Citizens of Two Worlds


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. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Romans 13:1-7

It is quite puzzling at first glance to see the New Testament writings on submission to authority are written by men who have been imprisoned by the same authorities they command we obey. Peter experienced multiple recorded instances of being broken free from prison and Paul has a long endured stint in prison from which he writes some of his letters.

This should not cast suspicion on the topic but grant context for our understanding. Much of the teaching we are given on how to conduct ourselves in scripture offers an asterisk, the asterisk of *unless God’s momentary design deviates from his natural order. God created everything with a natural order which can be seen in all of creation, but there are times he deviates.

This does not make God a liar or deceptive. Some instruction given by God, such as his instruction to flee from sin, is absolute. Other teaching offers us the natural way of things as a gift with an assumption we remain led by the Holy Spirit in all of our endeavors.

It is important we do not throw out our understanding of the way of Jesus because of a few moments when God’s plan required deviation from the norm. It is also important not to be so rigid we toss out a word from the Lord.

There are things such as what the Lord has labeled as sin God will never call us to do. But the orderly worship we are directed to in scripture might look different depending on the season, and there are times women will be called to eldership as Deborah was called to be judge. There is an order the Lord has created and we must know unless it goes against his nature or promise he can deviate from his created order.

If this were not possible there would be no miracles. How could God turn water into wine if he was contained to the order he created? This does not become our template for making wine but it was how it was for a moment when God chose to work in a different way.

So when Peter is thrown in jail for preaching the gospel, his preaching is not out of rebellion, but a moment in time when he is aware of the grace of God to preach the gospel publicly despite the rules set in place by local authorities. It doesn’t make him a hypocrite. He just understands the default is in all things to submit to authority in the land unless the Lord says otherwise.

Deviation from the instruction of God is not something to take lightly. In fact there should be great conviction and discernment of a word from the Lord before exploring acting in opposition to an authority over you. Paul and Peter both found such an exception in preaching the Gospel. Sharing the news of Jesus was not something the church could give up despite what any human authority might say.

You will note even Jesus acknowledges the authority of Pilate in John 19 but points out Pilate only has authority because of his Father in heaven. God is always the highest authority we submit to. Failure to submit to an earthly authority is only permitted as far as God steps in to overrule.

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20

You will note Jesus claims highest authority in this scripture passage. Making disciples, baptism, and teaching the way of Jesus are instructions superseding any other. No earthly authority can claim higher than Jesus. You will note the New Testament church is persecuted for these acts. It was never rebellion against the government or speaking out against policy which turns believers into prisoners and martyrs.

This is why slaves and free men worshipped side by side. The slaves remained slaves under the authority of their masters while being free in Christ. Jesus didn’t spark the rebellion of slaves, although the Roman Empire did have a long slave rebellion. In fact there is a whole letter included in scripture which accompanied a former slave named Onesimus. Paul, after some discipling, sends Onesimus back to be a slave. In this letter Philemon, the slave owner who is also a follower of Jesus, is encouraged to free him as he is a brother.

The slave conversation is a conversation for another time, but the early church understood they were not a rebel group. They were not a political organization, but the people of God, a people who remain here not to tear down empires but out of the same compassion of Jesus to make disciples of those hostile to them. They were to focus on freedom in Christ and care for each other’s physical needs under the law of the land.

Democracy makes honoring authorities tricky. We are encouraged to speak up in a democracy. The questions we need to ask are: when should we speak, if at all? Does this scripture still hold up in a democracy? Is the government ever the chosen system to see people saved?

My conviction is scripture absolutely still holds up! I believe we should rarely speak up against the government except to warn of the consequences of actions. Like sending Jonah to Nineveh, God has compassion for the lost today and at times they need to be warned on a mass scale. It is not up to us to change the behaviour but to pray for repentance of the people. Forcing changes in policy does nothing to the hearts of the people. That would be the same approach the conquistadors took as they tore through the New World with violence and forced conversion to catholicism. You cannot force conversion of the heart.

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:13-17

An urge arises in me at times when I consume media content and news to gossip and critique those in government. Democracy has placed accountability in the hands of the voting public, but we must be sure not to dishonour those in power. Disrespect is the way of the world, and we must avoid being led into sin by the masses. We should think long on whether it is good (of God) to speak or dwell on any issues. I have had to repent numerous times of things I have said about certain people in power. Just because something is true, doesn’t mean I need to speak of it.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4

As an election draws near in Canada it is important to know how to act and vote. First off, pray for those who are currently in power and those who will step in. Pray for wisdom and for the Lord to use those who oppose him for his purposes as he did with Pharaoh in Egypt. Pray out of compassion for policies regarding the vulnerable and oppressed. Pray politicians would turn to the Lord. Ask the Lord if there is any warning needed to be given out of compassion rather than self-interest. Vote your conscience as you spend time with the Lord and in community. Know the Lord your God is the highest authority. Whom shall we fear when we remain in him?

What’s in Season?


For everything there is a season. Some practices transcend seasons, such as prayer, reading Scripture and communion, but may become the primary focus in a specific season. Other practices such as mourning or feasting belong in a season. It is important to rightly assess what is required in a given season. If we miss the grace of God in a season we operate in opposition to what God is doing and are hindered in moving forward.

A season always gives way to another one. Just like the seasons in nature, each is required in their given ecosystem. Just as plants and animals respond to the changing of the seasons in the physical world, it is important we do the same spiritually.

One of the most important things that church elders (or leadership) can do is be aware of how to lead their congregation in the proper season. The Lord is gracious in making known the season and preparing us for it. God does this so we can walk in step with the good plans he has.

As churches come out of a time of adhering to governmental restrictions we should be asking, “Have we lost the practice of obeying the requirements of the Lord instead of the demands of man?” We have a tendency to first look to the world to understand how to be like Jesus in a season. We try to understand how to react to the world instead of being led by God. This assumes a defensive posture.

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:6-9

Please don’t hear me say that following the Covid restrictions was an act of rebellion against God. What I am trying to clarify is that the Lord frequently calls us to calibrate our actions to the changing season as a community and individuals. Rather than just a new sermon series, there will be times when the whole life of the church is to focus on evangelism, prayer, generosity, repentance, thanksgiving or self control (to name a few) because of the season we are in, such as in Lent or Advent in Orthodox Church traditions.

It is not just the official church functions but the everyday life of believers which should be oriented on the God-given focus of a season. Our failure to be aware of the season frequently causes us to miss out on what God is doing. We can end up working at cross purposes despite our motive to serve the Lord.

It is often necessary to stop programs in order to focus on what is important. Jesus did this when he stopped what he was doing and focused on the need set before him. We too should be aware of how God is at work and be led by compassion as the church.

Just as God leads a local congregation through seasons, he will do the same with families and individuals.

I have found in my personal life God prepares me in one season for what is required in the next. Sometimes the season of preparation makes little sense until I experience something for which I was ill prepared before the growth God led me through.

God prepares the church in the same way as individuals. Elders should be bold in responding to the leading of the Lord, not act because of societal pressures but out of a fear of the Lord. How can we withstand the pressures awaiting us unless we are prepared for them?

Although Jesus did not need preparation, he modeled this through entering the wilderness to be tested following his baptism.

We need to develop the habit of asking the Lord what he is doing in the current or upcoming season and how by his grace we are to live in season. Like pulling out our winter coats for winter and shorts for the summer, we need to know how to address the coming season. This is best asked prior to planning lest we be caught making plans in vain. It is not wrong to make plans but we must loosely hold them as we seek to better understand what the will of God is. We should make plans with the added “God willing”.

Following someone else’s blueprint can be a great thing if it is what the Lord is currently requiring. There have been movements when there was training en masse for a season when God led entire denominations or regions through the same plan. An example of this is the Experiencing God study led by Henry Blackaby which was used powerfully amongst the Southern Baptists and others in the 1990s. It is good when the Lord does this, but there are times when we attempt to recreate success rather than obey God. This does not go well and we lose out not only on what God intended for that season but also the practice of being led by God through the season he has us in.

Just because someone else is experiencing a season we would prefer, it doesn’t mean we are able to create their season in our own life. It might not even be good for us to live that experience. If it is not of God for you it cannot be good. For as Jesus said, “Only God is good”. We should rejoice when we see people respond to a move of God and not covet it for ourselves. We should rejoice in what God has for others, and rejoice in the season he has us in because he knows what is good for all.

Solomon understood “there is a season for everything”. Beneficial actions require an understanding of what the season requires. If it is a time for mourning, we should mourn. If it is a time to fast, we are to fast. If it is a time of thanksgiving, we ought to give thanks. If it is a time of purification, we must purge. It is not complicated but it requires diligence and obedience.

We must not react to the push and pull of the outside world for, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). Our seasons are set by the Lord and not by man. How we respond to what is happening in the world around us ought not to be because of the demands of man, but because of the commands of God.

Jesus says in John 5:19 he can only do what he sees the Father doing. Our goal in desiring to be like Jesus is thus not imitating the actions of man but looking to God for our marching orders. Throughout the New Testament we see Jesus and then the church making waves through their actions. The way of the Lord will at times be met with great hostility. The response of the world does not dictate what is good for only God is good.

In Mark 5 Jesus is chased out of town for sending a demon out of a man and into some pigs. In Luke 7 Jesus is silently ridiculed for allowing a sinner to anoint his head. In Acts 19 Paul sparked a riot in Ephesus as the people clung to Artemis as their God. These are just a few examples of when obedience to God met great opposition. Can you imagine if instead Jesus and Paul had acted to appease the culture or reflect the world around them?

In many instances a new physical reality demands a response by the body of Christ. In poverty the people of God should care for the needy. Where there is sickness we should partner with God in seeing people made well. Just as Jesus acted through compassion, so should we. There will always be desperation and need in this world until Christ returns. It is the result of sin. It is not that we cannot determine acts that reflect the heart of God, it is that we have a tendency to act without him. We then remove God entirely from the process resulting in acts of charity that reflect his ways but have no eternal impact. It is vital we act out of conviction in obedience.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
2 It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Psalm 127:1-2

At times we act as though God has left us on our own to figure things out. We wrestle with decisions absent of searching the scriptures or hearing the Lord in prayer. Even the wayward kings of Israel sought out the Prophets for how to act in a given season but failed to follow the actions laid out.

Through the Holy Spirit and the word of God we have access to the Father’s will and the means to understand it. Building in vain is not something we should find ourselves doing. Bowing to other kings is not an option. We see in the accounts of Israel the results of such actions, and we know from church history it has gone the same way since the ascension of Christ. When we choose to look to other sources to set our path in a season we stray from the grace of God and find ourselves lost.

Remember the Lord our God is good and perfect in all he does. His ways and thoughts are higher than our own. What God has laid out before us in a season will always be good even when we do not feel it or understand it. His nature will never change. In every season his ways will forever be good and best.

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.

Words that Change us


An hour before I was to teach a class on how to hear God’s voice last week, I realized most of what I had prepared (although I think it was great) was not going to be most beneficial. I sensed in that moment God wanted people to get a taste of what it is like to hear his voice. So, I scrapped most of my teaching and engaged in exercises of surrender, listening and practicing testing words in groups.

I love receiving (and giving) good teaching. I love to hear others unpack the scriptures, to reveal the heart and invitation of God to us. There is so much I have yet to learn. At the same time, I think we often rely on others to handle our spiritual formation.

Since this moment of surrendering what I planned, I have been thinking how our culture is so reliant on the information provided by others. If I have a question, I ask my phone or look it up in a book. I could even watch one of the 10,000 documentaries that can be seen on streaming services. There is so much readily available information within our culture.

This is true in the church as well. There are multiple books on any subject one could ever want to know. There are Christian podcasts, online sermons, and blogs (yes I see the irony) everywhere you look on the internet. These are not bad things, except they have taken a primary role for many people. There is a place for all of these theological pursuits, especially for people called to certain roles in our churches.

The issue we face is when spirituality becomes more of an academic pursuit than a way of life. Our God is all about revelation. He continues to reveal more and more to his people. But revelation comes with an invitation. We are to live differently, more like Jesus, as God reveals things to us.

There have been seasons of my life where God keeps bringing up the same thing. He does this because I haven’t understood or been obedient to his invitation yet. A new revelation wouldn’t be good for me. He knows what revelation is needed in the moment.

The place we need to start our spiritual formation is in a personal life steeped in scripture and prayer.

This blog entry is less about put down that book, and more about spend time with Jesus. In a university course, there is often supplemental reading that is not required. That is how we must see the other stuff out there. Prayer and scripture in a believers life are the daily necessities, the required reading list. Which list would you go to first in school? Prayer and scripture are where we go to for revelation, to encounter God in an intimate and personal way. It is where we understand the invitation of God daily.

God has a personal revelation and invitation for each one of us, not necessarily in the grandiose Abraham-like calling. But he is inviting us into deeper relationship and to join him in what he is doing. Although God gets our attention through others, we are missing out on so much if we are not taking time to listen to God in prayer and scripture ourselves. Remember, God wants to reveal things to you. He is not hiding it in the revelation of others.

As much as I am talking about personal call and revelation, this is not to be discerned apart from community. We are to be sharing these revelations with one another, encouraging each other, praying for one another, and testing revelation collectively. This is a part of the process of hearing from God. As brothers and sisters in Christ we are supporting each other and looking out for the other’s best interest.

I understand there are seasons of life where the need for the teaching of others is more important. When you are new in your faith there is a lot to learn. In the early years of faith there is so much to navigate through, so many lies to work through, the impact of culture to renounce and brand new practices to learn. There is a reason why the church in the New Testament is instructed not to raise people into leadership too soon. Passion doesn’t cover over the need for spiritual maturity.

I love my literary mentors. Theologians like Bonhoeffer, Barth and Packer have caused me to examine my beliefs and practices in countless ways. They have inspired me and taught me so much. As one that is called to teach and equip others, they have helped me understand more fully spiritual truths I only knew in part before.

Mentors both living and dead will continue to be a part of my discipleship, but there is so much to receive from God himself. He has given us an invitation to “Be Still and know that I am God”. There is an invitation to discover him afresh daily. I want to say yes to this invitation. How about you?