus, the Son of God, came to save us from our sins. To forgive us.

It grieves me when I fail to live up to the standard Christ set for me. It seems as though Christians live in a constant state of depravity. Are we not “empowered from on high” by the Holy Spirit who indwells believers and is this not sufficient for us to no longer fail him? Apparently not.

Martin Luther, the great Reformer, struggled so intensely with the issue of sinfulness that he almost had a breakdown. Finally he received a transforming revelation: “The just shall live by faith.” This verse was penned by the apostle Paul in the New Testament and we also find it in the Old Testament, in the book of Habakkuk, chapter two verse four.

I looked up a few different translations of the verse and noted some interesting variations below:

“I, the Lord, refuse to accept anyone who is proud. Only those who live by faith are acceptable to me.”
Some people’s desires are truly audacious; they don’t do the right thing. But the righteous person will live honestly.
Behold, he that is unbelieving, his soul shall not be right in himself: but the just shall live in his faith.
This message cannot help those who refuse to listen to it, but those who are good will live because they believe it.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. (Scriptures from Bible Gateway.)

The above verses reveal our tendency to be proud, unbelieving, and dishonest about our condition, rather than humble, faithful and obedient.

The gap between who I am and who I want to be, is a consequence of my humanity. I am not a ‘god.’ I cannot be god-like without help from God. Simply said, it is pretty much arrogant to think I can live rightly on my own. I need to be “instructed in the way of righteousness.”

I find it humbling to have to face my inadequacy every day. But I can draw a little bit of comfort from the above verses which seem to indicate that humility is a necessary posture, one from which I can move forward, by faith.

When I turn my face from my failure to God’s faithfulness and forgiveness I find my heart suddenly filled with hope and joy and gratitude. I feel like a child who is let out of “time out” and is free to run and play again. Until next time.

Why would I want to be a Christian in 2013?

Happy New Year! As a family we held hands and paused for a moment to pray in the new year. I thought about the fact that no matter what the year brings, we have the assurance that God will give us the grace to go through it, and, one day when all of this is over, we will be united with Christ for eternity.

Why would I want to be a Christian in 2013? For me this is best explained by looking at the alternative.

Christianity tends to be misrepresented both by those who believe and those who do not. This saddens me because it keeps people from accepting the best gift they could ever receive.

When I was in my late teens I decided to turn away from God. At the tender age of thirteen or fourteen I went forward for prayer. after the showing of a BIlly Graham evangelistic movie in our junior high school, and publicly committed my life to following Christ. I remember the sense of relief and the feeling of peace and joy that I had afterward.

I don’t know what possessed me to make the decision to forsake God. It was not that I wanted the liberty to sin. I think I was testing the reality of God. I think I wanted to see how my life would be different without God.

As a child I never willfully disobeyed my parents. I valued the sense of well-being that came from knowing I had their approval. Now that I had turned from God I knew that I had distanced myself from his presence and he no longer smiled on me. I had lost his favour. This was one of my first thoughts.

From my Bible I understood that God allows individuals to choose whether to serve him or not and that those who refuse him inadvertently find themselves subject to the rule of the dark forces of this world. Those who honor God have his promise of righteousness and peace, while those who reject him are pursued by evil and succumb to death–eternal separation from God. We choose.

Strangely, I did not think of eternal consequences. Nor did I have an awareness of some evil presence. But it struck me immediately that now I was completely on my own. I felt a palpable emptiness and aloneness unlike anything I had known before. Desolate describes how I felt.

Comfort and hope were gone. I was cut off from my source of life and light. My future appeared dark and foreboding.

I experienced a kind of paralysis. I did not want to move forward in this state. Worst of all, I couldn’t even pray. Prayer had been a very important part of my life. I experienced God as a friend, someone who was always there for me, helping me.

There is a song that describes my earlier relationship with God. It begins like this, “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear, falling on mine ear, the Son of God discloses. And he walks with me, and he talks with me. And he tells me I am his own. And the joy we share, as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” I had known this unearthly joy. I desired to return to this intimate communion with God. I wanted it with all my heart.

For me it was only a matter of days before I once again chose the peace and joy I had known in my relationship with Christ. It was as though I had a taste of death. I have never once considered going back to a life without God.

The true meaning of being a Christian is to have the the love, joy and peace of Christ flowing through you every day. I make a practice of remaining in his presence and enjoying this continual feast. The 23rd Psalm declares, “He prepares a table before me, in the presence of mine enemies. My cup runneth over.” My cup of joy continues to overflow.