Category Archives: Exhortation

Must We Get Along?

Hall clan...A month or so ago I attended the anniversary of a couple whose wedding I conducted 25 years ago. They came from two different cultures. In a day when the world is splintered into us and them, conservatives and liberals, democrats and republicans, straight and gay, white and black, Asian and African; to gather at an event celebrating harmony is wonderful.

It’s encouraging to rejoice in the life of two who love each other and talk to each other rationally while all around us people are shouting and yelling and calling each other names. Certainly, in politics and international relations, civility seems to have disappeared. Civility and respect is even rare on our highways.

The apostle Paul, echoing the example of Jesus Christ, has some advice about our need to get along. He writes in Romans 15:7; Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

How did Christ accept us? In Romans 5:8 we read that God demonstrates his own love for DSCN2805 (2)us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we are all sinners we should be able to accept brothers and sisters who share our faith in Christ. Where? On the ground beneath the cross. The cross where Christ died for our sins is the only really common ground beyond the fact of our shared humanity. Clearly, Christ received us before we could get our act together.

A high degree of wealth, education or power generate pride and foster exclusive classes of people. By contrast, Paul clarifies the raw material from which God created the Church. “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things Kashmirof the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things…so that no one may boast before him” (1 Cor. 1:26-29).

Dumb, ignoble, poor, foolish, weak, lowly, despised; this is the raw material God chose to use in creating his Church. Truly, God saved us through Christ without regard to our station in life. Do we see any class distinction here? Any preferred race? Any colour of hair or physique?

Can we relate to this truth about you and me? Or do we feel that God is very fortunate to have us in his Church? Among those called in the early church we have fishermen, hated tax collectors, doubters, prostitutes, demon-possessed men and women, and legalistic, self-righteous men like Paul who had to be humbled by making him blind.

We need to remember who and what we were when called. We were accepted on the basis of the cross, not because of anything in us.

An astounding passage in Philippians reminds us to pattern our behaviour towards others after the example of Christ who left the glories of heaven, set aside the independent exercise of his divine attributes, and came as a helpless baby. He grew up among us so He could identify with us. He was tempted in all points like we have been.

His example exhorts us: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped [held onto] but made himself  nothing taking the very nature of a  servant, being made in human likeness…became obedient to death—ever death on a cross” (Phil. 2:3-8).

Shouldn’t we have the attitude of Christ when we consider those with a different political bias, race, degree of education, parental upbringing, or less financial success? All of us who are saved, are debtors not to the bank or the university but to grace. No wonder Paul writes; I am determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Ndscn1336-1ow, we must admit that some people have very annoying habits which make them hard to accept. And there are people who promote heretical ideas or a licentious lifestyle. Must we really accept everybody? Let me tackle that question in the next blog.

(Let me know your thoughts on this subject. Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright ––)

 

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Does God Speak To Us Today?

The host of a radio talk show asked his listeners, “Does God speak to us?” He was reacting to a sports celebrity who claimed that God spoke to him about his relationship with his girlfriend.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs Christians we often assert; “God spoke to me,” or “God told me,” or ”God led me.” Non-Christians usually misunderstand us; they think we are either self-deceived or arrogant.

However, Christians rarely mean that they heard God’s voice audibly. Scripture makes clear that God can do that. “God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’”(Ex. 3:4). But more often God has either communicated directly with a prophet’s spirit or given him or her a vision or dream. “During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision”(Daniel 2:19).

The big question is not, does God speak, but are we listening? Are we even able to hear God? In our natural state mankind is hearing impaired. Jesus addressed this universal deficiency by quoting from Isaiah who had encountered the same problem. “Though seeing they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving’”(Matt. 13:13,14).

Of course, few humans admit their impairment, just as people who are hard of hearing often delay getting hearing aids, blaming their difficulty hearing on the way others speak.

To correct this hearing deficiency, we need God’s Technician to install a hearing aid and teach us to use it. That Technician is the Holy Spirit who alone can “give us ears to hear.” How? Through convicting us of our careless and unconcerned attitude to what God has clearly revealed in the universe around us, in our consciences, and in the Good News of the Gospel. When we admit that we have shut our ears to God’s voice but want to become hearers, the Spirit gives us spiritual hearing equipment, that is, a new heart. Through this conversion, we become believers, those with faith in what God communicates. “And without faith it is impossible to please God [or hear Him]” (Rom. 10:14).

With this spiritual “hearing aid” in place, and faith to receive God’s Word, the Spirit begins to teach us how to interpret what God is saying in life and providence. “No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God”(1 Cor. 2:11). Just as simultaneous translators interpret a foreign speaker and beam the translation into the ear of delegates to the UN, so the Spirit becomes our interpreter.

Learning to interpret God’s voice requires us to go through a training process. Sometimes we misinterpret God’s voice. In a subsequent blog, I’ll discuss the process whereby the Holy Spirit trains us to interpret God’s voice accurately.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright        Twitter @EricEWright1)

Of Family Reunions and High-Tech Talk

We’re just back from a family reunion. This get-together proved once again that texts and phone calls, letters and pictures don’t stack up to face-to-face communication. Among family, friends, neighbours, colleagues or even in our churches nothing cements relationships better that sharing time with people in person. Around a dining table, across the room, in a coffee shop, or across a neighbour’s fence.

The ostensible reason for our gathering was Mary Helen’s 80th birthday and he 50th wedding anniversary of Mary Helen’s youngest sister Annie Pearl and her husband from Tennessee. Another sister from Charleston, South Carolina came too. Two of Mary Helen’s sisters together after years apart! Sadly, a third sister couldn’t attend.

Our family joined the party. Our oldest son, Stephen and his wife Catherine came from Atlanta. Debbie and her family came to John and Shona’s home in Mississauga enjoy the memories. Missionary colleagues, Hugh Gordon and his family also came.

With Annie Pearl holding court, conversation never dragged nor laughter from her fund of apocryphal stories about Mary Helen’s childhood. Her other sister, Colie, filled in any lulls with her fund of anecdotes and jokes. Any one who knows Mary Helen, realizes that she has no problem conversing. These three sisters must have all eaten off the “talking beans” tree growing up. If only we could discover the secret and include it in chlorinated water. Society would be changed.

My point, however, concerns the power of face-to-face connection. Each person projected a persona that is missing from a text or phone call. We heard new stories. We came to understand each other better. As time passed conversation opened new insights into the work and ministry different ones were involved in. We even learned about the health challenges some of us face.

The few words in this blog cannot articulate the facial expressions, the emphases, the gestures of those who sat across from us. There is no substitute for time spent face-to-face with others.

Business and industry must learn this reality to rise above the cold technology that so many depend on for communication. Churches especially must realize that communicating to congregations sitting in rows side-by-side is not enough. Genuine discipleship will take place only as Jesus conducted it—in person, face-to-face with a few persons at a time. Jesus, although the Son of God, concentrated his main energies on twelve men. Despite their detractors, small groups can be an effective way to get to know people and inspire them to become effective disciples of Christ.

I’m sure I spend too much time on Facebook and Twitter, but I also participate in an early morning Bible study with six or seven men. It is a wonderful time of study, laughter, and fellowship. There is no substitute for face-to-face fellowship. It’s interesting that the current issue of Christianity Today, July/August 2018, contains two articles that make this point.

(Let me know your thoughts on this subject. Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright ––

A Hug A Day Keeps the Darkness At Bay

We live in a lonely age. Multiplied newspaper articles highlight this reality. Our community newspaper recently discussed the prevalence of depression and suicidal thoughts among teens and young adults. A major part of the proposed solution involves face-to-face support groups. And yet every young person I’ve ever seen is perpetually using a phone to connect with peers on Facebook, Instagram, etc. However, technological connection is part of the problem. We need face-to-face human contact.

Another article discussed research that showed that exposing children under the age of four or five to screen time with tablets, phones, etc. led to problems later in life. One might have naively thought that substituting sophisticated programs geared to kids would be a proper substitute for parental absence. But no, more so that anyone, young children need face-to-face time with parents and other children. Like all humans they need hugs and touch and chatter.

Given the communication marvels we take for granted, one might have thought that this period of history would be the ideal time for God to reveal Himself to the whole world. Not so. “But when the time was fully come, God sent his Son born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). Jesus was born at just the right time. But that period was so low-tech!

God knows what we really need, both as humans and as sinners. To reveal Himself to mankind, He came in the flesh where we could see Him in person, touch Him, watch Him heal and listen to Him talk. It wasn’t enough for God to communicate third hand through angels or prophets. No! “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, …full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18). His disciples could see in His actions, His speech, and even on His face—grace and truth.

John later comments; “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3).

Eternal life is found through connecting by faith on a personal level with Jesus. He was no phantom; no angel. He had flesh and blood like you and I. He died an agonizing death on the cross for our sins. By connecting with Him for salvation we then find ourselves adopted by God into His family. And in that family, we find fellowship with other believers in a local church.

It is not enough to be a successful business man, a scholar, or a whiz on the computer. All of us need personal connections with others. For that we need face-to-face time with friends and family—in the same space. We need to see them. We need to be able to touch them. We need to be able to listen to them and see the inflection of their faces. God created us to relate to one another, not to live our lives in isolation.

Please don’t continue living a lonely life. Join a local, Bible-believing church. Join a Bible study group. Develop friendships with others in the great family of God. And remember that even if other Christians disappoint, Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always.” We can always have a heart-to-heart talk with Jesus. And let those of us already connected through a local church, commit ourselves to banishing loneliness in those who come.

(Let me know your thoughts on this subject. Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter:@EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright ) 

Our Plugged-in Lonely Age

Life is full of paradoxes. Consider the contrast between our hyper-connectedness on a digital level and the epidemic of loneliness that pervades our society. We have smart phones with scores of apps that connect us instantly to a myriad of platforms where we can interact with scores, no, hundreds of ‘friends.’

But we wander through our cities and towns as lonely souls. An aged widower sits on a bench and stares at the waves lapping the beach with tears leaking from his eyes. A teen lounges at a lunch table with five or six of his friends. All are glued to their cell phones. But back home in his room he contemplates suicide. A subway car crammed with passengers hurtles toward the next stop. Silence reigns. People avoid eye contact. Each seems lost in a private world.

Throughout the western world, loneliness is epidemic. In Canada, a commonly quoted figure indicates that 1.4 million elderly people experience feelings of loneliness. “Sixty-six per cent of Canadian university students admitted to feeling isolated in the previous year.”

Loneliness has damaging health effects. John Cacioppo at the University of Chicago is a pioneer in isolating the harm loneliness does to our health. “He and other neuroscientists determined [that loneliness] could be life-shortening in extreme cases.…Loneliness can increase levels of stress hormones in an individual [and in this] increasingly individualistic society was fraying social connections.”

Because of the damage caused, Britain appointed a minister for loneliness. The Dutch government is investing 26 million euros to combat loneliness in its elderly.

Professor Cacioppo suggests that we think of loneliness not as a failing but as a biological signal like hunger. If so, we need to find some way to satisfy its craving.

The degree of loneliness in our societies is a sad commentary on how far we have fallen from the biblical ideal. When God created man, He said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). From this beginning we see the development of families, clans, and communities.

The coming of Jesus Christ as a man demonstrates how much God values communication and fellowship on a personal level. God could have sent His son into the world in a period such as ours when communication would have been instantaneous around the world. But no, the cold, distant communication that occurs through video, facetime, texts, FB posts, tweets, even phones cannot alleviate loneliness. Nor can it really communicate feelings and essential personal truths.

The communicator from God, Jesus Christ, was born like us, grew up in a family and chose 12 disciples to be with Him. Imagine the companionship of that group of disciples! Imagine the communication that went on! Imagine the feelings of love and acceptance generated. No loneliness there.

It is not enough to be a successful business man, a scholar, or a whiz on the computer. All of us need personal connections with others. For that we need face-to-face time with friends and family—in the same space. We need to see them. We need to be able to touch them. We need to be able to listen to them and see the inflection of their faces. God created us to belong, not to live our lives in isolation.

Please don’t continue living a lonely life. Join a local, bible-believing church. Join a Bible study group. Develop friendships with others in the great family of God.

(Let me know your thoughts on this subject. Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright ––Quotes in this article are from Being Alone Together, Elizabeth Renzetti, The Globe and Mail, April 7, 2018)

How attitudes intensify or moderate suffering

We all face difficulties of one kind or another. Job loss. Accidents. Disease. Rejection. “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward”(Job 5:7). However, the attitudes with which we face troubles will profoundly affect our ability to cope victoriously; either intensifying or moderating our anguish.

Alice and Elsie and Marci, not their real names, routinely intensify their own pain. Alice wallows in unhappiness while blaming her employer and the government for the misfortunes in her life. A cheerful greeting to Elsie triggers a recitation of grievances that reflect her bitterness and anger. Marci not only looks sad and troubled, she is.

The attitudes of these three intensify their emotional distress. Consequently, they will endure greater pain than that of others who tackle life with an uplifting outlook. Their corrosive emotions may even affect their physical health. For our own wellbeing, as well as to glorify God, we need to get rid of dark and hurtful emotions such as: sadness, worry, doubt, discouragement, fear, envy, hopelessness, bitterness, wrath, discontent, wounded pride, hatred, and the like.

The New Testament uniformly teaches that faith in Jesus Christ, and obedience to his teaching, delivers us from bondage to these emotions. (I’m not denying that in some cases there are physical causes for depression.)

This does not mean we should cover up our anguish. The Psalms of lament show us the pattern of David. “My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord…all night long I flood my bed with weeping”(Ps 6:3,6). “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?”(Ps. 13:1). But notice that David brought his pain to God and underlying that pain was faith. “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (Ps. 13:5).

A huge part of the Christian process of sanctification involves replacing dark attitudes with those that are uplifting. This process doesn’t happen overnight. But the apostle Paul explained that through the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, the transformation is certain. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control;” the very emotions that moderate suffering.

According to Jesus, happy are they who have the right attitudes. (See Matthew 5:3-12.) He taught his disciples, “Do not worry” (Matt. 6:31); “Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me”(John 14:1).

There isn’t room in this article to touch on the power of prayer, the transforming effect of thankfulness, and the uplifting outcome of worship and praise. And surely, I don’t need to mention that we engage in these activities not for therapeutic reasons, but because we have touched the hem of the Infinite. That touch makes us want to lift our hearts in praise. We have been transformed by the saving grace of Jesus Christ and that change makes us want to express thankfulness. The positive effect of praise and thankfulness—joy—is incidental to the reality of salvation, but very real.

I have no doubt whatever that the Christian faith has contributed infinitely more than we can imagine to human health, social wellbeing, and international harmony. How do I know this? I know it from the teaching of the Bible, observation of others, my own experience, and the testimony of myriad Christians, some of whom suffer indescribable persecution.

Do you have doubts that Christian attitudes moderate suffering? “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” Or as Jesus said, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17).

In a later blog, I’ll write about the role of encouragers in helping those who face trials.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright )

FOOLISH CHOICES AND SUFFERING – CAUSES OF SUFFERING #4

Have you ever wondered if your problems, or even your suffering, stem from foolish choices? We’re just coming out of two days of ice pellets and freezing rain. Life ground to a frozen halt. It would have been foolish to venture out and chance getting a broken leg.

Choices are important. I agonize over decisions, especially big decisions like whether to move to another house or what kind of car to buy. That’s not to say that I take long over the choice of what brand of toothpaste or shampoo to buy or whether to plant petunias or pansies in the garden.

But too often I allow price to determine my choices rather than quality. I once bought a pair of attractive loafers because they were half price. They were a bit tight, but so desirable. That purchase doomed me to pinched toes until I gave up. I could give other illustrations but they would be too embarrassing.

Even when I determine to balance quality against price, it’s not always easy to make a good choice in our media-saturated world. One report lists butter as harmful to our arteries. Another labels margarine as a dangerous culprit. Or take coffee, or chocolate. How do we navigate through all the shoals that we’re told can shipwreck our lifeboat?

Doubtless, bad choices can lead to great harm. And some of those bad choices are clear. Smoking. Overeating. Taking addictive drugs. Avoiding exercise. A steady diet of high calorie fast-foods. Too much sugar. Pornography. Sleeping with prostitutes. Drunkenness. The list is long; the effects devastating in terms of ill health, lost jobs and broken relationships.

Many of our bad choices lead to long-term suffering, or at least, suffering that catches up with us as we age. Why do we choose things we know will be harmful? Often, it’s to find immediate pleasure through gratifying a craving. Dare I say it, lust banishes reason? Donuts and cookies and mega-burgers taste so good! Indulge. Enjoy right now. Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with an occasional indulgence but the danger occurs when indulgence becomes a habit.

The danger is magnified when the indulgence breaks one of God’s commandments. Outbursts of anger can not only shatter relationships, but, as Jesus said, even lead to murder. One pilfered item from a warehouse or an act of cheating can encourage a lifestyle of dishonesty that ultimately ends in incarceration. Envy or jealousy indulged can foster lifelong discontent. One act of adultery might ruin a marriage or promote a careless approach to marital fidelity or lead to catching a sexually transmitted disease.

So why is there suffering in the world? Much of it is caused by human foolishness, indulgence, sinfulness and ignorance. We would be wise to re-read the book of Proverbs often. “He who speaks rashly will come to ruin. The sluggard craves and gets nothing…Dishonest money dwindles away…”(Prov. 13:3b, 4a, 11a).

Fortunately, God is a forgiving God. There is no sin, no matter how grave, that He will not forgive if one but bows in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ, God’s Son. “His blood can make the foulest clean.” Forgiveness, however, does not necessarily deliver us from the practical consequences of our sins. The forgiven smoker will still have damaged lungs. The forgiven murderer will still have to finish out his jail sentence. The indulgent eater who is forgiven may still have clogged arteries.

Let’s not blame God for the suffering we cause. Instead let’s make wise and godly choices. Let me know what you think about this issue.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright )