Monday, March 16, 2015

Four Building Blocks of Faith

Christian parents hope their children will remain true to the faith when they leave home. Many churches have large youth groups. But will those young people continue to attend in their twenties? Will they stand firm in the faith when they meet the troubles and trials of life or when they encounter persecution? Will they succumb to peer pressure? Are they knowledgeable enough to refute false belief? This is a subject dear to my heart. Sadly, between 25 and 33% of youth fall away permanently. Most pastors agree.

The Barna Research Group in southern California has concluded that the problem is a failure for those in youth ministry to disciple new believers properly. Before trying to help others, let us make sure that we know what we believe and why. We need the four building blocks of faith: prayer, the gospel, the biblical worldview and the big picture in the Bible.

The most basic prayer acknowledges who God is, expresses our need, and believes in his ability to answer that need. However, if those are the only elements in our praying, prayer can degenerate into a grocery list of requests. The most important aspect of prayer is time spent in praising and adoring the Lord with a thankful heart. This pleases him.

The second block in our tower of faith is the gospel. Do we believe that we are sinners who have rebelled against the one and only God? Do we agree that we deserve eternal punishment? Are we able to tell others the good news that Jesus is the Son of God who left the glory of heaven and took the punishment that we deserve? What love and grace to undeserving sinners!

The third block is a biblical worldview. There is a negative and a positive aspect to a believer’s worldview. The negative aspect is a reality check on the difficulties and pitfalls that we face as believers: Satan is real and wishes us ill; the world always opposes us; our own fleshly desires hinder our spiritual growth. The positive aspect is: The Bible is God’s book and is accurate in all it teaches; Jesus is the only Son of God and is the only Saviour; Jesus will never forsake his believers; Jesus is able to take all the misfortunes of believers and turn them into good; Jesus hears the prayers of his children.
The fourth block is the big picture in the Bible. In my first book, A Tale of Two Kingdoms, I trace God’s plan of salvation throughout the whole Bible and show that from the beginning God planned to send Jesus as the promised Seed. When Jesus died and rose again, he became the victor over Satan. It pays close attention to the timeline of the Bible and is suitable for older teenagers and adults who know the major Bible stories but cannot put them into chronological order. My second book, God’s Unfolding Story of Salvation: The Christ-Centered Biblical Storyline, is a Bible study based on the first book. An application at the end of each lesson in the Old Testament states: The Old Testament points to Jesus through preparation for his birth, direct prophecy, pictures or types, and anticipation. Which of these apply in this lesson? For more information check out        

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Census of Caesar Augustus

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register” (Luke 2:1–3, NIV).

Sadly, too many read those words and overlook the importance of Caesar Augustus’ role in the birth of Christ. Yet it is an excellent example of how God works through the will of man to accomplish his own purposes. Because of Caesar Augustus, God the Father’s plan for the entry of his Son into this sin-cursed world happened exactly on schedule.

This pagan king considered himself to be a god. He ruled the entire Mediterranean world from Parthia to Britain and ushered in the Pax Romana or Roman peace. As a result he had the power to enforce his will on the Jews.

Rulers usually demanded a census so that they would know how many able-bodied men were available for military service. In the case of the Jews, Augustus wanted to know how much tax money he could exact from them. Why he insisted that they travel to their hometowns is a mystery. He did not realize that, by enforcing his own will on the Jews, he was carrying out the sovereign will of God.

From eternity past God determined to put his marvellous plan of salvation into action by sending Jesus as a little baby at that particular point in time (Galatians 4:4). Six hundred years before Jesus’ birth, Daniel prophesied that in the time of the fourth kingdom, God would set up an eternal kingdom (Daniel 2:44). The fourth kingdom was the Roman Empire. Moreover the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem according to Micah 5:2.

How wonderful are God’s plans! He would accomplish his plan of salvation in history as promised from the beginning of time (Genesis 3:15). Jesus, who is the promised Seed, came to earth to die for sinners. Caesar Augustus played a pivotal role in this plan.     

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Case of the Missing Tree

Powerful winds often topple entire trees. Other times the wind only blows the top off a dead tree and leaves the base standing. That happened a few years ago at the lake. Usually the top of the tree ends up lying close to the decapitated trunk. Not this time.

The wind drove its top across the lake until it landed near the shore of our cottage. I thought we were stuck with this huge tree grounded firmly on our beach forever. I tried to be positive about the situation by dreaming of my grandsons straddling that dead wood and pretending to be driving a boat. But I was wrong.

This year the top of that dead tree disappeared in another wind storm. Curious, I searched for it in the canoe. My husband thought it had likely drifted out into the middle of the lake and sunk to the bottom.

Thinking of that missing tree reminded me of the sins of a believer. God promised, “As far as the east is from the west, so far he has removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12, NIV). Likewise Jeremiah writes, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:34, NIV). Then Micah states, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19, NIV).

How reassuring! Our sins are just like that missing tree. God will never confront us with our sins and demand payment because the precious blood of Jesus paid the price. His blood covers the sins of believers. As far as God is concerned your sin is lost in the depths of the sea. Of course, this implies true repentance and not a license to sin.      

Friday, August 16, 2013

Red-winged Birds

Perhaps this seems unlikely, but sometimes I wonder if birds have the ability to claim a small piece of real estate as their own. Once, on my way to church, I noticed several red-winged black birds. Perched on electric wires, they sat evenly spaced along the side of a country road.

God cares for birds and knows they need space to live. Some birds, like blue jays, are aggressive, however, and steal the nests of others. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pointed out that God feeds and clothes birds. If God takes care of birds, he will certainly watch over us.

Paul told the Athenians, “From one man he [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26, NIV).

Once, King Jehoshaphat of Judah had a disturbing problem. The Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites united to try to conquer Judah. Years before, the Lord would not let the Israelites invade the land of those nations. Instead he promised them safety. Jehoshaphat did not think this was fair. God had reserved land for those relatives of Israel long ago. Yet they wanted to invade Judah in his day (2 Chronicles 20).

God plants everyone in a particular neighbourhood. Do you find comfort knowing that the Lord has placed you where you live?   

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Blessings of Spring

In Canada everyone knows the difference between winter and spring. Until I spent a lot of time in southern California, I did not realize that people living there also see a difference in the seasons. Last January my three-year-old grandson in California wondered why some plants in his dad’s garden were dead. I told him that they would come back to life in the spring.

This cycle of life and death reminds me of a similar spiritual principle in the Bible. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24, NIV). In saying this, Jesus was trying to prepare his disciples for his death and resurrection.

When Jesus did die and was buried in the tomb, the disciples were confused and sad. Three days later their grief turned to unspeakable joy at Jesus’ resurrection. By dying without sin, the Lord Jesus was able to take our place. The sinless Son of God took the punishment for sinners. Therefore Jesus the God-man received life through death.

 Unlike Jesus, we were born spiritually dead, but we may receive life by faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10, NIV).

Have you accepted this priceless gift of God—eternal life—by trusting that Jesus paid the penalty for your sins? The blessings of spring could not come without the reality of winter.