God’s Tin Can

At a recent gathering of Christians I had an interesting impression, which some might call a prophetic insight. I saw a partly rusting tin can, such as a child might use when rambling around a yard collecting items of interest. A child might collect a shiny stone, a feather, a coloured button and other unrelated items, each chosen because they seem to be a ‘treasure’ to the child.

The impression I had was of a hand holding such a can of unrelated items. I realised, however, that the hand was not that of a child, but the hand of God. The message I sensed immediately was of God bringing together a strange set of pieces that seem unrelated to us. Yet in God’s plan those unrelated pieces are meant to be brought together.

This applied immediately to the gathering I was attending. There were people from various churches and people with different ideas about how to worship God, all brought together for God’s purposes.

Our natural instinct is to gather with those who are like us, who do things the way we like things done. But God likes to surprise us by bringing together pieces which wouldn’t be our natural choice, and using them to surprise us.

“Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hasn’t God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” 1Corinthians 1:20

“God choses foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and weak things of the world to confound things which are mighty; And God chose the world’s base things, and things despised, yes, and things of no consequence, to overturn things that are: So no flesh can glory in his presence.” 1Corinthians 1:27-29.

During the singing there was a chap near me who persisted in clapping on the beat, loudly. It didn’t enhance my enjoyment of the music. Part of me wished he would stop. He would have been one of the pieces in the can that I didn’t appreciate. Maybe in his church that kind of loud clapping was normal, but I would rather clap less intrusively and maybe with more variety than his driving rhythm.

After getting the impression of the tin can I began to thank God for the person clapping loudly, accepting that God, in His infinite wisdom, was happy with that man and his form of worship. I realised I had to also be happy with that man and his form or worship, since God was and God had put us in the same tin can.

I reflected on the wider group of people gathered in the meeting and realised that God was releasing grace to all of them, giving each of them opportunity to worship Him along with others they did not know.

Instead of feeling a little exclusive or elitist in my estimation of myself I accepted that we all, weird as some might seem to me, were each as much God’s choice as the other. We were all picked up by God and put into God’s tin can as His ‘treasures’.

This truth works in reverse as well. If you are one of those who feels you need to apologise for yourself and your inability to fit the standards of others, put that thought aside and realise that God has chosen you to be in His tin can, as one of His ‘treasures’.

You may be different, and you may fail to pass the test of others, but you are not here to serve those others who might stand in judgement of you, but you are here to be what God wants you to be and to glorify Him.

God, in His economy, has places for all manner of people. Our most important part is not to fulfil some religious duty but to be who God wants us to be, to accept His salvation and to live for His glory.

So, to all those who wonder where they fit, may I be the first to welcome you to God’s Tin Can. Hallelujah!

Choosing to Believe

Christianity is best understood as a ‘faith’, not a ‘religion’. Christians are saved by ‘faith’ and are to ‘live by faith’. We are not saved by religious routines and duty.

“By grace you are saved through faith” Ephesians 2:8

“The righteous live by faith.” Romans 1:17

People can be confused about what it is to have faith, especially if their religious ideas gett in the way. Religious ideas focus on doing things and doing things the right way. 

A religious person will focus on disciplines or religious practices, such as prayer, going to church and so on. They will focus external things, like dress, appearance, right speech, and so on. They may even be quite strict about how those things are to be done, such as never missing a church service.

A religious person may also focus on religious decorations, such as the right way to pray, the right kind of church to go to, the right things to believe, or the right use of candles, special clothes and special services.

Faith seems too simple when compared with a disciplined religion. Faith does not require any kind of form or any outward display of religion.

For example compare the sinner (publican) and the Pharisee that Jesus told us about, as recorded in Luke 18. The Pharisee rejoiced that he was devout in his religion, explaining to God that he fasted two meals a week and gave a tenth of everything he owned. The Pharisee thought he could earn God’s favour by his religious acts.

The publican, however, did not rely on his own efforts at all, but simply cried out to God for mercy. 

“And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but beat his chest, saying, God have mercy on me a sinner.” Luke 18:13

The publican had faith in God, trusting God to be able to forgive him, unworthy as he was. He cried out to God, totally relying on God’s mercy. This is faith in action.

Yet from outward appearance, to anyone seeing these two men leave the temple, the Pharisee would appear to be the more godly. He might be godly in action, but his heart was full of pride and his sins were not forgiven.

The publican, looking irreligious and unworthy, went away forgiven and right with God.

Jesus said, “I tell you, this publican went to his house justified rather than the Pharisee”, Luke 18:14

Faith is a choice to believe.

Just as we can choose to be at church on time, or to set an alarm to remind us to pray, or join a Bible reading group to make sure we do regular Bible study, we can also choose to trust God.

We know that faith is a choice, because it is commanded. God can not justly command us to do something outside our power. God commands us to have faith.

“Jesus instructed the disciples, “Have faith in God.” Mark 11:22

“And this is God’s commandment, That we believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ” 1John 3:23

If you have a strong religious background, such as being raised to be very diligent in a range of religious activities, like prayer, Bible reading and church attendance, you might find yourself choking at how simple it is to be right with God, without all that religious diligence.

The reality is that God makes people right with Himself by them simply choosing to believe in Him and to trust Christ for their salvation.

That could be quite shocking to some. Imagine living in religious limitation all your life only to find that others who did none of that were as accepted by God as you are. Worse still, imagine if they were accepted and you were rejected, such as with the Pharisee and publican.

Religious people often want to impose onto new believers a series of religious do’s and don’ts rather than celebrate the new believer’s faith.

So let me reiterate that Christianity is best understood as a ‘faith’, not a ‘religion’. You are commanded to put your faith in Christ, trusting Christ for forgiveness, salvation, new birth, adoption into God’s family and eternal blessings in heaven. There is nothing else for you to do to get God’s mercy and grace.

As God’s child you will want to worship Him, read His Word (the Bible), speak with Him in prayer all the time and serve Him by building His kingdom. But none of those things makes you more His child or gives you a better salvation. You do acts of worship out of a heart of worship, not to gain recognition from God.

In my young days I thought that my religious acts would give me a better chance of receiving God’s favour. I had an obvious black Bible, so it would be noticed that I was carrying it with me. I wanted to be on time for every church activity as I thought that would count in God’s record book. As my understanding grew I was delighted to find that Christ has done it all for me, and I am to trust my whole self to His finished work on the cross.

Sadly, many years later, I came across an elderly lady who resisted the truth of the gospel and declared, “Despite what Pastor Chris says, I believe if I do enough good things God will accept me into heaven.”

How sad that someone would choose reliance on their own actions instead of choosing faith. Faith is a choice. Choose today to put your whole reliance on Christ for your salvation, knowing that your simple choice to believe is what God is looking for and the basis for Him giving to you eternal salvation through Christ.

Make sure you keep Choosing to Believe.

Missing the Blessing

It is possible to be very close to God’s blessing, maybe close to those who are under God’s amazing grace, and yet to miss it completely. We are wise to be attentive to where God’s blessing is and to reach out to take it for ourselves.

The Bible has many examples of people who were close to those who had God’s hand on their lives, yet who did not connect with the blessing.

I also like the example of some of the Canaanites living in the Promised Land, who were to be destroyed by Israel, but who recognised God’s blessing was on the Israelites so they went and made a treaty with them. They did it deceptively, in the fear of God.

However, let me focus today on those who were very close to God’s blessing and yet who missed it.

I found it interesting to look at the family of Abraham over several generations and to see that several people missed God’s blessing despite being very close to it.

Abraham had two brothers, Haran and Nahor, yet they were not called to follow God or given the Promised Land. Haran’s son, Lot, travelled with Abraham and walked through the Promised Land, yet did not get any of the blessing.

Abraham’s first-born son, Ishmael, also missed the blessing, not being born by God’s promise but by man’s planning.

Haran’s great-granddaughter Rebekah married Isaac, Abraham’s son, and so became part of God’s chosen family line. Yet Rebekah’s brother, Laban, despite being ‘close to the action’ missed out on that blessing.

Laban’s daughters, Leah and Rachel, married into Abraham’s father, by marrying Jacob, but Laban and his sons missed the blessing.

Those who missed the Blessing that was on Abraham, Isaac & Jacob

So we see that over several generations there were people close to Abraham and his family line, where God’s blessing was settled, who did not become part of that stream of blessing.

Similarly there may be people around you who are walking in God’s grace, enjoying His blessings, while you feel you life is a mess and you are in turmoil. Don’t miss out on the grace that God has for you. Let the experience of others prove to you that there is grace to be enjoyed and it is available to you in this day and age.

I once heard a preacher use the expression, “get under the spout where the glory comes out”, to prompt people to seek God’s blessing and go where it can be found.

On another occasion I heard someone lament that the church they were attending seemed completely dead and they were getting nothing out of going there. My question was, “then why are you still going there?” Sometimes we don’t have a choice, due to family connections and the like, but we can still find other places to connect with people who are enjoying God’s blessing.

Back in the late 1960’s my parents became aware of the power of God available today. Their church had taught them that God doesn’t do anything today like He did in Bible days. When my dad’s friends began to be powerfully touched by God my parents began a tentative search to find out what God would do in today’s world.

That led them to St Andrews Cathedral in Sydney for their midweek healing meeting, led by Canon Jim Glennon. The services were more formal than we were used to in our evangelical background, but there was a lovely sense of God being present.

From there mum and dad, and the rest of us, began attending a Pentecostal church for midweek meetings, while still attending our regular Sunday services. We delighted in those midweek meetings, where there was a real sense of God’s presence and blessing.

Eventually my dad was forced to leave our original Sunday church connection if my dad did not give up his ideas that God still moved in our world today.

Along the way there were several of our family friends who also attended various meetings where we enjoyed God’s blessing. Several of them were wonderfully touched with miracle healing and delight. However quite a few of them never pressed on to find more of what God had for them and their lives reverted to spiritual coldness.

God’s blessing is around you. There are people in your area who are being touched by God. You too can press in for the fulness of what God has for you. But, sadly, you can also miss the blessing too. 

Don’t be like Lot or Laban who came so close to the stream of God’s blessing and yet missed it altogether. Press in to God. Find fellowship with people who are experiencing the power and presence of God. Keep pressing in until you have received the fulness of what God has for you.

How to Forgive

Most of know we are supposed to forgive those who offend us. However some find it difficult to work out the practicalities of that.

“You are to forgive not only seven times, but seventy times seven.” Matthew 18:22

If someone has offended us, and continues to offend, what are we to do? 

If we think we have forgiven but we keep feeling bad, what does that mean? 

If the other person has never realised their wrong can we hold back on forgiving until they do?

To help you work through those issues let me point out some truths about forgiveness that you may have missed.

Forgiveness is not about the other person, it’s about what is in our heart.

Forgiveness targets us, not the one who offended us. So we don’t have to wait for them to see their fault, and we certainly don’t have to point it out to them. If we do not forgive then we have a problem, and forgiveness is the cure to our problem, not theirs.

When we forgive we let go of our claim against another person. In some situations the person may not even have done anything wrong but we may have taken offence against them wrongly. We may have misunderstood. They may have legitimate right to do what they did.

So forgiveness is not about analysis or getting others to agree with us that the other person is out of order.

Have you noticed that people who won’t forgive love to get others to agree with them that they have been wronged and to join them in scorning the person deemed to have done wrong? This is one of the fountains of gossip, where people share about what has offended them as a form of punishment on the one they oppose.

If you keep raking over what was done and like to have others agree that you have been wronged you are in very dangerous territory, for you are celebrating your inability to forgive and missing the point that your problem is not with the person you feel offended by, but your problem is now deeply rooted in your own heart.

Beware that a ‘root of bitterness’ doesn’t spring up inside you and turn you into one who defiles many others.

“Be careful that no-one fails to apply God’s grace; or a root of bitterness will spring up and trouble you, and cause many to be defiled” Hebrews 12:15

God is perfect, so cannot have done anything wrong against us. But we can feel upset with God, blaming Him for our problems. Forgiveness is about us letting go of our upset and anger toward God, not about God having to say ‘Sorry’ to us.

We hold un-forgiveness when we think someone owes us a debt. We feel they have cost us something. When we forgive we stop demanding payment of the debt. We ‘forgive’ the debt and let go of our claim on the other person.

Yet, what are we do do when feelings of hurt, fear and agitation remain with us after we forgive. What’s going on?

Forgiveness relates to three interwoven elements: The Past, The Pain, and The Future.

The Past relates to the wrong done to us.

The Pain relates to how we feel about what was done to us.

The Future relates to what we need to do about it.

Each is to be dealt with separately and does not hold power over the other.

Someone might say, “I keep feeling pain, hurt and fear, so I must not have forgiven.” But that is not true. Your Feelings are separate from Forgiveness.

Hurt feelings lure you into anger and resentment but you don’t have to go there. You can hold to forgiveness.

Someone might say, “I am still being mistreated so I can’t really forgive.”

No. You are expected to keep on forgiving, 70 times 7. Forgiveness is not a magic pill, but a way to keep your heart free even in abusive situations.

Someone might say, “If I have to keep on forgiving then I am giving in to being constantly abused and mistreated. What a hopeless state I am in!”

No. You have the right before God to manage your connection with others and to call on God for deliverance.

Someone might say, “I struggle with a whole lot of thoughts that aren’t nice, so I must be all messed up on the inside.”

No. Many times the enemy fills your head with wrong thoughts to see if you will accept them. Refuse them and stick with your choice to forgive.

The Past is the Fact of Wrong Committed.

We feel Wronged, A Debt is owed, A Wrong should be Avenged, Justice demands redress, and We hold right to a Damages Claim. This is what I refer to as the Past.

The Pain is the Feelings we Struggle With.

We are Hurting, We feel Offended, We have Fears, We carry Impact and Limitation, and We are not Complete any more. This is what I refer to as the Pain.

The Future is Godly Wisdom about Relating with the Offender from now on.

That includes how to manage the ongoing Relationship and what to do about Wrongs.

We deal with the Past by Forgiveness.

We deal with the Pain by letting God heal our wounds and restore us.

“He heals the broken in heart and binds their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

“He restores my soul” Psalm 23:3

“They will rebuild old wastes, raise up former desolations, and repair waste cities, the desolations of many generations.” Isaiah 61:4

We deal with the Future with Godly Wisdom.

Ideally and in many cases you can continue to relate to the offender as if the debt never existed since it is resolved and past.

If the person continues to be a danger to you or others then godly wisdom must be found, through God’s Word and through advice from godly people.

I pray that the Lord give you grace as you abandon any un-forgiveness in your heart and follow God’s wisdom in each situation, knowing clearly How to Forgive.

Resisting the Truth

Truth is powerful. Jesus told us that the truth sets us free.

“You will know the truth and the truth will set you Free!” John 8:32

Yet, despite the wonderful benefit of the truth it seems to be human nature to reject truth, especially if it is something we don’t like.

An example of people rejecting truth is found in the historical account of Jacob’s sons. The ten older brothers took a dislike to their younger brother, Joseph, because he was their father’s favourite, having been born to the one woman Jacob truly loved, Rachel.

Joseph received two dreams from God. In these dreams the message seemed clear that Joseph’s brothers were to bow down to him. The brothers resented such a suggestion, since they were already jealous of Joseph.

The brothers’ bitterness toward their younger sibling was so strong they discussed murdering their brother, but ended up taking him prisoner and selling him to slave traders.

In the grand scheme of things the TRUTH was that God would cause Joseph’s brothers to one day bow down to him. They rejected that truth because it was offensive to them. They conspired to make sure it could never come to pass.

However the truth is the truth, and rejecting it only means we live in delusion. It also means we miss out on the freedom which truth is meant to bring us.

We have no idea what would have happened if the brothers had accepted the truth. All we know is what actually transpired.

Joseph, sold as a slave, had God’s hand on him, but was then falsely accused and thrown in prison. Yet, even there, God’s hand was with him and he was given great responsibility, effectively running a section of the prison, while still a prisoner.

Suddenly and unexpectedly Joseph was promoted to second in command of Egypt.

Eight years later Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt for food and had to deal directly with the younger brother they had once planned to kill. They did not recognise him and he put them through a tough time.

Finally, on their second visit, Joseph revealed himself to them, as recorded in Genesis 45. They were so stunned they could not believe it. They were sure the official they were dealing with was a powerful Egyptian, never suspecting it was their brother who understood all the things they discussed among themselves in their native tongue.

Joseph finally convinced them he was their brother and that led to the whole of the family moving to Egypt.

What we see in those events from millennia ago is that it is perfectly possible to be blind to things that are right in front of us.

That prompts the question of what we may be missing right now too.

In the case of Joseph’s brothers they even had revelation from God to show what was going to happen and they rejected it. They refused to accept what was offensive to them.

Are you fighting against truth that seems offensive to you?

For example, many a western wife chokes at the Bible teaching on the wife’s role in marriage. That model is not politically correct in our day and age. Ideas of equality are deeply entrenched and backed up by all kinds of observations about how inappropriate it is to have a patriarchal family.

Many children and youth choke at the idea of honouring their parents. Many Christians choke at the idea of Bible teachings they reject. And so it goes.

Let me remind you that the truth sets us free, so each time you choose to reject truth, for whatever reason, you deny yourself freedoms which Christ has for you.

I have to deal at times with people who cling to delusions about themselves which are far from the truth. Their lives, health or family may be crumbling because of their vain ideas, but they will not accept anything critical of themselves, so they hold to delusions that continue to destroy them.

Let me challenge you to realise that you may well be living in your own deception, rejecting truth that God has revealed but which you don’t like.

Let me further challenge you to humble yourself and accept the truth that will set you free.