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On worship and fog machines

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 04:00

I was surprised when a young friend told me the other day that most of his friends attended churches that use fog machines. So clearly it’s a trend.

I admit I have never been in a church service where a fog machine was used. So maybe I’m not qualified to speak on the subject. But I’m going to anyway.

I have always felt that we need to cater our music to the generations that are closer to birth than to death. That would be the people who are actually going to be alive when I am dead. They are the church’s future.

But when it comes to worship, let’s make a difference between what really matters and what doesn’t. What matters, for instance, are the words we sing. They say a lot about what we believe. There was a reason the Scots sang the Psalms, and only the Psalms. There was no doubt about the content.

So I ask the question: should not the songs we sing be every bit as rooted and grounded in Scripture as the teaching we hear?

I could make a sad joke about being in churches where most of the fog emanated from the pulpit, but for the moment I assume that most of us are in churches where the teaching is decent and Biblically grounded.

One thing I’ve noticed is that most of the arguments over worship are not about the lyrics but about the music. Music, for the most part, is a matter of taste. Taste is what changes, and that’s where we have to cater to the younger half of the congregation if we want a church capable of reaching the next generation.

And is this is a source of frustration to me. We argue over the things that matter far less — we argue over style of music, how loud the music is, what kind of instruments we should allow, and so on. But we pass over the far more significant issue of what it is we are actually singing.

The Scots used to sing without accompaniment. There were loads of arguments over scandalous things like using an organ in worship. When I was a young Christian, people left churches when somebody dared to appear on the platform with a guitar. Never mind that the church was filling up with young people and the songs we were singing were largely Scripture put to music.

So where does that leave us with fog machines?

I admit I’m not a fan. For one thing, they seem to be a poor substitute for the cloud that filled Solomon’s temple. But let’s face it, they are part of the periphery, not part of the core.

What is a real problem is if the fog machines represent an attempt to dumb down worship and to make its focus more on making people feel a particular atmosphere rather than leading those people into glorifying the one true God.

Having said that, I would rather be in a congregation with a fog machine singing songs with Biblical lyrics and glorifying God than in a congregation with neither a fog machine nor any sense of what true worship is supposed to be.

At its root, worship is clearly defined by Paul: “Present yourselves as a sacrifice, living, holy and acceptable to God, which is worship, properly understood.” That is my translation of Romans 12:1, and it’s backed by some pretty good scholars.

If you have the foundation right, you’ll get the rest of it as well, with or without a fog machine.

But I’d still like to witness that manifest glory that Solomon saw…

Source: New feed

Experiencing the presence of God

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 04:00

Is it somehow wrong or unspiritual to want to experience the presence of God?

All sorts of arguments rage over this question. And especially in relation to worship.

Are churches too experiential? Or not experiential enough? People are leaving churches today for both reasons, so it’s a significant question that demands an answer.

Let’s establish one fact first. The presence of God is not an experience to be sought or argued about. It is a theological and Biblical fact.

And a fact with several aspects or levels to it.

First of all, God is omnipresent. He is everywhere. That doesn’t mean he’s in everything, just that his presence as Creator of the universe cannot be limited to one place. He is capable of being present anywhere at any time. He is present, for instance, in every Christian by the person of his Spirit. In this sense, you don’t have to seek his presence. You have his presence.

Second, God is very often present in an intensified way when we pray and seek him, or when we are gathered together corporately in worship. How often have we felt his peace or his joy in personal or corporate worship? The Bible says he dwells in the praises of his people.

Third, God is sometimes present in a manifest sense. These are times when the awareness of his presence can touch or even overwhelm our physical senses. Think of Moses or Elijah in the cleft of the rock on Mount Sinai. Think of the priests unable to stand at the opening of Solomon’s temple. Think of Ezekiel “lifted up by the Spirit between earth and heaven.” Think of the soldiers thrown to the ground as they came to arrest Jesus. Think of the believers at Pentecost, appearing outwardly drunk due to the power of the Spirit. Think of Paul thrown off his horse by the presence of God. Think of Philip transported miraculously from one place to another. Think of the building in Jerusalem shaking when the believers were praying, or the jail bonds burst asunder by the earthquake at Philippi. Think of Paul caught up to the third heaven.

And think of the congregations addressed by John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards, where men and women were reduced to tears and crying out to God in repentance. Think of the Scottish highlanders on Lewis and Harris, sprawled in the fields in intense conviction of sin. Every revival has similar stories, differing only in detail.

Why then do we argue over whether it is unspiritual to seek the presence of God? When I first met my wife, I wanted to be in her presence. I felt something tangible. It was (and is!) special. Why on earth would I not want to be in God’s presence? God’s presence is nothing more nor less than God himself. Do we not want to seek God?

I think the whole argument against seeking experiences is based on a misconception. The misconception is that those people seeking the presence of God in a tangible way are looking for an emotional experience. Our faith is based on Biblical truth, not emotion, the argument goes (and so far quite rightly), so we should not need those kind of experiences, and certainly should not depend on them. And it is true that we should not be seeking God for emotional experiences.

But here’s the mistake. We do not encounter the presence of God with our emotions. But we do encounter the presence of God in a way that affects our emotions.

We encounter God’s presence when the Holy Spirit invades our spirit with his power and reality. Our spirit is the deepest part of us, that place where his Spirit comes to dwell, from which he begins to establish lordship over our emotions, our intellect and our body.

God is always present in our spirit by his Spirit: that is his omnipresence. His presence is often felt in a tangible way when it is intensified in prayer and worship. And his presence may be felt in a manifest way in times of special power and revival.

God is present: that’s a fact. And that’s what our faith is built on. But if he chooses to come in an intensified or even manifest form, it is for a kingdom purpose. It’s not so that you can be emotionally overcome, but that you can be spiritually empowered.

I advise you to seek as much of God’s presence in your life as you feel you need to do his will.

And as for me… I’ll take as much as I can get. Because his call on my life requires it.

And his call on your life requires it too.

Source: New feed

The problem of truth

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 04:00

Truth is not a problem.

But that is the problem.

“You’re talking in riddles, David.” I can hear you saying it!

Let me try to explain.

When Jesus encountered the value system that had the power to set him free, it all boiled down to an issue of truth.

Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, was interested in power. And so he posed the question to Jesus: “Are you the king of the Jews?” What he meant, of course, was this: “Are you planning an uprising against me?”

Jesus wasn’t even thinking along these lines. And so he told Pilate his kingdom was not of this world. If it had been, his followers would already have been fighting in the streets.

This puzzled Pilate. And so he put the question to Jesus: “So you are a king?” Jesus didn’t bother to dignify Pilate’s question with an answer, which was extraordinary, given that his life apparently hung in Pilate’s hands.

His answer was this: “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth.”

Pilate’s answer, to me, is one of the greatest attestations to the accuracy of the New Testament. He said this: “What is truth?”

Pilate was reflecting the beginnings of the decline of Roman civilization. He had given up on truth. And we know that’s an accurate picture of where many of the Romans were at – and certainly cynical, disillusioned and corrupt politicians like Pilate, which is the picture Roman historians paint of him.

We live in a very similar world today.

For Jesus, and hence for those of us who follow him, truth is not a problem. God alone reserves the right to define truth and falsehood, right and wrong, good and evil.

But we live in a world Pontius Pilate would have been right at home in. Laughingly, we call it “post-modern,” when in fact it is as ancient as Pilate himself.

Pilate was bothered by Jesus’ answer – but not bothered enough to take a stand against the Jewish leaders and let him go. For him, truth did not matter. And that is why when he saw the personal embodiment of truth standing in front of him, he did not recognize it.

For the world we live in, truth is a problem. In fact, a massive problem.

Our culture demands that every possible personal preference or orientation be accommodated. Everyone lives in their own personal space as far as truth is concerned. In reality, no one is really interested in truth at all. What they are really interested in is the promotion of their own interests.

Here’s the catch. In the absence of truth, anything goes. But what happens when the interests of one group are hostile to the interests of another?

I’ll tell you exactly what happens. The group with the most power forces its interests on the others.

In the absence of truth, might becomes right.

Those with the most clout gain privilege at the expense of those with the least.

But Christians see things differently. Or at least they ought to.

Our world is living in a mass delusion. The delusion is this: everyone can have their own “truth,” and it won’t cause any problems. The reality is different. The “truth” belonging to the people with the most power will prevail.

In truth, it isn’t about truth at all. It’s about the power to force my views on everyone else.

But as Christians, we believe in real truth. We are interested in truth for the sake of truth, because we follow the man who said: “You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

We believe only God has the right to define truth. And Jesus is the only man who ever completely lived it.

That is a problem to the world around us, with its many interest groups trying to force their views on everyone else, to their own benefit.

Jesus stood for truth, and he died for truth.

How about you?

Source: New feed

For he was but one: the power of insignificance

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 04:00

Things were tough for God’s people. And worse was coming.

In the midst of it all, Isaiah called the people to look to the rock from which they were hewn, to look to Abraham their father and Sarah who bore them. And then he makes this statement: “For he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him” (Isaiah 51:2).

For he was but one.

How many times have you felt alone, abandoned, misunderstood or powerless in the face of circumstances? How many time have you looked enviously or wistfully at others who do not appear to be in such a hard place?

For he was but one.

How many times does the church regard success in terms of numbers? Speakers are invited to conferences simply because of the size of their church. I once heard a very godly and wise pastor say he knew God had given him one of the largest churches in America simply so that people would listen to his message. He said it with regret that this should be the case. Yet so often it is.

For he was but one.

At Gethsemane, Scripture records Jesus was deserted by all of his disciples.

He also was but one.

Sometimes God strips away our outward success. He removes our popularity. He puts us in a place where it seems we have only him. But here’s why. It’s when we have nothing, when we know we are nothing, when we are but one, that he can begin to bring a harvest out of our lives.

If Abraham had not been one, God could not have been glorified in the miracle of multiplication that followed. Abraham was significant precisely because he was insignificant.

Many years ago and though very difficult circumstances, God brought me to the devastating realization that I wasn’t his greatest gift to the body of Christ. Something in me died, but because of the death, God slowly but surely began a process of resurrection which, I hope and pray, has brought blessing to the lives of others, blessing that would never have come had I found myself in a place of self-defined success.

We so foolishly think God is most glorified in our great ministry gifts and successes. What a lie! Advertising our ministry accomplishments brings glory only to us.

In truth, God’s glorification is found in our desperation. And that usually comes at the moment we feel we are but one.

I am so glad Abraham did not give up. His greatest qualification for leadership was his refusal to walk out. And because of that, the covenant line was preserved for the Messiah to come and save you and me.

We so often read the stories of the Bible with the end in mind. We forget what it was like for the disciples in the boat before Jesus showed up walking on the water to rescue them. We forget what it was like for Jairus at that awful moment when the messengers told him there was no point bothering Jesus because his daughter had died. We forget what it was like for Peter in Herod’s prison the night before his scheduled execution. We forget what it was like for Abraham during all those long years when he was but one.

If that is where you are today, hang on. Know that God is not deserting you, he is preparing you.

Knowing you are insignificant qualifies you to be significant.

Another day will come. Just hang in there and stay faithful.

You are not but one. He is with you.

Source: New feed

We jumped – and here’s where we landed

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 04:00

For many years, we have felt the Lord speaking to us about change.

When I was approaching my sixtieth birthday (and feeling a bit low about it), I attended a conference where three men independently approached me over two days and made the same statement to me: “You are about the enter the twenty most powerful years of your ministry.”

We knew we had a choice. Stay where we are, focus on the local church, maintain our financial security and gradually fade away. Or… throw our security away, leave where we are and sow ourselves into the kingdom of God around the world in whatever way God called us to do, making our latter years our most reckless and hopefully most effective for God.

And so there really wasn’t any choice.

A year ago in a blog I described it as jumping off a cliff.

Over that time we looked at all the options available to us, did everything we could to explore them, and came up with nothing we felt at peace about. In the meantime, I had committed to resigning the leadership of my church and moving away to give my replacement some space.

In a moment of utter desperation six weeks ago, knowing we had to leave, knowing we had nowhere to go, and knowing we were running out of time, the Lord graciously showed up. I felt God speaking to me about Stratford, Ontario.

What, Lord? I don’t even know anyone there!

Six short weeks later, and with many remarkable things happening in between, we have committed to moving to Stratford, and we have bought a house there. Our own house, in which we raised our 8 kids, is on the market. And we are being warmly welcomed by the leadership at Jubilee Christian Fellowship in Stratford, a church with a worldwide vision, and a church which, in its history, has affected the world in many ways since its founding by our friend John Arnott in 1981.  As friends of Jubilee, we can remain part of our worldwide Newfrontiers family of churches and serve across networks as well as nations.

So what’s the plan?

We will divide our time three ways, between our base in Canada (from which we will serve churches here), the Firm Foundation churches in the USA, and the various churches in the UK we have many long years of relationship with. I am publishing my book on foundations of faith this summer, books on suffering and manhood after that, and others to follow. The blogs will continue, and I hope will be a blessing and encouragement to you who read them.

That’s the plan. But more fundamentally, what is the vision?

Our vision is to raise up a generation of leaders who will impact the body of Christ around the world, and to leave a legacy of faith, power and integrity in spiritual sons and daughters who will change this world for Christ for many, many years after we are gone.

Please pray for us. And if you feel called to support us financially, we are setting up ways in Canada, the USA and the UK for you to do that as of July 1. We don’t as yet have enough money to live on, but we know God will look after us as he always has.

One thing I know. God is faithful. I believe it was William Carey who said this: God’s work, done God’s way, will never lack God’s provision. That is as true for you as it is for me.

And as for us… we’re getting ready for the best twenty years we’ve ever had.

Source: New feed

The illusion of God’s delay

Mon, 03/06/2017 - 03:00

Why is it that God delays? I have thought about this a lot the last several years, as we have gone down a long and often very hard path seeking God’s plan for the next phase of our lives. Does God not care about the situation we are in? Does he not see our desperation? Does he not hear our prayers?

The other night, I was reading that extraordinary story in the Gospels where the disciples were straining at the oars for hours, making little progress. All of a sudden, Jesus showed up, walking across the waters. They took him into the boat, and by supernatural intervention, they instantly reached the other side of the lake.

Like so many Bible stories, we read this one with the end in mind. We already know what’s going to happen. But we forget that those guys in the boat had no idea whether Jesus was going to show up for them or not. They were almost certainly desperate. They were probably near the end of their strength. They were likely terrified of drowning. And you can be sure they had been praying.

But their prayers had not been answered.

What do you think they were thinking? Probably most of the same things we are thinking when God fails to resolve our crisis when we think he should.

But the question we should be asking ourselves is not “Why is God delaying?” but “What is God doing?”

Sometimes God is taking the extra time to bring elements of his plan for us together which are at present unseen to us. The whole world does not revolve around you or me. Other people and circumstances are involved too, and have to be brought into the picture.

Sometimes he is saving us from things we at first asked for. How many times have you thanked God he did not give you that job, that relationship, that accommodation, that place of ministry you asked him for?

Often, he is simply changing and refining us as we pray, because in the process we are drawn closer to him through our seeking of him. Hopefully we discover it is more important to seek God than the thing we are asking for.

For all these reasons, we then look back and thank the Lord that it worked out the way it did.

The fact is that God does not delay at all. The word “delay” implies that something that should have taken place now does not take place until later. But God’s timing is as perfect as all of his ways. What seems to us to be delay is actually God working out his perfect plan for us.

So if you are caught up right now in what to you is a very much in-your-face delay, may I suggest you follow the advice James gave to those who were experiencing the same kind of thing: ask God for wisdom (James 1:5). Ask God what he is doing in your heart and circumstances. Ask him for patience. Cast yourself on him. Cry out to him. But don’t give up.

Because the very point at which you feel like giving up is often the moment God breaks through. When we are at our most desperate is when he receives the most glory for what he does, because everyone knows it is him, not us who has done it.

And when God moves, he often does so with great speed. Isaiah put it this way: “I am the Lord; in its time I will do it quickly” (Isaiah 60:22).

I read that verse the other night. And I read it just at the point where God had intervened in our lives in an extraordinary way, which in a matter of weeks resolved issues we had been facing for years.

More of that next week…

Source: New feed

Adrian Smith: What happens when the tsunami hits

Mon, 02/27/2017 - 03:00

In June 2013 I had a heart attack which almost took my life. During surgery I suffered a cardiac arrest and for a short time had a sense of being somewhere else – a place filled with mellow late afternoon light; silent, without dimensions or boundaries. It felt very good. Peace, no pain, then suddenly with a bang the defibrillator kicked me back into the operating theatre, with sounds of frantic activity and anxious voices saying you’re ok, you’re going to be ok. (They were more anxious than I was).

The surgeon treating me said with a wry smile afterwards “you gave us a fright – that one was out to kill you.” Earlier one of the ambulance paramedics and a member of the surgeon’s team each used the same phrase – “you were in the right place at the right time.” It could have been very different but for a weather forecast which made me decide not to go cycling off the beaten track on that particular day.

Just two days before the heart attack I had a vivid dream in which I saw myself swimming in a rough sea when from nowhere a tsunami wave came straight for me. In my dream I knew I only had minutes to live. I woke up with a bang, alive and suddenly wide awake. I went to my office and wrote down what I had just experienced. I dream a lot, mostly nonsense and quickly forgotten. But I have had three highly significant dreams over my lifetime that I can still remember in detail and which communicated something which changed the course of my life, and in one case that of our church community.

My initial reaction to the dream was that’s not for me, it must be a warning for someone else. I don’t feel as though I’m out of my depth or in rough water at this moment, life is busy but that’s normal and I feel fine. So that morning I typed up the notes made at 3am and emailed them to about half a dozen people I thought might bring some sense out of what I had experienced in the dream. One of my friends replied by return – “that was for me I need to get out of the deep water I’m in right now before the wave hits.” Great, I thought, that’s a result.

Another of my friends had a different reaction as he read my email – this is for Adrian, he is going to die. How do you share something like that, fortunately he didn’t but prayed instead.

Like the dream, the heart attack came totally out of the blue. I was finishing off a job at a property half an hour’s drive from home. I recognised the classic symptoms – intense pain in the chest and arms, the feeling that I was about to pass out, difficulty breathing. But part of me was arguing back – I don’t do heart attacks, I keep fit cycling, the medics say I’m low risk….

The ambulance reached me within minutes of my call and two hours later, surgery completed, I was fixed. By the time my wife Nicky reached me I was sitting in bed drinking tea, feeling as though I had been run over by several buses. I truly love all the wonderful people who work in our National Health Service.

On the first anniversary of the heart attack I visited what is for me a special place of meeting: St Michael and All Angels Parish Church in Felton, Northumberland. Why would God communicate with me through a dream which mirrored the heart attack experience but did not include sufficient detail to send me scurrying to Accident and Emergency to avoid it?

As I sat in St Michaels I had a sense of Jesus saying that he was with me when the tsunami wave hit and left me defenceless and completely vulnerable. He showed me that we were both in the wave and then we beached and stood together on the shore watching as it receded, its power spent.

The dream had been sent to show me he knew the wave was coming. It came and he didn’t stop it, but he was with me, my journey and his were intertwined.

I feel as though I have been given some “extra time” and I want to use it to grow in friendship with the one who was with me in the “wave.” I trust him more now, even when bad things happen.

Source: New feed

What happens when the tsunami hits

Mon, 02/27/2017 - 03:00

Today’s post is by Adrian Smith, a friend of David’s for many years now.

In June 2013 I had a heart attack which almost took my life. During surgery I suffered a cardiac arrest and for a short time had a sense of being somewhere else – a place filled with mellow late afternoon light; silent, without dimensions or boundaries. It felt very good. Peace, no pain, then suddenly with a bang the defibrillator kicked me back into the operating theatre, with sounds of frantic activity and anxious voices saying you’re ok, you’re going to be ok. (They were more anxious than I was).

The surgeon treating me said with a wry smile afterwards “you gave us a fright – that one was out to kill you.” Earlier one of the ambulance paramedics and a member of the surgeon’s team each used the same phrase – “you were in the right place at the right time.” It could have been very different but for a weather forecast which made me decide not to go cycling off the beaten track on that particular day.

Just two days before the heart attack I had a vivid dream in which I saw myself swimming in a rough sea when from nowhere a tsunami wave came straight for me. In my dream I knew I only had minutes to live. I woke up with a bang, alive and suddenly wide awake. I went to my office and wrote down what I had just experienced. I dream a lot, mostly nonsense and quickly forgotten. But I have had three highly significant dreams over my lifetime that I can still remember in detail and which communicated something which changed the course of my life, and in one case that of our church community.

My initial reaction to the dream was that’s not for me, it must be a warning for someone else. I don’t feel as though I’m out of my depth or in rough water at this moment, life is busy but that’s normal and I feel fine. So that morning I typed up the notes made at 3 AM and emailed them to about half a dozen people I thought might bring some sense out of what I had experienced in the dream. One of my friends replied by return – “That was for me; I need to get out of the deep water I’m in right now before the wave hits.” Great, I thought, that’s a result.

Another of my friends had a different reaction as he read my email: this is for Adrian, he is going to die. How do you share something like that? Fortunately he didn’t, but prayed instead.

Like the dream, the heart attack came totally out of the blue. I was finishing off a job at a property half an hour’s drive from home. I recognised the classic symptoms – intense pain in the chest and arms, the feeling that I was about to pass out, difficulty breathing. But part of me was arguing back – I don’t do heart attacks, I keep fit cycling, the medics say I’m low risk…

The ambulance reached me within minutes of my call and two hours later, surgery completed, I was fixed. By the time my wife Nicky reached me I was sitting in bed drinking tea, feeling as though I had been run over by several buses. I truly love all the wonderful people who work in our National Health Service.

On the first anniversary of the heart attack I visited what is for me a special place of meeting: St Michael and All Angels Parish Church in Felton, Northumberland. Why would God communicate with me through a dream which mirrored the heart attack experience but did not include sufficient detail to send me scurrying to Accident and Emergency to avoid it?

As I sat in St Michaels I had a sense of Jesus saying that he was with me when the tsunami wave hit and left me defenceless and completely vulnerable. He showed me that we were both in the wave and then we beached and stood together on the shore watching as it receded, its power spent.

The dream had been sent to show me he knew the wave was coming. It came and he didn’t stop it, but he was with me. My journey and his were intertwined.

I feel as though I have been given some “extra time” and I want to use it to grow in friendship with the one who was with me in the “wave.” I trust him more now, even when bad things happen.

Source: New feed

Watch the company you keep

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 03:00

What kind of people do you like to be around? What kind of people should you be around? It’s worth asking the question.

Elaine and I have just returned from two weeks in northern England. We enjoyed a whirlwind tour of seven churches, and were encouraged to see the grace of God at work in all of them.

During that time we had the privilege of staying with couples who were absolutely full of two essential ingredients of healthy leadership – faith and vision. It was a feast to move from home to home and listen to the stories of how God met these folk, often in the midst of impossibly faith-stretching situations.

Here’s a “taster” of what we found. Different couples are involved in the different stories.

Lack of money to pay the bills? No problem, they pray and God provides, often at the last minute and in completely unpredictable ways. No house to live in? No problem, they pray and God leads them to a non-Christian landlord who rents the house at less than half market value. No venue for the church to meet in? No problem. They pray and go to an absolutely beautiful facility which doesn’t rent to churches and is very expensive. After a brief conversation with the manager, he decides to rent them the facilities, and at less than half the going rate. Immigration issues? No problem, they pray and at the very last minute God gives them the documentation to stay in the country. Need a building for a 24-hour house of prayer? No problem, they pray and God sends them to a Jewish businessman who renovates a damaged building in a strategic location at great expense and then rents it to them, complete with large meeting room, storage area, beautiful kitchen, foyer and washrooms, for less than $400 a month. Need more people for a church plant? They pray, and a couple comes because God sends a visiting speaker from the other end of the country totally unfamiliar with local churches into a church service they are attending who walks up to them and says one word, which is the name of the church plant! Can’t afford a house to live in? They pray, and God gives them a completely gutted and renovated house when the vendor decides to knock $60,000 off the selling price. Got a small church but desperate for a place to meet? They pray and put an offer in on the city hall. This one’s in progress, but I have a feeling the mayor is on his way out the door!

At the end of the trip, we realized there was a cumulative effect to being around all these people. Our faith was increased and our vision was expanded. And at our last stop, we received a commissioning from very dear friends to move into a new place where God will do great things.

And I want to add one important detail. These are people taking massive steps of faith and common-sense defying risks because they felt God told them to in order to extend his kingdom. They are not people with a couple of expensive cars in the garage and lots of money in a pension plan. They are out on a limb for God. And God is meeting them.

Coming home, I was sitting in the car praying, and asking the Lord to fuel my faith and feed my vision. He can do that in many ways, but one of the ways is to be around people of faith and vision.

Those of us in Christian leadership wind up giving out a fair bit to folk who really need our help, and that’s the business we’re in. But often we forget that we also need to be fed. That happens, obviously, as we pray, read the Bible and worship. But it also happens through the company we keep.

Facing some big steps of faith ourselves, I felt God sent all these brothers and sisters into our lives at just the right time. We received far more than we gave.

Nothing much is accomplished for the kingdom by people unwilling to risk their personal comfort and financial security. Who needs faith when you can do it yourself?

I want to be found in the company of those risking everything.

Because that’s where miracles are found.

Source: New feed

Sarah Galloway: Incomplete but in complete

Mon, 02/13/2017 - 03:00

Today’s post is by Sarah Galloway.

Are you discouraged? Are you weary? Are you simply still and stagnant in your faith? Have you been suffering?

I have been all these things and more. It leads me to ask constant questions of life and of God.

Why is this happening? When will it stop?

In late 2013 I woke up on a consultation floor blissfully unaware that the life I had known and loved had been broken beyond repair. The moment passed and I remembered. Shocking things, unimaginably strange and scary things that would haunt me in flash backs for years to come.

Psychosis is not an experience that is easy to describe. But it is a categorically bad experience.

Attempted suicide, in some cases very nearly successful suicide, is not an experience that is easy to live alongside. But it is a categorically bad experience.

Memory loss both short and long term is easier to describe – it’s like living in a fog and a constant state of surprise. I’ve got nothing to anchor myself to, it affects my identity as well as my ability. It too is a bad experience.

Seeing your life and the lives of those you love sucked in around you because of this invisible illness, this disease that works like a black hole drawing in the light and life and resources is a scary thing.

The uncertainty of everything has been the hardest burden to bear. Many times I have come to God with the simple prayer ‘Make it stop, make it stop.’

But it didn’t and it hasn’t. I still suffer from a form of encephalitis whereby the body attacks the brain. I can’t work, I can’t cook, I can’t live alone, I can’t concentrate, I can’t control my emotion… in fact let’s go to the can do list, as that is shorter. I can eat. I can sleep. I can paint. And I can pray.

So what is it that keeps me going? What’s the driving force? What has God taught me through this suffering? A very simple thing. I have learned that I don’t always need to learn something through my suffering. Some things are bad and wrong and grieve God’s heart as well as mine. Some things steal from you. Some things break you. And that’s ok.

I can rest and not stress about finding that silver lining, or finding more faith. If I can’t feel God’s presence in the middle of my struggle I know that’s just another form of theft; it’s not my fault that it happened and it’s not my job to fix. There is such relief in this way of thinking and being before God.

Suffering draws you into the immediate, the now, the moment of pain. God works through the big picture, the journey, the long haul. I might not win this battle, I may yet suffer psychotic episodes, I may yet feel so low that life is too much. But I know the real battle is won.

I don’t have to strive, or struggle, or suffer under suffering. I can lean into God and rest. I can find that feast amid fear, that sleep through the storm and that resistance against temptation. God has given me an identity and an inheritance that no sickness, sin or suffering can touch, not even death. So in my incomplete, disease ridden life I can be in complete and hope ridden faith.

Source: New feed

What happens when the preaching dies?

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 03:00

In church circles I move in, we talk all the time about Word and Spirit. And for the most part, we don’t know what we are talking about.

The first problem is this. Why are Word and Spirit presented as two separate entities? Think about it for a minute.

We talk about having Word and Spirit churches as if we’ve achieved a wonderful situation where we have the best of all possible worlds.

But why then, I ask, is the preaching in many churches so unsatisfying?

It’s probably because we’ve separated the Word and the Spirit.

Let me explain.

In his commentary on 2 Corinthians 3, John Calvin made the point that nobody can understand the Word of God without a revelation of the Spirit of God.

Do preachers cry out to God for a revelation of the Holy Spirit every time they prepare a Biblical exposition? Does the Holy Spirit fill their hearts and minds with divine illumination as they study the text? Does he give them ways to make the Biblical text powerfully applicable to the people to whom they are speaking? Do they preach with fire in their belly? Do they so pour themselves out they feel drained at the end?

Or are they just giving nice talks and with minimal effort and preparation?

And think about this one thought. How many preachers believe for a divine and supernatural moving of the Holy Spirit as they are preaching?

Charismatics are great at believing God to move during a great time of worship, or as people come forward for ministry or prayer afterwards.

But they are lousy at believing God to move as they preach.

Part of the reason is because they fail to put the high value on the preaching of the Word that God says we should. They fail to prepare adequately. They think 15 or 20 minutes of seeker-sensitive superficiality is enough for God to say what he wants.

And then they say they believe in Word and Spirit churches.

No.

Not good enough.

Listen to what Paul says: We are stewards of the mysteries of God.

And listen again: the job of the preacher is to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God.

And how is this mystery made known? By the Spirit.

Read 2 Corinthians 4 and Ephesians 3 right though and ask God for understanding.

So what do I get out of all this?

Very simply this: that the Word of God is a mystery which can only be made clear by a revelation of the Spirit which comes to the preacher and then comes to the people through his preaching of the Word.

We need churches where the Holy Spirit invades the heart of the preachers and teachers, pours revelatory understanding of the Word into them, and makes the Word a sword so powerful it does the job it was designed to do and cuts to the very heart of those listening, convicting and encouraging and changing them as they listen.

Preaching is not meant to be an academic lecture. Nor is it meant to be a collection of nice thoughts. And it is certainly not meant to be a brief afterthought to worship.

Preaching grasps a weapon so powerful that it may hurt you if you misuse it. Preaching is taking hold of divine fire. But first that fire must consume the heart of the preacher.

When that begins to happen, we will have the kind of reformation Calvin saw, where the Word, set on fire by the Spirit, changed the course of history.

Let’s believe God for churches where the Spirit of God, through imperfect earthen vessels, uses the Word of God to accomplish the purposes of God.

And that is where the fire will fall.

Source: New feed

When your back is against the wall

Mon, 01/30/2017 - 03:00

Have you ever felt a situation was so desperate that it was crushing you? That you had your back to the wall? That everything was closing in on you?

There is a narrow pass in the mountains of present-day Turkey near Paul’s home town of Tarsus. It is so narrow that, travelling by foot, there are places you can barely squeeze through. This is thought by Bible scholars to be the source of Paul’s statement to the Corinthians, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed.” The last word refers to being caught in a place so narrow you can barely get through. It’s a place Paul would have had to traverse many times as he made his way in and out of Tarsus.

There are massive crevasses in the rock of the Niagara Escarpment not far from our house. I don’t look down them when I jump over them, because I am somewhat claustrophobic (and I don’t like heights either). But with many of them, if you did fall down, you’d just get stuck.

Have you ever been in such a place?

Last week there was a social media opportunity in Canada for people to publicize their issues with mental illness or stress. I noticed a number of comments from pastors’ wives concerning the struggles their husbands have as pastors.

Whether it’s because I’m a Christian leader or not, I can certainly and openly testify to many battles I have fought with fear, stress and feelings of giving up. In fact, a recent survey noted that at any given time, 75% of pastors in the United States are considering doing just that.

Part of the reason for this is that pastors are dealing all the time with people in their churches from every walk of life who are themselves in the same boat, and at some point it all gets too much.

Someone once said to me, “When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.” It’s funny, but also very descriptive of where we occasionally find ourselves.

Can I suggest there’s no shame in that?

I am quitting a perfectly good job and losing my lifeline to financial security to step out in faith (again). As of yet, we have nowhere definite to relocate to, and by no means are our finances in place. Many mornings I wake up with anxiety. My cure is to do 100 push-ups and follow that up with chin-ups and sit-ups and generally exert myself to the point my anxiety gets knocked out of my head. Until the next morning when it comes back…

Yes, I am stupid. Yes, Jesus keeps yelling in my ears, as he did this morning: “Your father knows what you need before you ask him.” That’s Matthew 6:8, by the way, not some prophetic pronouncement. And there’s lots more in that chapter about money, fear and God’s provision. You should read it regularly.

I was sitting in my car by the bay a while ago watching the seagulls, when I felt the Lord spoke to me to read out loud to myself the last half of Matthew 6. It’s all about the birds and the grass and the stupidity of being anxious, and how our mandate is actually very simple. It’s to seek his kingdom and let him do the rest.

It’s a good word for those days when I feel my back is against the wall.

When I was 19 and had no money to go to university, I asked God to help me. He gave me an all-expenses paid scholarship to one of the finest universities in the world.

When I started my first church, I had no money and no backers. I asked God to help me and he did.

When we went to Canada as newly-weds with no money, no job and nothing but a word from God, I asked God to help me. And he did.

When I started my second church, I had no money and no backers. I asked God to help me and he did.

Twice, when it looked like our church would fall apart and we would be left with nothing, I asked him to help me and he did.

When your back is against the wall, ask God to help you.

And he will.

Source: New feed

The worst pain of all

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 03:00

What is the worst pain of all? Is there a pain worse than death itself? I think there might be.

We have a few friends who have suffered the premature loss of a son, daughter or grandchild. I wrote about one of these situations in my previous blog. I can remember a series of funerals over the years, none of which I will ever forget. Grief of this nature is a pain that is almost unbearable. But there is another kind of pain that in a strange way may be even worse.

My thought comes from asking this question: where did Jesus experience the worst pain? There’s no doubt it was on the cross. But even greater than the pain of his physical suffering was the experience of rejection by the One he loved: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In that terrible moment, Jesus endured the pain of deliberate rejection which had to occur for him to carry our sin and extinguish the anger of God against it.

I can undertake challenges of faith and keep my head above water, but when someone with whom I have relationship does something to hurt me, it can come pretty close to sinking my boat.

There is a difference between being lovingly cautioned about something and deliberate rejection. Let me illustrate at my own expense. A friend who knows what he’s doing comes with me to the gym. He looks at the weights I am about to lift, and tells me with a worried look they may be too heavy for me. That may be slightly discouraging, even mildly damaging to my sensitive male ego. Yet no real harm is done — more likely, harm is prevented! But what if he simply looks at me and says, “Who do think you are, trying to do that? Give up, you’re a loser, you’re hopeless”? That’s different. That hurts.

Rejection is somebody else whose opinion matters to us trashing who we are. Rejection is crushing because it touches the very heart of our identity, our worth and our value.

Massive numbers of people suffer from rejection because in childhood they were told by a parent whose love they craved that they were worthless and they were treated as such. When people grow up like this, it becomes very difficult even to convey any kind of helpful advice to them, because they are so weak in their identity it comes across as rejection.

People with rejection often reject even those who genuinely care for them. Hurting people hurt people. The anger and pain of rejection is at least an energy we can control ourselves and direct outwards. It gives us back an identity – but not a healthy one! We even reject people who love us in order to try to force ever more extreme displays of love and care from them. And then we hit back so others can feel something of the pain we have lived in. It’s a terrible prison millions of people are incarcerated in. And it’s in leaders and churches. And sometimes, it destroys them.

Rejection operates most powerfully in a context of vulnerability in relationship. That is why church can be the most dangerous place for rejection. Almost all the arrows I have endured wound up in my back, not in my chest.

Jesus came to deliver us from rejection. He endured rejection in order to set us free us from it. The gift of our identity as sons and daughters of God liberates us from the prison we were cast into by being trashed by people who should have loved us but didn’t. He gave us the gift of infinite worth and value at the cost of his own life.

Here’s my advice. Rejection at some level is a problem for all of us, so do a self-audit. How do you react to criticism? Are you secure in your identity in Christ, or are you often threatened by comments others make? Do you hit back at people when you perceive criticism on their part?

And read a good book on the subject. My friend Steve Hepden has written one, Rejection Hurts, available for Kindle through Amazon (CAN, US, UK).

We reject because we were rejected. But here’s the good news. We love because he first loved us.

The truth will set you free.

Source: New feed

The triumph of life

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 03:00

A year ago, our dear friends suffered the loss of their three year old son and grandson. If I wanted to find four people who love Jesus and serve him with all their heart, these two couples, Don and Lisa and Brian and Malyn, have got to be pretty near the top of my list.

Sometimes we are taught that the more you serve the Lord, the better things will go for you. Don’t believe it. Or do believe it. It all depends on the perspective!

Let me explain.

Back when I was a student at the University of Toronto, I used to make my way up Avenue Road Sunday nights to the church that had been pastored by Dr. A.W. Tozer at the time of his death a few years previously. It was one of the first places I felt the tangible presence of God.

Dr. Tozer pulled no punches. Listen to his words:

“Though the cross of Christ has been beautified by the poet and the artist, the avid seeker after God is likely to find it the same savage implement of destruction it was in the days of old. The way of the cross is still the pain-wracked path to spiritual power and fruitfulness. So do not seek to hide from it. Do not accept an easy way. Do not allow yourself to be patted to sleep in a comfortable church, void of power and barren of fruit. Do not paint the cross nor deck it with flowers. Take it for what it is, as it is, and you will find it the rugged way to death and life. Let it slay you utterly.”

A year ago, Elaine and I got into our car and drove down to Michigan. We arrived at the funeral home just in time to witness an extraordinary spectacle. Never in my life have I seen such a mixture of unbelievable grief and supernatural comfort. It continued in the hours following as half the community poured into the church to pay their respects, the funeral was conducted and little Camden’s casket was placed in the ground.

When you serve the Lord, things do not always go well. Sometimes they go very badly. If we teach people otherwise, we are giving them false hope and a false gospel.

But this is not the end of the story. At the end of human sorrow stands the outstretched and merciful arms of Jesus. His cross is indeed the way of death, death to our flesh, our hopes, our dreams. But it is also the way of life.

You want resurrection power in your life? Well, the only way to get it is through the path of suffering, the way of the cross. And that is Biblical truth. Read Philippians 3 very carefully if you do not believe me.

On my visits to India, I was struck by the nearness of both death and the supernatural. The people there were by far more familiar and comfortable with both than we are.

If suffering is the way to life in an earthly sense, then even more true is the fact that physical death is only the doorway to eternal reward. And that gives us a whole different perspective.

Yes, when you serve the Lord, things will go well for you. You inherit eternity, beginning now. The reward, as the last book of the Bible consistently reminds believers suffering for their faith, is always better than the price.

Our dear friends, through all their pain, have never looked back, never complained, never questioned God’s goodness. And God was glorified in at all, to the point that that little boy probably accomplished more for God’s kingdom in his short life than most people do in 80 years.

The great British preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, shortly before his death, asked people to stop praying for his healing. His words were these: “Do not hold me back from the glory!”

Let the cross do its work of destruction in your life. Things will often not seem to go well. But in the end, they will.

Let the cross slay you. In the midst of death, you will find the triumph of life.

Source: New feed

A taste of revival

Mon, 01/09/2017 - 03:00

Few of us in the western world have ever seen genuine revival. The story I tell here represents the closest I ever got. It still amazes me.

In 1982, my friend Robert Ward asked me to accompany him to the Outer Hebrides, a group of islands off the north-west coast of Scotland and the last place revival occurred in the United Kingdom, or all of Europe for that matter.

The revival began in the late 1940s with an all-night prayer meeting, in which a small group of people in a Presbyterian church took hold of God. As they prayed in the small hours of the morning, people elsewhere on the islands were awakened to terrifying visions of hell and judgment, and began to call upon the Lord for salvation.

Many of the people Robert and I visited with were young people at the time of the revival, and so we had eye-witness accounts.

We attended service at the Presbyterian church in Tarbert on the Isle of Harris. You can see a recent photograph of it above. The preacher had a magnificent view of the bay out the window! The service was mostly in Gaelic. We were told in hushed tones after the service that during the revival unsaved people entering the church on Sunday morning often fell into a “coma” during the preaching of the Word. The elders used to carry them outside and lay them in rows on the ground. When they awoke out of this “coma,” they were converted. And when they were converted, they were truly converted. The life of the islands was transformed.

Others were struck down by the Spirit while going about their employment or other daily business, experiencing visions of judgment. The ministers would often refuse to go them until they were convinced they were truly convicted of their sin. Some lingered in this state for several days before a visit from a minister became the opportunity for them to receive Christ and be delivered from their agony.

One evening we preached in a country chapel. As we left the building, one of the men told me that during the revival a wind began to blow through the church to the point that papers were flying around. The minister ordered the windows to be shut, but the wind continued to blow. On another occasion, after the congregation had left the building one Sunday night, members looked back as the empty building was suddenly filled with light.

A nurse violently opposed to the Gospel became so upset she decided to move away and took a job in Glasgow. Later, her job ended and she had to move home. The church was located on the way to the hospital, but she hated it so much every morning she would walk blocks out of her way to avoid going past it. One morning she was late and had no choice. As she passed the church, she fell under the conviction of God and was struck to the ground, crying out for mercy. When she arose, she was saved. Much later, a close friend of mine baptized her and told me the story.

Those dear people lived and prayed for nothing but revival. They had seen and tasted the goodness and presence of God. They were not Pentecostal, they were Presbyterian. The ministers did not wear designer t-shirts or expensive suits, they dressed in black from head to toe. The worship was not Chris Tomlin, it was the Psalms, and sung in Gaelic, not English (a sound like vocal bagpipes). But they knew the power of God.

What do you think revival looks like? We can’t define it by any particular outward manifestation. But at its heart is the presence of a holy God coming in power into a sinful world to change lives.

If I had people falling down under conviction of sin all around me, I would even learn Gaelic and sing the Psalms if that’s how God was doing it. I’d rather be there than in a sound and light show with great contemporary music but nothing else.

Those Presbyterians had no technology, no plan and no money. All they had was the ability to get on their knees and cry out to God. And he came.

Maybe we have something to learn from them.

Maranatha – Come, Lord!

Source: New feed

The secret to success

Mon, 01/02/2017 - 03:00

The secret to success I am about to unfold is probably not what you thought it would be, but it’s better than anything you could have imagined. If you’re intrigued, read on.

It’s a brand new year.

While any day is a good day to move your life forward in a positive way, the beginning of a new year presents us with a special psychological moment to make a fresh start. That’s why it’s such a great opportunity for motivational speakers, resolution-makers and all those people who are so good at telling us what we aren’t but should be.

The problem is, most of it is hype and never works.

Can I offer a very counter-intuitive suggestion? In simpler language, an answer that at first doesn’t make sense. Here goes…

The secret to success is this. Start by admitting you’re a failure. It’s not very ego-inflating, but it’s the truth.

This past year, I have felt my own failures very often and very keenly. I’ve tried to write about some of them, hopefully without deteriorating into just talking about myself, which helps nobody. I have looked at the testings and struggles I’ve faced and often judged my own responses negatively. I’ve looked at friends going through worse things and felt they seemed to respond better than me.

So it seems I’m a failure. You positive thinkers and sympathetic friends, please listen for a moment before you either throw me overboard or try to comfort me.

The fact that I am a failure is actually very liberating. It sets me free from the delusion that I can break myself out of prison. And in the process (and this is the important part) it reminds me of the greater truth that God himself can do in me what I cannot in my own strength ever do.

The devil came to Martin Luther in a dream with a long list of all his current failings as a believer. In the dream, Luther saw a hand writing these words across the list: “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses me from all sin.”

So before we trot out the saying that we’re saints, not sinners, and all that is behind us, let’s acknowledge this one fact. Only one successful human being has ever walked the face of this earth, and we know his name.

Recent non-Christian historians, I read last week, have pegged Luther as perhaps the single most influential person in modern history, yet even Luther knew that in himself he was a failure. That’s why he coined the phrase simul iustus et peccator — at the same time justified and a sinner.

He didn’t argue over his failure with the devil, but chose instead to stand on the fact that he was now identified with the one man whom the devil (to his terror) knew was and is an everlasting and unbeatable success.

I want my life to move forward this year. I want to make a difference for God. I want to do everything he calls me to do. I want to be successful, but…

I know that I can never in myself be a success. All I can do is allow him to give me a share in his success.

And that alone is what gives him the glory.

I have no righteousness, but he has allowed me to share in his. I have no status with God, but he has allowed me to share in his. I am a child of God, yet only through him.

So at the beginning of this new year, with all its possibilities and challenges, I choose to cast myself as a man without merit or success in myself, as in fact a glorious failure, on the mercy and grace of the man who alone can give success, in the hope that my life can make a real and tangible difference to his kingdom in 2017.

Stay tuned…

Source: New feed

Sarah Best: Nothing is impossible with God

Mon, 12/19/2016 - 03:00

Today’s post is written by Sarah Best. It is the story of a miracle. David has known Sarah and Luke for some years through their faithful participation at Trinity Christian Church in Owen Sound.

My husband Luke and I met in 2011 when his father introduced us, keenly sensing that we were a ‘match made in Heaven.’ He was right. Our first date was a little bit awkward but a lot of fun. By 2012 we were married and eager to begin our lives together as a family. My entire life I longed for the day that I would be a mother. It was a desire that grew gradually and intensified once Luke and I began our lives together. I was 28 years old, secure and confident in our marriage being entirely of the Lord, and hopeful to see our family grow.

Long before we met I struggled with some reproductive health issues. I had two surgeries to remove endometriosis adhesions and was advised to stay on the birth control pill to ease the symptoms. Months before we were married I went off the birth control pill to allow my body time to return to its natural state. The months passed by, and things did not seem right with my body. We were advised that if we wanted to get pregnant we would have to induce ovulation with drugs. For four months I took Clomid (a drug to force ovulation), which ended up being a horrible experience. My body did not respond well to the medication. I kept going because we were holding onto the hope that this drug would work and that we would have at least a fair shot at getting pregnant. Each month we would take a pregnancy test with high hopes that it would be positive. Each time we saw a negative result we trudged on for another month on Clomid. With four failed attempts to conceive with this medication we went back to the specialist.

After some further testing we learned that my husband had some significant fertility issues himself, and that our treatments would now involve inducing ovulation with stronger medications AND further treatment procedures. We hesitated with this, questioning whether it was right to take such measures to conceive. We asked the Lord for His guidance and decided that we would trust our physicians and continue with the treatment. After a couple of attempts at this regimen we decided to stop. It was a very difficult time, looking back at all the ups and downs, the negative pregnancy tests and the financial loss we endured with the treatments. The clinic we attended was 2 hours from home as there are no such treatment options in our area. I had to drive to Kitchener every day for at least 2 weeks each month for blood work and other testing. The clinic visits were about 15 minutes long, then I would drive back home again. I remember the car rides that felt like they would never end and the drives that were over in a blink while my mind spun and squeezed all the information I received. I hung onto all the words the specialists said, some positive but mostly not. I had to pull over a few times to wait for the tears to pass so I could keep driving. It was a lonely and extremely painful season. Again, each negative pregnancy test was extremely disappointing. It was as if somehow I felt that my great efforts in the process would yield different results. My prayer was that our diligence and determination would meet the Lords favour and we would conceive. But this was not the way.

We took a break from the treatments so we could decide what to do next. The last and only option recommended by our specialist was to have another surgery (namely ovarian ‘drilling’) to remove some cysts on my ovaries and any endometriosis that had grown since the last one. We saw this as a last resort and figured we had nothing to lose. The doctors said it was a fairly straightforward procedure and that it would be beneficial. It occurred to us that this might be the end of our own attempts to ‘fix’ the problem considering how difficult we found the previous endeavours, but we did not anticipate what this last effort would entail.

The surgery itself was a breeze. We made the 2 hour drive home that afternoon thinking everything went great. My ovaries were ‘drilled,’ endometriosis removed and I was relatively pain free. That night the first of many complications arose from surgery that lead to 2 months of very hard times. Without going into detail, I can honestly say that there were moments when I felt like I was at my absolute lowest. The physical pain was only the beginning. What hurt the most was that the surgery was deemed unsuccessful. It was as if my reproductive system was just shut down. Ironically, so was the rest of me. I cried out to the Lord day after day, angry, afraid and in pain. I couldn’t understand WHY all this had happened. A friend of mine patiently listened while I asked all these questions. One important thing that she said was to be honest with the Lord in how I feel. She said, “We have no right to be angry with God, but you have the privilege of coming to Him as His child, and pouring out your heart… all of it.” She also told me that “Some days you will have faith, and others you won’t. When you do, keep ASKING the Lord for a child. Come to Him in faith when you can. Come to Him in your brokenness when you can’t. Just come to Him.” She pointed out that no time is wasted in our walk with the Lord. She encouraged me to see that we are always moving forward and that this is a process that we walk through that WILL result in growth, not destruction. So as much as it hurts, and although we sometimes can’t see it… we are always moving forward.

Luke remained a strong loving and supportive partner throughout the entire experience. He listened, encouraged and cared for me when I felt very low. Before we were married he had a dream that we were walking through a supermarket. With us was a little girl with long dark hair sitting in the grocery cart. He says that this dream is what prompted him to propose to me when he did. He felt that it was the Lord’s way of showing him what was ahead, and a ‘nudge’ to take the next step of marriage. Luke held onto this dream the entire time. Even after the surgery, when I was at times certain there was no hope, he held fast to this promise from God. I would sometimes feel frustrated that he still believed in something that seemed so impossible, but he reminded me that our God is the God of the IMPOSSIBLE.

One morning while I was praying, I came to a point where I realized that the most important thing I can learn in this lifetime is to cling to Jesus. I laid in bed and thought to myself that anything in this world can be taken from me; any dream, any hope or any ‘thing,’ but I would be OK as long as I had Jesus. I became more aware of the fierce love of my Father God, strong and steady, never failing. Never disappearing as my own father had. In those moments when I felt pain taking over my body and my heart I felt His presence like never before. It was at my lowest points that His grip was the tightest. Like when a parent walks through a frightening or dangerous place with their child, He held me close. And when I felt like I was sinking further, He squeezed tighter. There was an ongoing dialogue between my heart and the Lord where He would repeatedly ask me if I trusted Him. Through both times of hope and sorrow His Spirit gave me the faith to reply, “Yes.” One verse I came to stand upon was this:

“Though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will REJOICE in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my saviour. The sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights” Habakkuk 3:17-19.

Shortly before we went on a winter vacation, we took some time to talk and pray about our situation. We had the option of starting fertility treatments again in hopes that the surgery would have my body in a more favourable state. We agreed that if this is what the specialist recommended it wouldn’t hurt. However, I felt finished with all of that. I couldn’t bear to go through all the testing, the treatments, the poking and prodding. I felt in my heart that those efforts were futile. I truly believed that if we were to have a child it would be a result of the Lord’s power. Mind you, I was doubtful it would happen. I just knew that all other options were of no use.

One morning while we were on a sunny southern vacation together we ran into a dilemma with our finances. We were in a real pinch and we needed the Lord’s help. That morning in our hotel room we felt frustrated and afraid. We came before the Lord and prayed for our finances… and without any forethought we prayed for a baby. For the first time in a long time we prayed that the Lord would open my womb. I unexpectedly had the faith in that moment and we stepped out in that. Yes, my body was still apparently ‘shut down,’ but that didn’t change our prayer.

When we returned from our vacation we found out that the financial dilemma was resolved. We thanked God, and were also very grateful for a restful and rejuvenating time away together.

About two weeks weeks after our trip I came down with the flu. I missed a couple of days of work and hunkered down at home. For a reason I cannot explain I decided to take a home pregnancy test. I had an abundant supply of these little sticks from when we were doing the treatments. I took this test for about the hundredth time and expected to see the same result. But this time there were two pink lines. I was sure that I was seeing things. I came to Luke with butterflies in my belly and asked him “Are there two lines here or one?” He confirmed, “There are two lines… what does that mean?”

Five seconds later he drove to the drug store to buy a fancy digital pregnancy test, because surely this little stick was wrong!! I held my breath as I took the second test. It took thirty seconds to result, and that was the longest thirty seconds of my life. After the wait the little screen finally showed it: “Pregnant, 1-2 weeks.” We looked at each other in amazement. I could hardly breathe. We both slumped into a heap on the floor and wept. We held each other and thanked the Lord over and over again. Here we sat with the evidence of a complete miracle.

Nine months later we held the evidence of that miracle in our arms. A beautiful, healthy baby girl with dark hair came from my body and squirmed on my chest. She looked up at me with these bright gorgeous eyes and I felt my heart leave me completely. She breathed her first breath and the promise that Lord gave Luke was born.

We look back today and we see so many things. The journey was not easy, and there were moments when we had great doubt. But God was gracious to us and worked through this doubt, teaching us to trust in His promises. He KNEW all that time that one day we would come to this place, where we would hold our child and kiss her cheeks. He knew that when I would study Lucy’s little face, and feel her soft chubby hands grasp mine that I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Because every step of the journey DID bring us forward. Maybe not in the way that I had hoped for… but we grew in the struggle and I saw my Father’s passionate heart in a new way through the trials. And last but not least, He knew that I would be here today reminding my brothers and sisters that nothing is impossible with God!!!

Source: New feed

The hand on my shoulder

Mon, 12/12/2016 - 03:00

Ten years ago yesterday, an amazing and totally irreplaceable man left my life and passed into the presence of his Saviour. The last words I heard my dad say were these: “All I want to do is to be with Jesus.” Colin Campbell came to Christ as a boy in the dark days of the Depression through the preaching of Plymouth Brethren street evangelists in the awful slums of Glasgow in which he was raised. The street preachers went out and preached the Gospel to the tenement buildings the poorest people lived in, in the hope that some inside would listen. Sitting at the window several floors up, a teenaged boy heard the Gospel, came down and received Christ as his Saviour on the street. He served the Lord faithfully and without wavering for over seventy years. At his funeral, my mum and my older brother noted how in the sixty-three years of his marriage, he was never heard to have uttered a profanity or raised his voice in anger.

Dad won a scholarship to a private school in Glasgow, but was mocked because he was poor, and never went back. Instead, he went to sea in the Merchant Marine at the age of 15. His father was blind and his mother was crippled. They had absolutely nothing. While he was at sea, he witnessed to his ship-mates and led at least one to Christ, a drunkard whose life was totally transformed and was still serving the Lord thirty-five years later. While he was on a long voyage, his father, whom he deeply loved, died of pneumonia. He never found out until he got home. At 19, he enlisted in the Royal Air Force. When courting my mum, he would walk ten miles home to the base because there was no other way to get there.

Dad was a self-made man. That’s why he decided to go to Canada, where a young man could make a future for himself regardless of class or education. He worked on the Avro Arrow, possibly Canada’s greatest technological accomplishment. He served in management capacity in various corporations, and started his own. He could do anything and fix anything, a skill he did not pass on to me.

And he served me as an elder in our church. One night years ago, I was going through a time of enormous discouragement. We had lost one-third of our members, and I thought the years of our labour had been in vain. Was God really still with me? He came alongside me, put his hand on my shoulder for a while, then told this simple story. On an RAF airbase somewhere in the middle east about ten years before I was born, he was about to board a plane. As he was getting on the plane, he heard his name being called out by his commanding officer, telling him he was being taken off the mission and replaced by another man. The plane took off, but never came back. All aboard were killed. He didn’t have to say anything else. God had a plan for my life before I was born.

I still miss that hand on my shoulder. I love you, Dad. We’ll meet again in the arms of Jesus.

Source: New feed

Perseverance

Mon, 12/05/2016 - 03:00

I’ve just come back from a weekend with 30 young men eager to grow in God and extend his kingdom.

What do young men need to hear about? Well, at or near the top of the list is how to persevere. And that’s what I talked about.

One of Paul’s most powerful statements is this: “Forgetting what lies behind, I strain forward.” The last phrase in Greek is a double compound participle. Yikes! What is that? It means an ordinary word intensified, and then intensified again.

In the same passage, where he writes to the Philippians using the terminology of about the Olympic races, he has already talked about pressing on. That’s a running word: “keep running.”

Now he adds to it the picture of the runner at the very end of the race, with his body stretched out at a 45 degree angle, straining forward to get the greatest possible advantage in order to cross the finish line first.

Our culture is built around convenience, not perseverance. We want it, and we want it now. We want to make the minimum investment to gain the maximum benefit. That’s why you see people lining up at the lottery counter and the casino.

That’s why we produce charismatic preachers who explode at 30 but are finished at 40, often by some moral or character failure.

God has a different way of operating. He will take 40, 50 or 60 years of a person’s life just to prepare them for what he wants to do with the rest of it. When he’s refined the gold, he can make something beautiful and lasting out of it.

But how do we get there?

Yup, you got it. Perseverance.

We watch professional athletes, skilled musicians or gifted surgeons, and none of us has any doubt about the incredible amount of hard work it took to get them to where they are.

So why is it we think that we can accelerate the process when it comes to Christian character or leadership?

Don’t trust anyone who hasn’t submitted to training. It is good for a man (or woman) to bear the yoke when they are young. That is the Bible speaking, not me.

When I started running again 9 or 10 years ago, it took me a long time before I really began to make progress. Then one day I went out with a running club in the UK, and to my surprise I found myself near the beginning of the large pack.

When I started to learn Hebrew, for a long time it looked like nothing more than hen scratching. Then one day I began to find myself translating Biblical passages and even reading parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I’m sure there were many victims of my early years of preaching and counselling. I even counselled people (confidently!) on marriage issues when I was still single. But eventually God was able to use my skills and gifts to help people, though I am still amazed how he does it.

There may be shortcuts to the gym, but there are no shortcuts at the gym.

Likewise, there are no shortcuts to maturity.

It requires perseverance.

If there is such a thing as a guarantee of success in life, it’s perseverance. It will get you further than anything else I know.

And it’s just like a financial investment — the earlier you start, the better.

Today would be a good time.

Source: New feed

“Enjoy the journey!” – true or false?

Mon, 11/28/2016 - 03:00

I’ve done a fair bit of travelling lately. The most recent leg was an 18 hour trek from Newcastle in England via Amsterdam and Toronto to the small city of Owen Sound on the shores of Georgian Bay where we live.

How many times can you honestly say you enjoyed the journey? The best I can say is I was glad to have staggered across the finish line and collapsed into bed.

And yet people often tell us to enjoy the spiritual journey we are on, as opposed, for instance, to focussing on the destination we want to arrive at.

In all honesty, I don’t really get the advice to enjoy that journey any more than I would understand a suggestion I should revel in my 18 hour trek home from northern England.

The problem is that the Bible (and certainly its last book) presents us as people on a journey, on the way from spiritual Egypt, protected yet challenged in the wilderness and tribulation of this present life, en route to the Promised Land of the new Jerusalem.

While we are definitely on a journey, I’m not certain the Bible commands us to enjoy it. I definitely believe it tells us to endure it. But enjoy?

Maybe it would be better to look at it this way. We are to endure the journey, but what we are to enjoy is knowing Christ and the privilege of living for him and walking in the way of his cross.

Count it all joy, James says, when you encounter trials. Hmmm… well, that does sound a bit like enjoying the journey. But what actually gives me joy is the prospect of getting to the destination James sets out: that I may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

It’s not the trials that give us the joy. It’s not the journey that makes us content.

What keeps us in the journey is the fact that its trials are designed to make us dig deeper into God, and that is where we strike oil. I do not enjoy the trials, but I do enjoy the benefits of knowing the Lord more deeply. His presence invades my suffering, his interventions make the yoke easy, his song comes into my heart. And somehow the hassles and aggravations bother me less.

Let me pursue this from one more angle. Life is a mixture of journey and destination.

All along the journey, we are reaching destinations. For instance, Elaine and I are on a journey leaving the local pastorate to engage in international ministry to churches around the world. The journey, like most other things we have done over our lifetime, is a pioneering one. Some people and churches just don’t get it. There has been pain in the journey and lots of testing. But along the way, there have been massive encouragements — destinations reached. Can I say I have enjoyed the journey? No, in fact most of the time I have found it very hard. But have I found the Lord over and over again in the midst of it? Yes I have, and for that I am thankful. And I know when we launch out next summer, we will have reached a significant destination along the journey, and will take great joy in it. More than that, God will be glorified in what he has done in us and for us.

Some folk are on a much harder journey than us. Read the two posts on this website a few weeks ago by our dear friend Jan Vickers, for one example.

The journey is tough. The destinations reached along the way give us strength. The ultimate goal is certain. God is faithful.

But most of all, find him along the way.

That’s where the joy is.

Source: New feed

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