Twenty-one years ago I was in my mid forties and in the midst of a career change. I had been working as a pastor and church planter for over fifteen years and then had spent a year at business college. I was starting a new line of work in information technology while also attempting to plant a church. In May 1997 my family and I moved to a rural neighbourhood north of the village of Russell, south-east of Ottawa.
Ten years later, the ministry which was our original reason for moving to Russell had been destroyed, and Marion and I knew it was time to move on. Out of this painful ending, a new chapter was beginning. We moved to Vanier, a historic neighbourhood in the heart of Ottawa. The past eleven years have been full of blessing, with many new relationships and involvements, offering ample opportunity to enjoy God’s manifold goodness, serve others, and grow in love.
Still, despite the painful ending of our ministry in Russell, leaving was not easy for us. We had come to love the neighbourhood, the community life, and the family of God in the Russell area. Our four children had formed deep and strong connections there. Our three sons grew to adulthood during our Russell years, and our daughter grew from a little girl to a teenager. For her especially, Russell still feels like home.
Even so, Marion and I had never entertained any thoughts of moving back. Our life was in Ottawa now – or so we thought. When Bethany and Dunovan chose Russell United Church as the location for their wedding in 2015, I was glad to visit, but it very much felt like going back to a place we used to live. When Reuben and Jess bought a house in Russell in 2016, I was happy for them, but it didn’t really cause me to re-evaluate where Marion and I should be living. We had formed new networks, we were settled in new routines, we had become engaged in various productive and mostly satisfying pursuits. We expected to stay in our little house in Vanier for the foreseeable future.
However, as I have learned many times by now, there is actually no such thing as the “foreseeable future”. Life is full of unexpected turns. When we think we have it all figured out, God has a chuckle at our expense.
And so it was, in the course of time, on a Sunday morning early in February, that our daughter had a dream, and told it to her mother.
Yesterday, Marion and I reached an agreement to purchase a house on Stanley Crescent, just around the corner from where we used to live. Today, Marion and I had photos taken to list our house in Vanier for sale. It will be on the market by Friday of this week, forty days after Bethany shared her dream with Marion.
Are we crazy? Maybe. But then, isn’t everyone who seeks to follow God’s leading a little crazy in the eyes of the world? I’d rather be a little crazy than live without vision. Vision from God is like manna to my spirit and my soul. It gives fresh energy to these weary, ageing bones. And so, when Holy Spirit begins to show me fresh vision, I want to embrace what He is showing me, even if it disrupts my comfortable, settled routines.
I don’t know all the reasons for this move, but I do know that the Spirit has been speaking to me about a new season, with new priorities. I want to pursue those new priorities with all my heart. To me, that’s the only way to live. He’s also been speaking to me about redemption, restoration, and completion of things that had been abandoned and left unfinished – not so much in institutional ministry as in relationships. After all, it is relationships that are intended by God to be eternal. When all else fails, love remains.
New vision? New beginnings? Bring it on!
This morning I misplaced my smart phone. (The phone may be smart – its owner, not so much). I eventually discovered that I had left it at the postal counter at our local pharmacy when picking up a package. However, until I figured this out and retrieved it, I was finding it hard to stay focussed on anything else. My plans went out the window as my thoughts kept gravitating to one thing – getting my phone back. When I had checked all the usual places in our house and didn’t find it in any of them, I became more than a little concerned.
My smart phone gets a lot of use. To make matters worse, the previous day my laptop had died, and I had not succeeded in restoring it from a system image (I did have one), so my beautifully-ordered plans for the tail end of the holiday period were in something of a shambles. I make my living as an IT consultant, and some important business information was on the laptop. I’m also quite active in several areas of ministry, and my laptop contained some sensitive documentation regarding refugees as well as prayer lists, Powerpoint presentations, words to worship songs, and so forth. I had backups, but having to rebuild everything was proving to be a major inconvenience. I had also planned to do some work from home yesterday and today, and of course that was not happening. This came on top of a similar computer failure on my wife’s laptop a couple of weeks previously, from which I was still in the process of recovering, with the very welcome help of a friend. Marion and I had planned a special day with our granddaughter for this evening and Saturday, and I didn’t want to jeopardize those plans, but I had hoped to make some progress on getting my computer systems up and running before she arrived. In the midst of all this, misplacing my phone was the icing on the cake, so to speak.
I knew, of course, that I should pray. And I did pray, while also attempting to continue to make progress on rebuilding my computer systems, and deciding what to do about the work I had missed and the documents I might be missing (the full extent of the loss of data wasn’t clear, and still isn’t). But it’s hard to focus on multiple important priorities at once.
Despite the fact that I was giving Him anything but my undivided attention, as I was attempting to work on my computer system and trying not to panic, in His kindness and wisdom Holy Spirit managed to get two messages through to me about my phone . Message #1 : “It’s not lost”. I realized that this was a reference to a powerful dream He had given me previously – a very graphic illustration that Father never misplaces anything and always knows the solution to every problem. Message #2 : “Call the postal counter at the pharmacy”. I had rejected this thought at first, because I was quite sure I had brought the phone home, but when this thought wouldn’t go away, I decided to pay attention to it. And sure enough, the postal clerk confirmed that my phone was there. To say I was relieved would be an understatement.
I had to walk to the pharmacy because my wife was out with the car. This gave me an opportunity to process the morning’s events with the Lord. I recognized that I was being humbled by a set of circumstances that served as a very effective reminder of my weakness and dependency on Him. I was, quite simply, powerless to either prevent or change the events that had impacted my orderly plans. All I could do was to decide how I was going to respond to these events that were beyond my control. It was as if God had put the brakes on. At the same time, when I made things worse by misplacing my phone – a simple but humbling mental lapse – He demonstrated His great kindness and care for me, reminding me that what seems like a crisis to me is no great problem for Him, and then simply, kindly and clearly showing me what to do.
I have learned that God always knows what I need to do in any set of circumstances, and is willing to show me. This simple truth is powerfully securing. I am learning in a fresh way just how good He is to his children. But we only taste and see His goodness to the extent that we lay down our stubborn independence, and admit that we really can’t manage life very well on our own.
I don’t make New Years Resolutions, but I do believe in setting goals and establishing priorities as Holy Spirit leads. In 2018, I want to become a much more peaceful man. The kind of peace I am speaking of is not passive. It doesn’t mean that I care less about the issues and concerns and needs around me. It simply means anchoring my soul in the reality that God is God and I am not, that He is good to me and wants to bless me with His peace, and that when my heart is at rest and free from anxiety, I am far more able to recognize His priorities for me and act on them, without having to contend with the “white noise” of constant low-grade anxiety that at one time used to dominate the landscape of my mind. Like some unwelcome but hard-to-get-rid-of squatter, anxiety is stubborn and hard to evict. This usurper occupies far less space in my thought life than he once did, but he still crops up every now and then, cluttering my mental landscape with harassing thoughts that – if entertained – distract me from the simple obedience of faith. I want him gone, and I am learning that abiding in God’s rest is the key. There’s not room for both in the same space. Either peace is driven out by anxiety, or anxiety is driven out by peace. In 2018, I’m choosing peace. Who’s with me?
Just a few days ago I met with a man who told me he wanted to know God better. I believe his cry for a closer relationship with God is not unique to him.
Before Adam chose the way of independence, he used to walk in the garden with God. Ever since, there has been a longing in the human heart to overcome the separation between us and God. That’s why Jesus came – so we could be reconciled to the God who made us and for whom our hearts yearn.
One of the most precious promises that Jesus gives to His people is the promise of intimacy. My sheep hear My voice, He affirmed.
But to hear His voice you have to know His voice. Sheep listen to the voice of a shepherd that they have come to know and trust. The sheep-shepherd metaphor speaks of safety, familiarity and trust. Jesus wants us to be so familiar with His voice that we have no trouble knowing when He has something to tell us.
I hear lots of Christians saying things like I wish I knew God’s will for my life or I wish I could hear God’s voice more clearly, or I think I missed God’s will and now I can’t get back on track. I can identify with their frustration because it’s where I used to live.
But God never intended for us to be stuck in this dilemma. Jesus doesn’t want us to have to follow him from a distance, like on a road trip in a convoy, when you are trying desperately to stay in view of a set of distant tail-lights in heavy traffic on a dark, rainy night.
Some people’s expectation of God is a bit like a car rally where they have to decipher a set of mysterious clues, hoping they end up at the right destination. I was in a car rally like that once. It was an adventure and a bit of a guessing game.
Our life in Christ is an adventure, for sure, but it’s not supposed to be a guessing game. Just before He went to the cross, Jesus promised His little band of followers that He would send His Spirit to be their helper – a word that also means comforter, counsellor and advocate. He was not leaving them to figure it out on their own. He promised to come to them.
The same promises apply to us. We don’t have to figure out how to follow God on our own. My sheep hear My voice. In future posts I’ll have more to say about some of the keys to knowing God’s voice and hearing Him reliably. For today, I simply want to underline that a close walk with God is how we were meant to live.
In the darkness of this age, as we look for the Kingdom that is coming, many voices compete for our attention, and we have an enemy who seeks to run interference and keep us from our goal. Even so, the Father wants you to be confident that you have access to His throne, that He listens when you speak, that He has things to say to you and that you have an eternal inheritance in Him.
I am praying for everyone who reads this, that you will be richly blessed and greatly encouraged as you cultivate your God-given capacity to know Him and hear His voice.
Recently I witnessed an interaction that I found quite disturbing.
An adult caregiver was speaking to a young child. The caregiver had said something that was incorrect, and was acknowledging this to the child. But instead of simply saying “Sorry, honey, I was wrong”, the adult said “I lied”.
This is one of the sayings that has crept into contemporary speech from television. “I lied” is a truthful statement if you have actually intentionally deceived another person. But if you have simply made a mistake, saying you lied is actually confusing the issue. Mistakes are simply part of being human. Lies are something else entirely. When we lie to someone, we have intentionally deceived them. Telling a child that you lied to them when you only made a mistake is deeply confusing because young children innately want to be able to trust the adults in their lives.
Most people of my generation were taught by parents, school and church that it was important to tell the truth. This basic moral principle comes from the Ten Commandments, and although it is far less widely understood or accepted in contemporary society than it once was, it is still a foundation stone of our culture. Cheating on exams, lying in court, being unfaithful to a spouse – these are all still widely understood to be wrong. But God’s word tells us that it’s not just the outward action that matters. In fact, what matters even more than the outward action is the intent of the heart. So, you can unintentionally mislead someone (like the adult caregiver in my example above) and you haven’t lied. You simply made a mistake, which you may deeply regret, but your intent was not to harm. Lies are something else entirely. They are expressions of a deceptive intent, and they are incompatible with the character of God who cannot lie.
When I was growing up, I remember distinctly a day when my mother spoke to me about my father. I was probably about ten or eleven years old at the time. This incident stood out to me. What she told me – with considerable emotion – was that my father was a man who would always tell the truth. His word could be relied upon. Deception was simply not part of his character.
I don’t remember what prompted her to make this assertion, but I do remember that her words made a deep impression on me. It was clear to me that she was completely confident that my Dad would never lie to her, that he was a man of integrity who could always be relied upon to speak and act truthfully.
I am very grateful for this example. Although my parents weren’t especially devout, this core principle of Biblical values was imprinted in my heart and mind by the way they lived. I learned early on that being a truthful person is of great importance.
Despite this example, I can’t claim that I have never lied. I remember several occasions when fear of consequences prompted me to say something untruthful. But I knew immediately that my untruthfulness was wrong, I was deeply ashamed of it, and once I learned to take my sins to Jesus for cleansing, I knew what to do about it.
When King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then later confessed his sin after being confronted by the prophet Nathan, he uttered these memorable words, expressing his awareness of the character that is pleasing to a holy God:
He then went on to plead with the Lord for cleansing.
Like David, if we say we love God, one of the things that we need to fervently ask Him to impart to us is a truthful heart. This was the essence of David’s prayer in Psalm 51. He was asking God to change his heart and make him into a man of truth. He knew the character of God and he knew that his own heart had been exposed as unclean. He desired cleanness in his innermost being. David knew that truthful speech and truthful behaviour arise from a truthful heart. He knew that only God could transform his heart and make him into a man of truth.
What about you? What about me?
The stimulus for this post is the Bell Let’s Talk campaign which is intended to encourage people to talk about mental health.
When I was a young pastor I battled depression, although I wouldn’t have had the words to describe what I was dealing with. Looking back, I am convinced that the battle was mostly spiritual in nature. I wanted to fix everything that was wrong with the world, but I couldn’t even fix myself. I was oppressed with negative thoughts (condemnation, self-hatred, perfectionism) which I believe came ultimately from lies sown by the one Jesus called the father of lies and Christians often refer to as the enemy of our souls.
Freedom from this oppression did not come overnight, but the turning point came when I recognized that the battle was essentially spiritual, that Jesus had conquered darkness, and that he had given me the keys to share in his victory. I did not come to this realization on my own, but through the help of precious friends, teachers and mentors for whose help I am very thankful to this day.
Since then I have gone through many difficult events and circumstances, many of which were the direct result of my desire to follow God’s call on my life. But through the help and support of my friends and mentors, these challenging circumstances helped shape me into a healthier, more positive and more resilient man. Though the path has been long, I have come to a point where my life is mostly ruled by the peace of God, even when times are hard. Not that I never struggle, but now I know what to do about it.
There are physical, relational and spiritual components to my self-therapy. I walk or bicycle, I talk and pray with friends and especially my beloved wife, I find ways to serve God through serving others, I spend time with my children and grandchildren, I dialogue with God, I read the Bible and remind myself of God’s promises, I pray for others who are suffering, I play my guitar and worship. All these practices keep me mostly stable, anchored and productive. But I remember what it was like to battle depression, and I don’t want this post to sound as though I think I have it all together. For me, the truth is somewhat different. As the apostle wrote years ago, in Him (Jesus) all things hold together. This is the truth that anchors my life and keeps me healthy.
This morning, Marion and I got to see Sophie, Livie and Maddie Rose – our three Kansas City cuties – opening the Christmas gifts that we had ordered for them. The wonder of video technology made it possible for us to share this moment with them. It was a joy to our hearts to see each of them respond with delight to the presents we had picked out for them (with a bit of helpful advice from their Mom). Sophie was thrilled by her new art set. Livie was excited about her dot to dot books and markers. Maddie was pumped about the Paw Patrol books and stuffed toy.
Last night at a family Christmas Eve gathering at my sister’s home here in Ottawa, I delighted to see the awe and wonder in the eyes of my granddaughter Maddie Joy as we read the Christmas story and sang well-loved carols. Her almost-two-year-old heart was captivated by the lights on the tree and the beauty of the music. We have some gifts for her as well, which she hasn’t seen yet, but of course we are looking forward to watching her open them.
Yes, we love our granddaughters to bits. Most grandparents love their grandkids. It’s a pleasure for us to give them gifts. The gifts we buy for them are an expression of our love for them.
But what do we really want for these four delightful little girls? Mostly things money can’t buy.
We want them to know they are loved – by us, by their parents, but ultimately by the God who made them.
We want them to know that they are made for beauty, truth and significance.
We want them to know that they are more than just accidental blips on the screen of life, that their lives have eternal value and purpose.
We want them to know that despite whatever pain or suffering they may encounter in their lives in this world, God’s glorious plan is to make all things new, that Jesus is coming to rule over a Kingdom that will never end, and that they belong in that Kingdom with Him.
This is the path of hope that was opened up for us by the child of Bethlehem – a child who was destined to die for the redemption of the whole earth, a child who is coming as King to rule the world in righteousness.
We live in troubled, confusing, dangerous times. We need a light for our pathway, and Jesus is that light. What I want for my granddaughters is what I also pray for you – that the True Light of the World will shine in your life and guide your steps into His eternal Kingdom.
This morning at church, I did something perfectly ordinary. I left my seat and stood in the aisle to let Grace pass by so that she could sit with her older sister and her parents.
We had just finished singing three beautiful songs of worship and adoration, and faith was stirring in my spirit. As I stood there in the aisle, watching this pretty pre-teen girl child make her way to her seat, my eyes were opened and I was given a vision from heaven. In my spirit, I saw Grace standing in front of a large wooden door. She had her right hand raised and her knuckles formed into a fist. With childlike confidence, she was poised to knock on the door.
As I briefly pondered the meaning of this vision, I immediately realized that it portrayed the teaching of Jesus about faith-filled prayer.
Ask, and it will be given to you;
seek, and you will find;
knock, and it will be opened to you.
Grace is a wonderful young woman, the beloved youngest daughter in a warm, loving, faith-filled family. I concluded that this was a message from God about her developing character, and I made a mental note to share the vision with her and her parents to encourage them.
But my internal dialogue with God didn’t end there. As I prepared to sit down, I sensed that this vision wasn’t just for Grace. My thoughts immediately turned to my own daughter Bethany, also the youngest in our family. Although she is married now and no longer living in my household, Bethany knows – like Grace with her Dad – that if she needs something from me, all she has to do is ask me. If I can do it for her, I will.
I realized that Father was showing me something about His heart towards His beloved people. The vision was not just about Grace. It was a picture of the Bride of Christ, His beloved, knocking on the door of heaven and asking the Father for favour.
Grace is still a child. There is much she doesn’t understand about life, but she does know that her Dad loves her. Even if he doesn’t always give her what she wants right away, she knows that he will always answer her in love. She knows that she can trust him.
The message was clear. Knock boldly, knock with confidence. Even if the answer is delayed, it’s for a good reason. Keep on knocking. The One behind the door is faithful, and in His good time He will answer.
We live in times when many things are being shaken. There is trouble all over the earth, there are wrongs and injustices everywhere, and in many places God’s people are hard-pressed. But there are also signs of the Kingdom in many places for those with eyes to see.
In times like these, some will be tempted to shrink back and become discouraged and fearful. Others will press on boldly, knocking on the door of heaven and trusting Father to answer.
The ones who press on are the ones who understand the character of the One behind the door. They know they are His beloved, they know He has a glorious destiny for them, they know that Jesus will partner with them to rule the earth in the age to come. And so they keep on knocking.
This is how the Bride grows up and comes into her glorious maturity. She keeps on knocking, standing and waiting in faith and hope and love, until she hears the Father’s answer. She will keep on knocking until her Bridegroom returns to reign on the earth, and invites her to reign with Him.
O glorious day.
Love is at the core of every special day. Think back to some of the best days of your life—days marked by joy and excitement. If you scratch beneath the surface of those days, you will find love at…
Source: One Day in Your Courts
A few nights ago I had a dream. It wasn’t one of those confusing dreams that you can only half remember. The main lines of it were crystal clear.
In my dream, I was at some sort of public event (a dinner or conference of some sort) with Justin Trudeau. At this event, I had an opportunity to talk with the PM face to face. He made time to chat with me at some length. My dominant impression of him was that of a sympathetic, respectful, idealistic, engaging and likable man, who took what seemed to be a genuine interest in me and my concerns.
As my conversation with the PM came to an end and he moved on to other things, I realized with some chagrin that throughout this conversation my focus had been entirely on myself and my own goals and concerns. I had taken time to talk with the PM about my views on various matters (I don’t remember details of what I said), but I had not offered to pray for him or asked him about his needs or concerns, or the needs of his family, so that I could pray for him with more insight.
On realizing this, I tried to contact him again so that I could ask him about his needs and how I might pray for him, but his attention was now elsewhere and I no longer had access to him. My opportunity for direct contact was over and I realized that if I wanted to offer to pray for him, I would have to send an email, which would almost certainly be handled by a member of his staff and would probably not get his personal attention.
Then my dream came to an end, and I awoke.
I knew that this dream was significant, so I asked God for insight, and He spoke to me with unmistakable clarity.
My dialogue with the Lord about this dream follows. Some of this input from the Lord came immediately, as I journaled the dream that morning, and some came on further reflection. I have added links to Scripture references that undergird what the Lord showed me about this dream.
Father, what do you want to say to me about this? Why did I have this dream?
Because I want you to prioritize prayer for Mr. Trudeau and not focus on trading or expressing negative views of his leadership with fellow political conservatives. Like most people, your tendency is to think of the Prime Minister in terms of his office, not as a man. You think of what he can do for you and what you want him to do differently. You do not think about his personal needs, especially his need for salvation and a relationship with Me.
Many of your concerns about his leadership and his policies are justified, but I don’t want you to focus on this. That is not what My people are called to. You are called to pray. The governments of this age will inevitably fall short, but he is a man who has very genuine spiritual needs and he is spiritually open and hungry and has a soft heart. So pray for him. Pray for him as if it matters. Don’t just pray that he will change his political views. Pray that he will see Me for who I am, and turn to Me in genuine humility and repentance. When Paul the Apostle had access to the governor and the king, he testified. He didn’t plead his own case or try to influence the governor’s policies. His concern was for the salvation of the men in whose presence he found himself. So should yours be. Pray for your Prime Minister. He is first of all a man like you. Pray that he will put his hope in Me. That is all that ultimately matters. If Justin turns to Me, many other things will change as well. But I don’t want you to focus on that. I want you to focus on cultivating a heart of mercy towards him as a man – a man whom I love, a man for whom I gave My Son’s life, a man who is despised and mocked by many of My people who should instead be praying for him as a man in need of My salvation.
I knew that I had been rebuked by the Lord. Over the past few days, His rebuke and his appeal to my heart have prompted the following further reflections.
By and large, most North American Christians have drifted far from the spirit of the New Testament in the way we relate to the governments of this age. When we see unwelcome changes in our culture, or when we have concerns about the direction of the nation, our tendency is to find fault with the government of the day and those who hold influence in our society. And indeed, at one level there may be much to criticize. But what Biblical support can we find for this posture? None whatsoever.
We are instructed to honour rulers, to pray for them, but not to put our hope for change in them. Our hope for change lies in the coming Kingdom of God in which Jesus our King will rule a restored earth from Jerusalem. Most of us don’t live as though we actually believe this. We live as though we believe that it’s up to us to rule the earth now, and we become offended when the government of the day doesn’t cooperate. But this is not New Testament Christianity. It is something else.
I believe the end of the age is approaching, and the Lord is purifying His people and calling us back to our true identity. Part of that identity is that we are a people of prayer whose hope is in the Son of David, the Messiah of Israel who is coming to rule the earth. When our hope is in Him, then we are free to love others without becoming offended with their failings. This includes government leaders. Our first responsibility towards them is to love them and pray for them.
I know all these things – I have known them for years – but I am guilty of allowing myself to be influenced by the political spirit that characterizes so much of the North American church. There is so much bitterness, resentment, anger and judgment in the attitude of many Christians towards government. Many of us are fearful of the changes that we see in society, and we have allowed our fears to influence our thinking, instead of keeping our hearts anchored in the peace that comes from God’s sure and certain promises.
I believe it is time for the church to renounce our idolatry of political power, repent of having placed our hope in the governments of this age, and place our hope once again in the Jesus of the New Testament. It’s time for us to be imitators of Him – to devote ourselves to His ways of prayer, servanthood and love. That is our true identity and calling.