Tag Archives: surrender

Nuggets of Hope 28 – Gotta Serve Somebody

In 1979, Bob Dylan surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. References to the Bible, Jesus, and God’s Kingdom began to appear in his concerts. His conversion was marked with a new freshness in his music and the release of a new album, Slow Train Coming. The track “Gotta Serve Somebody” became Dylan’s first hit in three years.

I had not been a huge fan of Dylan up to this point, but I loved this album and this song. It was hard-hitting, fresh, and focussed, with this repetitive, driving refrain :

It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, even with the partial lifting of lockdown restrictions, everybody’s life is affected. Whatever the details of our circumstances, we can easily become slaves to the pandemic. It can start to dominate our thinking.

I have found that to navigate these times, I need to step back, get perspective, and remind myself of who I am and where I am going. The COVID-19 pandemic is a circumstance that I cannot control, but I can choose how I am going to look at life. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I do not live without hope, direction or focus. I have a purpose. I am living for the Kingdom of God.

This morning I started my day with a walk around my neighbourhood. I prayed the ancient words of the Lord’s Prayer. I asked the Father to show me what it would mean for His name to be hallowed in my life. I prayed for His Kingdom to come on earth. I prayed for my neighbours and myself to hunger and thirst for His righteous rule in our lives. I thanked God for His daily provision, His forgiveness and His deliverance from evil.

I wasn’t made to live for myself. I was created to belong to the One who made me. I have been redeemed – set free at a high cost – so that I might serve Him and give Him glory with my life. In fact, living for yourself is an illusion – a costly mirage that leads to sorrow, emptiness, death and eternal loss. As Dylan wrote back in 1979,

It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Over many years of learning to follow Jesus, I have found that living as His servant and friend has given me a liberty that I did not have when I was trying to set my own direction and have my own way.

If you already know what I am talking about, let me encourage you to remember the Lord and reset your focus on Him today and every day. If you don’t know the freedom of belonging to Jesus, but want to talk about it, leave me a comment and I’ll contact you.

God bless you.



Nuggets of Hope 22 – How to Stay Safe

Stay safe.

It’s become one of the dominant messages in the COVID-19 era.

But how, exactly, do we stay safe? How do we protect ourselves?

Before we can really answer that question, we need to ask another question. From what enemy are we trying to protect ourselves?

If you’re trying to protect yourself from getting COVID-19, there are recommended precautions. But what if you have a sneaking suspicion that COVID-19 isn’t your biggest enemy?

Yes, COVID-19 is an enemy. But it can be a useful enemy. Like any crisis, any situation that we can’t control, the pandemic raises important questions for us. Where is my real hope? What am I living for? What do I really want? What is my life really about?

Many people are experiencing heightened anxiety during these times. But their anxiety is not only because of COVID-19.  That’s just the current threat. The reality is that we are all vulnerable to many possible harms. Death is a prospect that none of us can escape in this age.

Disciples of Jesus have a Master who has conquered death on our behalf, and set us free from the power of darkness. If we really believe that, we should be the happiest of people. But we also have an enemy who hates us and desires to rule our thoughts. He does this by planting thoughts which we can choose to accept or reject. But to recognize them and reject them, you need a good spiritual immune system. The contagion that I really want to avoid is that sneaky tendency to focus on myself, and the immune system I need is the good, old-fashioned blood of Jesus that washes me clean from sin, His Word that is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path, and His powerful Spirit who guides me in the ways of love and self-control.

Recently I studied the First Letter of John with a small group of friends. John is identified as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Of course Jesus loved all his disciples but he apparently had an especially close relationship with John. By the time he wrote this letter, John was an old man who had seen most of the companions of his youth put to death for their faith in Jesus.

For John, the issues were clear. He ended his message to his flock with these sobering but hope-filled and powerful words.

We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them. We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and he is eternal life. Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.

1 John 5:18-21

The safest place to be is close to Jesus. That’s where I want to stay. That’s where I’m placing my hope.




God’s strong-willed children

Our feisty, spirited and very cute granddaughter Alivia (Livie), not quite three years old, is learning the power of her own will. Although she clearly looks up to big sister Sophie, Livie also has a mind of her own and doesn’t hesitate to make her wishes known. She knows what she wants, and she expresses it clearly. Sometimes she can’t have what she wants, but her Mom and Dad are wise enough to curb her will without crushing it.

Sophie, now five years old, has been learning some of the ways of the Lord. She has a sensitive conscience, wants to please the Lord, and is usually quite good to her little sister. However, like Alivia, she too has desires, and sometimes this leads to conflict.

Yesterday Alivia wanted her tricycle back. Her big sister had taken it. Alivia complained, and her Dad intervened and told Sophie to give the tricycle back to Alivia. Justice was done, and Alivia was satisfied.

However, from Sophie’s perspective, this was not a perfect solution, because for Alivia to get her tricycle back, Sophie had to give up something that she wanted. It took a father’s wisdom, and a time out, but eventually peace was restored. Eventually Sophie was able to see things through her father’s eyes, and the sisters were friends again.

This classic conflict scenario illustrates several key truths.

First, our Father wants us to present our desires to Him. It is not wrong to ask him for things. Both girls presented their cases to their father, and he listened to them both with compassion as well as firmness.

Second, when we present our desires to our Father, we also need to recognize that He is God and we are not. For peace to be restored, both Sophie and Alivia needed to be willing to let their Dad settle the dispute.

Third, we need to stay engaged with God even when the answers are not immediate, or not what we had hoped for. Even though it took some time before Sophie could see things her Dad’s way, she trusted him enough to yield to his discipline, and eventually, she too was satisfied.

Sometimes we need to let God adjust our perspective before we can receive the blessings that He desires most to give us.  If we stay engaged, and keep talking to him and listening to him, eventually he gives us the desires of our heart, although sometimes He first has to awaken in us a desire for those things that lead to true peace and lasting satisfaction.

Like Sophie and Alivia, all God’s children are on a journey to maturity. The plans God has for us are far beyond what we can now see or imagine. If we want to come into all that He has for us, we need to learn how to deal with the strong desires that arise from our souls.

Desires can cause conflict, and they can be destructive. But unlike Buddhism, which teaches its adherents to extinguish all desires, the God of the Bible chooses instead to work with our desires and shape them for our good and for his glory. In this process, we do need to reject some desires and embrace others. But let’s not reject the whole concept of desire. It was God who gave us our wills, and God who placed in us the capacity for desire. When we come to him in faith, and allow Him to sort through our desires and respond according to His wisdom and love, he does not extinguish our wills or our desires. Instead, he shapes them to His purposes, and awakens in us a desire for His glory, so that He can bless us far beyond what we can imagine or conceive.

Thanks be to God for his amazing wisdom and goodness to us!


Playing to an audience of One

All of us play to an audience.

This tendency to play to an audience – to do the things that we know will win us approval, applause and appreciation – starts very early in life. In fact, I am pretty sure it is innate. People manifest this tendency in different ways, but everyone does it.

Anyone who is a parent or grandparent knows what I am talking about. When my daughter Bethany was a preschooler, she concluded that she might be able to get out of potential punishments by fluttering her eyelashes. She overplayed her hand, though, at the age of four, by telling me her strategy. “You can’t punish me – I’m too cute”. When I finished laughing, I disciplined her nonetheless, even though it was hard to keep a straight face. And a generation later, the pattern continues. Bethany’s adorable nieces – my beautiful granddaughters Sophie and Alivia – are adept at the same game, and play their audience masterfully, although thankfully their parents have the wisdom to know when to play along, and when to burst the bubble.

Playing to an audience can be cute in a four-year-old. But this seemingly innocent game doesn’t stop when little Joey or Janie heads off to school. The audience keeps changing throughout life, and the strategies we use to impress people or win their approval may become more clever and subtle – but at bottom it’s really the same game, in many different forms. Make ’em think I’m smart, or cute, or sexy, or strong, or good, or otherwise impressive. Make ’em like me. Make ’em treat me well.

One of the remarkable things about Jesus is how free he was from this all-pervasive game, this compulsion to please people and win their favour. That’s because he was playing to a different audience. He did only what he saw his Father doing, and lived only for his Father’s pleasure.

Because of that, he could love even those who abused him and rejected him. When Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, he knew exactly what he was doing, and he had no illusions about the outcome of his ride. He knew that he was fulfilling prophecy. He knew that he was God’s chosen one, destined to suffer for the sins of his people and the whole world. He knew that the leaders of Israel were even then plotting to destroy him, and that most of those who hailed him as King would turn away from him just a few days later. He knew that even Peter, his right-hand man, would crumble under the pressure of fear and deny knowing him. He knew that he was headed for a cross. He had warned his disciples about this months before. When he sweated drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, waiting for one of his friends to betray him, wishing this cup of agony might pass from him, it was for their sake and ours that he stayed faithful. When he went into the heavenly sanctuary as Lamb and High Priest, he went for them – and for you and me. When he stands before the Father’s throne and intercedes for the souls of men and women, he’s doing it for those who denied him, rejected him and betrayed him. He’s doing it for us.

Jesus is the only one who can lay my heart bare with one deft stroke of the sword of his Word. He is able at one and the same time to wound me, comfort me and speak life and hope to me. He has exposed the twisted motives of my heart too many times to count, and untangled the tangled mess of my hopes, fears and desires so that I know which way I should walk. He does this because He loves me. Having given his life for me, he continues to plead for me, woo me, call me to himself, beautify me and prepare me until my transformation is complete, until I am clothed in glory together with all those who have responded to his call, and we enter in to the wedding feast as the glorious Bride that he had in mind from the beginning.

Jesus is able to finish what he started. He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it. We can count on him precisely because he doesn’t care about pleasing us. He loves me and you, but he’s not compelled to win our favour by doing what we want. He lives only to please his Father. He can’t be corrupted. He has stood the test and been found faithful. Jesus doesn’t stand before me to win my approval. He stands before his Father’s throne as the heavenly intercessor for me, and all those for whom he paid so high a price. And so, because we have a Passover Lamb and High Priest who cannot be swayed, one who is faithful through and through, one who is completely incorruptible – so unlike our fallen human leaders – because of this, we can be completely sure that he will always deal with us in truth, mercy and righteous, holy love.

There are many things about Jesus that move my heart and make me want to weep with gratitude. Today, I am thankful that – so unlike mine – Jesus’ heart is consistent; that, so unlike mine, his eyes are always locked in on his Father’s face; that, so unlike me, he is unswayed by the many voices that clamor at him to change. He hears every prayer and is sensitive to every cry; his heart is tender towards everyone who calls out to him; but he lives his life and walks his course for an audience of One. Not only that, but he has promised to make me like him. In fact, that’s the only basis on which he will receive me. Salvation is completely free – Jesus paid the ultimate price for my forgiveness – but there is a catch. I have to agree to one thing. I no longer belong to myself but him. That means he gets to do what he wants with my life. That means letting Jesus make me over again, from the inside out. I, too, have to learn to play to an audience of One.

Jesus, you said that if my eyes are good and my gaze is unswervingly locked in on you alone, then my whole being will be full of light. That really is what I want, Lord. I want my life to shine like a city set on a hill for all to see. Do for me what I can’t do for myself. Make me like you. Teach me to play to an audience of One.


So you’re a control freak?

So you’re a control freak?  Welcome to the human race.

“Not me”, you protest.  “You’ve got the wrong person.  If you want to see a real control freak, look at so-and-so”.

OK, so maybe you don’t think you have a problem with control.  My one-question test will prove you wrong.  Simply answer this question honestly:  Do you want your own way?   Of course you do.  Everyone does.   You, along with the rest of the human race, are a control freak.

As we grow up, we learn that controlling others is not socially acceptable.  That’s because the people around us are just as bent on control as we are.  We learn to work out compromises to keep from destroying one another, and we become more adept at various subtle and crafty methods for getting our own way.  That doesn’t change the fact that secretly (sometimes not so secretly) we still want to be in charge; we still want our own way; we still want to be in control.   The drive to be in control has been at the core of human nature ever since the serpent tricked Adam and Eve with the alluring but empty promise of becoming gods unto themselves.  This, of course, explains why human history has been so full of wars and conflicts.

We try to control others for various reasons.  Some people try to control others simply because they love power, but in years of ministry I’ve observed that the most common motivation for control is not lust for power, it’s fear – ironically, fear of being controlled by someone else.   We try to control others because we don’t trust anyone but ourselves.   After all, the people around us are just like us – they want to be in control too – so why should we trust them?

The problem with trying to be in control is that no matter how good you are at it, eventually even the best system breaks down.  And the more controlling you have been, the more lonely and isolated you will probably be when all your schemes finally crumble and you have to face the awful truth that you’re not God after all.

There is a remedy, of course.  It’s called the cross.   The blows we take in life are designed by God to lead us to this place of surrender.   He places obstacles in our path not because He hates us but because He loves us and desires our freedom.  When we’re finally willing to give up our illusions, He leads us to the feet of the One who is worthy to be in control — Jesus, the Lamb of God, who has demonstrated his worthiness by living a life in complete submission to the Father.  He does not break the bruised reed of our life – instead he gently and kindly restores our soul and teaches us a whole new way of living.

Ironically, the more we get used to walking this path of surrender, the more real influence we can have on the lives of those around us.  That’s because as our hearts are restored and the desire to obey God gradually replaces the desire for control, those around us find it easier to trust us and open up their hearts to us — and so we have the amazing privilege of planting and nurturing seeds of new life and hope in those who, like us, are discovering the bankruptcy of the world’s ways and learning where true freedom can be found.  This is a life-long process, and it’s costly – but it’s also wonderfully rewarding, both in this life and in eternity.

Control freaks of the world, surrender – you have nothing to lose but your chains.


The way up is the way down

I am tired of religion, tired of going to church.  I am hungry for revival.

I have tasted the dynamic, life-giving presence of God – the electric flow of the Holy Spirit – the sweetness of the love and mercy of Jesus.   I don’t ever want to get used to living without this.

I have also experienced the beauty of genuine, transparent Christian community with a group of believers who are committed to knowing one another in ways that get beyond the surface, and helping one another walk faithfully with Christ in the midst of life’s ups and downs.  I don’t ever want to get used to living without this either.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading – for the third time – a series of powerful historical novels by Jack Cavanaugh about a group of young dissident Christians in Hitler’s Germany.  The series chronicles how the lives of these young believers were affected by their decision to rescue a number of disabled children from the Hadamar Clinic, a facility devoted to their destruction.  The last book in the series, which I am currently reading, is set in post-war East Germany.  As residents of the Eastern part of Berlin, after the war they came under the boot of the Soviets, which they found to be not much better than life under Hitler.  To toughen themselves against the constant deprivations, drabness and bleakness of life under Communist rule, they used a mantra.  “You can get used to anything”, they would say to one another.

It is one thing to toughen yourself to withstand political repression and material deprivations for the sake of the Kingdom.  This may be a necessary discipline, required for obedience and victory.  After all, Christ-followers are in a war against the Prince of Darkness, and in some times and places that warfare becomes quite visible in the political realm.  We are told in the Book of Revelation that we should expect an intensification of such warfare in the Great Tribulation to come.

Yes, we can get used to withstanding hardship without complaint for the sake of the joy to come.  But what is ultimately much more tragic is when we get used to living without the spiritual riches that are promised to us in Christ.   When spiritual dullness, dryness and barrenness are our constant experience, eventually they seem normal.   This is far worse than getting used to living with material deprivation and political repression.  “You can get used to anything”.  Yes you can, but at a cost.  When what you are getting used to is life without the daily experience of the presence of the Lord, the cost is too high.  As John White wrote 20 years ago in his masterful study of revival phenomena, “Certainly we learn lessons in drought that could never be learned in a cloudburst.  But who would want to settle for permanent drought?” (When the Spirit Comes with Power, ©1988 InterVarsity Press, p. 236).

Marion and I look forward to our weekly Skype chats with Simeon and Heather.   We enjoy these chats even more now that Sophie, our eight-month-old granddaughter, is beginning to recognize and respond to those two funny-looking old people who appear on the laptop screen each week and talk to her.  A few days ago, when Simeon turned the screen towards Sophie so that we could see her face, she favoured us with a huge grin.  This was a first, as up until now she had wanted to grab the computer but hadn’t really interacted with us during Skype calls, and it made our day!  Her smile spoke volumes – it said that she recognized us as part of her world and was happy to see us.

I want to be close enough to the Father to see his smile.  Many things in my life bring a measure of joy and satisfaction – going for a walk on a beautiful day, playing racquetball, solving a problem at work, playing my guitar, times of intimacy with my wife.  All of these are reflections of God’s goodness, but none of them compares with the sweetness of the manifest presence of the Lord.  Without him, every other joy is ultimately empty.  With him, all other joys are that much more satisfying, and even sorrows, deprivations and trials are transformed until they drip with meaning.

As I was thinking of these things recently, I was prompted to re-read a little classic called The Calvary Road, which I first came across just a few years ago although it was written in 1947.  It is a deceptively brief and simple little book but its message probes the depths of the heart.

I was reminded that the way up is the way down.   If we are hungry and thirsty for a life dripping with the dew of God’s presence, there is only one way forward, and that is to humble ourselves before Him every day in dependency, transparency and (where necessary) repentance, leading to the simple obedience of faith.  We can’t do this alone, we can only do it in community.  If we try to do it alone, we deceive ourselves.  By ourselves we don’t see our own hearts clearly enough, but with the help of brothers and sisters, we can walk in the light – and if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.   The promise of Jesus still stands : Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

The way up is the way down.  If you are already daily tasting the fullness of the life of Christ in you, then God bless you – carry on!  But if you are tired of things as they are, and know there must be more, will you humble yourself and seek with me the only One who holds the key to life as it was meant to be lived?