Category Archives: Transformation

Nuggets of Hope 11 – Complete in Christ

Yesterday afternoon, as I came back from a long Saturday walk, I saw a small crowd gathered in front of the house diagonally across from ours. At least, it was a crowd by COVID-19 pandemic standards. People were standing on the lawn and the street in clusters of twos and threes, each cluster well separated from the next one (for the most part anyway). I arrived home just in time to observe the festivities with Marion. Standing on our front deck I could faintly hear the bride and groom say their vows. They had come together as a couple some months ago, and now they were committing themselves to each other in sacred promises. A beautiful little girl was in the wedding party, the offspring of a past relationship.

It would have been easy for this couple just to continue living together without exchanging vows, but something in them made them want to make a covenant. I believe they are hoping for a fresh start. As I listened to their vows and thought about all this, I asked God to pardon their past failures, bless their intention to have a lasting marriage, and help them stay faithful to each other. The poignancy of the moment was heightened by the uncertain times in which we live. As we move from childhood to adulthood and begin making our own life choices, many of us start out with hopes, dreams and good intentions, but we don’t always know what will come our way on the path of life. Marriage, perhaps more than any other major life choice, tests our resolve. Will we be strong enough to keep the covenants we have made?

The classic symbol of marriage – the gold wedding band – speaks of the unbroken perfection of God’s love. It has no beginning and no ending. It is perfect in its simple beauty.

It’s only the love of God that can help a marriage truly succeed. And whether or not you are married, we all need that perfect love living within us to live a life that bears good fruit for eternity. We simply can’t do it on our own.

Like the couple across the street who exchanged wedding vows yesterday afternoon, you wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t have good intentions. But we need more than good intentions to fulfill our hope of living a life that is blessed by God, pleasing to him, and endures to eternity. We need the power of God.

The good news is that God has made that power available to us in Jesus. Writing to a group of new believers who were in danger of being led astray by other philosophies and practices, Paul pointed them back to the simple truth of Christ in them (Col 2:8-10 NLT)

Don’t let anyone capture you
with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense
that come from human thinking
and from
the spiritual powers of this world,
rather than from Christ.
For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.
So you also are complete through your union with Christ,
who is the head over every ruler and authority.

We live in challenging times. In the face of COVID-19, all of us are tempted to feel powerless at times. We recognize the need to walk in wisdom to safeguard our health, but we can’t control the actions of others. The news is full of stories of people descending into behaviour motivated by selfishness, hopelessness and panic. Truly, fear has the power to make us do very stupid and short-sighted things.

In the midst of all this, those who have put their hope in Jesus don’t just have an example to follow. We do have that, but we have something far more. We have Jesus living inside us. And so we can have peace. He is our hope, for the present and the future. He is able to do miracles, and often does, but our hope is more than just that we won’t get sick. Eventually we will all die. That’s the reality of our life in this age. But we know that we who believe in Jesus will be with Him forever. He lives within us and is changing us day by day to make us into a better reflection of His beauty, glory and goodness – even in the face of COVID-19. And no matter what happens to us in this crisis, we know that if we stay faithful to our covenant with Jesus, we will share His glory in a world made new.

What a hope. What a promise. We are complete in Christ. We have hope for eternity. Thanks be to God.

 

P.S. This will be my last Nuggets of Hope post for a few days. I am sensing the Spirit telling me to pause for a time, to spend some time resting and meditating on the hope we have in Jesus so that I have fresh bread to share when it’s time for me to resume. God bless you. 

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It’s cold out there

Coldest Night Logo (Snowflake) Color - PNGIt’s cold out there. 

The past week, temperatures in Ottawa have been below -20°C all week long. Earlier in the week they dipped below -30°C.

Yesterday I took a break from work and went out for a walk at noon. While outside, I took off my mitts to use my phone for a very brief conversation. In less than a minute, my fingers felt almost numb. It took a long time for them to get warm again. In this weather, when I walk home from the bus at the end of the day (about a ten minute walk, quite pleasant under most circumstances) my nose and cheeks are very cold by the time I arrive home. 

Imagine how hard this cold weather must be on people who are homeless.

I seldom use this blog for fund raising purposes, but today I am making an exception. When I head out on the streets on February 22 as part of the Coldest Night of the Year walk to raise funds for Jericho Road Christian Ministries, I’m asking for your support. You can support me here. If you can’t give money, I would appreciate your prayers. Jericho Road serves broken people who would otherwise be homeless due to mental illness or addictions. Broken people matter to Jesus. They were made in God’s image and their lives are precious in His sight. He died so that they could be fully restored.

Some say that those who live on the streets do so by choice. In one sense, that may be so. For some, life on the streets may the result of a string of foolish or misguided choices. Even so, those who find themselves living on the streets usually do so because they feel they have no other remaining options. When I leave my warm house to walk to the bus to go to work on a cold winter day, I am glad I am not homeless, and my heart is moved with compassion for the men and women who feel they have no other option but to live on the streets.

Some say that in Ottawa, no-one has to live on the streets because there are places where homeless people can go for shelter. I have been in those shelters. It is true that they provide a place to sleep, and I am glad they are there, but they are not home.

Jericho Road is one ministry that offers another path for men dealing with addictions or mental illness, men who would otherwise be on the street or condemned to living at a shelter. Jericho offers a genuinely homelike atmosphere with structured living, responsibilities, medication if needed, counselling, Bible study and prayer. It’s a ministry that I am glad to support. The son of a good friend of mine was set free from years of drug addiction as a result of this wonderful ministry, and today is helping others get free. 

For a number of years, Marion and I were regulars at the weekly Jericho Road coffeehouse, where we led worship once a month, and hung out with men and women from the street who came in for a warm meal, a safe place, music and conversation. This was a challenging environment in which to lead worship, but I loved it. I remember one evening when I was sitting with a friend from the street who was admiring my leather-bound Bible. It had been a gift from valued friends. I knew the Lord was telling me to give it to him. I will never know the impact the Bible had on his life, but giving it had an impact on me. It was one of many choices that God used to soften my heart and make me more available for His purposes.

All of us make many choices daily. I want to make choices that prepare my heart to bear fruit for God. If He is moving you to support me in this walk, I’d be grateful for your support. But even if this particular endeavour is not something God is calling you to support, I want to urge you to consider your daily choices. It’s easy to condemn others for the choices they have made. But it’s far more productive to consider our own choices. Mercy, or judgment? Faith and love, or pride and fear? The presence of the Lord, or independence? Darkness, or light? 

Yes, it’s cold out there. The world is a cold, dark place, and getting colder and darker as the end of the age draws near. Even as signs of the Kingdom are increasing around the earth, and miracles, signs and wonders are being released in many places in great power, darkness is also increasing. But the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never overcome it and never will. I want my heart and my life to be a reflection of the warmth, light, love and glory of God’s Kingdom that is coming on the earth.

That’s why I am walking on February 22. If you want to walk with me, you can join my team here. I’d be glad of your company.

God bless you.

 

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Live report from Turkey

I just finished watching this short video clip by Dalton Thomas and Joel Richardson on behalf of Frontier Alliance International.

Report from Taksim Square in Turkey

This little clip powerfully impacted my understanding of how to pray for the persecuted Christian minority in the Islamic nations of the Middle East. According to Joel Richardson, from his recent visits with Christian leaders in Egypt, God has opened a door for the gospel since the upheavals of the past two years, and Muslims are now coming to Christ in unprecedented numbers. The same is happening in Iran – despite intense persecution, Christianity is growing rapidly as the true face of Islam is exposed. He predicts it will begin to happen in Turkey as well (and Syria?). As Tertullian wrote in 197 AD, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. So instead of praying that the persecution of Christians would stop, let’s pray for our brothers and sisters in these nations to be emboldened and filled with fiery, loving faith in the midst of the persecution. And let’s pray also for the Muslim majority in these nations – people just like us, despite the cultural differences and the lies to which they have been subjected for so long – people with hungry hearts who need the hope that Jesus alone offers.

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Neighbourhood Worship Nights

As Marion and I have sought to listen to the Holy Spirit, we sense that the time has come to open our home every second Tuesday for an evening of worship.

Our living room is not all that large, and we anticipate that eventually the Lord will move us to another space, but for now we are starting with what is available to us, and trusting that Father will draw those He wants to add to this worshipping community. We are also trusting that as we are faithful, He will provide a larger and more public space at the right time.

Some may say, “There are so many hurting people in Vanier. Couldn’t you do something more practical? Why waste time worshipping Jesus when people have so many needs?”

It is precisely because people are so broken and needy that we need to worship Jesus. When Jesus was in the Temple just a few days prior to his crucifixion, the blind and lame came to him in the Temple and he healed them. This was a profoundly prophetic act. Under the Covenant of Moses, a priest who was blind or lame could not draw near to the holy God to offer sacrifices because of his imperfection. When Jesus healed the blind and the lame in the Temple, he was declaring that from now on, because of the price He paid, everyone is qualified. The only requirements are faith and love towards Him. Everyone is qualified to draw near, everyone is qualified to offer sacrifices of praise, everyone is qualified to come into His presence and be changed by His glory, everyone is qualified to be an agent of transformation in the lives of others.

True worship is about drawing near to the Father, coming in to the Holy Place to see His glory and feel the power of His love, and pouring out our love to Him in return. Far from being an escape from reality, as we worship our eyes are unveiled so that we can catch a glimpse of things as they really are – as they will be when the City of God comes down from heaven to on earth and every tear is wiped away. Jesus shed his blood so that we could have an advance taste of the unspeakably glorious joy of being in the Father’s presence without fear.

In this present age, we cannot fully appreciate the glory of fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but we do get a foretaste of the glories to come. As we encounter the Holy Spirit and see the glory of the Lord, we are changed as the love of God is poured into our hearts. This is what Jesus referred to when He spoke about the true worshippers who worship in Spirit and in truth.

Intimacy with God truly is the wellspring of transformation. Drawing near to God has a huge impact on our ability to love others. As our hearts are softened and humbled we receive grace to see others through God’s eyes and to love them as He does.

Our desire is simple. We want to provide an atmosphere in which it is easy for hurting, needy people to draw near to God. David prayed, One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek … to behold the beauty of the Lord. By His death on the cross Jesus has made it possible for this desire to be fulfilled. From time spent in the presence of the Lord, I believe much transforming grace and power will flow into our lives and the lives of others.

The musical style of these worship evenings will be simple and unsophisticated. We are not superstars, just people who want to love Jesus with our simple songs of love.

So listen to the nudges of the Holy Spirit and if He is prompting you to come, then come and join us. If you’re not sure, come and see, taste what it is like and then decide.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.

Where : 283 Ste Cecile, Vanier

When: 7:00 pm, Tuesday June 25, 2013 (and every 2nd Tuesday)

What : Worship, prayer, simple teaching focussing on intimacy with Jesus.

If you have questions, leave a comment.

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Coldest Night of the Year

I remember when I first heard about Jericho Road Ministries from its founder, my friend Ray Desmarais. A compassionate man with a big heart for the hurting and homeless, Ray wanted to do something practical to help. Over the years, his relentless drive and passion led to the birthing of a ministry that has demonstrated the love of Jesus to hundreds of broken people in Ottawa’s core. While appreciating the need for shelters such as Shepherds of Good Hope and the Ottawa Mission, Jericho Road has chosen to offer smaller-scale, discipleship-based group homes with the aim of helping mentally ill or addicted men and women get off the street and learn practical life skills in an atmosphere of structured Christian community.

For several years my wife Marion and I were among the regular performers at a weekly coffee house offered by Jericho Road. We loved it! At the time, we lived in the rural community of Russell, and the coffee house gave us an opportunity to serve and rub shoulders with people that we wouldn’t normally have any contact with. Now that we live in the historic neighbourhood of Vanier, so close to downtown, I have a whole new appreciation for the work done by ministries such as Jericho Road.

I no longer sing at the Jericho Road coffee house, as there are now plenty of musicians to fill the roster, but on February 23, I’ll be joining a team led by my good friend Keith Brown in a walk in support of this great ministry, along with dozens of other Ottawans. The event is known as The Coldest Night of the Year, and takes place in cities across the nation in support of various charities that serve the hurting and homeless. In Ottawa, your donations will go to support Jericho Road. I’d be grateful if you would consider supporting me with a donation.

If you would like to donate, or would consider joining the walk yourself, you can do so by going to my personal home page. All donations are tax-deductible.

God bless you.

 

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Cleaning up garbage with Jesus

This morning I had the privilege of picking up garbage in our neighbourhood park and some of the surrounding streets here in Vanier, the historic part of Ottawa where Marion and I make our home with our daughter Bethany. I was volunteering as part of a city-wide effort to get citizens involved in cleaning up parks and neighbourhoods.

Cleaning up garbage may not seem like a very enjoyable task. However, I actually did enjoy the work. It was a beautiful morning and the work was not difficult. I easily filled a garbage bag with cigarette butts, pop cans, coffee cups and other debris.

It wasn’t only the beautiful fall morning that lifted my spirits, although that certainly helped. I was listening to the voice of the Spirit as I worked, and it dawned on me that cleaning up other people’s garbage is an apt metaphor for what Jesus did for us on the cross. He took our filth – it didn’t belong to him, but he took it upon himself. He took it upon himself so that we wouldn’t have to carry it any more.

Not everyone cares about their filth. Some people make very little effort to get themselves cleaned up. This is true of some of the more run-down properties in our neighbourhood. People just seem to get used to living with a mess and to them it’s normal. Some of these people probably care very little if someone else cleans up their garbage. They may not even notice. In the same way, lots of people are so used to living in spiritual and relational darkness that they think it’s normal, and they may not even want to change. For lots of people, broken relationships, anger, unforgiveness, mistrust, immorality, selfishness and pain are just the way life is. Although Jesus paid a high price to clean up their garbage, they don’t really care. They’d rather live with their mess so they can at least live under the illusion that they are free to do as they please.

But others did appreciate the cleanup effort. I was thanked by several people this morning. A young mother in the park seemed pleased that I smiled at her cute six-month-old baby. She thanked me for cleaning up the park. Later, on my way back home after finishing my cleanup work, I was thanked by a man on the front step of the Inuit housing co-op where I had picked up all the cigarette butts an hour earlier. He seemed really surprised that someone would do that. I told him it was no big deal and he apologetically explained that there is a coffee can on the step that people are supposed to use for their cigarette butts, but some people don’t bother and just leave them in the street.

This, too, is a parable of spiritual awareness. Although many people seem completely unaware of what Jesus has done for them in taking their filth onto himself, others are genuinely humbled and grateful when they recognize his undeserved gift to them. The Holy Spirit prompted me throughout the morning to pray blessing on the homes and people that I was serving by cleaning up their garbage. I prayed that those who don’t already know God’s love would have their hearts awakened and their eyes opened. I prayed that they would see their need for a spiritual cleansing. I prayed that (like the ones who thanked me for cleaning up their garbage) the folks in our neighbourhood would have a revelation of the amazing gift that Jesus has offered them. I prayed that they would find gratitude arising in their hearts as they realize that Jesus has cleaned up their filth and taken their sentence of death onto himself so that they could go free.

Some people say that prayer by itself is of little value – that only when it is accompanied by action does prayer become practical. I agree that when we pray, we also need to be willing to be part of the answer to our prayers.

But consider.

Jesus only spent three years in public ministry. He preached to thousands of people, healed many, fed several thousand, entered Jerusalem as Israel’s rightful King but was rejected by her leaders, gave his life on the cross for the redemption of all, rose from the dead and appeared to more than five hundred people – and still he was left with only a hundred and twenty followers praying in an upstairs room in Jerusalem. That was his public ministry. Though it was laced with spiritual power, the results were relatively small. Only a hundred and twenty people were willing to call him Lord after three years.

Faced with this relatively meager result, what conclusion did Jesus draw? What did he do?

He prayed for his people. Faced with a world that needed saving, He did not conclude that he had failed. Instead, he poured out power on the hundred and twenty who were praying and waiting for him in Jerusalem, and set himself the task of praying for them and all that would believe because of their message. He has been faithful to his ministry of prayer for the last two thousand years.

Not everything that was done in Jesus’ name those two thousand years has been glorious. There have been episodes that were downright shameful, when you would be hard pressed to recognize that the church belonged to Jesus at all. And yet – and yet – because Jesus has faithfully prayed for his people, even in the deepest darkness there have always been witnesses to his truth, grace and mercy. And amazingly, the true life of God has erupted over and over again, sometimes at the most unexpected times and places, in the midst of the greatest barrenness and seeming despair. Why? Because Jesus was praying, and the Holy Spirit was stirring in the hearts of His people. The times when the church has glistened with hope and shone with His life and power have been the times when the church had its face turned towards Jesus in prayer and adoration.

Today, despite world-wide upheavals and trouble in many places, despite poverty and sickness and suffering, despite compromise in much of the church, despite decay in society, the good news of Jesus is spreading like never before. Leaders of the major missions agencies estimate that by the year 2020 (2025 at the latest), every people group on the face of the earth will have a witness of the gospel of the Kingdom in their own language. This is unprecedented, and is one of the Scriptural signs that His return is near.

And what has Jesus been doing these last two thousand years? It is written that He has been praying. For two thousand years he has been praying for his bride, waiting for her to come to maturity so that she will be ready for the great wedding feast to come.

I had a great time cleaning up garbage with Jesus this morning. Although the physical cleanup was of some value, far more important is the cleansing of people’s hearts that was the subject of my prayers this morning. And though the results of those prayers were not immediately visible to me, I am confident that not a word was wasted. Jesus heard every one. He has stored them up in the heavens, and they are awaiting their answer. Many in Vanier will come to the light, as will many in every nation. Many will recognize that they don’t have to live in their own filth any more. Instead they can live in the freedom of God’s children, they can know the joy that the Holy Spirit gives, they can live with clean hearts and bright spirits as sons of the resurrection and heirs of the Kingdom that is coming on the earth when Jesus returns.

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift.

 

 

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Reading the Bible with new eyes

I have been reading the Bible with new eyes the past couple of years.

My practical Dutch parents, although nominally Christian, were functionally humanistic in their outlook and worldview, and I imbibed a this-worldly perspective on life with my mother’s milk. Heaven wasn’t on our radar – our focus was very clearly on earthly affairs.

Although grateful for many positive aspects of my upbringing, as a young man my heart was hungry for spiritual reality. Yet even after coming to personal faith in Jesus, I could never seem to get really excited about going to heaven.

Jesus was now the Lord of my life, and I was certain that he had been raised from the dead and was alive. After being baptized in the Holy Spirit, an increasing body of personal experience had convinced me that there was a realm of existence beyond what I could see with my eyes and touch with my hands, and that there were real, accessible heavenly powers which could touch and transform our earthly life.

In church we would sometimes sing hymns about spending eternity in glory, singing to Jesus. I was learning to love Jesus more and more, and I wanted to be with him.  I loved what I had already experienced of the glorious presence of God, and looked forward to more. I also loved to sing. But something didn’t quite add up. What about all those guys who loved to build houses, or fix cars? Would they have a place in heaven? If they did, would they enjoy it? I sure appreciated their help when I had jobs that had to be done. Was that somehow unspiritual? Didn’t God make them to enjoy doing those things? Did they have to become choirboys to serve God and enjoy what He had in store for them? My heart was telling me that there had to be more to God’s plan than this.

Much of what Christians traditionally believe about heaven is gleaned from descriptions of the New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation. But John wasn’t describing a place that we would go after we die. He was describing a glorious city that would come to a restored earth after Jesus returned to banish evil forever. So why didn’t the church believe – and preach – what the Bible taught?

The answer lies partly in a process that began in the fourth century after Christ. By this time, Christianity had spread throughout the Roman Empire. In the great university at Alexandria, intellectuals who had been raised on Greek philosophy began trying to meld their new Christian faith with the worldview that they had brought with them from Plato. The result was a hybrid – a synthesis of Platonic philosophy and Biblical belief that influenced the entire course of Christian thinking for centuries. Whereas the Bible views the heavens and the earth as one continuous reality, with constant interchange between the two, Plato divided reality into the material and non-material realms, and taught that only the immaterial was “really real”. Christian theologians and philosophers who sought to integrate the Bible with Plato’s philosophy ended up distorting the simple message of the Scriptures, so that the goal of faith became to flee the evils of the material world and escape to some non-material spiritual realm.

So, over the past couple of years I have embarked on a major Bible study project. I am learning to read the Bible with new eyes, seeking to allow its worldview to speak for itself.

Guess what? The Bible, taken on its own merits, doesn’t teach that God’s purpose for our lives is to escape to some non-material glorious realm of bliss. Nor does it teach the popular modern view that life is really all about the here and now, and that God’s purpose for our lives is to transform this world and make it heaven on earth. The Bible presents the overarching purpose of God as a restored creation, in which we will have resurrected and glorified bodies, and God’s will is done on earth as in the heavens.  The way to participate in that glorious new creation (also called the Kingdom of God) is by conforming our lives to the crucified and risen Messiah, Jesus, who came to earth to pay the price of our rebellion and demonstrate the power and purity of a life lived in faith, love, and servanthood.

So what happens when you die? The Bible does indeed teach that until Jesus returns and death is rolled back, those who die in faith will be with Jesus after they die. But nowhere does it imply that this is our final destination. Throughout the New Testament the message is the same. To sum it up very briefly, Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand, waiting for the great day when he returns to finish what he started. After all nations have heard the good news of the Kingdom of God and Jesus’ bride has made herself ready for him, there will be a final time of struggle in which the powers of darkness will seek to destroy the people of God. Jesus will return to earth for his bride, will win a great victory and usher in a glorious Kingdom on a restored earth.  Eventually, Satan will escape from his prison and start one last war, after which evil will be banished forever and all things will be made new.

So what happens between now and then? I’m very thankful that we get to do more than just wait. We get to grow up in our salvation, so that Jesus can return for a bride who is truly glorious. Those who belong to Jesus receive the Holy Spirit now, in this age, as a down payment or advance taste of the glories of the Age to Come. By the power of the Holy Spirit working through people of faith, wonderful things can happen. People are healed, set free from demonic oppression, receive dreams and visions, and more. But the people who experience all of these wonderful things – called signs in the Bible – will still die. The signs of the Kingdom point us to a coming new age when death itself will be rolled back and Jesus will rule openly on a restored earth.

Some may say that this is beyond belief – a fairy tale. Surely, they say, you can’t believe that. Yet this is the simple faith of the apostolic church, which transformed the entire Roman world. It’s also the faith that springs up whenever the Holy Spirit is poured out in power in times of renewal. It’s what inspires and gives courage to those who are persecuted or imprisoned for their faith – as described in my previous post.

Greek philosophy, while fascinating, is vastly different from Biblical faith. Although I’ve been dimly aware of its influence for years, it is only recently that I have seen the extent of this influence, and I am still learning to recognize and shed the “old skin” of Platonic thinking. I don’t have it all figured out. But I do understand that there is a reason why I could never get excited about going to heaven. God doesn’t want me to escape from earth. He wants me to look forward eagerly to a transformed life as part of a resurrected people living on a restored earth under renewed heavens. That is the new creation that Jesus died for, and it’s what I’m living for.

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Of whom the world is not worthy

Asia Bibi is a forty year old mother of two. She has been in prison in Pakistan since 2009.  Her only crime was telling her coworkers about Jesus. For this she was charged with blasphemy and sentenced to death. Although she remains alive up til now, one of her jailers recently tried to strangle her, and an Islamic cleric has offered a reward of $8000 to anyone who kills her. Her husband and two daughters miss her terribly. She is allowed to see them once per week for an hour. In a recent interview, Asia Bibi stated that she spends her time fasting and praying and has forgiven her accusers.

In March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister of Minorities and the only Christian in the Pakistani cabinet, was assassinated.  Prior to his assassination, he had been working for a softening of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which mandate the death penalty for anyone who insults Islam.  The Taliban claimed responsibility for his death, stating that it was his punishment for blasphemy.

Youcef Nadarkhani is a thirty four year old father of two.  He is the leader of a network of house churches in Iran.  He was imprisoned in 2006, released for a time because of international pressure, and then imprisoned again in 2009. Raised a Muslim, originally he was charged with apostasy for renouncing Islam. As Iran’s constitution officially guarantees freedom of religion, and does not support a sentence of death for conversion, the charges against him were later changed to rape and extortion – allegations that both he and his church members strenuously deny.

On several occasions Pastor Nadarkhani has been offered release if he will recant his conversion to Christianity, or declare that Muhammad was a prophet sent by God.  He has consistently refused to make any such confession. Reportedly, Iranian government officials, who want Iran to be a monolithic Islamic republic, are quite concerned about the spread of Christianity in their country through the house church movement.

Kim Sung Min, a former propaganda officer for the North Korean Army, is now fighting for the freedom and faith of his home country. According to the Voice of the Martyrs, “once a diehard socialist, Mr. Kim became disillusioned when he saw the lack of freedom and opportunity in North Korea while serving in the military. After defecting, being arrested and escaping again, Mr. Kim began spreading a new message of hope and liberty”.  He is now part of a team that broadcasts messages of freedom in Christ into North Korea.

Recently, Al-Shabaab, an Islamic terrorist group based in Somalia, sent a letter to Christian missionary groups operating out of Kenya that were working among Somali refugees.   The letter warned missionaries to stop infecting Somalis with what it termed “the cancer of Christianity” and threatened to attack and kill them.

These are just a few of thousands of cases of Christians who have been imprisoned or otherwise persecuted for their faith.  While some of this persecution is at the hands of radical Hindus in India, or Communist governments in North Korea, Vietnam and China, by far the majority of cases of persecution are at the hands of Islamic governments or mobs. But all persecution, whether at the hands of radical Hindus, Communists, or Islamists, can be taken as a sign that the oppressors fear the spread of the gospel because it represents a power that they cannot control.

Satan is the source of the rage that fuels these attacks. He hates the spread of the gospel in totalitarian regimes because it is a sign of his impending doom. He knows that the Lord will not return until the gospel of the Kingdom has been proclaimed to every people group on earth, and the Bride of Christ is prepared for her husband.

In 2003, two Chinese house church leaders were asked what the church would be like without persecution.  They responded that it wouldn’t grow. They said they saw persecution as a gift from God to the church, to bring about the purification of our faith. So, ironically, the very persecution that Satan incites in his rage and fury is turned by God into an instrument to bring Jesus’ bride to glory.  This has been happening for a long time.  During the days of the Roman Empire (AD 197), Tertullian famously wrote in his work Apologeticus “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. But even though these periodic storms of hostility against believers are nothing new, we can expect them to become more frequent and more intense as Jesus’ return draws near.

This is not the kind of talk that tends to make Western Christians comfortable.  We like our freedom, our prosperity, and the relative peace and safety of Western societies. While it is undoubtedly true that freedom, prosperity and peace are great blessings, they can also tend to make us forget our dependency on God.

There is a wonderful chapter in the letter to the Hebrews that recounts stories of some of the martyrs and heroes of faith among the people of Israel. Towards the end of the chapter, the author describes these heroes as people of whom the world was not worthy. I feel the same way when I read stories about believers who are suffering torture, imprisonment and separation from their families for the sake of the gospel. What especially moves me is the testimony of the love that Jesus frequently deposits in the hearts of these suffering ones towards their captors. It makes me want to pray for them.  And when I pray, although I do ask God for their deliverance, I ask Him even more passionately to grant them a revelation of His glorious presence with them in their suffering. We are told in the book of Daniel that when the three young men were in the fiery furnace in ancient Babylon, the king saw a fourth man with them. I believe the fourth man was Jesus who had revealed himself at their time of need. We are told in the book of Acts that when Stephen was being stoned, he looked up and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God, ready to receive him. My prayer is that those who suffer for their faith in our times will have a similar experience, and that if they have to die, their blood will be the seed of the church as Tertullian prophesied long ago.

We are sometimes tempted to feel helpless, hopeless and fearful when we hear stories of persecution. The best antidote for such gloomy feelings is prayer. All of us who believe in Jesus can pray for our brothers and sisters in prison. We can also write simple letters of encouragement to them. Such letters and prayers may seem like weak tools, but that is because we do not think the way God thinks. Words of encouragement are powerful. Prayers are even more powerful. They have power not only to bless others but also to change us. If you want to know more about what you can do to stand with persecuted believers world-wide, the following links would be a great place to start.  God bless you.

Voice of the Martyrs Canada

Open Doors Canada

International Christian Concern

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Lighting up the neighbourhood

This year I went all-out on Christmas lights.   Well, all-out for me, anyway.  Back in November I took advantage of Home Depot’s special offer on new Christmas lights for customers who bring in their old lights for recycling, and bought several strings of new energy-efficient LED lights.  Our house is now brightly lit up for Christmas, both outside and inside.

So what?  No big deal.   Lots of people buy Christmas lights.

Still, for me, this was a significant departure.  I have always been a minimalist as far as outdoor Christmas lights were concerned.  Conservation and environmental preservation were important values to me.  We only ever had one small string of lights outdoors, and they weren’t very visible from the street.

This year, encouraged by the fact that our old lights would be responsibly recycled and that the new LED lights would be more energy-efficient as well as brighter, I broke with my minimalist past. Now we have two much longer strings of lights in the front yard, and another two along the fence in our back yard.  The new lights have really made a difference.  Our house looks much brighter and more attractive from the street.  Even the ones in the back, as well as being nice to look at from our kitchen window,  are visible from many of the neighbouring homes, and also from the street behind us.

Marion and I live in Vanier – a part of Ottawa that has been known as the home of crack houses and brothels.  This is an unfortunate caricature.  Although Vanier is not completely free of problems (and probably never will be on this side of Jesus’ return),  it is in many ways a  delightful place to live.  Crack houses and brothels still exist, but their numbers are greatly reduced.  More and more people are fixing up their homes, cleaning up their parks, planting flowers in the summer and flooding skating rinks in the winter, walking the neighbourhood to keep an eye on problem properties, holding community parties and in various ways choosing to love the place they call home.

All of this is wonderful, and to a great extent it is an answer to prayer. But as a believer in Jesus, I am hungry to see community transformation taken to a whole new level. Vanier has been known as a dark place, and Marion and I want it to be a place where the Light of Christ shines brightly as more and more people recognize Jesus as their Lord.

So, I decided to buy more lights.

At first I didn’t quite know why I was doing this.  But gradually it dawned on my that my out-of-character decision to splurge on Christmas lights was a prophetic statement about what Marion and I want to see happen in our home and on our block. We want our home to be a lighthouse – a place where it’s easy to get connected with the goodness of God. We want our block, and the blocks around us, to be full of the glory of Christ as more and more people get to know that God is good and that they can trust Jesus to be the Lord of their lives. Lighting up our home for Christmas was a way of declaring all this – to ourselves, to the Lord, and to our neighbours – anyone with eyes to see.

 

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Prayer walking through Vanier

Our pastor has called our church to a season of special prayer.   This in itself is an answer to prayer, as a group of intercessors at City Church has been crying out to God for over a year for an increased desire for prayer to be birthed in the congregation.  So we have been holding a series of weekly congregational prayer gatherings at City Church during the month of September, and we have sensed the Spirit of God at work as we have prayed.

Last Wednesday evening, those who gathered for prayer were led out into the streets of Vanier to pray for the community in which our church is placed.  Vanier is a community with many challenges.  A hundred years ago it was a suburb – a quiet village on the outskirts of Ottawa, a desireable place to build a life and raise a family.  More recently Vanier experienced gradual decline over several decades, as its abundance of cheap rental properties became a haven for drug pushers and prostitutes.  But during the past few years a new resolve has arisen among the citizens of Vanier, spearheaded by a coalition of community groups, that it is time to turn things around.

Although only a small minority of the members of City Church actually live in Vanier, as a congregation we feel we have a responsibility to seek the good of the community in which our church building is located and in which we gather for worship each week.   So City Church has participated in various ways in the emerging movement for the restoration of Vanier.  Our prayer walk was one expression of our desire to see Vanier reclaimed and restored.   It was also an expression of our conviction that our city – any city – can only find its true identity and destiny to the extent that Jesus is acknowledged as rightful Lord and King.

We stopped and prayed at several strategic points : a strip club, a little park across the road from a couple of rental properties that have a reputation as drug houses and are frequented by prostitutes, a new housing development, and an Islamic school.  As we prayed in each of these places, God was giving us His heart for the people we were praying for, and showing us glimpses of what He desires to do in each place.

In the past, prayer walkers from our church had tried to be non-obtrusive and stay anonymous, but the group that went out last Wednesday was big enough that anyone on the street would know something was going on.  We got some interesting reactions!  At the strip club we got a number of curious, wondering glances, but nothing more.   At the Islamic school we attracted the attention of some (white, clearly non-Islamic) neighbours who were offended that Christians would pray for Muslims.  The irony here is that I have prayed for many Muslims and none of them had any objection to being prayed for by a Christian – on the contrary they were usually grateful.  We desire to see our Muslim neighbours blessed by the knowledge of the One who truly embodies the principle of Islam (submission to God) – our Messiah Jesus.

At the park, across the road from the drug houses, we met up with a small group of Vanier residents, members of the Vanier Beautification Committee, who have been walking the neighbourhood weekly for over a year, keeping an eye on problem properties.  This was something we hadn’t expected, and it was a source of great encouragement to both groups.  After we had prayed, some of the folks from the Vanier Beautification Committee had tears in their eyes.  I was deeply moved myself, as were many in our group.

Prayer is powerful!  I fully expect that we will be prayer walking through our community again.  It is time for the church to arise and reclaim the land for God’s purposes.

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