The cross is not just a means for salvation in the next life. This week we look at how we can use Christ’s sacrifice to lay sin at the foot of the cross and be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
We live in a world that loves to point out the negative.
This isn’t an inherently bad thing. Negative things exist. They should be criticized and fixed wherever possible.
But when we only focus on the negative, the rest of the world gets blurry and we lose context, making way for anger and fear to cloud our decision making and dominate our emotions.
The last couple of Canada Days have not been without controversy in many circles. Criticisms of historical atrocities, negative reaction to modern cultural trends, and protests of political shifts on all sides have made it hard for some people to celebrate living in Canada.
In Philippians 4, the apostle Paul reminds us, “…whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” He tells us this in the midst of a passage which is trying to help its readers find peace and contentedness in everyday life. There is a strong emphasis in the Scriptures to keep the positive things of life – the things worth being thankful for and rejoicing in – always in our thoughts. This has profound spiritual strength, as well as physical and psychological.
Canada is far from perfect. There are issues at all levels. But if we don’t celebrate what is good, we will have a significantly harder time dealing with what is bad. We will lose focus, be given over to anger, and do more harm than good.
One of my personal frustrations as a Canadian is the hostile and divisive political climate. It seems like one liner ideologies rule news and discussion. Complex issues are reduced to Facebook meme’s and internet algorithms feed us news that we like, allowing our confirmation bias to take control and narrow our actual exposure to differing points of view. I get annoyed when I see the way people treat those who disagree with them on government issues. I get even more annoyed when I see our leaders and politicians treat each other even worse. Sometimes I really struggle to view our democratic system in a positive light.
But then I learned that 121 Mexican politicians have been killed since September 2017. That’s ten months. One hundred and twenty one people in ten months were killed for political reasons in Mexico. We make angry Facebook posts. They murder each other. Suddenly, contrasting the political climate of Canada and Mexico helps put some perspective on my complaints.
This doesn’t make my complaints go away. A problem is a problem. Just because something is worse somewhere else, doesn’t mean it is suddenly ok. But it does give me a sense of appreciation and thankfulness. It helps me gain some patience with our own system.
On a more religious note, we often worry about the spiritual climate of our country. As our society becomes increasingly secular, Christianity carries significantly less cultural weight than it used to. Decisions like a recent court ruling against Trinity Western University show us that as religious rights are more and more frequently going up against civil rights, religious rights are going to lose. This worries us. We fear persecution. But once again, when all we focus on is the negative, we are open to fear and anger, emotions that hold us back from seeing God’s vision and path for us.
Matthew 10 contains my favourite passage for helping show people that even with these changes in our culture, Canada is still a very safe place to be a Christian.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
That was Jesus who said that! Jesus! The “prince of peace.” And He said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Why I love this passage so much is how hard it is to explain to people in Canada, and how easy it is to explain to somebody who lives in a nation with significant persecution.
Explaining this to somebody here usually requires a lengthy one on one conversation about the context in which Jesus was talking, and what he meant by this sword and families turning against each other.
But to the Christians I met in Egypt? No explanation needed, because this passage is the story of their lives. Many of them were driven from their communities when they came to believe in Christ as the Messiah. Many of them had to make a choice at some point between their family and their faith. When an ideology is so rigorously opposed to the Gospel, there is inevitable, heartbreaking conflict.
The ‘persecution’ we experience in Canada is nothing compared to Christians throughout the ages.
But when all we focus on is the negative around us, we are turned over to fear and anger, and we miss what God is doing.
In the midst of persecution, Christianity thrives. The edge of civilization is where Christianity has been the strongest. Not the centre. As we get pushed to the outside, we are put into positions where we have to start making more difficult choices, and making real sacrifices to follow Christ.
When we begin to look for what God has done we are able to see more clearly what He is doing now. When we hear the stories of triumph in circumstances so much more dire and challenging than our own, we begin to see the hand of the divine shift and move toward that beautiful ending we see promised to us in Revelation 21.
But we fear the persecution. We fear a faith that costs us.
Remember this: A faith that costs you is a faith that has value. A faith that costs nothing – means nothing.
Let’s come back to Canada Day.
There is a lot of cause for us to be thankful we live in Canada.
We put those first and foremost in our minds, we can more clearly see where God is moving, and we can navigate the problems and criticisms around us with a stronger, more Spirit centred mind.
As the world shifts and moves around us, are you focused on what God is doing, or are you focused on what humanity is doing?
I love my country. I love the people in my country. I know that God loves them too, and he wants to partner with His church to show them the overwhelming hope and love that come through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Happy Canada Day from Pastor Matthew!