In Prison But Not Imprisoned

1. Panadol Christians

When Christians encounter trials in their lives, they often ask God to remove their troubles. They want pain relief. It’s like when they have a headache. They reach for the medicine cabinet and take two pills [Panadol or paracetemol] for pain relief. This is a natural response. But we are not natural persons. We are supernatural because the Holy Spirit lives in us. Whenever we encounter trials, we can petition God to remove our pain. However, there are times when He wants us to go through the pain with Him.

2. God is with us

In Isaiah 43:2, God said, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze”. There is no pain relief here. What you get is God’s promise to go through the pain with us. You will get wet. You will feel the heat. But you will not drown. Neither will you be burned.

3. Example of Joseph

We see this in Joseph’s life. God never relieved him of his pain. Thrown into a pit and later sold by his brothers to a caravan of Ismaelites, Joseph ended up as a slave in Potiphar’s house (Genesis 39). In Potiphar’s house, God didn’t help him escape. Instead, the Bible says in verse 2 that God was with Joseph and he became a successful and prosperous man [slave]. He was successful because the Lord made all that he did to flourish and succeed (verse 3). God helped him by making him favorable in the sight of his boss who could see that the Lord was with Joseph. The Lord blessed Joseph’s boss for Joseph’s sake (verse 5)

Just when life seemed to be getting better for Joseph, Potiphar’s wife took a liking to him and wanted him to sleep with her. He refused. One day, when Joseph was on duty, she made her advances. He fled from her but left behind his garment. She then accused him of attempted rape and he was thrown into prison.

When in prison, the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy and loving kindness [grace]. God gave him favour in the sight of the warden of the prison. The Lord was with him and made whatever Joseph did to prosper (verses 21,23)

4. Success doesn’t depend on situation

Joseph’s story reminds us that it is better to have God with us than to have him relieve us of pain in our situation. Our success does not depend on our situation but on whether God is with us. When God is with us, we are successful regardless of our circumstances.

5. In prison but not imprisoned

From Joseph, we also learn that we can be in prison and not be imprisoned by negative thoughts because God is with us whether we are in the pit or in the palace. There are times we feel like we are ‘in prison’, we feel trapped in our circumstances. There seems to be no way out. And things aren’t changing.

When you feel trapped, believe that in Christ you are ‘free’.  You are not a slave of your circumstances. God is in your ‘prison’. When God is with you, you will overcome your circumstances not by your own strength but by His grace [God working in your midst to bring about what you can’t do on your own].

God’s mercy and kindness can reach the darkest jail ‘cell’ [including the cells in our body]. God protects, promotes and provides for our need for security, recognition and healing. Reach for God when no one else can reach you.

6. God never leaves us

Like Joseph, let’s learn that when we are down, God is with us. When we are up, God is with us. When we are getting along in life, God is with us. He never leaves us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). God never gives up on us. Neither should we give up on Him.

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Help! My Friend Is Upset With Me

1. Misunderstandings

Among close Christian friends, there will be times when we are upset with each other. Misunderstandings among close friends can be hurtful as we think that our friend should have known better. We have been friends for so long and yet our friend has not been sensitive to our feelings.

2. Do what is right, not what you feel

2 Thessalonians 3:13 AMP reminds us not to become weary or lose heart in doing right. Doing right is to do what God commands us to do i.e. love one another as He has loved us. We do it not because we feel it. We do it because that is what God wants us to do. That means we bring our broken relationship to God first before we go around complaining to the other friends about that friend who hurt us.

We choose to forgive the friend who hurt us. We don’t need to feel like forgiving because forgiveness is a choice we make before our God. We rely on God for strength to do what we cannot do on our own strength.

3. Communication, commitment, conflict resolution

When a relationship breaks down, we keep up the communication because of our commitment to the relationship. We work towards conflict resolution. Our pride will be tested. We often think that the other person ought to make the first move. After all, they started it. But from God’s perspective, we make the first move with His help.

4. Love never gives up

What if the other person still remains unresponsive? We don’t give up. Love perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:7-8). Love keeps on keeping on. We often have to treat people rightly for a long time before they begin to treat us the same way. We do what is right even if we don’t see the results.

Don’t let our feelings get in the way. We can feel wrong and still choose to do what is right. Live beyond our feelings. Don’t let our feelings govern our choices. Our choices should be governed by the Word of God to do what is right with the strength which He provides.

5. Jesus is our example

Jesus is our best example for how to deal with broken relationships. Jesus who is also our God knew what it is like to be hurt by those we love. He trusted His disciples and poured out His love on them but one of them betrayed Him and the rest deserted Him. Yet, Jesus never gave up on them. He continued to do what is right and went to the cross for the very people who rejected Him.

We too can choose to love like Jesus, not on our own strength but on His strength. God lives in us. He works in us to will and to act according to His good purpose (Philippians 2:13). All He requires of us is to be willing to let Him do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. Will we let Him?

Forgiveness Doesn’t Mean Trusting

1. Forgive and forget?
I was once told, “Christians should just forgive and forget.” Is it that simple? Yes and no. Yes, Christians should forgive as forgiveness is a choice and not a feeling. You don’t need to feel you have forgiven the person who hurt you. Most likely, the feelings of hurt lingers. But as Christians, we can choose to forgive and let God bring about the healing so that we will feel less pain with time. When we bring God into our situation, we start to heal from our hurts.
2. God works within you
As you come near to God, He alone gives you the strength to forgive. God [the Holy Spirit] is at work in you to will and to act according to His good purpose (Philippians 2:13). Forgiveness is within His purpose and He will work with you in your decision to forgive. The power to forgive is first activated by your choice and empowered by God. His supernatural strength works within you step by step. You are God’s child born again in Christ – your Father gave birth to you (John 3:3). Trust in God’s healing which gets better as you stay engaged in God’s Word and God’s people.
3. Forgiveness doesn’t lead immediately to trust
You forgive just as Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32). But it doesn’t mean you can forget immediately what was done to you. Just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean you can trust that someone. Forgiveness is a choice you make with the help of the Holy Spirit. Trust is something the person who hurt you has to earn.
In 2 Timothy 4:14-15, Paul had a fellow worker called Alexander who harmed him. But Paul forgave him as Christ had forgiven Paul. However, Paul still didn’t trust Alexander and warned his spiritual son, Timothy against Alexander. Paul believed it would be up to God to repay Alexander for what he did to Paul. And I believe, Paul didn’t let Alexander’s actions stop him from engaging with other believers. He didn’t give control to Alexander but continued to live his life engaged in God’s community of believers.
You too can be like Paul as you deal with the hurt from someone you trusted. Forgive the person who has hurt you. Give yourself time to heal as you learn to trust again.

Why Does My Hurt From The Break Up Take So Long To Heal?

1. Break ups hurt deeply
Relationship between and a man and a woman can be so deeply satisfying especially when they are in love and they only have eyes for each other. However, when the relationship breaks, the hurt can be extremely deep. Although Christians can draw strength from God, their break up in relationships can be so hurtful, it takes such a long time to heal. Although you are told to forgive the other person just as Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32), you struggle within yourself to forgive.  It gets worse when you see the person you have broken up with worshiping in the same church as you. You ask God to heal your hurts but the pain still lingers.
2. Is it my fault?
It is normal to struggle with your thoughts during the healing process especially when you see the person who hurt you or when you recall what that person said or did . In a relationship break up, you sometimes wonder whether you have contributed to the break up and go into a spiral of self condemnation accusing yourself for not being able to keep the relationship going. That’s what goes on at the natural level, but on the spiritual level, Satan and his underlings will continue to accuse you of your short comings (Revelation 12:10). The solution to your self condemnation does not lie just at a natural level [ i.e. relying on life skills to forgive] but at a spiritual level which involves relying on God’s supernatural intervention through the Holy Spirit.
3. I am forgiven in Christ
Although you have been forgiven in Christ, you still  feel the self condemnation. When the self condemnation comes, remember Hebrews 8:12 which says that God has forgiven your sins and remembers them no more. Use the Word of God to counter the accusations from yourself and Satan. Don’t resist the accusatory thoughts. Replace those thoughts with God’s assuring thoughts from the Bible.
4. Stay in God’s Word and Christian community
When the break up occurs in a Christian community, it is so natural to want to stay away from church so that you don’t have to meet the person who broke up with you. That will be an unwise thing to do. Instead you should stay engaged with God’s Word and His people who will journey with you in your hurt. You need to continue in God’s Word as it cleans your heart from a guilty conscience and like pure water, the Word also washes your body from any sexual sins committed earlier in the relationship (Hebrews 10:22).
However, if you need time to be away from your current church, then make sure you attend another Bible-believing church so that you can worship God with others. With time, immersion in the Word of God and fellowship with Christians, your pain will lessen greatly and you will see more clearly with God’s help.
5. Cleansing for sexual sins
The Word of God provides spiritual cleansing of your conscience (Hebrews 10:22). Such spiritual cleansing is necessary in relationships where the couple has engaged in sexual activities before they were married. In this regard, 1 Cor.6:18 helps us see a deep truth which we often overlook. While all other sins are committed outside the body, sexual sins are sins against the body.
Break ups following a sexual relationship is even more difficult for the woman. In addition to regretting that she had given her body to the man outside of marriage, she also feels guilty for having sinned against God. In such a situation, she [and also the man] needs to repent and turn to God for forgiveness in Christ. If you have sinned against God, be assured that He has forgiven you and you are clean and free from condemnation (Hebrews 8:12). Your heart and body are continually cleansed by God as you draw near to Him with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. Memorise and meditate on Hebrews 10:22. It will hasten your healing.
Healing takes time. If broken bones take months to heal, what more broken hearts. Rest in your Lord who loves you with an everlasting love and draws you to Him with unfailing kindness (Jeremiah 31:3). God never fails you. Don’t fail Him by not drawing close to Him.

Born With Defects

Fearfully and wonderfully made?
A Christian once asked me why did God allow birth defects. How can the Bible say we are fearfully and wonderfully made when there are people born with birth defects? My answer is… “I don’t know”. But I can try to make sense of the question in light of my understanding of our God of the Bible whom I trust completely to be in control of everything and everyone..
We bear the image of God
Colossians 1:22 says, “But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” This verse says that a Christian with birth defects is without blemish in God’s sight even though in the physical sense he is handicapped. We are deemed fearfully and wonderfully made because we bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and not because of how we look.
1 Samuel 16:7 says, ” ..Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Both verses establish a truth we are not used to – that God views the heart while we view the body. Our reality is in the seen while God’s reality is in the unseen.
Born differently for God’s purpose
Instead of saying that a person is born with a defect, our Christian response is to say that  he is born differently from us for God’s purpose. In John 9, we read the story of Jesus’ disciples asking Him for the reason a person was born blind. Jesus’ answer was… “this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). Jesus went on to heal the man and he became a witness for Jesus.
Fanny Crosby, one of the greatest of the world’s hymn writers was blind since six months old. She was used for God’s purpose and went on to write hymns which we still sing today like “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine” , “I am thine O Lord” and “Safe in the arms of Jesus.”
A new body is coming
Finally, a handicapped Christian cannot be trapped in his body forever. When Jesus returns, his body will be changed and whatever defects there are will be gone (1 Cor. 15:51-52). He will have a new body just like every resurrected Christian. That is the hope of Jesus for all of us.

Two Questions From A Seeker

A seeker’s questions

I was recently asked two questions by a seeker of our Christian faith. He wanted to know why we say it is important to accept Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord?  He also wanted to know whether his grandmother who died and had never heard of Jesus would be saved. My answers to his questions are outlined below:-

First question

Why is it so important to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour? Why can’t we just live a good life in this world and end our life here?

Answer : It is not enough to live a good life because it is hard to measure what is a good life. For instance, is Mother Theresa’s life better than Billy Graham’s life? How do we measure the goodness in their lives?

The Bible’s way is better. It says that all of us are bad (Romans 3:23). All of us start from zero baseline. Goodness doesn’t get us salvation. If goodness is the determinant, some will perform better than others. Even as they perform, we can’t measure who performs better than whom and who should then get salvation.

God’s way is fair. All start at the same zero line by faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, when we believe in Jesus as our Saviour, God gives us eternal life. It is God’s gift (John 3:16). It is not something we earn; it is by God’s grace (Eph.2:8). Everyone can have this gift of salvation because we are all bad and don’t deserve it. But God still gives it to us if we believe in His Son, Jesus Christ. That gives everyone the same chance to be saved as it doesn’t depend on how good we can be.

Second question

What will happen to my grandmother who died without knowing about Jesus Christ. Will she have forgiveness and eternal life?

Answer : Whether someone is saved and ends up in heaven is not based on our assessment of his or her life on earth. It is God who finally decides who will be saved; not us. God has stated in His Bible that when we believe in the Lord Jesus, we will be saved (Acts 16:31). As for those who have not heard of Jesus, God has a different basis for judging them.

I quote below Romans 2:12-16 [The Message] which explains God’s thinking in simplified English :-

12-13 If you sin without knowing what you’re doing, God takes that into account. But if you sin knowing full well what you’re doing, that’s a different story entirely. Merely hearing God’s law is a waste of your time if you don’t do what he commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God.

14-16 When outsiders who have never heard of God’s law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. They show that God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within them that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong. Their response to God’s yes and no will become public knowledge on the day God makes his final decision about every man and woman. The Message from God that I proclaim through Jesus Christ takes into account all these differences.

Leave the verdict to God

Based on verse 14, we see that the grandmother who is deemed an outsider will be judged by God not based on her belief in Jesus [she can’t as she had not heard of Jesus]  but on how she responded to God’s moral laws embedded in her being. Did she know what she was doing? Was she deliberately sinning? Again, we are not in a position to assess what will be God’s final verdict for this grandmother. But we know that God is just and merciful and will always judge fairly because that is His nature.

Converse or convert

Finally, as much as we strive to clear up the doubts of those who are seeking God, we need to realise that a person is converted not because all his questions are answered. Conversion is personal. Conversion is an act of God and only He knows who truly accepted His gift of salvation in Christ Jesus. All we can do is to pray for the seeker and trust in God to do what we can never do. All we do is converse and trust God to convert.

Facing Your fears

(A) Feeling fear vs being in fear

We can feel fear and not be in fear. For example, we can be watching a horror movie and feel the fear but we are not in a fearful situation as we are comfortably seated in a leather chair in the cinema hall. Therefore, we need to recognise that just because we feel fear, we  are not in fear as the Lord is our protector. When we have God with us, we need not stay afraid. As such, feeling fear is natural but staying afraid is not spiritual.

(B) How to handle fear

One main area of fear relates to what the future holds for us. The story in Joshua 1:1-9 outlines godly advice as to how to handle your fears with regard to a future situation. Joshua was about to lead the Israelites into the Promise Land and God helped him deal with his fears. You too can learn from this story on how to deal with your fear of the future :-

(i) God will show you His way for you to deal with your fears
Each of us will have to deal with our fears according to how God made us and not try to copy the experience of how other Christians handled their fears. What worked for another Christian need not work for you . God told Joshua, “Moses my servant is dead” [v.2]. God was going to lead Joshua into his own experience with the Lord as he learned to mange his fears. He will discover for himself what his own God is like. God will now become Joshua’s God and not Moses’ God.

(ii) Face your fears without staying afraid
God has placed you in the situation for you to go through it with Him [v.2]. He told Joshua to be strong and not stay afraid-. In verse.6, God reminded Joshua, ” you will lead”

(iii)  Rely on God’s promises
Believe that whatever God has promised, He will fulfil [v.3]. You can rely on His promises.

(iv)  Remember God is with you in your fears.

He will never leave you or forsake you [v. 5]

(v) To conquer your fears , face the facts without weakening in faith

Romans 4:18 tells us not to ignore the facts of our situation. But we are to face the facts and not weaken in faith. Take the example of Abraham. He faced the fact that his body was old and infertile. Yet he never lost faith in God’s ability to do what Abraham could never do – produce a child. Abraham’s God was bigger than his problem with infertility.

In Joshua 1:7-9 – Joshua had to enter the Promise Land. He had to face his feeling of fear and not stay afraid. He has God’s Written Word with him. He also has God’s Living Word [ Preincarnate Jesus was the Commander of the army of the LORD] with him

(vi) Fortify your inside and then deal with your outside
Once your thoughts are aligned with God’s, you take action to do what needs to be done. Joshua’s inside was fortified by God’s assurances and he could then deal with his outside by ordering the officers to get the supplies ready (Joshua 1:10-11). Joshua could prepare his resources with confidence because God was with him and would do for him what he could not do on his own.

In the final analysis, we can face our fears because we have a God who is for us, with us and in us.