Category Archives: Vision

Nuggets of Hope 26 – Crossing the Desert

How did Moses endure for forty years? How come he didn’t quit? How did he stay motivated?

His assignment was to lead Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land. This should have taken only a few weeks. Moses, however, was leading a people that had gotten used to slavery. They didn’t like the hardships of their lot in Egypt, but they didn’t like crossing the desert either. God had gotten them across the Red Sea, but they quickly forgot about His past faithfulness when a new problem arose. They rebelled against Moses’ leadership time and again. In the end it took them forty years to get to the Promised Land. An entire generation died in the wilderness.

When I read the account of Moses’ dealings with them, I am amazed at his perseverance. What an assignment!

I was thinking about this today because – like almost everyone who’s been enduring two months of COVID-19 self-isolation punctuated by a constant barrage of fear-laced news and commentary – I’m finding that it’s starting to get old. I’m missing my kids and grandkids. It’s like a physical ache. I’m missing being able to go out and do things with other people. Every day I make the choice to set my eyes on the Lord. I do my workouts, take time to pray, do my work, prepare and lead Bible studies, write blogs, go for my bike rides, and remind myself that this is temporary. But I’m still finding it long. I believe God has a purpose in this test – I’ve told many people that. But in my weakness, there’s a part of me that just wants this to be done. And it’s only been two months! Imagine forty years!

How did Moses do it?

I found an answer in the Letter to the Hebrews. This fascinating and faithbuilding letter was originally written to encourage and strengthen Jews who had accepted Jesus as their Messiah, and were tempted to quit in the face of stiff opposition. There, we find this compelling assessment of the source of Moses’ stamina.

By faith [Moses] left Egypt,
not being afraid of the anger of the king,
for he endured as seeing him who is invisible
.
Hebrews 11:27

Two things stand out from this statement.

First, Moses endured because of his faith.

He believed that God exists, and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. In that belief, he found the courage to face down Pharaoh – not once, but multiple times. In that belief, he found courage to lead his people out of Egypt. In that belief, he persevered for forty years.

Second, Moses endured because he had seen God’s beauty.

His faith was not a raw, naked conviction forged out of strength of will alone. That was the kind of leader Moses had been as a young man, when in his rage he killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew. But forty years in the wilderness, tending sheep, had changed him. An encounter with God in a burning bush changed him even more. Moses saw the One who can be seen only when God unveils our eyes, and he was humbled. He endured as seeing the One who is invisible.

Moses was desperately hungry for the glory of God. He eagerly sought the presence of God, and used to go to meet with God in a tent outside the camp. When Moses came out of the tent, his face shone so brightly with the glory of God that he covered it. Because of human impurity and sin, the brightness of God’s presence could not be seen on a permanent basis.

I’ve known people whose faces shine when they worship God. I want to be like that. I want to have a shining face. When Jesus died, the curtain of the temple was torn and access to the Holy Place – the presence of God – was opened. The Apostle Paul declares that as we turn to Jesus, the veil is removed, and we are changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another.  I want that.

Moses didn’t make it to the Promised Land. Some believe this means God had rejected him. He was disciplined, but he wasn’t rejected. On the Mountain of Transfiguration, Jesus met with Moses and Elijah in a foretaste of his resurrection glory. They spoke of the things to come, and their faces shone with heavenly light.

These are the realities that keep me going. These are the realities that keep me motivated to press on and endure as I journey across the wilderness of this age. I find that I have to daily remind myself of these things. It’s easy to get dragged down by circumstances that seem hard to us. It’s good to remind ourselves of where we are headed. We are headed for the glory of God. I am so thankful that even now, in the darkness of this age and in the adversities of this life, He allows us – and even invites us – to feed on a measure of His glory.

Will you press on with me?

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Nuggets of Hope 21 – The Hope of Glory

The hope of glory.

The runners in this photo were both running for the prize. They were running to win. They were running with focus and determination.

One of them is my young friend Rebecca Greer. She is an exemplary young lady. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic she has continued to train and stay in shape.

Why does she do this? It would be easier not to.

The answer is that she has vision and a purpose that enable her to see beyond the limitations of this present time. She is living for fulfillment. She is running for the joy of it. She is running for the hope of glory.

God has designed humans to want fulfillment. We are made for joy. We are made for glory. We are made for the glory of God.

I would never want to minimize anyone’s positive achievements in this life. We all need hope and purpose to sustain us. Young people need the motivation of believing that there is a point to their efforts to live a productive life.  But the energy of youth does not last forever, and so we need to ask ourselves whether we are spending the substance of our lives for a prize that is temporary and fading, or for a prize that is eternal and will never lose its luster.

Many of us feel that our plans, hopes and dreams have been placed on hold by this pandemic. Just yesterday I lost perspective for a few hours and needed a sister in Christ to remind me of my focus. The specific challenges are different for each person, but all of us are in a battle to hold on to hope. In the midst of that battle, it’s good to lift our eyes and look to the heavens, to the One who is seated on the Throne.

Why is this pandemic happening? There are many possible answers to that question. But in the end, no circumstance is outside of God’s control. Wicked people contrived to put Jesus to death, but God had a higher purpose. It’s up to us which narrative, which script, which agenda characterizes our life. It’s up to us whether these few months of pandemic are wasted time or fruitful time.

Like Rebecca, we can choose to continue training during this time. Physical training has some value in leading to a better life, so I continue to work out and ride my bike. I do this because I want to remain fit, productive and positive in my focus. I still have some years left in this life, and I want them to be good ones. But for what purpose? What is my ultimate goal? What is yours? If we make the daily choice to let Jesus work on the inside of us, to teach us His thoughts and His ways, the benefits will be eternal.

Writing from a prison cell, the Apostle Paul wrote these words of encouragement to his dear friends in the church at Philippi,

I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:6

Although he was in prison, Paul wasn’t obsessed with his own troubles. His confidence was in God, and so he was able to encourage others with the hope of their eternal inheritance and God’s faithfulness.

I believe that promise. It’s one of the Scriptures that I speak over my life almost every day, and it has changed the way I think. Today and every day, I am choosing to fix my eyes on the hope of glory.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18

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Nuggets of Hope 11 – Complete in Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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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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Home Sweet Home

Twenty-one years ago I was in my mid forties and in the midst of a career change. I had been working as a pastor and church planter for over fifteen years and then had spent a year at business college. I was starting a new line of work in information technology while also attempting to plant a church. In May 1997 my family and I moved to a rural neighbourhood north of the village of Russell, south-east of Ottawa.

Ten years later, the ministry which was our original reason for moving to Russell had been destroyed, and Marion and I knew it was time to move on. Out of this painful ending, a new chapter was beginning.  We moved to Vanier, a historic neighbourhood in the heart of Ottawa.  The past eleven years have been full of blessing, with many new relationships and involvements, offering ample opportunity to enjoy God’s manifold goodness, serve others, and grow in love.

Still, despite the painful ending of our ministry in Russell, leaving was not easy for us. We had come to love the neighbourhood, the community life, and the family of God in the Russell area. Our four children had formed deep and strong connections there. Our three sons grew to adulthood during our Russell years, and our daughter grew from a little girl to a teenager. For her especially, Russell still feels like home.

Even so, Marion and I had never entertained any thoughts of moving back. Our life was in Ottawa now – or so we thought. When Bethany and Dunovan chose Russell United Church as the location for their wedding in 2015, I was glad to visit, but it very much felt like going back to a place we used to live. When Reuben and Jess bought a house in Russell in 2016, I was happy for them, but it didn’t really cause me to re-evaluate where Marion and I should be living. We had formed new networks, we were settled in new routines, we had become engaged in various productive and mostly satisfying pursuits.  We expected to stay in our little house in Vanier for the foreseeable future.

However, as I have learned many times by now, there is actually no such thing as the “foreseeable future”. Life is full of unexpected turns. When we think we have it all figured out, God has a chuckle at our expense.

And so it was, in the course of time, on a Sunday morning early in February, that our daughter had a dream, and told it to her mother.

Yesterday, Marion and I reached an agreement to purchase a house on Stanley Crescent, just around the corner from where we used to live. Today, Marion and I had photos taken to list our house in Vanier for sale. It will be on the market by Friday of this week, forty days after Bethany shared her dream with Marion.

Are we crazy? Maybe. But then, isn’t everyone who seeks to follow God’s leading a little crazy in the eyes of the world? I’d rather be a little crazy than live without vision.  Vision from God is like manna to my spirit and my soul. It gives fresh energy to these weary, ageing bones. And so, when Holy Spirit begins to show me fresh vision, I want to embrace what He is showing me, even if it disrupts my comfortable, settled routines.

I don’t know all the reasons for this move, but I do know that the Spirit has been speaking to me about a new season, with new priorities. I want to pursue those new priorities with all my heart. To me, that’s the only way to live. He’s also been speaking to me about redemption, restoration, and completion of things that had been abandoned and left unfinished – not so much in institutional ministry as in relationships. After all, it is relationships that are intended by God to be eternal. When all else fails, love remains.

New vision? New beginnings? Bring it on!

 

 

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What is in your hand?

Satan wants you to think about what you don’t have and what you can’t do. God wants to you think about what you do have and what you can do. 

This gem of practical wisdom came to me many years ago through the teaching of Craig Hill, although it may not have originated with him. It is a distillation of what we know from Scripture and practical experience about the character of God and the character of the Enemy of our souls.

When Moses was called by God to set his people free, he objected that he wouldn’t be able to succeed because Pharaoh would not listen to him. God’s response to Moses was simple. What is that in your hand? The staff in Moses’ hand was a simple object, but by God’s power it would become a powerful instrument of deliverance.

Like most of us, I am all too aware of my own weaknesses. I have learned that there are talents I do not have, things I am not good at, spiritual gifts that do not seem to come easily to me. This used to trouble me, and to be truthful, it still does at times. At times I get distracted by the voice of the enemy of my soul, who wants to trap me in regret and self-recrimination. I want to be a servant of God and people, and over the years since giving my life to Jesus I have stepped out into many areas of faith and service, but when I look back, I have to be honest and acknowledge that some of my attempts didn’t turn out so well. But when I listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, He reminds me to focus on the gifts I do have and the things I can do. He reminds me that He is still a God of increase, a God who rewards faith, courage and perseverance.

This is the message of the Parable of the Talents. Do not bury your one ability in the ground, thinking that God will surely not be pleased with you because you are not like that ten-talent guy or girl over there. Take it and use it to serve God and others, and God will reward you for your faithfulness, and set you over larger fields of service in the Age to Come.

What is that in your hand? Take it and use it for God’s glory.

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Living like a winner

Being an Ottawa Senators fan can be discouraging. The best you can say is that it is an up-and-down experience.

Last night’s game was an example. The Sens started the game full of enthusiasm against the high-flying Tampa Bay Lightning. They outshot the Lightning in the first period and were leading 1-0 when the period ended. The Sens were playing like a team who believed that they could win the game. They looked as though they were in it to win it.

But then, little by little, the Lightning began to exert their superior speed and skill. First they tied the game, then they took a 2-1 lead.

Up until this point the Sens had still been competitive, but once the Lightning began pulling in front, and especially after their third goal, the Sens began to look as if they knew the game was lost. Although there was still enough time to turn things around, they were no longer playing like a team that believed in themselves. They were still exerting an effort, but you could tell they were frustrated and discouraged. Predictably, they lost.

What happened?  The Lightning knew that if they didn’t get rattled, but just kept playing their game, they would win. And they did. Of the two teams, it was the Lightning who were in it to win it. The Senators wanted and needed to win, but (from my perspective at least) didn’t really expect to.

If you see it differently, I won’t argue with you, because my point isn’t really about last night’s game. It’s about the nature of hope, and how it functions in our lives to keep us motivated.

The Bible frequently depicts our life in this age as a battle with the forces of darkness. At times (like the Senators) it seems as if we are destined to lose. It seems as if the powers arrayed against us are far greater than our ability to overcome them.

This is how the Israelites felt when they faced the Philistines in the days of King Saul. The Philistines had weapons of iron, and horses and chariots – none of which Israel had. The Philistines also had a great champion, a giant of a man. His name was Goliath. Who could stand against him? The situation was hopeless. Or at least, so it seemed. Yes, God had delivered Israel from Egypt centuries before, and led them into the Promised Land. Yes, he had given them the promise that if they were obedient and faithful He would always be with them to deliver them, and that Israel would be the first of nations through whom all the earth would be blessed. But all that seemed far away now. They knew they hadn’t always been obedient and faithful – far from it – and their enemies had gotten the better of them. The situation was hopeless. They saw themselves as a beaten people.

But in the midst of that time of despair, God raised up a champion in the person of the young boy David, the youngest son of Jesse. Against all odds, David defeated Goliath in what has become a classic metaphor of the underdog stealing victory from the jaws of defeat.

Why was David successful?  Because he knew his God, and he expected God to give him the victory.

We, of course, have a far greater champion than David. We have Yeshua (Jesus), Israel’s Messiah and the Redeemer of the whole earth. Like his ancestor David, against all odds He faced death on behalf of his people – and won. But the victory he purchased was not just for that time alone. It was for all people of all places and times.

Yesterday Marion and I, along with hundreds of others, were richly blessed as we shared in the memorial service for Teresa Narraway, a wonderful woman of God who left this life earlier than most. She died of cancer at age 58. But although she succumbed to death at an earlier age than her family would have hoped, she lived like one who expected to win the race of life. In fact she knew she had already won. All she had to do was stay in the battle, and keep her eyes on Jesus. Marion and I weren’t close friends with Bob and Teresa – our paths parted after only a couple of years in the same church family – but as I followed the saga of Teresa’s final few months on Facebook, and then heard story after story at yesterday’s memorial service, I was deeply moved at the testimony of a life well lived.

It wasn’t that Bob and Teresa never made any mistakes. But from the time they met Jesus, His life became their life, and His victory their victory. There were still ups and downs, but they knew the victory was theirs in Christ, and they followed wholeheartedly wherever He led. Throughout their lives they have served Christ through serving others, and they have done so with all their heart.

That is why Teresa’s memorial service was such a celebration. Yes, there were tears, but there were also many hugs, much laughter, singing, dancing and many wonderful stories. Why? Because she lived her life like the winner that she was.

That’s how I want to live my life too. Thanks, Bob and Teresa, for being such a wonderful model to so many. The story is not over. Your legacy – and your reward – will be greater than you know.

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