Saturday, 12 October 2013

God So Far Away.

There are times when Christians feel that the Lord is far away from them, times when He seems so distant, times when your prayers do not seem to get beyond the ceiling.  You’ve had that experience, as we have.  Maybe you’re having it at the present time.

I came across this very challenging statement from Ravi Zacharias: "I think the reason we sometimes have the false sense that God is so far away is because that is where we have put him. We have kept him at a distance, and then when we are in need and call on him in prayer, we wonder where he is. He is exactly where we left him.”

If you cannot find God, where did you last leave Him?  When you were last with Him, where did you put Him?  Don’t take these too seriously, but they do have a point, do they not?  If God seems far away from us, it’s not His fault.  Like the fallen axe head in 2 Kgs.6:1-7, to find the Lord you have to return to where you ‘lost’ Him, and you’ll probably find that He’s there waiting for you. 

There's another way of looking at this situation. If God seems far away from you, who moved? You or God? Has God changed His commitment to you? Or have you changed your commitment to Him? These are very challenging questions, are they not?

I think we need to pause and stay with this point for a while.  We tend to read over points like this without stopping and meditating on what they imply for us as Christians.  Stay with this for a moment, and examine your own heart in the light of this truth.  Allow the truth to impact your own soul, and stay before it until it does.  This is called ‘doing business with the Lord.’

Re-Gaining Perspective on Life.

Trying to re-gain perspective on life amidst challenging circumstances is essential when you are trying at the same time to come to terms with serious illness.  It is all too easy to lose perspective altogether, even as a Christian, and start to think in purely worldly ways.  Being able, by God’s grace, to see that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Rom.8:28) is a great consolation when realised, but at times it can be a struggle to come to that realisation.  So much passes through your mind, much of it negative, that getting your head around your situation presents a major test. 
However, the struggle is well worth it not least because it restores peace to your heart.  It enables you to see the Lord in all circumstances, good and not so good.  But above all else, it helps you, as a Christian, to see that in God’s gracious and sovereign hands, it will work for ultimate good.  This is what we must keep in mind always.  God is at work in us and through us, working for our good and for His greater glory.  In our cooler moments we can see that God’s glory is what we desire to see accomplished through our suffering; but in the heat of suffering, frustration, disappointments and low moods, seeing this ultimate plan is much more difficult.  

Friday, 11 October 2013

"Though ... Yet"

One of the distinctive things about the Christian faith is that in it (and in it alone), we have the God Whom we worship actually speaking to His children.   Now think on that for a moment!  Unlike every other God, our God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the speaking God.  Do you hear Him?  What is He saying to you?  Have you heard Him speaking to your heart as you read the Scriptures?  When you sat in church listening to a sermon, have you heard God speak to you personally?  Our God is the speaking God. 

To sit and listen to the Lord talking right into our hearts is as strange as it is astonishing.  It’s not strange that God speaks, but it is somewhat strange that He should speak to the likes of us.  Yes, He speaks!  And every time He speaks to us, He accomplishes something significant in us – He either softens our hearts to love Him more – and that’s what we want; or, He hardens our hearts so that when we read His Word, we do not hear Him speaking to us – and that’s what we do not want!  It all depends upon our attitude when we approach Him in the Scriptures.

In His providence, He brought my mind to Habakkuk 3:17-18, and through these verses, He spoke to me.  Though the fig tree shall not flourish, neither shall fruit be in the vines: the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat: the sheep shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no bullock in the stalls.  Yet I will rejoice in the Lord: I will joy in the God of my salvation.” 

The prophet had to learn the lesson that despite our circumstances, even if we lose everything, we can still rejoice in the Lord.  Even if all things go against us, we can still rejoice in Him. We also need to learn that same lesson.  Yet, it’s a lesson we do not want to learn.  We are so desirous of our possessions and the things (and people) we hold dear that we want them more than we want the LORD.  Totally understandable, of course.  We do not even want to dare the Lord to take everything from us, in case He might take us at our word and grant us just that!  Yet once we learn this valuable lesson, we will be truly liberated, and enabled to rise above our circumstances, for that’s where Jesus actually is.  And we will “joy in the God of [my] salvation.” 

The KJV brings this out beautifully when it translates the first word as “Although” and the beginning of v.18 with “Yet.”  This highlights the “although” and the “yet” of Christian faith.  “Although” for one reason or another, we are currently going through tough times, “yet” we will rejoice in the Lord...  We must refuse to allow the ‘although’ of adversities to quench our faith or extinguish our living hope in Christ.

How wonderful are these words. If nothing in life flourishes and no fruit comes of our labours; and although the animals fail to produce, this is not the end of the world for us.  If we lose all that’s precious to us, our relationship with our precious Saviour is not one whit diminished.  If the worst happens, “yet” will I “rejoice in the Lord; I will joy in the God of my salvation.”

Only the true Christian can say this from the heart.  Can you?

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Christ's Gentleness With His People

One phrase stands out above all others in the email about a godly man’s passing into glory is “the Lord has been very gentle to us.”  How we need to see the Lord’s dealing with us in terms of His tenderness and gentleness towards us when we need that kind of ministry most.  When believers experience the tenderness of God in the midst of their personal suffering, what great confirmation that brings of their interest in Christ and His in them!  To feel his gentleness with us and towards us, like a nursing mother with her little baby (cf. 1Thes.2:7), is so comforting.  To see the Lord as the One Who cherishes His own children is mind-blowing.  To think of the Lord being our gentle Shepherd to lead and guide and nourish us is amazing.

And that is the kind of Lord Christians have! How He loves us and cherishes us and delights in us. What greater experience is there than to know that the Lord has that kind of interest in us as His children! To have His Spirit witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, is something altogether amazing. 

Do you know this? Is this your experience? Have you actually experienced the Lord's gentleness with you? Has this made you love Him more? 

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Our Amazing Christian Faith

The Christian faith truly is amazing; and it is most practical.  The Christian faith ‘works’ when you need it most; the Lord is with us when we really need His presence.  And this faith ‘works’ because it’s true – it’s not true because it works. 

Let me relate to you a situation that will make the point.  It was in an email I received this morning from a very dear brother and ministerial colleague from Norwich, England, in which he wrote to tell me that his “dad died and entered into glory in the early hours of this morning.”  Now only a true Christian can say that.  This is the believer’s sure conviction, based, not on airy-fairy thinking or some kind of a false belief system, but on the truth of Holy Scripture.  That truth was made real in this Christian man’s life, hence the certainty of where the deceased now is.  Margaret and I had the privilege of knowing him for several years, and enjoyed the family’s warm hospitality on many occasions.

The family knew for a number of days that the end for father was drawing near.  His son continued, “We have our sadness but the Lord has been very gentle to us.  We have over a period of time been made ready for his departure.  By yesterday I think we were all ready. Indeed mum said that she prayed that the Lord would take him to himself last night and he heard her prayer.”

This is a reality that we have experienced over many months since Margaret’s illness, and we know what they are talking about.  The Lord really does answer His people’s prayers.  How kind He was to our friend, and especially to his dear wife and family, when He answered her prayer for her husband. 

“We have seen the Lord's hand marvellously at work over recent weeks.  We have experienced his providential care, we have been upheld by his strength and we have known his peace.”

This is normal Christian experience – knowing the hand of the Lord on us in every situation, especially the challenging ones.  We have seen Him intervene in ways that were barely noticeable, but after the event we saw so clearly His good hand upon us.  Knowing yourself being upheld by His strength is the most wonderful of experiences.  And it’s all normal Christian experience.

“Dad was clearly at peace when he died and was ready to leave to higher realms.  We have been greatly comforted by the scriptures and by the encouragement of the Lord's people.”

Drugs can give the impression that someone dies in peace, masking what is really going on as they are about to leave this life and stand before God the righteous “Judge of all the earth” (Gen.18:25). But having been with quite a number of Christians as they died, this is a wonderful experience because we can see the peace of God in their faces, a peace that is no different really from the peace of God they enjoyed in life.  Our brother died in that peace.

This wonderful message confirms our faith in a remarkable way.

What is it that guarantees that a sinner dies in the peace of God?  Only one answer: that they were at peace with God.  No one can have the ‘peace of God’ if he is not at ‘peace with God.’  And how does someone come to be at peace with God?  Again, only one way: by a personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, joined to genuine repentance toward God for a life of sinful rebellion against His holy Person and Law.  Our octogenarian friend was at ‘peace with God’ for the past two decades or so, hence he died in the ‘peace of God.

Think of this: how will you die?  For one out of one dies.  Not a great statistic, is it?  How will you die?  In the ‘peace of God’ because you are at ‘peace with God’?  Or, will your death be one of infinite horror that has been masked by powerful drugs?  Will it be heaven, or will it be hell? 

Paul says, “Be reconciled with God” (2 Cor.5:20).  “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Ac.16:31).  Jesus said, “You must be born again” (Jn 3:7).  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn 3:16).