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Nuggets of Hope 25 – Jesus in your boat

The boat pictured here is a replica of an ancient fishing vessel whose remains were discovered by a couple of amateur archaeologists in the Galilee region in 1986.  It’s thought to be much like the type of boat that Jesus and his disciples would have used.  It’s a sizable craft, capable of being either sailed or rowed.

Among Jesus’ disciples were several seasoned fisherman, familiar with the Galilee waters. Still, on more than one occasion the gospel narratives relate that they ran into trouble with high winds and waves. One evening, after a busy day spent helping Jesus meet the needs of a crowd of over 5000 people, they set off to cross the lake in a boat much like this one, while Jesus went off for some solitary prayer in the hills surrounding the lake.

This wasn’t just a pleasure jaunt for the guys in the boat. The boss had told them to meet him on the other side of the lake, and they were doing their best to follow his instructions. But they were having a rough go. The wind was against them and they weren’t making much headway.

Quite possibly they were having conversations something like this.

Can this trip really be God’s will? Maybe we didn’t hear him right. Jesus can’t want us to be having all this trouble, can he? I thought he cared about us. Maybe we shouldn’t even be doing this. I think this whole adventure was a bad idea. I’m not sure how much longer I can go on.

As if all this wasn’t enough, the next thing they knew, they had another problem – a really big one. The high winds and waves were a problem, but at least they were a familiar problem. They knew what to do about winds and waves. But then things got really scary.  They thought they saw a ghost.

We’ve all had moments like those. We’re already beyond exhausted – at the end of our rope – but at least we have a plan and we know what we are dealing with. Then things just go to a whole other level and we have no idea what to do next.

What a relief to hear Jesus’ voice. “It is I. Do not be afraid.” The gospel of John records that when they heard his voice, they realized who it was, and let him into the boat; and immediately (as it seemed to them) they reached the other side.

The journey through life can feel like a tough assignment sometimes. As if our pre-COVID life weren’t challenging enough, the pandemic confronts us with questions to which nobody really knows the answers. Are we going to make it to the other side? What will “the other side” even look like? Where are we headed? Will life ever be normal again?

Here’s a different question. Do you have Jesus in your boat?

If you do, all the other questions might still be there, but suddenly everything looks different. Jesus is master of the situation. He knows the way through. Breathe deeply. You are going to be OK. You don’t have to be afraid.

The Apostle John, looking back on this event many years later, summarizes their feelings this way: Then they were glad to take him into the boat. 

What about you? Is Jesus in your boat?

 

 

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Nuggets of Hope 15 – Crucified with Christ

I am writing this on Good Friday morning. Four weeks ago today, my five-year-old granddaughter Madison was scheduled to come for a sleepover with Grandma and Grandpa. Marion and I were looking forward to this, but a couple of days before she was to come, public concerns about COVID-19 began to multiply, and that weekend businesses and schools began to close. We haven’t had that sleepover yet. It will have to wait.

This pandemic has been much harder on some than on others. Marion and I have had no real hardship, and we are profoundly grateful and humbled for what we can only view as God’s protection and provision for us. Yes, we’ve had to defer some plans, we miss our children, grandchildren and friends, and our finances will probably be affected long term, but we are well and safe, and very conscious of the kindness of God to us.

Still, the pandemic, coupled with the recent death of my friend Jerry Wallace, who succumbed to cancer 10 days ago, has led to some sober reflection. Why should some be spared and others not? Why should I be alive and well when my friend – a devoted servant of God, younger than I – has come to the end of his earthly journey, leaving behind a grieving family?

The only answer God has given me is that my life is not my own. It belongs to Jesus. He purchased me on the cross and paid the ultimate price so that I could be free from the bondage of living for myself and live instead for him. I don’t get to decide how long or short my life in this age will be. I’ve been set free from worrying about those details. I do get to decide whether I am going to spend the years I have left focussing on myself or living for Jesus and His Kingdom.

The Apostle Paul summed up the Christian life this way.

I have been crucified with Christ
and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
The life I now live in the body,
I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

COVID-19 should not really be a shock for a disciple of Jesus. This pandemic shows us that we are not really in control. It is a reminder that we live in a dying age. Our hope is not in this age but in the age to come.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to get sick or die any more than the next person, and I certainly believe that it’s an important mandate for Christians to help relieve suffering and provide care for those in need as we are able. In doing this, we follow the example of our Master. But our motivation should not be fear of suffering, but hope in the age to come and the promise of resurrection.

Jerry Wallace’s passing has been a strong and compelling reminder to me to live my life in view of eternity. Because of the cross of Jesus, I have hope for this life and for the age to come. I know that my sins are forgiven and I know that I have an eternal inheritance awaiting me in a world made new. I don’t have to be ruled by the fear of sickness, death or economic hardship. I am free to serve God by serving others, without worrying about how things will turn out for me.

Whatever happens to me in this life, I can live with my eyes fixed on the One who went to the cross for me and is seated at the Father’s right hand. So can you. If you believe in Jesus, you are free to live in hope. No matter what happens to you, it will be OK in the end. Everything in this age is temporary. His Kingdom is coming. All things will be made new, and you can expect to live with Him forever.

If you don’t yet share that confidence, this is a great time to surrender your life to Jesus and ask him to give you a new heart, a new spirit and a new focus. If you already share my hope in Jesus as coming King, then let me encourage you to use this COVID-19 crisis as a great opportunity to find ways of serving and encouraging those around you. Ask the Holy Spirit what to do. He’ll be glad to show you.

God bless you.

 

 

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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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The Bride and the Wedding to come

I have had a series of dreams over the past several weeks about the Bride of Christ and the wedding feast that is coming. This past week I had two such dreams, on separate nights, that were very similar. As I reflect on these dreams I am convinced that they contain significant messages, not just for me but for the people of God. In this blog I want to relate the core details of the two most recent dreams. 

The main character in the dreams was a young woman who was looking forward to her wedding. She was also a student who was trying to complete her studies. Her immediate challenges were filling her sights so that she couldn’t really focus on the joy of the wedding to come.  She was discontent and in distress because her circumstances were not perfect. She had goals that she was afraid she would not be able to achieve.

I knew that this young woman represented the Bride of Christ. She had a glorious future. She was destined to wear a crown of glory. But all that seemed very far off, and at the moment, her immediate problems were dominating her life. The crown she was wearing at the moment was not a crown of glory and beauty but a crown of fear and worry.

It’s as if she were saying “God, how do you expect me to get ready for our wedding when I have all these problems? Can’t you just fix the problems for me now, and make everything right? Then I can get ready for the wedding.” But what she didn’t realize was that the trials and tests and hardships were not a mistake and they were not an accident. They were planned by God as part of her maturing process. They were part of the beauty preparations that the King had provided for her. How she responded to the testing would determine the level of beauty and glory that would be formed in her.

One of our elders spoke to our church last week about the process of Christ being formed in us. Christ’s beauty is formed in us is as we respond to him in love and faith in the midst of testing and hardship.

Then the scene shifted and now it was the day of her wedding. She had come through the tests as pure gold, and she was radiant. She was dressed in white and was wearing a beautiful golden crown that was studded with gems. In the dream she was approaching a throne, in her wedding dress, and Jesus was on the throne. She laid her crown at His feet and knelt before Him. He placed it back on her head and raised her up to stand at his side. Her heart towards Him was to worship and adore Him, and His heart towards her was to raise her up to stand beside Him as his partner.

One day we will stand before Him in white and we will be wearing a crown of love and devotion and glory and honour and we will lay that crown at His feet and crown Him with it. But as we lay those crowns at His feet He will give them right back to us, and take our hand and invite us to stand beside Him.

We’ll say to Him “Jesus, you are so worthy. The glory belongs to You alone”. And we’ll bow down and lay our crowns at His feet.

And He will take our hand and raise us up again, and He will say to us, “My bride, you are so beautiful to Me. I want you to share My glory”.

That’s where we are going.

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Seeds of life

Today Marion’s parents celebrated sixty-five years of marriage. A simple family celebration marked the occasion. Later, as we said our good-byes, I thanked my parents-in-law for getting married, pointing out that had they not done so, I could not have met and married my wife, nor would Marion and I have had our own four wonderful children or our two beautiful granddaughters. I looked at my father-in-law, gestured at the family members around the room, and said “See what you started?”

Towards the end of the day I went for a bike ride by the river. I needed to clear my head and get some perspective. It was a beautiful October day, and the water sparkled in the sun’s rays. The pathway was full of people enjoying the final hour before sunset. I thought about seeds. Each of the trees that line the river began with a seed. Each human life begins with a seed. At the beginning of all things, when God made man and woman, he told them to multiply and fill the earth. When Marion’s father and mother pledged their vows sixty-five years ago, they made a covenant to be seed-planters.

When a couple conceives a child, they don’t know the details of what that child will become. There is an element of mystery involved. But in hope, they look for their creative act of love to bear fruit and give rise to a child who will be a bearer of their hopes and dreams.

In a less literal but no less real sense, we plant seeds every day with our words and our actions. We impart to others what has been worked into the soil of our own lives, for good or for ill. We do this whether we know it or not, but as we co-operate actively with God’s purposes, uprooting the plantings of the evil one in our lives and cultivating the plantings of the Lord, we can become more effective and fruitful sowers of good seed in the lives of others.

As I have been waiting on the Lord for an answer about work these past six months, I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of reflecting. At the beginning of this waiting period, I kept myself occupied with several small projects. But as time went on, both Marion and I became increasingly convinced that the Lord was telling us both to use this time to rest in Him and seek His face – to meditate on the Word, to pray, to worship, to listen to teachings, and to allow Him to work some new seed into the soil of our hearts.

Along the way, of course, we have wrestled with God about the issue of work and provision. We have been in no real financial distress, but we’ve had to make several adjustments. I had no idea that I would be out of work for this long, yet all along the way Marion and I have received clear and repeated assurances from the Lord that His provision would come at just the right time and that it would prove to be just the right thing. Although we have been walking the road of faith for many years, we are not immune from temptation, and we’ve had plenty of opportunities to embrace worry, fear and anxiety. But thanks be to God, every time we have recognized those ugly tentacles seeking to drag us down, we have found grace to resist the tempter and place our hope in the Lord.

As our time of waiting has been extended well beyond what I had expected, I have found it humbling to recognize how little control I have – humbling to have an explicit, specific promise from God but no explanation as to why it is not yet fulfilled – humbling to explain to people why I turned down two contracts three months ago (“I sensed the Lord telling me not to take them because he had something better for me”), even though the ‘something better’ has not yet become visible – humbling to have no explanation for my circumstances and choices other than “God told me” – humbling to have to sell the camping trailer that Marion and I had bought less than two years ago. But, praise the Lord, it’s only a trailer – it doesn’t own us – and as always with these things, it was liberating to let it go. We got to enjoy it for two summers, and then we got a good price for it, so we are able to ride this wave a while longer without having to make more major adjustments. And it is truly wonderful to sense the Lord stretching me, working faith in me, increasing my capacity to endure a test that seems to go on and on, with no clear exit in sight. God is faithful, and He has given us a promise, but He hasn’t given us a schedule. When I ask him for dates, he says “soon” and “trust me”. He’s been saying “soon” and “trust me” for the past three months. But, praise God, His provision has not run dry during that time.

The past few days I have thought about what it must be like for those who are in prison because of their faith. Like me, they have no control over when their waiting period will come to an end. Unlike me, they face verbal and physical abuse, separation from their families, and possible death. Although my test is light compared to theirs, I have been able to pray for them with increased understanding of what it must be like to face each new day with no idea how long they will be in prison. From a human perspective their situation may seem hopeless, yet every day they choose to cultivate hope and faith because they know that the One who has called them, and holds them in his hands, is faithful.

The Apostle wrote that none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. Periods of testing are never appointed for our benefit alone. They are appointed for the benefit of those whom God has called us to serve. And so, as well as increasing my capacity to endure tests, I also see that He is deepening and strengthening my capacity to impart hope, faith and courage to others. I have fewer answers, but I sense that the answers I have are becoming more deeply anchored in my life, so that I can speak them with greater integrity, from the core of my being, as it were.

All of us are seed-sowers. I want to plant good seed in the lives of others. And so, though periods of testing by definition are never truly welcome – at least, not to our flesh – I can now say that I am truly grateful to God that he has appointed this season of testing in my life. I am also grateful that he has chosen at several junctures to ignore my advice as to when it would be best for him to bring this test to an end. I will be glad when this particular test has come to an end – in His timing, not mine – but I am deeply grateful for what it is producing in Marion and in me. Because of this period of testing, fallow ground is being broken up, our hearts are becoming softer and more pliable, new seed is being planted, we are seeing new possibilities for the future. And so on this Thanksgiving weekend, my bride and I have many reasons to praise and thank the Father of lights from whom comes every good and perfect gift.

Thanks be to God.

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Exposed

The young man across the table from me was dead serious. “Tell me about your prayer life”, he asked me. “I want to know how you pray”.

Sam was a pastor’s son from a part of Africa that had seen much turmoil and suffering. He had come to Canada seeking opportunity. He was a young man with an excellent spirit – committed to excellence on the job and in his relationship with the Lord.

I had met Sam at church, and had discovered that we worked in the same building. I offered to have coffee with him thinking that I might be able to encourage him spiritually. I soon realized that although I had years of experience and had learned some valuable lessons, none of this made up for my young friend’s zeal and passion for a consistent, fruitful walk with God. He wanted to learn from a faithful model. He thought I was that model.

As I listened to my own response to Sam, it began to dawn on me that my prayer life at this point in time was in some respects not the best model to emulate. Oh, I still prayed. In fact, I prayed much of the time. I was in almost constant dialogue with God. This part, of course, was good. I also read the Bible several times each week. But I no longer followed a structured, consistent approach to Bible reading or prayer, and my prayer life was often lacking in depth, passion and focus as a result. My malaise went deeper than this, though. I didn’t have what Mike Bickle describes as a “bright spirit”, at least not consistently. I thought I loved God, but looking back, I see now that I needed to rediscover what loving God really meant.

As I described my spiritual condition to Sam, I offered a half-hearted explanation about having moved from legalism to freedom. It sounded lame even to me, and I hope he saw through it. Sam’s question had exposed my heart, and I didn’t really like what I saw.

Anyone who has been happily married for twenty years or more will tell you that a good marriage takes effort. If you really want to have a relationship of true intimacy (tenderness, faithfulness, trust), you won’t just fall into it. Yes, you can “fall in love” with the man or woman of your dreams, but that’s mostly about attraction and desire. The attractional aspect of love is not a bad thing, in fact it’s a gift of God and an important part of any marriage, but it can be quite self-focussed, and it won’t carry you through the days when you feel miserable and everything is difficult. To truly love that man or woman will require a lifetime of costly choices. It’s no different in our relationship with God. If anything, the stakes are even higher, the choices more costly. You can get into Jesus’ Kingdom for free, but if you want to be great in his Kingdom, it will cost you your life.

To be brutally honest, the Christianity that is common in our culture sets the bar very low when it comes to the effort required to cultivate a fruitful relationship with God. When you live in an environment that is mostly cold, dark and hard, your perception gets dulled until you think that this is normal. So, maybe I do have a more vital prayer life than many people around me. I don’t know, I can’t measure that. What I do know is that compared to Jesus, my prayer life has a long way to go. But the last couple of months, Marion and I have been sensing a call from God to go deeper with him, and having reapplied myself to a more diligent pursuit of God, I am already discovering the rewards. The Word of God is more alive to me, I can hear His voice in my spirit more easily, my heart is becoming softer, I am more thankful, more peaceful and more content – and I want more.

One of the ways I have been responding to this call is by following a Mike Bickle teaching series on the Sermon on the Mount. When you are being taught on prayer by someone who has been spending hours a day in prayer and the Word for over thirty years, you get challenged to go deeper. Mike’s teaching is not complicated. In fact, it’s remarkably simple, straightforward and uncluttered. It is also very honest and comes from a place of deep humility. That’s why I find it hard to argue with. Mike has not been talking down to me. He has been appealing to my heart, and my desire for God has been stirred up.

Jesus said that the first priority of our lives is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. He also said that if our eyes are clearly in focus, our whole body will be full of light. I want my life to be bright with the light of God. When I stand before God on that Day, I want to give an account of wholeheartedness, not halfheartedness; single-mindedness, not double-mindedness. The One who gave his life for me is worthy of nothing less.

The world will soon be treated to the spectacle of the Olympics. World-class athletes have given years to the pursuit of an extremely high level of fitness and athletic skill. It’s a notable pursuit, one we can’t help but admire. Physical fitness does have some value, which is why I ride my bike several times a week. But that’s not the goal of my life. I have devoted my life to running a different race, one whose outcome has eternal value. I want to pursue the prize of knowing the Maker of the Universe. It is amazing to me that the One who hung the stars in place would be interested in having a relationship with someone as small as me. But since he says he loves me, and has invited me to be his friend through Jesus Christ, the only thing I can say is “Yes” – with my whole life – again, and again, and yet again.

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Reflections from Minnesota – Day 6

I played racquetball at the Bethany gym twice this week – this morning with Joe, and a couple of days ago in a round-robin with Joe and Simeon.  For both Joe and myself, this was our first time playing since Joe broke his ankle in December.  It was good to get back into action.  The physical exertion is very satisfying.   For me, it is one expression of loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength.  It’s also a good way to connect with my son.

After racquetball I did some Bible study and had a good discussion with Simeon about some of what I was reading.  I find it incredibly satisfying to be able to learn from my children, especially when they share with me what they’ve been learning about the plans and purposes of God.  This is a great blessing.

One of the things we discussed was the clear evidence from the words of Jesus that God’s people should expect to go through a time of intense trouble and persecution before the Lord returns.   In fact, persecution has been part of the experience of Christians in many nations of the world throughout the last 100 years, as the message of freedom through the cross has come into increasing conflict with political ideologies and Islamic and Hindu fundamentalism.   No-one in their right mind looks forward to suffering, but it does have the benefit of revealing the true condition of our hearts.  It’s easy to say we trust God when things are relatively easy – but the proof that our faith is real is how we do when we are going through painful trials.

Will my granddaughter see the painful trials that are predicted for the last days?  My children?  My wife and I?  Although not even Jesus knows the Father’s timetable in detail (and our choices will influence the timetable to an extent), I have reason to believe that the birth pangs that precede the great Day of the Lord will intensify during my lifetime and that of my children.  Lord, unveil our eyes and prepare our hearts so that we can stand.

Supper tonight was great.  Usually Heather and Simeon eat at the Bethany cafeteria because meals are included with their rent for ministry interns at BHOP, but this week they’ve been cooking and eating at home with us.  Tonight we had chicken pot pie and Simeon was in his glory.  He loves Heather’s cooking.  So many good things come from sharing meals together – laughter, conversation, good food.  Afterwards Sophie had her bath in the sink – to the delight of several proud spectators.  It is good to enjoy these everyday pleasures.  There’s an important balance here – enjoy God’s blessings while we can without apology, but be ready for tests when they come without shrinking.

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Sweet or sour? It’s your choice

It’s been said that the majority of people are thinking negative thoughts up to 90% of the time. I don’t know about most people, but I know this was certainly true of me at one time.   Worry, anxiety, frustration, anger, critical thoughts about others, and expectations of failure were my constant companions.

I remember one occasion in particular, a couple of years after I had surrendered control of my life to Jesus Christ, when Marion and I were privileged to participate in a three-day prayer ministry training school with Victorious Ministry Through Christ – a ministry that over a period of several years had a life-changing impact on both of us.  The event concluded with a prayer service at which each participant was prayed over and received words of blessing from the leaders of the school.   The words spoken over me were that I would go forward in joy.   Like a good student, I dutifully wrote the words in my journal.  Later, reading my journal and reflecting on this promise of joy, I had a disturbing thought.  I realized that I didn’t even know what joy was.

Well, that was 20 years ago this year, and I thank God that my approach to life is much more positive.  Yes, I do know now what joy is – and I rejoice daily in God’s amazing kindness to me.  I can honestly say that Jesus has healed my soul (my mind, will, and emotions) and transformed my whole outlook on life.  Life certainly hasn’t always been easy since then, but I have learned the wonderful truth of the promise that everything in our lives – even difficult and painful events – can ultimately serve God’s amazingly good purpose.

The other day I was walking home from work through a snowstorm, thinking about how bad it is that Ottawa’s bus drivers are currently on strike, and feeling less than enthusiastic about the weather and the longish trek home from work.   I decided to ask God a question.  I’ve found this is a very good way of getting my thinking straightened out, as long as I’m willing to pay attention to the answer.   So I said “Well, if all things work together for good for those who love you, what is the purpose of this strike and this snowstorm in my life?”.   Believe it or not, as soon as I asked the question I realized the answer.

It’s easy to be positive when everything is going well.  The real proof of a transformed life is when peace and joy continue to mark our lives in the midst of challenging circumstances.   So in the midst of my snowy walk home, I began remembering all the evidences of God’s goodness in my life, and thanking Him for each one.

People sometimes say that you can’t help how you feel, but this is actually not true.   Of course, you can’t help being affected by events that happen to you.   I’ve had my share of painful experiences, and I’m just like you – when things don’t go my way, I don’t like it any more than you do.   But the very circumstance that causes me pain or grief or frustration can be my stepping stone to the joy of the Lord if I choose to respond in faith.  I’m not talking about pretending that everything is fine when it isn’t.  I’m talking about making the choice to respond in faith to real problems.  Am I going to stay in the pit or am I going to praise my way out of the pit?

Of course some problems are a lot bigger than others, but if you believe God is real and that He loves you, the size of the problem doesn’t change the way you need to respond if you want to stay in God’s peace.  I have consistently found that if I begin to lay out my concerns to the Lord and then start praising and thanking him, suddenly my whole perspective begins to change, and the goodness of the Lord is what begins to fill my sights instead of the problem.   Not that this always changes the painful circumstance – quite often it doesn’t.   But it does change me – my thoughts become more settled, I begin to feel more positive, I begin to see a way forward.  If the trial I’m going through is particularly painful, I may have to keep fighting the battle for joy and peace for days or even weeks, but I know that Jesus is more committed to my success than I am, and in the end, if I respond in faith and trust, I can only win.  And like any kind of training, choosing God’s peace gets easier the more you practice it.   Years of doing this have functioned like a kind of training for my soul, so that my thoughts and emotions are much more stable and God-oriented than they once were, and my peace is not nearly so easily disturbed.  Even if my life is threatened, I know where I am going to spend eternity, so I have no need to fear.

Yes, life can be challenging – and no doubt some of you reading this have been dealing with challenges far greater than mine.  But we do have a choice about staying in God’s peace.   If you read your Bible you will know that the purpose of testing is to form the character of Jesus in us.  Whether or not this actually happens in my life is pretty much up to me.   Will I take hold of the resources of faith and grace that God has made available through Jesus, and become a conqueror?  Will you?

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When God puts your life on hold

My son Joe broke his ankle last weekend.  We were visiting friends from our former house church in Russell, and had planned a game of ball hockey on the outdoor court in our old neighbourhood.  We had done this dozens of times before, with lots of spills, but never any injuries.  But this time, Joe slipped on a patch of ice, his feet went out from under him, he landed heavily on his ankle and immediately screamed in pain.  Joe doesn’t admit to pain easily so I knew something was wrong.  The rest of the weekend was a blur, with much time spent in hospital waiting rooms.   X Rays revealed that his ankle was broken in three places, and surgery was required.  The good news is that the breaks were clean and because he is young and got looked after on time, there is an excellent chance of full recovery.  The bad news is that he is suddenly disabled and can do very little for himself in the meantime.   The new job that he was to begin later this week will have to wait; most of his activities and plans are on hold; and his finances are affected, because his income is interrupted while most of his expenses continue.

And Joe’s not the only one whose life has been affected by his accident!  I had just begun 3 weeks off work when Joe had his accident.  I had plans for my holiday time.  And guess what?  Most of those plans have also been on hold for the past five days.   My wife Marion and I have been busy caring for Joe, readjusting our household to handle the needs of a convalescent, providing for unexpected expenses, and managing all kinds of details that he can’t manage for himself.   Then there’s the OC Transpo bus strike – like many people, we are now driving our daughter to school, which takes several hours out of each day.

Not that I’m complaining – as I reflect on our situation I realize that we are blessed.  All our needs are met.  But our priorities have suddenly been adjusted for us, and we had no control over the process.  All our plans were on hold for several days, until we got more of a handle on these unexpected new challenges; some of our longer-term plans have been delayed considerably; and all of Joe’s plans are on hold for several weeks.

So what do you do when God puts your life on hold?

When the Angel Gabriel came to visit Mary, the mother of Jesus, and announced to her that she would be the mother of the Messiah, her life was put on hold in a big way.   Nothing would ever be the same again.  From this point onward, all of her plans would revolve around this new agenda that God had assigned to her.   And God didn’t really give her a choice – He didn’t ask her opinion about this new arrangement.

If Mary had been like many of today’s Christians in the freedom-loving Western world, she probably would have complained.   “A baby?  I don’t want to have a baby yet.  I’m not ready to settle down – I have plans”.   We like to think that we should have a choice about everything.   But Mary was wiser than we usually are.  Woman of faith that she was, she recognized that she did have a choice.  She had the choice to fight God or to surrender to His purposes.   In a split-second she had made up her mind – she knew what to do.

” I am the Lord’s servant”, she replied.  ” May it be to me as you have said. “

Her response changed everything.  Because she was willing, salvation became possible for us.  Because she was willing, the Messiah could enter history and transform it from a story of despair to a story of hope for all who would put their trust in Him.

Joe knows that God has put him on hold for a reason.  He’s been set aside for a season so that he can slow down and take stock of where he has been and where he is headed.  Don’t get me wrong – I don’t believe God caused this accident.   The Dark Lord, not God, is the author of mischief and confusion and all forms of wrong.   And we don’t have to be afraid, because those who belong to God are under His protection.  But sometimes, instead of totally preventing the Tempter from touching His people, God allows him limited access to our lives as a kind of test – a challenge, an opportunity for us to rise up and win a victory.

For Joe – and for Marion and me – this unexpected setback is proving to be a blessing, an opportunity to say “Yes” to God.   Did I want this to happen?  No, but in the midst of unexpected circumstances, I can truly say that I am blessed, and so thankful to belong to a God who has a greater purpose that He weaves in and through all events for those who trust Him.

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