Tag Archives: purpose

Nuggets of Hope 13 – All Things

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

All things? Everything?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, do you?

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

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

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

I know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is? I was afraid of that.

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

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

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

That’s supposed to help me?

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

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

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

What is it about then?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Finishing well

Working Out

The other day I was working out on my exercise bike. When I’m on my bike, I set a goal, and I try to push myself and fight the temptation to quit. I was getting winded, and so I asked the Lord to help me finish well.

I often return to this prayer theme during exercise. It speaks to me on two levels. At one level  I am focussing on a very practical, physical goal. I am asking for strength to persevere in doing the things I need to do to stay fit. It would be easier just to quit.

But there’s another level to this prayer as well. Why bother exercising if your life isn’t going anywhere? I work out because I have hope and a purpose. I have hope for this age and for the age to come.  So, it’s my goal to finish well.

My mother in law passed into the presence of Jesus a little over six weeks ago. Since then, three people who are close to me have said good-bye to their mothers for the last time in this life. Two others have received cancer diagnoses. This has reminded me of my own mortality. When you’re young and energetic it’s easy to think that death is a long way off. But the older you get, the less you can convince yourself of that particular delusion.

The passing of Marion’s Mom completed a process that began with my Dad’s death thirteen years ago this month. Marion and I no longer have earthly parents to look up to. We do have great memories and much to be thankful for, but our parents have left this life, left the family circle, and we are now the ones that our children and grandchildren look up to. We’re the old folks now, as our good friend John Herweyer used to put it.

I know that I have entered the last major phase of my journey in this life. I might stay healthy for another twenty years or more, but unless Jesus returns first, my life on this earth will end in my death, and that date is drawing closer with every breath. But I don’t want to live out my remaining years worrying about what might happen to me. I’m not afraid to die. I’m in good health and enjoy a reasonably active life. My health is a blessing. But even if my health should fail, and even as my strength gradually wanes as I age, I want to run my race with perseverance and joy.

I have friends who went to South Africa two years ago when Tony was in his mid seventies and L-A was approaching her sixties. They have been serving young South Africans in one of the townships in the Western Cape. They inspire me. It hasn’t always been easy for them, but they have run their race with joy, creativity and purpose. I am inspired by people who live their senior years in conscious devotion to the goodness and purposes of God, relying on His nearness and power to sustain them and give them hope. That’s how I want to finish out this life. In the words of a classic worship song,

This is my desire – to honour You.

When I draw my final breath in this life, I want to enter Jesus’ presence having lived my last years on earth in wholehearted obedience to my Lord who gave me life, and who redeemed that life and gave me a purpose. He is worthy of whatever I have to give, and much more. I recognize that good health and energy are a great blessing, and I want to honour Him by enjoying my remaining years. I believe this gives God more honour than living a miserable, fearful, self-obsessed life. I want to be a blessing to my children and grandchildren. I want to support missionaries and help the poor. I want to be a good steward of the bit of land I have, and the time, energy and finances that have been entrusted to me. I want to use my spiritual gifts to serve others and help them turn to God with their whole hearts. And if health and strength should fail, I am still determined to close out my days with my eyes on Him who gives me hope for eternity.

Lord, give me strength and grace to finish well.

All my life you have been faithful
All my life you have been so, so good
With every breath that I am able
I will sing of the goodness of God.

Jenn Johnson.

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What I want for my grandchildren – and for you

This morning, Marion and I got to see Sophie, Livie and Maddie Rose – our three Kansas City cuties – opening the Christmas gifts that we had ordered for them. The wonder of video technology made it possible for us to share this moment with them. It was a joy to our hearts to see each of them respond with delight to the presents we had picked out for them (with a bit of helpful advice from their Mom).  Sophie was thrilled by her new art set. Livie was excited about her dot to dot books and markers. Maddie was pumped about the Paw Patrol books and stuffed toy.

Last night at a family Christmas Eve gathering at my sister’s home here in Ottawa, I delighted to see the awe and wonder in the eyes of my granddaughter Maddie Joy as we read the Christmas story and sang well-loved carols. Her almost-two-year-old heart was captivated by the lights on the tree and the beauty of the music. We have some gifts for her as well, which she hasn’t seen yet, but of course we are looking forward to watching her open them.

Yes, we love our granddaughters to bits. Most grandparents love their grandkids. It’s a pleasure for us to give them gifts. The gifts we buy for them are an expression of our love for them.

But what do we really want for these four delightful little girls?  Mostly things money can’t buy.

We want them to know they are loved – by us, by their parents, but ultimately by the God who made them.

We want them to know that they are made for beauty, truth and significance.

We want them to know that they are more than just accidental blips on the screen of life, that their lives have eternal value and purpose.

We want them to know that despite whatever pain or suffering they may encounter in their lives in this world, God’s glorious plan is to make all things new, that Jesus is coming to rule over a Kingdom that will never end, and that they belong in that Kingdom with Him.

This is the path of hope that was opened up for us by the child of Bethlehem – a child who was destined to die for the redemption of the whole earth, a child who is coming as King to rule the world in righteousness.

We live in troubled, confusing, dangerous times. We need a light for our pathway, and Jesus is that light. What I want for my granddaughters is what I also pray for you – that the True Light of the World will shine in your life and guide your steps into His eternal Kingdom.

Merry Christmas.

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What is in your hand?

Satan wants you to think about what you don’t have and what you can’t do. God wants to you think about what you do have and what you can do. 

This gem of practical wisdom came to me many years ago through the teaching of Craig Hill, although it may not have originated with him. It is a distillation of what we know from Scripture and practical experience about the character of God and the character of the Enemy of our souls.

When Moses was called by God to set his people free, he objected that he wouldn’t be able to succeed because Pharaoh would not listen to him. God’s response to Moses was simple. What is that in your hand? The staff in Moses’ hand was a simple object, but by God’s power it would become a powerful instrument of deliverance.

Like most of us, I am all too aware of my own weaknesses. I have learned that there are talents I do not have, things I am not good at, spiritual gifts that do not seem to come easily to me. This used to trouble me, and to be truthful, it still does at times. At times I get distracted by the voice of the enemy of my soul, who wants to trap me in regret and self-recrimination. I want to be a servant of God and people, and over the years since giving my life to Jesus I have stepped out into many areas of faith and service, but when I look back, I have to be honest and acknowledge that some of my attempts didn’t turn out so well. But when I listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, He reminds me to focus on the gifts I do have and the things I can do. He reminds me that He is still a God of increase, a God who rewards faith, courage and perseverance.

This is the message of the Parable of the Talents. Do not bury your one ability in the ground, thinking that God will surely not be pleased with you because you are not like that ten-talent guy or girl over there. Take it and use it to serve God and others, and God will reward you for your faithfulness, and set you over larger fields of service in the Age to Come.

What is that in your hand? Take it and use it for God’s glory.

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Anchoring your hope

anchor-and-screw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like many of you, I gathered with loved ones last night for New Year’s Eve. We watched the celebration in Times Square in New York City as people rang in the new year, and we wished one another a Happy New Year.

I had spent much of the previous few days soaking myself in the wonderful atmosphere of the worship and teaching that was live-streamed from the OneThing conference at International House of Prayer. The theme of the conference was One Call, One Story, One Coming King. The worship and the messages were full of hope in the Coming One, and full of confidence that even in this dark age, because Jesus has come to be our Redeemer, our lives can shine with His light if we fix our eyes steadfastly on Him.

But we all, with unveiled face,
beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.

Meanwhile, in Times Square, a few moments after the New Years countdown, the camera cut to rocker Billy Joel who was belting out one of his hits. The song alludes to drug-fuelled “good times”, and includes these telling lines,

You may be right
I may be crazy
But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for

As I listened to the crowd screaming out these words, I realized again how profoundly, eternally grateful I am that Jesus has opened my eyes to a hope that is substantial.

I will be spending a good part of the next couple of days working on a small project for my beloved daughter. She has a vision for her bedroom, and her vision involves me. She wants me to turn a space into her room into a built-in closet.

Because the space is already configured for a closet, it’s a fairly simple project. Still, I need to take appropriate care to build well. I need to measure, I need to plan, I need to count the cost. And I need to anchor the screws that go into the drywall so that they can hold the weight of daily use. Otherwise, Bethany’s hopes for this closet could come crashing down. It would not be a pretty scene.

I know what I want for 2014. I am building for eternity, and I want to build well.  To build well, I need hope. So do you.

I can’t be content with an empty or flimsy hope. I need the real thing. I need the hope that comes from the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. I need a hope that is substantial – a hope that translates into God-birthed vision and purpose for my life.

Are you hoping for good things in 2014? Don’t place your hope in empty things that will only come crashing down. Be sure your hope is solidly anchored in the One who holds the future in his hands.

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Life on the beach – or on the farm?

Over the years I have had many conversations with colleagues at work about their goals in life.

I remember one man in particular who made it quite clear what he wanted. His goal was to build up a nice financial nest egg so that he could retire, relax, and enjoy life. As he saw it, the good life is “life on the beach”, or “life at the cottage”, or some other form of permanent vacation, and the purpose of work is to build up enough wealth so that we can spend the rest of our days doing exactly as we please, with no-one to answer to but ourselves.

More recently I had a conversation with another colleague. In addition to working as an IT consultant, she and her husband own and operate a small farm where they raise goats, beef cattle and horses. Marion and I like buying meat from her because we know it’s not laced with antibiotics and hormones. This colleague told me recently that she had considered giving up farming but she couldn’t do it, because she doesn’t want to live without a purpose. For her, farming is a way of life that embodies purposeful and therefore satisfying activity. She enjoys finding cost-effective and inventive ways of meeting the challenge of raising animals organically. Her dream isn’t “life on the beach”, it’s “life on the farm”. She does want to have sufficient freedom to be able to take a vacation with her husband every now and then (a challenge for many farmers) but she can’t stand living without a purpose.

Life on the beach – or on the farm? A permanent vacation – or a life of purposeful activity? Serving yourself, or serving others? Which would you choose?

I’d pick life on the farm any day.

Let me be clear. I love vacations. I know I need rest. It was great to go to Florida for a week last year, and Marion and I loved our holiday at a cottage on Drummond Island with children and grandchildren the year before. I thoroughly enjoy weekends with their (somewhat) more relaxed pace. But I can’t stand the thought of living without any purpose but to satisfy my own desires. That kind of life would kill me. The beach is great for a break from the farm, but give me the farm over the beach for a satisfying life that’s well-lived.

No, I’m not considering another career change, nor a change of location. I am now thoroughly and happily transplanted from my former life in rural Russell Township to my current life in inner-city Vanier, and I have no regrets about the change. Although I do have a small garden, I have no plans to take up farming. I know that I am exactly where God wants me to be.

But like my farming colleague, I don’t want to live without a purpose. And like her, I see myself as a type of farmer. I’m not raising hay, grain, goats and cattle. I’m tending people’s hearts. The farm isn’t mine, it’s God’s. But I am one of his sharecroppers. Other servants have planted the seed of His saving, lifegiving truth in many hearts, and my job is to tend and nurture the seeds that have sprouted into young, growing plants.

On God’s farm there are lots of jobs to be done. Some people do more planting than anything else. These are the ones who love telling complete strangers – everyone they can find – about Jesus. Others spend more of their time fertilizing and watering the crops. These are the ones who love to help others understand the word of God and how it applies to their life. Some people spend most of their time feeding and looking after the other workers. That’s just as important. There are other jobs as well. Like on most farms, everyone does a bit of everything at times, but some people specialize more in some areas than in others.

In my years of working on God’s farm I’ve planted seeds, and I’ve also watered and fertilized them. But what I love to do most is to make sure that the young plants can see the Son. That, to me, is what the ministry of worship and prayer is all about. Plants don’t grow if they can’t see the light. Believers need to be able to see the Son so that they can become like Him. God has an enemy who is constantly planting weeds in the midst of His good crops. Sometimes those weeds threaten to choke the life out of the crops that God’s servants have planted. Sometimes the weeds seem to get so thick that it’s hard to see the Son. When that happens, the ministry of worship and prayer has a wonderful way of clearing spaces in the undergrowth so that we can see the light of His face. In fact, the more we worship, the more the weeds seem to just disappear, and the crops of God’s planting begin to flourish and thrive and reproduce. It’s amazing.

All workers need rest. I’m glad that on God’s farm there are refreshing streams and green pastures where his servants can be renewed and restored. But I’m so glad that God has made me for fruitful labour in his fields.

The day of harvest is coming. When that day comes, I want to be found faithful in the labour to which He has assigned me.

 

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Eyes Forward

This week Marion and I spent several days with her Aunt Doreen, who has concluded that the time has come to dispose of her home and its contents. Due to the effects of a mild stroke, Doreen can no longer live on her own, but she can still return to her home for a couple of days at a time with support, to go through various household items and personal mementoes in preparation for an eventual sale. Each of Marion’s siblings has invested considerable time and energy supporting Doreen as she goes through this process. This week it was our turn.

As my role in this undertaking was mostly that of an observer and occasional assistant, I had plenty of time to reflect on the process. Doreen came from a line of people who placed high value on the past, and saved anything that might someday be of value. True to her upbringing, she rarely threw anything out. She kept anything that reminded her of projects or people that had been important to her throughout her life. Now she is taking a long walk down memory lane, reliving days gone by and deciding what to give away to each of her nieces and nephews. The things that she is sorting through represent people and places long gone, and the process of letting go of these valued items is in reality a process of saying goodbye to the past and its memories.

But Doreen is not only a child of her upbringing. She is also a woman of faith. She remembers the past with gratitude but she knows she can’t live in it. She has to look ahead to whatever future God has left for her in this life, and beyond that to the hope of eternal life in Jesus’ Kingdom.

When the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land after their forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the Lord instructed Joshua to have them take twelve stones with them from out of the Jordan, one for each tribe. The stones were to remind the Israelites of the great miracle that God had done for them when he stopped the waters of the Jordan from flowing so that the people could cross on dry ground.

Joshua didn’t build the memorial so that the Israelites could live in the past, remembering how wonderful it was when the Lord had delivered them, and wishing nostalgically that He would do something like that again. God wanted His people to remember the miracle, but he didn’t want them to spend their lives looking back. Joshua built the memorial so that they would remember how wonderfully God had delivered them in the past, realize that without him they would be completely and hopelessly lost, and put their complete confidence in Him for the present and for the future.

I will soon be fifty-nine years old. The longer I live, the more I have to remember. But I have learned that nostalgia is a trap. I don’t want to live my older years nostalgically reminiscing about past years and wishing I was young again. No matter how few or how many years remain to me in this life, I want to live the rest of my days looking forward to God’s future. I want to take my cue from the way the apostle Paul lived his life. Even though he was an apostle, he knew he still had growing to do, and he knew that God had not called him to be preoccupied with the past. His advice was to forget what lies behind and focus on what lies ahead, for the sake of God’s call. That sounds like good advice to me.

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The parable of Steve Jobs and the two iPhones

Once upon a time two iPhones were having a chat. It went something like this.

Phone #1 :  “I wonder how we got here?  We are so amazing, I think someone very smart – even smarter and more amazing than us – must have made us. ”

Phone #2 :  “No, I don’t believe that.  That’s just a fairy tale.  Don’t you know that there used to be other, simpler Apple devices,  not nearly as amazing as we are?  The landscape is littered with them.  No-one made us.  I think we must have evolved from a more primitive species of Apple.”

Phone #1 :  “No way, phone.  I’m way too amazing to have just happened by accident.  I think that human they call Steve Jobs must be responsible.  They say he started the whole Apple thing in the first place.  I’ve heard he’s a creative genius.  Nothing as amazing as us could have happened just by chance.  I think Steve Jobs must have designed us for some purpose.  Maybe we were made for him to enjoy. ”

Phone #2 :  “Steve Jobs?  Haven’t you heard that he’s dead?  No-one believes in him anymore.  I tell you, phone, you got here by accident – pure chance.  One day, a long long time ago, all the components for the first Apple device were just swimming around in a component soup, and there was a big explosion, and presto – the very first Mac just appeared, all by itself.  And that’s where it all started.  Then gradually they started changing, all by themselves, and then other forms of Apple devices began to emerge.  And eventually the first iPod crawled out of the slime onto land, and after that came the iPhone.  No-one made you.  I tell you, Steve Jobs never existed.  You just happened.  Get used to it.  You have no creator and no purpose.  Steve Jobs is just a myth.”

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For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:20, NIV

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What kind of Canada?

I am writing this on the eve of Canada Day.  Prince William and his bride Kate have just completed the first day of their highly-anticipated  visit to our land.  Here in the nation’s capital, the Canada Day crowds are expected to be much larger than usual.   Many people are eagerly looking forward to getting a glimpse of the newly married royal couple. In part, I believe, that’s because William and Kate represent the hope of a new beginning for the royal family which has seen such turmoil ever since Charles and Diana’s marriage began to come apart.

Tomorrow’s Canada Day festivities will be a chance for Canadians to show our affection not just for the royal couple, but also for our country.  Our Prime Minister has taken to sometimes ending speeches with the words “God bless Canada”.  Just as most Canadians seem to genuinely wish this young couple well and want their marriage to work out, so most also genuinely want our nation of Canada to be a happy, successful, blessed land.

Though many may think of God’s blessing as something akin to good luck — you either have it or you don’t, but you can’t do much about it — the Bible does not support this view.   The blessing or favour of God is sovereign — that is, we can’t control it, we can only receive it as a gift — but it is not random or arbitrary.  God’s word makes it very clear that the choices we make, as individuals and as a nation, have everything to do with the extent to which we experience the blessing of God.

Several weeks ago, a team of young runners set out on the One Nation Run, a cross-Canada campaign to raise awareness and funds towards the elimination of child poverty in Canada.  By all accounts, the run is going well.  The runners are encouraged, support is growing, and donations are coming in.

Like any physical exercise, running is exhilarating, but it’s also hard work, requiring a considerable amount of self-discipline.  Why do they make the effort? They are inspired by a vision of  a more just and compassionate society.  These young runners are devoting their time and energy to promoting a Biblical value – they are speaking up for the weakest and most vulnerable in our land.  They are depending on God for their strength, and I believe their righteous cause attracts his favour.

In total contrast to this purposeful and selfless activity stands the chaotic and senseless behaviour of the violent, alcohol-fuelled mob that torched vehicles and looted businesses in the streets of Vancouver a few weeks ago after the Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.  These events prompted much agonizing and soul-searching, everyone wondering aloud what makes people behave in such a destructive, senseless manner.  I mean, aren’t Canadians basically good, decent people?  Other nations might be perverse, greedy and selfish – but not us.  Canadians are good – right?

In the aftermath of the riots, I found myself disturbed by the many expressions of anger and even hatred towards the rioters.  The parents of  Nathan Kotylak, the young water polo player who was suspended from the national team for his part in the riots, found it necessary to leave their home and shut down their business temporarily as a result of the many threatening and abusive messages they received.  This was in spite of the fact that their son publicly confessed his part in the mob activity and openly acknowledged how wrong his actions had been.

Why were people so angry with the rioters?  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying the rioters’ behaviour was right — far from it.  I’m just saying that most Canadians are living under the illusion that we are basically good people and that Canada is basically a good country, populated by good, decent people like us.  The riots totally violate this illusion, so to reinforce our false image of ourselves as a good nation populated by good people, we portray the rioters as perverse exceptions to the essential goodness of the Canadian (or Vancouverite) character.

The Bible paints a very different picture of human nature.  It’s not a popular view these days, even among Christians – but the Bible clearly portrays human nature as thoroughly corrupted by sin, and says that until we are born again and our hearts are restored, we are not capable of being good.  We can only consistently produce the fruit of righteous behaviour by the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus, the instruction of the word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The Vancouver riots shouldn’t surprise us.  They are the inevitable outworking of a society that has – for the most part – turned its back on God.  Conscience has to be shaped, and in the absence of a relationship with Jesus, one’s conscience will inevitably reflect a mixture of truth and falsehood.   I have atheist friends who maintain that they can be good without God.  I maintain that whatever goodness and idealism they display comes mostly from being raised in a culture that is based on Biblical values, whether they realize it or not.  To take just one example, whereas those raised in a Biblical value system place a high priority on truthfulness,  there are belief systems (including Islam, although it’s not politically correct to say so) in which deception is seen as acceptable and even admirable.  My point is that the farther our culture gets from God, the more it seems natural to us to do and approve those things that the Bible calls evil.  But since we still have some sense of right and wrong, and we don’t want to think of ourselves as unrighteous, we are quick to condemn those – like the Vancouver rioters – who do things that even our weakened consciences can recognize as evil.

On the stones of the Peace Tower three verses of Scripture are inscribed.  One of the verses, Proverbs 29:18, declares: where there is no vision, the people perish.  Another translation puts it like this: where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.   The rioters on the streets of Vancouver found it relatively easy to cast off restraint because they are the products of a society that has chosen to ignore the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ.  By contrast, the runners in One Nation Run – as well as all others who have chosen to live as disciples of Jesus – have a vision and a revelation to live by.  Because Jesus has opened their eyes and brought them from death to life, they have the power to resist evil and let His light shine through their lives (Philippians 2:14-16, Matthew 5:13-16)

So, what kind of country do we want to live in?  Do we want to be part of a nation that has cast off all restraint, where everyone does as he sees fit?  Many would say this is freedom, but the Bible declares that in fact it is bondage.   Or, do we want to live as citizens of a different Kingdom – the heavenly Kingdom that is coming to earth – in which Jesus rules and his Spirit instructs our hearts in His ways?

I know what kind of country I want to live in, and which Kingdom I want to belong to.  Do you?

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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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