This week, in our series, we’re talking about control issues. “Ego”, for me, has always been an acronym: “Edging God Out”. But it doesn’t have to be this way! In this message, based on Genesis 16.1-16 and James 4.13-17, we will hear about control issues, take a few minutes in silence to be honest before God about things we try to control, and then look at some questions to help us assess control issues. In the end, we learn that God is faithful, and we can trust him to be in control. Listen to the message here:
I shared a poem at a memorial service this week which I had used many years ago, but stumbled upon again. It was written by a missionary to China in response to a number of missionary martyrdoms, and has always, for me, been a powerful testament to what Jesus’ death and resurrection mean for Christians, a poignant illustration of the apostle Paul’s words to the church in Corinth when he quoted Isaiah: “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15.54b, NIV).
Read this slowly and meditatively, and let its meaning wash over you today.
Afraid? Of What?
To feel the spirit’s glad release?
To pass from pain to perfect peace,
The strife and strain of life to cease?
Afraid – of that?
Afraid? Of What?
Afraid to see the Saviour’s face
To hear his welcome, and to trace
The glory gleam from wounds of grace?
Afraid – of that?
Afraid? Of What?
A flash, a crash, a pierced heart;
Darkness, light, O Heaven’s art!
A wound of His a counterpart?
Afraid – of that?
Afraid? Of What?
To do by death what life could not –
Baptized with blood a stony plot,
Till souls shall blossom from the spot?
Afraid – of that?
We may not like to think of it this way, but pain is a gift.
Most of us would rather not experience pain, and many people go to great lengths to avoid pain, and even to avoid feeling pain. Yet without pain, we cannot know that something is wrong; even if we don’t know what is wrong, pain tells us something isn’t right.
The much-publicized hospitalization of the mayor of Toronto this week serves as a reminder that pain is a gift. The diagnosis received by Mr. Ford is serious, but now that he has done something to address the pain, treatment can begin.
Yet many people – not just men, women too – will put off dealing with pain. And sometimes, they wait until it’s too late. The beauty of Canadian health care is that our taxes pay for a system that enables us to consult experts on pain without fear of the cost involved. Of course, that system can be abused, but its existence means that if I feel some pain inside that isn’t going away, I can get it attended to right away.
Spiritual pain is no different; we often think that spirituality is personal, and that we can’t consult a professional when we are feeling pain in our souls. But the truth is that we can talk to others about our spiritual pain. It doesn’t always have to be a ‘professional’, either! While pastors and spiritual directors and counsellors can be of immense help, we can share how we feel with trusted sisters and brothers in Christ, too. They may or may not be able to help us deal with the pain, but they can at least share the burden we feel, praying for us and helping us find someone who can help us.
If we feel physical pain, the problem of which the pain is a symptom can be treated. If we feel spiritual pain, the problem of which that pain is a symptom can be treated as well. Sometimes, medical professionals give us prescriptions to mask the pain, but that doesn’t do us any favours. The problem itself must be unearthed and treated. Spiritual professionals, and trusted Christian friends, can’t write us prescriptions, and that’s probably a good thing. Instead, they help us to dig beneath the surface and discern how this gift of pain can help us grow in faith, and what wound may need to be brought to light so that Jesus can bring healing.
Dr. Paul Brand, who worked tirelessly to bring relief to leprosy patients, remarked that one of the greatest difficulties they face is that they lack the gift of pain. As their disease takes away nerves, they no longer feel anything – including pain. Imagine touching a hot stove and not feeling it!
If we are not careful, we can end up being spiritually leprous, where we are so callused toward the pain we feel, covering it up in whatever ways we can find, that we no longer note it, and the real problem that the spiritual pain has brought us is left unattended.
Do you have spiritual pain? Is there something going on in your life that has left you wounded? Can you invite Jesus to heal that wound for you, and relieve you of that pain? Doing so will help you live your life in Christ to the fullest.
“Share each others burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6.2, NLT).
The telephone in my home office has a digital display. Lately, though, it’s been playing tricks on me, as you’ll see in the photo. Normally, it will tell me the time, the month and date, the number I’m dialing, and how many new calls I’ve had. (I suppose it would tell me who was calling, too, if I paid for that option.) But right now, if it’s displaying anything legible, it might as well be in Klingon, because I can’t read it at all. I’m not sure what it takes to fix it; sometimes, it has come back to ‘normal’ all by itself. But over the past few days, it has just been a backlit mess.
There are times that we can be that way, aren’t there? Just a backlit mess?
Walking as followers of Jesus is not an easy thing to do in our world today, because to live as disciples is to live counter-culturally: while society is going in one direction, we are travelling in the opposite direction. That makes it difficult to be vigilant all the time, and at times, people may look at us and not be sure what they’re seeing – just like my phone display.
Someone – I think it might have been the 19th century evangelist, Dwight L. Moody – said that the Christian is the only Bible some people will ever read. That places a heavy responsibility on us to live lives that are clear in their demonstration of following Jesus. We won’t live perfect lives, because we can’t, but when we live with greater clarity of faith than not, we become winsome beacons of light, drawing people out of darkness.
If we will live positive, godly, authentic and faithful Christian lives, making what we believe practical in day-to-day functioning, we might be amazed at the number of ‘yes’ responses we get when we say to a friend, “Hey, would you like to come to church with me on Sunday?”
Give it a shot. You won’t be disappointed. And the Holy Spirit, who lives within each believer, will give you the strength to do it.
“You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5.14-16, NLT).
On social media last week, there was quite a bit of rancor over a video clip of megachurch pastor’s wife Victoria Osteen talking about how when people come to church, it’s about them, not about God, because God wants us to be happy. (You can watch the clip here to hear her own words.) It’s been suggested, on sober reflection, that this might have caught our hackles, in part, because that’s what we really believe – based on how we act, anyway. Let me explain.
When we come to church – irrespective of the tradition with which we connect – there is often part of us that seeks our personal preferences. In our consumer society, we shop at particular stores because they give us what we want. We drive particular cars because we prefer that kind. We drink a particular brand of beverage because it fits our taste. But the Christian community with which we affiliate – is that supposed to be about consumer choice? Will we be giving “consumer’s choice” awards to churches based on how they meet our needs?
Maybe we prefer organ; maybe drums and guitar. Maybe we prefer expository preaching; maybe topical thoughts. Maybe we prefer small groups; maybe we prefer big Bible studies. Some of that is, of course, quite natural. We are attracted to what we like. It (often!) works in marriage, after all; why not in worship?
To an extent, that is probably true. We are divinely wired to have preferences. It’s part of the beauty of the diversity of the human race. The challenge comes when we universalize our own preferences, and then put ourselves (and our preferences) ahead of others (and their preferences).
I once heard a sermon in which the congregation was challenged to consider – from a consumer point of view – who is the customer, and who is the sales person. As the church, we are not called to self-satisfaction; we are called to “go into the world and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28.19). Those in the church are in sales, seeking to reach ‘customers’ who are not yet part of the body of Christ. For followers of Jesus, this sometimes means stepping outside our own comfort zones – our own preferences – and willingly being part of a community of faith that caters its worship, and its proclamation of truth, to draw those who are outside the family.
We can never cheapen the act of worship into something that just makes us happy; after all, worship is intended to please God first and foremost! As worshippers, of course, we want to be able to offer our praise to the Lord in a way that is in keeping with who we are. But we also want to offer our praise to the Lord in a way that enables people who are far from God to draw near to him.
It’s a complicated issue, and perhaps this little dust-up within the Christian world has given some of us pause to think about how and why we worship the Lord of the Universe.
However your church “does church”, consider who, among your friends and family, you can invite to experience the praise of God. You could change someone’s eternity!