Category Archives: Seasonal Thoughts

Unplanned pregnancy

The young woman had a huge problem. She was dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. In her culture, at that time, this was the height of shame. She was betrothed to be married. Everyone would assume the worst. They would assume she had been unfaithful. Not only that, she was poor. If her husband-to-be ended the betrothal, she would not only be ashamed and an outcast, but also poverty stricken.

The young woman had a huge blessing. She had been visited by an angel who had told her that this child was from God and that she would be the mother of the Messiah.

She had a choice. She could look at her problem or she could heed the voice of God.

The young woman, of course, was Mary – or, more properly, MIriam – the mother of Yeshua (Jesus). Shortly after this angelic announcement, during a visit to her cousin Elizabeth, who was also expecting a child in her old age, Mary burst forth in song. She chose to focus not on her potential troubles but on the promise of God.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His name.”

As things turned out, her husband-to-be stood by her. He too had a huge problem – what to do about this unplanned pregnancy. But he too received a huge blessing – a visit from another angel, who disclosed the identity of this child that his betrothed was carrying, and gave him the courage to proceed with the marriage.

Their life would not always be easy. The challenges were multiple and ongoing. They had many occasions to fear. Yet through it all, they chose to focus on the promise of God. And His promise to them was not in vain. They, and their son, did suffer much. But He also gave to many a foretaste of the coming Messianic Kingdom, and by embracing the way of the Cross He opened up the gates of life for all who would enter.

As we pray for our city and its people, let us set our hearts on the promise of God. Many are the problems, difficulties and griefs that assail us – and our neighbours – in these days. But we are a people of Advent hope. We know the King is coming. We have the deposit of His Spirit in our hearts, assuring us of a coming inheritance. Let us fix our eyes on the eternal things, that the Lord may continually renew our hope even in days of trouble. And let us pray for our neighbours, that even in the midst of fearful and vexing times, some of them may have their eyes opened to see the King in his beauty.

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Staying the Course in 2021

In a few hours, the year 2020 will be behind us, and we will have entered a new year.

Many are hoping for some relief from the COVID-19 pandemic, and longing for respite from trouble and hardships of all kinds.

It’s natural for us to hope for good things at the start of a year. I look for this as much as anyone else does. But my prophetic intuition coupled with my understanding of Scripture tells me that while there may be some respite in 2021, we are headed for increasing turmoil in the years to come, as the end of the age draws near.

When I was a boy of fourteen, I had the privilege of sailing with my uncle and my two cousins on an oceangoing boat off the coast of the Netherlands. It was an unforgettable experience. I loved it so much that on my return to Canada I bought my own little sailboat with the proceeds of my paper route, and for the next several summers I sailed it on the lake at the family cottage.

I learned that when you are sailing in rough weather, a key to success is to keep a steady course. I learned not to fear the wind and waves, but to lean into the wind and leverage its power to propel my boat forward.

This is what I believe people of faith need to do when faced with stormy weather in life.  The storms we face don’t define us, but they do give us an opportunity to exercise faith. We can persevere through the storm and get to the other side if we know where we are headed and who is the true Captain of our boat.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

~ Paul the Apostle (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV)

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Nuggets of Hope 29 – Living Flame of Love

We live in troubled times. As if the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t present enough of a challenge, the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer has placed a spotlight on the reality of white privilege and the pain of the black community. Meanwhile, anti-Semitism is once again rearing its ugly head. A Montreal synagogue was recently torched, and fully 20% of Britons surveyed blame a Jewish conspiracy for COVID-19. And this is only a partial list.

In the midst of all this turmoil comes the Biblical feast of Pentecost (Shavuot in Hebrew), celebrated by Christians today and by Jews three days earlier. Originally a harvest festival, Shavuot was one of three festivals (the others being Tabernacles and Passover) for which Jews were expected to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

The Book of Acts records that after Jesus had ascended into heaven ten days earlier, the community of about 120 disciples had gathered and were holding an extended prayer meeting. Meanwhile the city was filling up with Jewish pilgrims who had come from various places in the Roman empire to celebrate Shavuot. On the feast day, as the apostles were praying – probably on a rooftop terrace – the Holy Spirit was poured out in power, a crowd gathered because they heard God being praised and proclaimed in their various languages, the apostle Simon Peter preached a bold and powerful message, and three thousand Jews turned from their sins on that day, received Jesus as Messiah, and joined the community of His followers. While a nucleus stayed in Jerusalem, many of the pilgrims would have eventually returned to their homes, taking the new faith with them.

The new community of disciples was marked by several powerful features. They were full of joy by the power of the Holy Spirit. They stood in awe of God’s power and holiness. They lived together, shared their goods, walked in humility, loved their enemies and prayed for those who opposed them. Miracles of healing were common. Before long, persecution began to flare up as the new faith was a challenge to the established order.  Yet many were drawn to the new faith because of the undeniable sense that God was with these lovers of Jesus.

Two millennia have passed since those early days. The new movement, which began as a persecuted minority among Jews, soon spread to Gentiles as well and after a couple of generations had rejected its Jewish origins as it began to penetrate Roman society. Within three centuries, the church had become an established institution, supported by the state. Its history is a mixture of good and evil. The list of wrongs perpetrated in the name of Christ is too long for this blog. Yet many of the best features of our Western society are also directly attributed by secular historians to the influence of Christianity. By God’s grace, the same Holy Spirit who fell on the eagerly waiting fellowship on that first Pentecost has continued to bring repentance and renewal, and the number of those who truly love Jesus and His ways, and seek to follow Him in sincerity, has continued to grow.

In these troubled times, when many things are being shaken and stripped away, I believe it’s time for God’s people to return to basics – to our first love. The Holy Spirit was given to empower His people to proclaim the good news. He has given us many gifts of power. But His first assignment – His very nature – is to draw our attention to Jesus himself. I’m very grateful for the gifts of the Spirit. But I am even more grateful that He gives us the power to grow in love for Jesus and His ways. He is the living flame of God’s love, poured into our hearts. Whatever good we do – whether preaching the gospel, giving to the poor or caring for the sick – it counts for nothing with God unless it springs from love. But consistent love for God and His ways – which Jesus called the first commandment – is the one thing we are incapable of without the power of the Spirit. I can’t even love my own wife consistently without His help. We need the Holy Spirit.

In these times of growing turmoil and trouble, it’s increasingly evident that no-one has a solution to the challenges we are facing. There is only one leader capable of bringing peace, justice and healing to the earth – King Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, who will bring in His Kingdom when He returns. But He has given His people a deposit on our inheritance – the blessed Holy Spirit. In the chaos of our times – in the midst of adversity, when everything within us is crying out to God to change our circumstances – the Spirit empowers us to love and choose the Lamb and His ways. He is coming for a people who have learned to persevere and grow in love. In the end, that is how we will be evaluated.

Come, Holy Spirit.

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Nuggets of Hope 27 – Are you listening?

PSSST … 

Hey you. I have some things to tell you. Secrets. Things that can help you.  Are you listening? This is really important.

God. 

This is a time of many opinions, much commentary, many unknowns and uncertainties, many claims and counter-claims, much fear and anxiety, much suspicion and accusation, much unrest and contention.

In the storm of words, it is a great gift to be able to quiet one’s thoughts by giving our attention to the Holy One.

Before I was born again, I could not do this. I was a young United Church pastor – attempting to be a shepherd to others although I did not yet really know the Good Shepherd. I was driven and anxious much of the time. I wanted peace – wanted it desperately – but I could not think my way into it.

I found that the way to peace was through surrender of my will to Jesus Christ and baptism with the Holy Spirit. Right away my life became much simpler as I no longer felt compelled to solve every problem or come up with a solution for every situation. There was such freedom in not being responsible for everything.

I am very grateful for those who trained me, early on in my walk with Christ, in learning to listen to the quiet whisper of Holy Spirit speaking to my spirit.

Nowadays, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am finding that to stay healthy I need to practice a few simple disciplines.  Physical exercise, prayer, Scripture, work, rest.

One of the most important is to pay more attention to the voice of the Lord than to the voice of man.

From the time I was a young child I always wanted to know what was true and what was false. I also have a strong sense of justice and hate to see lies and wrongs prevail. These are good qualities but I have found that in order to stay in God’s peace – which is the place of order and productivity and fruitfulness and life and hope – I need to discipline myself to listen to His voice in preference to all the other voices. When I forget this, even for a short time, I pay a price. When I remember it, peace returns and I am able to see clearly again because I have heard the voice of the One who is True.

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

Jesus, John 10:10

My thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways …
as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
God, Isaiah 55:8-9

The Lord knows the thoughts of man,
That they are a mere breath.
Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O Lord,
And whom You teach out of Your law;
That You may grant him relief from the days of adversity,
Until a pit is dug for the wicked.
Psalm 94:11-13

The Holy Spirit is such a blessing to me. In an instant He can cut through the confusion of human voices and give me His perspective. He doesn’t answer all my questions but He directs my attention to the one thing that I need to pay attention to in that moment. This brings rest to my thoughts and keeps me stable, focussed and productive.

One of my favourite Psalms speaks of the secret counsel of the Lord which is available only to those who fear Him. It is like the counsel that one gives to a trusted friend. I need that secret counsel on a daily basis, to guide my life, to show me His ways and keep me from trouble.

I daresay you need that daily counsel of the Lord as much as I do.

Are you listening?

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Raise a Yuletide glass?

Christmas is coming, and with it the inevitable holiday parties where food and drink of all sorts will be offered.

I love eating and drinking! Food and drink are among the chief pleasures of this life. Our capacity to enjoy food and drink is a wonderful blessing from our generous Creator. But, like all good things, these blessings can be abused.

In this short reflection, I want to consider the topic of alcohol use. My frame of reference in this post is that of a Christian believer. If you call yourself a Christian, I’m hoping this post will prompt some sober reflection on how we ought to look at this issue.

I grew up in a Dutch immigrant family. In my family growing up, it was considered normal to drink wine at celebrations. Alcohol was offered to adults, but drunkenness was frowned upon. Since surrendering my life to Christ at the age of thirty-four, I’ve given quite a bit of thought to this matter. As a new believer in the late 1980s, I soon learned that many of my new evangelical Christian friends saw alcohol use as totally off-limits for any genuine Christian. So I had some thinking to do. This post is the fruit of those reflections.

I have friends – brothers and sisters in Christ – who are recovering alcoholics, or who are married to recovering alcoholics. For them, alcohol is dangerous. It’s a no-go zone.

I have other friends – brothers and sisters in Christ – who have never touched a drop of alcohol, and who believe and teach that no Christian should ever do so. This conviction stems from their awareness of the potentially destructive power of alcohol.

I have yet other friends – brothers and sisters in Christ – who believe that moderate alcohol use adds to their enjoyment of social gatherings and does no harm.

My friends in the third group would probably see this as a matter of Christian liberty of conscience, much as the apostle Paul did in regard to the matter of clean and unclean foods (Romans 14), which was a divisive issue in the first century community of believers. His position was that as a believer you are free in Christ to follow your conscience in these matters.

But he also said something else, and to me this is the crux of the matter. None of us lives for ourselves alone.

Having given this matter careful consideration, I don’t see any Scriptural basis for forbidding alcohol use. It’s clear to me that wine was a common part of life in the Hebrew scriptures, in the Jewish community from which the first church sprang, and in the New Testament world in general. The use of wine was considered to be normal. I’ve heard the arguments that the wine used in the Bible was alcohol free, but I don’t think this conviction holds water.

Drunkenness, however, was and is absolutely forbidden for followers of Jesus. To live a life that’s led by the Holy Spirit, we need to keep ourselves free from other influences. This means that for a disciple, alcohol use needs to be restrained and moderate. And when in doubt, we need to follow the most important and simple rule of all. Are we walking in love? In other words – is our conduct helping others live well, or does it have the potential to cause harm to another? Is what we are doing aiding or hindering in our primary calling – to display the goodness of Jesus to a needy world?

So, to my friends who exercise their liberty to enjoy a glass of wine or a bottle of beer in moderation, I have a question for you to consider. When you make the decision that it’s OK for you to enjoy a glass of your favourite brew or vintage, can you honestly say that you honour God as the Creator of all good things? If so, good on you. But if you drink to excess, and lose control of your ability to govern your own behaviour, how is this glorifying to God? And even if you’re very careful to stay sober, do you choose to draw attention to your exercise of your liberty, maybe by posting a pic online, or mocking those whose conscience won’t let them join you? If you do, whose good are you thinking of? Is this in any way doing good to your brother or sister? Or is it potentially causing division in the Body of Jesus, and doing harm to someone who can’t handle alcohol at all, and might be influenced by your choice?

And to my friends who never touch a drop of alcohol, I have a question for you to consider as well. Are you mature enough to see your abstinence as a personal choice, an expression of your own obedience to God? If so, good on you. Or are you using it as a measuring stick by which you assess who’s “in” and who’s “out” of God’s favour, presence and Kingdom? If so, be careful. It’s not up to you and me to exclude people that God doesn’t exclude. From what I can tell by my reading of the gospels, Jesus ate food and drank wine with some people that were counted as “unclean” by the religious rule-makers of the day. Their salvation was more important to him than someone else’s external rules about who was in and who was out.

I was trying to think of a good way to end this, but I can’t really find a better way than by quoting, once again, from the words of Paul. Love does no harm to a neighbor (brother, sister). Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. When you get right down to it, it’s not about us. When we think it is, we get messed up. When we keep our focus on giving delight to God and loving those around us, we do well.

Happy Holidays! And may your celebrations make Jesus smile.

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Here comes the sun

Tomorrow I will turn sixty-five years old. And as old guys like me are wont to do, I have been remembering past birthdays.

When I was a boy, what I loved most about my birthday was being able to have birthday parties at the park on the first warm Saturday of April. My friends and I would play soccer, British bulldog, frisbee and other games and just revel in being outside in the sun on a warm, bright day after a long winter.

A week ago, with an ice storm developing, it didn’t look as though we would see that kind of weather this April, but now here it is, and I am so thankful for what looks to be the first sunny, springlike weekend that we’ve had in quite a while.

Over the past few weeks it seemed for a while as though winter and spring were having a contest. We’d have a few warm days and then it would turn cold and wintry again. It seems a long time ago now, but the sap started flowing in the maple trees very early this year. A friend of mine who has a sugar bush was boiling sap to make maple syrup at the end of February. Then we had more cold, then more warmth, then more cold, then more warmth, and then that ice storm that made it seem as though spring would never come. But now here it is.

It’s like that in our walk of faith as well. When Jesus comes into our lives and His love first becomes real to us, it seems as though everything has changed and the world will never be the same again. But then we begin to experience the battle between light and darkness, hope and despair in our lives. We have an enemy who does not want us to live in the light of the Son, and he does everything he can to convince us that our hope in Jesus is actually a delusion and that spring will never come.

There’s a battle between light and darkness in our world as well. In fact, Jesus predicted that before his return to bring in the New Day, many of his people would lose hope in the face of increasing darkness, and their love would grow cold. Many would say “Where is this coming he promised?” But for those who endure to the end, the Sun of Righteousness would surely come and they would see His face and receive His reward.

I want to be one of those who welcomes that new day. And so, even when the darkness seems to be winning, I will turn my face towards the light, and seek to point others toward that light as well, because I know that he who promised is faithful.

Jesus, come as you have promised, and bring in Your gracious rule on this planet we call home. Your bride is making herself ready. We long for the light and warmth of Your new day.

Here comes the Son! Let’s get ready for Aslan’s Spring.

 

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What I want for my grandchildren – and for you

This morning, Marion and I got to see Sophie, Livie and Maddie Rose – our three Kansas City cuties – opening the Christmas gifts that we had ordered for them. The wonder of video technology made it possible for us to share this moment with them. It was a joy to our hearts to see each of them respond with delight to the presents we had picked out for them (with a bit of helpful advice from their Mom).  Sophie was thrilled by her new art set. Livie was excited about her dot to dot books and markers. Maddie was pumped about the Paw Patrol books and stuffed toy.

Last night at a family Christmas Eve gathering at my sister’s home here in Ottawa, I delighted to see the awe and wonder in the eyes of my granddaughter Maddie Joy as we read the Christmas story and sang well-loved carols. Her almost-two-year-old heart was captivated by the lights on the tree and the beauty of the music. We have some gifts for her as well, which she hasn’t seen yet, but of course we are looking forward to watching her open them.

Yes, we love our granddaughters to bits. Most grandparents love their grandkids. It’s a pleasure for us to give them gifts. The gifts we buy for them are an expression of our love for them.

But what do we really want for these four delightful little girls?  Mostly things money can’t buy.

We want them to know they are loved – by us, by their parents, but ultimately by the God who made them.

We want them to know that they are made for beauty, truth and significance.

We want them to know that they are more than just accidental blips on the screen of life, that their lives have eternal value and purpose.

We want them to know that despite whatever pain or suffering they may encounter in their lives in this world, God’s glorious plan is to make all things new, that Jesus is coming to rule over a Kingdom that will never end, and that they belong in that Kingdom with Him.

This is the path of hope that was opened up for us by the child of Bethlehem – a child who was destined to die for the redemption of the whole earth, a child who is coming as King to rule the world in righteousness.

We live in troubled, confusing, dangerous times. We need a light for our pathway, and Jesus is that light. What I want for my granddaughters is what I also pray for you – that the True Light of the World will shine in your life and guide your steps into His eternal Kingdom.

Merry Christmas.

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Summer Reflections

In the coolness of a summer morning, I sit outside and sip my coffee and take in the beauty all around me.

A quiet breeze rustles the leaves of the majestic maple in my neighbour’s yard.

Wind chimes hint of faraway visions and unresolved mysteries.

The deep green leaves, bright blue sky and perfect temperature delight my senses.

For those with eyes to see, the glory of the creation points to the Glorious One.

He is coming to make all things new.

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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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