Tag Archives: Christianity

The Silver Core of Lamentations

Reading through Lamentations is not my idea of an uplifting time. It is not a book filled with wonderful thoughts on God and spiritual ideals. The book is called Lamentations because it is filled with Jeremiah – you guessed it – lamenting. It is understandable, he is writing as he watches Jerusalem fall to the Babylonians and many are killed or taken into slavery. It is not a good time for God’s people, and Jeremiah describes the utter pain and disappointment he feels. He knows that Israel was given every chance to live up to their calling as God’s people but because of their failures was paying the price for those sins.

As I was about halfway through reading the 5 chapters, and thinking to myself, why did God include this book in the Bible, I came to Chapter 3 verse 22 and 23

“Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”

Talk about your change in perspective!

We use the phrase “every cloud has a silver lining” when we want to convey that even in a bad situation there is some good. Here in the middle of Jeremiah’s lament he pauses from focusing on the situation around him and remembers that God is good. He is allowing His people to go through pain as a form of loving discipline – to get them back on track. He is not abandoning them forever; He will bring them back to Jerusalem and restore them as a nation.

We all face trials. They come in all sorts of areas: health, relationships, employment and depression, just to name a few. Not every hardship is discipline; most trials aren’t sent our way as a punishment for sin, at least not in the way God was dealing with Israel back then. But like the Israelites, God can use our times of struggle to help build us up. We grow through adversity and are better prepared for the next time we face a tough circumstance.

Things happen to and around us, often completely out of our control, and we have to live with the consequences of them. Life can be difficult, but we have a God who loves us and will always be with us. Our situations are, more often than not, temporary. We can choose how we let the situation affect us – and our response to it.

We can even share our experience to help others around us in their times of struggle. How many times have we been encouraged by the “survival story” of someone who came through a similar storm that we were going through?

Jeremiah reminds us that God’s love for us never fails. We are never outside of his care. Every morning we wake up and have a new day that He has created, and we can choose to focus on the negative, or we can praise God for all the blessings we have. God is our strength and through Him we can conquer anything that comes our way.

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The Good Father

One of the highest rated sitcoms of the late 90s/early 2000s was Everyone Loves Raymond. I didn’t watch it very often while it was airing original episodes. I didn’t find it funny.

I have caught a few episodes in syndication since and now find the show to be hilarious. I think the reason why I didn’t find it funny before and do now is that the show ended in 2005, and I got married in 2006.

Many of the shows jokes were exaggerations on the dynamics of married life. Until I was married, I didn’t understand why the situations and reactions were truly funny. The same is true about how Ray reacts to and interacts with his three children on the show – it is much funnier when you can watch through the lens of being a dad.

Growing up I had a typical kid’s view of my dad. I knew he deserved respect, he provided me with all that I needed (and a lot of what I wanted), and I knew that he loved me. I also tested his patience with me and the limits of forgiveness. In truth, I have been extremely blessed to have the dad I have. He is not perfect, but he sacrificed so much so that our family could have a comfortable life. He still to this day helps me when I come to him, whether it is for a handyman project, advice or free babysitting when my wife and I need a short break from our children. I have what many people don’t – a very positive image of what a father should be.

Even with that image, it wasn’t until I had children of my own that I was able to understand love from a father’s point of view. I took for granted that my dad wanted to provide for me, would have infinite patience (again, I really tested this) and would be the superhero that I thought he was. Now, with my children, I know that I want to give them everything they need, most of what they want, keep them away from harm, push them to be their best, succeed in their endeavors, but not be scared to fail. I want to have patience with them, forgive them when they need it and ultimately love them so they will have no doubt that I do.

Do I succeed all the time? No. I am an imperfect father just like every other father. Well, not quite every other father – there is one exception.

Throughout the Bible God is referred to as Father. While our earthly fathers all have faults and shortcomings, our Heavenly Father does not. God is much more than just a father; the metaphor is used to give us a picture of the relational nature and desire that He has. He is not a watchmaker, who simply winds up the universe and lets it go, or a Superior Being sitting on a mountain top ready to zap us with lightning bolts if we get out of line. He genuinely wants to have a loving relationship with each one of us.

Our minds cannot fathom the love God has for us, and the relationship between humanity and God is clouded due to our sin. So to help us understand God uses the imagery of the paternal relationship to help us comprehend His nature. He wants us to come to Him with our burdens and tell him what we need and want. He is patient with us, and has offered us unconditional forgiveness.

I have been a son my whole life and have understood what it is to receive the love of a father. In becoming a father myself, I have gotten a glimpse of how much God loves me. Though my vision is marred by my own sinful nature, my understanding of the symbolism has been taken to a new level. I have a better understanding of how desperately He wants to meet all our needs, guide us in His way and wash away that sinful nature so we can one day find perfect rest in Him.

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All the Evidence I need

Last week, I read an article on how scientists working at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research, famous for the giant hadron collider) had stated that according to their findings, the universe should not exist as we know it. In a meticulously controlled environment, their hypothesis of how the universe came into being has so far been unsubstantiated.

When I first saw the headline, my immediate reaction was that this is further evidence that God created the universe. In reality the findings, or lack thereof, do not provide any proof that God did or did not create the universe. I firmly believe that we will never have proof, at least scientifically speaking, of how the universe came into being. The reason for this is quite simple – scientific proof involves repeatable experimentation and observation. There is, of course, no possible way for anyone to observe the beginnings of the universe. There is also no way to know what exact environment and circumstances were present at that time. Even if scientists could find a way that the universe may have come into being it would never be more than a theory because there is just no way to know for sure that is the way it happened.

That got me to thinking about my own beliefs. I believe that the Bible tells us that God made the world, but it doesn’t tell us how. The Genesis account reads more like a baseball boxscore than an instruction manual. You can read how things progressed and what happened when, but there is very little on how it was done; even when there is some description, it is an overview and vague. The focus of Genesis 1 is on the “who” not the “how”.

The Genesis account, in some ways, is similar to many ancient stories of how the universe came into being. I remember learning about an Aboriginal creation story when I was in grade school. My classmates all got a laugh (and then a lecture on respect from our teacher) out of the story of how the world was created on the back of a turtle. Origin stories have been passed down for generations and to the skeptic the Genesis account could be viewed in the same light.

So why do I believe the biblical account? What about it makes it so compelling that I stand firm on my belief without the proof that my curious mind demands in just about every other area of my life? Why do I come back to it after every doubt I have that it is true?

Maybe the best place to start is the Gospel of John. John states in chapter 20:30-31 that the purpose of his writing is that we may know that Jesus is the Messiah so that we may gain eternal life. John 1 starts at the beginning, or more accurately, before then. John declares that through Jesus, who is God, all things were made.

Of course, this is no more proof than the original account in Genesis, but it does give another piece of evidence. The Creation story written down by Moses is corroborated by John. John’s Gospel is corroborated by the other Gospel authors. Those writings fit together with the Old Testament writings of Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and David; you see that they point to the fact that Jesus is who John declares Him to be. The evidence keeps mounting.

You could argue that I have only used one source, the Bible, for all the evidence. That is true, but remember, the Bible is not just one book by one author written over a short period of time. Every book can be looked at as a different source. The fact that they have been compiled into one is because together they tell the whole story. It is no different than having several witnesses in a court case. The more of them that give the same story, the more credence the story has. It is not like a jury would say, “well, all their testimonies seem to support each other; so, we really can’t trust any of them.”

There are also many outside sources that confirm the accounts of the Bible, from other ancient writings to recent archaeological finds. In other words, there is plenty of reason to believe the individual parts of the Bible on their own as well as part of a complete story.

Does this evidence meet the burden of proof? That is what each one of us has to decide for ourselves. For me? It does.

Scientists will continue to keep looking for how the universe was created, and along the way, they will make great discoveries of how magnificent and mysterious the creation is. My prayer is that in the searching they will give some thought to the question of who – and find the Creator.

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I’m in His Hands

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18 (NIV)
Daniel 3 records the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – one that I am sure every Sunday school student has heard. They defy the orders of the king knowing that the punishment is certain death. I recently read this story, and there was one line that stuck out to me that I had never noticed before – “But even if he does not”.

 

Maybe it is a product of our media culture where the heroes of our favourite movies and TV shows are always able to avoid the enemy’s (often needlessly complex) traps, but the fact that the 3 Jews survived the day isn’t a surprise.

 

The truth is, when standing up to the king, they did not know they weren’t, in fact, sacrificing their lives. All they knew was that in that moment they had no choice but to risk their lives to obey God. God doesn’t always spare His people, there are many martyrs throughout history that stood up for God and paid with their (earthly) lives.

 

Their statement “but even if he does not” is not a statement of doubt but of great faith. Faith that there is a much greater reward to being obedient to the King of Kings than obeying an earthly king.

 

I have never been faced with a life or death choice in whether to obey God or not. I have faced situations where I truly was not sure how everything would work out. Though, those circumstances pale in comparison to the events of Daniel 3, they serve as reminders of how I need to trust God when I don’t know what will happen next.

 

One example of this is my summer between high school and university. I spent that summer working at a camp north of Toronto. If you have ever worked at a camp, you know that the outside world can get a little lost in that closed community.

 

I had been accepted and was planning on attending Asbury College in Kentucky. About 2 weeks before I was to arrive on campus, I got news that due to a clerical error my spot at Asbury was in limbo. Summer was coming to an end, I was miles from my parents, who lived in Florida at the time, and didn’t have much time during “business hours” to deal with getting things figured out. On top of all that, simply going home and getting a job was not an option. I didn’t have a visa to work in the USA, just one that allowed me to live there. There was no obvious answer if things didn’t get cleared up for me to attend Asbury.

 

I remember becoming completely overwhelmed at lunch one day and having to leave the dining hall with another staff member. I don’t remember the words she used, but I do remember the feeling of relief when I was reminded that God was looking out for me. He would guide my path, and I needed to trust that He had a plan.

 

Thankfully, within a few days the error had been cleared up, and my spot was waiting for me. I look back with great fondness at the four years I spent at Asbury – I had amazing experiences and learned many lessons, both academically and spiritually. I am very thankful that they were part of God’s plan for my life. But even if they hadn’t been, I am confident that God would have directed me on a different path and used it to draw me closer to Him.

 

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego faced much higher stakes, and a more important choice, but the principal is the same. I, like them, need to trust that the God I serve is watching over me, and I can trust Him to deliver me.

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Shifting Focus

20 years ago, FOX owned the rights to NHL games in the USA. In an attempt to win fans over, they invented the “glowing puck” officially known as FoxTrax. They implanted technology into the puck that allowed it to glow blue or (red if it was moving faster than 70 MPH) on TV. The idea was that viewers didn’t like hockey because it was hard to follow the small, fast moving puck around the ice. If they made it easier to follow the puck, viewers would find it easier to enjoy the game. As a lifetime hockey fan, the only time I thought the “glow” was useful was when the puck was up against the near boards and obstructed from the camera. The technology made the “glow” appear through the boards; you couldn’t see the puck, but you could see the glow.

I don’t miss the blue puck for two reasons. The first is that, if you understand hockey, you know where the puck is (most of the time) without needing a visual aid; in fact, you don’t even need to see the puck to know where it is. Watching the players on the ice will tell you where it is. The second reason is that focusing on the puck takes you away from watching the whole game; you miss the strategy and beauty of the game. By focusing on only the puck, you miss the players moving around, setting up and trying to score. That is why hockey broadcasters sit high up; they can see the whole game, and don’t focus on just the player with the puck.

We can get this tunnel vision in life as well. If we only focus on one thing, we can miss the big picture. One of the ways we do this is by focusing on “what’s in it for us” and not stepping back and seeing how God can use us for His purpose. We pass up an opportunity to be the difference in someone else’s life because we don’t see how it will benefit us. We use our gifts to improve our own life, but miss out on the joy of using it to help others.

So, how do you stop “watching the puck” and enjoy the beauty of life to the fullest? That is a question each of us has to answer individually. God has called us all to different ministries. He has gifted all of us differently so that we can fulfill His purpose for our lives. So, the answer lies within you. There are different ways to learn about your spiritual gifts, and you may want to look into something like a spiritual gift aptitude test. What I have found in my life is that I get a burning desire towards something. Through prayer and seeking God an internal passion develops. In doing this, I have found that God can use me in ways I didn’t know possible and ministries that I could only see if I focused my eyes on His big picture.

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My God Can Move Mattresses

It’s funny how the smallest child can so simply remind us of a great truth.

The other day, I was making our bed after my wife had done the laundry. As I know she appreciates when the sheets are well tucked at her feet, I wanted to make sure that the sheets were well anchored. I proceeded to lift up the bottom end of the mattress and tuck the sheets under, and then drop the mattress back into place. Upon seeing my, what must have seemed to her, great feat of strength, my 17 month old daughter wanted to test her strength and tried to lift the corner of the queen-sized cushion. Of course, the thing didn’t budge. She then looked up at me as if to say, well, I guess you got that going for ya.

At that moment, I could almost hear God say to me “you know there is a lesson right there”.

I could blame it on many things, but the fact is, I like to be in control and know how things are going to work out. I rely too much on my own intelligence and ability, even when they are severely unqualified for the task at hand. I try to “lift the mattress” on problems that are too big for me to handle on my own.

The problem I run into is that if I can’t figure out how do to it, I assume it can’t be done. If I can’t figure out how it works, or what the best answer is, I assume it doesn’t work, and there is not an answer. I all too quickly limit the world of possibilities to what I can accomplish and understand. As if like an infant trying to figure out how to make her parents’ bed.

I need to be reminded all the time that I serve a big God. I am not talking about a God who I can present a problem and He will help me figure it out. I am talking about a God who knew the problems I will face before I was even born and has been working in my interest all along. My God isn’t reacting to the universe, He created it, governs it and cares deeply about it. My God can look at the “mattress” I am struggling to move an inch and simply will it to move. My God doesn’t just understand things, He knows them intimately. His plans are bigger than mine, His imagination far more creative than mine – and that is saying something, because I can come up with some pretty crazy ideas!

It’s funny how God can use the look of a small child to remind a grown man of something he should not forget in the first place.

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What do you do with Jesus?

The Christian faith splits from all other religions at Jesus. It is the belief in Him that defines it. Actually, it is accepting the gift of forgiveness, believing Him to be the Son of God, the redeemer of the human race, and saviour of the world that defines Christianity. So, what do you do with Jesus?

First, you can deny His existence. This would be a fairly easy thing to do if the Bible was the only record of Him. Simply discount the Bible as nothing more than legend and the question goes away. Even though the New Testament has been shown over and over again to be historically accurate, there are many books written today that place fictional characters in historical events. The issue with doing this is that Jesus is referred to in other documents from the time, thus making a strong case that Jesus, the man, did walk this planet around 2000 years ago.

So, if Jesus did walk the planet, that doesn’t mean He was God. There are currently around 7 billion people on the face of the Earth, and none of them are the Son of the Most High. So what makes Jesus so special? Couldn’t He have just been another good moral teacher? Simply stated, no.

C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, lays out the argument that Jesus could not have said the things He said and have been a good moral teacher. Very clearly Jesus proclaims Himself to be God. This leads Lewis to state “But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

So what do you do with Jesus? According to Lewis, you have three options.

First, you can write Jesus off as a lunatic. Claiming to be God is not something sane people do. If someone was to walk up to you on the street and say he or she was God, you would not offer to take them to lunch for the sole purpose of learning as much as you can from him or her.

Second, you can deny His claim and consider Him a liar. This is again possible, but a lie that great, and in fact so detrimental to the human race, would not come from a man who was a great moral teacher. The best reason I can think of is to direct people away from the True God; and that person would be working for, or in fact, Satan himself. Again, the title “great moral leader” would hardly be the right one.

The third option is that Jesus is Lord. He is what He claimed to be. His life an example for us all, His death our only hope and His resurrection our saving grace. He was a great moral teacher, and He is God.

So, we are back to the original question: What do you do with Jesus? This is the most personal question there is. It is a matter of faith – and not faith that He is a historical figure, but that He came to give you the gift of forgiveness and eternal life.  So, what do YOU do with Jesus?

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