Promises, Promises

Promises don’t impress us these days. Politicians all over North America seem to be promising all sorts of things. One says they’ll get the deficit under control in a few years, another says they’ll have the economy booming in a few more, and yet another says he will build an impossibly long wall between countries. We’ve witnessed so many failed promises, we are skeptical of new ones.

People getting married promise to love and care for each other for the rest of their lives, yet almost 50% of all marriages fail. What happened to their promises? Sadly, people make them about as often as they break them.

God tells us in Galatians 3:22 that all men are saved through a promise of God. “But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” In verse 29 he said, “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” While salvation is by faith, it is described as a “promise” in this chapter because we must have faith when a promise is given. In this case our faith is well founded, for who is more reliable than God? Abraham trusted God to fulfil his promise, and that is what we must do as well.

What does this teach us about our own promises? If we trust God to fulfil His, shouldn’t we have the character to also do what we say we will? In this same book, faithfulness is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit (5:22). We are to be faithful to fulfil promises. People should feel they can trust us. “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbour, for we are members one of another.” (Eph.4:25)

Promises, promises. Are you making good on yours?

– Tim Johnson

The Sea of Glass

Frightful things have confronted the world recently, highlighted by the violence in France and Belgium. Terrorism has people afraid of what might happen next.

After all the violence that accompanied the exodus of Israel from Egypt, God reassured Moses that there is peace. One day he called 74 people up into Mt. Sinai, including Moses. There they saw an appearance of God that was marvellous. See Exodus 24:9-10. “Under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.” The ancients were used to a world of rocks, dust and mud. A sapphire pavement would have been spectacular.

There’s a similar description in Rev.4:6, where John spoke of God in heaven. There he saw “a sea of glass like crystal” surrounding the throne. Later, in Rev.15:2, victorious martyrs stood “on the sea of glass, holding harps of God.”

What can we learn from such a splendid description? In the book of Revelation the enemy of the church arises out of “the sea” (13:1). Later, the great harlot – representing Rome – sits on her own throne “above the waters.” John explained, “the waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.” (v15) In the world there is turmoil, like the crashing, swirling sea. Nations and rulers often stir things up and there is unrest and violence. But with God there is only peace and calm, like a sea of glass. He is in control, even when the world seems more like a raging sea.

We have to live in a world that is constantly in turmoil, and often frightful. But we can have a connection with heaven where all is calm. In Jesus Christ we can have peace – come what may. Next time you feel fear, picture yourself standing before God’s throne surrounded by a sea of glass.

– Tim Johnson

People in the Way

A large crowd pushed its way through Jericho one day with Jesus in the middle. Leaders out front felt important as they shooed people out of the way, and hangers-on protected their positions close to the Lord. It would have been easy for Jesus to go with the noisy flow and get to his destination in good time. But He made the crowd stop.

A beggar on the side of the road was calling out for him. This was Bartimaeus, a poverty-stricken blind man. Despite efforts by the crowd to silence him, he cried out all the more – “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Lk.18:38) He was not a nuisance to Jesus. He spoke with him and, moved with compassion, touched his eyes and restored his sight. Only then would He allow the crowd to move on.

We’re living in a world that likes to act like that single-minded, pushy crowd. It’s as if we have our lives set on speed-control and we’re reluctant to back off. When others get in the way we don’t like it. Horns blare and people must scurry out of the way. It’s a selfish, arrogant way to handle things.

Jesus shows us a better way. I’m sure he was in a hurry at times, but he didn’t mind stopping for those who needed a hand. Don’t we want to be treated like that? Nothing is more important than a person. Jesus thought so. He was courteous to friends and foes alike. People felt his kindness and appreciated the fact he was interested in their lives. All we have to do is look around us at the many needs and hardships of people. You can’t solve everything, but you can care. “Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…” (Col.3:12). Bartimaeus isn’t far away.

– Tim Johnson

Into the Depths of the Sea

Perhaps you’ve been to Cape Spear, Newfoundland. There, a simple path leads from a parking lot to a small fence barring your way. This is the end of North America, for beyond it lies the Atlantic Ocean. There is no point of land any farther east than this spot, and for that reason the place is inspiring. For a few moments everybody on the continent is behind you. In fact, you can look directly east and you see nothing but water for 3,000 km; your next port of call would be Galway, Ireland.

The immensity of the ocean is astonishing. One airline has advertised a flight from Saint John’s, NF to Dublin in 4.5 hours, and that’s traveling at 550 mph! For hours you sit looking out that little round window and see nothing but water in all directions. From up there, huge ships look like pieces of floating rice. The average depth of this ocean is almost 11,000 feet – roughly 2 miles. It’s no wonder the remains of shipwrecks are so hard to find. It took over 70 years to locate the Titanic.

Ancient Jewish people were not known as sailors; they made their living off the land. The sea was a fearsome thing, a place into which one could disappear forever. When Jonah wanted to disappear, he chose to flee in a ship. In 700 BC the prophet Micah wrote the following about God: “He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, you will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). Micah was struck with the capacity of God to forgive. Today, when someone repents and obeys the gospel of Christ, it’s as if their sins were picked up and thrown into the middle of the ocean where they will disappear forever. Praise God for his forgiveness.

– Tim Johnson

Profound Parents

In a single verse Luke describes the 30-year upbringing of John the Baptist: “And the child continued to grow, and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel” (Luke 1:80). Nothing is said of the hard work of his parents, Zacharias and Elizabeth. But those of us who are parents know there is a world of work in that verse!

What an unusual child he was. His father had been told of John’s future work as the forerunner of Jesus, and that he would be “great in the sight of the Lord” (v15). Knowing this, how did they take their newborn baby and raise him to become such a great preacher, as God wanted? He must have prayed every day for wisdom, and talked with his son regularly of what God had in mind. They lived in the hill country of Judah (v39), and it was in these deserted areas that John lived. He became a rugged outdoorsman and could exist by foraging. He would need these skills later in life because he would preach to crowds away from towns and cities.

We must admire his parents – both of whom were senior citizens – for their fine work raising John. They challenge us to work hard and sacrifice to raise our own children wisely, teaching them about Jesus Christ and what they can accomplish for God in this world. Our work doesn’t end when they move out on their own; they will need us for advice and encouragement for decades to come.

Years ago a teacher in Europe was asked why he bowed down to his students before class every day. He said one never knows who they will become.

-Tim Johnson