Tag Archives: trust

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)





Now is the time

Yesterday Marion and I buried her father, Blake Denyes, who passed into eternity one week ago today.

Most of the family was able to be present for the time of leave-taking. Our son Simeon made it home from Kansas City, although his wife Heather and their three beautiful little girls stayed home. Our granddaughter Maddie and our great-nephew Ethan lightened the solemnity with their childlike playfulness and the reminder that the good gift of life continues. It was good to see our four children reconnecting with their grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins. Marion’s brother Mark delivered a fine eulogy in honour of his father, and it was my privilege to conduct the funeral service, which gave me a precious opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ and the hope of salvation through His sacrifice on the cross.

My mother in law Evelyn is a remarkable woman. At age 93, although her memory is failing, she still knows how to enjoy life, and she accepted her husband’s passing with the peace of one who has confidence in the promises of God. For this I am deeply grateful.

My father in law was an admirable man in many ways, one who pursued excellence in everything he did. He was a man of singular focus, with a strong will and a strong desire to live. After suffering a heart attack at age 54, he determined to rebuild his health and lived forty more years. He was thrifty, hard-working, fair-minded, loyal, and faithful to his wife and family.

He was also a man who carried a lot of weight on his own shoulders. At the end of his life, when his strength was gone, he placed his hope in Jesus as his Redeemer, and I am very thankful that he did. But for most of his life, he seemed to live mostly by the strength of his own will. This made his life more difficult than it needed to be.

None of us gets to live our life over again, but we do get to learn from the example of others who have gone before us. There are many positive values that I can glean from my father in law’s life, many admirable qualities that I want to emulate, with God’s help. But I also want to learn from what he had difficulty doing.

I want to live well – and to live well not by human standards but by God’s standard. God’s definition of what constitutes a life well lived is that it is all about love. I have found that as I continue the daily adventure of learning to live by faith, the burdens of life grow lighter, and my capacity to love and serve others increases as I learn to trust God and let Him teach me His ways. In the process, I find that am continually surprised by God’s amazing grace.

So my appeal to you, and my goal for my own life, is this. Work hard, give life all you’ve got, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that this means doing life on your own strength. Don’t wait until your strength is gone to surrender your will to God and trust Him to direct your life. Do it now. Do it every day. It’s the only way to lasting freedom.


Totally out of control

I have been off work for three weeks now. Although the gap between contracts was not something I chose, I knew it was coming, so I happily made plans and set goals for tasks that I hoped to accomplish during this time.

Since then, I have been finding that setting goals is one thing, attaining them is something else again.  I have met a couple of my goals, but I also have several significant goals which keep getting deferred as I experience one delay after another, one obstacle after another.

This morning at our church, Steve spoke about one of Jesus’ best-known stories, featuring a father and his two sons. Son #2 asked for his inheritance while his father was still alive. He then totally mismanaged his inheritance, and ended up with nothing. Steve described him at his lowest point as having absolutely no control over his own life. He ended up at a point where he had to humble himself and return to the father that he had previously spurned and rejected. He had become completely dependent on his father’s willingness to overlook his past behaviour and treat him with a kindness he did not deserve. The only thing he could do for himself was to humble himself and throw himself on his father’s mercy.

The description of the runaway son as having no control over his own life resonated with me because of my own recent experience. During this period between contracts, I have realized again that in reality, I also have very little control over my own life. I haven’t succeeded in getting myself a work contract, and I can do very little to speed up the process. I haven’t succeeded in fixing my Highlander (I tried to avoid an expensive repair yesterday by fixing the cabin heat control myself – a job that involved soldering a broken connection on a circuit board, a skill with which I have very little experience  – and was unsuccessful). And to complete my litany of woe, I haven’t even succeeded thus far in installing the latest release of the Oracle Enterprise database on my laptop.  For most of you, that last item may be totally meaningless, but I’m an Oracle professional so I ought to be able to accomplish at least that one item on my list!

Lest any of you start to worry that I’m really losing it, things aren’t actually as bad as I just made them sound. Putting it all in perspective, I do have several reasonably good work prospects, one in particular that has quite a good chance of materializing. I also have reason to expect that over the next month or so, a number of other prospects will surface. I’m pretty sure that finding work is mostly a matter of timing, and the Lord has provided Marion and me with a financial buffer so we are not under any immediate pressure.  As for the Highlander, I do have a feasible plan B (get a replacement component from a vehicle recycler and install it myself).  And as for the Oracle installation, this is a complex and notoriously trouble-prone  process, and each failed attempt teaches me something new, so I’m actually quite confident of eventual success.

We’re sometimes tempted to lose sight of the big picture when we are under pressure. But I am a man who is on a journey from despair to hope, and I am determined to hold on to God’s promises. Before surrendering control of my life to Jesus twenty-five years ago, I was plagued with many of the maladies that spring from pride and rebellion. My life was dominated by anxiety, fear, worry, and a critical spirit. God has been renewing my mind with His truth for the last twenty-five years with the result that today I am a much more confident and hopeful man than before. I have been learning to cultivate an expectant faith that looks for the provision of God in every situation. So, most of the time, when I face obstacles like the ones I just listed, I remember that I am not a failure – I am a chosen son of God who is going through a period of testing.

Most of us would prefer not to be tested. Still, there is no growth without testing. The purpose of this particular period of testing, I believe, is twofold. In part, it’s to train me to continue cultivating an attitude of faith and hope even when the circumstances don’t seem to be in my favour. But I believe God has another agenda as well. The testing is also designed to remind me who is really in control. God loves me too much to let me get independent. He wants me to be confident in His provision, but he also wants me to remember where it comes from. I am freshly aware that I am truly not in control of my own life. I do have a good Father who wants to bless me and intends to prepare me to carry an increasing measure of His glory as the end of the age approaches. I also have a good Father who likes to remind me every now and then – lest I forget – that despite the illusion of control, in reality I am not in control of my own life at all. The reality is that I am totally, utterly, completely, blissfully dependent on a good God who will not fail to bless me, but also will not fail to remind me where the blessing comes from.



The power of hospitality

Most Christians, if asked to list five of the attributes of God, would probably come up with words like loving, powerful, forgiving,  just, holy, and so forth.

These are all important descriptors of God’s character as it is revealed to us in the Bible and supremely in Jesus Christ.  But today I am thinking of another word that powerfully sums up how God deals with sinful, weak, needy people.

The word is hospitality.  I was reminded of this attribute of God’s character by a recent post on Richard Long’s excellent blog at Together Canada.  Hospitality is a trait that I would normally associate with people, not with God.  Yet, when we understand Him as He is described in Scripture and portrayed by Jesus, we see that our God is amazingly hospitable.

Looking at the gospels, we see that in one of his parables, Jesus depicted God as a concerned father welcoming his runaway son home to his household and throwing a party for him.  Jesus tells us elsewhere that in his Father’s household there is room for all his children to find a home.  Jesus himself is depicted in Scripture as the coming Bridegroom who welcomes all who place their hope in Him to His wedding banquet.  Our God longs to welcome people in, that they may find their home in Him.

When we look at the qualifications for elders in the New Testament, we discover that the New Testament church placed high value on hospitality as a trait for leaders.   Evidently, the first century apostles understood that Jesus’ sheep need leaders who reflect His generous, hospitable heart.

Last night Marion and I watched Harvey, a movie from an earlier era of cinematography.  Harvey was originally filmed in 1950, and I found it interesting to see how movie making has changed in 60 years.  But beyond the technical aspects, what struck me most in this movie was the generous and hospitable nature of the film’s lead character, Elwood P. Dowd, played by Jimmy Stewart.  Dowd is portrayed as a middle-aged eccentric who has inherited a fortune and does not have to work for a living.   Rather than pursuing the business opportunities that would have been wide open to someone of his means, Dowd goes through life talking to an invisible 6 foot 3 inch rabbit.  He spends most of his time at the local bar (where his invisible friend is quite welcome), listening to people that no-one else except the bartender has time for, and frequently inviting them to his home for dinner.  This exasperates his sister and niece, who share his home.  To be truthful, almost any normal person would find it difficult to live with someone as impractical, unpredictable and eccentric as Elwood P.  Dowd.  That said, he is an uncommonly likeable character, who excels in kindness and generosity.

When I woke up this morning, I realized that God was speaking to me through this aspect of the film.  He showed me again the power of a hospitable life to communicate the good news of Jesus to people who are hungry for spiritual reality.

When we open our homes and our lives to people who are hungry and thirsty for true life, and become their friends, our understanding of what it means to share the gospel of Jesus undergoes a radical transformation.  Instead of being a project, evangelism truly becomes a way of life.  It is no longer just a matter of verbally communicating spiritual truth, or even praying with people for them to receive Jesus or for the Holy Spirit to touch their lives – although both of these aspects remain important.  When we open our homes and our hearts to people, trust is fostered in the people we befriend, and over time, God uses this atmosphere of acceptance and friendship to prepare their hearts for genuine conversion.  This, of course, requires that we be transparent with those we are reaching out to, so that they can see us as we really are.  That’s how disciples are made – through relationships of honesty and trust, in which the good news of Jesus is communicated on many levels.

Marion and I have been rediscovering the transforming power of hospitality over the past several weeks as the Holy Spirit has opened the door to a friendship with our next-door neighbours.  It all started this past summer when Orlando Suarez, a church-planter from Cuba, visited our life group on several occasions this past summer.  Orlando spoke to us of his passion for sharing the good news of Jesus with the people in his neighbourhood.  As I listened to him, I realized that the Spirit of God was speaking to me and telling me to become more active in reaching out to our neighbourhood.  Marion and I invited several people to our home to watch the Alpha videos and talk about the true meaning of life.  The couple next door accepted our invitation, and it has been a delightful experience getting to know them better.  We had already been on good terms before beginning this process.  But now, the relationship is changing from cordial to intimate.  As we talk about the Alpha videos and their growing realization that Jesus is alive, we are becoming spiritual friends.  In this atmosphere of friendship, lives are being changed.

This, it seems to me, is what happened over and over again in the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles.  I once did a survey of pivotal or life-changing events in the gospels and the Book of Acts, and discovered that a great many of them took place in someone’s home.   When Jesus dropped in to Zaccheus’ house for dinner, someone’s life was changed because Jesus took time to accept hospitality from a man that any self-respecting religious teacher wouldn’t go near.  Jesus knew Zaccheus needed to repent.  By inviting himself to Zaccheus’ home for a meal, Jesus honoured this man whom others rejected, and offered an atmosphere of acceptance that made it easy for Zaccheus to turn away from his self-focussed life and make things right with God.

So – how are you doing with hospitality?  It’s not really about how nice a home you have.  That doesn’t matter.  Your home doesn’t have to be spotless or elegant.  Hospitality is not entertainment.   And you don’t have to be limited to offering hospitality in your home.  You can also offer hospitality in a friend’s house or apartment, a restaurant, a bar, a hospital, a workplace, a prison, or even on a street corner.  It’s really about making time for relationship and having an open heart.

To be truthful, I’m not very good at this.  I’m still learning.  But Jesus is very good at it, and he is teaching me how to let my life be a vehicle for His ministry of hospitality.  It’s all about learning to rest in the Father’s goodness, and invite others to come into His household and discover His delightfully generous love.


What, me worry?










What, me worry?

When I was a boy, this slogan was made famous by the fictional character Alfred E. Neuman, who graced the cover of Mad Magazine. Many years later, Hilary Clinton used the now-famous slogan to caricature President George W. Bush’s approach to economic policy, clearly implying that disaster was looming and Bush was ignoring it.

Whatever you think of Clinton, Bush, Obama and US politics, the slogan suggests an unthinking, uncaring approach to life.  What, me worry?  What could possibly go wrong?

Although I found Neuman’s carefree approach to life appealing, as a young man I was never much good at the “not worrying” thing.  Looking back, I realize that much of my thought life in those days was negative.  I worried about many things.  In my case, it wasn’t so much that I worried about things that would happen to me. I worried about bigger things.  Before I had children, I worried about the state of the world, poverty, environmental problems, war, peace and so forth.  Once I had children, I began worrying about their lives.  I wanted to be a good Dad and felt responsible for how their lives would be affected by powers that I had no control over – sickness, war, economic problems and so forth.

Some people will tell you that you can conquer worry by making a decision not to worry.  I never found that worked very well, because for me, worry was linked to my over-developed sense of responsibility.  I felt responsible for everything. For this reason, I was also constantly plagued by feelings of guilt and failure.  Slogans like “What, me worry?” or “Don’t worry, be happy” might have been appealing, but they weren’t how I lived my life.  I was much too responsible for that. Far better – so I thought – to go on living under my cloud of worry, doubt and fear than to be an irresponsible fool.

As you can imagine, I became very difficult to live with (just ask my wife).  Not only that, all this worry, guilt, doubt and fear wasn’t doing much for my ability to actually do something constructive about the things that I worried about. Of course, I would have denied most of this if you had asked me.  I was addicted to worry, and that’s what addicts do – they deny their addiction.  It’s part of the Devil’s deception – although I didn’t see that the time, because I didn’t really believe in the Devil – or in my own need for help, either.  I came from a line of strong-willed, capable, opinionated Dutchmen.  Others might have problems, but not us.  Others might need help, but not us.

Whenever I met people who had a simple faith in Jesus and were full of the Holy Spirit, I recognized that they had a joy and peace that I craved.  I wanted the joy and peace, but mocked and caricatured the simplicity of their faith.  Yet the mocking voice wasn’t the only one inside my head.  There was another voice too – a voice that told me, with increasing insistence, that what they had was exactly what I needed. Eventually I met someone whom I would allow to help me, and under his influence, I surrendered control of my life to Jesus.  I didn’t understand all that was happening at the time, but I knew this was something I had to do.  It was at that moment that the worry and fear, anxiety and guilt began to lose control over my life.  A few months later when I was filled with the Holy Spirit, I took another big step forward into freedom.  Some time later, I was baptized in water.  This was the death blow to my old identity as a worrier.  I now understood that I was a new person with a new identity, and that the old Peter had been put to death and buried.

Still, it sometimes seemed that he wouldn’t stay buried.  I wish I could say that the change was immediate, but that wouldn’t be truthful – and maybe it wouldn’t be all that helpful either, because I’ve found that many people are just like me.  At times things seemed to be getting worse before they got better.  Looking back, I now see that in reality the Holy Spirit was showing me things that had always been there, but which I previously had been unable to see, admit or face. I was like a new recruit who has left civilian life behind and joined the army.  From the time he puts his uniform on, he is a soldier, but he still has to learn to think like one.  In the same way, as a former addict to worry, I had to train my mind to think in new ways, and this was not an instant process. Learning to think like a believer takes time.  Surrendering to Jesus, and allowing His Spirit to rule and guide my life, were the keys to my freedom.

Today, many years later, I can truthfully say that worry no longer has any control over me.  Does that mean I never worry?  No, that would not be honest.  All of us are tempted at times, and one of the main ways we get tempted is by negative thoughts.  So, at times I am tempted to worry about various issues, and occasionally I don’t recognize the temptation right away, so I have to battle with worry for a while.  But I no longer spend most of my time worrying, because I have learned that it is unproductive and unnecessary.  As soon as I realize that the demon of worry is rearing its ugly head, I know what to do.  When I recognize what voice I’ve been listening to, I can change channels, and listen to the voice of God instead.  I can do this because I now have a new identity.  My identity is no longer that of an insecure, anxious worrier.  My identity is that of a warrior – a conqueror, a son of God who is destined to live and reign with Jesus.

But what about that overdeveloped sense of responsibility?  What about all the things that I once felt responsible for?  Well, one of the amazing freedoms that has come from walking with Jesus has been the ability to distinguish between things that I am truly responsible for, and things that I am not responsible for.  I now know that I do not have to fix the universe.  Jesus has already looked after that.   He has paid the necessary price for all things to be restored.  I do have people and situations that God has assigned to me, but I don’t have to handle them on my own.  In every situation that I am truly responsible for, I also have authority from Jesus to do whatever He directs me to do.

This is so wonderfully freeing.  There are many things that I can’t control, but every time I am tempted to be anxious, I only need to remind myself that I have a good and trustworthy Lord, and the future is in His hands. I am a child of God.  If you have put your hope in Jesus, so are you. Jesus and the Father aren’t sitting in heaven worrying about how they are going to manage things.  Victory over the darkness has already been won.  Even though the battle is still ongoing, the outcome is certain.  Everyone who trusts in Jesus gets to share in that victory.

What, me worry? No way.  I’m not playing that game any more.  I have better things to do.  I get to be like Jesus, share in His life and His victory, and invite others – like you – to walk in His freedom.  Even after many years, I am still learning to walk in this new way, but I have found that it’s way more fun than worry, and way more productive too.  Wanna come along?  You’ll never regret it.


It’s only money

I was meeting with my financial advisor over tea and chocolate chip cookies one afternoon a few years ago.  Jim was also a brother in Christ and a good friend, and we used to talk not only about investing but also about life.  During one conversation we talked about how to manage finances while keeping one’s heart free of worry.  I will never forget his comment :  “After all, it’s only money”.

How many financial advisors would tell you this?  Probably not many.  Yet Jim was right, and I’ve never forgotten these simple but powerful words.  Being a good steward (or manager) is a worthy undertaking, but in the end, when all is said and done, money is only money.   It is not God, and has no ultimate power over my life.

Psalm 112 is a tribute to those who have put their hope in God.

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.
Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely,
who conducts his affairs with justice.
Surely he will never be shaken;
a righteous man will be remembered forever.
He will have no fear of bad news;
his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.

I determined years ago that this is the kind of man I want to be – a generous man who trusts in God’s sufficiency and is therefore free enough to be gracious to others; a man whose heart is steadfast, with no fear of bad news, trusting the Lord.

I’ve had reason to remind myself of these things over the last couple of weeks.

Two days after Marion and I returned from our thirty-fifth anniversary road trip,  our son Reuben and his bride Jess borrowed our 2002 Toyota Highlander SUV for a road trip of their own.  The Highlander, although 9 years old, seemed to be in great shape and had been a reliable, trouble-free vehicle since we bought it last fall.  We were somewhat surprised to learn that the oil was quite low when we had it changed after our trip, but since we had never had problems with the engine, and had noticed no symptoms of burning oil, we agreed that it was probably OK for Reuben and Jess to go ahead with their trip.

Trouble began to surface on their second day.  The vehicle didn’t display any symptoms of burning oil, but they had to add a litre and a half of oil every day they were on the road.  Research revealed that 2001 and 2002 Highlanders had a history of developing problems with oil gelling.  At this point Reuben and Jess were in Thunder Bay, on their way to the West Coast, and they were getting concerned about crossing the Prairies.  By the time they had reached Winnipeg, we all reluctantly agreed that instead of continuing West, they would head south to Minnesota where our son Simeon lives with his wife and family.  They made it to Bloomington and the car went to the local Toyota dealership, where we learned that it would need a new engine.  Over a week later, they are still there, waiting for the repair to be completed.   So, Marion and I are dealing with a hefty financial hit, Reuben and Jess are dealing with disrupted honeymoon plans, and Simeon and Heather are dealing with much-loved guests who arrived a lot earlier than expected and have had to stay longer than anyone had counted on!

I have gone through a range of emotions and shifting concerns as I’ve processed these events.  I was briefly concerned about whether Simeon and Heather could handle an unplanned visit, but they rose to the occasion admirably.  My next concern was for Reuben and Jess, as it became clear that they would not be able to complete their planned trip to the West Coast.  At the same time, I was very grateful that they made it safely to Simeon and Heather’s place.  It’s not the Rockies – but it’s way better than being stranded!

Once we got the garage’s diagnosis and their estimate for the repair, my concern shifted to the financial impact of this situation.  As I began talking things through with Marion, we reviewed our options.  Should we have the SUV repaired in Minnesota?  Should we ask the dealer for a trade and get them home in a different vehicle?  We soon realized that having it repaired was our only option, since a US dealer cannot take a Canadian-owned vehicle in trade.  This was what we needed to do – but the price tag was high.

As I went to the Lord with my concern, He reminded me gently of Jim’s words : “It’s only money”.   It is so good to remember this.  Yes, we got an unexpected hit.  Yes, Reuben and Jess had their plans disrupted.  But in the end, these things do not need to define our lives.  How we respond – the spirit in which we choose to respond – that is what defines our lives.  I knew that I was able to respond with faith, because God is our provider and He is faithful.  So, my peace was restored.  Everything would be OK.

So we had a way forward.  The car would be fixed and Reuben and Jess would be able to continue their trip – no longer to the Coast, but at least they’d be able to get in a week and a half of camping before heading home.  Then we discovered that due to mistakes on the part of the dealership, the repair would not be completed on schedule.  The dealership had promised that they would have the SUV ready by last Friday, a week after they had first looked at the problem.  Now it appears it will not be ready until this coming Tuesday, four days later than promised.

When I first learned that there might be a further delay, I got mad. This wasn’t right!  I had been promised that  Reuben and Jess would have the car on Friday!  I left the service manager a voicemail message that was less than gracious.

Then I remembered that God loved this man.  I began asking the Lord for His heart and His perspective on this situation.  I heard back from the service manager – not once, but several times, even on his day off – who evidently felt very badly about the cascading delays which had been caused by several errors on the part of his staff, and offered to give us a discount (although the price tag was still going to be considerable).  In the end, I decided that although I might be able to justify tearing a strip out of him over these further delays, possibly leading to a further discount, God was giving me an opportunity to show him mercy so that I could speak to him about the kindness of Jesus and how He had shown mercy on me when I was far from Him.  This is what I plan to do when I talk with him one more time on Tuesday.  Compared to the eternal value of one man’s life, the cost of the engine repair is a small thing.

I have learned that as I go through life, things will happen that I cannot prevent or control, no matter how carefully I plan.  Life is full of upheavals of one sort and another that upset my carefully laid plans, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in large ones.   In fact, events that we cannot control are one of the main tools that God uses to call our hearts back to himself.  What we can control – by the grace of God – is our response to these situations.  These events have reminded me that when I anchor my hope in God’s promises, he can establish His peace in my heart, and give me the ability to respond with grace and mercy even when things seem to be going all wrong.

We forget sometimes that God has a bigger agenda than we do.  He has made us for glory, and we’re not going to get there without being changed.  If I need to take a financial hit to grow in faith, I’ll take it.  God is well able to replace the loss – after all, it’s only money.  Every time I choose the path of faith, hope and love in the midst of unexpected troubles, I am allowing God to develop my capacity to walk in His blessing and give it away, and He promises to reward me with an inheritance that, unlike money, lasts forever and can never lose its value.  Sounds like a good deal to me.


Our Toyota Story – Part Two

Well, we got the Matrix to Minnesota as planned  (read Part One of this story here).

We set out on Friday at 6:55 am – five minutes ahead of schedule, which is almost unheard of in the annals of the Hartgerink family.  This momentous feat was only achieved by telling each other that we should really aim to leave by 6:30 am.  So, although we were 25 minutes behind our official target time, we were 5 minutes ahead of our real target time.

Our goal was to be at the facilities of Stonewell Auto Importers and Exporters in Port Huron, Michigan by by 3:30 pm.  To accomplish this, we had to reach the Bluewater Bridge (Sarnia/Port Huron) without any major delays along the road, get through US Customs hassle-free, and then find Stonewell’s facility in an unfamiliar city.  After doing our business with them, we planned to drive another 4-5 hours to Hammond, Indiana (just east of Chicago) where we had a hotel reservation for the night.

I was a bit keyed-up about the whole process.  There had been a lot of paperwork in order to get the Matrix ready for import, and I wanted to be sure that I hadn’t missed anything.  This would be our first time crossing the border not as private citizens but as agents of a commercial vehicle importer.  I was very conscious that everything needed to be in order.  At the same time, we had received many confirmations that this whole undertaking was in God’s will, so although I was keyed up I was also confident.  And indeed God was with us at every step.  Our voyage went amazing smoothly, with many signs of God’s favour along the way.  Every time we needed something, we prayed for guidance and/or provision, and the Lord always answered us.  Sometimes we didn’t even have to pray, because He answered before we asked.

I had my Blackberry with me, and I had a phone number for Chris, the agent from Stonewell who was supposed to meet us at their facility at 3:30 pm.  On three separate occasions along the way, I was thinking “It would probably be good to get in touch with Chris right about now”.  Each time, he called just a couple of moments after I had this thought.  And even though I did well over half the driving on this trip, whenever Chris called, it “just happened” that Marion was driving, and I was able to concentrate fully on his call.  The first time, he called to say he had a job interview in another city that morning, so he might not be able to meet us at the agreed-upon time.  This was not what we wanted to hear!   So, we thanked God for giving Chris a job interview, and asked Him to enable Chris to get back in time to help us finish the import process.  We also asked Him to give Chris favour in his interview.  The second time, Chris called back to say that the interview had gone so well that they had hired him on the spot, and he wouldn’t be able to meet us but he would arrange for someone else.  This wasn’t what we had expected, but it sounded like God’s provision.  The third time (by now I was getting a bit antsy because we were getting close to the border and I still hadn’t heard back from him) Chris called to confirm that he had arranged for someone to meet us.  All we had to do was make a phone call from the bridge after clearing Customs, and his Dad (Jeff) would meet us at the Stonewell shop, photograph our car to show that it had indeed entered the country, photograph the speedometer to show that it registered miles per hour as well as kilometers per hour, and affix a label to our car stating that it had been imported into the USA.

Things were looking pretty good!  Every time we had a concern, it was being met.  Thus far, the Lord had helped us.

We got to the bridge ahead of schedule, which was good.  But this was a critical moment.  We had been told to go through Customs in the commercial lane.  Did this mean we should follow the sign that said “Trucks”?  We decided that this was what we ought to do.  It felt a bit weird to leave the car lane, drive our little Matrix across the bridge in the truck lane, and go whizzing by all the other cars that were lined up in the car lane, waiting to clear Customs.  Then we got close to the Customs gate, and it was our turn to line up, with the other commercial vehicles that were waiting to clear Customs – our little Matrix sandwiched between two massive semi-trailers.  “Are you commercial?” asked a bridge attendant.  “Yes, we’re commercial”.  Weird! Us?  Commercial shippers?  We’re just a Mom and Dad, bringing our Matrix to our son and his wife so they can have a good car for their family!  But to good ol’ Uncle Sam, we were commercial shippers, and our goods were potentially subject to inspection.  Not that they’d find anything … my Mom’s dentures had been cleaned out of the car three years previously, when we received the car from my parents’ estate  🙂

Suddenly the whole process, which had been going so smoothly until now, seemed to slow to a crawl.  There were about six trucks ahead of us, and each truck appeared to be taking between 5-10 minutes to clear Customs.  We were almost out of gas, having decided to wait until we were in the USA to gas up, so we kept our engine turned off except when someone cleared Customs and the line moved.  Would we get there on time?  Would we run out of gas? Would Uncle Sam show kindness to us and let our Matrix into the country?  Would we be able to contact Chris after crossing the bridge?  Would Jeff be able to come and meet us?  It’s easy to trust when all the questions have easy answers.  Real trust is all about unanswered questions.  Real trust is when, after you’ve done everything you know to do, you realize that you still can’t control the outcome, and you choose to rely on the Lord’s promise “It’ll be OK because I’ll be with you”.

Finally we got to the Customs window.  Our car hadn’t run out of gas – yet.  It was our turn.  This was the moment of truth.

The Customs agent looked down on us from what seemed like a great height, as his window was positioned to enable him to talk to semi-trailer drivers who sit about 10 feet off the ground.  After driving up to the window, I could no longer see him at all, but I heard a disembodied voice calling down to me : “Can I help you?”  I shouted back : “I can’t hear you very well!”.   “Get out of the car, then!” the voice called back.  The man seemed helpful enough.  Probably our visit was an amusement – a bit of variety in what must surely be a somewhat tedious job.  (“Guess who I checked through Customs today, dear?”).  Eventually we managed to communicate why we were there, and he scanned our paperwork and told us to go ahead, after a few words about parents who were still giving their kids handouts.  I thought to myself, maybe he doesn’t fully understand God’s generosity – but God did use him to show us His favour!  He didn’t even charge us the usual fee.  Praise the Lord.

Next challenge : get gas and get hold of Chris.  Gas – no problem.  Trying to contact Chris – call failed.  Since my Blackberry doesn’t seem to be working at the moment, try to find a pay phone.  None to be found.  What to do? Pray, of course!  Answer to prayer: “Go to Stonewell’s shop and you’ll know what to do next”.    We got there – almost exactly at our original target time – and someone was already there, waiting for us!  Whew!  Thank you, Lord.  Jeff – a middle-aged guy like me, filling in on a job that he evidently had not done for a while – had a bit of trouble printing the label that had to be affixed to our Matrix to show that it had been legally imported into the USA.  Between Chris (by phone) and myself (in person), we helped him figure it out.  He talked about how hard it had been for his son to find a job, and how grateful he was to be able to help his son out.  I understood how he felt.

The rest was easy.  Long, tiring, but easy.  We got to our hotel – a bit strung out, and desperate for sleep.  We left very early the next morning, and got through (or around) Chicago with no problems, thanks to excellent directions from Keith (Heather’s father).   We had an opportunity to help a fellow traveller who had run out of money at a gas station, and later had a great breakfast at a country diner in a historic village called Cherry Valley, Illinois, where we were quite obviously the only guests from out of town.  We drove for hours through many miles of early fall beauty – fields ready for harvest, interspersed with forests and the occasional city.  We got to Bloomington, got the car cleaned up and ready for its new owners, and had a delightful – if brief – visit with Simeon and Heather.  After a few moments of uncertainty, little Sophie remembered us (“Gamma ! Gampa!”)  and it was a joy to see her again.   The next day, we flew back to Ottawa where Reuben and Jess met us at the airport, took us home and fed us comfort food – just what we needed after a long journey.

So, I am at the end of my tale.  But why, you may well ask, did I bother to recount this particular narrative?

First, it was a great joy to be able to bless my children with this car.  They had not yet been able to obtain a really good family vehicle, and Marion and I had an opportunity to provide them with one.  The rest was simple – just do it!  We are made to give.  Even though my Dad was somewhat of a skeptic in matters of faith, one of the Kingdom values that he modelled very well was the value of generosity.  Many times my parents had helped us out when our children were young and our budget was tight.   To be in a position to do the same for my children – in different forms for each child – is a delight.  To be able to pass on a vehicle from grandparent to parent to child is probably quite unusual, but for me this was a source of deep satisfaction especially because I know it will meet their need so well.

Second, our children give back to us more than they know.  Simeon and Heather’s obvious affection and gratitude, little Sophie’s hugs, playful smiles and games of peekaboo, and Reuben and Jess’ care for us upon our return – these things fill our hearts with contentment.  We are blessed beyond deserving.

Third, as already mentioned, I saw so many evidences of God’s grace along the way.  This visit reaffirmed for me that we are made to give, and if are faithful to give out what God has so freely entrusted to us, He will always bless us.  It also reaffirmed for me that if we are seeking to obey the Lord, He will never leave us high and dry.  It’s easy to believe this about other people – especially those who do great deeds.  It may not be as easy for us to believe it about ourselves, but the Lord desires to show us His trustworthiness in smaller adventures like this one, so that we can rely on Him for the grace needed to take on bigger challenges with joy and courage when He calls us to them.

Every time we step out in faith and rediscover God’s faithfulness, our hearts are being prepared for the next adventure.  I have just learned that our missionary friend Gola has seen a door open for him to travel to India (from his current base in Indonesia) to preach the good news of Jesus, the Saving and Healing One.  Will God provide for him?  Of course.  Will we help him?  Of course.  What else would we do?


Life in the hallway

Thus far I have said very little in these blog posts about how I make my living. For the record, for the past thirteen years I have been earning my daily bread in the field of information technology as an Oracle database developer/analyst. After my year at business college (1996-1997), I worked for almost two years for my good friend Graham Brum, who was at the time the area manager for Omega Logistics of Canada. Graham did me a huge favour by giving me a chance to get some experience in my new line of work, and then in December 1998 I repaid him by leaving him high and dry (actually I wasn’t that hard to replace, and I think he’s forgiven me) and taking what felt like a huge leap of faith into the world of IT contracting.

I remember clearly that when the door opened for me to do contract work after less than two years’ experience in my new field, my decision to go this route was only partly based on financial considerations. At that time, people who did contract IT work (aka consultants, although the label is sometimes a misnomer) typically got paid better than permanent employees, and this was considered to be appropriate compensation for the lack of benefits and the insecurity of not having a permanent job. I was the sole breadwinner for our family of six, as my wonderful wife Marion was fully employed home-schooling our four active children. We had just bought a house after having rented during the previous six-and-a-half low-income years of church planting and business college, so we were financially stretched with new obligations even though our income had increased. So, I was attracted by the promise of higher pay that came with being a consultant, as well as the prospect of being able to reduce taxes by splitting my income with Marion, who was now my business partner in our newly created corporation.

Marion and I, of course, were not blind to these financial advantages, even though they came with some attendant risks. But when we made the decision that I should become a contract professional rather than seeking a permanent job in the IT field, we sensed that we were being led in this direction for several reasons, finances being only one. Considerations of time and energy played a part in the decision, as we were still involved in church planting and I wanted to put some time limits around the demands of my work, which was easier as a contract professional than as an employee in private industry. However, besides all that, we also sensed the Spirit telling us that doing contract work would be an opportunity to grow in faith. And this has in fact proven to be true.

While some of the colleagues with whom I have worked over the years have been with the same client for years on end, I have worked on fourteen different projects during my eleven years of contract IT work. That means fourteen rounds of contacting potential clients, tweaking resumes and trusting God to work something out, fourteen changes of scene, fourteen new teams, new managers and new work roles to adjust to. Often as one contract drew to a close I would have no idea where the next one was coming from, yet always the Lord was faithful to provide work for me.

Not only that, the work that God provided – although always within the world of Oracle technology – was very diverse, so that I never really developed a single area of expertise. This has given me a breadth of knowledge and experience which has considerable advantages, but it has also often meant that I would start a new contract feeling somewhat vulnerable and having to do a lot of new learning. Even the pay scales have varied widely. Some people have the mistaken impression that because we are called consultants, all IT contract professionals are on a government gravy train, earning massive six-figure salaries for comparatively little work. Not so. In fact, things have shifted so much that my colleagues and I now find that we often get paid less than employees who do comparable work, certainly when employee benefit packages are factored in.

Not that I’m complaining – my family and I have been well provided for and richly blessed over the past eleven years. I never wanted to be somebody’s employee anyway – I just wanted to serve the Lord and provide for my family. Contract work has allowed me to do that while teaching me many valuable lessons, not the least of which has been the development of a more entrepreneurial approach to life. So while some of my colleagues find themselves quite discontent with their lot, I can’t really echo those sentiments. I can say, though, that it has been an interesting ride, with many unexpected twists and turns. They have been challenging years, but good ones. Among the many lessons that the Lord has been attempting to work into me during these years, surely one of them must have something to do with flexibility.

So what’s my point? Quite simply, I now find myself without work for the first time in almost six years, and seeking God for clarity and direction. During my eleven years of contract work, on only a couple of occasions did I leave voluntarily because something better was on the horizon. Most often I have seen a new opportunity materialize, seemingly from out of nowhere, just as the current one has been about to expire. This has happened more times than I can count, and it seems to be the Lord’s preferred method of dealing with me in these situations. It’s a bit like one of those nail-biting hockey games where the home team scores the tie-breaking goal with only a few seconds left in regulation time. Occasionally, however, the game has gone into overtime, so to speak, and that is where we are at now.

Not being in control of our own life is the one experience that most people try with all their might to avoid. Yet for me, I have come to the place where I don’t want to be in control, I just want to know the next step in the game plan so that I can get it right. At the moment I have the sense that I am where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to be doing, and that something new will materialize in the near future. I’m OK with that, I know I’m in good hands, and I am even enjoying the time off – but all the same, part of me would like to have it settled. To quote a song by Caleb Davidson, former youth pastor of City Church and a good friend and former band-mate of my sons Joe, Simeon and Reuben, I currently find myself

… in the hallway …
in between the doorways of now and not yet

And while I truly am OK with being in this in-between time, I can’t deny that it’s a bit uncomfortable and I hope it doesn’t last too long – although I also know, God being God, that it will last as long as He thinks it needs to last in order to accomplish the work He wants to accomplish in Marion and me.

So why is this even worth sharing? Simply because learning to truly trust God is where the rubber hits the road for most Christ-followers. It’s the single biggest challenge in the life of a disciple. We can say we trust God as long as he doesn’t upset our applecart, but when he changes the game plan we find out whether our trust is real or whether it’s only words. My greatest ambition in life is to be a man of God – a man who makes a difference to others because I represent something of the life of Christ to those around me. My work in technology, while it has been interesting and rewarding, isn’t ultimately all that important to me. In fact at one time I didn’t even really want to do it. I have since come to enjoy it and have gotten quite good at it, if my clients’ comments are any indication, and I am very grateful to have had this experience. But if God now wants to close this door and open a different door that will lead me to a different form of provision, I’m fine with that. I don’t really think that’s the game plan quite yet, at least not as far as I can tell at the moment, but I have a hunch that one reason God occasionally drops one of these episodes of uncertainty into my life is to remind me of who is God and who is not.  So – yes Lord, I get the message. I trust that you have something in store for me, even though I can’t see it just yet. I know your timing is perfect and that you are looking for faith from me. Please strengthen my heart so that I don’t get bogged down with self-preoccupation. Thank you for the freedom you give to trust You and serve others no matter what is going on around us.


Will someone please just tell the truth?

I turned to the CTV news this morning and discovered that another aspiring politician, erstwhile Toronto mayoral candidate Adam Giambrone, has had his private infidelity exposed and has stepped down from the race to succeed outgoing mayor David Miller.  When the story first broke and it appeared that Giambrone was planning to stay in the mayoral race, one of the most perceptive commentators on the story observed ironically, “Don’t worry, a politician’s private integrity has nothing to do with his public integrity. Right…”

In a post on the Tiger Woods saga a few weeks ago, I commented that none of us is in a position to condemn public figures for their personal moral failures.   I stand by this assertion, but that doesn’t mean that the rapid decline in standards of public integrity isn’t a cause for concern.  I can’t help noticing that Canadians seem increasingly cynical about the truthfulness of politicians, business people, spiritual leaders, employers, and other authority figures.  Effective leadership in any arena requires that trust be established.  In an atmosphere of general cynicism about the motives and integrity of leaders, this task becomes much more difficult.

The Torah contains a fascinating chapter (Leviticus 27) on vows.  Essentially these rules were put in place as incentives for people to keep the vows that they had made to the Lord.  The unstated assumption behind this teaching is that in our fallen, corrupted condition, we humans are inclined to try to weasel out of promises if they become too costly or inconvenient.  By the time of Jesus this had apparently become commonplace, prompting him to address the issue head-on by saying that making vows or oaths is a bad idea.  His point was that people of integrity don’t need to use vows or oaths to certify that what they’re about to say is really true – they just tell the truth, all the time.  So, for example, Jesus would say that swearing on the Bible in court should have no impact on your testimony; if you are truthful, you are truthful all the time.

It’s easy to become disappointed or even offended at leaders who are untrustworthy.  However, since we can’t change others but only ourselves,  a more productive response is to examine our own hearts.  Do we exhibit the qualities of truthfulness and trustworthiness that we look for in others?   Jesus said, Let your yes be yes and your no be no.  Anything more than this comes from the evil one.  In other words – please just tell the truth.

The choice to walk a straight path rather than a crooked one is a daily decision; it’s a reflection of our basic convictions about life.  The book of Proverbs (10:9) reminds us that our truthfulness – or lack thereof – will eventually become visible to all.  There is no “truthfulness switch” that can be turned on or off at will.  Integrity may not seem very exciting and it’s not always convenient, but it is absolutely foundational to a believable testimony and a stable and productive life.

Do I want the people I work with to know that they can believe what I say without question?  Then I need to practice truthfulness all the time – even when I have just made a mistake, and an honest report might make me look bad.  Even if I look bad because of my mistake, in the end an honest report will win me a better reputation than a lie to save face.  And in the eyes of God – whose verdict is the only one that ultimately matters – truthfulness always looks infinitely better than any attempt to hide or camouflage the truth.

Do I want my children to be truthful with me?  Then I need to be truthful in all my dealings.  If I cheat on my taxes by making meal or travel claims that don’t reflect reality just because I can get away with it, should I be surprised when my child cheats on an exam?  If I can lie when it’s convenient, why can’t he?  If I ask my child to tell an unwanted caller that I’m not at home, I shouldn’t be surprised later on to find my child betraying my trust.  If she can lie for me, she can lie to me.

Do I want to have good sex with my wife?  Then I need to be transparent with her.  Sex is not only physical – it is about emotional and spiritual intimacy.  I can’t expect my wife to desire intimacy with me if I’m hiding things from her.  A liar is a divided person; but she didn’t marry part of me, she married all of me.  If I expect my wife to be excited about being with me, I need to bring my whole self to the marriage bed.

Do I want to please the Lord more than I want to please myself or anyone else?  Do I genuinely believe that He is trustworthy and rewards those who place their trust in Him?  Do I understand that truthfulness and humility attract the favour of God?  If I understand these things, then I will be highly motivated to ask God daily to cleanse and train my heart, and make of me a person whose character reflects His integrity and uprightness.

Will someone please just tell the truth?  Good question.   Let’s be that person.


Reflections from Minnesota – Day 2

Who does your life belong to?

Yesterday Simeon and Heather dedicated their new baby daughter to God.   Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and family friends were there to witness the event and to pray for her.   Of course we prayed for her to be blessed.  But what does it really mean to be blessed?

Babies have very little control over their own life.   They are almost totally dependent on someone else to look after them.   Babies and young children also find it easy to trust.   I’m being reminded of both these facts as Marion and I interact with our baby granddaughter.

This morning Marion and I took Sophie for a ride in her stroller.  Eventually she became distressed and began to cry.   As soon as I picked her up and cuddled her and began to speak to her gently, she relaxed into my arms with a sigh and let herself be cared for – even though she barely knows me.  Jesus said that anyone who does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall never enter it.   I think he was onto something …

We tend to think that we are blessed when things go our way, but Jesus said that if we try to save our own life we will end up losing it.  He said the only way to find true life – the life that is worth living, the life that cannot be destroyed by death or “bad fortune” – is to give up control  of our own life and live for His Kingdom.   Little children instinctively understand the trust and dependency part of that equation.  But babies are also very self-focussed, totally absorbed with their own needs and desires.

Life with God – the only life that is worth living – requires us in a sense to be like little children, and in another sense to be mature in our choice-making.   It requires us to relax into God’s arms – but also to make the daily decision to leave behind our self-preoccupation and walk with God into the tasks and challenges that He calls us to take on as His representatives on earth.  It takes an adult to walk out the daily choice of surrendering the will to God and actively pursuing the life of a disciple.

That’s the kind of life I want for Sophie – and for myself.  Not necessarily the easiest life in the world, but the most rewarding – a life with eternity in view.   It starts when I realize that my life doesn’t belong to myself, but to the One who died for me so that I might live for Him and in Him.