Tag Archives: provision

Resident aliens

When my son Simeon moved to the United States a few years ago, I was a bit surprised to learn that according to the United States Government, he was an alien. Even after getting his Green Card, which allows him to work in the USA, the correct term for his new status was not Permanent Resident or Landed Immigrant (terms that I was familiar with from Canada). According to Uncle Sam, even though Simeon has now lived and worked in the USA for several years, owns a house, has a bank account and pays taxes there, he is still an alien, and he will continue to be an alien until the day that he swears allegiance to the United States of America and becomes a United States citizen.

When we hear the word alien, for many of us the first thought that comes to mind may be of creatures from outer space.  But according to TheFreeDictionary.com, the word alien can also mean a person from another and very different family, people, or place. That’s an excellent description of what it is like to be a Christian in a hostile world. We are aliens. We belong to a different family, people and place than the children of the world. We have a different king, a different government, a different identity, a different value system and a different hope. Paul wrote that our citizenship is in heaven. We are citizens of a kingdom that will totally replace the current world system when Jesus returns to restore the earth and reign openly as king. In the meantime, we are strangers and aliens in the world system, living by the values of a kingdom that most people don’t see yet. One day the whole world will see this kingdom because it will be fully manifested on the earth. With the eyes of faith, friends of Jesus see it now, even though dimly, and we seek to live by its light.

The first Christians lived in a culture that was openly hostile to their faith, and some of them suffered greatly for it. The Apostle Peter was so aware of this that he wrote an entire letter to strengthen and encourage these embattled believers. He didn’t tell them to try hard to fit in and accommodate themselves to the culture they were in (which seems to be the strategy of much of the North American evangelical church these days). And significantly, he also didn’t tell them that their assignment was to take over the power structures and change the culture by force. The Zealots had tried that in Israel, and Jesus completely repudiated their approach, as Peter no doubt well remembered. Instead, Peter told them to be different, to live lives that were in stark contrast with the values of the world around them.

These were his words :

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

Basically, he was warning Christ followers not to adopt the standards, values, goals or desires of the people of this age, because this would dilute their witness and had the potential to destroy their relationship with him.

My personal circumstances have given me plenty of cause to think about these things in recent weeks. For fifteen years now, I have made my living as an IT sub-contractor. Some people think that consultants make a lot of money, but that’s not always the case. Marion and I home-schooled for most of those years, so my income was the only income for the family. As a fairly junior programmer, in my first few years my income was barely enough to meet our expenses. It was always enough, but there was never a lot extra. Gradually this began to change, and in the past few years our life became somewhat more comfortable. In an earlier phase of our life together, Marion and I had lived below the poverty line as church planters for years, and our personal tastes are quite simple, so we can quite easily be content on a limited income. However, I had been given a promise several years ago that the Lord intended to prosper us both financially and spiritually so that Marion and I could be a financial and spiritual blessing to many, and this had been repeated a couple of years ago by a prophetic minister who knew nothing of our circumstances, goals or visions, but told me that I would be a storehouse like Joseph.

With these promises in mind, when my last contract came to an end almost nine months ago, I was full of confidence in the Lord’s provision. Interruptions in work are commonplace for people in my line of work, but we had a financial buffer that was more than adequate for three months. My longest layoff ever had lasted three and a half months, so I was confident that I would soon have work again. Not only that, I had numerous indications that with my fifteen years of experience, my knowledge and skills were in demand and my prospects looked quite good. There were several possibilities on the horizon. I had been journalling and seeking the Lord, and had asked him whether He wanted me to continue in the IT field or step out into ministry on a faith basis. I sensed that He was saying I should expect to stay in the IT field for a few years longer. So, based on everything that I sensed God had been showing me, and the prophetic words I had received about being a storehouse, I confidently expected that my layoff from work would be brief, and that my new contract would be financially lucrative, providing additional seed for the storehouse that the Lord had spoken of. I even had sufficient confidence to turn down a couple of contracts in the early stages of what proved to be a nine-month waiting period, because I sensed that the Lord had assured me he had something better for me.

Since then I have gone after fifteen different contract opportunities, some of them very attractive, financially and in other ways. I was well qualified for many of them. I had so many near misses that I can no longer write them off as coincidences or “the luck of the draw” (not that I really believe in these concepts anyway : for one who belongs to Jesus, nothing happens purely by chance). The Word of God tells us that it is God who promotes one and brings down another. These matters are in his hands. I can only conclude that the Lord was making me wait for a reason.

Along the way, I did a lot of journalling, bike riding and prayer walking. I prayed alone and with Marion. I fasted. I worshipped. I wrote songs. I studied the Word and listened to many excellent Bible teachings which have had a profound impact on my relationship with God. I read through the Book of Psalms over and over again. I knew that God was doing something new in my life, preparing Marion and me for a new season. I found the extra time with God extremely beneficial, even though I found the waiting (without a defined end date in sight) to be a significant trial to my faith. In my times of seeking the Lord, I cried out to God; I argued with Him; I asked Him questions; I humbled myself and surrendered time and again. Many times I would ask him the same questions over and over again. “Have I been hearing you correctly? Is there anything I am missing? Is there anything else you want to say to me? When will the provision come?” And as I journalled and prayed, over and over again I received the Lord’s assurance that His provision would come at the right time, and that when it came, it would be just right.

In the end, I took a contract that was financially less lucrative than any of the other fifteen that I had pursued or been offered at one time or another over the past nine months. I am now going to be compensated at a level lower than I have been at for seven years. Some of my colleagues tell me they have not had a contract at these rates since the late 1990s. In fact, many of them would refuse to work for these rates, and some have implied that I should not take this contract because I am selling out. Yet, I have the Lord’s assurance that this is His blessing and provision for me. Along the way I have seen promises broken and colleagues blessed with positions that I can legitimately say I should have had. When I have prayed about this, the Lord has reminded me that these people don’t have the blessing of a relationship with Him, so I now have an opportunity to pray for them to see God’s goodness in their circumstances and turn to Him. I also will have the opportunity to work in an environment where I have worked before, with at least two people (a manager and a team leader) who are potentially open to the gospel but have not yet received the Lord. This too is an answer to prayer, but I can only be a blessing to them if my own heart is in a place of gratitude and contentment. So the Lord has given me an exquisitely designed test. No-one is able to design more elegant tests than the Holy Spirit.

Suffice it to say, this has been a time of humbling for me. I realize now, with the 20-20 vision that hindsight sometimes affords, that when the Lord told me the provision was going to be just right, he wasn’t primarily thinking of finances. Marion and I know how to budget, and the financial provision will be more than enough. It always is. And since finances are not my primary goal anyway, it really doesn’t matter. We’ll have less excess to give away – at least from employment income – but that’s up to God, not me. If He wants me to be a storehouse, he’s not limited to employment as a way of getting me there. Joseph didn’t get raised up to be the second most powerful man in Egypt through his own efforts. It was entirely through God’s grace and mercy. But he did have to go through a significant period of humbling, and he had to be faithful. In the end it was his faithfulness, integrity, and spiritual perceptiveness that drew the attention of the king.

This chain of events has served to remind me that as a Christ follower I live by a different value system than the world around me. I knew this of course, but when you work for years with the children of this world, it can affect you without you even realizing it. The nine-month layoff provided sufficient time for the gestation of a new ministry vision. It allowed me the opportunity to take my hands off some things that I had looked to for security, which the Lord told me to sell to provide for our needs while waiting for work. It provided a time for me to refocus and get my eyes onto Jesus again. I didn’t think I had taken my eyes off of him, but I have seen that I had become more dull and compromised than I had realized, and the Lord wanted to sharpen me, humble me, make me tremble again in His presence. There are things He wants me to do in the years to come, and to fulfil his purposes for the remainder of my earthly journey, I need to be a sharp instrument in His hands.

Like my son, who is a Canadian citizen living in the United States, people who belong to Jesus are citizens of a different kingdom. We are in a war with our own fallen nature, the world system and the Prince of Darkness, and that war will continue until the Lord Jesus returns to claim his Bride and rule the earth openly.

In the meantime His people look for his kingdom as from a distance, and live by its light in the shadows of a mostly dark world. That’s what it means to be a city on a hill. We are called to be different, not motivated by earthly power or the world’s approval but motivated by the smile of Jesus, the crucified one, our lover, our friend and our king, who is coming to reign.

The experiences of the past nine months have shown me again that I am an alien and a stranger in this age. I am looking for a heavenly kingdom that is coming to earth, and I belong to a king who is a passionate lover of my soul, and who will tolerate no rivals for my affections. A financial loss – which He is well able to replace – is a small price to pay to have my vision refocussed, my heart reawakened and my priorities clarified again. Thank you Jesus.


Why we wait

Many of you know that my last IT consulting contract ended almost three months ago. Since then, Marion, Bethany and I have been living on reserves, and I have been waiting on the Lord for new work.

There have been several “near misses” in this process. There were a couple of contracts that I could have had, but turned down. Others, however, seemed attractive to me. I was confident that I could have done the work, and I wanted to win the bid, but it went to someone else. Since no circumstance in my life is outside of God’s control, and I have been actively and intentionally submitting this whole process to Him, I can only assume that the delay is part of God’s provision.

Let me be clear. My family and I have been in no real financial distress during this time. The wrestle for me has not been about managing finances, but about trusting God’s promises and fully co-operating with His purposes. A little over a year ago I received a major prophetic word while visiting International House of Prayer. Part of the word was that I would be like Joseph, a financial storehouse for others. So, my rational mind tells me that it is not helping me achieve this goal to see my reserves get eaten away by a three-month hiatus in work.  But sometimes God allows us to go through a season where our circumstances seem to contradict the word we have been given. This is not a bad thing. In fact, waiting for God’s promise is a necessary process. It’s part of how God builds faith. He is the one who will fulfil the word, and He will do it in His way. My part is to be a man of faith, to act on the word I have been given.

There are preachers and teachers who would like you to believe that faith means expecting all your hopes to be fulfilled in this life, in this age, without any delay. That may be what our human nature would like to believe, and it may be how Hollywood celebrities like to live their lives, but it’s not what the Bible teaches and it’s not true to the experience of God’s people, past or present.

Yes, it is true that when Jesus healed people, he didn’t make them wait. He healed them on the spot, no delay. But it’s also true that Jesus himself had to wait for his most important desires to be fulfilled (see Luke 12:49 for one example of this).  He knows what it is like to long for something that is coming, but is not here yet. Jesus longs for his wedding day – the great day when he returns to claim the earth as His own, wed his Bride, banish evil and establish his throne openly. But he is waiting for the Day appointed by his Father (Matthew 24:36).

The other day I saw a video clip produced by Voice of the Martyrs in Nigeria. That beautiful, fertile, potentially prosperous yet troubled land is increasingly being plagued by the scourge of militant Islam. Boko Haram, a jihadist group that has already killed hundreds of Christians in the northern part of Nigeria, is now threatening to start attacking the mostly-Christian south as well, using methods such as food poisoning. Their declared goal is to turn Nigeria into an Islamist state by killing all the Christians in Nigeria who refuse to convert to Islam (there are over 80 million Christians in Nigeria, about half the population of the country).

The video clip showed numerous heart-wrenching examples of the suffering of Christians in the areas where Boko Haram’s campaign of terror has already been unleashed. But it also showed signs of hope. VOM has been standing with the church in Nigeria, providing help to displaced persons and the families of martyrs so that they can rebuild their lives. I was struck by the determination of Christian leaders in Nigeria not to give in to intimidation. One of the leaders interviewed on the video clip declared that the reason for the campaign of terror is that Christianity has been growing through evangelism in the mostly-Muslim north, and Muslim leaders are afraid of losing control, so they resort to fear tactics.

Why does God allow such things? Because the Day of the Lord is not yet here. In the meantime, we have an opportunity to testify to Jesus’ death and resurrection, and invite people to put their hope in Him. For those with eyes to see, there are signs of the Kingdom everywhere – but there is also great suffering in many places. This is nothing new or strange; in fact Jesus predicted it. The battle between darkness and light will not be resolved until Jesus returns.

In the meantime, in both easy and difficult times, we live in hope. God is calling us to be a pure bride, free of mixed motives, with our eyes fixed on our bridegroom who is surely coming. If we are in a season of peace and prosperity, we thank God for it, and seek to use it for His glory (a real challenge in a culture that constantly tempts us with immediate self-gratification in myriad guises). If we are in a season of adversity, we place our hope in Him and seek the grace to remain faithful. David advises us not to fret in such times, for “better is the little that the righteous has, than the abundance of many wicked” (Psalm 37:16). Even in adversity, like Elijah with the ravens, God’s people can expect provision as they exercise intentional faith. At all times, we place our hope in the One who is coming to make all things new.

Would I prefer to prosper while I wait? Of course – who wouldn’t? But there are seasons of plenty and seasons of adversity, and in both, God is faithful. I believe that God will bring to fruition the word I was given about being a storehouse. I want that with all my heart, because I believe it’s part of God’s destiny and purpose for me. But I also realize that the waiting is part of God’s preparation. He wants my hope, my security and my desires to be fixed on Him, not on specific outcomes that I (fool that I am) imagine I can control.

Why do we wait? Because we serve a God of hope – a God of resurrection – a God who is bigger than we are, and who will fulfil His promises in His way and in His time. We serve a God who is faithful when we have plenty, who is faithful when we suffer loss, who is faithful even when His people are being murdered for their faith. At all times He is good.

I’m glad I’m not in control.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.



Another fork in the road

Sixteen years ago this month, I embarked on a new chapter of my life. Having closed the door on eleven years as a United Church pastor followed by a five-year adventure in church planting, I enrolled in business college to learn a marketable skill other than ministry. A year later, I had emerged with a certificate in computer technology, and a contract working for a small software company whose local office was managed by Graham, a friend of mine from church.

Since then, I have made my living in the field of information technology. After a couple of years working for Graham’s company, I launched out on my own and began working as a consultant. Though I felt very green and still had a lot to learn, the Lord has blessed me in this new field of endeavour. He has provided work for me time and again, and I have had numerous confirmations that the world of business and technology – which at the time seemed like totally foreign territory to me – was a field in which he wanted me to grow and prosper.

A few days ago, I heard myself described as someone who “used to be in ministry”. The label prompted some reflection. Since “ministry” simply means “service”, am I less of a minister – less of a servant of God – because I now make my living in the world of business? I don’t think so. In fact, I am more and more convinced that God placed me in this field so that I could serve Him there.

I’ve re-examined this decision at numerous forks in the road – in fact, pretty much every time a work opportunity comes to an end, which has happened multiple times since I’ve been in this line of work. Do I bid on new IT work, or is there something else the Lord has in mind for me? So far, His consistent leading has been to keep doing what I’m doing. Last year when Marion and I were in Kansas City visiting International House of Prayer, I received a major prophetic word – from someone who knew none of the details of my life – identifying and confirming some of the purposes of God in my life that could only have been fulfilled through involvement in the worlds of business and finance.

I used to have a very religious view of money. Although I might not have said this out loud to anyone (or even acknowledged it to myself), I believed that prosperity was somehow unspiritual. I now see that money is simply a tool, which can be used to do good or evil. If I make it the aim of my life to accumulate wealth, then I have become a slave and have totally missed the point of my existence. But if I make it my aim to serve the Lord, prosperity can be a means of great blessing to many. One of the goals that Marion and I have adopted is financial freedom – not so that we can spend an easy retirement on the beach, but for the sake of increased capacity to serve the Lord both with our finances and our spiritual gifts.

This morning Marion and I had coffee with our good friends Mark and Jane, who have just decided to spend the next six years of their lives living in Indonesia, serving as long-term volunteers in a mission assignment with Mennonite Central Committee. We are excited for them. They were free to make this choice because they are not owned by their stuff. They have placed their hope in God, so they are free to do whatever He leads them to do.

Their decision is a challenge to us. Could we lay everything down, and contemplate such a radical change of direction? It seems like an important question, and yet in reality, it’s a bit of a phony question. I mean, it’s not as if I had any real control anyway. All around me I see people working hard to control their world – and for what? Control is an illusion anyway. People die unexpectedly every day, and when they do, all their plans come to an end. Since I have no real control over my future, it’s best to settle the issue of ownership at the outset. My life is not my own, and I’m glad it’s not. I can make good business decisions without being owned by my business, because I’m only in business as long as Jesus wants me there.  As long as I’m there, I’ll give it my best shot, and seek to be a faithful representative of my King where he has placed me. When he has a different assignment for me, he’ll tell me.

Another fork in the road? How exciting! Thank you, Lord, for the freedom to follow.


God’s sense of humour

In my last post I wrote about what it has been like to be without work for the first time in almost six years. Referring to my work as an Oracle technology consultant, I made the following comment :

My work in technology, while it has been interesting and rewarding, isn’t ultimately all that important to me. In fact at one time I didn’t even really want to do it. I have since come to enjoy it and have gotten quite good at it, if my clients’ comments are any indication, and I am very grateful to have had this experience. But if God now wants to close this door and open a different door that will lead me to a different form of provision, I’m fine with that. I don’t really think that’s the game plan quite yet, at least not as far as I can tell at the moment, but I have a hunch that one reason God occasionally drops one of these episodes of uncertainty into my life is to remind me of who is God and who is not.

The day after I published that post, Marion and I received an unmistakable reminder of God’s faithfulness and His Lordship. Did I get work?  No – at least, not yet. It was Marion who got work – work she had not been looking for and did not really want, yet work that – after praying it through – she reluctantly decided to accept, and now, one week in, is doing very well at.  After having served for a few years as a United Church pastor early in our marriage, and then choosing to be a stay-at-home Mom and a home educator for the past 25 years, my wonderful wife – who has a teaching certificate but has never taught in any school system outside our home school – was offered a two-thirds time teaching position at Redeemer Christian High School where our youngest daughter is a grade 12 student.

She is teaching English and Bible, which is perfect for her. I had been sensing for quite some time that God had something more for her, and had wanted her to have an opportunity to use her gifts in a bigger field, so this is a wonderful answer to prayers that had not even been consciously uttered. Marion is a really good teacher and is great at understanding and communicating with teens, having raised four of her own. She is also, however, someone who is passionate about order – yet she was asked to take over the work of a teacher who had left for health reasons and had left many loose ends. So it’s not just a teaching job – it’s an opportunity to learn to flourish in the midst of what feels to her like chaos, dropped in the lap of someone who intensely hates all forms of disorder. God does have a sense of humour!

Ironic, isn’t it? I was the one who was looking for work – Marion was comfortable at home – yet she was the one who got the work! I was the one who said to her “Go for it honey, you’ll be great at this – God has opened a door of opportunity for you”.  She was the one who was saying “I don’t know if I can do this”. Go figure. Is God in charge, or not? So for the past week I have been learning to live at a slower pace, learning to manage the household and support my wife and daughter, doing all the things Marion usually does so efficiently and well.  Meanwhile, Marion is adjusting to being a working girl, and learning that she can do new things – things she had said for years she could not do. Our Father, who loves His kids and knows better than we do what is good for us, is probably quite amused as He watches us both struggling to adapt.

This reminds me of what God says about salvation coming to the Gentiles : that he was found by a people who did not seek Him, and that  a people who did not pursue righteousness received it by grace when they responded to the preaching of the gospel of the crucified Jewish Messiah, while Israel – who had been pursuing righteousness, but by works and not by grace – did not receive the salvation they had hoped for.  Without pushing the analogy too far, I believe God is giving Marion and me an object lesson in His sovereign grace, and teaching us both more about the type of response that He desires to work in us.  For the past week Marion has been given a crash course in re-entering the workforce and has been learning to receive thankfully what God provides, and to see the blessing in having her faith stretched — just as the Gentiles, having received a salvation they had not sought, were required by that salvation to let their old nature be crucified. As for me, I am being taught all over again to wait on God for what I believe He desires to give me — learning to receive by grace, in a sense, what I cannot bring about by works — even though to receive it, I must do the works (take the steps of faith and obedience) that God clearly lays out for me.

Oh, and the financial provision is welcome also. But what I am really excited about is this visible demonstration that God is at work in our lives – that He knows better than we do what He wants to work in and through us.  After all, if we are on track with His purposes, the provision always follows.