Tag Archives: holiness

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?


Nuggets of Hope 7 – Called to Shine

“I’m no saint”.

When someone says these words they are usually admitting that they’re far from perfect. But is that what it means to be a saint? Does it mean that you have achieved moral perfection? If that were the case, no-one would qualify except Jesus.

For the past week I’ve been offering these daily reflections on Scripture to bring hope and courage into the hearts and homes of God’s beloved people during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Today we are going to look at a Biblical concept that is often misunderstood, and may not seem very relevant or encouraging at first glance. Like some long-lost family heirloom, many people don’t appreciate its value, or don’t even know it’s there. In this short post I want to try to blow the dust off and shed some light on this gem of life-giving truth.

Most people have a great deal of respect for Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was renowned for her works of mercy and charity. She was also recognized for her simplicity and humility. Many would have no problem calling her a saint.

These are all great qualities, and they do indeed flow from a genuine relationship with Jesus. But it’s not actually our character traits that make us saints. Believe it or not, being a saint is actually very simple. The only qualification is that you have to belong to Jesus. It’s really that simple.

This doesn’t just mean saying a quick prayer. It means letting Him change us day by day, by the power of His Spirit living in us. So, for example, if we truly belong to Jesus, we won’t be panicked by this pandemic. Yes, we’ll experience feelings of fear like everyone else, but we won’t let fear rule us. Why not? Because we have Jesus living in us, and we are letting Him renew our minds with His word, and pour His peace and joy into us by His Spirit.

Being holy is a gift, but it’s also a daily choice. It’s something that happens over time, as you respond to Jesus day by day. The pull of darkness and despair is strong – not just during COVID-19, but all the time. But the resurrection power of Jesus is stronger. We are the ones who get to decide what defines our lives. It took a lifetime of daily choices for Mother Teresa to become someone who was defined by the Light. We can feed ourselves on Jesus, or we can feed ourselves on things that pull us away from him. One way is the path of life, the other is the path of death.

The Apostle Paul frequently referred to those who believe in Jesus as saints (e.g. Colossians 1:3-4, 12). The word saint simply means someone who is holy, set apart for God, and in the process of being purified. He wasn’t saying that they were already perfect. Far from it. He was saying that the life of Jesus in them was changing them day by day, and that their destiny was to be like Him. Their destiny was to shine. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, he wrote, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12)

The Apostle John put it this way (1 John 3:2-3).

Beloved, we are God’s children now,
and what we will be has not yet appeared;
but we know that when he
we shall be like him,
because we shall see him as he is.
And everyone who thus hopes in him

purifies himself as he
is pure.

If you already belong to Jesus, you are a saint – a holy one. The power of God is at work in you to make you new. And if you don’t belong to Jesus, this amazing gift is freely available. All you have to do is surrender to Him and trade your life for his. It’s that simple.

What a hope! What a promise! When we wake up to the glorious destiny that we have in Jesus, what hold does a virus have on us?

God bless you today with hope and courage. You are called to shine.


The river

This summer I have done a lot of cycling on the paths by the Rideau and Ottawa Rivers. I do it for the exercise, but I also do it because being outdoors helps me to pray.

I have been without work for four months now. This has been a faith-stretching time for me, as I have been waiting for God to supply me with work, but it has also been a season of spiritual refreshing. This has been especially true in recent weeks as Marion and I have been devoting ourselves to the word of God and prayer to an extent that we have not done for a long time. It has been deeply challenging and also fruitful. But I know there is much more that the Lord wants to do in me – in fact, I feel as though I am just touching the edge of what he wants to lead me into. The earth is coming into a pivotal time, a season when everything that can be shaken will be shaken, so that only those things which cannot be shaken will remain. To fulfil God’s purposes for us so that we come forth in glory through the upheavals that are coming, we will need to be deeply anchored in God and full of His life. The other day the Lord reminded me of this quite powerfully during one of my bike rides.

About ten days ago Ottawa had a major thunderstorm after several weeks of drought. The storm was accompanied by heavy rains. The Rideau had gotten very low, and many of the shallower areas were choked with algae and water weeds. But the day after the rain, there was noticeably more water in the river, and the parkland along its banks didn’t seem quite so dry. The rain wasn’t enough to truly end the drought, but it helped. I had been praying for rain, so I was thankful.

A couple of days after the rainstorm, I was pedalling along the bicycle path by the Rideau River and I sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to me.

See this river. See how low, and polluted, the water is after this season of drought. It is a picture of your soul (mind, will, emotions). My river of life flows in you but it is at a much lower level than it could be, and it is polluted by other things. The other day there was a rainfall. It was an answer to your prayers, and you were happy. The rain was good, but the river is still low. In the same way, you must not be content with the refreshing you are now experiencing. It feels good, but do not conclude that this is all you need. Let this time of refreshing stir up your desire for more. Your soul needs to be filled to overflowing with my river of life. When my river of life is flowing at flood tide in you, like a raging torrent, it will purify all uncleanness and bring life to you and many others. 

Reflecting more on this, the other day the Lord spoke to me using a different analogy. He showed me that much of my life as a Christian I had been playing in the shallows of a huge swimming pool – like a little child splashing in the shallow water on the beach – and he is calling me to humble myself, recognize that I need much more, and apply myself to going much deeper in him.

God, I don’t want to be satisfied too easily. I choose to be content in you, but at the same time I do not want to be easily satisfied with the measure of the Holy Spirit that I have received. I am refreshed by the streams of living water that you have been pouring out, but I want more. You say that the Holy Spirit is a deposit, a down payment on our inheritance. I want to maximize that deposit – make the most of it – so that you will reward me with much more on that Day. Even now, Lord, I want as much of your revelation as I can have in this age, so that I can testify with grace and power to the new life that you are prepared to give to anyone who is truly hungry for you.


Humour, honesty, humility and holiness

I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time.

Last Wednesday evening at Life Group, we had an absolutely hilarious time talking about childhood adventures and various embarrassing and humorous moments in our lives.   (For those who aren’t familiar with Life Groups, they are small groups of people within a church who meet together in homes to build friendships and support and encourage each other.  Some churches call them small groups, connect groups or cell groups).  Anyway, to return to my story – at Life Group last week, we laughed more than I have laughed in a long time.  It all started when we got talking about raising children, and I mentioned that Marion and I still occasionally hear stories from our children about some childhood misadventure that we knew nothing about.  This started the stories flowing, and for the next hour or so we heard story after story about each other’s lives, punctuated with much hilarity.

This might not seem like a very spiritual way to spend an evening, but as I listened to the stories and the comments that were going round the circle, I realized that in sharing our misadventures, foibles and embarrassing moments, we were doing something very significant.  Telling stories on ourselves in an atmosphere of faith helps us to understand ourselves and one another better.  It gives us an opportunity to grow in love, humility and honesty.  The letter of James – one of the most practical books in the Bible – instructs us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another that we may be healed (James 5:16).  In an atmosphere of faith, laughing together about our foibles can be a form of confession and repentance.  One young woman in the group said that she used to be very concerned about others’ opinion of her.  This of course is very common.  It’s called pride, and is a major stumbling block that keeps us from a healthy, productive relationship with God.  This young woman said she found the shared laughter very freeing.  I believe all of us found the same thing.  It’s hard to stay puffed up with pride when you are laughing at yourself.

I am in the middle of doing year-end bookkeeping for my incorporated IT consulting practice.  I am a stickler for getting my bookkeeping right.  Accurate bookkeeping is important to me because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s also important to me because I don’t want to get a nasty surprise down the road, when my corporate tax statement goes to CRA.  If  there are hidden surprises in my company’s books, it could cost me dearly.

The apostle John (1 John 2:27-28) reminds us to let ourselves be instructed by a real, not counterfeit, anointing so that we will be confident and unashamed at the coming of the Lord.   Honesty before our friends – in an atmosphere of humility and dependency on God’s mercy – provides a climate in which the true anointing of the Holy Spirit can operate.  This true anointing teaches us to walk in the light, with no pretending, no masks, genuine love, and therefore no need to be embarrassed or ashamed before the Lord.   The result is holiness – not artificial, external holiness but the real thing.

Having shared our stories and laughed at ourselves and one another, we sang a simple song of thanksgiving, broke bread together and prayed simple, unvarnished prayers for each other before heading home.  The prayers were real because we were being real with each other.  I believe God was pleased with the way we spent our evening.

In fact, I was thinking that we could rename our life group and call it a 4-H club.   Humour – honesty – humility – holiness.  Yeah – 4-H !  Great new name for our life group.  Pat and Beth will be so pleased.

Wait – didn’t someone already think of that name?


Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays-Part 2

In Part 1 of this post I commented on the trend to replace Merry Christmas with Happy Holidays, and explained why I don’t see any need to replace seasonal references to the birth of Christ with a more generic, vanilla type of greeting.  Now I want to shift gears and show you that when people think they are avoiding a reference to Christ by wishing you Happy Holidays, they are actually pointing you directly to Him without even realizing it.  In fact, properly understood, Happy Holidays is a very powerful and meaningful greeting with great spiritual significance.

Before getting into the meaning of Happy Holidays, though, I need to keep a promise.  In the first half of this post I promised to explain the meaning of both phrases – Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.  So let’s start with Merry Christmas.   It’s actually not that complicated.   The original meaning of the word merry was closer to happy or content.  The Christmas part is a contraction of Christ’s Mass, which in medieval England was the name given to the festival celebrating the birth of Christ.   So, when you wish someone a Merry Christmas you’re not just wishing them a really good party – although Jesus apparently enjoyed parties.  You are really encouraging them to find happiness and contentment in the celebration of Christ’s coming into our world to be our Saviour.  Now that’s a reason to celebrate!

OK, so what about Happy Holidays?   Here’s where it gets interesting.  The English word holiday is actually a contraction of the two words holy day.    In medieval English society, the Christian holy days were festival days, when work was suspended.  Originally, a holiday was a holy day – a day of celebration intended to commemorate some great event such as the birth of Christ, his Resurrection, and so forth – a day when people were relieved of their usual work and could focus on worshipping God and giving thanks to Him for his goodness.  This was usually accompanied by a festive meal.

Of course any true follower of Christ would recognize that such special times of celebration are not a substitute for following Christ the rest of the time.  Rather, they are meant to refresh and encourage us, to refocus our attention on God and His gifts to us, so that we can walk with Him every day, and every day can be a holy day.  After all, what is a holy day, really?  It’s simply a day that is consecrated to God.  The word holy means set apart for God’s purposes.  For a disciple of Jesus, every moment of time is holy, because we do not belong to ourselves anymore – we belong to Jesus.

But what about the Happy part of the greeting?  Doesn’t it seem a bit out of place, side by side with a reference to holiness?  No, not really.   Although non-believers tend to think that holiness makes people miserable – maybe because there have been too many examples of sour Christians who didn’t understand the joy of the Lord – true holiness actually makes us happier than anything else could do.   In fact, in one of his sermons, John Wesley made the claim that it is only possible for us to be truly happy if we are also holy.   I believe Wesley was right.  When we understand what holiness really means – a simple recognition that our life belongs to the One who made us and paid a price for us, and a daily choice to align our wills with His will and His purpose for our lives – it makes a lot of sense that this way of living would make us happy .  It also makes sense that the choice to live independently of God, although it might seem to offer short-term pleasures and rewards, would in the end make us miserable.

So, when someone wishes you Happy Holidays, they have actually unknowingly wished you happy, holy days.  And isn’t that what Christmas is all about, when you come right down to it?  Jesus came into the world so that the people who had been walking in darkness could come into the light of God’s salvation.   Everyone wants happiness.   Well, the good news is that God really does want you to be happy.  The bad news (which is really good news in disguise) is that you actually can’t be happy – not really happy, eternally happy, totally happy and fulfilled – except as you lose yourself in Him.  This is called dying to yourself, and although it may not sound all that appealing, it is actually the way to lasting peace and joy.

A celebration of Christmas without the holiness that Jesus brings is ultimately hollow and unsatisfying.  It may amuse us for a while, but it will leave us empty in the end.  But a Christmas celebration that points us back to Immanuel, God with us, who came to restore us and make us holy – now that’s a truly merry Christmas, one that will result in lasting peace and joy.

Merry Christmas !

Happy Holidays !

Happy, Holy Days !