Category Archives: Faith and Suffering

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?

Share

Love is stronger than death

I recently heard the inspiring story of a boy named Sagan and his friends, a group of former slumdogs in India whose lives were changed forever when they were rescued from desperate poverty through child sponsorship in Gospel for Asia’s Bridge of Hope program.

Bridge of Hope not only fed and clothed Sagan and his friends, but also taught them the love and power of God. With the simplicity of a child they believed what they were taught and put it into practice. The amazing results are portrayed in this brief but powerful video. God answered their simple prayers of faith, and a dying boy was raised back to life and health. The impact was astounding. (Please don’t skip over the video – you won’t regret the 5 minutes it takes to watch).

The love of Jesus is stronger than the power of death.

 

Share

You make me brave

In recent weeks the social media have been full of reports of the horrific brutalities committed by ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Beheadings, crucifixions, rapes, genital mutilation – these are only some of the atrocities committed by ISIS against those they consider infidels, including many Christian believers. The capital of Kurdistan in Iraq is now full of refugees and surrounded by bloodthirsty jihadist armies. The only thing holding the jihadis at bay is the threat of American airstrikes should they proceed to march on the Kurdish capital.

As one who is called to intercede for God’s people, I have found that I can only take these reports in limited doses. I do need to be aware of the strategies and schemes of the evil one, but if I allow my attention to be riveted by the works of darkness, my soul can easily fall into the grip of lethargy and my prayers become negative and faithless – if I pray them at all.

This is not the lethargy of one who does not care. It is the lethargy of one who cares, but feels small and hopeless in the face of the seemingly overwhelming power of evil. Perhaps you are familiar with these sorts of thoughts and feelings.

Today I rediscovered God’s antidote for this sort of lethargy. While going through my mail pile I came across a number of missionary newsletters containing testimonies of the hardships, sufferings and needs faced by Christian workers in Cuba, China, Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Iran and elsewhere. But these newsletters were not full of despair. On the contrary they were full of hope. To borrow a phrase from one of the newsletters, despite these difficulties, there are many good news stories to celebrate.

There are always good news stories to celebrate. Even in Syria and Iraq, as Christians are being slaughtered, others are turning to Jesus as Muslims search for a better answer. As darkness seems to be increasing all over the earth, we need to remind ourselves that the Spirit of God is also at work all over the earth, revealing the glory of Jesus in increasing measure to hungry, seeking hearts. John the apostle reminds us that in the hour of Satan’s rage, when he makes furious war on the people of God because he knows his time is short, God’s people overcome the enemy by a powerful but simple three-part recipe – the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and the willingness to die for their faith if need be, knowing that the Lamb has already conquered death on their behalf.

The title of this post is taken from a great new worship song by Amanda Cook of Bethel Music. I love this song because it calls my attention to the power and goodness of God, and causes faith and courage to rise up in my heart.

I don’t want to escape the hard realities of life. I want to face them with hope, in the knowledge that the Lamb of God is victorious. So I turn to the Lord to receive anew the assurance of His great love and His keeping power. In that strong confidence, I find that I am empowered once again to pray prayers full of renewed faith and courage for those who are facing an uncertain future in this life, but who have placed their hope in the risen One and his coming Kingdom.

 

 

Share

The Bride and the Wedding to come

I have had a series of dreams over the past several weeks about the Bride of Christ and the wedding feast that is coming. This past week I had two such dreams, on separate nights, that were very similar. As I reflect on these dreams I am convinced that they contain significant messages, not just for me but for the people of God. In this blog I want to relate the core details of the two most recent dreams. 

The main character in the dreams was a young woman who was looking forward to her wedding. She was also a student who was trying to complete her studies. Her immediate challenges were filling her sights so that she couldn’t really focus on the joy of the wedding to come.  She was discontent and in distress because her circumstances were not perfect. She had goals that she was afraid she would not be able to achieve.

I knew that this young woman represented the Bride of Christ. She had a glorious future. She was destined to wear a crown of glory. But all that seemed very far off, and at the moment, her immediate problems were dominating her life. The crown she was wearing at the moment was not a crown of glory and beauty but a crown of fear and worry.

It’s as if she were saying “God, how do you expect me to get ready for our wedding when I have all these problems? Can’t you just fix the problems for me now, and make everything right? Then I can get ready for the wedding.” But what she didn’t realize was that the trials and tests and hardships were not a mistake and they were not an accident. They were planned by God as part of her maturing process. They were part of the beauty preparations that the King had provided for her. How she responded to the testing would determine the level of beauty and glory that would be formed in her.

One of our elders spoke to our church last week about the process of Christ being formed in us. Christ’s beauty is formed in us is as we respond to him in love and faith in the midst of testing and hardship.

Then the scene shifted and now it was the day of her wedding. She had come through the tests as pure gold, and she was radiant. She was dressed in white and was wearing a beautiful golden crown that was studded with gems. In the dream she was approaching a throne, in her wedding dress, and Jesus was on the throne. She laid her crown at His feet and knelt before Him. He placed it back on her head and raised her up to stand at his side. Her heart towards Him was to worship and adore Him, and His heart towards her was to raise her up to stand beside Him as his partner.

One day we will stand before Him in white and we will be wearing a crown of love and devotion and glory and honour and we will lay that crown at His feet and crown Him with it. But as we lay those crowns at His feet He will give them right back to us, and take our hand and invite us to stand beside Him.

We’ll say to Him “Jesus, you are so worthy. The glory belongs to You alone”. And we’ll bow down and lay our crowns at His feet.

And He will take our hand and raise us up again, and He will say to us, “My bride, you are so beautiful to Me. I want you to share My glory”.

That’s where we are going.

Share

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.

 

Share

Protected

Protected

I was riding my bike along the Rideau River cycle path, pedaling through familiar parkland, on the last leg of my half-hour ride home from work.  The river was on my right, partly obscured by a narrow strip of wooded land. A strip of open parkland was on my left. There was the usual after-work traffic along the cycle path, but nothing to suggest that an accident was about to happen. Everything seemed perfectly normal.

I had two meetings that evening – both quite important. I was enjoying the ride, but I wanted to get home, get showered and changed, and prepare for the evening.

Then it happened. As is often the case with accidents, there was little warning. My attention was focussed on an oncoming cyclist on the other side of the pathway, and I was adjusting my position accordingly. There were also some pedestrians on or near the path, and I was conscious of needing to avoid them as well. Consequently, I wasn’t looking to my right, or I might have noticed some movement in the bushes by the river. Suddenly a mid-size dog bounded out of the bushes onto the path directly in front of me. The next thing I remember, I was on the ground, screaming in pain. I had gone down hard. All the major joints on my right side – shoulder, elbow, hip and knee – were throbbing.

After half a minute or so, I managed to get up, and found to my relief that I could still move my shoulder. This was my first concern, as four years previously I had dislocated a shoulder in a similar accident.  I was a little dazed, and had painful scrapes and road rash all along my right side, but had no serious injuries. Several people stopped to make sure I was all right. I thanked them all and told them I would be OK.

I checked out my bike and found that it was basically intact. So, after waiting a few minutes for the pain to subside to a tolerable level, I got back on the bike and rode the short distance home – a wounded warrior seeking comfort and shelter. I have never been more happy to reach the safety and familiarity of my own back yard.

After I had showered and washed my wounds, Marion bandaged the worst one and put ointment on the others. But it wasn’t until she asked me “Is your head OK?” that I realized something remarkable. My head did not hurt at all. It was totally fine. I did have a few seconds of very mild lightheadedness, but absolutely no pain and no symptoms of concussion. Then we both realized that I ought to take a look at my helmet. I took a look at it, and saw two cracks on the right side – a little one and a big one.

When I thought about the cracks in my helmet, I realized that I had been protected from what could have been very serious harm. A bruised hip and shoulder, and scrapes along the elbow and knee, are really no big deal. Today, four days later, I am well on the way to recovery from all these minor wounds. But if I had landed hard on the pavement without a helmet, who knows what the outcome would have been?

Paul the apostle wrote many letters of advice and instruction to young churches full of new Christians living in a hostile world. He knew he needed to give them plenty of hope and encouragement. He told these new believers that they were like stars in a dark night sky. He told them that in the midst of the darkness of a corrupt and dying world, they were children of the day who could look forward to the glorious new world that God had promised. He also said that in the midst of the struggles of living in a culture that was mostly hostile to their faith and values, they could equip themselves by putting on faith and love like a breastplate, and the hope of salvation like a helmet. In this way their hearts and minds would be protected.

Marion rightly reminds me that I need to wear my bike helmet every time I go out on my bike. I confess that in the past, on occasion I have not worn it when I was going for only a short ride on a hot day in the neighbourhood. On those muggy July days, a helmet is hot and sweaty, and sometimes you don’t want to wear it. But since my recent accident, my helmet has proved its value to me, and I will wear it every time I ride my bike. There was no way I could have predicted my accident of a few days ago. I could need my helmet at any moment.

In my email inbox I receive daily bulletins detailing some of the struggles of Christ-followers in lands where being a Christian makes you a public enemy. When your home could be burned, your pastor could be jailed, your daughter could be raped or forced into a marriage she does not want simply because you and your family are Christians, you need a hope that circumstances can’t destroy. You can’t wait until persecution hits to secure yourself with this hope. The hope of salvation has to be your daily companion, because you could need it at any moment.

Sometimes, we don’t feel like turning off the TV or the laptop or the tablet or the smartphone to immerse ourselves in the Word of God. Sometimes we’d rather entertain ourselves than feed our spirits with worship. Christians in Canada have it pretty easy and our need for the hope of salvation may not seem all that pressing. But what are you going to do when your mother dies, or your father gets laid off, or your best friend is on drugs, or your marriage is falling apart, or your employer goes bankrupt, or you are facing sexual temptation, or someone in your life needs hope and you have none to give? What would you give for an intimate knowledge of God when disaster comes? If you have no real life with God – if your “faith, hope and love account” is bankrupt – what will you do when your next door neighbour or your friend at work or school is hungry for answers? What will you have to feed them if your cupboard is bare? And what will you do when persecution comes to Canada? What will you do when Jesus returns? How will you answer him?

I could take my helmet with me and strap it onto the back of my bike, and say that I have my helmet so I’m OK, but it wouldn’t do me any good. You may say you believe the Bible is the Word of God, but if you don’t read it, it does you no good. As for me, I can truthfully say that I know the Word of God quite well. But if I don’t pay attention to the Word I know, it doesn’t do me a bit of good. I can say that I know Jesus, but if I don’t listen to Him, what good is it? I know lots of worship songs, but if I don’t take time to worship the Lord with my whole being, what good are the songs?

The only way that I know of to put on faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet is to do it every day. Every day I need to turn to Jesus, renew my mind with His word, turn away from distractions and pour out my heart to Him in worship. Daily I need to be quiet with Him and listen to what He wants to say to me. This is how my hope stays fresh and bright and alive. Even two or three days without setting time aside to give my full attention to Jesus, and I can tell the difference.

I can’t afford to ride my bike without a helmet. It’s foolish. My helmet is my protection. I know that now, and I will never ride without it again.

In just the same way, I can’t afford to travel the pathways of life without wearing the helmet of the hope of salvation. I need to anchor myself in Jesus every day. He is ready to protect me, empower me and fill me with hope so that I’m ready for every circumstance – but it’s up to me to put on my helmet.

 

Share

Praying for those who suffer for their faith

While reading John 16 this morning I was struck by these words of Jesus in light of the increasing frequency of persecution of believers in recent years (especially in the Islamic world where the persecutors frequently claim to be acting in the name of Allah). Although the original context was the persecution of the first generation of believers by the Jewish leaders, when I think of the butchery of Christ followers at the hands of Islamists during the current civil war in Syria, or the massacres in Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram, or the persecution of the growing underground Iranian church at the hands of the authorities, these words of Jesus are as pertinent as if they had been spoken yesterday.

Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. John 16:2-4

I can’t really imagine what it would be like to suffer or die for my faith. Compared to this, the opposition I have experienced as a Christian in Canada seems so small, although it is becoming more common and more frequent. But I know we are called to pray for our brothers and sisters, and this morning I am praying that those who suffer for their faith will know that their sufferings are not an accident or a mistake, that in a real sense they are sharing in the sufferings of Christ, that Jesus has gone before them, is with them in the fiery furnace and that they have a reward waiting for them as they remain faithful. I am praying that they will have an intimate knowledge of how much Jesus loves them and of His presence with them in the fire. And I am praying that I will be faithful – and fully alive to God – in whatever circumstances He calls me to walk through. I am also praying that I, and my brothers and sisters who are suffering things I can only imagine, will be able to walk in love towards those who oppose us.

I am so glad that the same Lord who promised suffering and persecution also had these words of encouragement for His friends.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. John 16:20-22

Share

Earnest money

On Sunday Marion and I arrived home from a nine-day trip to Minnesota to see our son Simeon, his wife Heather and their two beautiful little girls. As always after one of these visits, my mind is full of thoughts and impressions.

Marion and I thoroughly enjoyed our granddaughters, of course. Their enthusiasm for life is refreshing. We read stories, played games, went to the park. It was loads of fun to play with them, and watch them being silly with Bethany and Dunovan. They are evidently very well-loved children, which gives me great joy.

The trip home was long. We knew it would be. All four of us arrived home feeling very tired. Marion and I don’t recover from these things as quickly as we used to. Monday, and again yesterday, it was a mental and physical challenge to get underway in the morning and get myself off to work. I was feeling my age.

Yesterday morning I heard a song from the 60s on the radio. The singer was praising the delight and fulfillment that a lover can bring. “You feel like heaven to touch – I thank God I’m alive – can’t get my eyes off of you”. I enjoyed hearing a song from my youth, but soon realized that the song – like many love songs – was putting a weight of expectation on a lover that no earthly relationship can bear. Our hearts cry out for someone who can fulfill all our hopes and dreams, but this is a cry that can never be satisfied in this age. We have wonderful moments in this life – glimpses of glory. But we also have much pain, and many reminders of our frailty, our failings, and our inability to rescue ourselves. These reminders become more frequent and harder to ignore as we get older. Much as we might like to push them out of the way, we can’t.

Later that day, I had a very graphic reminder of this truth, as one of my colleagues – a woman in her mid-fifties – told me that her husband had suffered a heart attack, had been hospitalized and was awaiting triple heart bypass surgery. Prior to his heart attack there had been no indication that he had any heart trouble. She is afraid and feels out of control. She is also in pain from sciatica. I promised to pray for her and she thanked me. She has heard the gospel before but hasn’t really owned it for herself. I am praying that she will have her eyes opened to her true need for Jesus.

As if it weren’t enough to face the challenges of aging and our own personal weakness and frailty, we also face a long list of bigger issues. Near the top of my personal list of concerns is the growing frequency of violent religious persecution by Islamic militants in many nations. In North America we hear only a tiny fraction of what is really happening, and even most of what we do hear is sanitized so as not to disturb our politically-correct sensibilities. But along with that, we have famines in many places, increasing incidence of earthquakes, wars, human trafficking, the drug trade, abortion, unemployment, racism, environmental degradation, despotic and corrupt governments in many nations, and numerous other issues that gnaw at the edges of our consciousness.

Yet despite all these challenges and problems, humans continue to find reasons to hope. We do this because we are made for hope. Without hope, life is not really worth living.

And so, everyone in Ottawa is enjoying the long-awaited spring weather. People are going for walks, sitting on patios, working in their gardens. Why do we do this? Because it feels good – yes – but ultimately, because it feeds our desire for hope. We hope for a harvest. We hope that something better is ahead.

And so, this coming Saturday, I am leading a prayer walk in my neighbourhood of Vanier. We are going to pray for our neighbourhood because we believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the hope of the earth; because we believe that He has conquered death; because we believe that His Kingdom is coming; and because we believe that He hears the cry of all who call on Him in sincere faith. We want to see our neighbours blessed with this knowledge and all that flows from it, and so we pray.

And so, my son Simeon has sold his house and is preparing to move his family to a city where none of them have ever lived. He is seeking to get connected to a Christian community there, is looking for a house to buy, and has plans to start a business, in the confidence that he is following the call of God.

To buy a house, he has to pay something called earnest money. I have never heard it called that in Canada, but in the USA, that’s what they call it. Earnest money is a deposit. It is proof that you are in earnest – that you really intend to complete the sale, to buy the house, to finish the deal.

Is God in earnest about his promises? In other words, is He serious? Are His promises reliable and trustworthy? In the face of personal frailty and suffering, and massive threats to world peace and well-being, is there really hope? Will the glory of God really fill the earth? Will evil really be overthrown? Will Jesus really reign openly as King?

Paul the Apostle, whose life was totally turned upside down the day that he met Jesus, declared that without hope of a coming resurrection, our faith is pointless.  Our faith only makes sense if God finishes what he started when He sent Jesus to the earth. But praise God, that is exactly what He has promised to do. And we have more than just promises. We have glimpses of glory.  Those who have put their trust in Jesus, and received the Holy Spirit, have living proof that His promises are sure. The King James version of the Bible calls the Spirit the earnest of our inheritance. The Holy Spirit is God’s proof that he is in earnest, that He is serious, that He will finish what He started. We have an advance taste, a down payment, a deposit. We have a measure of the life of God living on the inside of us.

One day we will see Jesus, the lover of our souls, reigning in glory over a restored earth from His throne in Jerusalem. On that day, in the words of the song I heard yesterday, we will truly have reason to say “Can’t get my eyes off of you”.

Share

Tragedy in Boston

By now almost everyone has heard of the terrible tragedy that took place at the Boston Marathon yesterday, in which two bombs killed three people and injured many others. Among the dead was an eight-year-old boy who had been waiting for his father to finish the race.

Words fail to describe the horror of such a scene. One of the more common responses to tragedies such as this is anguish. Many ask, How could anyone do this?

Most of us are deeply disturbed by such acts and can never imagine ourselves doing something so terrible. But what we don’t usually see is that left to ourselves, while we may not be given to evil, all of us are given to preserving our own life. While we could not imagine ourselves doing such a terrible act of violence, our decision to live for ourselves – our primary commitment to preserving our own life – means that in the face of darkness fear takes over, and the best we can do is to try to protect ourselves and those we love. This is how evil wins.

I have been reading through the gospels lately, and I have been struck all over again by some of the radical things Jesus said. He called his followers to be willing to die for him, and he wasn’t talking about terrorism – or Crusades either. He was talking about radical, sacrificial obedience to the way of the cross. He was talking about being willing to suffer for the sake of love.

This seems strange to most of us. It’s certainly contrary to our normal human desire to preserve our own life. I mean, who really wants to suffer and die?

The apostle Paul had been a terrorist before he met the risen Christ. He had made it his business to seek out, terrorize and persecute Jews who had come to believe that Yeshua (Jesus) was risen from the dead and was Israel’s Messiah. Like today’s Islamic terrorists, or the medieval Crusaders, he was completely sincere – he believed he was doing the will of God. Yet even in his sincerity, he was a violent and wicked man – as he himself later admitted after his life was turned around when the risen Jesus encountered him. For the rest of his life he would serve the One whose people he had hitherto persecuted. The same thing has happened to some of today’s Islamic terrorists, notably Walid Shoebat and others.

This morning I was reading some of Paul’s words and they really got my attention.  He says that he always carried the death of Jesus in his body. This seems like a strange and even morbid thing to say. But then he goes on to say that because he carried the death of Jesus in his body, he was able to manifest the life of the risen Jesus in his life.

Consider for a moment. Even if you don’t get killed by a terrorist, you are going to die anyway. You can’t avoid it. But Jesus didn’t even try to avoid his death. In fact, he freely embraced it for the sake of others, and now He is alive forever, the first of many who have entrusted their lives to Him and who will share His glory when he returns to rule the earth openly. Could this be what it means to carry his death in my body – to embrace the fact that I am going to die one way or another, and to crucify my own ambitions, hopes and fears so that Jesus can live his life in and through me?

If I am truly given to Jesus, if I have died to my own goals and ambitions, I believe it is possible to face horror unafraid. Not only unafraid, but able to give life to others without becoming bitter, hardened or discouraged – because it is his life I am giving, not my own. This is the testimony of the first apostles and many of those who have followed him since then.

Have I already attained this? Far from it. But that’s how I want to respond to this tragedy. For me, while sobering, it is a salutary reminder that I am a broken man who needs – and has found – a Saviour, that my life now belongs to Him, and that the life that is truly life is found only in living as a servant, friend and lover of the One who gave his life for me.

Share

Seeds of life

Today Marion’s parents celebrated sixty-five years of marriage. A simple family celebration marked the occasion. Later, as we said our good-byes, I thanked my parents-in-law for getting married, pointing out that had they not done so, I could not have met and married my wife, nor would Marion and I have had our own four wonderful children or our two beautiful granddaughters. I looked at my father-in-law, gestured at the family members around the room, and said “See what you started?”

Towards the end of the day I went for a bike ride by the river. I needed to clear my head and get some perspective. It was a beautiful October day, and the water sparkled in the sun’s rays. The pathway was full of people enjoying the final hour before sunset. I thought about seeds. Each of the trees that line the river began with a seed. Each human life begins with a seed. At the beginning of all things, when God made man and woman, he told them to multiply and fill the earth. When Marion’s father and mother pledged their vows sixty-five years ago, they made a covenant to be seed-planters.

When a couple conceives a child, they don’t know the details of what that child will become. There is an element of mystery involved. But in hope, they look for their creative act of love to bear fruit and give rise to a child who will be a bearer of their hopes and dreams.

In a less literal but no less real sense, we plant seeds every day with our words and our actions. We impart to others what has been worked into the soil of our own lives, for good or for ill. We do this whether we know it or not, but as we co-operate actively with God’s purposes, uprooting the plantings of the evil one in our lives and cultivating the plantings of the Lord, we can become more effective and fruitful sowers of good seed in the lives of others.

As I have been waiting on the Lord for an answer about work these past six months, I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of reflecting. At the beginning of this waiting period, I kept myself occupied with several small projects. But as time went on, both Marion and I became increasingly convinced that the Lord was telling us both to use this time to rest in Him and seek His face – to meditate on the Word, to pray, to worship, to listen to teachings, and to allow Him to work some new seed into the soil of our hearts.

Along the way, of course, we have wrestled with God about the issue of work and provision. We have been in no real financial distress, but we’ve had to make several adjustments. I had no idea that I would be out of work for this long, yet all along the way Marion and I have received clear and repeated assurances from the Lord that His provision would come at just the right time and that it would prove to be just the right thing. Although we have been walking the road of faith for many years, we are not immune from temptation, and we’ve had plenty of opportunities to embrace worry, fear and anxiety. But thanks be to God, every time we have recognized those ugly tentacles seeking to drag us down, we have found grace to resist the tempter and place our hope in the Lord.

As our time of waiting has been extended well beyond what I had expected, I have found it humbling to recognize how little control I have – humbling to have an explicit, specific promise from God but no explanation as to why it is not yet fulfilled – humbling to explain to people why I turned down two contracts three months ago (“I sensed the Lord telling me not to take them because he had something better for me”), even though the ‘something better’ has not yet become visible – humbling to have no explanation for my circumstances and choices other than “God told me” – humbling to have to sell the camping trailer that Marion and I had bought less than two years ago. But, praise the Lord, it’s only a trailer – it doesn’t own us – and as always with these things, it was liberating to let it go. We got to enjoy it for two summers, and then we got a good price for it, so we are able to ride this wave a while longer without having to make more major adjustments. And it is truly wonderful to sense the Lord stretching me, working faith in me, increasing my capacity to endure a test that seems to go on and on, with no clear exit in sight. God is faithful, and He has given us a promise, but He hasn’t given us a schedule. When I ask him for dates, he says “soon” and “trust me”. He’s been saying “soon” and “trust me” for the past three months. But, praise God, His provision has not run dry during that time.

The past few days I have thought about what it must be like for those who are in prison because of their faith. Like me, they have no control over when their waiting period will come to an end. Unlike me, they face verbal and physical abuse, separation from their families, and possible death. Although my test is light compared to theirs, I have been able to pray for them with increased understanding of what it must be like to face each new day with no idea how long they will be in prison. From a human perspective their situation may seem hopeless, yet every day they choose to cultivate hope and faith because they know that the One who has called them, and holds them in his hands, is faithful.

The Apostle wrote that none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. Periods of testing are never appointed for our benefit alone. They are appointed for the benefit of those whom God has called us to serve. And so, as well as increasing my capacity to endure tests, I also see that He is deepening and strengthening my capacity to impart hope, faith and courage to others. I have fewer answers, but I sense that the answers I have are becoming more deeply anchored in my life, so that I can speak them with greater integrity, from the core of my being, as it were.

All of us are seed-sowers. I want to plant good seed in the lives of others. And so, though periods of testing by definition are never truly welcome – at least, not to our flesh – I can now say that I am truly grateful to God that he has appointed this season of testing in my life. I am also grateful that he has chosen at several junctures to ignore my advice as to when it would be best for him to bring this test to an end. I will be glad when this particular test has come to an end – in His timing, not mine – but I am deeply grateful for what it is producing in Marion and in me. Because of this period of testing, fallow ground is being broken up, our hearts are becoming softer and more pliable, new seed is being planted, we are seeing new possibilities for the future. And so on this Thanksgiving weekend, my bride and I have many reasons to praise and thank the Father of lights from whom comes every good and perfect gift.

Thanks be to God.

Share