Tag Archives: light

Nuggets of Hope 5 – Purchased by God

 

Money.

In our world, we all need it, and can’t live without it. We use money to purchase many of our daily needs. In fact, the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis is one of the big concerns that many people have.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am offering these brief daily reflections to inspire hope in God’s people as we think about different aspects of His purposes and plans for us.

Today I want to consider a powerful truth. God has placed a value on your life.

In addressing a moral issue that was plaguing the community of believers in Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote these powerful, hope-giving words (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit,
who is in you, whom you have received from God?
You are not your own; 
you were bought at a price.
Therefore honor God with your bodies.

Money is how most of us assign value to things. We say something is valuable if it costs a lot of money. But God didn’t use money to purchase us. He used something of far greater value – the life of a person. And not just any person. He purchased us with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

This means that we are of great value to God. You don’t pay a high price for something that is unimportant to you. The more you pay for something, the more you value it. God paid the highest possible price to redeem us from sin and eternal destruction. He paid the life of His own beloved Son. He did this because He loves us and wants us to be with him forever.

As God’s purchased possession, we are secure in Him. In the midst of all the shakings and uncertainties of the time we are in, those who belong to Jesus and have surrendered our lives to Him can know with confidence that we are loved, chosen by God to inherit a Kingdom that cannot be shaken.

Being purchased with the blood of Christ also means that we do not belong to ourselves. When you buy something, you have a purpose in mind. God redeemed us from the empty way of life of the lost world around us so that we could live in a different way.  How we walk through this time, or any time, is of great importance. We are called to purity, to hope, to love.  We’re called to think of others and not just ourselves. Fear can make us stupid, but the love and sanctifying power of Jesus enables us to live by a different standard. Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

My granddaughter Madison loves to sing This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. We have a light within us that is placed there by God. We are His purchased possession. We are of high value, and secure in Him. Let’s shine for Him today.

 

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When the lights go out

Derek Prince tells of a young Swedish woman named Barbara, who stayed with him and his wife Ruth for a period of three months to learn English. While staying with them, she told them a story.

Barbara was a pastor’s daughter and had lived a very sheltered life. But her friends at school had started telling her about some of the pleasures of life in the world, and she decided that she wanted to experience what she had been missing. She told her parents that she appreciated the way they had raised her, but that now she wanted to taste and see what the world had to offer.

Her parents wisely decided not to correct or criticize her. They simply told her that they would pray for her. And so they did.

That night, she had a powerful encounter with God in the form of a dream. In her dream, she saw two cities. One was a big, modern, beautiful city filled with flashing, glittering neon lights. Across the valley from the flashing city was another city of light, but this city did not flash and glitter. Its light was steady, calm and clear. As she considered the two cities a well-dressed, well-mannered and cultured man approached her and offered to show her the flashing, glittering city. She went with him, and he began to show her around. But the farther they went, the uglier he became. Soon she realized the man was the devil in disguise. As she considered this, horrified, she saw the lights in the flashing, glittering city begin to go out one by one, until it was in total darkness. She looked across the valley at the other city, and its light was as steady, pure and clear as ever.

At that moment she made her choice. She would pursue the city whose light never goes out.

It’s easy for us to think we are missing something if we don’t see the latest show, have the latest iPhone, go on every vacation trip imaginable, and so forth. And in themselves, many of the attractions of this world are innocent – though some are far from it. But if we let ourselves be enticed by what the world has to offer, we are walking a dangerous path. And once the lights begin to go out it’s too late to choose. We need to choose now.

Way back in 1979, Arlo Guthrie, son of the legendary Woody Guthrie, wrote a song with these compelling lyrics

Just one question still remains
To which we must respond
Two roads lead from where we are
Which side are you on?

Arlo Guthrie, Which Side, © 1979

Abraham, our father in the faith, was “looking for the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God“. That’s the city I am looking for as well, the one that is coming down out of heaven from God.

When the lights go out in the city of man, will you still have light to walk by? You can, if you have fixed your eyes on the City of God.

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Light a single candle

The historic Ottawa neighbourhood of Vanier, where Marion and I make our home with our daughter Bethany, has a reputation as a dark place. Over the past forty or so years, Vanier has been written off by many as a depressed area, the abode of undesireables and unfortunates, the home of crime, prostitution and drug addiction. And so, when Marion and I moved to Vanier a little over five years ago, we got some raised eyebrows. When I tell people at work that I live in Vanier, they often look a bit shocked, as if to say “Who in their right mind would live there?”.

Most caricatures contain at least some truth, and it is true enough that Vanier has had its share of problems. Yet Vanier also has many wonderful features, not least of which is its rich diversity of languages and cultures – French, English, Inuit, Portuguese, and many others. Our neighbours, for the most part, are ordinary folk who have the usual desires shared by people everywhere, and want to live peaceable lives in a safe community.

Still, it would be naive to deny the existence of darkness in Vanier. As I walk through the streets on my way to work, there are places where evil is almost palpable. Yet the truth is that there is darkness everywhere. It’s just a little more obvious in some places than in others. The pain and despair that are hard to ignore in some corners of Vanier are simply a reflection of the brokenness of our human condition. A thick blanket of darkness covers the earth. This darkness takes many forms. Murder, poverty, corruption, war, pollution, illness, abortion, child abuse, elder abuse, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, prostitution, drug addiction, marriage and family breakdown, racism, genocide, persecution of religious minorities – the list goes on.

The common reaction to places that seem darker than most is to avoid them. But Jesus had a different approach. The world was also a dark place two thousand years ago. Into this dark world Jesus came, and in the midst of this dark world Jesus calls his people to live as bright shining lights that herald the coming dawn.

Over the past few months I’ve been blogging about my vision for a House of Prayer in Vanier. That vision is now one step closer to becoming a reality. Marion and I have met a wonderful praying couple who have opened their home as a birthing place for this new venture. We are less than two weeks away from our first potluck meal and sharing time. This gathering is open to anyone who wants to be part of birthing a House of Prayer in Vanier, or just wants to hear more and learn what it’s all about. I am excited about the opportunity to be part of seeing God knit together people from various backgrounds into a community of praying friends who want to be a reflection of His light here in this part of the world He loves.

It’s been said that it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. Jesus calls his people to be like a city of light set on a hilltop, shining brightly for the world to see. That is our dream for the Vanier House of Prayer. If you want to know more, and you’re in the area, come and find out what it’s all about. If you can’t come, please pray for us. God bless you.

Date : Saturday January 26, 2013

Time : 7:00 pm

Bring : Food or drink to share. We will start with a potluck meal.

Place : 200 Levis Avenue, Vanier (Ottawa), Ontario

Hosts : Matthew and Simone Hadwen

RSVP : Please reply to this post if you are planning to come – especially if you haven’t already spoken to me about this.

 

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New Year’s Letter

What follows is a New Year’s letter to my children.  I decided to post it on my blog because I realized that the things I wanted to say to my children are really a message from the Father’s heart, things he wants everyone to hear. My prayer is that these words from my heart will be an encouragement to your faith. 

To my dear children, whom I love with all my heart.

As we enter a new year, there are three simple things that I want to say to you.

The first thing I want to tell you is how much the Father loves you.

As I get older, my faith is getting simpler and simpler. I have been wrong – or at least partly wrong – about some things that I was once sure of. That’s because I was sure of far too many things. But in his mercy, God has been at work in my life, shaking everything that can be shaken, so that what cannot be shaken may remain. We can have opinions and preferences about many things, but there are only a few things that really matter. God Himself – His goodness and holiness and love and trustworthiness – is the most important foundation stone of all.

Despite my best intentions, my own capacity to show you a true father’s love has been imperfect, limited and inconsistent, but His love never fails those who trust Him. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, no matter what happens to you, to those you love, and to the world, the Father is completely trustworthy. He is consistently faithful, merciful, kind and good to those who put their hope in Him and in His Son Jesus.

Yes, the Father loves you. He made you for love, He knows your name, He knows everything about you – even the worst parts – and still He loved you enough that He gave His Son to redeem you.  He loves you enough to pursue you until you have yielded fully and freely to His embrace – until you have surrendered every corner of your life to His transforming power.

The second thing I want to tell you is that in this world you will have trouble. I’m not just talking about the personal troubles of illness, grief, poverty, and other misfortunes that can afflict us. In a world that has been marred by the evil one, these things are real enough, but they will not endure forever.

No, I’m talking about something bigger. For reasons that would take too long to list here, I have come to believe that the final great crisis of history is drawing near. The age-old battle between dark and light is becoming more intense and more prominent.

I won’t get into the game of predicting details or dates, because there is nothing to be gained by speculating on things that Jesus has told us we cannot know. It only leads to fear and disillusionment. But Jesus does instruct us to pay attention to the signs of the times. All over the world the message of the Kingdom of God is spreading. At the same time, all over the world the powers of darkness are increasing their attacks on the people of the light.

In the midst of such a time, I want to plead with you not to let the Enemy lull you to sleep with apathy or false security, or blind you with despair or cynicism. Stay awake! The troubles of life – both your personal troubles, and the upheavals of a world in crisis – are not just things you have to endure helplessly. They are signposts to point you to Jesus.  God is able to provide for His people no matter what is going on around you. He has given you strength to stand – and not only to stand but to triumph.

The third thing I want to tell you is that as troubles increase, so will opportunities also increase. Marion and I have been experiencing the drawing of the Holy Spirit in recent months.  God has been opening doors of faith to us as we have become more watchful, more expectant and more attuned to the leading of the Holy Spirit. All around us there are people who are hungry to know the living God. All around us there are opportunities to serve, to do good, to bless others, to sow the seeds of the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom that will come openly on the earth when Jesus returns.

Creation is groaning with the birth pangs of the age to come.  Our final redemption is drawing near. This age is coming to an end, and the Lord is returning. The Holy Spirit is awakening the people of God, calling us to fresh faith and love, so that those who belong to Jesus will be ready for Him when He returns, as a bride who has made herself beautiful for her wedding day.

So be encouraged, be full of faith, be watchful. Don’t build your lives, your hopes, your expectations on things that will crumble.  Build on the one foundation that will stand secure when everything else falls apart.  He is changing everything. He is making everything new. He is shaking all things so that He may restore all things. Those who put their hope in Him, and do not waver or lose hope in the midst of the shaking, will see His glory.

That, and nothing less, is what you are called to.  Marion and I are believing for every one of you to shine like the sun in the Kingdom of your Father.  We love you and Jesus loves you.

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Lighting up the neighbourhood

This year I went all-out on Christmas lights.   Well, all-out for me, anyway.  Back in November I took advantage of Home Depot’s special offer on new Christmas lights for customers who bring in their old lights for recycling, and bought several strings of new energy-efficient LED lights.  Our house is now brightly lit up for Christmas, both outside and inside.

So what?  No big deal.   Lots of people buy Christmas lights.

Still, for me, this was a significant departure.  I have always been a minimalist as far as outdoor Christmas lights were concerned.  Conservation and environmental preservation were important values to me.  We only ever had one small string of lights outdoors, and they weren’t very visible from the street.

This year, encouraged by the fact that our old lights would be responsibly recycled and that the new LED lights would be more energy-efficient as well as brighter, I broke with my minimalist past. Now we have two much longer strings of lights in the front yard, and another two along the fence in our back yard.  The new lights have really made a difference.  Our house looks much brighter and more attractive from the street.  Even the ones in the back, as well as being nice to look at from our kitchen window,  are visible from many of the neighbouring homes, and also from the street behind us.

Marion and I live in Vanier – a part of Ottawa that has been known as the home of crack houses and brothels.  This is an unfortunate caricature.  Although Vanier is not completely free of problems (and probably never will be on this side of Jesus’ return),  it is in many ways a  delightful place to live.  Crack houses and brothels still exist, but their numbers are greatly reduced.  More and more people are fixing up their homes, cleaning up their parks, planting flowers in the summer and flooding skating rinks in the winter, walking the neighbourhood to keep an eye on problem properties, holding community parties and in various ways choosing to love the place they call home.

All of this is wonderful, and to a great extent it is an answer to prayer. But as a believer in Jesus, I am hungry to see community transformation taken to a whole new level. Vanier has been known as a dark place, and Marion and I want it to be a place where the Light of Christ shines brightly as more and more people recognize Jesus as their Lord.

So, I decided to buy more lights.

At first I didn’t quite know why I was doing this.  But gradually it dawned on my that my out-of-character decision to splurge on Christmas lights was a prophetic statement about what Marion and I want to see happen in our home and on our block. We want our home to be a lighthouse – a place where it’s easy to get connected with the goodness of God. We want our block, and the blocks around us, to be full of the glory of Christ as more and more people get to know that God is good and that they can trust Jesus to be the Lord of their lives. Lighting up our home for Christmas was a way of declaring all this – to ourselves, to the Lord, and to our neighbours – anyone with eyes to see.

 

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Reality check

Last week a young Canadian named Jordan Morrison was killed in the aftermath of a bar fight while on vacation with his parents at a resort in the Dominican Republic.  He was 19 years old.  Marion and have four grown children, all in their early adult years, and I can’t imagine how we would feel if one of them were killed.  Although it’s difficult to know exactly what happened, it appears that Morrison was a relatively innocent victim, who was beaten up because he had defended a girl that he was with.  Families go on vacation for respite; this family encountered tragedy instead.

The other day a Pokot woman died of starvation in Kenya.  The Pokot are a mostly-nomadic tribal group who have been severely affected by a devastating drought in their traditional lands.   The story made the news in Kenya, and was drawn to my attention by a Kenyan friend.  I watched an NTVKenya report on the woman’s death.  The newscaster didn’t try to hide his frustration with the Kenyan authorities, who from his perspective have been distracted by squabbling and have done little to help the Pokot cope with the famine.

This afternoon one of my colleagues told me that a childhood friend had just experienced the death of his mother.   She was in her seventies, so her passing was somewhat less of a surprise, but it still hit home.  My colleague is dealing with the reality that the friends of his childhood are losing their parents to death.  I remember realizing, when my father died a little over four years ago, that my life was passing by and my generation would be next.  This realization became more acute when my mother died fifteen months later.  Life is short and fragile.

A couple of weeks ago a young Ottawa-area couple and their 2½-year-old son were sent to hospital after their car was struck by another vehicle whose driver had gone through a red light.    The mother was eight months pregnant.  Thankfully, the parents were released from hospital soon afterward and the unborn child appears to be unharmed, but little Luca continues to fight for his life.  His pastor reported to the Kanata EMC news that his condition continues to improve gradually.   Many are praying for his full recovery.

Last night Katie Wilson went to be with Jesus.  Katie is the fifteen-year-old daughter of a wonderful Christian couple from the Belleville area.  Her older sister is one of my daughter’s circle of friends.  During her time in hospital her sunny disposition and indomitable faith provided a wonderfully positive influence on all who cared for her.  Many people had been praying for her healing, but God’s answer was to allow her to pass into the presence of Jesus.  Her parents, brother John and sister Jacqui take comfort in their confidence that she is with Jesus, but their grief will undoubtedly be deeply felt.  Her passing provides a sobering reminder that life is fragile, and although our choices do make a difference, ultimately we have no control over how we will die or how long we will live.

Reality check: life is short, and you are going to die, unless the end of the age comes first. So am I.  So is everyone.   We don’t get to choose how, or when.  We only get to choose how we are going to live in the meantime.

Some people say that death is a natural part of life, that we should just get used to it.   Still, no-one who is healthy wants to die.   That’s because we were not made for death but for an eternal relationship with God.  God has put eternity in our hearts.  Death is an intruder, the unavoidable result of Adam and Eve’s decision to choose the way of independence from God – but it’s not the final word, because Jesus rose from the dead, as a sign of the great harvest that is coming.

Faced with the inevitability of death, many choose a basically self-focussed life, reasoning that if they are going to die they might as well have as much fun as they can have while they are alive.  Others choose safety, seeking to build a fence around their lives to protect themselves from harm – another form of self-preoccupied living.

I remember what it was like to be preoccupied with myself, but ever since I encountered Jesus as He really is, my priorities have changed.  I’ve become convinced that He holds the keys to life as it was meant to be lived.  I’m far from a perfect man, and I still have to make the daily choice to turn away from self-preoccupation, but I am no longer able to live for myself – it just doesn’t satisfy.  My priorities are wrapped up in Jesus and His coming Kingdom.  Like Luca’s father, I can’t afford bitterness  and regret – I want to live in the light of Jesus’ mercy.  Like Katie, I can’t afford self-pity – I want to live in the joy that Jesus gives daily, even in the midst of pain, to those whose hope is in Him.  I know that one day He will return to restore all things.  I don’t know exactly when that day will come, but when it does, those who love Jesus will see Him face to face, Katie will have a restored body, no-one will die of starvation anymore, and two year olds won’t be killed in car accidents.  In the meantime I want to spend my life preparing the way for my King, reflecting His priorities in my living.  This to me is the way of victory.  It’s the only way to honour the faithfulness of those who have lived and died with their eyes on Him.   It’s the only way to honour His sacrifice for me.  It’s the only way to truly live.

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Childhood Christmas memories

When I was a child, Christmas was my favourite time of year.  It wasn’t primarily because of the presents – although of course they were fun and exciting, especially the Christmas that we got a puppy and my parents let me in on the secret a couple of days before Christmas and enlisted me to keep the little pup quiet so as not to spoil the surprise for my younger sister.

I loved the seasonal foods, the smells and flavours of my mother’s baking, the Christmas turkey, the sounds, the lights, the songs, the anticipation, and of course the presents – but what I loved most of all was Christmas Eve.  When I think back to Christmas during my childhood, memories of this evening stand out as the undisputed high point of the season.

I grew up in a Dutch immigrant family, and although my parents weren’t particularly devout, on Christmas Eve we had a special family supper and carol service, partly in Dutch and partly in English.  The service was a tradition that my parents had brought with them from Holland.  We always read the same Scriptures and sang the same carols, and afterwards my father would read a Christmas story.

During the weeks leading up to Christmas we used a home-made Advent calendar as a family worship centre.  The calendar, made of stiff coloured cardboard, showed a view of the shepherds watching their flocks on the hills outside Bethlehem.  In the sky there were cutout stars, one for each day of Advent, with a larger star for each of the four Sundays of Advent.  The largest star of all was for Christmas Eve.   Candles were placed behind the Advent calendar so that when the room was dark, the light of the candles would shine through the places where cutout stars had been removed.  One star was punched out on each day of Advent so that as Christmas drew nearer the sky gradually became full of stars.   At least a couple of times each week we would light the candles and sing Christmas carols in anticipation of the birth of Christ.   This visual depiction of increasing light as the birth of Christ drew near had a powerful impact on me.  As a result, by the time Christmas Eve arrived I was full of anticipation.

I loved everything about Christmas Eve – the delicious smells of tourtière (a delicacy that my mother had learned to make during our years in Northern Québec) and other seasonal delights, the beauty of candlelight and greenery, the warmth of the fire, the family all being together – but what I loved most of all was the Christmas Eve service.  From the opening words Wij wachten op het licht, maar noch is er duisternis (We await the light, but still there is darkness) to the triumphant conclusion of O Come All Ye Faithful, the words of the Christmas story and the haunting beauty of the carols – some in Dutch, some in English – spoke to my child’s heart and stirred up my capacity for beauty, wonder and faith.  I have never forgotten the beautiful Dutch carol Er is een kindeke geboren op aard which speaks in simple poetic language of how the infant Jesus was already carrying his cross as he was rejected from birth, no place being found for him in the inn, and how he promises a glorious new day for those who trust Him.   I remember being deeply moved each year by the melody and words of Silent Night with its haunting message of the dawn of redeeming grace.  The Christmas story from the gospel of Luke stirred my heart and left a lasting imprint on me.  In addition, the stories that my father read by firelight as a conclusion to the evening usually focussed on themes of faith and love.

My parents were quite secular, skeptical people who did not usually speak much about matters of faith when I was growing up, although we did attend church.  In many ways this Christmas Eve service was an anomaly, speaking as it did in such plain and simple terms a message of salvation that we discussed rarely if ever during the rest of the year.   When I came to conscious, full-fledged faith in Jesus Christ years later,  I eventually realized that a seed of faith had been planted in my heart during those Christmas Eve services, and even though I had gone through a period of atheistic despair during my late teens and early twenties, that seed had never died – it had merely gone underground, only to awaken and bear fruit at a later time.

It’s been said that the most important lessons of our lives are the ones we learn in childhood.  Certainly it is possible to come to a robust faith in Christ even if you have never heard of Him as a child.   Around the world this happens millions of times every day as the gospel continues to spread rapidly in nations such as China, India, and many other parts of Asia and Africa, as well as increasingly in the Muslim world.  However, those who have heard of the Saviour as children are especially blessed.  Although we spoke very little about Jesus the rest of the year, our family’s annual Christmas Eve service planted seeds of longing, wonder and faith deep in the heart of a young boy who would many years later consciously yield control of his life to the Jesus that was spoken of in those carols, the same Jesus who is returning to reign on the earth.  As I reflect on my childhood Christmas memories, I am deeply grateful for the seeds of faith that were planted in my heart during those years.

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