Tag Archives: christian

Giving attention to … the Good Stories God is Writing

I tell this story because I am jealous for our God to get more praise.  He has promised to build His church, to use us in the process, and to keep all the glory for Himself in the grand consummation of all things.  So when this happens before our very own eyes it is crucial that we praise Him aloud, and that we speak of this to one another so that we will be encouraged to play the roles God assigns.  Of all the characters in this tale, the least important one is the narrator!

Feiyan (true story, but names are changed) was born in China, raised in a thoroughly secular manner (in keeping with the new culture of this modern communist nation).  This means that his parents wanted for Feiyan a good education so that he would do well in the new technical economy.  Any time wasted on “religion” would be a return to the superstitious nonsense from which China is breaking free.  Long before Feiyan was a teenager, China could see that the United States of America would be a global power throughout his lifetime, so like many Chinese youth of his generation, Feiyan took 8 years of English instruction from Chinese teachers who were doing their best.  All of this with the hope that (someday) Feiyan could pursue a doctorate here.

Yet long before Feiyan could make any plans for himself, God was saving a Chinese gentleman who would eventually become Feiyan’s grandfather!  Yes, as hard as it is to believe, Feiyan’s grandfather was a Christian in an era when that was most unusual (and a major cross to bear).  But like every Christian grandfather, this man prayed for all his family.  8,000 miles away, God was stirring in the heart of an American youth named Andy a zeal for God’s glory in all the nations, and so Andy wanted to be a missionary, to spread this good news far and wide.  Oh, there are two more characters in our story:  A guy named Mitchel (who did not give very much attention to China or to Chinese in his first forty years) and a home-school mother in Lawrence.

Okay, places everyone?  Ready … and … ACTION!

The Chinese grandfather prays daily for his small family, even though it seemed to him that the entire generation after him grew up faithless, or just secular, through the Communists’ strong efforts to push aside God in every way.  Andy gets his taste of ministry in a foreign land, but God leads him back to a Midwestern university town to develop a cutting-edge ministry to international students in the middle of our nation.  His specialty is making it easy for shy Christians to have fruitful relationships with lonely internationals at their point of need ~ improving English conversation.  The home-school mother has a daughter who becomes best friend to a daughter of the guy named Mitchel.  By this time, Mitchel has developed much interest in China due to a well-timed “shoulder-tap” and a few teaching trips overseas, so that he is seeking opportunities to tutor Chinese scholars in English conversation through Andy’s conversation partnership ministry.  But by Session #2, Pastor Mitchel is taking advantage of “Western interest” to hammer away at the simple idea that the Christian faith makes a good difference in people and in the world.

Feiyan, Mitchel’s seventh international friend from China, isn’t buying it very much … but he does need to buy better furniture!  Through Craig’s List, Feiyan agrees to purchase a huge sofa-combo, but he needs a large trailer for hauling it home.  Mitchel’s wife (who travels everywhere) has such a trailer!  Well it just so happens that when they get to the door to purchase the furniture, it is that home-schooling mother of the best friend of Mitchel’s third daughter!  A tenuous connection?  True, but stay with me here!  A crazy charismatic prone to hearing from God, this woman says to Feiyan:  “This coincidence is too strange!  What I need (more than your money) is some extra room in my house, so if you will take away all of this furniture (including these things you did not come for), you can have it all ~ free of charge.  But I want you to know that Jesus Christ told me to do this.  So I bless you, in His name!

Well, one generous act moves the heart of the highly intellectual Feiyan (more than dozens of Mitchel’s best worldview lectures), and so within one month, Feiyan is identifying himself as a follower of Jesus Christ instead of a skeptic with too many questions.  The grandfather gets the phone call from eight thousand miles away, hearing his prayers of 30 years have been answered in the affirmative.  Andy’s humblyeffective ministry keeps on truckin’, the Chinese evangelical church in Lawrence keeps preaching Bible sermons to young believers, and one year later Feiyan is at the University of Alabama, looking for Christian fellowship on his first day in a new town.

Oh, Feiyan’s wife exhibits the joy of the Lord too, having seen the free and generous love of Jesus through the Christian women at a pregnancy care center which loves to help international students who are at a point of need ~ also in the name of Christ.

And this story will go on and on!

The Sword of the Spirit

Our Fabulous Fifteen recently finished another semester of Kids Club, this term focusing on the spiritual armor which God gives to His children, through Jesus Christ, so that we will win against sin:  the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth, the shoes of the readiness of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith … “and the sword of the Spirit.”  All six of those armor pieces are to be put on, daily, through prayer.

The sword of the Spirit is the one armor piece which includes God’s name (the Holy Spirit, of course, is God).  It is also the only armor piece which is specifically for offense, attack, and battle advance.  The sword of the Spirit happens to be the one piece which Paul (in Ephesians 6) ensures we will not confuse, as he gives us this precise interpretation.  6:17 = “Take … the sword of Spirit which is the word of God.”  Now we may wrangle for ages about precisely what is “the word of God.”  Is it Jesus Christ (see John 1)?  It is the spoken words of the ancient prophets?  Is it equivalent to faithful preaching today?  Perhaps all of those in a way.  But no doubt, “the word of God” includes words in this book ~ the Bible.

Our Children’s Ministry Leaders then did a great job opening up the word about the word, what the Bible teaches about itself:  “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).  Especially we looked at Hebrews 4:12, since it also (like the Ephesians 6 passage concerning all the spiritual armor; 6:11-18) compares the word with a sword:  “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

So here are many descriptions of God’s word:  double-edged, sharp, piercing, separating, dividing, judging; able to show us what to keep and what to throw away; what pleases God and what displeases Him; in the midst of a life-and-death surgery ~ what is killing us so it must be cut out, & what is part of the new us so must be healed.  Strangely, Hebrews 4:12 says that this sword of the word is “living.”  Now an actual, physical sword is not alive; and neither are words.  So the adjective “living” strongly connects the word or words with the User of the words, with the Wielder of the sword.  It is the sword of the Spirit!  The Spirit of God is the User or Wielder.  God is alive, of course, and God uses His sword or word to actively work in our lives to give us life, and then to renew our lives by that word, daily.

It is upon God’s people, thus enlivened, to take up this sword daily, and then use it in battle against sin.  Again, this is our one offensive weapon, to win against the enemy and to destroy him.  But as a baby cannot make good use of a sword on a battlefield, we must practice with this weapon or tool, so that we can be experts in its use:  So have and own your own Bible; treat it as a treasure; take care of it; and bring it with you, even to church!  Read your Bible daily, praying to God as you do.  Then obey what it says; do the word and thus be blessed.  Meditate on God’s word; memorize it; sing it in praise to its Author.  Be taught according to that word (at church, at home, in school, in private devotions).

Then we closed with the dramatic account of Jesus’ victory over Satan during His temptations in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), where three times in a row, the Master Swordsman countered the wicked suggestions of His enemy with “thus saith the Lord,” followed by quotes from Deuteronomy, showing us that even obscure books & passages of the word are most powerful and useful.  Now we are certain that Jesus did not have armloads of scrolls with Him in that wilderness, so His ability to bring up these most fitting verses in response to particular temptations proves that Jesus had these words in His heart and mind, memorized, ready for trials.  And even if Satan would not have been out there with Jesus that day, these truths (that we live not by bread alone but God’s word; that we are not to test God through sin and folly, yet still expect His favor anyway; that we are to worship & serve only the true God) would have comforted & helped Jesus anyway.

Three brief admonitions about your own use of the word of God, in light of Jesus’ middle temptation (Matthew 4:5-7): There is a right way to use the word of God; Jesus does so as He reminds Himself, Satan, and all who have read the Gospel of Matthew that we are not to test God through foolish, sinful living.  There is also a wrong way to use the word of God, as did Satan!  Within this temptation, Satan also quoted Scripture (an apparent promise from Psalm 91:11-12 that if God’s beloved should fall, then He will send His angels to catch them, such that their feet will not even be scratched on the rocks below)!  This good and true promise was being abused by Satan (and I think he knew it), for it would have been wrong for Jesus to jump off the temple peak in order to force God to prove His protecting love.  In fact, there are times when it is the good will of God for His beloved people to suffer the pains of gravity, foot scratches, bone breaks, and worse.  Always, however, God sustains His children in the midst of their trials and tribulations.

And always, master swordsmen, keep on reading!  Consider Psalm 91:13, the verse which comes immediately after the passage which Satan misquoted (or misapplied in His vain quoting):  “You will tread upon the lion and cobra, the young lion and the serpent you will trample down.”  You will crush, tread on, & trample down lions, snakes, and dragons!  Jesus knew this too:  Enemies like roaring lions who seek what they might devour, deceptive serpents who slink around and lie about what God really said and meant, dragons who seek to destroy a woman and her baby son, and Satan the Accuser who is compared in Scripture to all of these beasts … will be crushed, ultimately, under the foot of Jesus Christ (Eve’s Seed ~ Genesis 3:15), who seemed so weak after forty hungry days.  What joy Jesus must have had, as Satan fled, as heavenly angels comforted, and as courage was restored through the word-promise that soon all bloody swords can be put down forever since the great enemy will be finally destroyed, by the completion of His work.

COMMUNION MEDITATION: Because our children are asking …

The New Testament sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) are simple, by Christ’s design, so that even children can understand the basic truths which these signs, actions, and rituals are illustrating.  To quote Albert Einstein (in a limited sense), “If you cannot explain it simply, then you do not understand it well enough.”  Thus I have been impressed, over the years, with the ability of some to give excellent children’s talks which are very simple, yet meaty and profound for all who will listen.  Surely Jesus was encapsulating a world of truth as He proclaimed:  “The Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like little children” … but one simple application should be:  If only the professional scholars and theologians can grasp a doctrinal point, it may be that the truth claim has more of man than of God in it.  With just a few minutes, then, I ask you to consider two questions which children have asked, both of them deserving clear answers.

Last week, a child asked me:  “Pastor John, if God has always known everything, then why did He create Satan?”  I will interpret and extend his question to ponder:  Why did God create the angel Lucifer, knowing that Lucifer would lead an angel rebellion, become the devil, tempt our first parents, and produce the fall of all mankind and of the universe itself?  I did not claim that simple answers are easy ones!  A word for parents, teachers, and others:  Praise the Lord for such questions.  They could be evidence that the Holy Spirit is stirring.  Do not say:  “Shut up!  Stop asking silly or hard questions.  Just believe and behave.  Don’t think.  And above all, don’t go poking around behind the curtain, or you may discover that there is nothing there after all!”  So much better to respond with something, even an “I don’t know … but let’s dig into that issue together.”

This question (about God’s role in the origin of Satan) is a version of the classical query:  “How could there be a good and strong God in a universe with evil and suffering?”  Okay, this is an enormous subject, but here is a starting point:  Because the universe as it really is (with a Lucifer who would become Satan, with evil and suffering, with pain and sorrow and tears, and with sin under all of it) is the universe which God has allowed and even designed to bring the maximum glory to Himself, to display before Himself, His angels, human beings, and the universe the awesome collection of His own glorious attributes, and in this particular case, to show how He will defeat and destroy His and our archenemy, the devil and all his works.

Here is a second question asked by a child, much earlier than last week, and across many years:  “Father, why is this night different from all others?”  This, of course, is the classic and scripted prompting by children at the Seder (or the Passover), that annual memorial meal to remind Israel of “Exodus Night,” how the Lord delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt to bring them into the Promised Land.

Please recognize the connection of our first question with this second one, for if God really is good and strong, especially attentive to His chosen nation, then why did He allow them to be enslaved in the first place?  There are, of course, human reasons for why and how Jacob’s family ended up in Egypt, and it is clear that God held many Egyptians to be guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.  But God allowed, even designed, Israel’s captivity to glorify and exalt Himself in their eyes, and in the eyes of Egypt, Canaan, and the whole world up until this very day.

Recognize, as well, the connection of the Passover and the Lord’s Supper, as Jesus instituted this Christian sacramental love feast at a Seder.  The Bible strongly connects the minor redemption (of Israel from Egypt) with the major redemption (of all God’s children from their captivating sin).

Recognize, finally, the connection of the Seder, the Supper, the cross, and the first question.  God’s design of a universe where Satan, sin, and sorrow could (would) happen surely had in mind this ultimate and glorious solution, the death of God’s dear Son, as the answer to the very big questions, the solution for all of our needs, and the ultimate display of the glory and grace of God.

Mull over this sentence.  If it is true, enjoy its truth, and turn it into personal worship:  “God in His grace provided what God in His holiness demanded.”  God allowed and designed a fallen universe, filled with fallen people, millions of whom would come to know their Lord as a God of grace, mercy, and faithfulness.  There is a popular book with this subtitle:  “What if marriage is designed by God, not to make you happy, but holy?!”  Well, what if time, space, the universe, and all history are designed to glorify God in His fullness, as He really is?  Would not an eternity of informed worship justify 6,000 or more years of drama, if that is the kind of thing it takes for us to get to know God as He really is?  Yes, and the cross, with the sacrificed body of Jesus Christ, is at the center.