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.
In the coolness of a summer morning, I sit outside and sip my coffee and take in the beauty all around me.
A quiet breeze rustles the leaves of the majestic maple in my neighbour’s yard.
Wind chimes hint of faraway visions and unresolved mysteries.
The deep green leaves, bright blue sky and perfect temperature delight my senses.
For those with eyes to see, the glory of the creation points to the Glorious One.
He is coming to make all things new.
Satan wants you to think about what you don’t have and what you can’t do. God wants to you think about what you do have and what you can do.
This gem of practical wisdom came to me many years ago through the teaching of Craig Hill, although it may not have originated with him. It is a distillation of what we know from Scripture and practical experience about the character of God and the character of the Enemy of our souls.
When Moses was called by God to set his people free, he objected that he wouldn’t be able to succeed because Pharaoh would not listen to him. God’s response to Moses was simple. What is that in your hand? The staff in Moses’ hand was a simple object, but by God’s power it would become a powerful instrument of deliverance.
Like most of us, I am all too aware of my own weaknesses. I have learned that there are talents I do not have, things I am not good at, spiritual gifts that do not seem to come easily to me. This used to trouble me, and to be truthful, it still does at times. At times I get distracted by the voice of the enemy of my soul, who wants to trap me in regret and self-recrimination. I want to be a servant of God and people, and over the years since giving my life to Jesus I have stepped out into many areas of faith and service, but when I look back, I have to be honest and acknowledge that some of my attempts didn’t turn out so well. But when I listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, He reminds me to focus on the gifts I do have and the things I can do. He reminds me that He is still a God of increase, a God who rewards faith, courage and perseverance.
This is the message of the Parable of the Talents. Do not bury your one ability in the ground, thinking that God will surely not be pleased with you because you are not like that ten-talent guy or girl over there. Take it and use it to serve God and others, and God will reward you for your faithfulness, and set you over larger fields of service in the Age to Come.
What is that in your hand? Take it and use it for God’s glory.
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.