Category Archives: Faith and Suffering

Nuggets of Hope 22 – How to Stay Safe

Stay safe.

It’s become one of the dominant messages in the COVID-19 era.

But how, exactly, do we stay safe? How do we protect ourselves?

Before we can really answer that question, we need to ask another question. From what enemy are we trying to protect ourselves?

If you’re trying to protect yourself from getting COVID-19, there are recommended precautions. But what if you have a sneaking suspicion that COVID-19 isn’t your biggest enemy?

Yes, COVID-19 is an enemy. But it can be a useful enemy. Like any crisis, any situation that we can’t control, the pandemic raises important questions for us. Where is my real hope? What am I living for? What do I really want? What is my life really about?

Many people are experiencing heightened anxiety during these times. But their anxiety is not only because of COVID-19.  That’s just the current threat. The reality is that we are all vulnerable to many possible harms. Death is a prospect that none of us can escape in this age.

Disciples of Jesus have a Master who has conquered death on our behalf, and set us free from the power of darkness. If we really believe that, we should be the happiest of people. But we also have an enemy who hates us and desires to rule our thoughts. He does this by planting thoughts which we can choose to accept or reject. But to recognize them and reject them, you need a good spiritual immune system. The contagion that I really want to avoid is that sneaky tendency to focus on myself, and the immune system I need is the good, old-fashioned blood of Jesus that washes me clean from sin, His Word that is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path, and His powerful Spirit who guides me in the ways of love and self-control.

Recently I studied the First Letter of John with a small group of friends. John is identified as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Of course Jesus loved all his disciples but he apparently had an especially close relationship with John. By the time he wrote this letter, John was an old man who had seen most of the companions of his youth put to death for their faith in Jesus.

For John, the issues were clear. He ended his message to his flock with these sobering but hope-filled and powerful words.

We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them. We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and he is eternal life. Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.

1 John 5:18-21

The safest place to be is close to Jesus. That’s where I want to stay. That’s where I’m placing my hope.

 

 

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Nuggets of Hope 20 – Deliver us from Evil

Deliver us from evil.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians are in shock because of the recent tragic sequence of events in Nova Scotia in which twenty-two victims lost their lives to a crazed gunman.

There are many dimensions to this tragedy. At the most basic level, there is the gut-wrenching loss and grief suffered by the loved ones of those who lost their lives. It’s hard to imagine the pain they must be feeling. They are greatly in need of our prayers.

One of the victims was an RCMP constable, Heidi Stevenson, a wife and mother of two children who had planned to rendezvous with a fellow officer. She was deceived by the gunman’s replica RCMP vehicle and uniform. We like to be able to assume that our neighbours and colleagues mean us no harm. This is basic to the fabric of life in small town Canada. When we are deceived, it can tend to erode that trust in the reliability and truthfulness of others.

It’s natural to prefer safety and trust to danger and betrayal. Yet Jesus taught his followers not to be surprised by evil. He taught us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. In other words, take full account of the existence of evil and the devious strategies of the evil one, and yet do not let yourself become cynical or hardened or fearful. Despite the presence of evil, disciples of Jesus in a fallen world are called to remain stable, fruitful and full of hope. To do this, we need both the innocence of a young child and the wisdom of a battle-hardened veteran.

Jesus of Nazareth, Israel’s Messiah and the hope of the earth, perfectly embodied both. He was fully given to his Father’s will and free of guile, yet he was wise regarding evil. The evil one had no hold on Jesus but he was fully aware of the schemes of the enemy. In that full knowledge, he freely gave his life as a sacrifice – for what? So that we could live out our days in this life with no more tragic eruptions of evil – no more plagues or shootings?

No, Jesus didn’t promise us that. Instead He promised us opportunities to bear witness amidst increasing trouble, with peace in the midst of trials – followed by a horrific final crisis and then a world restored, full of the knowledge of the Lord, to be inherited by those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes.

We can’t escape pain in this life. But we can make the pain worthwhile, by entrusting ourselves to the One who alone is good and who gave His life for us. There is a place for wisdom and prudence in the life of a disciple, but these things by themselves will not lead to life. In the end the only way to be safe from the schemes of the Evil One is to give ourselves wholeheartedly to Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb and the conquering Lion.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

John 10:10-11

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Nuggets of Hope 15 – Crucified with Christ

I am writing this on Good Friday morning. Four weeks ago today, my five-year-old granddaughter Madison was scheduled to come for a sleepover with Grandma and Grandpa. Marion and I were looking forward to this, but a couple of days before she was to come, public concerns about COVID-19 began to multiply, and that weekend businesses and schools began to close. We haven’t had that sleepover yet. It will have to wait.

This pandemic has been much harder on some than on others. Marion and I have had no real hardship, and we are profoundly grateful and humbled for what we can only view as God’s protection and provision for us. Yes, we’ve had to defer some plans, we miss our children, grandchildren and friends, and our finances will probably be affected long term, but we are well and safe, and very conscious of the kindness of God to us.

Still, the pandemic, coupled with the recent death of my friend Jerry Wallace, who succumbed to cancer 10 days ago, has led to some sober reflection. Why should some be spared and others not? Why should I be alive and well when my friend – a devoted servant of God, younger than I – has come to the end of his earthly journey, leaving behind a grieving family?

The only answer God has given me is that my life is not my own. It belongs to Jesus. He purchased me on the cross and paid the ultimate price so that I could be free from the bondage of living for myself and live instead for him. I don’t get to decide how long or short my life in this age will be. I’ve been set free from worrying about those details. I do get to decide whether I am going to spend the years I have left focussing on myself or living for Jesus and His Kingdom.

The Apostle Paul summed up the Christian life this way.

I have been crucified with Christ
and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
The life I now live in the body,
I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

COVID-19 should not really be a shock for a disciple of Jesus. This pandemic shows us that we are not really in control. It is a reminder that we live in a dying age. Our hope is not in this age but in the age to come.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to get sick or die any more than the next person, and I certainly believe that it’s an important mandate for Christians to help relieve suffering and provide care for those in need as we are able. In doing this, we follow the example of our Master. But our motivation should not be fear of suffering, but hope in the age to come and the promise of resurrection.

Jerry Wallace’s passing has been a strong and compelling reminder to me to live my life in view of eternity. Because of the cross of Jesus, I have hope for this life and for the age to come. I know that my sins are forgiven and I know that I have an eternal inheritance awaiting me in a world made new. I don’t have to be ruled by the fear of sickness, death or economic hardship. I am free to serve God by serving others, without worrying about how things will turn out for me.

Whatever happens to me in this life, I can live with my eyes fixed on the One who went to the cross for me and is seated at the Father’s right hand. So can you. If you believe in Jesus, you are free to live in hope. No matter what happens to you, it will be OK in the end. Everything in this age is temporary. His Kingdom is coming. All things will be made new, and you can expect to live with Him forever.

If you don’t yet share that confidence, this is a great time to surrender your life to Jesus and ask him to give you a new heart, a new spirit and a new focus. If you already share my hope in Jesus as coming King, then let me encourage you to use this COVID-19 crisis as a great opportunity to find ways of serving and encouraging those around you. Ask the Holy Spirit what to do. He’ll be glad to show you.

God bless you.

 

 

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Nuggets of Hope 13 – All Things

All things. Yes, I did mean all things. All things work together for good. 

All things? Everything?

Yes, all things. That’s what it says. Romans 8:28. You know the verse.

Even COVID-19? Lord, surely you couldn’t mean that.

Yes, yes I do. I do mean exactly that. For those who love Me, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to My purpose.

But God … how can you mean that? How can this pandemic be good?

I didn’t say it was good. I said it can work for your good. But since you’re asking Me questions, I have a question for you. It’s a really important question. The most important question anyone will ever ask you. Do you love Me?

Well …. it’s a bit complicated right now. I mean, you aren’t exactly managing things the way I would like.

Well, do you?

I think so. Sometimes. Sort of. A little bit. But I don’t like some of the things you do – or allow.

Then maybe you should spend some time with Me, and let me show you what I want to do in you through this test.

Maybe. I guess that would be a good idea. But God, can’t you just make things like normal again, and make this coronavirus go away? I don’t like tests. I don’t like upheavals. I don’t like it when I can’t control things, or when my life doesn’t work the way I think it should. And I don’t like to see people suffering.

I know.

Yes. Yes, I suppose you do know. You know my thoughts, don’t you.

Yes, I know your thoughts. But you don’t seem to know My thoughts very well. Did you know there’s another part to that verse?

Is there? Doesn’t it just say all things work together for good for those who love You?

That’s part of it. But remember that bit about being called according to My purpose?

Oh yeah. That part. So what’s that all about, anyway?

You tell me. What do you think is My purpose for you?

I dunno. A nice, easy comfortable life here on earth – after all, I’m a Christian, right? I go to church, I believe in you, I hang out with my nice Christian friends, I do good Christian stuff, and you’re supposed to protect me and my family and make sure we don’t have any trouble. After all, we’re good people. And then I get to go to heaven. But it doesn’t quite seem to be working out the way I thought. This COVID-19 thing really has me rattled.

Yes, I noticed. But did you know that you left out a couple of bits? My purpose for you is a bit bigger than you thought. 

It is? I was afraid of that.

Yep. Did you know there’s a part in there about becoming like Jesus

Really? You expect that? Nobody can be as good as Jesus. He’s special. He’s different.

Well, I didn’t say you had to do that part by yourself. You can’t make yourself like Jesus. You can’t change yourself. Especially not when you keep trying to play it safe and stay out of trouble. That’s why I’m helping you out by letting you go through some problems. 

That’s supposed to help me?

Well, how else am I going to teach you to depend on Me? You spend most of your time trying to figure everything out by yourself. So I allowed the devil to stir up a problem that was too big for anyone to handle. 

I have to admit, I did wonder if maybe the devil had his hand in this. But I don’t understand why you would let him do that. I still don’t see how this pandemic can lead to anything good.

You see how your leaders are trying really hard to cope, keep everyone from getting sick. And medical researchers are working really hard to find solutions, things they can use to manage this problem. They want to find a vaccine. They don’t want to have another problem like this one again. I understand that. I understand that you’re all frightened, and you just want it to end. Believe me, I feel it. I’m hearing way more prayers than usual, and most of them are full of fear. But at least they’re praying. That’s a start. But most people haven’t got a clue what this is really about. 

What is it about then?

My enemy – the devil – wants to destroy you all. He always does. He hates you, and he hates Me. But I’m not going to allow that. I am letting him test you, though. To see how you’ll do. To see how many of my people – those who say they’re my people, anyway – will actually turn to Me. Did you know that’s how you become more like Jesus?

By turning to you and paying attention to you? Really? It’s that simple?

Yes, really. That’s how it works. And not just when things are hard. All the time. You have no idea how much I love you and want to see you grow up into the amazing, glorious person I intend you to become. I want you to live with Me in My perfect Kingdom that is coming, where there is no more suffering or death or pain or anything evil. But none of that can happen unless you go through some troubles. Without troubles, you won’t change, because you’d rather stay in control, you’d rather keep things safe and comfortable. The reason I allow troubles in your life is so that you’ll turn to Me and let Me have My way in your life. 

Ouch. But yes, you’re right. I see that, a little bit anyway. I do want to learn to turn to You and trust You more. I’m tired of being afraid. So what should I do? How can I fix this?

You can’t fix it. That’s the whole point. But I can. I can work in you so that you’re not so anxious, so worried, so stressed. I can teach you to trust Me. I can make you more like Jesus. I can cause you to grow in love, so that you can actually help people in this crisis and not just worry about yourself. I can prepare you for My glorious Kingdom that is coming. I can do all that. But you have to pay attention to Me. 

OK God. Let’s give it a go. I think that would be a good thing. My way’s not working so well.

I noticed that. Glad you’re on side. Walk with me through this. 

Thank you, Lord. Please help me. Teach me Your ways.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. (Romans 8:28-30 NLT)

 

 

 

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Nuggets of Hope 5 – Purchased by God

 

Money.

In our world, we all need it, and can’t live without it. We use money to purchase many of our daily needs. In fact, the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis is one of the big concerns that many people have.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am offering these brief daily reflections to inspire hope in God’s people as we think about different aspects of His purposes and plans for us.

Today I want to consider a powerful truth. God has placed a value on your life.

In addressing a moral issue that was plaguing the community of believers in Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote these powerful, hope-giving words (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit,
who is in you, whom you have received from God?
You are not your own; 
you were bought at a price.
Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Money is how most of us assign value to things. We say something is valuable if it costs a lot of money. But God didn’t use money to purchase us. He used something of far greater value – the life of a person. And not just any person. He purchased us with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

This means that we are of great value to God. You don’t pay a high price for something that is unimportant to you. The more you pay for something, the more you value it. God paid the highest possible price to redeem us from sin and eternal destruction. He paid the life of His own beloved Son. He did this because He loves us and wants us to be with him forever.

As God’s purchased possession, we are secure in Him. In the midst of all the shakings and uncertainties of the time we are in, those who belong to Jesus and have surrendered our lives to Him can know with confidence that we are loved, chosen by God to inherit a Kingdom that cannot be shaken.

Being purchased with the blood of Christ also means that we do not belong to ourselves. When you buy something, you have a purpose in mind. God redeemed us from the empty way of life of the lost world around us so that we could live in a different way.  How we walk through this time, or any time, is of great importance. We are called to purity, to hope, to love.  We’re called to think of others and not just ourselves. Fear can make us stupid, but the love and sanctifying power of Jesus enables us to live by a different standard. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

My granddaughter Madison loves to sing This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. We have a light within us that is placed there by God. We are His purchased possession. We are of high value, and secure in Him. Let’s shine for Him today.

 

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Nuggets of Hope 4 – God’s Spirit in us

His Spirit lives in us.

In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, I am offering these brief reflections as a way of finding hope by turning our attention to God. Today I want to focus on the good news that those who have put their hope in Jesus have His Spirit living within them.

Writing to the believers in Corinth long ago, Paul penned these words – whoever is united with the Lord is one with Him in spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17 NIV). As Jesus promised, I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17 ESV).

This is powerfully good news.

If you have put your hope in Jesus, if you belong to Him, then even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the daily onslaught of bad news, the Spirit of Jesus dwells within you. Your thoughts and feelings do not have to be ruled by the latest frightening report. He is willing and able to give you wisdom, insight, comfort and direction. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

My friends, those are not just nice-sounding words. This is truth to live by. We don’t have to be paralyzed by fear. Jesus is holding us securely. Each day we can get up and set our hearts to trust Him, and direct our hearts to listen to what His Spirit wants to say to us about the affairs of the day. I have found that Holy Spirit is ready and willing to speak to me about anything that concerns me. It’s an amazing blessing that has brought me peace and perspective more times than I can count.

Not only that, the Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.  We have the hope of eternal life.  As Paul wrote to the believers in Rome long ago, if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:11 ESV). We don’t live for this life only. A million years from now, this current trouble will be only a memory, but how we respond to Him in the midst of it will have an eternal impact. He is developing our hearts, training us to trust Him, preparing us for glory. The rulers of this age quite clearly do not know what to do. They are making it up as they go along. I speak this with no disrespect. They are doing their best, and they are in need of our prayers, but they are clearly overwhelmed.

Our God, however, is far from overwhelmed. He is at work in this situation for the good of those who love Him. He is not worried or anxious. He is working in those who trust Him, preparing them for what is to come.

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.
1 Corinthians 2:9-10 NKJV

People of God, let us rise up in courage and seize the day. His Spirit lives in us.

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Let’s talk about mental health

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.

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Knocking on heaven’s door

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.

Matthew 7:7

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.

 

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Born to die

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.

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Are you ready?

Are you ready for Christmas?

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard those words over the past week.

Usually people are thinking of external preparations – gifts, cooking, decorating, holiday plans.

I have nothing against any of these things in themselves.

I love many things about Christmas.

I love the beauty of Christmas lights against the darkness of a late December afternoon when I walk through the neighbourhood on my way home from the bus stop after work.

I enjoy the opportunity provided by the holidays to get together with friends and family.

I love Christmas baking and all the seasonal foods.

I love the spirit of generosity that motivates people to give at Christmas time. I am not a very creative gift giver, and have never thought of Christmas primarily as a chance to get stuff I wanted (I am grateful for having grown up in a household where this truly was not the focus of the season) but I have come to find much joy in giving gifts to my loved ones – especially when I can find something that will really bless the person to whom I am giving the gift, and not just add to the accumulation of stuff they don’t need.

I love the joy on little children’s faces – children young and unspoiled enough to truly enjoy the simple things that make the holiday special.

I love Christmas carols. In fact, it was through the words of a Dutch Christmas carol that as a young boy I first became aware that the baby Jesus came into the world to die for my sins and thus redeem me. Though it took me almost three decades to fully appropriate that revelation, I will be forever grateful.

I love that at this time of year it is still acceptable, in our increasingly pagan culture, to talk about Jesus and sing songs about Him and to Him.

But there are also things I hate about Christmas.

I hate that this holiday has become an occasion for people to put themselves into debt as they buy gifts for others way beyond their capacity.

I hate that so many missions and charities go underfunded while way too much money gets spent on gifts people don’t need or want. (And to those who say that all this buying fuels the economy I have a simple answer. So does giving to charity. It results in the purchase of goods and services for people in need).

I’m not an ascetic or an anti-materialist. I am grateful for prosperity. I’d just like to see more of its fruits directed towards the things that people really need, and the people who really need them.

I hate that so many people are lonely, grieving and ignored at Christmas time.

I hate that there is so much poverty, oppression, sickness and injustice in a world that is still very much in need of the light of Messiah.

I hate that so many people seem to have so little idea what Jesus truly represents and why He came.

So when I hear those words

Are you ready? 

I think

Ready for what?

Ready for Christmas?

Or ready for Jesus?

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