Sunday, 21 June 2015

Faith in times of trial

'Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith - the salvation of your souls' 1 Peter 1:3-9

Why does God allow us to go through trials?
Why do bad things happen to 'good' people?
Why does life not become straightforward when you become a Christian?
Where can we truly have hope?

Some of the biggest questions anybody ever asks about faith is why a 'good God' should allow bad things to happen. Perhaps even more so during this generation of instant communication and instant answers, people really seem to grapple with the concept of eternity. That this life is not all there is. That trials and hardships can produce fruit, giving God great glory.

However, if you ask most Christians who have experienced trials, many will speak of how this time strengthened their faith and brought them closer to God than ever before. Others discover the truth about God for the first time when walking through such times. 

For us, this really was our experience when seven years ago our firstborn child suddenly became seriously ill. During the six weeks she was in hospital, I knew without any shadow of a doubt that:

1) God is real
2) God is good
3) God has eternal purposes

At the time, we were greatly encouraged to hear of how others were challenged by our faith, and some came to know the Lord for themselves through her short life. I often imagine how one day when we get to heaven, she will take us by the hand and lead us to people who are in heaven because they heard the truth about God through her story. Seven years later, I still hear such testimonies, although not with the same frequency. It also has a great (and positive) impact on our boys, who talk about her all the time.

Shortly after she died I met a colleague at a conference and told him about her life and how God had blessed us. I did not know then that he was a Christian, but through God's providence we have been in touch again recently. He now has a diagnosis of a brain tumour and humanly speaking the outlook is extremely poor. However, he sent this testimony - it's about 40 minutes long, but I believe it will challenge and inspire you.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Bible Memory and Meditation

'Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your heart to the Lord.' Colossians 3:16

'Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.' Psalm 1:1-2

'Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth' 2 Timothy 2:15

Recently I was at a Bible study looking at the various different outworkings of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Jesus comforted His disciples that 'the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you'. John 14:26. As we looked at this, and other passages, the discussion took a turn which made me a little uncomfortable. Some people were arguing that systematic, diligent study and memorisation of Scripture might make reading the Bible become dry and 'academic', and therefore actually diminish one's relationship with God. However another person made the point that if we truly love something or somebody, we do not tire by spending much time and effort reading, learning, discussing and considering that topic or person!

It seems to me that serious Bible study is not considered a priority these days; there have been a number of recent occasions where I have been with well educated people who have been Christians for a long time and have been shocked at their lack of Bible knowledge, and their lack of ability to compare Scripture with Scripture and reach a balanced conclusion. I think there may be several reasons for this:

1) We live in an instant generation. Diligent Bible study takes time and it takes effort. The value is not always appreciated immediately. People may become discouraged quickly

2) We live in an age of technology. I am convinced that by having a concordance readily to hand on mobile phones and tablets, people no longer see the need to remember where key passages and verses are. There is no need, as one can always look it up.

3) Relating to the point above, I wonder whether different modalities for reading the Bible result in more dipping in and out, and less reading through long passages or working through whole books.

4) Our generation may be a little complacent. The fact we have the Bible in our hands, freely, in our country is a blessing. But the time may come when Bibles are not freely available. Christians have found themselves imprisoned for their faith with no access to a Bible; and then they have had to rely on what they have memorised

5) An incorrect understanding of the Holy Spirit. Yes, He certainly can bring passages to mind in key situations. Yes, He can certainly aid our memory of sections of the Bible we have learnt in the past. However the Bible also makes it clear that we are to 'study', to 'meditate day and night', 'to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly'

6) People do not appreciate how much they can remember. I have heard many people tell me that they are poor at remembering the Bible. I think they would be surprised if they set their mind to it. Can you remember a poem? The words of a song? A section of dialogue from a favourite film? You see, you can remember.

With the children, we hope to equip them with a bank of memorised Bible verses and passages that they will be able to draw on through their lives. Again, others have seemed surprised that we expect, for example, our three year old to be able to memorise a short psalm. However these parents are not at all surprised when their children can remember nursery rhymes and songs. Why the disparity? Does it relate to our worldview and priorities?

The understanding that people remember songs easily has led one family to set passages of Scripture to song (Seeds Family Worship). We recently bought some CDs, and they are great to listen to together in the car. Scottish musician Ian White has set many of the Psalms to music, and this also helps memory. We can read favourite passages over and over, and discuss them verse by verse to show the children how meditation helps us see different aspects to the rich word of God. I remind the boys that the Bible is God's word to us, and we need to give it the same attention as if God Himself came and stood in our front room and spoke directly to us.

Let me encourage you today - Bible study is not meant to be dry and uninspiring. Yes, there are sections of the Bible which are difficult to understand and take work, but it is all there for a reason. The wise man described in Psalm 1 made the word of God 'his delight'. For me there are certainly days when I do not feel immediately different having read the Bible (although there are also days where I feel refreshed, encouraged and inspired straight away). But there have been many days where the words I have read that morning, or earlier in the week, have direct relevance in a conversation later on.

About the only thing I can remember from any of the University Christian Union meetings I attended was one speaker (I cannot even remember who it was) who said, 'Many of you are doing degrees but are doing primary school level Bible study'. This stuck with me. The Bible is God's word to us and is of absolute central importance.

If you find Bible study difficult, pray that God opens your eyes to the wonderful truths that are there.