I will never think of my birthday the same way again.
Tomorrow my love and I will host a family gathering to celebrate the April birthdays in our family. Bethany, Carmen, Dunovan and I all have birthdays within a four-day span from April 21-25.
It’s a lot of fun to get together with our Ottawa area family for the April birthdays. I am looking forward to seeing my children, their partners, and my grand-daughter Maddie. The weather is starting to turn warm and we can fire up the BBQ and enjoy each other’s company as we celebrate God’s good gift of life.
But this year, I’m also remembering a stormy spiral of events that began a year ago at this time. The same people were at our place to celebrate the April birthdays, and Carmen wasn’t feeling well. Little did she know that her small bowel had somehow become twisted and was beginning to die inside her. After a misdiagnosis in the emergency room of a local hospital, she ended up in emergency surgery three days later to save her life. A second surgery followed a few days later. As a result of these events, her life has been drastically changed. For our family, this time of year will now be forever marked as both a time to celebrate a birthday, and a time to remember an anniversary.
Carmen tells her story here – and it’s well worth reading. But since each of us remembers shared events through our own personal lens, I also want to tell this story as I lived it.
I experienced this time of intense testing from the perspective of a father and grandpa who desperately wants to see his children blessed. Although I myself was not the one in surgery, my own insides were also being ripped open, metaphorically speaking.
I have never prayed as much, or with as much intensity and singular focus, as I did during the few weeks following this crisis. When I got Joe’s call during a busy time at work, telling me that Carmen was in surgery, that her life was at stake, and asking me to pray, everything else receded into the background. I sought the Lord as I have never sought Him before. For most of the next several weeks, Carmen, Joe and Maddie were at the forefront of my thoughts and prayers.
Today, looking back, I am thankful for many things.
I am so thankful that Carmen’s life was spared. I am also thankful that she is doing so much better than the doctors had originally expected. I am thankful that Maddie Joy still has a Mom, that Joe still has a wife, that many people who treasure Carmen still have her in their lives.
I am also thankful that although Carmen’s life is full of new challenges, she is rising up as a woman of faith and courage. I am thankful that she is reaching out to others who have suffered similar traumas and is becoming a source of strength and encouragement for many.
I am thankful for the new depth and maturity that I see in my son Joe. He and Carmen have been through many tests in the past eighteen months, and Joe has been a rock of strength to Carmen and Maddie through it all. Carmen’s medical crisis came during a time when they were still adjusting to having a newborn and were under significant financial stress due to job loss. Yet today, one year later, they are together, Joe has completed a retraining program and is working in a trade, Carmen is alive and winning the daily battle for hope and courage, Maddie is thriving.
There is a reason why Joe and Carmen are doing so well in spite of so many challenges. The reason can be summed up in one word. God.
Yes, they have had the support of many (hundreds) of people, but at the end of the day, none of those people holds life and death in their hands. Only God does.
I recently re-read the Biblical account of Job’s life and sufferings. It re-opened the question for me of how people of faith respond to unexpected tragedy. Like Carmen, Job had no real answer or explanation for what was happening to him, but he clung to his stubborn conviction that his Redeemer was alive, and that in the end his faith would be vindicated. And it was.
As I was praying for Carmen and Joe last April and May during those first two critical weeks when her life was in the balance, I remember being so thankful that I serve a God who listens and responds when I pray. Over and over again, the Spirit gave me perspective and hope, and so I was able to continue standing before God as an intercessor on their behalf. So for me, this tragic series of events has only served to confirm and strengthen my hope in Him. I fully expect that Carmen’s life will bear fruit for eternity that would not have been possible without this horrendous test. Am I saying that God caused the test? No, it came from another source – but He did not prevent it, choosing instead to weave it into His good purpose for her life.
At my age, people sometimes ask (or hint) at the question of how I feel about approaching old age. My health is still very good, but I know that my life in this age will not last forever. But that’s not the sum total of my hope. I am convinced that God has made me for an eternal purpose, and that how I respond to the opportunities and challenges of this life will determine my eternal destiny in the Age to Come. I am looking forward to sharing in the glory of God, and I know that I have a choice in every situation. I can turn towards God, or I can turn away from Him.
When trouble comes, you can let yourself be defined by the trouble, you can decide to fight it on your own strength (always a losing proposition in the end, because your strength will one day run out), or you can turn to the One who holds life and death in his hands.
The way you turn makes all the difference in the world.
Born to die.
That may not sound like a very cheery or appealing theme for a Christmas blog.
Yet that is the destiny that Jesus the Messiah embraced when he came down from heaven to earth to be born in a manger in a stable.
It is true, of course, that Jesus was born to do more than die. He learned obedience as a child growing up in a devout Jewish home. He learned a trade, like every young Jewish man. He studied the Scriptures and was a man of prayer who treasured his times alone with his Father.
After being baptized by John, He taught many, healed many, served many, forgave many, did good to many. He was praised by many but understood by few, was rejected by many and followed by a few, but in the end He was broken on a cross for them all.
When I was a child growing up we used to sing a Dutch Christmas carol with a very poignant line. ‘T kwam op de aarde en ‘t droeg al zijn kruis. He came to earth already bearing his cross.
Jesus was born in an out of the way place in an out of the way town. This was no accident. It was easy to ignore His birth, and many did just that. The shepherds and wise men had to purposely seek him out to find him.
Jesus is still making His appeal, but he still forces Himself on no-one. Though some have used force in His name, this was never Jesus’ way. The way of jihad and the way of the cross are totally opposite to one another. The way of the cross is the way of mercy. On one occasion He sharply rebuked the more fiery among his disciples when they proposed calling down fire from heaven on a town that rejected him. He made it very clear that there is a broad way and a narrow way, and that everyone has a choice.
There are usually no thunderbolts, no flashes of lightning, no earthquakes to confront those who reject or ignore Jesus and His message. There were signs, wonders and miracles aplenty in Jesus’ day and also in our day, but mostly they are recognized only by those who are humbly seeking God. Those who ignore or reject Jesus are usually blind to His signs, preferring to think that life will just go on as it always has.
Meanwhile His blood sacrifice is before the Father on their behalf, He is pleading for mercy for them, and his Father is delaying the day of judgment so that many of those who hate, ignore or despise Him may yet come to repentance.
But for those with eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to feel, the signs of the times are everywhere, and the birth pangs of the New Age are increasing. The Day of Reckoning is coming – that great and terrible Day when the heavens open and Jesus returns to wed His bride and claim His inheritance. On that Day he will come as the Lion of Judah, the conquering King, and it will be too late to change your mind about Him. But for now, He cries out for mercy for you and me, for those who love Him, those who hate Him and those who are indifferent to Him.
For now, He waits. For now. But one Day the waiting will be over.
On that Day, every choice, every action, every motive will be brought into the light and the thoughts of every heart will be revealed. On that Day, those who love the Lord and His appearing will see Him face to face. On that Day, they will come to life and reign with Him.
How I long for that Day.
Yesterday Marion and I buried her father, Blake Denyes, who passed into eternity one week ago today.
Most of the family was able to be present for the time of leave-taking. Our son Simeon made it home from Kansas City, although his wife Heather and their three beautiful little girls stayed home. Our granddaughter Maddie and our great-nephew Ethan lightened the solemnity with their childlike playfulness and the reminder that the good gift of life continues. It was good to see our four children reconnecting with their grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins. Marion’s brother Mark delivered a fine eulogy in honour of his father, and it was my privilege to conduct the funeral service, which gave me a precious opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ and the hope of salvation through His sacrifice on the cross.
My mother in law Evelyn is a remarkable woman. At age 93, although her memory is failing, she still knows how to enjoy life, and she accepted her husband’s passing with the peace of one who has confidence in the promises of God. For this I am deeply grateful.
My father in law was an admirable man in many ways, one who pursued excellence in everything he did. He was a man of singular focus, with a strong will and a strong desire to live. After suffering a heart attack at age 54, he determined to rebuild his health and lived forty more years. He was thrifty, hard-working, fair-minded, loyal, and faithful to his wife and family.
He was also a man who carried a lot of weight on his own shoulders. At the end of his life, when his strength was gone, he placed his hope in Jesus as his Redeemer, and I am very thankful that he did. But for most of his life, he seemed to live mostly by the strength of his own will. This made his life more difficult than it needed to be.
None of us gets to live our life over again, but we do get to learn from the example of others who have gone before us. There are many positive values that I can glean from my father in law’s life, many admirable qualities that I want to emulate, with God’s help. But I also want to learn from what he had difficulty doing.
I want to live well – and to live well not by human standards but by God’s standard. God’s definition of what constitutes a life well lived is that it is all about love. I have found that as I continue the daily adventure of learning to live by faith, the burdens of life grow lighter, and my capacity to love and serve others increases as I learn to trust God and let Him teach me His ways. In the process, I find that am continually surprised by God’s amazing grace.
So my appeal to you, and my goal for my own life, is this. Work hard, give life all you’ve got, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that this means doing life on your own strength. Don’t wait until your strength is gone to surrender your will to God and trust Him to direct your life. Do it now. Do it every day. It’s the only way to lasting freedom.
For the past several weeks I have been making Song of Songs a major focus of my devotional life and as part of that focus, I have just finished listening to a wonderful 12-part teaching series by Mike Bickle (of International House of Prayer) on the Song of Songs.
Although this is not my first time devoting a season of my life to the Song, this time around I found it so motivating that I wanted to encourage you all to consider giving some time to contemplating the message of the Song (which really is the message of the First Commandment, in poetic form).
Because the Song of Songs is poetry, and because it is set in a culture very different from ours, some parts of it may seem strange to us. For this reason a guide may be helpful. I have been greatly helped by Mike Bickle’s teaching on the song – as well as his testimony of how God overcame his reluctance and taught him to love the Song. So, for any who would appreciate some help, here is a link to the final teaching in the series, to give you a taste and get you started.
I debated whether to share this with you all, because I don’t want to just promote my own agenda. But I don’t think it is just my agenda. Teaching the Bride to love the Bridegroom is central to God’s purposes in the Last Days. Nor is this at odds with focusing on the Great Commission. Rather, it’s the fuel for carrying out that commission without burning out.
Often we pray in a task-oriented or results-oriented mode. We pray for this need or that need. There is nothing wrong with this – Jesus told us to bring our requests to the Father – but the highest goal of our life, and what Jesus is returning for, is to be a Bride that is fully in love with Him, so that whatever we do is fuelled by our love for Him which in turn is fuelled by His love for us.
Increasingly, this is the mandate that the Lord is bringing to the forefront of my attention – to go deeper in knowledge of His love, and then to let everything else I do be motivated, shaped and fuelled by that love. Although I fall far short of this, it is my vision and my heart’s desire, and I believe it is also the call of God, the reason He created us and the reason Jesus came to earth – that He would have a people who know the fulness of His love.
Marion and I were married in 1976. Our wedding – which we planned ourselves – was full of prophetic themes although I barely understood them at the time.
Like many church weddings, our wedding featured these well-known verses from 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.
Love never fails …
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror;
then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part;
then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
As a young man, I thought I knew so much. I realize now that I understood almost nothing of the ways of God. But I did know that I wanted to follow Jesus, and I knew that his way was a way of love.
Within a few years, Marion and I were raising children while seeking to pastor a flock. Although I loved my children dearly, I was a very imperfect Dad and an equally imperfect husband. I was a broken man seeking to teach others the ways of wholeness. This paradox brought many pressures into my life. But in the midst of all these pressures, I was learning to seek the Lord.
In April 1987 I surrendered my life to Jesus and Marion and I were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Joe was five years old at the time. It was a fresh start for us. We were learning to live life with Jesus instead of following him from a distance.
One thing was established in our marriage from those early years of walking with Jesus. Marion and I always prayed for our children. We so wanted them to know that Jesus was alive and that His promises were real. We wanted them to learn and walk in the ways of God’s love.
Fast forward twenty-eight years to April 2015. Marion and I had lived in seven different houses in those twenty-eight years. We had served in a wide range of different types of churches, and had experimented with many different aspects of ministry, business and teaching. We had learned to know Jesus as our Beloved and our friend. Despite our very imperfect parenting, somehow our children had done well. Our family had grown up, our three sons were married and were making their way in life, and our baby girl – now almost 23 years old – was looking forward to her wedding day.
Then the unthinkable happened. Our daughter-in-law Carmen, who had brought so much joy into our son Joe’s life, and had blessed us with a beautiful granddaughter, visited the emergency room of a local hospital because she wasn’t feeling well. Little did she know that her small intestine had become pinched and was dying. She became the victim of a misdiagnosis that cost her her small intestine and almost cost her her life. You can read her story here. Suddenly, this young, healthy, happy couple with the three month old baby entered a nightmare scenario that threatened to consume them.
In the midst of all this, we were also trying to prepare for a wedding.
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
We cried out to God; we were humbled; we were overwhelmed with gratitude as hundreds of people rallied to provide practical help and pray for Joe and Carmen; our own family was knit more closely together; we saw the best and the worst of Canada’s medical system; we saw the Body of Christ at work.
Today, ten weeks later, many prayers have been answered, though some still await their fulfillment. After two critical surgeries, Carmen has been back home for a month, and is doing well. Bethany and Dunovan are married and enjoying their honeymoon.
The wedding was wonderful. Simeon and Heather and their girls were able to join us from Kansas City. We had some great family times. I got to walk my daughter down the aisle, and speak words of blessing over her and her new husband. Joe, Carmen and Maddie were able to be with us and join the celebration.
We are very grateful, but also more aware than ever of our own weakness and our dependency on the Mighty One.
Our life in this age continues. Simeon and Heather are back home with their girls, and Reuben and Jess are in France. Joe and Carmen are at the cottage with Maddie, Bethany and Dunovan are honeymooning in Nova Scotia. I am back at work, and serving in the House of Prayer. But even as I enjoy each day, my children are never far from my thoughts, and most of my thoughts towards them are prayers. I am more deeply aware than ever before that our lives are in the hands of a merciful God. I am looking for a City that is to come, and I long for the day of the King’s appearing.
When you set out to raise a family, you truly have no idea what life will bring your way.
Many things were important to me when I was a young Dad all those years ago. There were so many things that I wanted to teach my children, so many things I wanted for them.
Of all those hopes, dreams and visions, some have changed, some never came about, but as the song says, One thing remains. This one thing will remain for all eternity. Without it, I have nothing of any lasting value. With it, I have everything I need.
Jesus loves me, this I know.
I recently heard the inspiring story of a boy named Sagan and his friends, a group of former slumdogs in India whose lives were changed forever when they were rescued from desperate poverty through child sponsorship in Gospel for Asia’s Bridge of Hope program.
Bridge of Hope not only fed and clothed Sagan and his friends, but also taught them the love and power of God. With the simplicity of a child they believed what they were taught and put it into practice. The amazing results are portrayed in this brief but powerful video. God answered their simple prayers of faith, and a dying boy was raised back to life and health. The impact was astounding. (Please don’t skip over the video – you won’t regret the 5 minutes it takes to watch).
The love of Jesus is stronger than the power of death.
Peace on earth.
The angelic promise of peace and good will is the theme of countless Christmas cards, carols, sermons, hopes and prayers.
Everyone says they want it. Yet the dream of world-wide peace seems as far off as ever.
Over the past few days, I’ve had occasion to reflect on the fragility and imperfection of human relationships. Most of us prefer harmony to conflict, but genuine harmony can be elusively difficult to attain.
As I lay in bed this morning pondering this mystery, I saw in my spirit a picture of Jesus approaching a fortified tower.
The tower was crumbling as its lonely, embattled inhabitant struggled to maintain the illusion of control. Jesus was approaching with far superior power, supremely confident in his victory. He had the ability to destroy the fortified tower in an instant. Yet he held in his hands an offer of peace.
The vision was open-ended. It was like one of those stories where you get to make up your own ending. Would the man in the tower come out from behind his crumbling defenses, lay down his useless weapons, and accept the offer of peace? Or would he continue to try to shore up his once-proud tower, maintain his brittle independence to the bitter end, and die a violent, useless, unnecessary death?
The man in the tower is every one of us.
To a world where strife is a constant, Jesus does offer peace – but that peace carries a price tag. For many, the price is more than they are willing to pay.
The price is surrender.
Surrender of our pride, our fears, our independence, our superiority, and our judgments.
Surrender to His Lordship, His mercy, His kindness, His inevitable victory.
For all who will accept the offer to lay down their weapons, there are two rewards. One is immediate, the other comes later.
The immediate reward is that we get invited into God’s training school. Life with Jesus in this age is a process of preparation, as we allow our bridegroom to woo our hearts, take us by the hand and teach us how to love. He is preparing His beloved ones for the Age to Come, when the promise of world wide peace will finally be fulfilled.
The ultimate reward is far more glorious than we can imagine. Instead of the futile little tower of independence and pride that we once left behind, we will have a place of honour in His Kingdom, in a restored world where there is no more war, pain or death.
One day, he will come in great power to establish that Kingdom openly on the earth. On that Day, there will be no more opportunity to surrender.
But today, He is waiting, calling, pleading, inviting. This is the day of salvation, of invitation, of mercy. Today, He is calling us to come out from our futile towers of independence and pride and fear. Today, He is calling us to let Him teach us the ways of His goodness and mercy and truth.
This is the peace that Bethlehem’s child offers.
Immanuel – God with us.
If you hear his voice, will you lay down your weapons? Will you let Him lead you into the way of peace?
The wolf will lie down with the lamb, and a little child shall lead them.