No Pain

All of us are well aware it is flu and cold season in our part of the world. It’s almost impossible to escape its clutches and many people suffer through a series of ailments for months. Yet how can we complain when so many suffer with more serious illnesses that take extensive treatments to cure, if at all? Pain and suffering are part of human life.

Statistics Canada says that we fill 300 million drug prescriptions a year (2005 figures), which works out to roughly 10 for each man, woman and child – or 3 billion dollars worth! That’s a lot of medicine to help us fight painful conditions.

In John’s final New Testament book, he describes “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev.21:2). Most people think he is writing about heaven; others believe it is a figurative picture of the church protected by God. Perhaps it is the latter but foreshadowing the former. My point is that He promises “there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (v4). Can you imagine an existence with no pain? John seems to imply there will be no more sickness either. At the very least, we understand that pain will be absent from heaven. Wouldn’t that be nice!

This is not just pie in the sky. Jesus successfully healed people from their illnesses and pain every day. He was the Great Physician, and He knew what He was talking about. One of my favorite passages in the New Testament is Matthew 4:23-25. “And Jesus was going about in all Galilee…healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people…all who were taken with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them.”

Looking forward to a time when there will no longer be any pain helps us deal with our own struggles in life for the present time.

Relief is coming!

– Tim Johnson

The Grinch

One of the most amusing characters this time of year is the Grinch, who despises Christmas and has a generally negative personality. People like him have been around for a long time.

Such a man was encountered by Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13 when they took the gospel to Cyprus and the household of the Roman Governor. In his employ was a magician named, ironically, Bar-Jesus (meaning the son of someone named Jesus), aka Elymas. When Paul tried to teach the gospel to the governor, Elymas kicked up an awful fuss and tried to “turn the proconsul away from the faith” (v8). He was a first-class Grinch. Paul said to him, “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord?” (v9) That’s quite an indictment against this troublesome man.

How many times have people tried to turn others away from the good news of Jesus Christ? Or made crooked the straight ways of the Lord? We often see modern-day versions of Elymas, who do all they can to discourage others.

Sometimes we can have a Grinch-attitude by criticizing good things that may simply be new, different, inconvenient, or something that threatens the status-quo. I’m not talking about matters that are rebellious or un-Biblical, which are rightly rejected. But good and righteous things are sometimes criticized just because we don’t like to consider change.

The New Testament urges us to be positive, kind, open to that which is good, Biblical and helpful. “Encourage one another day after day” (Heb.3:13). “Encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thess.5:11). Faith has an open attitude to God and the brethren. “Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col.3:12).

Let’s make sure the Grinch is just a fairy-tale, not a reality within us.

– Tim Johnson

Unfathomable Riches

The apostle Paul was ever aware of how unworthy he was to preach the gospel. In Ephesians 3:8 he said, “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.”

His was a world in which half of all people scraped along to make ends meet, and the other half strove for power and great wealth. Some would say things haven’t changed very much today. At one time, Paul was an accomplished Jewish Pharisee, respected for his strength and zeal and his opposition to the early church. He would not have been unfamiliar with wealth and power. But all that changed when he met Jesus.

In Paul’s estimation, he went from greatness to the very least of all saints. His pride of power and place no longer existed. He now lived to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. But God gave him the valuable and ironic role of preaching to the Gentiles, no longer the Jews.

But it was the substance of what he taught them that was so stunning: “the unfathomable riches of Christ.” They are riches that are so deep and complex that no man can ever wear them out or fully learn them all. They were mysteries that had been “hidden in God for ages,” but now revealed. Paul was given the work of preaching such marvels about Christ to people who had never heard them before.

Most of us live basic lives without much wealth to enjoy or power to wield. We wonder if society has passed us by. But Paul reminds us in Ephesians 3:8 that we have been given unfathomable riches that open up to us more and more every day, and will be fully revealed in the next life. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom.8:18).

Like Paul, we are certainly unworthy of such profound things.

– Tim Johnson

A Christmas Tree Kind of Life

The wife of a friend of mine really loves Christmas. The Christmas tree goes up immediately after Halloween and stays up until late February. That’s a full one-third of the year! I like a nice Christmas tree too, but a month is enough for me.

Some people live a Christmas tree kind of life. They insist on extravagance, excess, lots of glitter and show, missing out on nothing. It’s an attempt to have the perfect life. Hardship and sacrifice don’t exist for them, for it doesn’t fit their lifestyle. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with some luxuries and comfort, but is that the point of living? Is that what Jesus died to give people?

We can learn from the mistakes of ancient Israel in Amos 4:1-3, where the wives of powerful men prodded their husbands for cash to spend on endless luxuries. They stooped to cruelty and extortion to get it. Amos warned that their spoiled and lustful ways would soon come to an end.

Is a life really worth living if it never experiences hardship, or doesn’t have to fight hard for good purposes, or is rarely kind to others? Something valuable is missing if we always insist on putting ourselves first, and always own the best.

Paul warned Timothy, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Tim.2:3-4). Soldiers have everyday lives too, but they’re not to become so entangled by it that they become ineffective. In this text, I don’t think Paul was simply trying to get Timothy to work hard. Suffering hardship wisely infuses life with wisdom and value. This is just as true for preachers as it is for anybody else. Life is not for selfish indulgence; sacrifice and service must play its part too.

Enjoy your Christmas tree, but don’t insist on a Christmas tree kind of life.

– Tim Johnson

Hidden Treasure

I like watching Antiques Roadshow. One episode stands out in my mind, when an old lady brought in a small, fragile-looking table. The appraiser looked it over and became very excited because the table was worth a half-million dollars! Turns out it was genuine Chippendale, the queen of all furniture. It was a great moment for antique lovers.

There’s a moment like that in the Bible. Jesus spoke of a man who found a treasure buried in a field (Matt.13:44). In those days there were no banks, and people hid their wealth in places where thieves couldn’t find it. The man was thrilled to discover this long-lost buried treasure. But he had a problem: it wasn’t his field and the owner would have all the rights to the treasure. So, the man sold everything he had and bought the field, securing the treasure. Obviously, the treasure was of much greater worth than all his possessions.

Jesus explained that the kingdom of heaven is like this man who found the treasure. When somebody looks into the Bible and understands what the kingdom is, and goes out and finds it, he has discovered a treasure. I’ve met people who discovered it by simply encountering the church, not really intending to search for spiritual treasure. People with good hearts are often thrilled to find it – and do everything possible to become part of it. It’s like selling all you have to gain something wonderful.

The New Testament tells us about another man who found the treasure of the kingdom of heaven. His name was Paul. Later, he wrote a letter to some fellow believers and declared, about the Savior, “Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Like Paul, have you found the treasure yet? And if you have, do you consider it to be of more value than all you have?

– Tim