The other day I was working out on my exercise bike. When I’m on my bike, I set a goal, and I try to push myself and fight the temptation to quit. I was getting winded, and so I asked the Lord to help me finish well.
I often return to this prayer theme during exercise. It speaks to me on two levels. At one level I am focussing on a very practical, physical goal. I am asking for strength to persevere in doing the things I need to do to stay fit. It would be easier just to quit.
But there’s another level to this prayer as well. Why bother exercising if your life isn’t going anywhere? I work out because I have hope and a purpose. I have hope for this age and for the age to come. So, it’s my goal to finish well.
My mother in law passed into the presence of Jesus a little over six weeks ago. Since then, three people who are close to me have said good-bye to their mothers for the last time in this life. Two others have received cancer diagnoses. This has reminded me of my own mortality. When you’re young and energetic it’s easy to think that death is a long way off. But the older you get, the less you can convince yourself of that particular delusion.
The passing of Marion’s Mom completed a process that began with my Dad’s death thirteen years ago this month. Marion and I no longer have earthly parents to look up to. We do have great memories and much to be thankful for, but our parents have left this life, left the family circle, and we are now the ones that our children and grandchildren look up to. We’re the old folks now, as our good friend John Herweyer used to put it.
I know that I have entered the last major phase of my journey in this life. I might stay healthy for another twenty years or more, but unless Jesus returns first, my life on this earth will end in my death, and that date is drawing closer with every breath. But I don’t want to live out my remaining years worrying about what might happen to me. I’m not afraid to die. I’m in good health and enjoy a reasonably active life. My health is a blessing. But even if my health should fail, and even as my strength gradually wanes as I age, I want to run my race with perseverance and joy.
I have friends who went to South Africa two years ago when Tony was in his mid seventies and L-A was approaching her sixties. They have been serving young South Africans in one of the townships in the Western Cape. They inspire me. It hasn’t always been easy for them, but they have run their race with joy, creativity and purpose. I am inspired by people who live their senior years in conscious devotion to the goodness and purposes of God, relying on His nearness and power to sustain them and give them hope. That’s how I want to finish out this life. In the words of a classic worship song,
This is my desire – to honour You.
When I draw my final breath in this life, I want to enter Jesus’ presence having lived my last years on earth in wholehearted obedience to my Lord who gave me life, and who redeemed that life and gave me a purpose. He is worthy of whatever I have to give, and much more. I recognize that good health and energy are a great blessing, and I want to honour Him by enjoying my remaining years. I believe this gives God more honour than living a miserable, fearful, self-obsessed life. I want to be a blessing to my children and grandchildren. I want to support missionaries and help the poor. I want to be a good steward of the bit of land I have, and the time, energy and finances that have been entrusted to me. I want to use my spiritual gifts to serve others and help them turn to God with their whole hearts. And if health and strength should fail, I am still determined to close out my days with my eyes on Him who gives me hope for eternity.
Lord, give me strength and grace to finish well.
All my life you have been faithful
All my life you have been so, so good
With every breath that I am able
I will sing of the goodness of God.
Derek Prince tells of a young Swedish woman named Barbara, who stayed with him and his wife Ruth for a period of three months to learn English. While staying with them, she told them a story.
Barbara was a pastor’s daughter and had lived a very sheltered life. But her friends at school had started telling her about some of the pleasures of life in the world, and she decided that she wanted to experience what she had been missing. She told her parents that she appreciated the way they had raised her, but that now she wanted to taste and see what the world had to offer.
Her parents wisely decided not to correct or criticize her. They simply told her that they would pray for her. And so they did.
That night, she had a powerful encounter with God in the form of a dream. In her dream, she saw two cities. One was a big, modern, beautiful city filled with flashing, glittering neon lights. Across the valley from the flashing city was another city of light, but this city did not flash and glitter. Its light was steady, calm and clear. As she considered the two cities a well-dressed, well-mannered and cultured man approached her and offered to show her the flashing, glittering city. She went with him, and he began to show her around. But the farther they went, the uglier he became. Soon she realized the man was the devil in disguise. As she considered this, horrified, she saw the lights in the flashing, glittering city begin to go out one by one, until it was in total darkness. She looked across the valley at the other city, and its light was as steady, pure and clear as ever.
At that moment she made her choice. She would pursue the city whose light never goes out.
It’s easy for us to think we are missing something if we don’t see the latest show, have the latest iPhone, go on every vacation trip imaginable, and so forth. And in themselves, many of the attractions of this world are innocent – though some are far from it. But if we let ourselves be enticed by what the world has to offer, we are walking a dangerous path. And once the lights begin to go out it’s too late to choose. We need to choose now.
Way back in 1979, Arlo Guthrie, son of the legendary Woody Guthrie, wrote a song with these compelling lyrics
Just one question still remains
To which we must respond
Two roads lead from where we are
Which side are you on?
Arlo Guthrie, Which Side, © 1979
Abraham, our father in the faith, was “looking for the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God“. That’s the city I am looking for as well, the one that is coming down out of heaven from God.
When the lights go out in the city of man, will you still have light to walk by? You can, if you have fixed your eyes on the City of God.
All along the way that I lead My people, I provide them with springs of living water, streams in the desert, to refresh them. Sometimes they camp by those springs and conclude that My Kingdom has come. Sometimes they dig deeper and bring forth a greater flow. They bring forth a good harvest and then conclude “This is the Kingdom!”. But the springs in the desert are not the goal. They are at once for refreshing, for blessing and for encouragement. They are signs of what is to come. Keep moving forward. Don’t camp for too long in one place or you will conclude that this age is your true home. Enjoy My blessing but don’t make your home in this age. The Day is coming.
Child of God, Abba is pleased when you do well, but He is not impressed with your pride in your abilities or accomplishments. Every ability is a gift from Him. He delights in humility. This is what attracts His favour.
Tomorrow the people of Ontario will choose a new provincial government.
This has been one of the most hotly-contested and tumultous elections I can remember. We live in a time of increasing social contention. Many people have strong views on the policies, promises, values and convictions of those who desire to govern us, and those views do not always align with others of equally strong conviction.
It’s right that we should take this decision seriously. The opportunity to choose who will govern us is a privilege that we ought not to take lightly. Wise leadership is in everyone’s best interest. One observer put it this way :
When a land transgresses, it has many rulers,
but with a [leader] of understanding and knowledge,
its stability will long continue. (Proverbs 28:2 ESV)
So what if you “lose” – the government that emerges is not the one you voted for? Or what if you “win” – you get the government of your preference — but two years later you find them to be a disappointment?
When considering politics I am often reminded of the words of the Psalmist,
It is indeed a privilege to be able to choose our leaders. But even as we do this, let’s remember that they are just as weak and fallible as we are. They may have many excellent qualities but they are still very imperfect, as are we. Whether we are pleased or disappointed in our current – or subsequent – government, let’s remember that our hope for a truly just society rests not on the abilities of the current crop of politicians, but on the character and promises of a covenant-keeping God who has promised to bring in His Kingdom at the end of the age.
There’s great peace in remembering who is ultimately on the throne. When He comes, he will make everything right. In the meantime, while we wait for that Day, let’s remember to pray for the leaders we elect. And let’s remember that civic virtue and social justice are everyone’s business. It’s up to you and me to improve the society we live in, remembering even as we do our best that our hope is in the Lord, not in ourselves. And so, no matter the outcome of the election, we can always be full of hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
God bless you as you vote !
Tomorrow I will turn sixty-five years old. And as old guys like me are wont to do, I have been remembering past birthdays.
When I was a boy, what I loved most about my birthday was being able to have birthday parties at the park on the first warm Saturday of April. My friends and I would play soccer, British bulldog, frisbee and other games and just revel in being outside in the sun on a warm, bright day after a long winter.
A week ago, with an ice storm developing, it didn’t look as though we would see that kind of weather this April, but now here it is, and I am so thankful for what looks to be the first sunny, springlike weekend that we’ve had in quite a while.
Over the past few weeks it seemed for a while as though winter and spring were having a contest. We’d have a few warm days and then it would turn cold and wintry again. It seems a long time ago now, but the sap started flowing in the maple trees very early this year. A friend of mine who has a sugar bush was boiling sap to make maple syrup at the end of February. Then we had more cold, then more warmth, then more cold, then more warmth, and then that ice storm that made it seem as though spring would never come. But now here it is.
It’s like that in our walk of faith as well. When Jesus comes into our lives and His love first becomes real to us, it seems as though everything has changed and the world will never be the same again. But then we begin to experience the battle between light and darkness, hope and despair in our lives. We have an enemy who does not want us to live in the light of the Son, and he does everything he can to convince us that our hope in Jesus is actually a delusion and that spring will never come.
There’s a battle between light and darkness in our world as well. In fact, Jesus predicted that before his return to bring in the New Day, many of his people would lose hope in the face of increasing darkness, and their love would grow cold. Many would say “Where is this coming he promised?” But for those who endure to the end, the Sun of Righteousness would surely come and they would see His face and receive His reward.
I want to be one of those who welcomes that new day. And so, even when the darkness seems to be winning, I will turn my face towards the light, and seek to point others toward that light as well, because I know that he who promised is faithful.
Jesus, come as you have promised, and bring in Your gracious rule on this planet we call home. Your bride is making herself ready. We long for the light and warmth of Your new day.
Here comes the Son! Let’s get ready for Aslan’s Spring.
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.