Victory in this Season of Grace

Having just come through Easter, the victory of the resurrection should be fresh on our minds. The words out of Isaiah “death is swallowed up in victory” accurately sets the scene of Easter. Complete victory was won. This is the testimony we walk in. This is the good news of the gospel.

So how does this apply to the season we are in now? Are we walking as victors in Christ or hiding out waiting for the season to pass? Is the kingdom of God on defense or is his kingdom advancing?

God is not sleeping through this season. He is not waiting until this pandemic stops. In fact at no point in our lives is that the case. There is no season in which God turns to us and says, “Let’s just make it through. We are in this together.” Thinking of this, I am reminded of when Joshua asks the man in front of Jericho, “Whose side are you on?” It turns out it is the commander of the Lord’s armies and he replies, “I am on the Lord’s side.” (Joshua 5). Whose side are you on? Being on the Lord’s side, is there any reason to cower or fear? What could make us just wait out a season?

God is not taking a break or treading water. He is very active! His kingdom isn’t rebuffed but ever advancing.

There is a season for everything as Solomon learned. But there is no season where the gospel has no say. There is no season where God is not present and active. We need to stop looking at life through the lens of the world and start seeing it through the lens of the gospel. We need to understand God has plans he is accomplishing right now and he is inviting us to join him.

I am finding when I take time to listen, his wisdom, warning, direction and correction is abundantly clear at this time. He is revealing things I have held on to and freeing me from the burden. He is giving me insight for what he wants to accomplish and inviting me to join him. He is revealing truth in scripture in new ways, giving incredible wealth in revelation. I am hearing testimony of the same thing from those who have sought the Lord regarding what this season is about. He has given such a grace to see him clearly and clear out the temple (we are temples of the living God).

It is time to stop consoling each other and grieving the life that was. (Grieving is not a bad thing. If you have lost a loved one, please take the time to grieve the loss with God.) But grieving life as it was? I am finding what this pandemic has done is expose all of the things we anchored ourselves to instead of Jesus. Our health is in question, finances uncertain, job security has disappeared, support networks destroyed, and friends and family made distant. So many things we placed our hope in and relied on for security just got ripped away. If you ask me, this is a wave of grace exposing where we hadn’t allowed the gospel to transform our lives, where we haven’t surrendered and trusted Jesus and have not believed the truth of the gospel.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Matthew 7:24-27

The gospel is unshakable. It is the anchor that cannot be swayed by the storms of life. When the waves hit they are rebuffed because our security is not in this world. We need to stop consoling each other as believers when we are distraught from these things being taken away. We must see this as an opportunity to repent, confess how we have not trusted Jesus, and allow him into whatever area was exposed. If anxiety comes over a stock portfolio collapsing or job loss we say, “God I confess that I have relied on myself and the wealth of this world for my provision and security. I surrender this area to you. Would you expose the lies I have believed that have kept me from the gospel, and reveal the truth?”

Let’s look at it this way. Before this season hit, we had the same issues. The pandemic just exposed them. There wasn’t some massive victory by the enemy causing us to suddenly not trust God or cast a shadow over the gospel. The issues were just “manageable” or hidden before. The answer is not to stay hidden and wait for this season to finish. WE NEED TO STOP TRYING TO CONSOLE ONE ANOTHER, AND MANAGE OUR WAY THROUGH THIS! This is a window, by the grace of God, for freedom and to learn to trust God through our surrender in all of the exposed areas.

I have said this before and this probably won’t be the last time. I really like conflict. It is actually a place of comfort for me. Conflict is when something is “incompatible or at variance”. It activates my hope because I know it is what allows for growth. This season is one of conflict for all of us. We are being hit with a realization we are not as secure as we thought we were. We are being hit with the reality we were placing our security in things that are being wiped out. Don’t avoid this conflict. Conflict is what inevitably happens when anything new is introduced. It challenges the old way and forces us to change or remain, depending on what we decide.

The act of allowing God in through repentance is what sparks the spiritual growth in us. These moments of conflict where what is inside is exposed provides opportunity for freedom. We need to start realizing we can’t ignore it when we see the gospel at odds with our hearts and behaviour. These moments of awareness provide opportunity for us to become anchored in Christ and free of the chains attached to the false anchors of this world.

There are ample opportunities for spiritual growth at such a time as this. We need to start looking at these circumstances as the grace of God because the freedom the gospel offers is way better than anything we had before this season.

There is no going back to how things were. Thank you Jesus for that! I don’t want to lose the freedom I have found in this season. I want my testimony to be: I used to fear and toil in vain on my own but Jesus saved me and now I am free, and free forevermore.

My Covid Response

It has taken me awhile to sit down and write about this Covid-19. Although I have more time on my hands, I always write out of lessons God has walked me through. I write when I feel freedom and clarity to share the lessons I have internalized. I also wait until I get a sense it is the time to share those thoughts with the world. Social Media is my medium for more spontaneous revelation in these days (of which God is sharing in abundance!).

There are two thoughts that keep swirling around in my head. They have become the focus of a lot of phone and video conversations. The first is that this time came as no surprise to God. He has been aware of this moment and season for all of us as individuals, as a society (global and local) and as the church. He has a grace for this moment to usher us into what he has planned for this time. The second thought is that I do not want this season to pass us before we experience the good things he has for us.

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.

Isaiah 40:27-28

This thought that “God is not surprised” brings me such peace. His view is not linear like ours. That is why we can receive prophetic words from him. He shares with us in part as a preparation, but he sees in full. There is no death, job loss, financial crisis, gift, or victory that surprises him. He is sufficient in all of these situations. He is prepared to supply all that I need in any situation. He is sufficient and blessing us in this moment we are in. What he asks is for us to call upon his name and ask for him to provide what we need.

This crisis is doing something extraordinary. It is pulling away those things in this world we cling to for support. Our health, our wealth, our friends and family, our ability to travel and yes, our independence (maybe read back to my last blog). It is revealing the things we think bring freedom and happiness and exposing them as fraudulent. Even movies and TV shows aren’t calming people or giving them life.

There is a beauty in this moment that is stripping away the things that take the place of God in our lives. Those idols we cling to are being shown as worthless and lifeless at this time. Realizing God knew this was coming leads to the beautiful revelation he is ready to take on being God in this moment. As all of those other things aren’t able to provide in this moment, God is. As all of those other things can’t silence the fear, God can bring peace. As all of those idols give no clarity on the future, God brings hope. As all of our healthcare systems are overburdened, God is still our healer, and our future can be secure with the knowledge that eternity is with Jesus!

He is prepared to be the place we turn to.

I have been spending the majority of my scripture time in the story of Moses from the point of the plagues in Egypt to the time that Moses is forced to lead his people in the wilderness. It is interesting God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to letting the Israelites go. There is something God wanted to accomplish in the season before freeing Israel (Exodus 6-12).

“But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses.”
Exodus 9:12

We might think the best thing would be for God to soften Pharaoh’s heart so Israel could leave Egypt right away. But there was something the Israelites needed to learn before their exodus. They needed to see who their God really was. They needed to see his power and his care for them. I think of how he instructed them to put blood over their door frames to be protected from the death that awaited the Egyptians. God was teaching them, there is nothing I can’t do, and you can look to me as your protector and provider. This season became a point to look back to for generations to come as a reminder of who God is. What could have been a quick moment of deliverance, became a lasting reminder of who we can turn to, and that he knows the ending before we do.

The people of Israel didn’t fully learn the lesson and we get a picture of Israel turning to an idol of their own creation when Moses is gone too long (Exodus 32). The high priest himself enabled this rebellion against God. Instead of just glancing over this, God told a whole generation that they couldn’t enter the promised land because of their rebellion.

“because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Hebrews 12:6

Is this because God is a jealous God? Yes and no. Yes, he instructs us to turn from all idols, but it is not out of vengeance but grace that Israel must wander the desert. Like any good parent, God disciplines those he loves. He does this so they (and future generations) will learn to trust him and his ways. Discipline is not a pleasant thing but it is always good from God. Discipline looks like long suffering until the point that we get it. His grace will always sustain us in the suffering and we will turn to rejoice in it.

The dangerous thing about this season is if we let it pass without embracing it, we will be left behind. This is not because God isn’t gracious but because we have refused his love. God does not abandon us, but our rebellion (sin) creates a chasm between us which removes us from his presence. The good news is that at any point we repent that chasm is filled by the cross and we are invited back into his presence and provision. But if we miss that moment of grace we could be left behind until that moment of repentance (or indefinitely).

This is the second thought that has been driving my prayer life. “God, I don’t want to miss what you have for us in this season by your grace. I don’t want this to pass and go forward the same as I was before this. I want your church to embrace the good things and discipline you have for us now! Please don’t let this time end until we have heard and entered into your provision for this season.”

Just like the Israelite in Egypt, I don’t want us to miss the provision of God and be unprepared for the wilderness ahead.

Remember how King Saul lost his anointing? Although he had good intentions, he ignored the instruction of God and didn’t wait for Samuel to offer sacrifices. He offered them himself and then became defensive when he was exposed. It seems like he was given such a short time to repent of what he did, and he lived the rest of his life without the anointing of God. It instead passed to David. I don’t want us to live the experience of Saul! Please don’t let this be us at the end of this season.

I have such hope for the church in this season. My hope is we will embrace a fear of the Lord and a lifestyle of holiness we couldn’t have imagined prior. My hope is we will understand the gospel in a new way and be bringers of hope and peace to everywhere our feet touch. This is the invitation of God. Can you hear it? He has the storehouses of heaven to provide for us. Will that be our provision?

The Myth of Independence

For so long we have embraced independence. We use the term independent as a compliment and something to strive towards. The thought of giving up our independence is laughable. The act of surrender is the act of letting go of our independence. It is allowing another to have influence, and even authority over our actions and decisions. But so many old hymns speak of surrendering all to God. How can that be a desire if independence is so important?

The act of surrender throughout history has looked very different. The results and ramifications have also varied, but have influenced the way we view surrender. The Roman practice of surrender on the battlefield was to lay down their shields. In ancient Greece, the surrendering party would send an olive branch to the opposing forces. In more recent history, we see a white flag being waved. These are the practices or the act of surrender by the conquered side. They were then at the whims of the conqueror. Throughout history there have been very different demands placed on the conquered foe. Some empires demanded tribute. Some still killed part of the population and set up city rulers under the conqueror’s control. In most cases the conquered group or nation would be at the beck and call of their overlords. If called upon, they would be forced to go to battle for the conquerors.

We know from scripture the nation of Israel had multiple points where they were conquered and surrendered. We see this in Egypt where they are enslaved and in Babylon where Daniel and his cohort are serving the court (as eunuchs I might add). In the Roman Empire, we see a mix of slaves, foreigners and Roman citizens who could all originate from the same region of the world.

In most cases, there would be some sort of negotiation of the terms of surrender, what the losing side would need to give up. The terms have differed across the ages and depending on the nations in command. One thing, however, is constant: surrender has always been seen as a failure. To give up some control and enslave yourself to an opposing force is a failure.

In contrast to all of those examples, surrendering to God isn’t losing. Let’s look at what happened in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve, though they didn’t understand the terms, surrendered to sin. They handed all of creation over to an oppressing force that ever since has had us in its grip. We do not have the power to rise up against the force of evil that has enslaved us. We cannot rally together to overthrow darkness. What it takes is our surrender back to God. Surrendering to God is the act (made possible through the victory of Jesus) of returning to our previous state.

“Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?”
Romans 6:16

The trick that Satan used on Adam and Eve was convincing them God was withholding and not allowing them to be truly free. The reality was very different, however. It was true freedom they were experiencing, freedom from the oppression of sin.

The difference between surrender to God and surrender to anything or anyone else is that God created us and knows what we are made for. That is exactly what he wants for us, and what he gives to us. Complete surrender to God allows him to vanquish all other things we have surrendered to. It will remove us from oppression and make us truly free.

Scripture tells us little of what the garden was like. But we know Adam and Eve had purpose and freedoms, without anxiety, need or struggle. The only restriction given was so they would not become enslaved to an oppressor.

God is so unlike any other being or force. He has no needs, no pride or ego to serve. He doesn’t need to flex his muscles with us or prove himself. His nature is always benevolent and good. He doesn’t wish to control, but to free us.

I believe surrender is such a difficult thing to embrace because the thought of surrendering to anyone else is crippling. Especially in an age where independence is so valued, the thought of handing over our independence sounds like and feels like oppression.

Independence is something we highly value as a society. Cambridge dictionary defines independence as “not influenced or controlled in any way by other people, events, or things”. Is that even possible?! I would like someone to tell me one time they were ever independent, based on that definition. I bet I could find a way you were influenced by someone else in making that decision.

I would argue we are always being influenced by something or someone. There is no single act that is so isolated it has no outside influence. By this definition, God would be the only being capable of true independence. He existed before all other things and out of his own desire created all things.

Even though we don’t usually outright state it, we associate independence with freedom. Ever since Adam and Eve were tricked into this association, we have maintained this idea. This makes surrender so difficult for us. We need to escape from this lie. We need to renounce it. We need to embrace the truth that only in Christ are we truly free. Only in surrendering to God can we find the freedom we long for.

Surrendering to God is not like surrendering to a nation. There are no negotiated terms of surrender. We need to surrender all we are to be influenced and directed by God. He does not ask us to pay tribute, or maintain partial pursuit of independence. It needs to be a complete submission so we may be free of the other influences.

“Submit therefore to God Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”
James 4:7

The only hope we have to find freedom from death is surrender. The only way to be free of the grips of sin is to submit to God and resist influences that oppose Him. This freedom is available but we must first hand over our independence and trust God rather than the lie of independence.

Embracing Lent

For much of the evangelical church, and possibly the Orthodox and Catholic Church, there is some awareness of the practice of Lent, and maybe even some thought of a biblical reasoning, but the history is foreign. Lent, like many other traditions, has evolved over time. At first it was a three-day preparation and has become a 40-day period on the church calendar that, for some, focuses on repentance and penance.

The word Lent (old english derived from Lentin) actually just means “springtime” or “lengthening of days”. It is more a description of the actual physical season and not the spiritual practices. The latin word however (which would have been the term used in the Catholic Church for centuries) is quadragesima, which refers to it’s 40-day length.

At first Lent was a short three-day preparation for Easter, but as the practice of baptisms on Easter Sunday were adopted by the church, it turned into a three-week preparation for new converts. It was a time focused on learning the core beliefs. It was like an incubator for those preparing to see their old lives washed away and embracing a new way of living. The early church joined these new believers in fasting and prayer as an encouragement.

As the church started to baptize infants the practice maintained some of the focus but turned into a 40-day period focused more on repentance and penance. The Catholic Church introduced mandatory minimum practices regarding the eating of meat on certain days. The 40 days came from the period of time that Jesus fasted in the wilderness where he ate nothing and was tempted by the devil.

As the practices have evolved over time, I think the purpose of Lent was lost a bit along the way. Lent was a time of incubation and preparation. I believe this focus must remain central in the season. As we abstain from food and other things in our lives, the lack we feel should increase our reliance on God and turn our focus towards him. It should help clarify where our true sustenance is found. This takes purpose and training.

I found out recently there are still a number of churches that have the practice of baptizing on Easter. This excites me. Baptism is an act of obedience that reflects what we celebrate in Easter. Our old selves are put in the ground with Jesus and we are raised to new life.

Lent should be a season where we are more keenly focused and reliant on God. It is a season of reflection and learning. Lent becomes lost when all we do is abstain from certain foods or practices. I would argue that Lent then becomes meaningless (though well intentioned).

As we continue on in this season, it is important to note this season is not supposed to be easy. I think part of the reason the whole church and not just the new converts participated in Lent is because it is something we need encouragement in. I understand Jesus went alone into the wilderness and endured the temptations of Satan, but Jesus is God and we are not. Partnering with each other to endure and redirect our attention to God is an important function of our brothers and sisters at this time.

Let us in anticipation of the harvest to come be vigilant in the season we have been called to. Not just following the letter of the law, but the spirit of the traditions. Let us turn our focus and reliance not on another created thing, but to God.

Whether you have started observing Lent or not, I would encourage you to look at how this season can best serve your increased reliance on God. I would recommend trying to simplify your life and getting to know the living God in intimate ways. Reflect on Jesus in the wilderness and the early church focusing on preparation.

As I write this the song lyrics from an old Brian Doerksen song comes to mind

“I lift my eyes up
Unto the mountains
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from you
Maker of heaven
Creator of the earth.

Oh, how I need you, Lord
You are my only hope.
You’re my only prayer.
So I will wait for you
To come and rescue me
Come and give me life.”

Lent should help us realize that these song lyrics reflect our constant state. Through stripping away the things we turn to instead of Jesus and focusing on him, we are able to see what brings true life. It prepares us to experience in all the fullness the celebration of the new life in Jesus we find in Easter. Like Jesus in the desert, we will find moments when we are tempted to turn away and try to find life in other things. (Read Luke 4)

Of note, the story of Jesus in the desert is what directly precedes Jesus’ public ministry. Although at times it might seem like a waste, Jesus models the importance of this season in our lives. May all you who read this be encouraged in this season to become keenly aware of your need for God, knowing true repentance as you strip away that which holds you back from the life God has waiting for you.

Expecting Opposition

I sometimes find myself projecting my beliefs or morals onto the world around me. I think that when people around me don’t follow the same set of biblical morals I do, they must feel guilty and know what they are doing is wrong.

I usually snap out of this mindset quickly. I realize I have been incredibly gifted with the Holy Spirit who instructs me, and a text (The Bible) that informs me. I realize I am becoming more and more aware of the way of God, and that those who do not know him have no reason to know how good his way is.

I have found this to be a freeing way to approach the world. When others wrong me, rather than being the victim, forgiveness comes quickly. Not only that, I see the potential opportunity to share Jesus with the people around me.

I was reading the story in Acts 17 where Paul and Silas are run out of Thessalonica by some Jews. They were shouting lying accusations, trying to get Paul and Silas arrested or killed. This was similar to the experience Jesus had when there were paid accusers telling lies to convict him. The more I read of scripture, the more I see this is the consistent behaviour of those opposed to Jesus.

It should come as no surprise that we today would face people who do the same. Their opposition is not just to the person of Jesus but also his way. They find their morales in something other than the way of Jesus. It makes sense this would sadden us, but it should not shock us.

I find there are 3 response options we have when we encounter this kind of situation.

  1. We can act as a victim and lash out.
  2. We can join on the same level.
  3. We can forgive them and choose the way of Jesus.

It is really important as we learn, to stop and gather ourselves before making a decision. I believe option 3 can become second nature to us, but that takes time and maturity. Just because we follow Jesus doesn’t mean we instantly make all the right decisions.

As I write this, I feel the need to clarify who I am calling to this biblical response. Those who do not know Jesus have no reason to share my convictions. They may in some way agree with me, but I am not an accountability for them, for I have no one to hold them accountable to. To my brothers and sisters in Christ, on the other hand, I have the obligation to remind of the way of Jesus. Again this is not as a victim, but one who wishes to see them flourish.

I believe that as followers of Jesus we are called to very high standards. We are ambassadors of Christ and our actions should reflect his way of doing things.

I am a big sports fan. If you ask the people who have played with or watched basketball with me, they will know I hate it when players flop or embellish a call. Some will call it acting, but I call it deceitful. They are essentially trying to lie to the refs to get them to call something that has not happened. To me, this isn’t just a part of the game, but an immoral act. I have come to grips with this being a part of today’s game, but I would still not participate in it.To me it would be like hiding conditions in the fine print of a contract. You might call my convictions petty or small, but I think all of our actions no matter how small should reflect the way of Jesus.

It is so freeing to realize the world is lost and in need of a saviour. We cannot, nor should, try to align their actions with our own. Rather, we should live the way of Jesus and invite others to know and follow him.

So many times I have found myself frustrated at the Patriot’s or Astro’s cheating scandals, or basketball players who seem to flop on every play. But now I see the reason I would act differently is not because I am better than they are, but because I know the living God who has shown me a better way. It is no longer anger, but compassion, that fills me.

I wish I could say I have mastered this. The truth is, this is a new lesson for me. It is a result of seeing the extent to which God has revealed his ways to me and forgiven me. I see more and more the distinction between my old life and my new. I am thankful for this revelation and feel so much more free being the odd one out.

“So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.”
Colossians 3:5

As we mature as believers, there should be more and more that separates us from the world we live in. There will be moral convictions that have changed, and some things we must give up entirely to follow Jesus. This will create an ever-growing chasm between us and the world. We will find more and more opportunities to be frustrated by the actions or words of others. That is no reason to remove ourselves, but more reason to become a light in the darkness.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Romans 12:2

Remaining in the way of Jesus is a conscious choice. We will daily have opportunities to go along with practices that are opposed to Jesus. We must spend time in his presence and in his word. We must continually be transformed by him with the renewing of our minds. God is so faithful to prepare us for what we face if we allow him. We will so easily align ourselves with what everyone around us is doing if we are not prepared. This should not cause us to fear, but to learn to listen to the voice of God and be prepared for what he allows us to face.

God is so gracious to walk with us, not so that we can change the people around us, but so that we can live transformed lives that reveal that Jesus is alive.

Emmanuel

As advent is soon ending and Christmas is almost upon us, I have been thinking of the anticipation the prophets had in the coming Messiah. They had such hope and expectation for God to save their people from the oppression of this world. They longed for an end to the suffering and separation from the living God.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Isaiah 7:14

The first time we see the name Immanuel (or Emmanuel) is from the prophet Isaiah. The name literally translates to God is with us. This is a prophecy telling of God being born into this world. This is the center of what we are celebrating at Christmas, that God descended and dwells among his people. This is the good news of Christmas, he is here with us.

I can’t help but think of the contrast between the wonder of that first celebration and now, how we have lost the wonder of God being with us. That first celebration must have been pretty incredible, with angels showing up to announce the birth and a miracle being witnessed in the virgin birth.

There were no decorations, no smell of baked goods, no presents (that we know of) on that day. There was just a bunch of animals, outcasts (shepherds) and Mary and Joseph in a cave with the animals, filled with wonder and worship. They all knew this child was God in flesh, the king above all kings, and they were amazed and privileged to be invited to the celebration.

The Shepherds were invited by angels to the celebration, and came to find Mary, Joseph and Jesus (who were strangers to them) where they were told to go. They believed in faith and their response was first of praise, and then of telling the whole town of what had occurred. Mary (let’s be honest, is probably pretty worn out) took a different approach and more privately reflected on what just happened.

This whole interaction was about celebrating God being amongst them, worshipping the King who was present.The incredible thing is we can still worship the living God who is present with us. Yes, Jesus left to prepare a place for us, but the Holy Spirit is very present here with us. Emmanuel is still a very true name at this time.

When we think of our Christmas celebration, how central is Emmanuel? Are we still in wonder like the shepherds, praising our saviour and sharing the good news abroad? Or has the birthday boy taken a back seat? Has the celebration and all the trappings become the focus of this day and season?

Don’t get me wrong, I think celebration is best served with a feast and shared with others, and this should be a marvelous celebration each year. But I think we can get distracted by traditions and elements of the festivities. We forget to include God, let alone make him as the focal point for the entire day.

though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Philippians 2:6-7

Christmas should be a day to marvel at the fact that God not only thought of us, but took on the form of a human so he could dwell among us and make a way to forever be in our midst. The gift given in Jesus should take the spotlight throughout the celebrations. That doesn’t mean it is wrong to feast, share gifts, and celebrate our traditions.

Let’s remember that first celebration where the celebration was open to the stranger and the outcast. The focus was on the newborn saviour, God incarnate, God who was and is with us.

Renewed Hope

Last year as I was researching the season of Advent, I was surprised to find out the celebration wasn’t explicitly linked to Christmas until the middle ages. The church originally used this time to anticipate the second coming of Jesus. It wasn’t until centuries later the focus became more on the birth of Jesus.

What we have today is a season leading up until Christmas, focused on the already and the not yet. It is joining in the anticipation of Israel for the long expected messiah as well as the return of Jesus, when he will make all things right.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
John 14:1-3

This season, like Lent, is not about the celebration, but finding hope in what is to come. It is a time when we purposefully acknowledge this world is not where we belong, and we are waiting for Jesus to return like he said he would. Just like the promise of his birth foretold through the prophets, we know and look forward to the return he promised.

Over time, Advent for many of us has disappeared. It has become the pre-celebration of Christmas. We have Christmas parties and feasting throughout the time leading up to Christmas. It becomes about family and loved ones, being together and finding joy in this life. In many ways, this is contrary to what the season is supposed to be.

Hope can be a hard thing to hold on to. When our hope is in and for things in this life, there is a possibility of disappointment. That does not mean we should altogether do away with hoping for things in this life. God shows up in this life and not just in the next one. But our hope in the return of Jesus, and what he will bring, cannot be taken away. In fact, when we place our hope in his return, trials only increase our joy as we find our hope stands true.

Anticipation for the return of Jesus is focused on a time beyond this earth. It is built on what Jesus has already bought, but only as the first fruits of what is to come. Anticipation for the return of Jesus can be tough because there is no countdown clock. We think, How long must I wait for the promise to be fulfilled? It is like an engagement with no wedding date set.

The focused wait of Advent is meant to tune our hearts and minds to the kingdom of God. When our hope is set on things in this life, that is where our focus will be. When our hearts and minds are set on the return of Jesus, that is what we work towards, what we talk about, where our treasure is.

Advent helps reset our focus. The feast of Epiphany will follow, a season of celebrating Jesus’ presence with us. Emmanuel, God with us, came in the form of a baby to bring light into the darkness and restore us back to relationship with our maker.

I remember one of my mom’s sisters and her family would not decorate the house for Christmas until Christmas Eve. They wouldn’t mix the season of Advent with the season of Christmas. I didn’t understand this as a child. Why put off the celebration of something you love? What good does that do?

As I have grown older, I have come to know the greatest of treasures here does not compare to what we are looking forward to in Jesus’ return. He will bring an end to our pain and sorrow. The best celebration here will pale in comparison to a day in the house of the Lord. Advent reminds us that living for today is meaningless. It helps renew our hope and place it in something more deserving.

Advent should align us not to proper celebration for Christmas, but in placing our hope correctly, in something that is not temporary but everlasting. The practice of Advent produces hope in something that is not a present reality but eternal, not looking forward to the presents under the Christmas tree, or even the time around the table with friends and family.

As the rest of the world looks to the treasures in this world in this season, it may be harder to focus on what is to come, but abstinence is where we find joy in the hope. When we find opposition in our hope, it builds our character and strength.

Traditionally advent was a time of fasting and prayer. Like Lent, it was a time to abstain from the treasures of this life to find the treasure of real value. Wow! We have come a long way from this practice!

Why not give some things up this Advent season? It’s not too late to stop the Christmas movie binge, or to save those cookies for Christmas. Why not wait in this season? Why not spend some time exploring what life will be like when Jesus returns? Why not focus in this season on what is eternal? Why not share our hope with others, telling of what Jesus brought, and the hope we have in his return?

This is not a season of punishment, but reward. To find our hope realigned is in itself a treasure, one not easily stolen or dismayed.

Civic Duty

On Tuesday, in Canada, we exercised our civic duty, and privilege, in taking to the polls to vote for our nation’s representatives and leaders. This is a time when we have some of the most influence in shaping the future of our nation.

That being said, voting has nowhere near the power of prayer. Do not take this the wrong way. I will never pass up the opportunity to vote and will forever encourage others to do so in this country, but the power we possess in prayer, as we ask God to intervene, is far greater than any ballot we can submit. Our civic duty as believers goes far beyond the voting polls.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Ephesians 6:12

At times I find myself complaining and feeling stuck with the leadership of my country. In doing so, I take myself out of the fight for this land and people. Partisan politics can trick us into seeing the enemy as a person or a party. As followers of Jesus, we must acknowledge the ploys of the enemy but not be sucked into seeing the enemy as a person.

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”
Romans 13:1

When we look at the biblical setting of this letter written to the Romans, it is in the midst of the reign of one of the most brutal emperors and slayers of Christians there ever was in Nero. This passage was not conferring any legitimate respect for the person in leadership, but the office of leadership as God has allowed.

We do not belong here. This is our place of exile. We are to care for it and come under the authority of the leadership (because it has been placed there by God), but the happenings of this earth should not shake us. When the governing authority goes against our beliefs, or even against scripture, don’t panic.

Government authority has been against the practices of the church in much of the world, and for a lot of its existence. Although we have experienced freedom to practice as we wish in the great nation of Canada for so long, even if that changes, our being subject to authority doesn’t change. Our prayer for the leaders should not stop. We should still follow, as our faith allows, the laws of the land.

Our hope is not found in our leaders. Our hope is found in Christ alone. The party we voted for is not going to save us. Yes, we have a say in the process, but don’t let that draw you into resentment or complaining. We should want our leaders to thrive and not struggle. We should be praying that our leaders will receive wisdom and make good decisions that lead to peace, not hoping they fail.

I understand the inclination in partisan politics to see other parties as the enemy. There is an urge to cheer for their destruction so that they will not get another term. But isn’t that making an enemy out of men and women instead of seeing the true enemy in the process?

Let’s commit to praying for our leaders. Even when we don’t fully agree with the policy, let’s intercede for their decision-making ability, and pray they come to know the ways of the Lord so it may go well for us all. May we continually be aware our hope is in Christ and not in man. May we take comfort in the promise of struggle, and not expect policies to align with the kingdom of God but still intercede for it.

For we know that we belong to a kingdom that is not seen here on earth. Our hope will be fulfilled in the return of Jesus and not in the right government in power. Let us lean in with prayer to the happenings around us instead of critiquing from the peanut gallery.

Too Quick to Change

After my previous blog exploring the quick to respond transformation that God loves, I thought it would be helpful to pump the brakes in this one. Not all transformation is good for us. Change is a part of this life as a result of the impact of sin. We can either be transformed into the image of Christ or this world.

There are times we change quickly with the times without realizing we are actually changing into the image of a fallen man and not the perfection of Jesus. It is easy to get wrapped up in the movement and lure of culture. Change is appealing on many levels and deceptively looks like the way of God at times. Isn’t that the strategy of the serpent in Genesis who told Eve, “You will become like God.”

There is a danger with being swept up in change. Rather than being a part of the discerning process, a lot of people rely on the discernment of others. It could be a charismatic leader or a trusted community that could prompt this sudden shift in someone. History is proof of this. Throughout history people get swept up in ideology that brings about wars, genocide, idol worship and all manners of sin.

“ For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
2 Timothy 4:3-4

The new testament is full of warnings of false doctrines and false prophets. These are not just hypothetical warnings but promises that there will be people to deceive you. There will be people intentionally trying to lead you astray, and those who have been tricked themselves.

How does it happen that people can so easily change? It is so easy to take the more trodden path of least resistance. It takes vigilance not to get caught up in change that brings destruction. It takes being steadfast in the midst of opposition. It takes not being swept up by fears and desires. This walk with Christ is one of excitement and journey but also steadfast in truth.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them.
Exodus 32:7-8

Many of you may remember from Sunday School the story of Moses leaving the people of Israel to seek the Lord on top of a mountain in Exodus 32. He is gone for so long that the Israelites are worried about their future. So they do what they have seen done by other cultures and make for themselves a statue out of gold to worship. They make a golden calf. This is done rather quickly and not from the counsel of the Lord. They have seen God come through for them many times by this point, but still they quickly turn away.

There are times when we hold on to a desire and place it higher than the wisdom of God. We even search the scriptures and wisdom from people far and wide just to hear that our desires are good. The sad thing is that there are often counsel no’s from God in prayer, scripture and community that are ignored in the process. In fact, as this “discernment” plays out longer, the voice of God falls silent. Ignoring the voice of God in one area affects our whole relationship with him. It is never localized.

There is a key question that must be asked in this process. Is scripture my guide for and through this change? Am I using the culture of this world to inform and drive the change I embrace or the culture of the kingdom?

But, you might ask, “How do I really know if this change is good or not?” We don’t as believers usually start out by saying, “I want to rebel against God and his ways.” I don’t think that was the starting place for Adam and Eve either. We need to surrender our desires and potential changes before God. This entails bringing mature believers into the discernment as well. We shouldn’t go searching for the approving voices, but the voices of the faithful mature believers. We must surrender what we want to be the outcome, being willing to put to death the desired outcome.

We must remember that although we think we know what is best for ourselves, the one who created us knows us better than any. He always knows what is going on and is for those he has created and called.

Too Slow to Change

I have been thinking a lot about what healthy change looks like. There are many examples in scripture of an invitation to repentance and a response from either an individual or group. My question is: Is it ok if we delay? Are we allowed to take our time and deliberate, sustaining the old way of life for a time? Change doesn’t happen overnight, right?

The story of Jonah going to the Ninevites has always seemed humorous to me. God sends a prophet who rebels and doesn’t want to go. And when he finally does, his expectation is that the people will not repent and God will bring wrath upon them. He has little expectation of the ability of a sinful nation to respond quickly to God, especially in the face of his own rebellion.

But the response of Nineveh is actually the response the Lord is looking for. They turn from their wicked ways when God shows up and reveals the error of their ways. They don’t delay, but right away change their behaviour and cry out to God. What if they did delay? I think Jonah would have gotten his wish. He would have seen a city destroyed in the book of Jonah.

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
2 Chronicles 7:14

What happens when we are faced with our lifestyle contradicting the way of Jesus? What happens when the bible contradicts our beliefs and actions?

I have a tendency to be stubborn. You might at times call me bullheaded. I have a desire to dig in and fight when faced with something contrary to my beliefs or viewpoint. As I have matured, I have become quicker to repent, but at times I stand in my own way when it comes to being transformed into the image of Jesus. This stubbornness trait has a positive attribute alongside it, but for the sake of this article let’s look at the danger.

“27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.””
John 20:27-29

Thomas, known to many as the “doubting Thomas” is known for his inability to trust solely in the words of Jesus. He needed visual proof in the risen saviour. I have heard people’s thoughts on the positives and negatives of this but I believe to always approach new revelation with skepticism is a sad reality. I remember someone teaching me once to always receive the revelation from God fully in faith, and then to test everything. This approach doesn’t start in opposition, but a desire to be in favor of that new reality. Thomas started with doubt and demanded proof to win him over. We see a patient Jesus in this scenario but Thomas is not praised for demanding proof.

The Rich young ruler gives us an example of a response of a man who saw the cost of change as too great. The change necessary to follow Jesus seemed impossible for him, so not only did he not quickly change, he decided to change was altogether too much. We have no insight into his future. He might have at some point bought in and given up everything for the kingdom of God. But again, that is not the point of the story. When Jesus told him to give up his possessions, that was the time to say yes.

A heart of repentance, or a heart after God, doesn’t put off the yes when he calls. A heart of repentance does not wait to bury our parents, or until we get that promotion. There is no ideal future for the yes, just the timing he has chosen. We have some stories of unrepentant people but so many other examples of individuals quick to change in scripture.

I love the story of King Josiah in 2 Kings 22. As the temple is being restored his people stumble upon the laws God has given the people of Israel. These laws have been disregarded for generations and the people of Israel are living in rebellion. When King Josiah discovers this, he cries out to God and changes his ways. He doesn’t stay on the same path or think about how difficult it would be to shift the culture back to what it once was.

“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words that you have heard, 19 because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. 20 Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.’”
2 Kings 22:18-20

As the people of God, we are to be like King Josiah, eager to embrace the plan of God. When that requires change, we embrace it. Change can be for the better or worse, but when it is in obedience to God, it is always good.

Let us not be slow to change. Let us be a people who hang on the very words of God, being quick to jump to his call. I don’t want to miss out on the blessing God has in store, and I don’t want his voice to fall silent in my listening. So for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.