Talking Snakes and Donkeys

For hundreds and hundreds of years, people have turned away from religion and spirituality over the question of “natural” versus “supernatural”. Tales of miraculous events that can’t be explained in natural, regularly observable and measurable terms have always had their sceptics, perhaps never more so than now. I get that. There was a time when I lined up with the critics and rejected Christianity on the grounds that these events could not have really happened. In my case, God produced an undeniable miracle right in front of me – it was His way of reaching this cynic, but not everyone has been so blessed.

The power of the gospel however, does not lie solely in the veracity of the events documented in the Bible but, more importantly, it’s in the wisdom that God’s word imparts on those who read it. The Bible is the main way that God speaks to us and behind just about every passage, there is a message of profound wisdom that we are meant to absorb. Sometimes, the message is a literal command, more often it is conveyed through a story; either related as an historical account or as allegory – in either case, God is speaking to our hearts, edifying us, transforming us.

As for me, I believe that the Bible is true, though I think that we do not know all we can about how to interpret it. When viewed as God’s wisdom imparted on the reader, the Bible is true – for everyone.  

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Why Worship?

Why are we commanded by God to praise and to worship Him? This very legitimate question is often asked and this topic is often written about and preached on, but I have found in my research for this post that satisfactory answers are hard to come by. I would guess that just about all non-believers, and indeed many believers, struggle with this concept, yet it is clear in God’s word that we are so commanded, so how are we to come to terms with this?

What I found to be the most cogent response to this question was from C.S. Lewis who struggled with this issue himself. Lewis was a devout Christian (a late convert) who believed in the God of the Bible who is omniscient, omnipotent, creator of everything and perfect in every way; nothing else can be compared to Him. Lewis noted that God is not being egotistical when He calls attention to this fact. His call to worship Him is not to stoke His ego, but rather, like everything else He does, is meant for our benefit. Lewis said that when we obey God’s command to praise Him, we assume the proper posture in the creator – creature relationship, but more importantly, we are brought closer to Him, the only perfect being. We are better able to enjoy Him, to feel His undying love for us, to learn how to better love like Him. There is no one else in Heaven or on Earth to whom the most appropriate response is worship and that by doing so, we are swept up in His glory.

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Love? What’s That?

God is love. This truth is often repeated and has been for a very long time almost to the point of sounding trite. Often, the interpretation of this phrase is simplified to mean that God loves everyone and everything, always, no matter what. Though there is some truth in this interpretation, there’s a lot more to God’s love than that.

The forms of love that most of us know are romantic love, love for our families and friends, love of our jobs, hobbies, pets, food, etc.; though there are similarities, these are all somewhat different from God’s love which, as human beings, we can’t fully comprehend. God created us out of love, He desires to be in a special relationship with each of us out of love and ultimately, He gave His life out of His love for us. It’s important to add that, like a good parent, He disciplines us out of love. In addition, He does get angry, but like His love, His anger is different from what we typically know as anger. God’s anger is righteous, it’s about injustice against others and is based solely on His interest in achieving His will for us – which is our best possible outcome.

Though we can’t love exactly like God, He commands us to love others as ourselves and indeed to put their needs ahead of our own. He sent Jesus Christ to live in our hearts and He gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us in loving more like God. So speak to God in prayer, listen to His voice by reading His word – the Spirit will move you steadily in the direction of Godly love.

Forbearance

Forbearance is one of the Fruits of the Spirit listed by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-23. The fruits are attributes of God which He desires in us and with the help of the Holy Spirit, through the process of sanctification, we progress in these areas throughout our walk with Him. Forbearance is defined in the dictionary as patient self-control; restraint and tolerance. I know I can use a lot more of this and I suspect that many of you feel the same way. As noted above, this is a trait that the Creator of the Universe possesses and intentionally moves us toward, this is not something that I made up because I thought it would be nice. That said, I think even most non-believers would agree that forbearance is desirable in almost everyone and in almost all cases.

As it pertains to the mission of BBNF, many of the needy that we serve fall into the category of chronic homelessness, meaning that they have been homeless for a very long time (for a variety of reasons) and in many cases, they either don’t have families or were raised in homelessness. In speaking with many people in the social services field, these folks are the hardest to reach, which I can personally attest to. That said, we persevere while keeping the words of Paul in mind. We must have forbearance – patience, tolerance – remembering that we never know how continuing to provide for the basic needs of any person in need might impact them, especially when we consider in whose name we are serving.  

Fish Sandwiches

Jesus’ miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is represented in all four gospels (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:5-15) which not only adds credence to the actuality of the event, but it also speaks to the importance of its message.

Jesus knew exactly what he would do when he and the apostles encountered a throng of hungry followers, actually more than five thousand including women and children, yet he still tested the faith of his apostles by asking how they could feed this crowd, to which they responded that it could not be done. Jesus then proceeded to turn a small portion of food into enough to feed everyone there with some left over.

There are a couple of things to focus on here; first, we must remember who God is and what He can do. We must have faith that regardless of our circumstances, He is working things out for our good and ultimately to achieve His will. Next, we must have faith that God will provide for our daily needs, no matter how desperate a person’s situation.

With regard to the mission of BBNF, we know that at any time God can perform a miracle like the one described above, but we also know that miracles are often facilitated by God through agents like us. It’s true that a sandwich, a piece of fruit or a drink is not likely to transform someone’s life in and of itself, but the gesture of showing those in need that someone sees them and cares about them has power beyond any material gift – it’s within this power that God works.

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Sacrifice

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is fraught with meaning and significance for humanity; indeed the very act of sacrifice is something that we as Christians are called to adopt in our daily lives. Jesus poured himself out for us in his life, ministry and ultimately in his death. This was necessary so that the penalty for our sins would be satisfied.

As for us, we encounter situations regularly where we are presented with the decision of whether we should do for ourselves or do for someone else – do we let another car go ahead of us in traffic? Do we let someone else in front of us in the supermarket? Do we give essential things to those in need? Do we give our time to family, friends or even total strangers that might need help or simply encouragement? All of these are acts of sacrifice wherein we take something of ours (money, things, time, effort, etc.) and give it to someone else. In the Bible, we are called to “carry one another’s burden” (Galatians 6:1-4), to give another our coat and cloak (Matthew 5:40, Luke 6:30), to lay down our lives for others (John 15:13) and to take up our cross and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24-26, Luke 9:23, Mark 8:34).

The Holy Spirit will guide us in this and we should be careful not to take pride in or to boast in our actions ((Ephesians 2:9, Matthew 6:4). With the help of the Holy Spirit, such obedience will come out of gratitude for what has already been done for us, not out of expectation of what we might get.

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Anger Management

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” James 1:19, NIV.

Most Christians know the above passage from James and I’m sure many non-believers have heard it too. Regardless of your beliefs, it’s a powerful passage and I think most would agree that it’s good instruction for living our daily lives. All three aspects of instruction are good and worthy of discussion; for the purposes of this post, I will focus on the last one.

I have struggled with anger, more specifically my expressions of anger my whole life. I spent most of my adult life justifying angry outbursts – “why can’t I show my anger by shouting, slamming, throwing things, etc.? Other people do it and I’m not hurting anyone.” I used to tell myself this all the time – in my weaker moments, I still do. There’s a lot wrong with this. True, there is nothing wrong with anger – even God gets angry, but there is a difference between what I describe above and God’s anger. Angry outbursts make people feel uncomfortable, even unsafe. Also, for me and I suspect for others if we’re being honest, most of what sparks an outburst has more to do with frustration over unmet, self-imposed, self-centered expectations. God’s anger is always righteous, having to do with injustice toward others – what we are called to care about. So next time you feel an outburst coming on, think about its source – is your anger righteous? If so, will an outburst serve the party in need? My guess is no.

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