When your destiny is under attack

The last few days I’ve been re-reading the exciting story of the first Christian community as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.  Talk about adventures – for those guys, it seems every day was an adventure.  Church was anything but dull.

In Acts chapter 7, everything seemed to be going great!  The church was growing in numbers, community life was vibrant, and they saw the Holy Spirit at work to such an extent that miracles were common.  They even managed to solve a conflict that had threatened to divide the church, by creating a team of seven servant-leaders to assist the apostles, preparing the way for further growth.

Then – disaster struck, as the church began to encounter persecution from the religious police.  First one of their new servant-leaders was attacked and killed.  Then the whole church began to suffer one attack after another.  People were getting thrown in jail just for believing that Jesus was the Messiah.  Most of the Christ-followers left town, running away from Jerusalem to the surrounding towns and cities where they’d be harder to track down.  Only the apostles (main leaders) were left.  This seemed to be a disaster – the worst thing that could have happened.

We can probably all understand why these persecuted Christ-followers might look for a safe place when things got dicey.  It only made sense for them to stay out of harm’s way for a while, waiting for things to settle down.  Except that’s not what they did!  Instead of staying quiet, they proclaimed the good news of Jesus wherever they went.  Philip went to the city of Samaria; he told the people about Jesus, and so many paralytics and cripples were healed that they had a major revival.

This story got me thinking about how we respond when everything is turned upside down, when our world no longer feels safe and secure.  We all like it when things are going well, but what do we do when the rug gets pulled out from under us and our visions and dreams are under attack?

Philip and his friends probably weren’t looking for persecution.  No-one in their right mind would do that.  But when it came, they didn’t doubt God’s faithfulness – they assumed that God was with them in it, and acted in faith, not fear.  As a result, what seemed like disaster became a stepping-stone to seeing their destiny fulfilled.

What about us ?

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Adventures with God

My son Simeon and his wife Heather are on an adventure with God.   Heather is a US citizen, Simeon is Canadian.   They have been married just over 2 years.  After starting out in Canada,  Simeon left a steady job in Ottawa to move with his bride to her home town (Bloomington, Minnesota) to pursue God’s call on their lives.  They are living on campus at Bethany International in Bloomington MN.  Simeon is serving as an intern at Bethany House of Prayer – a 24/7 prayer ministry modeled on IHOP in Kansas City.   He loves it!   He is busy, honing his gifts in worship and prayer,  and learning new skills in a number of practical areas.   Simeon’s visa doesn’t allow him to work for pay, so Heather has been “bringing home the bacon”.  With a baby on the way, they are in the process of applying for residency for Simeon so that he will be able to support the family.   Not surprisingly, they are facing some financial challenges.  They believe they are where they are supposed to be, but their faith is being tested.

Depending on our faith level, situations like this can seem either terrifying or exciting.  How will God provide for them ? Will Simeon get his residency in time ?  Will he be able to get a job ?  What if …

For those who claim to follow Jesus, the Bible contains some amazing promises of God’s faithfulness and provision.  But it also contains a basic challenge.  The challenge comes in the form of a question from God’s heart to ours : “Do you trust me ?”   I’ve discovered that it’s actually easier to trust God for my own life than for my children’s lives.  I’ve had my own adventures with God, plenty of them … and He has proven faithful every time.   Will I trust God to be faithful to my son, his wife and their unborn child ?  Do I really believe that God is in control and that He is good to those who put their trust in Him ?

I’ve made my choice.  Although faith may seem foolish at times, it is better to trust God than to trust human wisdom; and it is better to trust God than to be ruled by fear and anxiety.   Although I’m tempted to worry about them, I’m so glad that Simeon and Heather have stepped out in faith, and I’m determined to trust their choices, encourage them in their adventure, and pray prayers of faith over their lives.  When it comes right down to it, I’ll pick an adventure with God any day over the choice to play it safe.   How about you ?

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Being real

I sometimes tell people that the older I get, the less I know.  I don’t mean that I’ve forgotten lots of stuff – although that’s probably also true … can’t remember for sure.  What I mean is that I am no longer so fixated on having all the answers.  I think I’m finally starting to realize that God is God and I’m not … as a result, my relationship with God has gotten a lot simpler and a whole lot less frustrating.

I have learned some things, though.  One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that God is looking for integrity and honesty of heart.   A lot of what goes on in our culture is about image.  We often mock politicians for being insincere but the truth is that there’s something in all of us that wants to look good – to impress others.  But God is not impressed with any of the things that we do to impress ourselves or others.  I once heard Graham Cooke say that God doesn’t get disillusioned with us when we fail because He had no illusions about us in the first place!  When we try to fool ourselves and others, God is not fooled.  He sees us as we really are.

That thought can be disturbing and a bit unsettling as long as you are still trying to impress others, or trying to convince yourself that everything is OK when you know it’s really not.  Once you give up that attempt, it’s strangely comforting to be dealing with a Being who sees you exactly as you are, speaks only the truth to you, and is committed to helping you see yourself – and all of life – the way He does.

If you want to know about seeing life from God’s perspective, a great place to start is by getting to know Jesus.  He is a perfect reflection of God’s character.   He is totally, unwaveringly truthful, will puncture all your illusions, and then when you finally collapse He will pick you up and show you amazing kindness, unlike anyone else on earth.  That’s because He doesn’t come from earth – He comes from heaven, to reveal his Father’s goodness to a race that has been captive to deception for a long time.

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Is God good ?

You can’t answer that question based on what life throws at you.  We live in a messed-up (fallen) world, but we have a good God.  In this confusing world we can see the works of a good God and the works of the Evil One.  Jesus had a personal revelation of who God was before he ever came into this world.  That’s why He could reveal God’s goodness and kindness to people who had been hammered by life.  That’s why He could live with courage and offer hope to others.

Last weekend Marion and I attended a concert with Brian Doerksen and Kathryn Scott.  It was  my wife’s date idea, and she picked a good one (thanks, honey ! )

I love Brian Doerksen’s music but I also love his honesty about life.   He doesn’t varnish life – he talks about the painful experiences – but he also talks about how he has experienced God’s kindness in the midst of struggles.   Brian and his wife Joyce have six children, including two sons with Fragile X syndrome and autism.  At the concert Brian recounted what a struggle it was when Isaiah, the younger son, was born,  and Brian and Joyce learned that he had the same disability as his older brother Ben.  Then he shared a beautiful, moving song he had written about how God’s faithfulness was revealed to him in an even deeper way in the midst of this pain.

Illness and death were not part of God’s original plan, but in a world that has been marred by sin, all of us are touched by illness and death.  But some people seem to get more than their share.  What’s it been like for Brian and Joyce to have two disabled children ?  Brian says “It’s been a huge challenge and an incredible blessing. Both of my sons are teaching me much about life and the heart of God.”  He adds, “(Joyce and I) make sure we keep investing in our marriage, because over 80 percent of marriages with special-needs kids end in divorce”.  You can read more about this on Brian’s website.

What I love about Brian’s approach to life is that he doesn’t just believe God is good, he knows God’s goodness and kindness from personal experience – but he also knows that this doesn’t mean everything will always go just the way he wants it to, and he has come to a place where that’s just the way he wants it to be – because in the end, God is god and we’re not.

Here are some questions I’ve asked about this whole issue – I think they’re questions everyone asks, in one way or another – and the answers I’ve come up with.

Is God good ?  Yes, very good – in fact He defines goodness.

Can I trust Him?  Yes, it’s the only choice you have if you want a life worth living.  No-one else is ultimately trustworthy.

If I trust God, will I have a good life ?  You’ll have an awesome life – but not necessarily an easy one.  God will be with you in it, though, and it will be far, far better than your life could ever have been without God.  In the end, it’s the only way to really live.

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A new season

A few weeks ago we scattered my parents’ ashes at a family gathering at their cottage on Cranberry Lake near Seeley’s Bay, Ontario.  It was an emotional time as all of us had spent many happy times at the cottage with Oma and Opa (as most of the grandchildren knew them).  They had both been vigorous, active, and full of life until close to the end of their earthly journey, and had played a huge role in the lives of their children and grandchildren.

Just a few days before the ceremony, Marion attended a shower for our first grandchild.  Our son Simeon and his wife Heather are expecting their first child in February 2009.   This is very exciting and of course we are thrilled.  My older brother Jan, who is already a grandfather, tells me that it is a wonderful experience.

That’s how life is.  One season ends, a new one begins.  One generation passes on, a new one comes on the scene.  I am entering the last lap of my life – Marion and I are the matriarch and patriarch now in our branch of the Hartgerink line.  It seems strange, but that’s the way it is.  I always knew my parents would die, yet somehow it was still a shock – they had always been there, solid, dependable, and now they are gone.

The thought that I will die doesn’t discourage me or depress me, because I know that ultimately I am living for eternity.  But it’s sobering to realize that I am the one now that my children and grandchildren will look up to, as our generation looked up to my Dad.  Will my example be worth following ?  Will I be a blessing to them as I have been blessed ?  Will my life point them to Jesus ?

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What’s this blog all about ?

For years I’ve kept a journal in a notebook with my Bible.   I’ve found this to be a great way to reflect on life’s journey by dialoguing with my Creator and Father.  For several years now I’ve been sharing snippets of these life lessons with friends whose lives intersect with mine.  This blog is just a way of making those reflections a little more visible and accessible to anyone who is interested.

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Reflections on living a life without regrets – a life that will make God smile