Tag Archives: glory

Outlasting the Blues

As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, and Ontario enters its second full lockdown, with new government directives that leave many questions unanswered, all of us are getting a little battle-weary. Couple this with the political turmoil south of the border and you have more than enough discouragement to fatigue even the most stalwart soul.

When we are in the midst of a battle, one important key to victory is perspective. If we can see the enemy and the battleground, we can fight much more effectively. This morning as I was waking up, a dream fragment told me my God was trying to get my attention. With three simple words He gave me that precious gift of renewed perspective. The words came from a 1979 Arlo Guthrie album title – one I used to love but had not listened to for years.

Outlasting the Blues.

I had been asking the Lord to help me understand why we seem so powerless against this pandemic. Didn’t he bestow upon His apostles the gift of the Holy Spirit, including the power to heal diseases?

He patiently reminded me that the gifts of the Holy Spirit don’t guarantee that we will have no more troubles in this age. To the contrary, Jesus made it clear to His apostles that in this world they would have trouble.  In the midst of troubled times, times of great need, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is a great blessing and source of comfort. But the gifts He gives are signs of the Age to Come – a deposit on our inheritance. They are given to empower us, to give us hope and resources with which we can help others.  They are not given to exempt us from trouble.

We who live in North America have been so used to relative peace and prosperity that we have developed an entire theology to tell us that what God really wants for us is a comfortable life here and now.  I like my comforts as much as the next person, but I know my Bible and my God well enough to know there’s something wrong with that theology. And I know it even better now than I did before COVID.

We are in a time when God is shaking many things. We are experiencing birth pangs. There will be more birth pangs. I have never given birth, but I did accompany my wife through the birth of all four of our children, and  all her labours were long ones. Even the shortest was about ten hours long. I can tell you two things about that experience. First, it was hard and long and painful and messy, and she wanted it to be over long before it was.  Second, after each child was born she had absolutely no regrets about the experience. It had all been worth the struggle.

The Bible tells us that God’s plan is to make all things new. He is preparing a glorious bride for his Son, and looking for those who will persevere in prayer and faith, hold on to hope, and seek to grow in love as they wait for God to finish his work.

I don’t want to just escape into distractions while I wait for the pandemic to be over. That would be a waste of a good test. Tests are given for a reason. I want to be one of the ones who don’t quit, who keep their eyes on the prize and share in the glories of the new heaven and earth in the age to come.

By the grace of God I am determined to outlast the blues. How about you?

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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 24 – The King’s Beauty

This morning I began my day with a walk to see the horses in the field at the end of our crescent. Although the weather forecast tells me a blast of winter is coming, this morning I can still taste, see and feel the glory of spring. It speaks to me of the Creator’s great wisdom.

The Biblical storyline tells us what young children often intuitively understand – we were made by a good Creator. Our lives come from His hand. The beauty and complexity of creation testifies to His goodness and power. He made humans for intimate fellowship with Himself.

That storyline goes on to tell us that a rebellious angel tempted our first parents to choose independence, and ever since there has been a curse on creation. But even when the curse was first pronounced, Eve was promised that her offspring would one day crush the serpent’s head. That offspring is Yeshua, who was, who is and who is to come. He came once to announce the coming Kingdom in words and deeds of great power, and to offer his life as a sacrifice for sins. He is coming again to restore all things.

Some ask why a good God would permit terrible things like the coronavirus to occur. There are many ways of answering that question, but anyone who has been paying attention to the message of the Kingdom shouldn’t be surprised. We know from Scripture that many things will be shaken before Jesus returns to bring in the Kingdom that cannot be shaken. We are currently experiencing one of those times of shaking.

Near the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns, Marion and I watched a movie about World War II. It reminded me of my parents. They were 22 and 18 respectively when the Netherlands was invaded by the Wehrmacht in May 1940. They lived in an occupied nation for most of the next five years. Did they know how long it would last? No, but they held on to the hope that there would be life beyond the war, and in that hope they gave themselves to living for the day when the war would be over.

We are called to live with our eyes on an even greater Day – not just the day when the covid-19 crisis will subside, though that will be a day of great rejoicing, but the day when our eyes see the King in his beauty. Our response to Him in this age will determine whether that Day brings us the joy of sharing his reward or the horror of irreversible judgement. We are made to share in His glorious Kingdom that is coming, and to inherit a new heaven and a new earth. Don’t let the troubles of today cause you to lose sight of that hope. Let that hope anchor your soul. The King is coming.

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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 13 – All Things

All things. Yes, I did mean all things. All things work together for good. 

All things? Everything?

Yes, all things. That’s what it says. Romans 8:28. You know the verse.

Even COVID-19? Lord, surely you couldn’t mean that.

Yes, yes I do. I do mean exactly that. For those who love Me, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to My purpose.

But God … how can you mean that? How can this pandemic be good?

I didn’t say it was good. I said it can work for your good. But since you’re asking Me questions, I have a question for you. It’s a really important question. The most important question anyone will ever ask you. Do you love Me?

Well …. it’s a bit complicated right now. I mean, you aren’t exactly managing things the way I would like.

Well, do you?

I think so. Sometimes. Sort of. A little bit. But I don’t like some of the things you do – or allow.

Then maybe you should spend some time with Me, and let me show you what I want to do in you through this test.

Maybe. I guess that would be a good idea. But God, can’t you just make things like normal again, and make this coronavirus go away? I don’t like tests. I don’t like upheavals. I don’t like it when I can’t control things, or when my life doesn’t work the way I think it should. And I don’t like to see people suffering.

I know.

Yes. Yes, I suppose you do know. You know my thoughts, don’t you.

Yes, I know your thoughts. But you don’t seem to know My thoughts very well. Did you know there’s another part to that verse?

Is there? Doesn’t it just say all things work together for good for those who love You?

That’s part of it. But remember that bit about being called according to My purpose?

Oh yeah. That part. So what’s that all about, anyway?

You tell me. What do you think is My purpose for you?

I dunno. A nice, easy comfortable life here on earth – after all, I’m a Christian, right? I go to church, I believe in you, I hang out with my nice Christian friends, I do good Christian stuff, and you’re supposed to protect me and my family and make sure we don’t have any trouble. After all, we’re good people. And then I get to go to heaven. But it doesn’t quite seem to be working out the way I thought. This COVID-19 thing really has me rattled.

Yes, I noticed. But did you know that you left out a couple of bits? My purpose for you is a bit bigger than you thought. 

It is? I was afraid of that.

Yep. Did you know there’s a part in there about becoming like Jesus

Really? You expect that? Nobody can be as good as Jesus. He’s special. He’s different.

Well, I didn’t say you had to do that part by yourself. You can’t make yourself like Jesus. You can’t change yourself. Especially not when you keep trying to play it safe and stay out of trouble. That’s why I’m helping you out by letting you go through some problems. 

That’s supposed to help me?

Well, how else am I going to teach you to depend on Me? You spend most of your time trying to figure everything out by yourself. So I allowed the devil to stir up a problem that was too big for anyone to handle. 

I have to admit, I did wonder if maybe the devil had his hand in this. But I don’t understand why you would let him do that. I still don’t see how this pandemic can lead to anything good.

You see how your leaders are trying really hard to cope, keep everyone from getting sick. And medical researchers are working really hard to find solutions, things they can use to manage this problem. They want to find a vaccine. They don’t want to have another problem like this one again. I understand that. I understand that you’re all frightened, and you just want it to end. Believe me, I feel it. I’m hearing way more prayers than usual, and most of them are full of fear. But at least they’re praying. That’s a start. But most people haven’t got a clue what this is really about. 

What is it about then?

My enemy – the devil – wants to destroy you all. He always does. He hates you, and he hates Me. But I’m not going to allow that. I am letting him test you, though. To see how you’ll do. To see how many of my people – those who say they’re my people, anyway – will actually turn to Me. Did you know that’s how you become more like Jesus?

By turning to you and paying attention to you? Really? It’s that simple?

Yes, really. That’s how it works. And not just when things are hard. All the time. You have no idea how much I love you and want to see you grow up into the amazing, glorious person I intend you to become. I want you to live with Me in My perfect Kingdom that is coming, where there is no more suffering or death or pain or anything evil. But none of that can happen unless you go through some troubles. Without troubles, you won’t change, because you’d rather stay in control, you’d rather keep things safe and comfortable. The reason I allow troubles in your life is so that you’ll turn to Me and let Me have My way in your life. 

Ouch. But yes, you’re right. I see that, a little bit anyway. I do want to learn to turn to You and trust You more. I’m tired of being afraid. So what should I do? How can I fix this?

You can’t fix it. That’s the whole point. But I can. I can work in you so that you’re not so anxious, so worried, so stressed. I can teach you to trust Me. I can make you more like Jesus. I can cause you to grow in love, so that you can actually help people in this crisis and not just worry about yourself. I can prepare you for My glorious Kingdom that is coming. I can do all that. But you have to pay attention to Me. 

OK God. Let’s give it a go. I think that would be a good thing. My way’s not working so well.

I noticed that. Glad you’re on side. Walk with me through this. 

Thank you, Lord. Please help me. Teach me Your ways.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. (Romans 8:28-30 NLT)

 

 

 

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Nuggets of Hope 12 – Cancelled

Cancelled.

Many things have been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel plans, meetings, projects, school, parties, shows – you name it.  Most of these cancellations are unwelcome, although some people are discovering a hidden blessing in the enforced slower pace of life.

For believers in Jesus, something else has been cancelled, and the cancellation has nothing to do with COVID-19.

Our record of sin has been cancelled. Our punishment has been cancelled. Our penalty – eternal separation from God in the lake of fire – has been cancelled.

The Apostle Paul summed it up with these memorable words (Romans 8:1-2 ESV)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

If you’ve been a lifelong Christian, it may be hard to think of yourself as a potential object of God’s wrath. But the Scriptures are very clear about this. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Had Jesus not gone to the cross for us, we would stand before God guilty and condemned.

If you are inclined to doubt this, consider one simple question. Do you want your own way? If you answered honestly, you have just admitted to being innately in rebellion against God. We humans like to think of ourselves as innocent and just. It’s other people who are perverse, not us. We’re very good at convincing ourselves of this. We far prefer this to facing our own guilt. Of course, if you’ve been learning to surrender to the work of grace, then you’ve been crucifying that rebellious, devious old nature – but you can only do that because Jesus – the perfect Lamb of God – went to the cross, wiped your slate clean, and secured for you a record of Not Guilty.

Let’s not waste the precious and wonderful gift of freedom that Jesus won for us. Let’s treasure it. If you have put your hope in Jesus, the wonderful, glorious truth is that you are not condemned. You could have been, should have been, but you weren’t, because Jesus took your condemnation for you. You don’t have to be afraid of COVID-19. You don’t have to be afraid to die. Your sentence was cancelled. You are free – free to live a new life for the glory of God.

Even if I don’t succumb to COVID-19, the reality is that I don’t know how long I have left in this life. When I consider what Jesus has done for me, I don’t want to waste the years I have left. My record of sin has been cancelled, and so has my ticket to the Lake of Fire. By the mercy of God, I’m going to miss that party.

Instead, I have an invitation to a much better, more glorious party – the wedding banquet of the Lamb and his Bride, a celebration of God’s glory, beauty and goodness that will never end. But I don’t want to get there, and find that I’m ashamed to go in because I’m not dressed for the occasion. I want to be dressed in the pure white garments of those who have been transformed by the love of Jesus.

That choice is open to anyone who wants it. If you’ve never given Jesus central place in your life, the COVID-19 pandemic is a great opportunity to take stock of where you’re really headed, turn to Jesus, turn in your cancelled ticket to hell and accept your free ticket to glory.

If you’ve already done that, this pandemic is also a great time to re-set your course and decide again that you want to be wholeheartedly for Jesus, so that when you get to the celebration you’ll have no need to be ashamed, and you can walk in and enjoy the party.

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Racing through life

Life is short.

It’s a common observation, but one that leads people to vastly different conclusions.

A couple of weeks ago, at a family gathering, I was chatting with my niece Kyla who is only a few weeks away from the birth of her first baby. Kyla commented on how quickly the months of her pregnancy were racing by. As she looks forward eagerly to the birth of her child, she wants the months to fly by – despite the pain of childbirth that she knows is coming – so that she can hold her baby.

All of us can relate to her sense of anticipation. When you are looking forward to some eagerly-awaited event – a wedding, a new baby, graduation, a new job, a trip, a move, the Olympics, the coming of spring – you can hardly wait for time to pass. 

But what about the rest of the time? What happens after the wedding is over, the baby is born, the job has become routine, the trip has become a photo album, the Olympics are history, spring has become summer and then fall and then winter again? How do you stay motivated on the race through life? 

The wedding becomes a marriage, the young couple becomes a middle-aged couple and then an old couple, the baby becomes a child and then an adult, trips become memories, seasons change, medals lose their glory. Yet we continue to race through life, trying to keep ourselves motivated with new goals, because a life that is only about survival is a life that hardly seems worth living.

All of this can be good, but in the end, none of it satisfies. That’s because we were made for eternity.

Sooner or later the harsh realities of suffering and death will put an end to our hopes and dreams. Like it or not, eventually our strength will fail and we will have no energy left for new goals, new projects, new accomplishments. Even the love of family will not be enough to sustain our hope when the energy of our life fails, and our capacity to dream new dreams runs dry.

There is only one hope that will not fail when our strength is gone, only one vision that will stay bright when all else fades into obscurity or dusty memories. It’s really the only hope worth living for, the only dream worth pursuing, the only vision worth cherishing.

Most of us are very self-focussed in our race through life. We look for satisfaction in pleasing ourselves. In the end, that way leads to eternal pain, frustration and loss.

But there is another way. Instead of seeking to please ourselves, we can look for satisfaction in loving the One who has loved us first – the One who has suffered and died for us, the One who conquered death for us, the One who is seeking us out even now.

Reflecting on the goals he had once pursued before surrendering his life to Christ, the apostle Paul had this to say (Philippians 3:7-11):

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider … everything else [as] worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him…. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

All of us race through life. The real question is, what goal are you racing towards?

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Tragedy in Boston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Playing to an audience of One

All of us play to an audience.

This tendency to play to an audience – to do the things that we know will win us approval, applause and appreciation – starts very early in life. In fact, I am pretty sure it is innate. People manifest this tendency in different ways, but everyone does it.

Anyone who is a parent or grandparent knows what I am talking about. When my daughter Bethany was a preschooler, she concluded that she might be able to get out of potential punishments by fluttering her eyelashes. She overplayed her hand, though, at the age of four, by telling me her strategy. “You can’t punish me – I’m too cute”. When I finished laughing, I disciplined her nonetheless, even though it was hard to keep a straight face. And a generation later, the pattern continues. Bethany’s adorable nieces – my beautiful granddaughters Sophie and Alivia – are adept at the same game, and play their audience masterfully, although thankfully their parents have the wisdom to know when to play along, and when to burst the bubble.

Playing to an audience can be cute in a four-year-old. But this seemingly innocent game doesn’t stop when little Joey or Janie heads off to school. The audience keeps changing throughout life, and the strategies we use to impress people or win their approval may become more clever and subtle – but at bottom it’s really the same game, in many different forms. Make ’em think I’m smart, or cute, or sexy, or strong, or good, or otherwise impressive. Make ’em like me. Make ’em treat me well.

One of the remarkable things about Jesus is how free he was from this all-pervasive game, this compulsion to please people and win their favour. That’s because he was playing to a different audience. He did only what he saw his Father doing, and lived only for his Father’s pleasure.

Because of that, he could love even those who abused him and rejected him. When Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, he knew exactly what he was doing, and he had no illusions about the outcome of his ride. He knew that he was fulfilling prophecy. He knew that he was God’s chosen one, destined to suffer for the sins of his people and the whole world. He knew that the leaders of Israel were even then plotting to destroy him, and that most of those who hailed him as King would turn away from him just a few days later. He knew that even Peter, his right-hand man, would crumble under the pressure of fear and deny knowing him. He knew that he was headed for a cross. He had warned his disciples about this months before. When he sweated drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, waiting for one of his friends to betray him, wishing this cup of agony might pass from him, it was for their sake and ours that he stayed faithful. When he went into the heavenly sanctuary as Lamb and High Priest, he went for them – and for you and me. When he stands before the Father’s throne and intercedes for the souls of men and women, he’s doing it for those who denied him, rejected him and betrayed him. He’s doing it for us.

Jesus is the only one who can lay my heart bare with one deft stroke of the sword of his Word. He is able at one and the same time to wound me, comfort me and speak life and hope to me. He has exposed the twisted motives of my heart too many times to count, and untangled the tangled mess of my hopes, fears and desires so that I know which way I should walk. He does this because He loves me. Having given his life for me, he continues to plead for me, woo me, call me to himself, beautify me and prepare me until my transformation is complete, until I am clothed in glory together with all those who have responded to his call, and we enter in to the wedding feast as the glorious Bride that he had in mind from the beginning.

Jesus is able to finish what he started. He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it. We can count on him precisely because he doesn’t care about pleasing us. He loves me and you, but he’s not compelled to win our favour by doing what we want. He lives only to please his Father. He can’t be corrupted. He has stood the test and been found faithful. Jesus doesn’t stand before me to win my approval. He stands before his Father’s throne as the heavenly intercessor for me, and all those for whom he paid so high a price. And so, because we have a Passover Lamb and High Priest who cannot be swayed, one who is faithful through and through, one who is completely incorruptible – so unlike our fallen human leaders – because of this, we can be completely sure that he will always deal with us in truth, mercy and righteous, holy love.

There are many things about Jesus that move my heart and make me want to weep with gratitude. Today, I am thankful that – so unlike mine – Jesus’ heart is consistent; that, so unlike mine, his eyes are always locked in on his Father’s face; that, so unlike me, he is unswayed by the many voices that clamor at him to change. He hears every prayer and is sensitive to every cry; his heart is tender towards everyone who calls out to him; but he lives his life and walks his course for an audience of One. Not only that, but he has promised to make me like him. In fact, that’s the only basis on which he will receive me. Salvation is completely free – Jesus paid the ultimate price for my forgiveness – but there is a catch. I have to agree to one thing. I no longer belong to myself but him. That means he gets to do what he wants with my life. That means letting Jesus make me over again, from the inside out. I, too, have to learn to play to an audience of One.

Jesus, you said that if my eyes are good and my gaze is unswervingly locked in on you alone, then my whole being will be full of light. That really is what I want, Lord. I want my life to shine like a city set on a hill for all to see. Do for me what I can’t do for myself. Make me like you. Teach me to play to an audience of One.

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No more plastic Jesus

The other day at work, one of my colleagues passed around a link to a stunning video of the power of quickly-rising floodwaters in Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia. The video showed a row of cars being first set afloat, then carried downstream, then being deposited in a jumbled heap as the flood passed on.  A few days earlier, Marion and I were powerfully impacted by a news report showing a distraught woman whose house had been flooded.

We can all sympathize intuitively with the victims of disasters such as the recent widespread flooding in Australia, Hurricane Katrina in 2004, or the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.  Such powerful events have the ability to rivet our attention.  They threaten our sense of security.  We are shocked and disturbed as we picture what it would be like for our own lives to be overturned by such unstoppable forces.

We ask ourselves why such things happen, and various explanations are offered, none of them totally satisfying.  Some say “God is just, and such terrible events are His righteous judgments”.  Others say “God is kind and compassionate, and such terrible events are contrary to His will”.  Still others say “There is no God or else such things wouldn’t happen.  Life makes no sense”.

Evidently people in Jesus’ day wrestled with these kinds of issues too.  Luke records that on one occasion Jesus’ disciples came to him with what must have been a hot news story at the time.  Pilate, the Roman governor, had killed some Galileans while they were at worship in the Temple, mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices on the altar.  When they approached Jesus for a comment on this horrific act of cruelty, He linked it to another contemporary event – the death of eighteen people who were crushed when a tower collapsed on them.  With surgical precision He sliced deftly through the arguments of all three viewpoints listed above.

To those who assumed that the victims must be especially terrible sinners, Jesus said “That’s not your call.  Instead of judging them, judge yourself”.  So if you want to claim that disasters are judgments sent by God on other people, you won’t find any support from Jesus.  He never lets us off the hook, never lets us get away with focussing on someone else’s sins.  He always turns the pointing finger back at the one doing the pointing, and says in effect “Instead of playing judge on someone else’s life, govern your own life”.

On the other hand, for those who assume that a loving God would never judge anyone, Jesus’ comments are equally disturbing.  He deftly sidestepped the question that everybody wanted Him to answer (“Were these events direct judgments from God, or not?”).  Instead, he pointed his listeners to a far more pressing issue, telling them : “The victims of these disasters were no better or worse than you – so wake up and smell the coffee!  Unless you repent, you will perish too”.   Sounds like a warning to me.

What?  Jesus gave warnings of judgment?  Didn’t he teach that God loved everyone?  Absolutely – but He also very clearly and repeatedly spoke of a coming day of reckoning.  He evidently thought his hearers needed to be warned – and if they needed a warning, don’t you think the same might apply to us? Although it may not be a popular view, the truth is that God has never suspended His right to judge.  While it may not be what we want to hear, Jesus indisputably portrayed these terrible disasters as a wakeup call from God – a reminder that none of us knows when or how our life will end or when Christ will return, and that one day we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

But didn’t Jesus come to give His life so that we could be forgiven?  Exactly!  If there won’t be any judgment anyway, why bother?  Jesus isn’t stupid – He didn’t come to sacrifice his life and die a horrible death for nothing.  He gave His life because God is both just and kind.  Because God is kind, He yearns for us as a loving father might agonize over a rebellious teenager, patiently waiting for us to come back to our senses and embrace His mercy.  Yet, because He is just, God cannot allow the sin and evil of a rebellious race to continue forever.  For those who insist on maintaining their independence, the day of reckoning must come.

Disturbing?  Well, yes – but also comforting.  If we are willing to stand in the light of His scrutiny, Jesus’ message is wonderfully good news.  No event, no circumstance is meaningless.  For those with eyes to see, every event points us to God’s coming Kingdom, which has already broken into history in the person of Jesus, and will be fully established when He returns to reign openly as King.  The day of reckoning is not the end of the story.  For those who throw themselves on His mercy – including all the innocent victims of all the injustices of history – Jesus holds out the sure hope of a restored earth and a resurrected, glorified body.  But you can only get there by dealing honestly with the One who gave His life for you, and who knows you better than you know yourself – what you have been, what you are and what you can become.

Upheavals and troublesome events of all kinds are inevitable in a wondrous, beautiful, yet messed-up world.  But the world won’t stay messed-up forever.  For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, life’s disasters serve a redemptive purpose, upsetting our neatly ordered lives so that we can see again our need to humble ourselves and turn to the One who made us, Who has given His life to save us, and Who is coming to rule.

Back in the sixties, the song Plastic Jesus took a tongue-in-cheek poke at popular religion :

I don’t care if it rains or freezes
As long as I’ve got my plastic Jesus
Sitting on the dashboard of my car

A plastic Jesus won’t save you when disaster comes.  The real Jesus, however, most certainly will – that is, if you are willing to go through the fire and the water with him, for the sake of the glory that is to come.

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