Tag Archives: kindness

The power of blessing

My beloved wife celebrated her 60th birthday a few days ago.

I’m not always the best at planning ahead for such events, but I have learned over the years that special days are important to Marion, and I have also learned that I do a better job at honouring her on such occasions if I give some thought to it in advance.  So, about a month before her birthday I began thinking about what I could do that would bless her, and I had an inspiration. I remembered that when I turned 50, Marion had compiled a book containing words of encouragement, appreciation and blessing from various people in my life. I realized that she could benefit from some encouragement (can’t we all?) so I decided to do something similar for her 60th birthday. I contacted a number of our mutual friends by email and Facebook and asked them to email me with messages communicating something that they appreciated about Marion or some statement of how her life had been a blessing to them.

I found this experience to be a very powerful one. It was a great benefit to my own relationship with God to read the messages that came into my inbox through the month of July.

I learned (or re-learned) several valuable lessons from this experience, and thought they would be worth sharing with others.

Firstly, I was reminded that our words really do matter. They have powerful impact on how others perceive themselves. We are told in Proverbs 18:21 that death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. As I read the words of gratitude that so many friends sent to bless Marion, I found myself appreciating our friends and family all over again, and thanking God for putting such wonderful people in our lives. Since I gave her the book on her birthday, Marion has been enjoying it as well. Even when we know that Jesus loves us and gave His life for us, it is a great encouragement to hear from other people how our simple words and actions of love – many of them long forgotten by us – have impacted their lives.

Secondly, I was amazed at the kindness of God. Many of our friends expressed gratitude for things Marion had said or done that she does not remember at all. I know this is because she has set her heart on loving God, and when you do that, kindness and encouragement flow out to those who are receptive. This to me is a powerful motivation to keep walking in the Spirit. As we set our hearts on following the way of love, others are blessed. It is so simple, but we do need to choose daily to walk this path.

Thirdly, I realized again how thankful I am for the wife God has given me. She brings me good, and not harm, all the days of her life (Proverbs 31:12). It is good to be reminded of reasons to be grateful. So, for all of you who took the time to send words of blessing on my wife’s birthday, thank you so much. You encouraged her, but you also encouraged me. Well done.

I’ve uploaded the completed Blessing Book for anyone who is interested in seeing the finished product.


It’s cold out there

Coldest Night Logo (Snowflake) Color - PNGIt’s cold out there. 

The past week, temperatures in Ottawa have been below -20°C all week long. Earlier in the week they dipped below -30°C.

Yesterday I took a break from work and went out for a walk at noon. While outside, I took off my mitts to use my phone for a very brief conversation. In less than a minute, my fingers felt almost numb. It took a long time for them to get warm again. In this weather, when I walk home from the bus at the end of the day (about a ten minute walk, quite pleasant under most circumstances) my nose and cheeks are very cold by the time I arrive home. 

Imagine how hard this cold weather must be on people who are homeless.

I seldom use this blog for fund raising purposes, but today I am making an exception. When I head out on the streets on February 22 as part of the Coldest Night of the Year walk to raise funds for Jericho Road Christian Ministries, I’m asking for your support. You can support me here. If you can’t give money, I would appreciate your prayers. Jericho Road serves broken people who would otherwise be homeless due to mental illness or addictions. Broken people matter to Jesus. They were made in God’s image and their lives are precious in His sight. He died so that they could be fully restored.

Some say that those who live on the streets do so by choice. In one sense, that may be so. For some, life on the streets may the result of a string of foolish or misguided choices. Even so, those who find themselves living on the streets usually do so because they feel they have no other remaining options. When I leave my warm house to walk to the bus to go to work on a cold winter day, I am glad I am not homeless, and my heart is moved with compassion for the men and women who feel they have no other option but to live on the streets.

Some say that in Ottawa, no-one has to live on the streets because there are places where homeless people can go for shelter. I have been in those shelters. It is true that they provide a place to sleep, and I am glad they are there, but they are not home.

Jericho Road is one ministry that offers another path for men dealing with addictions or mental illness, men who would otherwise be on the street or condemned to living at a shelter. Jericho offers a genuinely homelike atmosphere with structured living, responsibilities, medication if needed, counselling, Bible study and prayer. It’s a ministry that I am glad to support. The son of a good friend of mine was set free from years of drug addiction as a result of this wonderful ministry, and today is helping others get free. 

For a number of years, Marion and I were regulars at the weekly Jericho Road coffeehouse, where we led worship once a month, and hung out with men and women from the street who came in for a warm meal, a safe place, music and conversation. This was a challenging environment in which to lead worship, but I loved it. I remember one evening when I was sitting with a friend from the street who was admiring my leather-bound Bible. It had been a gift from valued friends. I knew the Lord was telling me to give it to him. I will never know the impact the Bible had on his life, but giving it had an impact on me. It was one of many choices that God used to soften my heart and make me more available for His purposes.

All of us make many choices daily. I want to make choices that prepare my heart to bear fruit for God. If He is moving you to support me in this walk, I’d be grateful for your support. But even if this particular endeavour is not something God is calling you to support, I want to urge you to consider your daily choices. It’s easy to condemn others for the choices they have made. But it’s far more productive to consider our own choices. Mercy, or judgment? Faith and love, or pride and fear? The presence of the Lord, or independence? Darkness, or light? 

Yes, it’s cold out there. The world is a cold, dark place, and getting colder and darker as the end of the age draws near. Even as signs of the Kingdom are increasing around the earth, and miracles, signs and wonders are being released in many places in great power, darkness is also increasing. But the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never overcome it and never will. I want my heart and my life to be a reflection of the warmth, light, love and glory of God’s Kingdom that is coming on the earth.

That’s why I am walking on February 22. If you want to walk with me, you can join my team here. I’d be glad of your company.

God bless you.



Coldest Night of the Year

I remember when I first heard about Jericho Road Ministries from its founder, my friend Ray Desmarais. A compassionate man with a big heart for the hurting and homeless, Ray wanted to do something practical to help. Over the years, his relentless drive and passion led to the birthing of a ministry that has demonstrated the love of Jesus to hundreds of broken people in Ottawa’s core. While appreciating the need for shelters such as Shepherds of Good Hope and the Ottawa Mission, Jericho Road has chosen to offer smaller-scale, discipleship-based group homes with the aim of helping mentally ill or addicted men and women get off the street and learn practical life skills in an atmosphere of structured Christian community.

For several years my wife Marion and I were among the regular performers at a weekly coffee house offered by Jericho Road. We loved it! At the time, we lived in the rural community of Russell, and the coffee house gave us an opportunity to serve and rub shoulders with people that we wouldn’t normally have any contact with. Now that we live in the historic neighbourhood of Vanier, so close to downtown, I have a whole new appreciation for the work done by ministries such as Jericho Road.

I no longer sing at the Jericho Road coffee house, as there are now plenty of musicians to fill the roster, but on February 23, I’ll be joining a team led by my good friend Keith Brown in a walk in support of this great ministry, along with dozens of other Ottawans. The event is known as The Coldest Night of the Year, and takes place in cities across the nation in support of various charities that serve the hurting and homeless. In Ottawa, your donations will go to support Jericho Road. I’d be grateful if you would consider supporting me with a donation.

If you would like to donate, or would consider joining the walk yourself, you can do so by going to my personal home page. All donations are tax-deductible.

God bless you.



God’s hands

It has now been two months since my most recent IT consulting contract came to an end.  Since then, I have been on an enforced vacation.

Well, of course it hasn’t all been vacation. There have been days that were almost entirely filled with activity related to my life as an IT professional – reading, emails, phone conversations, resume tweaking, setting up my new laptop to run Oracle. But those were brief bursts of activity in a time that has for the most part been very quiet and restful.

You’d think I ought to be worried about the lack of work. The reality is, for the most part I have been remarkably free from worry. In large measure this is because Marion and I have been down this road before. I’ve had several interruptions in work since I started doing IT contract work more than 13 years ago, and the Lord has never left us high and dry. So when He whispers into my spirit that I don’t need to worry, I can draw on a fund of experience to remind me that He is faithful.

That’s a good thing, but it’s not the only thing that the Lord has been speaking to me about these past few weeks.

Marion, Bethany and I returned from Minnesota a little over three weeks ago. Especially since then, I’ve sensed the Lord’s restraining hand, keeping me from becoming too active in chasing work or creating projects for myself. Yes, I’ve set goals and worked at them. In fact, I’ve completed a number of items on a to-do list that included the yard, the house, the cottage and the trailer. But the item on my to-do list that the Lord seems to keep highlighting, especially in the last couple of weeks, is the imperative of using this time to dig deeper in my relationship with Him.

A couple of weeks ago, Marion and I spent the better part of four days following a conference on the free IHOP-KC web stream. We were both fully convinced that we had been directed by the Spirit to set aside this block of time. It soon became apparent why this was so important. We were both deeply impacted by the worship and the powerful teaching. God was getting our attention. For me, I realize the time since then has been different. It is as if I were a little child again, and my Father had picked me up, gently but firmly, and set me down in a protected place, free from distractions, where I could focus on getting to know some aspects of His plans, His purposes and His nature that I needed to see in a fresh, more focussed way.

Last night at our life group meeting, Marion described how sometimes, when dealing with a three-year-old who is easily distracted or just not listening, you need to take her aside, cup her face in your hands, put her face right up against yours, and speak gently but firmly to be sure that you have her attention. I have the sense that this is how God has been dealing with me the past while. This time off work feels like the provision of God – a time set aside for me to refresh some old things and look at some things from a perspective that I hadn’t really considered before.

The Bible tells us that for those who have been actively resisting God, falling into his hands is a fearful thing. God is capable of being quite terrifying. John’s Revelation calls Jesus the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and he’s not a toothless, stuffed toy sort of lion. Like Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia tales, he’s a bit unpredictable and can be wild at times. But to those who have willingly placed themselves in His huge hands, His touch is amazingly kind and gentle.

Kindness is always Father’s preferred way of dealing with us. It’s how he treats everyone who is willingly responsive to Him. Yet even in the gentleness He is also very authoritative.  I am so grateful that my Heavenly Father, and my Lord Jesus, and the Spirit of Holiness, are so much bigger than I am. It brings deep peace to my soul every time He sovereignly reminds me of both His power and His mercy.

Although I don’t have a contract offer yet, in my spirit I sense that this quiet episode will soon be over, and that before long I will be back at work again. I want to retain the fruit that has come from this time that the Lord set apart for me. I am so glad that he has picked me up, set me down in a quiet place, and directed me to set aside distractions and seek His face. Lord, give me the grace to be faithful and to respond to you with my whole heart and life, in a way that is worthy of You and that causes my life to shine with more of Your glory.



Enjoying God

So, how do you feel about the title of this post?

If you’re not sure, stop.  Read the title again. Then stop again and listen to your heart.  As you consider the possibility of truly enjoying God, what is your heart telling you?

Does the idea of enjoying God strike you as selfish? Lots of people feel this way. The belief that it is somehow wrong to enjoy God is a major barrier to a truly intimate and satisfying relationship with him. I should know – I struggled with various forms of this lie for years (although, as with all the Devil’s most effective lies, I didn’t always fully recognize the enemy that was lurking in the shadows of my thought life).

In my last post I confessed my addiction to HGP. I coined HGP as an acronym for His Glorious Presence.

Interestingly, several readers took HGP as a reference to Holy Ghost Power (which simply means “the power of the Holy Spirit”). You could read my previous post and substitute either phrase for HGP – either Holy Ghost Power or His Glorious Presence.  They pretty much amount to the same thing.  Still, there is one subtle but very important difference between the two interpretations.

When we think of the phrase “the power of the Holy Spirit”, we often think of the power to do miraculous works. And of course that is important. When God pours his Holy Spirit into us, we are empowered to do things that we could not otherwise do. The mighty works that are done by the power of the Holy Spirit function as powerful signs of the coming Kingdom of God, and open many hearts to the reality that Jesus is the Risen Messiah.

But that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a truly intimate relationship with God. You can learn to have a functional relationship with the Holy Spirit – by which I mean that you are able to operate in a measure of the Holy Spirit’s miraculous power – without being truly intimate with Father God. Lots of people do this. Some, in fact, operate in a significant level of miraculous power for a period of time while living in sexual immorality, although eventually it always catches up with them. Sadly, whenever this happens, it brings great discredit on the gospel of Jesus. While tragic, this shouldn’t really surprise us – Jesus warned that such things would happen (1).

There’s a good reason why those who focus primarily on power often end up shipwrecked. The power to do mighty works, although very important in displaying the victory of Jesus over the powers of darkness, is not the only reason – or even the first reason – why Father God gives his Holy Spirit to his born-again children. First of all, I believe, He pours the Holy Spirit into our hearts simply to demonstrate that He loves us – as a sort of seal of ownership (2), proving that we really do belong to Him. It’s because of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that we can call God Abba (3) – an intimate, affectionate term of endearment. Father wants us to have a close relationship with Him – so close that we can know His thoughts (4,5) and even His affections towards us. Jesus had such a close relationship with his disciple John that John leaned his head on Jesus’ chest at the Last Supper (6).  Contrary to what some popular authors have written, there is absolutely no basis for the claim that either Jesus or John were gay.  John simply had a very warm, secure relationship with Jesus, and was fully confident of Jesus’ affection for him.

Let’s move from the paradigm of friendship to the paradigm of marriage. The Bible frequently uses both these analogies to describe the kind of relationship that Jesus desires to have with those who belong to him. Now, imagine a scenario in which a man married a woman only for what she could do for him. Sadly, this does happen all too often. But what kind of a marriage would it be? There can be no true intimacy when one party is using the other for selfish ends.  Jesus, on the other hand, freely laid down his life for his bride (7). In calling himself our bridegroom and calling us his bride, he is telling us that he desires a relationship of free acceptance, deep affection,  tenderness and faithfulness. The original lie that the snake planted in Eve’s mind was that God wanted to withhold something from her. Until it is unmasked, this lie – deeply embedded in the thinking of our unredeemed nature, and constantly fed by the Enemy – will always prevent us from truly enjoying God’s love. To truly enjoy God’s presence, you have to trust him enough to believe that he wants only to do you good. Only when you believe this can you truly learn to know his heart and allow him to have unrestricted access to your desires, your deepest motivations, your will and your thoughts.

One of the keys to a good marriage is learning to recognize those things that delight or grieve our partner’s heart, so that we can cultivate the former and avoid the latter. Surely one of the benefits of having the Holy Spirit living in us is so that we can easily and quickly recognize those things that please Jesus’ heart, as well as those things that grieve Him. As we cultivate intimacy with the Holy Spirit, He satisfies us with heaven’s atmosphere of joy and peace, greatly enhancing our desire and ability to please Him. This is where true purity comes from – not from rules, but from a transformed heart that is so full of gratitude to God that it delights to learn what pleases him. Rules and disciplines do have their place in guiding us to the right path, but they cannot produce life. Only the presence of the Holy Spirit living in us – God’s best gift to those who love him – can replace our thoughts and desires with his, so that we increasingly reflect the goodness of Jesus.

I still want to grow in my ability to operate in the gifts, power and boldness of the Holy Spirit. But I am learning to simply enjoy the fact that God enjoys me. This is quite amazing to me, and although I have been on this journey for years, yet I can still sense barriers in my heart coming down that I did not know were there. As I continue to pursue greater intimacy with the Lord – simply because He loves me – I am quite certain that He will find less resistance in me, and a greater level of faith and expectancy, when He wants to do works of power through me. And the more my heart knows how to enjoy his love, the more I will be able to please him and reflect his goodness in the works that I do in His name.


Our Toyota Story

For some men, it would seem, life is really all about their toys.  And high on the list of toys is their muscle car.  Or their motorbike.  Or their truck.

Of course, not all men feel this way about cars.  I know guys who couldn’t care less about cars except as a practical conveyance, but who are in love with musicians’ gear – or Apple iProducts – or cameras – or other gadgets.

But lots of guys are nuts about things that go VRRROOOOM, can go really fast and leave everyone else in the dust.  It helps if the car (or bike or truck) is bright and shiny with lots of chrome, because then other men (and maybe some women) will notice them and be impressed – and of course that’s what it’s all about, right?

That’s never been my style.  I’ve always seen a vehicle as primarily a means of transportation.  When it came to buying cars, practicality, affordability and efficiency were – pardon the pun – the driving values.  Marion and I have always agreed completely on this.   When our Taurus met an untimely end in 1998, and we needed a vehicle that would transport a family of six, what did we do?  No SUV or minivan for us, even though that was what everybody was crazy about back then.  Due to life circumstances (living in the country, three drivers in the household) we needed two vehicles, and a van was beyond our budget unless it was our only vehicle, so we leased a Hyundai Accent and bought a used Ford Escort.  A little counter-intuitive for a family of six, no?  But it worked for us.

So when Marion and I began looking for an SUV recently – after three of our four had left the nest, and long after the SUV craze of the 90’s had levelled out – we got a bit of gentle ribbing from our kids (well, a couple of of them at least).  Our motivation for this purchase, however, had nothing to do with style or image, and everything to do with real value.  Having decided to order a camping trailer in honour of our upcoming 35th anniversary (read the story here) – a decision that was prompted largely by the value we place on facilitating special family times with our children and grandchildren – we needed something with a bit more towing power than our 2005 Toyota Matrix, and we needed luggage room more than seating space.  A mid-size SUV seemed like the solution – and the Lord (yes, I do believe it was His amazingly gracious provision) led us to an excellent deal on a beautifully-maintained 2002 Toyota Highlander.  A shout-out here to the folks at our wonderful neighbourhood garage, who provided us with much valuable help in this process.   Thanks, Russ and Bruce !

The really cool thing for me, though, was what we were able to do with our Matrix, a vehicle that we had inherited from my Dad when he died in 2007.  For the past 3½ years the Matrix has been a reliable, trouble-free, economical and practical vehicle for us – the best car we’ve ever owned, hands-down.  Simeon and Heather, meanwhile, have lived with a succession of used vehicles of uncertain history and dubious quality.  Simeon had told me that Heather really liked driving our Matrix when they were visiting last summer, so when I started looking for something with a little more towing capacity for our trailer, with Marion’s agreement I decided to look into the process for exporting a vehicle to the U.S.A.  My thinking was that if possible, rather than trading in the Matrix, I’d like to be able to give it to Simeon and Heather as a gift.

The export/import process proved to be much less complicated than I had anticipated.  There were some details to work through, but it was all doable.  We received a final settlement on my mother’s estate at just the right time, allowing us to buy the Highlander without the trade-in value of the Matrix.  The details came together quite quickly in the end, leading to a flurry of fairly intense activity – the upshot being that we now have our Highlander and later this week, we will be bringing the Matrix through U.S. customs and then delivering it to its new owners in Minnesota.

I suppose in a sense you could call this our Toyota story.  After several embarrassing recalls the past couple of years, Toyota has been trying to rebuild its former image of reliability with an advertising campaign in which long-time Toyota owners tell their Toyota stories.  Marion and I have only been Toyota owners for a few years, but our experience with Toyota products has been nothing but positive.  We LOVED our Matrix, and are looking forward to many years of reliable service from our new (to us) Highlander.

In a truer sense, though, this is a God story, and my real goal with this post is not to promote Toyota but to testify to God’s amazing grace.  I have been overwhelmed with gratitude – and deeply humbled – at God’s undeserved kindness to us throughout this process.

Have cars suddenly become important to me?  No, not really – not in themselves.  They are only a means to an end.  But this particular series of events has brought me great satisfaction because, by God’s surprising and wonderful provision, Marion and I have been able to give one of our children a gift that was ideally suited to his needs, desires and circumstances.   This will be an excellent car for a young family – practical, reliable, economical – and to be able to give it to Simeon and Heather no strings attached is a great blessing.  What is even more of a delight is that they realize they are being blessed – they recognize the value of the gift.

This has prompted some reflection on the giving of gifts to our children.  Like all parents, Marion and I have had numerous opportunities to do things for our children over the years.  Years ago, when we were young parents on a very limited budget, we tried to be as equitable as possible in the gifts we gave to our children.  In this and other ways, we wanted them to see that we were treating them fairly.  Our goal was that all of our children would know themselves to be equally favoured by their parents (and, we hoped, by God).

As the years have gone by, we have not totally given up this goal, but we have also come to see that completely equal treatment is impossible to achieve, and would probably not even be a good thing.  We have continued to do our best to be good to each of our children, and to be as good to each one as we have been to the others – but I can’t truthfully say that we have treated them all exactly the same way.  Partly, no doubt, this is because we are very imperfect parents.  But even if we were perfect parents, we would not and could not treat our children in exactly the same way.  Although we love them all equally, the specific ways in which we deal with each child are different, because each one has a distinctive makeup and needs, carries a particular calling, and is walking through unique circumstances and life experiences.

Isn’t that just how God deals with His children, too?  Legal justice would mean that everyone gets treated identically.  God, however, goes beyond legal justice by showing us mercy, and then goes beyond showing mercy to pouring out grace – undeserved favour and kindness.  By design, and not by mistake, His grace takes different forms in different circumstances and for different people.  The Enemy of our souls tries hard to blind our eyes to God’s kindness, and presents to our minds multiple reasons to complain and find fault with God.   He works hard to convince us – as he did first with Eve – that God does not really have our best interests at heart, but is withholding something from us.

Satan, of course, is the original orphan, and continues to rage at God’s supposedly unjust treatment of him.  As long as we believe His assessment of God’s character, we will always be able to find reasons to feel that we were unfairly treated in some circumstance or other.   It’s true enough that in a fallen world, we can be deeply hurt by the actions of others, and can be the victims of terrible injustices.  Yet in the midst of all this, God is ready to redeem and restore every wrong, turn us from bitterness to blessing, and make us abundantly fruitful.  He has already made a way for our forgiveness and restoration through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and He has special and unique forms of grace stored up for every one of us – but His best blessings are available to us only after our eyes are opened, and we turn away from our self-preoccupation, yield control of our lives to His sovereign purposes, and begin to live like sons and daughters rather than orphans.  Then, and only then, can we truly taste and see that He is good.

So what’s all this got to do with our Toyota story?  Marion and I have always sought to teach our children that if they trusted the Lord with their lives and sought to serve Him faithfully, He would provide for them and bless them.  Simeon and Heather took a step of faith in moving to Minnesota almost three years ago without any promise of employment, believing that God had called them there.  Since then, they have sought to walk before God in faith and obedience in a community of believers on the Bethany campus.  The Lord has been faithful to them and has blessed them in many ways, but so far they have had trouble with cars.  Now the Lord has made a way for us to supply this need, and I am overwhelmed with His kindness in enabling us to give them this special gift to encourage them.  I may never give a car to any of my other children, but I am equally motivated to show them God’s kindness in ways that will encourage them to trust Him and move forward towards His vision and purpose for their lives.  My goal for each of my children is that their lives will be so strongly imprinted by God’s grace that they, too will be givers – people of faith who are full of confidence in God’s kindness, and who live their lives with open hands, testifying by their lives that God is worthy to be praised, served and worshipped, and that He is infinitely good to those who trust Him.


But why would God care about little old me?

“You say God cares and that he looks after you.  But do you think he would do that for me?  Why would He care about me?”

I will always remember the day Simon asked me that question. It was fourteen years ago, and Simon was a fairly new friend. He lived down the road and around the corner in the townhouse development that my wife and called home. Having left the relative security of ministry in the United Church, Marion and I were raising our young family on a shoestring while shepherding a tiny church that we had planted in the Blossom Park area of South Ottawa.

I first met Simon in the spring of 1995 through a strange series of events.  One spring day there was a neighbourhood garage sale and I was playing my guitar on the front step of our house.  A few days later, a woman we had never seen before knocked on our door and in heavily-accented English asked “Do you have a Bible group in your home?”.  Well, things like this don’t happen every day, and we had been praying for our neighbours, so of course Marion and I were pretty excited.  Her name was Sigrid, she was from Germany, and she told us that she had heard me singing worship songs on the front step and had decided we must be Christians.  She had known some Christ-followers in Germany who had impacted her life deeply, and we reminded her of them. We later learned that she was married to Simon (who was Canadian but of German-Jewish extraction).  Within a few months they and their three children had become part of our little church, and I began spending quite a bit of time with Simon, sharing faith and practical help with him.

Fast forward a year to spring 1996.  During the preceding twelve months, we had spent quite a bit of time mentoring Simon and Sigrid and had become friends with their young family.  We had also reluctantly concluded that our tiny church was not viable, and the leadership team had come to a collective decision to shut it down.  This was, for many reasons, a heart-rending decision – but that’s a story for another day.  I had decided that no matter what God had in store for me by way of ministry, I needed to go back to school and learn a trade, which led to my current work as a technology consultant.  During my year at business college we were living on Employment Insurance, which provided us with 56% of what had already been a poverty-line salary, so it was a very challenging period for Marion and me.  Yet during this period of soul-searching and spiritual and financial distress, we were also seeing much evidence of the grace of God at work in our lives.

Simon and Sigrid had had seen us walk through the process of having to shut down the church; our struggles were not hidden from these baby Christians. Yet in the midst of all the testing, we experienced an inexplicable peace that I can only attribute to God.  We knew He was upholding us, and of course Simon and Sigrid saw this as well.  One day Simon was telling me about his financial problems and how he needed work, and I shared with him how God had always provided for our family through several years of poverty-line living as church planters, and that even now, during my year at business college, we were experiencing God’s constant provision and His kindness to us.  I will never forget Simon’s plaintive, agonized response to my testimony: “But do you think God would do that for me?  Would he care about me?”

People reject God for all sorts of reasons, but I suspect that deep down, many of those who have created sophisticated intellectual smokescreens to explain why God doesn’t exist are really wounded souls crying out to be loved, and finding it impossible to believe that anyone could actually love them.  After all, when all is said and done, in spite of all the pop psychology that tells us how great we are, deep down we know we don’t actually deserve to be loved by God.

The thing is, although we try to hide from the truth, deep down we know that we are sinners – selfish, dishonest, unreliable, unrighteous, impure, untrustworthy, unloving, unfaithful. If you think I’m exaggerating, look in the mirror – or read Romans 3:10-18 and Romans 7:15-21– or look at human history. Yes, there is much good mixed in with the evil – but always it is flawed, and it never endures. Most of the time we succeed in convincing ourselves that this is all someone else’s fault – that it is other people who are perverse and unreasonable – that we, of course, are basically good people. But in moments of blinding honesty, when we see ourselves as we really are, each of us is forced to face the awful truth that if there is a God, and if He is good, we don’t deserve to be loved by Him because we most certainly are not righteous, pure or good.

The amazingly good news is that our own brokenness is not something from which we need to hide. Once we face ourselves as we truly are, we find that God knew about it all the time – and that He has been calling out to us, longing for us to come to our senses and see our broken condition, so that we can run into his arms and find our home in his love.

God doesn’t love you because you deserve it. You don’t have to deserve it, and you never could deserve it no matter how hard you tried. Take a look at the night sky sometime, in a place where you can get away from the city lights and you can really see the stars in all their majesty – and ask yourself whether anything you do could ever impress the maker of the Universe or make Him your debtor. He does care about you – cares with an infinite, fierce and unrelenting passion – but this is not because you deserve it.  He loves you simply and purely because He is good.

I used to be a very negative, moody and convoluted man, but God in his kindness has healed my soul and made me new.  I can truthfully say that I am no longer ashamed, no longer anxious, no longer worried about the future.  In fact I haven’t lived that way for years, but I can still remember when I did.  To clarify – I do admit that I still stumble at times, but my life is no longer characterized by these things – and when I do stumble, I know what to do about it.  It was my Father’s kindness that rescued me – pure and simple.  And I know He still has much more to do in my life.  I want to be a much better reflection of the love, kindness and power of Jesus Christ.  I want this because He is the only one who makes life worth living, and because His Kingdom will stand when all else crumbles.  And because He is good, I know that I will stand.  If you already have this same confidence, you know what I am talking about.  If you want what I am describing, but don’t have it, it’s freely available to you.  All you have to do is humble yourself, admit your need, and ask.


The Shack

For our anniversary this year, my beloved gave me a copy of The Shack by William P. Young.  Some of you may be thinking “What, a book for an anniversary present?”  But after 33 years she knows me pretty well, and for me it was a very well-chosen gift.  I finished reading it a couple of days ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I understand from reading online reviews that this book has become very popular.   It was at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for several months and is still sitting at #2 in the Paperback Trade Fiction category.  It has also been featured on CBC News on several occasions, which gives some indication of the attention it has received.   Apparently lots of people could identify with its main theme.

I also noted from online reviews that Young’s book has garnered lots of criticism from Christians who are concerned that its theology is suspect.  So I read it with a watchful eye – because good theology is important to me – but I also endeavoured to keep an open heart and listen to the Holy Spirit along the way.

My own take?  I loved The Shack.  Through it God spoke to me at a deep level about his goodness and redemptive power.  Although in one sense it contains nothing new, it presented the kindness, generosity and creativity of God in the form of a story that has the power to get past many people’s defenses.

If you are concerned about careful theology you may find this assessment surprising.  However, as I began to read, I soon realized that what I was reading was not a theological treatise but an extended parable of God’s grace and mercy.

Not one of Jesus’ parables gives a complete or balanced presentation of all the truths of the Christian faith.  That’s not their purpose.   They are flashes of insight with a very specific focus, and their purpose is to both reveal and conceal truth.  To those whose hearts are receptive to the Kingdom, parables reveal more of the nature of God and his ways, but to those whose hearts are hardened they may seem either nonsensical or downright offensive.   The Pharisees had problems with Jesus’ parables because his powerful insights messed with their tightly-constructed systems, but those who were hungry for God’s mercy were delighted.

I believe the Shack functions in a similar way.   It’s not a book of balanced theology, but rather a brilliant attempt to convey in story form how the mercy of God is able to penetrate past our defenses, healing hearts that have been wounded by life’s pain and restoring minds that have been blinded by the Enemy’s deceptions.

Am I worried that some people might be confused about God’s true nature because the Shack portrays the Father as a black female?  Well – first of all, I wouldn’t use this book as a tool for basic discipling of a new believer.  That’s not its purpose.  I’d probably recommend it for people who have been turned off by religion or who have been so damaged by life’s pain that the idea of a loving God is hard for them to grasp.  But in Young’s defense, I’d say he makes it pretty clear that Papa reveals himself (herself?) to Mack as a maternal figure because that would be the best way to get past his defenses.  Later on, Papa shows up as a man.  As Papa himself states, God is literally neither male nor female, nor is he literally human.  Like all analogies, this one breaks down if you try to make it carry a weight that it wasn’t designed to bear, but if you understand its purpose and accept its limitations, it is very effective.

I did have some concerns about balance in a few other areas, but had to remind myself that this is a story, not a treatise.  And it’s a story that is not trying to say everything there is to be said about God or the Christian faith (can anyone do that anyway) but rather is trying to say a few things, in a way that will enable many to open up to God’s love whereas previously they might have rejected it.

My main concern with the Shack is actually not with the critics – any good work will get its share of criticism anyway – but with those who are so totally in love with it that they think it’s the last word.    So if you do read it, remember it’s only a story.  It contains some powerful and refreshing insights – but I’m still reading my Bible and listening to sermons and … you get the picture.

So – I’d be interested in comments from anyone who has read this book.  And if you haven’t read it – consider giving it a try.


God is a good father … who sometimes says No

One of the hardest parts of being a Dad is saying No.   Having raised four children (Bethany, the youngest and the only one left at home, is now 17) I can say that I always wanted to give my children whatever they asked for.  Sometimes I wasn’t able, sometimes I didn’t think it was good for them, and sometimes (looking back, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight), I realize that it was my own lack of faith in Father’s provision that kept me from giving them a blessing that they hoped for.  But I never wanted to disappoint them.  That wasn’t in my heart towards them.

Once we come to know God as Father and discover the miracle of answered prayer, we sometimes don’t understand why not all requests get answered – or at least not with a “yes”.  Sometimes we don’t get a “yes” because it just wouldn’t be good for us.   Sometimes Father is testing our faith and perseverance before giving us the answer we seek.   Sometimes he wants us to be willing to surrender the thing we are asking Him for before He can trust us with it.   Sometimes we could have had a “yes” if our faith allowed us to receive the answer.  Although He is always far better to us than we deserve, Father will not always override our lack of faith to give us a blessing that we are not ready to trust Him for because of our doubts and fears!

But whatever the reason why God sometimes seems to delay in answering our prayers, or seems not to answer them the way that we hope He will, the one conclusion we should never draw is that He doesn’t care.  I am not nearly as good a father to my children as God is to His children,  but my desire is always to say yes to them because they are my children and I want to see them blessed.   The more I get to know God’s heart the more I want to be a blessing to my children.  Jesus said “If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him” (Matthew 7:11 NIV).

So when the answers to your prayers seem delayed or obscured, the one thing you should never do is stop praying – and the one conclusion you should never draw is that God doesn’t care.  He cares supremely – that’s why He sacrificed His Son for you.

Although He cares about our every desire, God’s agenda is sometimes different from ours.  Our agenda is often to get an answer to the immediate problem we are facing or the immediate desire that currently occupies our attention.   His agenda is to see us grow up into sons and daughters who understand our inheritance and are willing and able to pay the price of sharing in His glory (Romans 8:15-17).  Yes, there is a price for us to pay as there was a price for Jesus to pay.  The price is our independence, our self-will, our desire to call the shots and have everything work out our way.  Yes, we are promised that if we love God and are called according to His purpose, all things will work together for our good (Romans 8:28) – but not always for our convenience or our immediate gratification!  God cares too much for that.   But I have found that there is a tremendous blessing in always being able to go to my Father, without shame or fear, when I don’t understand what is going on around me or why things are the way they are.  Without fail, once I see and embrace His perspective, my faith is increased, my fears, doubts, frustration and resentment melt away,  and I can once again say, with Jesus, that my Father delights in His children and loves to give good things to those who ask Him.