Category Archives: Faith and Relationships

One thing remains

Marion and I were married in 1976. Our wedding – which we planned ourselves – was full of prophetic themes although I barely understood them at the time.

Like many church weddings, our wedding featured these well-known verses from 1 Corinthians 13:8-13.

Love never fails …
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror;
then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part;
then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.

As a young man, I thought I knew so much. I realize now that I understood almost nothing of the ways of God. But I did know that I wanted to follow Jesus, and I knew that his way was a way of love.

Within a few years, Marion and I were raising children while seeking to pastor a flock. Although I loved my children dearly, I was a very imperfect Dad and an equally imperfect husband. I was a broken man seeking to teach others the ways of wholeness. This paradox brought many pressures into my life. But in the midst of all these pressures, I was learning to seek the Lord.

In April 1987 I surrendered my life to Jesus and Marion and I were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Joe was five years old at the time. It was a fresh start for us. We were learning to live life with Jesus instead of following him from a distance.

One thing was established in our marriage from those early years of walking with Jesus. Marion and I always prayed for our children. We so wanted them to know that Jesus was alive and that His promises were real. We wanted them to learn and walk in the ways of God’s love.

Fast forward twenty-eight years to April 2015. Marion and I had lived in seven different houses in those twenty-eight years. We had served in a wide range of different types of churches, and had experimented with many different aspects of ministry, business and teaching. We had learned to know Jesus as our Beloved and our friend. Despite our very imperfect parenting, somehow our children had done well. Our family had grown up, our three sons were married and were making their way in life, and our baby girl – now almost 23 years old – was looking forward to her wedding day.

Then the unthinkable happened. Our daughter-in-law Carmen, who had brought so much joy into our son Joe’s life, and had blessed us with a beautiful granddaughter, visited the emergency room of a local hospital because she wasn’t feeling well. Little did she know that her small intestine had become pinched and was dying. She became the victim of a misdiagnosis that cost her her small intestine and almost cost her her life. You can read her story here. Suddenly, this young, healthy, happy couple with the three month old baby entered a nightmare scenario that threatened to consume them.

In the midst of all this, we were also trying to prepare for a wedding.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

We cried out to God; we were humbled; we were overwhelmed with gratitude as hundreds of people rallied to provide practical help and pray for Joe and Carmen; our own family was knit more closely together; we saw the best and the worst of Canada’s medical system; we saw the Body of Christ at work.

Today, ten weeks later, many prayers have been answered, though some still await their fulfillment. After two critical surgeries, Carmen has been back home for a month, and is doing well. Bethany and Dunovan are married and enjoying their honeymoon.

The wedding was wonderful. Simeon and Heather and their girls were able to join us from Kansas City. We had some great family times. I got to walk my daughter down the aisle, and speak words of blessing over her and her new husband. Joe, Carmen and Maddie were able to be with us and join the celebration.

We are very grateful, but also more aware than ever of our own weakness and our dependency on the Mighty One.

Our life in this age continues. Simeon and Heather are back home with their girls, and Reuben and Jess are in France. Joe and Carmen are at the cottage with Maddie, Bethany and Dunovan are honeymooning in Nova Scotia. I am back at work, and serving in the House of Prayer. But even as I enjoy each day, my children are never far from my thoughts, and most of my thoughts towards them are prayers. I am more deeply aware than ever before that our lives are in the hands of a merciful God. I am looking for a City that is to come, and I long for the day of the King’s appearing.

When you set out to raise a family, you truly have no idea what life will bring your way.

Many things were important to me when I was a young Dad all those years ago. There were so many things that I wanted to teach my children, so many things I wanted for them.

Of all those hopes, dreams and visions, some have changed, some never came about, but as the song says, One thing remains. This one thing will remain for all eternity. Without it, I have nothing of any lasting value. With it, I have everything I need.

Jesus loves me, this I know.



The power of blessing

My beloved wife celebrated her 60th birthday a few days ago.

I’m not always the best at planning ahead for such events, but I have learned over the years that special days are important to Marion, and I have also learned that I do a better job at honouring her on such occasions if I give some thought to it in advance.  So, about a month before her birthday I began thinking about what I could do that would bless her, and I had an inspiration. I remembered that when I turned 50, Marion had compiled a book containing words of encouragement, appreciation and blessing from various people in my life. I realized that she could benefit from some encouragement (can’t we all?) so I decided to do something similar for her 60th birthday. I contacted a number of our mutual friends by email and Facebook and asked them to email me with messages communicating something that they appreciated about Marion or some statement of how her life had been a blessing to them.

I found this experience to be a very powerful one. It was a great benefit to my own relationship with God to read the messages that came into my inbox through the month of July.

I learned (or re-learned) several valuable lessons from this experience, and thought they would be worth sharing with others.

Firstly, I was reminded that our words really do matter. They have powerful impact on how others perceive themselves. We are told in Proverbs 18:21 that death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. As I read the words of gratitude that so many friends sent to bless Marion, I found myself appreciating our friends and family all over again, and thanking God for putting such wonderful people in our lives. Since I gave her the book on her birthday, Marion has been enjoying it as well. Even when we know that Jesus loves us and gave His life for us, it is a great encouragement to hear from other people how our simple words and actions of love – many of them long forgotten by us – have impacted their lives.

Secondly, I was amazed at the kindness of God. Many of our friends expressed gratitude for things Marion had said or done that she does not remember at all. I know this is because she has set her heart on loving God, and when you do that, kindness and encouragement flow out to those who are receptive. This to me is a powerful motivation to keep walking in the Spirit. As we set our hearts on following the way of love, others are blessed. It is so simple, but we do need to choose daily to walk this path.

Thirdly, I realized again how thankful I am for the wife God has given me. She brings me good, and not harm, all the days of her life (Proverbs 31:12). It is good to be reminded of reasons to be grateful. So, for all of you who took the time to send words of blessing on my wife’s birthday, thank you so much. You encouraged her, but you also encouraged me. Well done.

I’ve uploaded the completed Blessing Book for anyone who is interested in seeing the finished product.


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.


No high like the Most High

I love walking in winter, especially on days like today, when the air  is cold enough to be invigorating but not so cold as to be bone-chilling.

Besides giving me a bit of exercise, my brisk morning walk to the bus occasionally also leads to unexpected encounters. This morning, while walking along Montreal Road I ran into JB.  JB is an old friend. We were part of the same spiritual family for a number of years, but life took us in different directions and I no longer see him regularly. Occasionally it happens that our paths cross when he is on his way home from his night shift, and I am on my way to work.

One reason I love JB is because of his smile. As soon as he recognized me this morning, he gave me a big grin, and when I got closer, a bear hug and a blessing. We didn’t talk long because he knew I had a bus to catch, but as I went on my way, my spirit was lighter.

One of the things I always appreciated about JB was his enthusiasm for the Lord. As I said goodbye to him this morning, I remembered how he used to say “There’s no high like the Most High”. He would sometimes share how he used to seek happiness in drugs until he met Jesus. His life exemplified a visible hunger for the real thing – a genuine relationship with God, no faking.

Life isn’t always easy. It’s not easy for anyone, and in some ways, following Jesus makes it harder. His people are called to live by a higher standard than the world around us, and we sometimes encounter opposition in various forms. We know that we are headed for resurrection, and that’s wonderful. But I am so glad that Jesus gives us the promise of His presence with us by the Holy Spirit here and now, as a down payment of what is to come. The grin on JB’s face this morning reminded me of the joy of the Lord. I was grateful for the reminder.


The power of hospitality

Most Christians, if asked to list five of the attributes of God, would probably come up with words like loving, powerful, forgiving,  just, holy, and so forth.

These are all important descriptors of God’s character as it is revealed to us in the Bible and supremely in Jesus Christ.  But today I am thinking of another word that powerfully sums up how God deals with sinful, weak, needy people.

The word is hospitality.  I was reminded of this attribute of God’s character by a recent post on Richard Long’s excellent blog at Together Canada.  Hospitality is a trait that I would normally associate with people, not with God.  Yet, when we understand Him as He is described in Scripture and portrayed by Jesus, we see that our God is amazingly hospitable.

Looking at the gospels, we see that in one of his parables, Jesus depicted God as a concerned father welcoming his runaway son home to his household and throwing a party for him.  Jesus tells us elsewhere that in his Father’s household there is room for all his children to find a home.  Jesus himself is depicted in Scripture as the coming Bridegroom who welcomes all who place their hope in Him to His wedding banquet.  Our God longs to welcome people in, that they may find their home in Him.

When we look at the qualifications for elders in the New Testament, we discover that the New Testament church placed high value on hospitality as a trait for leaders.   Evidently, the first century apostles understood that Jesus’ sheep need leaders who reflect His generous, hospitable heart.

Last night Marion and I watched Harvey, a movie from an earlier era of cinematography.  Harvey was originally filmed in 1950, and I found it interesting to see how movie making has changed in 60 years.  But beyond the technical aspects, what struck me most in this movie was the generous and hospitable nature of the film’s lead character, Elwood P. Dowd, played by Jimmy Stewart.  Dowd is portrayed as a middle-aged eccentric who has inherited a fortune and does not have to work for a living.   Rather than pursuing the business opportunities that would have been wide open to someone of his means, Dowd goes through life talking to an invisible 6 foot 3 inch rabbit.  He spends most of his time at the local bar (where his invisible friend is quite welcome), listening to people that no-one else except the bartender has time for, and frequently inviting them to his home for dinner.  This exasperates his sister and niece, who share his home.  To be truthful, almost any normal person would find it difficult to live with someone as impractical, unpredictable and eccentric as Elwood P.  Dowd.  That said, he is an uncommonly likeable character, who excels in kindness and generosity.

When I woke up this morning, I realized that God was speaking to me through this aspect of the film.  He showed me again the power of a hospitable life to communicate the good news of Jesus to people who are hungry for spiritual reality.

When we open our homes and our lives to people who are hungry and thirsty for true life, and become their friends, our understanding of what it means to share the gospel of Jesus undergoes a radical transformation.  Instead of being a project, evangelism truly becomes a way of life.  It is no longer just a matter of verbally communicating spiritual truth, or even praying with people for them to receive Jesus or for the Holy Spirit to touch their lives – although both of these aspects remain important.  When we open our homes and our hearts to people, trust is fostered in the people we befriend, and over time, God uses this atmosphere of acceptance and friendship to prepare their hearts for genuine conversion.  This, of course, requires that we be transparent with those we are reaching out to, so that they can see us as we really are.  That’s how disciples are made – through relationships of honesty and trust, in which the good news of Jesus is communicated on many levels.

Marion and I have been rediscovering the transforming power of hospitality over the past several weeks as the Holy Spirit has opened the door to a friendship with our next-door neighbours.  It all started this past summer when Orlando Suarez, a church-planter from Cuba, visited our life group on several occasions this past summer.  Orlando spoke to us of his passion for sharing the good news of Jesus with the people in his neighbourhood.  As I listened to him, I realized that the Spirit of God was speaking to me and telling me to become more active in reaching out to our neighbourhood.  Marion and I invited several people to our home to watch the Alpha videos and talk about the true meaning of life.  The couple next door accepted our invitation, and it has been a delightful experience getting to know them better.  We had already been on good terms before beginning this process.  But now, the relationship is changing from cordial to intimate.  As we talk about the Alpha videos and their growing realization that Jesus is alive, we are becoming spiritual friends.  In this atmosphere of friendship, lives are being changed.

This, it seems to me, is what happened over and over again in the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles.  I once did a survey of pivotal or life-changing events in the gospels and the Book of Acts, and discovered that a great many of them took place in someone’s home.   When Jesus dropped in to Zaccheus’ house for dinner, someone’s life was changed because Jesus took time to accept hospitality from a man that any self-respecting religious teacher wouldn’t go near.  Jesus knew Zaccheus needed to repent.  By inviting himself to Zaccheus’ home for a meal, Jesus honoured this man whom others rejected, and offered an atmosphere of acceptance that made it easy for Zaccheus to turn away from his self-focussed life and make things right with God.

So – how are you doing with hospitality?  It’s not really about how nice a home you have.  That doesn’t matter.  Your home doesn’t have to be spotless or elegant.  Hospitality is not entertainment.   And you don’t have to be limited to offering hospitality in your home.  You can also offer hospitality in a friend’s house or apartment, a restaurant, a bar, a hospital, a workplace, a prison, or even on a street corner.  It’s really about making time for relationship and having an open heart.

To be truthful, I’m not very good at this.  I’m still learning.  But Jesus is very good at it, and he is teaching me how to let my life be a vehicle for His ministry of hospitality.  It’s all about learning to rest in the Father’s goodness, and invite others to come into His household and discover His delightfully generous love.


A childlike heart

Sophie playing with her boat (click to expand)

This morning at work I was showing pictures of our recent vacation to my colleague Dean.  Dean is a very devoted Dad who often talks about the activities of his four children.  His youngest is a toddler, about a year younger than my oldest granddaughter Sophie, so we sometimes compare notes on how our “little ones” are doing.  When I showed him my picture of Sophie playing with her boat on the beach during our vacation (note her delighted expression seen in the photo above), Dean commented on how appealing young children are.  He said it was because everything is new to them.  Another way of putting this is that they aren’t jaded or blasé about life.

Of course, lest we get too sentimental, let’s not forget that young children are a lot of work.  They are almost entirely self-focussed and can be very demanding.   But the other side of the coin is that they are also very responsive to affection, they trust very easily, and (perhaps their most appealing quality) their hearts are wide open to wonder.  They don’t have  explanations for everything.  Many things are exciting to them, and the world is full of new discoveries.

As we grow up, we become more independent, more conscious of our own identity, more focussed on our own abilities, goals and responsibilities.  We try to control the world through understanding it.  It’s natural and necessary for us to grow up to maturity.  Yet Jesus pointed to little children as an example of the attitude of the humility and simplicity that is required to enter the Kingdom of God.   He wasn’t saying that His followers should stay immature.  He was saying that part of true maturity is the ability to stay childlike – to step back from our sophistication and self-importance, and allow ourselves to wonder at the amazing things God has done and is doing.  He said that the most important things – the things of God – are hidden from the wise and self-important, and revealed to little children – by which I believe he meant those with a childlike heart.

I have found that when I take time – even a few minutes a day – to shut down my “thinker” and just enjoy the goodness of God in its many forms, my whole day is more positive.  My capacities for expectancy, confidence in God, faith, hope, peace, joy and love are expanded.

I want to live a good life – a fruitful, productive, God-honouring life.  But I know I can’t do this on my own.  I need the grace of God.  For too many years I tried too hard to be good and do good.  It didn’t work.  I have found that when I take time to delight myself in the wonders of God, my life becomes more like the life that was modelled by Jesus.  We are told that without faith it is impossible to please Him.  Taking time to delight in the goodness of God, with a child’s attitude of wonder, helps me keep my heart tender and expands my capacity for faith.

Lord, help me to walk through life with a childlike heart.



Keep yourselves in the love of God

Yesterday I went for a walk after lunch.  While I was out walking, my thoughts turned to the previous evening’s church meeting.  The meeting had featured a thought-provoking presentation on how our church welcomes and integrates new people, and some changes that are underway to help us do this more effectively.  The presentation was followed by some Biblical reflections from Steve, who gives leadership to our elders’ team.

I am someone who tends to think analytically and theologically.  It’s part of how God has made me – I like to take time to reflect on what I hear, especially when it comes from leaders.  So, I found myself thinking in particular about some of Steve’s comments on the elders’ high-level vision for what our church is called to become.

As I was engaged in this process of reflection, I was also in dialogue with God, as I often am. I was asking God what He wanted to say to me about the things that had been shared the previous evening. It was all very positive stuff, and there were lots of good things to think about. Yet, I had questions about a couple of things that I had heard.

Suddenly I realized that I was being prompted to move from the mind to the spirit – to move from reflection to Spirit-led prayer. I began praying in tongues.  In doing this, I was intentionally shutting down the voice of rational thought and choosing to give priority to the Spirit.

Within five seconds, I heard the voice of the Lord in my spirit.  His words to me were simple, direct and to the point :  Do you love them?

Immediately I had a powerful, tangible sense of the presence of the Lord. I spent the next few minutes praying for our elders with a fresh awareness of how much God loves each of these precious men, their wives and their families, how He treasures them, how He wants them to experience an intimate relationship with Him.

Why share this experience in a blog post?  Because I was so powerfully struck by the impact on my own thought life of a simple decision to spend a few minutes praying in the Spirit.  It really was only a few minutes, yet the impact on my thought life was immediate and profound.  Almost right away, I began thinking about our elders in a different way.

It was not that my thoughts had been wrong before. But now, instead of thinking analytically about vision, decisions and man’s opinions, my thoughts became very simple. I found myself thinking of our elders as men who are loved by God and belong to Him eternally. I began sensing the deep love of the Father for them, and their constant dependency on His grace and mercy.

I realized again that the greatest need of all spiritual leaders – and the greatest protection for the church – is for leaders to be filled to overflowing with a powerful awareness of how much God loves them, as an anchor for their hearts.

I realized that love covers over a multitude of sins.  Even when we and our leaders make mistakes or get off track – which will probably happen at times – if we are rooted and grounded in love, His love will guard our hearts from being offended or damaged, and the sheep will be kept safe.  I realized that they, like me, were bought with a high price, are infinitely precious to the Father, and are destined for glory.

Of course, none of this was new – yet it was all new, in the sense that I saw it again as if for the first time.  With a humbled, quieted heart, I stood in awe of the goodness and mercy of God.

All this insight and shift in perspective from just a few moments spent praying in the Spirit.  I think I will do this more often.

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God (Jude 20-21)


A lifetime assignment

Goalies have different styles.

Take Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas, for example.  For those who aren’t hockey fans, Luongo and Thomas are the goalies of the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins respectively, who are currently tied at three wins apiece in the Stanley Cup finals.

Several of the goals in this series have been a direct result of shooters understanding the unique traits of the opposing goalie’s style of play.  In game two, Alex Burrows scored the winning goal by going behind the net because he knew Tim Thomas would come way out of his net to challenge the shooter.  In game six, Brad Marchand beat Luongo on the upper left side after studying his goaltending style and habits, and discovering one of his weak areas.  His goal may well have been the key to his team’s victory in that game.

Men and women also have different styles, different ways of doing things, different ways of thinking.  Anyone who has been married for any length of time has discovered this.

As in hockey, so in marriage it is possible to catalogue your partner’s unique ways of thinking and behaving, looking for weak areas so that you can score points on each other.  In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, that probably won’t lead to the most harmonious of marriage relationships.

But what if we studied our marriage partners with a different goal in mind – so that we can learn how to love them better?

I’m making a fundamental assumption here – that you and your marriage partner have both surrendered control of your lives to Jesus and invited Him to be the Lord of your individual lives and of your marriage.  If you have not done this, most of the rest of what I say here won’t make sense to you.  Our marriage changed radically when Marion and I both explicitly surrendered our wills to Jesus, and stopped trying to control each other.  We still had lots of other issues to work through, but at least we had a starting point – we were standing on the same ground and walking in the same direction.

That was about twenty-five years ago, and since then, I’ve learned a few things.  One of the things I’ve learned is that to love my wife really well, I need to understand how she thinks.  A number of years ago Marion and I watched a series of DVDs by Dr. Gary Smalley called “Hidden Keys to Loving Relationships”.  For me, probably the number one insight that came from this teaching series was the transformative power of one simple decision.  I’m referring to the decision to honour, rather than bemoan, the built-in qualities that make my partner different from me.  Smalley related how in his own marriage he had to learn to see the differences between his wife and himself (differences in emotional makeup and ways of thinking) as a gift rather than a problem.

I’m not talking about fundamental differences in vision, goals and purpose for living.  A couple needs to be committed to unity in those fundamental areas for a marriage to work.  If your basic visions for life are different, you need to listen to the Lord together until you come to agreement.  But even if we agree on our fundamental visions and goals, men and women are different in the way we think, in the way we communicate, in the way we look at life.  And beyond typical male-female differences, individual men and women have their own unique traits.

It’s easy to get frustrated by the fact that your husband or wife doesn’t think the way you do.  But what if you choose to assume that God has made your marriage partner different from you for a reason?  Then the differences, instead of being a cause of frustration, become an asset.  When Marion and I are talking about a given situation, we often see things differently.  We have learned that this doesn’t necessarily mean one of us is wrong.  It could just mean that neither of us sees the whole picture.  Marion possesses wisdom in certain areas of life that can benefit me greatly if I am willing to humble myself and learn from her.  I also have strengths in other areas that she has learned to recognize.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that all of your marriage partner’s most irritating habits are God-given, built-in traits.  Some of them are just bad habits, old patterns that need to be unlearned, maybe even sins that need to be repented of.  Even so, I have learned that I can trust the Holy Spirit to show my wife the areas where she needs to change.  My main job is to pray for her and encourage her.  It’s amazing how much more responsive she is to me when I treat her with encouragement and acceptance.  Funny thing, eh?

Newsflash : no marriage on earth is perfect, and at times every couple has to have an honest talk.  But even those honest talks go a lot better if both partners start with the assumption that God gave us to each other for a reason, and that our differences are part of the package.  Marion and I both have a lot of changing still to do as the Lord transforms us into His image, but no matter how much each of us grows in Christ, we will always be two distinct personalities, even though we are one in flesh and in spirit.  If you are like most married couples, it’s probably the differences that attracted you to each other in the first place, and if your partner were just like you, you probably wouldn’t like it.  So, you might as well learn to appreciate the differences – they aren’t going to go away no matter what you do.  I am still learning to understand my wife’s ways, still learning to appreciate her fully.  I think it must be a lifetime assignment – women are complex creatures – but it’s well worth the effort.  My wife is a gift to me.  She is a true woman of God, and the better I understand her, the more I realize this.

I remember an older couple who had a huge impact on Marion and me earlier in our marriage.  Ray and Jean were in their seventies by that time, and Marion and I were in our late thirties/early forties.  We were church leaders, but we still had so much to learn about life!  They shared their hearts and their lives freely, and invested in us with all that they had learned over the years.  I will always be grateful to them.  Now it’s our turn to pass on some of what we’ve learned.  Marion and I have been transitioning into a new season in our marriage over the last decade as our own children have grown up.   We are excited about what is to come! We both sense that God is opening up some new areas of growth for us, and it’s our heartfelt desire that the lessons we have learned – and the ones we are still learning – will bless others who are seeking to honour God in their marriages.


Good grief

Yesterday I had the privilege of tasting grief at its best at a memorial service for Daniel Robert Hall, who died two-and-a-half weeks ago in Zambia at the age of 38.  It was an exquisitely painful yet glorious time of worship and remembrance.  For Rob’s family and close friends, yesterday’s memorial service was the third such event in two weeks, following a funeral in Zambia and another in Cambridge, yet they displayed remarkable grace, humility and honesty as they laid bare their hearts, shared their memories of Rob, spoke about the hope of eternal life and the fulfillment of all things, cried, laughed, and worshipped.

Grief is not something any of us seeks, yet it comes to all of us.  Grief is unavoidable in a world marked by the curse of death.  Yet those who belong to Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, know that death is not the final word.   And so we can grieve with hope.  The emotions of loss are just as powerful, but in the end we know there is a more powerful reality still – the reality of resurrection.

That is where our hope lies.  Not in anything we can do, but in what only God can do.  That is why we can sing songs in the face of death.  I didn’t really know Rob well, but yesterday’s service was filled with abundant testimonies  of the life of faith that he lived.  He was a man of action – a man of faith and adventure – a man of amazing energy and loyalty – a man who did much good – a man who loved many.  He was a man with the faith of Abraham – a faith that motivated him to go out, not knowing where he was going, because he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  That is why Rob was restless.  He had a vision that could not be satisfied in this life.

When I told my friends from work about Rob’s death, they all expressed deep sympathy for his wife Kate, their three children, and Rob’s parents.   Some expressed the view that his life was wasted, cut short in its prime.  It’s natural for us to feel this way because death is a robber and a usurper.  It was not God’s original intent, and it’s not our final destiny.  Yet I do not believe Rob would have said his life was wasted.  It seems he knew the secret of living well – that those who try to hold on to their lives end up dead, while only those who give up their lives for the sake of King Jesus and his coming Kingdom find the life that death cannot destroy.

I can’t honestly say that I was Rob’s friend – I didn’t know him well enough for that.  It’s his father Ken that I count as  a friend and spiritual father.  Yet I have been deeply impacted by Rob’s death, and the testimonies that followed about the compelling power of a life well lived.  At yesterday’s service I found myself moved to tears at several points.   I wept for Kate and her children who will grow up without their Dad, I wept for Ken and Lois and for the Hall and Cantelon families, I wept for Rob’s friends, but most of all I wept with love for God, gratitude towards Him, grief over wasted opportunities, and a deep, gut-wrenching conviction that I absolutely must live my life full-out for the King and the Kingdom.  I know again, more deeply than before, that I don’t ever want to live without vision.

So let’s get really practical about this.  I have discovered Equator Coffee.  This may not be news to most of you, but about twelve years ago, Rob’s brother Craig and his wife Amber started a coffee-roasting business, dealing in organically grown fairly traded coffee.  This is an expression of their desire to do what they can to see that coffee farmers get a fair return for their labour.   It’s a way that I can buy good coffee and at the same time be confident that I am bringing a blessing to the families of the workers who grow that coffee.  This is a simple act of economic justice.  It’s something I have the power to do.  I am planning to set up a buying group for friends at our church, and possibly one at work as well.

What has this got to do with the hope of resurrection?  At first glance, nothing.   In reality, everything.  If I say I am placing my hope in Jesus’ return and His coming Kingdom, then I need to live by the values of that Kingdom now.  That can take many forms – loving my wife and kids, singing love songs to Jesus, blessing the poor, praying for the sick, speaking hope to others in His name.  If I have an opportunity to do good to someone in His name, I should do it.   No such act is wasted if Jesus is on the throne.

Is my one small act going to change the world?  No.  Jesus has already changed the world.  I am simply aligning myself with the new world that He is bringing into being – a new world that will be inherited by all those who have put their hope in Him and are choosing  to live in the light of that hope here and now.

This is good grief – grief that is not wasted – grief that inspires us to live lives of faith, motivated by the hope of the Kingdom.

I believe Rob would be pleased.


In memory of Rob Hall

When I wrote in a recent post (Reality Check) that life is short and fragile, I had no idea that within a couple of weeks, Rob Hall’s untimely death would offer a graphic reminder of the truth of those words.

But there you have it.  A good man has gone to be with Jesus, leaving his wife Kate, three children, and an army of family and friends around the world who clearly miss him deeply but who just as clearly were inspired by his life.

I never got to know Rob well.  I am much better acquainted with his father Ken, who was a mentor and spiritual father to me for a couple of crucial years about a decade and a half ago when I was walking through an agonizing yet transformational period of transition.  I will always be grateful for Ken’s wisdom and unassuming yet authoritative shepherding which provided an anchor for my life at that crucial time.  Marion and I and our four children were part of Ken’s church for a season, and I got to know Rob a little bit, partly through talking with him directly, but mostly through my chats with Ken, who evidently loved his sons dearly and had fathered them well.  At that time Rob was a young man in his early twenties, and was already involved in co-operative community gardening, combining faith with practice in compelling ways.  Before long Marion and I moved to Russell to be involved in planting a DOVE church there, and I never saw Rob again.  I knew from Ken that he had been serving as an associate pastor in the Cambridge Vineyard but did not realize that he and his wife and children had left for mission work in Zambia.

News of Rob’s death earlier this week, just a  few days shy of his 39th birthday, came as a shock.  I couldn’t stop thinking about Ken and Lois, and of course Rob’s wife Kate and their three children.  The web site and Facebook page that have been created in memory of Rob have drawn my attention like a magnet, opening my eyes to some of the core passions that fuelled Rob’s life, and introducing me to a vast network of people who knew and loved him.

A few things I have learned about Daniel Robert Hall :

o He loved Jesus, his wife Kate and their three children, people, and God’s creation.
o He was an authentic servant of God, a good listener who knew how to draw out the best in others.
o He could speak truth into situations and get a hearing because he could be truthful without being arrogant, and because he really cared.
o He served with integrity and passion wherever he went.
o He had a bold, entrepreneurial approach to life.
o He had a great sense of humour.
o He loved the King and his coming Kingdom.
o He echoed the values of the Kingdom in his living here and now.
o He had counted the cost of being a disciple of Jesus, and invested his life willingly in God’s enterprises.

A few things I have learned (or been reminded of) this week about living as a servant of God :

o God places high value on integrity and humility, and loves the heart of a genuine servant.
o We often have more impact on others than we know.
o Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:8).
o All of us in a fallen world are under the sentence of death; therefore pain is inevitable.
o Pain is not the worst thing that can happen. Having a deadened heart  (living without vision, purpose, or knowledge of God’s call) is far worse.
o Jesus gives life to the dead.  Those who trust Him do not need to be afraid of death.
o Hold those you love closely, treat them well, and entrust them to God fearlessly.  They don’t belong to you and you don’t know when you may be required to release them into the hands of their loving Father.
o Our hope is in the resurrection of the dead and the restoration of all things.
o Those who love Jesus are called to serve the poor in His name and do works of mercy and justice on the earth.
o Everyone needs to know that Jesus loves them.
o Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

Rob, thank you.  I am deeply grateful for your example.  Your life has had more of an impact on me than you would have guessed.  You are now one of the great cloud of witnesses, spurring me on and calling me forward to finish my race well and to live faithfully, my eyes on the King and his coming Kingdom.