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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

He’s here

Mon, 11/21/2016 - 03:00

It is said of a well-known Christian lady that she would pray until she felt the Holy Spirit had come to her. And then everything was fine. She would simply say, “He’s here.”

Now I know that in truth the Holy Spirit, as God on earth, is in fact always here. He is never absent from the earth in which he represents both the Father and the Son who created it.

From that perspective, it seems a bit strange to invite the Holy Spirit into our services as if he is somehow waiting in the foyer trying to gain admission.

And yet…

I have found that in those many times where I find myself desperate, tired, stressed, anxious and fearful, there is one antidote. I go somewhere and cry out to the Holy Spirit until he comes to me.

This morning, I simply gave all the burdens I am carrying up to God, abandoning myself and all my situations to him. And as I cried out to God, he came.

When the Holy Spirit comes to you, or at least when you open the door of your heart and your spirit to him, it changes everything.

You receive strength and comfort and power. Your attitude changes from fear to faith, from desperation to satisfaction, from hopelessness to joy.

Today (as I write this) is a Sunday morning. I am speaking three times in two churches. I have people to meet and people to pray for. And there is one thing I know for certain: without him I am nothing. Yet with him I can do anything.

The power of the Holy Spirit takes us into the place where we can do whatever God has placed before us to do.

No matter what is in front of you today, with him you can do it. It may be to preach a sermon, it may be to teach in a classroom, it may be to build a house, it may be to look after your kids. It doesn’t really matter what it is, you need the Holy Spirit to do it.

Yes the Holy Spirit is here. But have you opened the door to him? He won’t break it down. You need to invite him in.

But when that happens, everything becomes possible.

Most of us spend far too much time trying to live out of our own strength. Why not try living out of his strength instead?

“Come, Holy Spirit” is an ancient prayer of God’s people. You can find it in medieval Latin as much as modern English.

That prayer is still valid today. Why don’t you try it and see what happens.

Source: New feed

Mystery Explained: print and e-book available!

Thu, 11/17/2016 - 12:52

No book of the Bible is more misunderstood in our North American Christian world than Revelation. This is a tragedy, because its true meaning is not hard to discern. The key is to interpret it in light of the Old Testament, not the latest news reports from the Middle East. This book takes what has become a mystery to most of us, and explains it in language understandable to the average church member. I give an introduction and explanation of the main alternative interpretations, explain why I choose the one I believe is correct, and then take you on a tour of the text, hopefully explaining any questions you may have.

Buy the Kindle edition, in Canada, in the UK, or in the US.

Buy the paperback, in Canada, in the UK, or in the US.

Source: New feed

Coming home

Mon, 11/14/2016 - 03:00

I am writing this from Durham. There are Durhams in Canada, the United States and likely other countries, but there’s only one original, in the far north-eastern corner of England, just below a wall the Emperor Hadrian built to keep unwanted immigrants out.

Durham is notable for many things. It is one of the birthplaces of Christianity in this country, with an illustrious Christian history going back to the time of St Cuthbert in the seventh century, who is buried in the cathedral. The cathedral itself is almost a thousand years old and is one of the finest pieces of architecture in Britain, or anywhere in Europe for that matter. How they built it with nothing more than muscle power is beyond me. The castle is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Europe, and I lived in it myself for a year several eons ago.

And for me, Durham was the place where God encountered me, gave me a true understanding of what the church should be, and afforded me the privilege of leading a small but radical group of young people who planted a local congregation which did not look like any other church in town. It was the place where I made many lifelong friends, and most importantly, met my wife Elaine.

It was a place where I learned obedience, where I refused to compromise my faith no matter what the cost (and there was one), and the place where my heart was stirred to pursue the kingdom of God relentlessly.

For me, coming to Durham is like coming home. And this in spite of the fact I was born in Canada and lived there for only six years. Why is that?

I think the answer is this. Home for the Christian is often the place where God most radically encountered you. It’s the place where your life was set on course and where you developed convictions that have carried you through since. It’s way more than a sentimental liking for a place that has fond memories for you.

And for me, it is reinforced by the fact that God is still working in the church I originally started. In fact, it has grown beyond recognition both in its local expression and in the impact it has had in planting churches and in sending out people around the world.

Coming back this week to help encourage the latest church planted out from Durham takes me back to the same foundations so much of my life has been built on. And it’s a great joy.

Where is home for you? My wife Elaine occasionally makes the observation that some people are born and raised and live their whole lives in the very same place, and wonders what that would be like given our own different experience.

But for the Christian, home is very frequently that place on earth where God encountered and shaped us. In a deeper sense, this points us to the fact that in truth home is the place where we will live and dwell with him forever.

Peter tells us we are only sojourners on earth. We are “resident aliens,” just like the government document said I was when I was a Canadian living in Chicago attending seminary.

Our true home is not on this earth at all. The only reason why an earthly place feels like a spiritual home is that the same God who met us there is waiting for us at the end of our earthly journey.

Sometimes we feel that our whole life has been a journey moving ever farther away from home. In fact, our whole life is a journey in which we draw ever closer to home. And those places God has met us on the way become reminders of this.

It’s pointless to try to cling on to earthly securities and the home we have here. But along the way, it’s still comforting to know there are places on this earth that remind us of the great reward that is yet to come.

Source: New feed

How to blow a marathon

Mon, 10/31/2016 - 04:00

A couple of weeks ago, my young friend Mike ran the Toronto marathon. He’d been building up to this for months. We’d talked about it often. He had a time goal and was highly motivated to meet it.

When I saw him the other day for the first time since the race, he was not a happy camper.

Mike had run long distance races before, but this was his first marathon. In the excitement of the moment, as the various waves of runners were released, Mike made his first mistake. He forgot to set his stopwatch. Then when he did, it stopped working.

By this time, he had become enveloped in a large crowd of runners. The pace seemed to be decent, and he was reluctant to spend extra energy trying to break ahead of the pack.

But when he got to the halfway mark and saw the large clock, his heart sank. He was no less than twenty-eight minutes off his expected pace!

Dwelling on what had happened demoralized him. He picked up speed a bit, but still finished forty minutes off what he had hoped for. He walked away angry and disappointed with himself.

Paul talked to the Philippians about the original marathon race. He gave the potential runners in the church some pretty good advice. He told them to forget what lies behind and to strain desperately forward. That way they could edge out the next guy at the finish line, even if only by a nose!

Forgetting to set his watch left Mike in the default position of judging his pace by those around him. He judged that the pace everyone else was going at must be the right one if everyone else was doing it. It was a very costly mistake, and so badly distorted his judgment he wound up severely off his pace without even knowing it. And then he dwelt on the mistakes of the past and lost focus on the goal.

Paul tells us to ignore everyone and everything around us in the single-minded pursuit of victory. We are to keep our eyes on one thing only — the goal marker, which is Christ. The goal marker was a large post erected to make sure the runners knew where the race ended and did not go off course.

I have never felt God calling me to do what the crowd around me was doing. I have never felt to judge the call on my life by what someone else wanted to do.

It can be costly to follow the call of God when everyone else is going at a different pace or in a different direction.

But it’s worth it.

Why? The last part of Paul’s athletic pep talk proves it. At the end of the race is the prize of the upward call. He’s referring to the high platform the judges sat on to discern who crossed the finish line first. The winner of the race got called up to where the judges sat to receive the prize. His name was called out, and everyone celebrated his triumph.

At the end of our race, we will be called upward to a higher court than that. God himself will call out our name. And in this race, thankfully, many can be winners.

But to win the race we have to follow the goal marker. We have to set our stopwatch to the will of God for our life. We have to stop looking around and letting others set the pace or determine the direction. We have to get past the past, and keep our eye on the goal.

After the race, Mike got a word of wisdom from an experienced runner. Mike had noticed a few runners making a sprint right at the beginning, which to him seemed counterproductive in such a long race. But his wise friend told that him the smart runners do that in order to get away from the crowd and set their own pace.

Your sprint is your time spent with God. It will give you a winning edge, and set you on the path to victory.

Run to win. The prize is worth it.

Source: New feed

Does God have a plan?

Sun, 10/23/2016 - 04:00

One afternoon in July, I received an alarming phone call. My good friend Bob was up doing some repairs on a roof on one of his son’s farm buildings when he stepped through some rotten wood and fell twelve feet to the ground. Bob (who is supposed to be retired) is 74 years old, and I feared the worst.

What happened was a remarkable turn of events. His granddaughter, who was on the roof with him, was completely unhurt. His sons were both on the spot and called for an ambulance. And it so happened that the air ambulance was passing more or less overhead on its way back to our local hospital. The land ambulance arrived, the air ambulance landed in a nearby field, and between all the paramedics they got Bob into the helicopter and 45 minutes or so later he was in a teaching hospital in the city of London.

He broke pretty well all his ribs, plus an assortment of bones elsewhere, yet amazingly his head and spine were completely undamaged. The first few days, he looked pretty rough, to say the least, yet he quickly improved and now, only three months later, the only sign anything happened to him is the fact he’s shaking hands with his left, as the right hand is still sore.

And so my question is this: in those moments immediately before Bob fell, did God have a plan? It’s easy to see how God had a plan afterward, involving the ambulance and the outstanding medical care, and it’s easy to see how God protected Bob from what could otherwise have been fatal injuries.

Yet the question remains: did God have a plan before the accident? Why could he not have prevented it?

It’s really the same question asked of Jesus when he turned up way too late to save his friend Lazarus. “Couldn’t he who opened the eyes of the blind man have saved Lazarus from dying?” was what the people were saying.

And I think that story gives us the answer, or at least part of the answer, for things that happen to folk like Bob. The plan God had after Lazarus’ death sheds light on the plan he had before Lazarus’ death.

Jesus gave the clue with this simple statement: “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).

Understandably, you and I focus on asking God to protect us from harm and give us the happiest life possible. God is committed to protect us in the deepest, spiritual sense, but he is committed to his glory more than to our happiness.

So when bad things happen to us, we have the choice of blaming God and becoming angry or depressed, or asking God how he wants to work out his glory through our pain.

In Bob’s case, God was glorified in his protection of Bob from worse injury, in his provision of an air ambulance and terrific doctors, in his amazing recovery, and in the way Bob and his wife Joanne and family made the choice to honour and give thanks to him throughout the process.

Now they have a story to tell, to God’s glory.

There are times when it is impossible for us to figure out why God had done this or allowed that. There are times (please read the blogs posted on this website in the last couple of weeks from Jan Vickers) when all you can do is trust in God’s goodness amidst the battle, and know that in eternity, we always win.

But in the meantime, never, ever doubt that God has a plan.

And when his glory comes about even in the midst of your pain, the end result will be blessing for you far above and beyond what any earthly superficial happiness can ever bring.

So let us let his glory come in your life and mine.

A dangerous prayer, but the very best one to offer.

And remember this: no matter what, Jesus is always worth following.

Source: New feed

Abandoned – or abandoned?

Mon, 10/17/2016 - 04:00

It’s a strange title — but I’ll explain.

Some of you will know Elaine and I are transitioning out of leading a local church into a wider ministry next summer. Out of her experience of nine pregnancies (we lost one baby through miscarriage), Elaine decided that transition, the point just before birth, was the hardest point in labour. And it can be the same in other areas of life.

Transition is that point at which it all begins to happen. It’s too late to go back, yet seems impossible in the searing pain to move ahead. But in the end, the baby is born.

When we determine to move ahead in God, and when that determination involves radical change and steps of faith, the birthing process will be contested by the enemy with all the power at his disposal. He will use everything from external circumstances to pressing the buttons on all our weaknesses.

Our transition process has turned out to be longer and more complicated than I had envisioned. My previous experience was step out in faith, obey God, plant a church, and trust that he will provide. It wasn’t easy, but it was simple. We never had any money or support to back us up, but God showed up. Twice. But that was a long time ago.

Now our step of faith involves other churches and other people, and it’s not just God and us. And we have to honour how God speaks to and works through others.

So things really began to get on top of me.

But in that moment, a couple of weeks ago, I had a revelation.

Don’t worry — I didn’t see seven angels, seven lampstands or four living creatures. No, I had a revelation of a basic truth of the Word of God.

In that moment when the enemy was telling me I was abandoned, God spoke to me to abandon myself to him.

I opened my Bible and began to read Matthew 6 out loud. God feeds the birds and clothes the grass. He asks which of us through our anxiety can add an hour to his life? And he tells us to live in his grace for the only day for which he will give it, which is today.

Our problem is this. We try to control tomorrow by our thoughts. We think of all the positive outcomes we can imagine, but we never win this battle because all the negatives come flooding in and overwhelm us. In truth, our efforts to control the future in our thinking are a mild yet still deadly form of divination.

There is only one possible solution to our anxiety, and that is to abandon ourselves to God. Cast all your cares on him, as Peter puts it. Roll them into one big bundle and throw them into his arms.

In times of fear, stretching and transition, it can appear that God has abandoned us.

That is never true. The problem is the opposite. We have not abandoned ourselves to him.

Jesus said his yoke was easy and his burden light.

He will give you grace for today. And when tomorrow comes, he will look after that as well.

Our transition continues. But Jesus is in charge.

Source: New feed

Jan Vickers: Hope in the Valley (Part 2)

Tue, 10/11/2016 - 04:00

Psalm 23:5 “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.”

As I am walking through the valley of the shadow of death carrying a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, and my dear husband is walking it with me we are well aware that there is a battle going on around us. A battle where the enemy would whisper accusations both against us and against the nature of our loving God, where the enemy seeks to throw disappointment and sometimes a threat of despair our way. One of the important lessons we are learning is how to deal with those whispering undermining voices.

We talk about the valley of shadows and it has been interesting to stop and ask ourselves “Is there an enemy we need to fear here – or are they just shadows?” Some fears come from a perceived threat, which isn’t real danger at all, whereas some enemies are a clear and present danger. We live in a culture of fear, despair and hopelessness – felt quite strongly sitting in the hospital waiting room with others awaiting results. We can so easily come under the atmosphere of the world around us. When the enemy of our souls whisper lies at us – it is helpful to ask “Is this true?” No! It is just a fog, a shadow. The Lord is with me. Whom then shall I fear?

From my husband’s military experience, I know that to sit at a table and have a picnic is not the normal behaviour in the face of your enemies. Our biology lessons from school tell us that in fear we respond with either fight or flight. When we spot the enemies’ tactics there is a time to fight and to resist the devil. And there is a time to flee, run into the strong tower that is Jesus and His victory on the Cross, and not engage in debate with the enemy. But I love this alternative presented in Psalm 23 to sit at a banqueting table prepared by Jesus!

In our military life we moved house 19 times in 20 years. I love people, community and belonging so one of the most difficult things for me was entering into a room full of strangers, taking a deep breath and having the courage to engage in making new friends once again. And how wonderful it was to enter a room where people looked pleased to see me, greeted me and said “Come over here Jan, we have saved a place for you.” This is the sense I get when I read this verse, that Jesus has prepared and saved a place for me with Him at His table. He loves me and is so pleased that I am with Him. It is a place of intimacy. And it is in the face of my enemies! As those enemies look at me they cannot touch me as they also see Jesus, and they have taken Him on before and they lost! It is the safest place for me to be.

At the table the Lord provides for me the anointing of oil, which was a tradition of Oriental feasts. But it also reminds me that in the valley and in front of my enemies my anointing and calling in the Holy Spirit has not been lost; in fact it is often a place where our calling is reinforced. I have read that shepherds used to run oil onto the heads of sheep to prevent ticks getting into their ears and noses. These could be very destructive to them. At his table Jesus gives us the means to deal with the little irritations, offences and lies that can wrangle their way in, especially in our valley times.

It is also a place where my cup overflows. There will always be lavish provision of comfort and goodness for my soul, and it is not just for me but it will be overflowing so there will be plenty to share, to touch and influence those around me. Life in all its fullness is still reality even in the valleys and even in the face of our enemies.

Sitting at the table Jesus has prepared is the most wonderful response we can make whatever situation we are in. The invitation is given, we choose Him and His goodness and mercy is extended to us every day of our life! What peace that brings!

Rob Jan Vickers

Rob and Jan at home.

Source: New feed

Jan Vickers: Hope in the Valley (Pt. 1)

Mon, 10/03/2016 - 04:00

Today’s post is written by Jan Vickers; Jan and her husband Robin reside in the UK and are close friends of David and Elaine.

Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and staff they comfort me.

Dark valleys can be very different for each of us. They can come upon us very suddenly; a worrying diagnosis, a relationship crisis, a financial problem. Sometimes they can creep up on us slowly from within; anxiety, depression, addiction.

For my husband and myself we have walked the valley of the shadow of death over the past few years. Robin was an officer in the British army (now safely retired!) and he was posted to Iraq for a year working in a very dangerous area of Baghdad. He walked the valley of the shadow of death daily, but so did I waiting and hoping and praying at home. On his returning home, I was then diagnosed with breast cancer and went through the usual treatments of surgery and chemotherapy. This time Robin had to walk his own dark valley of supporting me. On my recovery he was then posted to Afghanistan for a year – we continued walking. Again on his return, not to be outdone, I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer which means the cancer is spreading and I am now under palliative care. We continue walking!

Coming from a theological background which believes in God’s supernatural ability and desire to heal, and faced with the medical prognosis and reality of my health, it would be understandable that that could cause problems for me! Yet I have found that I can walk with one foot on the path of expectation that today could be the day I am healed, and this is God’s desire for me, and the other on the path of my as yet unhealed life-shortening illness. OK, sometimes both feet leap onto one path but then soon I am back on both paths again.

The reason why I am walking in so much peace and faith I can only put down to the truth of the verse above. “I will fear no evil for you are with me.” The presence of God.  Life has become very simple. Jesus is my Saviour. Jesus is my Healer and He is with me. So I hang out with Him! He knows how to lead me in paths of righteousness. He is not confused and bewildered by the valley I am in. He encourages me to keep walking through, not to settle and make my camp in the valley. He provides what I need for the journey as He is the God of all comfort, endurance and encouragement. He has the wisdom, the tools and strategies and is able to protect and comfort my heart within the valley.

Where God is there is goodness and as I look to Him I see it all around me. He has said “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me every day of my life.”(Ps 23:6) That means every day! It means the days when I feel the “same power that raised Christ from the dead is working in my mortal body”  (Rom 8:11), as well as the days I feel pain. It means the days to come of joy and sadness, of enjoying and leaving my loved ones. It means the day when “I know in whom I have believed” (2 Tim 1:12) and will step into eternity with Him.

That is why we can say with the Psalmist “I will fear no evil.” I once heard said, there are no longer good days and bad days but days of grace. That grace may be expressed through supernatural intervention, of being sustained with favour and good things, or it comes in strength, endurance and courage. There will always be sufficient grace.

Hope is the confident expectation of goodness and sometimes we try to define what that looks like. “Goodness is that I get healed.” That would be good! But if we do not get healed does that mean our lives are without His goodness and therefore we lose hope? No! In everything the Good Shepherd is doing good and His goodness is so much more than our limited definition of good. Therefore we never have to be without hope.

When I imagine the days to come, good or bad, I think of the Lord’s presence in them and that settles my heart. He will be there, my source and my salvation. I need not fear.

Source: New feed

The eleventh hour

Mon, 09/26/2016 - 04:00

How many times have you heard it said, “God moves at the eleventh hour”? That statement is both incredibly true and undeniably false.

How can I so obviously contradict myself?

Let me explain.

We often make the observation that God’s ways are not our ways. But just as often, we miss the equally important truth: God’s timing is not our timing.

And this explains the apparent contradiction. The time at which God moves is often the eleventh hour to us, but not to God.

Here is an observation I have made in my own life experience: God moves at the hour of our greatest desperation. To despair means literally (in Latin) to run out of hope. The moment we run out of hope in our own resources and ability is the moment we can enter into God’s resources instead.

Elaine and I have been planning a massive transition in our life from local church leadership to a wide-ranging ministry. We will live in and travel to various places to use the gifts God has given us to encourage and raise up leaders around the world and expand the capacities of local churches to understand and apply the Word of God. We will not slow down, we will ramp up!

That is exciting, but transition means leaving a place of relative security (though not without its own challenges), into something new. Our last transition was when we got on a plane thirty years ago to come to Canada with no money and no job, only the call of God to plant a church, and where it would be we had no idea. And by God’s grace, we did plant a church, a church in healthy condition we will certainly hand over to capable hands, a church whose best days lie ahead.

Where does that leave us? In a place of faith. And dependency. When things do not develop as easily or quickly as we thought, at first it becomes disconcerting, and then finally desperate.

But that is when God starts to work.

Will it be the eleventh hour before it all works out? It may be, at least to me. But to God, it will be nothing of the sort. It will be his perfect timing. It will be his opportunity to use challenging circumstances to cast me into a greater dependency on him. And by the end of the process, he will have shown me how he was using all those frustrating circumstances to develop and reveal his perfect will for us.

Next summer, by faith we will walk into a whole new phase of our life and service to God. God will provide for us in every possible way. When that happens, will I at last be able to say I have now arrived? No. I hate to say it, but there will be more eleventh hours. As long as I walk in the steps of faith and the way of the cross, God will use circumstances to bring me into that desperation that releases his solutions and causes him alone to receive the glory from what happens.

When you feel desperate, don’t give up!

It’s often the very moment God is about to move.

Peter was a man who lived all his life in the certain knowledge he would die a martyr’s death. What was his answer? “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares for you.”

As you face your eleventh hour, it’s pretty good advice to take.

He will not fail you.

Source: New feed

The back side of the tapestry

Mon, 09/19/2016 - 04:00

Durham Castle, in which I lived for a year, is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in England. At least, that’s what I told people I gave tours to! In 1603, King James VI of Scotland stopped in for a night on his way to London to be crowned James I of England. Later he gave his name to the famous translation of the Bible.

In one of the great chambers of the Castle hang some enormous tapestries, each of which is several centuries old. Perhaps King James enjoyed them the same way I did when I sat after dinner most nights having coffee.

Tapestries are funny things. On the back they resemble a collection of completely unrelated threads amounting to absolutely nothing. On the front, the threads come together to form a picture of great beauty. Needless to say, they take a great deal of time and effort to make. The Durham tapestries probably took years to produce, not months.

This year my life has often looked far more like the back side of the tapestry than the front.

But that’s OK, because God is teaching me something in it.

Maybe it’s the same thing he was teaching Abraham when he followed the call of God into the desert, and the promise of a son did not materialize. Maybe it’s the same thing he was teaching David when he was anointed king, only to spend years fleeing for his life in the caves and hills of Judea. Maybe it’s the same thing he was teaching Paul when he sat for years on the back side of Tarsus, wondering if the guy who appeared to him on the road to Damascus had got it wrong.

What he’s teaching me is that it’s most often when things look the worst that God is doing the most.

And usually the smartest thing to do when you’re in that place is… nothing.

Almost anything you do when you’re at the bottom of the pit will come out of a desire for deliverance from a fire in which God is refining you.

Whether it’s a life or a tapestry, the key to success is time. Most of the most powerful promises God has made to Elaine and I have taken years to come to fulfillment, and some we still await.

God always takes more time than we would like him to because he is doing a work greater than we realize. And in it there are all sorts of pieces beyond our control that he has to bring together.

But here is the most important thing. Through the days, months and even years, he takes the apparently random and unattractive threads and weaves them into something of true and amazing beauty.

Then there are those wonderful days when the tapestry is turned over. Those are the days when we suddenly see what God was doing while we waited. And I’ve had some of those lately too. And there are more to come, for God is often most at work in the very times when you think he’s forgotten you.

David, who knew more about adversity than most of us, got it just right: “The steps of a person are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand” (Psalm 37:23-24).

And a few verses later: “Wait for the Lord and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land” (verse 34).

Just be patient and wait.

The day will come when the tapestry will be turned over, and all the time, hard work, heartache and sorrow that went into its production will have been worth while.

Source: New feed

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