December 19, 2014

Glimmerings of Glory!

“Is Christmas ruined?” She asked it of me hoping for reassurance that despite the tensions in the air and the tears streaming in the wake of relational heartaches, despite the upheaval of a house up for sale and an impending move, despite the sadness of moving away from all that’s familiar and loved… despite all this, Christmas will go on.

Dropping into all the relational stresses, the loneliness, the ‘sad’ of being dislodged from home at Christmas time, comes the reality of what Christmas is all about. It shines all the brighter against the backdrop of our messy world.

Perhaps the things we equate with Christmas do more to obscure its meaning than to point us to it.  We love the nostalgia of Christmases past, the cozy fireside (minus chestnuts roasting!), the aroma of baking gingerbread, the perfection of iced sugar cookies, the tinsel sparkling on the tree, the lights glowing, the music playing.  But the stable of Bethlehem had none of these.  Nor did the cold lonely hillside where the shepherds eked out an existence with no hope of a change in their circumstances, ever.  Just this, day after day, night after night.  Tending sheep, a thankless job, a weary existence…

And then the glory of God came bursting in to their night skies.  Isn’t that the way it is?  We’re stuck in darkness apart from God revealing Himself to us, giving us ears to hear the good news, jolting us from our mundane marking of time to live in hope.  This is the glory of Christmas.  The world was still dark when the angels went away.  The shepherds would return again from the stable to their hillsides.  The baby’s diapers would need to be changed.  Mary and Joseph were still homeless for a while…But there was hope.  A Saviour had been born. God’s plan to redeem us all was showcased in that manger.  Hope was rekindled. God has not left us to our make our way alone.

That’s why no matter how bleak the season of life we are in may seem, no matter how disappointing, crushing, lonely, or disjoint life has become…Christmas is not ruined.  Its glory is only enhanced when our props vanish and the backdrop is dark.  A light has shone on those who walk in darkness.  A hope has been born to those who wake hopeless.  For family members with unsalved hurts, for the lonely, the lost, the helpless, the dying—a Saviour has been born. 

His name is Wonderful Counselor—the answer to those impossible situations that strain us to the breaking point. Mighty God—the very intervention we can’t live without. Everlasting Father—loving and protecting, aware of our needs, never absentee, unfailing forever.  Who doesn’t long for such a Father? And He is the Prince of Peace.  Peace with God is our soul’s native cry. Jesus was born to pave the way. No turmoil can eclipse this kind of peace. What more do we need than in Him is found?  A Saviour has been born to us; He is Christ the Lord.  He is the Great I AM in answer to all we are not.

Is Christmas ruined when our own worlds stand in disarray? Never.  

God’s glory has shone around inviting us to the manger—to behold His Son, ‘born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law’.  He invites us to believe the promise of blessing given to Abraham long years ago.  “I will bless you… and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen.12:2,3) God’s heart is to bless mankind, His creation. How few believe it.

He longs to free us from the sin that makes slaves of us all.  He longs for us to know the freedom of the sons of God, to be liberated from our efforts to do enough good to earn peace with Him.  Peace doesn’t come that way; it never has.  The good tidings of Christmas, the ‘first noel’, is that God has given us Jesus to save us from our sins.

Christmas isn’t ruined by our imperfections, our failings, or even our want of joy.  No, only if the Christ child was not really born is its meaning lost.  Is peace on earth a seamless reality in all our gatherings with family and friends?  Does Joy to the World imply an endless emotional high despite dark days and melancholy memories?  No, but peace and joy are rights of sonship, given to all who worship the Son as their Saviour, who believe He has come for the likes of them.  As we treasure Him and lay all our hopes at His feet new hope will be born.  This Hope of the world will not disappoint. Instead He takes our shame and offers us the glory of God.  This is the hope of Christmas.

If Jesus isn’t Saviour enough for me, if God’s good will depends on my good behavior, if my sin is too great or my heart too stubborn to be moved by His Spirit to repentance and faith…then maybe Christmas is ruined.  But a light has shone and while it shines there is hope for us all.

“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men…to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:4,12

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12


Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good…Ps.103:2-5

Through our Lord Jesus Christ we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God…and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. Ps.130:7

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. II Cor.3:18

For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. II Cor.4:6

December 14, 2014

What to do with the King of the Jews

The newborn King was recognized by so few. 

Things haven’t changed much.

A baby was born in a stable—the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, yet so few knew.  Foreign wise men appeared asking: "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?" Herod was alarmed. The shock was felt through all Jerusalem. What did this mean? The King of the Jews had come? Really? Who knew!

The hubbub died down. Infants in Bethlehem were slaughtered to insure no rival to Herod’s throne.  Herod breathed easy while unbeknownst to him, the newborn king became a toddler in Egypt and then moved back to Nazareth to learn the carpenter’s trade with his ‘dad’.

But then one day this man came preaching: Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.(Mt.4:17)  Unless you are born again you cannot enter it.  You believe in my Father, believe also in me…

Some were curious.  They welcomed the Kingdom as long as it served their interests. Many were healed.  But His message was a hard one.  Repent. Take up your cross.  Follow me.  The birds have nests, the fox its lair, but I have no place to lay my head…Eat my flesh. Drink my blood.  No one can come to the Father except through me.  There was no way around this Jesus.  He was a lamb sent to save, a King come humbly riding on a donkey.  But He was a King, undeniably a King; He spoke with authority. Very few believed.  Few understood this  King had been born for them. Few bowed the knee to give Him the honor and allegiance He was due.

His own were slow of heart to believe.  They chafed at His call to repentance and faith as the only means of entering this Kingdom.  Their forefathers had made the same mistake, rejecting God as their King in favor of a mere man.  What's to be done with this King? The wise men from foreign lands knew; they came to worship. But his own did not receive Him.  They protested "we have no king but Caesar!"

And at his trial the question came:  “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Wise men were nowhere to be seen now.  Instead of bowing with gifts, the soldiers mocked Jesus’ claims to Kingship and crowned Him with thorns.  The crowds called for His death by crucifixion. 

Jesus was a humble King.  He let them do to Him as they would. He had not come to condemn but to save. (Jn.3:16-18) The newborn king had grown to manhood to die for the sins of the world. Only by death could peace with God be bought.

“Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done”, He had taught His followers to pray.  His death was the Father’s will.  Only by His death could God’s Kingdom come on earth.  For only when the King holds sway in the hearts of men can God’s Kingdom be said to have come on earth.

So the Babe of Bethlehem, now grown, was  nailed to  a cross with  a sign above His head announcing what the wise men had said in the beginning.  Here hangs “the King of the Jews”.  Who knew?  Who believed?

Millennia have passed.  The celebration of Christmas has stuck in western cultures, though its meaning is lost to most.  Most know (I presume?) that a baby was born.  But what of a King who is worthy of worship? 

I listened again to the Hallelujah chorus this afternoon at our annual “Carols by Candlelight”.  How many believe the reality of what they are singing?

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever.

Handel’s words, taken from Revelation 11, describe a time yet future, when Jesus will return to establish His Kingdom on earth.  He will come again, this King, but not as a babe in a manger, not as a lamb to bring peace with God by the sacrifice of Himself.  He will come next time to reign!  This will entail bringing to trial those who have refused His rule, and rewarding those who are eagerly awaiting His return.  (Heb.9:27-28)There’s no in-between.  The baby in the manger was the King of Kings.  Celebrating Christmas has no significance apart from this. Otherwise this Bethlehem baby would long since have been forgotten.

Just as was the case the first time around, many have stopped expecting His coming.  Scoffers will say: “Where is the promise of His coming?”  The wait grows long.  But it is not in vain. Jesus waits too--for as many as will to come to the knowledge of the truth, that the Babe of Bethlehem is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  He is worthy of the worship of our lives. 

And so today, as we sign a contract to put our home up for sale, I’m taking this long view of things.  The kingdom I belong to is not of this world.  I bake cookies here.  I play Christmas music—“…glory to the Newborn King”.  I love the cozy and the warm of this home and I have loved owning this piece of God’s earth.  But I can let it go.  My Kingdom is not here.  This is not my final resting place.

The King is coming to reign on earth, but in the meantime  He holds sway in my heart.  And if He wants us to move, I am willing.  We do not see all the reasons why but we sense it is time…so we’re taking steps and trusting Him to lead us forward, for His Kingdom’s sake.

Do you know this old hymn? It was a comfort to my quivering heart this morning:

The King of love my shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am His
And He is mine forever.

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
Within Thy house forever

My house is up for grabs. But His is forever.  This all feels a little unreal but the real estate agent was here today.  This unthinkable thing is underway.  Should real live homes be sold?   When they are cozy and bright with Christmas lights, when they have served as secure nests for mothers and young, when they have housed so much of life and love…should they ever be put up for sale?! 

But I have a King and by definition He is the One who directs and appoints our places and times.  Who am I to drag my feet?  I am His child, and I am His subject.    And that is enough.

Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. I Tim.1:17

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.  May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace! Ps. 29:10-11 ESV

As we celebrate the birth of a baby in Bethlehem,
let’s remember He is the King of Kings!


I will extol you my God and King, and I will bless Your name forever. Every day I will bless you and I will praise your name forever and ever. Ps.145:1,2

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. [Heb 9:27-28 ESV]

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.  And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
[Dan 12:2-3 ESV]


The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.  Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,  waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! [II Pet. 3:9-12 ESV]

December 5, 2014

We’ve outgrown our life plan…


It’s the time of year for Christmas letters, time to re-cap what has transpired month-by-month in our lives.  Births and deaths, weddings and vacations, accomplishments and happy memories.   Meanwhile we relegate the sad, the bad, and the hopeless to wait in the closet till the Christmas letters are signed and mailed, or till we’ve pressed ‘Send’ in our e-mail window.  Everything’s looking good in our house…. (Hmm…but that’s another topic for another day) As for our house, we’re getting ready for two things this year: Christmas, and moving.

I was looking back to see what I said in our Christmas letter last year.  I liked it so well I thought I could use it again this year!  Just fine tune a few details.  Add a year to the new grandbaby’s life. Add a wedding. Add a new job for one of our kids.  Put a chick back in our empty nest and voila.  Not much has changed.  In fact last year at this time I wrote:

So… we are enjoying a quiet winding down of our first year with just the two of us rattling around in this big house. Having gotten past the initial withdrawal ache we are enjoying the chance to rediscover 'us' as we wonder what to do next…Our life goals were evidently too limited; we're only 52 and have run out of ideas! Thirty years ago we started our family and now we're back to square one, alone together again. We sure are glad we still like each other!! We want our lives to be about family still and it sure would be nice to live a little nearer to those precious grandkids…so we're asking the Lord to direct our steps with that in mind.

We’ve been thinking about a move for a long time.  The grandkids just keep growing up without us! But the truth is, we’re comfortable here.  Beautiful surroundings, minimal cost of living, maximal leisure time, low stress…low crime rate--safe place to raise a family.  We have enjoyed eleven years of retreat in this place (and what a spot for a retreat center it could be!)  It’s not that we haven’t been willing to move, at least in theory.  And little by little we’ve been weaned from our first loves here.  My hiking adventures largely died with Louie three years ago.    Jim’s sailing ventures ended with the sale of our boat last year.  [To conclude that story, she actually sank in the Strait last spring during a race at the hands of her new owner!]  Our sailing era is over.  

We have found fellowship here and purpose among God’s people, and we have been refreshed, but there is a sense that it is time to move on.  But still… we are here, asking God to move us, lead us, show us, what more He has for us.  And we wait…

I’ve been mulling over Psalm 32:8’s description of what it means to be directed by God: 

“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.  Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.” (Ps.32:8 ) 

What does it mean to wait on God for direction with understanding?  Not idle and mute.  Not stupid and stubborn.  What does it mean to be guided by His eye?

Our recent car crash shook us with the reality that life is indeed short.  We are not guaranteed endless years of health and leisure to come and go as we please.  Our lives are not our own.  We are God’s own possession for His purposes.  And we want to be holy people—not just in the sense of ‘what we don’t do’ but in the sense of being all that we are meant to be. 

For what has He designed us in this stage of our lives? 

I’m a homebody.  I love having my own home, my own quiet circles of family and friends, my own little world… I am comfortable here.  But I have always viewed life on this earth as transitory.  No one stage is guaranteed to last a lifetime.  Perhaps this comes from our early married days in missions; we moved constantly, never expecting to put down permanent roots.  Despite being a homebody at heart, finding my ‘dream home’ would be a hazard for me.  I don’t want my heart to be entangled with a place.  I don’t want my security to be based on having found a comfortable routine, a predictable lifestyle or a familiar circle of friends.  Where is the living by faith once I’ve found my ‘dream home’?  Most of all I don’t want to be ‘as the mule’ who must be coerced to move or he will not.  I want to be willing and ready to gladly lay down my love of home and go wherever…

And that’s what I’m pondering these days, as our talks of moving become tasks of getting ready to actually move.  We have laid down more roots here than ever before.  Literally.  Up until this move our fragile sense of permanence has always prevented us from planting trees.  Here we have planted scores of trees—dozens and dozens of firs, seedling maples that tower over us already, and fruit trees that are just coming into their fruitful years… I understand the longing for the permanence of home, to watch trees and kids grow through all the seasons of life.  But we were never meant to love houses and lands and the comforts of home to such an extent that ‘Follow Me’ precludes leaving these. We were never intended to feel completely comfortable in this world.

So as we sense a move coming up we are sorting and sifting the ‘stuff’ of our lives that has brought us a degree of security but which now weighs us down.  And we are asking: Will we need this to fulfill God’s calling on our lives?  

I thought this part would be easy—this knowing what to take.  When it was about furniture, the choices were more clear.  Ages ago we glibly discussed what furnishings we would take if ever we moved.  Since we started out here with next to nothing—sleeping bags and toiletries, random pots and dishes, we have few sentimental attachments to furniture.  But then we officially moved up with a moving van and there were beds and the antique kitchen table and my heirloom rocker and of course, my desk.  And the rest has just grown on us over the years, as ‘stuff’ is wont to grow in a culture that values ‘things’ as the measure and means of happiness.  And we have been carried along on this tidal wave of ‘blessings’.  Imperceptibly my ‘stuff’ and my comfortable place have become a source of security so that the thought of abandoning it gives me shivers in the night.  What if…Jim dies, the economy crashes, we can never own a house again, we hate living in Alberta… What if…


….without you I fall apart…

The two songs that brought me peace on the night when my worries got the upper hand were these:  “Lord, I need you” and “My Hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.  I DARE NOT trust the sweetest frame (or home, or comfy situation) but wholly lean on Jesus’ Name.”

Never mind the modern adage to ‘follow your heart’.  Mine is a traitor.  It loves its simple comforts and predictabilities.  It is bound to set its hopes on things seen and to quiver at possibilities unseen. It loves the illusion that everything’s under control. It isn’t. Not under my control anyway.

Have you listened to your heartbeat lately? (another example of something not under my control!)  Not just that physical one that pumps the blood that keeps you in life, but your heart of hearts.  It was designed and installed by God,  custom-made to reflect its Creator’s desires, true enough.  But it’s been sabotaged.  In the garden when Eve opted to make her own decisions, to ‘follow her heart’, to get a better understanding of good and evil…on that day the human heart proved itself untrustworthy.

David was known as a man after God’s own heart despite his failings because  he truly wanted what God wanted. When his own heart carried him away he always made his way back by confessing he had been wrong and God right:

“But David's heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” II Sam.24:10

I want a heart like that.  Saul’s heart was not so pliable.  He cared more for his own glory than God’s. He died for His breach of faith.  Not only did He disobey God’s clear command, but he justified himself.  In addition, because “He did not seek guidance from the LORD” but sought out a medium instead,
“therefore the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David…”
I Chron. 10:13,14  He couldn’t be bothered to do things God’s way.  His own heart betrayed him.

I don’t want this.  So I am speaking ‘Silence!’ to my quivering heart in this transitional season of our lives, and I am asking that  God would plant His desires in my heart.  I want His peace and His vision for our futures. I want my heart to be weaned from finding security in things and circumstances and to truly set its hope in God.  As He makes His desires to be our desires then we will be holy to our God--

“…but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands,  as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” I Pet.3:4-6

Knowing God’s heart is what I’m after, rather than following my own into disillusionment.  I need a refit done on my heart to outfit it with His desires for me. The process is underway.  Part of me is willing to go or stay, to cling to or fling my possessions as He dictates, to forsake this home and fearlessly follow into the great unknown…  He’s got the blueprint for these holy souls he’s making of us. He can see the unique reflection of His glory we are and will be.  He’s got the design and our eyes are on Him for the next steps.

Thanks for sharing our journey by your thoughtful words and prayers.


“…you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commandments and followed me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in my eyes”
I Kings 14:8

And he walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father.
I Kings 15:3

‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.' Acts 13:22

“Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?” –David, I Chron.17:16

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding, In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

“Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart. 
Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him, and He will act.
Ps.37:4,5 ESV

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…” Heb.12:1,2




November 28, 2014

Dealing with Difficult People

I was horrified.  The text of the morning’s message was Titus 3:9-11: “But avoid foolish controversies…as for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him…”

Neatly removing these verses from their context, the speaker in the pulpit moved on to apply  them to persons who refuse to let go of difficult issues and so affect the unity of our churches and seminaries.

Who are these ‘difficult people’ with ‘bad attitudes’ that ‘stand up for the Word of God’ while displaying ‘spiritual immaturity’ by their intolerance of sin in the church? 
--People like me, evidently.

What’s to be done with the likes of these? 
--“We need to move them out of our communities because they affect unity.”

Ok… slow down.  What are these ‘difficult issues’ again?  We’re not talking ‘food sacrificed to idols’ or whether or not a Christian should be circumcised.  We’re not talking arbitrary peripherals that aren’t clearly defined in the Word of God.  And no, I don’t believe Paul would have agreed with the speaker and called these non-essentials of the faith—since after all ‘we all love God’.

The issues she spoke of are ‘hot button’ issues because they run counter to culture.  They affect people we know and love.  Our compassion-ometers want to make exceptions and decide right and wrong on a person- by-person basis depending on how things seem to be working out for the individuals concerned.  The way that ‘seems right to a man’ is hard to deny without getting labeled ‘intolerant’. 

The talk from the pulpit proceeded with an uncanny repetition of the word ‘conversations’:  We need to be having them—‘authentic conversations’, ‘genuine’ conversations, but not ‘fierce conversations’…We need to show empathy, to care unconditionally, to enter deeply into another’s understanding, and to seek ‘new insights on Scripture’ so we can learn to see things differently and ultimately ‘make space’ for those of differing opinions and lifestyles.

It was all about reaching consensus and exhibiting ‘caring community’.  It all sounded so warm and wonderful, except that though the talk began with reference to Scripture it was soon revolving around man’s opinions rather than God’s: If we truly understand where people are coming from we will be more inclusive, more welcoming, less ‘judgmental’, more ‘loving’…we will stop majoring on ‘minor issues’.  We will stop being ‘difficult people’ who can’t let go of ‘difficult issues’.

But really there was no warm and wonderful in it.  The issues at stake are not minor issues. They are destroying the North American church! True, our churches are scrambling to de-classify them from major to minor status, (anything to make our churches more relevant, less offensive) Church boards meet. Denominations re-write statements of doctrine. And the folks in the pew are led like sheep down the slippery slide which ends in  ‘the love of many growing cold’. 

First it was divorce and remarriage, then women in leadership, next up are the ‘gender identity’ issues that have resulted from the hosts of broken homes that have engendered them! We can pretend these are minor issues that disrupt ‘unity’. After all, everyone claims to love God, surely we should get along,  but God says the one who loves Him will find the keeping of His commands a delight. (I Jn.5:3) And these issues we are divided on are issues God has spoken clearly on. He describes them with words like: ‘abomination’, unnatural, debased, and  ‘worthy of death’. The morning’s speaker, who incidentally (or not?) was a woman, steered us from such considerations by suggesting we just need ‘fresh insight’, a new way of reading those Words, and a more agreeable outlook…Then we will have caring unified communities.

There is a great longing for close-knit community in the church at large.  Most believers I know feel the want of it.  We long to be of one mind and one heart with other believers, to enjoy deep and meaningful fellowship, not just Sunday morning services.  And we long to have an effect on our communities, to help the hurting and welcome the fallen.  These desires set us up for great deception if we waffle in our commitment to God’s revealed truth in order to fulfill them. 

We cannot merely turn a blind eye to bad doctrine and blatant sin in order to enhance unity. We fail to truly love when we fail to address sin with the loving intent of restoring the sinner to God’s intended design for him/her. After all, the unity we share as believers is the unity created by the HOLY Spirit. Ours is a holy calling. To stop short of this calling in our interactions with others is not love at all.  It is a short-sighted sort of compassion, a sort of warmed petri dish of lamb’s blood bound to incubate sin rather than treat it. And that sin is what kills fellowship. When we walk in the light, fellowship is restored. When we truly love, truth is not left out of our conversations. Yes, we need authentic conversations but they cannot end with our own thoughts and opinions on issues of importance.  They must be grounded in what God has to say in His eternal Word.

The ‘difficult issues’ will only be made more difficult when we prioritize making people feel comfortable over honoring God’s heart on our ‘hot button’ issues.  When  compassions and convictions clash the authority of  God’s Word must rule the day.  We don’t need to re-write the Words of God to fit the times we live in. We don’t need a new lens created in the upper echelons of academia to help us sort out relevant truth. We need to read the Word of God in humble dependence on the Spirit of God to illumine truth and shed light on our confusions. 

The Word that sets up such stumbling blocks to our modern mindset of tolerance, is the very Word that will give us traction on the black ice of sin’s deceitfulness.

Ironically, the book of Titus which was cited in the message that day was actually written not to silence ‘difficult people’ but for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life.” (Titus 1:1,2)  Sadly, that was the very knowledge left out of the conversation!

Let’s not let it be left out of ours.

If you get a chance, have a look at Titus this week and consider the context  for those instructions about contentious people.  What would you say is the theme of Titus?

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. 

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. Titus 2:11-15 ESV

“For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach…he must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus1:9)

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness.”
(II Tim.2:15)

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (II Tim.3:17)

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

November 21, 2014

We’re alive!

“I shall not die, but I shall live--
and recount the deeds of the LORD” Ps.117:17

The text message history tells all:

Nov.20, 4:43 PM
”We crashed”

…with many exchanges to follow with each of our five children and especially the one nearest at hand:

“Hello Joshua?!  We crashed.”

Darkness had fallen earlier than we’d hoped.  Lightly falling rain that was no problem at first had fallen on an already chilled road bed just over the crest of a hill…

And suddenly we were skating at 100km. an hour, with no steering, on a highway of sheer black ice.  The rest was inevitable; no guard rail, no shoulder to speak of, just a long descent to the snowy fir wood below.  We were airborne for a long breathless moment.  Long enough to feel the weightlessness, to reach for Jim’s arm so as to end this thing together, to think: “Is my seatbelt even fastened? I can’t feel it” and to wonder, how does one best brace for the inevitable impact when this long suspended animation is over and reality crashes in?

Then all was still with a momentary jolt and we were nestled in a soundless snowy wood, in the black of night, 12 feet below the glassy highway.

“We’re alive!  It’s OK, we’re alive!” was all I could think to blurt out reassuringly to my shaken driver.

We were to have arrived Prince George in just another hour and a half, to visit our son and his wife in their first very own home.  This detour was not on the trip plan. We had hoped to help them get settled in.  Now they would be rescuing us.

I will spare you the details.  There were many mercies seen and unseen. There was the long wait but the mercy of a truck driver’s warm cab and company.  He along with all the rest of the travellers on this road were halted to wait for the ice to be conquered.  All travel in either direction for miles was suspended by a thin sheet of glass.   Eventually the sand truck passed and the salt truck, several times.  And oddly the temperature seemed to rise a couple of degrees… (not so oddly, this was our prayer) Then the truck driver donned his trucks’ ‘jewelry’ (chains) while  we hauled our basic essentials and valuables from the car, up the snowy slope to the highway and to his waiting semi and then we were carried down out of the icy hills to meet Joshua and his wife for the ride home…

That was last night.  I woke early today in my son’s house as the sun was just beginning to brighten the world, feeling rested and restless to declare God’s praise.  Before I’d left my cozy bed these words were singing through my head:

“Praise to the Lord, the ALMIGHTY, the King of Creation.
O my soul praise Him for He is Thy health and salvation.
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near,
Join me in glad adoration.”

There will be many details today. The car must be lifted to the road and assessed, and towed, and what then (?!) remains to be seen.  But for now we are alive, and whole and thankful.  (There is only the smallest little tender bruise on the side of my head where it bumped the window to tell us what happened in the night.)

The mercies of the Lord last night were many.  Upon clambering out of our warm car into the snow the world smelled of Christmas.  All the little fir saplings that had cushioned our fall, lay snapped and crushed, yielding up their scent in the startling wake of our near disaster. I think now how this is so like Jesus—he cushioned our fall by the sacrifice of Himself, his life for ours, to save us from sure destruction.  Though we are not guaranteed length of life in this world, for now we’ve been spared to proclaim His glory!

Praise Him with us, won’t you?


My reading this morning fell in Ps.116-118…

“I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice, and my pleas for mercy… Gracious is the LORD and righteous, our God is merciful…”Return, oh my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you…For you have delivered my soul from death.  I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.”

Praise the LORD—extol him all peoples!  For great is His steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever!

Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous; the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!

I shall not die, but I shall live and recount the deeds of the LORD.

November 14, 2014

Seeing rightly—ourselves and our God

--Who alone is worthy?--

The morning sun came streaming in at the sliding glass doors today. It doesn't do this too often at this time of year but we're having a cold snap complete with frosty nights and cloudless blue daytime skies, and this brilliance of sunshine. And suddenly these windows of mine don't seem quite so clean as I thought them. It wasn't all that long ago that I washed them was it? Yet the evidence is irrefutable. An accumulation of dust and wind-blown dirt has collected there. They need cleaning. The morning sun has made it clear.

Funny how we can hum along just fine under cloudy skies, thinking everything is spic and span. Then the light comes streaming and we see...

I guess that's what this blog is about, the 'seeing' what has been hidden from my eyes. I am so grateful for the Word of God and for the Spirit of God who continually brings truth to bear on my life in ways that arrest my attention and give me pause to think and to write.

I have been considering this whole topic of 'nearness to God' and the corresponding fear of God. Perhaps never in church history (I don't know; I've lived only such a short bit of it!) has there been such a lot of talk about 'intimacy with God' and at the same time so little evidence of it.

Are we deluded that we know God better than in fact we do?

Are we living under such a pall of cloudy skies that we are not able to rightly see ourselves and our sinfulness for want of the light of God's holiness?

I can hum along quite fine for whole stretches of time assuming 'it's all good' with my soul, content with my current level of practical sanctification. In my secret heart of hearts I may even entertain moments of delusion that I am sin-free (This happens best in isolation from people who 'push my buttons', and when my body is free from pain or discomfort, and in moments when endorphins are running high and life's circumstances are comfy cozy). I can live deluded and unaware of my sinfulness so long as the sun doesn't shine brightly through my windows.

But then comes the light of the Word shining. Then comes the fellowshipping with the saints (these down-to-earth God-seekers I walk with and talk with). Then comes the whisper of the Spirit, bringing the Word to bear on my heart. He doesn't miss a beat. If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves. If we walk in the light we see our sins. And confession restores fellowship and a walking in the light that keeps our windows clean.

But it all starts with a fear of God that trembles at His Word.

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. All those who practice it have a good understanding." Ps.111:10

Where we lack the fear of the Lord, we will lack a right understanding of ourselves and of our God. I see this in myself. It's evident in the flippant God-talk that abounds in our day. Seeing dimly through our dirty windows we begin to think more highly of ourselves and more lowly of God than we ought to think! Somewhere in the fog of self-flattering words, sin becomes a non-issue. Affirming our own identities, our own worthiness, becomes far more significant than extolling the worth of the One who alone is worthy to be praised. There are many voices out there, not all of them have a good understanding. Not all of them are seeing in the light of a holy fear of God.

Consider these diverse ways of seeing--

"Let no man think more highly of himself than he ought to think"--Paul (Rom.12:3)

For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord... He will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God. --Paul (I Cor. 4:4-5)

"For once a person believes he is an 'unworthy sinner,' it is doubtful if he can really honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Jesus Christ." --Schuller

"You rock because He rocks, so get over it. You were born to carry His glory. You are His finest creation...the only creature actually made in the exact image of the Creator. You look like your Daddy!" --Vallotton

'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.' --the Pharisee (Lk.18:11)

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. --Jesus (Rev 3:17-19)

'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' --the tax collector (Lk.18:11)

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. --John (I Jn.1:8,9)

This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." --Paul (I Tim 1:15; I Cor.15:9; Eph.3:8)

And he preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. --John (Mk. 1:7)

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, "Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals? And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, "Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals." --John (Rev 5:2-5)

"Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth." --the four living creatures and the 24 elders (Rev. 5:9-10)

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" --myriads of angels (Rev 5:12)


I am thinking on these things this week because I don't want to be deluded into thinking I know God rightly when in fact I am living under a delusion of knowing God just because I know His words in my head and carry them on my lips. The Bible calls this 'lip-service'. It is worthless. God sees the heart.

"...this people draw near with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men" Is.29:13

What will be the evidence that we are coming to know ourselves and our God rightly? How will we view sin? How will we view each other? How will we view God?

What I've concluded from Scripture (so far) is that the closer we are to a true vision of who God is and who we are in comparison, the greater will be our awareness of our own unworthiness and of His SO WORTHY-ness. This will be seen in our reverential fear of this awesome and holy God who is likened to a consuming fire. But it won't end here. Fear is the beginning of wisdom. It is the beginning of knowing God rightly.

We can't skip this step. The Gospel is for sinners, not for those who think themselves pretty good and just in need of a life insurance plan or a quick fix from the painful symptoms of sin. Nor do we outgrow the fear of God. If we refuse to live in the fear of God we will fail to see ourselves rightly. And the deceitfulness of sin will quickly turn our hearts to grandiose thoughts of ourselves, rather than profound and humbled gratitude and worship of God who alone is worthy of praise.

We may worship Him with our lips but even our 'worship' will have become an opportunity to feel good about ourselves. "Worship" is often reduce in our present church culture to mean an exuberant and necessarily emotional singing of 'worship songs' designed to lead us into 'worship'. The deception lies in that this state can be entered into on a purely physical and emotional level without our hearts truly worshiping God at all.

Those who worship God will worship in spirit and in truth, Jesus said.This isn’t dependent on the setting and won’t necessarily yield a physical 'feel-good fix'. Worship isn't about carefully orchestrated music. Being in God's presence isn't about feeling good. We will know we have drawn near to God when our hearts are made aware of the natural gulf between us. Consider these men's responses when they encountered God's holiness:

"Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." --Peter (Lk.5:8)

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips" --Isaiah (Is.6:5)

"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead." --John (Rev.1:17)

It is not in the exuberant and/or reflective singing of 'worship music' that we reveal our knowledge of God but in the deep heart-felt wonder that though unworthy in myself to approach God, He provided the Lamb to be my substitute, to bear my sins in His own body on the Cross so that I might become the Righteousness of God in Him. Does this then make me feel good about myself? Does it not rather allow me to forget about myself in my Awe of Him who first loved me so that I might come to know Him as He is?

How well we are coming to know our God will be seen in how aware we are becoming of our own sinfulness. If we have come to know God in any measure we will have begun to see sin as He sees it, not something to be brushed off as irrelevant, or inconsequential, not something we're 'over' since we've come to believe. We'll see it as the rotten core of our natures.

Granted, when we come to believe in Christ's death on the Cross on our behalf, once we've confessed our sins and been given a new heart with a new allegiance and a new nature, we are no longer ruled by the old 'us'. But while we live in these bodies, it will be there vying for attention, struggling to take dominion, needing to be denied its wishes. Only to our peril do we live as though we had no such rotten core. Even the loveliest apple will not long be edible if the worm at its core goes undetected.

Who then is worthy? If we are focused anywhere but our Lord Jesus Christ, we have misunderstood the Gospel.

And that's the other thing about sun shining in. When it hits you full in the face it is blinding. As I sit here typing the sun is glinting in through the willow branches at an angle I am unaccustomed to. As it hits me square in the eye I am blinded to all else. Its glory expels all competing images and thoughts. My fingers are silenced on the keys as I gather my thoughts. Is this not what it is to perceive the glory of God who lives in 'unapproachable light', whom no man can see and live? I cannot go on business- as- usual without averting my gaze and cowering so that my eyes can evade the sun's piercing brilliance. When we are given a glimpse of the holiness of God, all other considerations will seem trifling. When we walk in the light of it there will be no  exalting of ourselves or despising of others, but only awe of Him!

This is where I want my ponderings and my life to center.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.


God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." 1Co 1:28-31

If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
(I Cor.8:2,3)

“…He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,  who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”  (I Tim. 6:15-16)

November 8, 2014

Where is a sinner to run?

Sin is deceitful. It hardens our hearts. It dulls our hearing and would damn our souls, but for Jesus, our great high priest.

Sing to Jesus, Lord of our shame, Lord of our sinful hearts…Our great Redeemer

Have you read Leviticus lately? Forgiveness is costly.  Sin is deadly.  Without blood there is no remission of sins.  These truths are inescapably linked to the bloody details of the sacrificial system.  But God appointed priests to offer sacrifices to God for the people’s sins.  Herein lies His mercy.  Without a priest there would be no having God dwell among them.  Without a priest there would be only wrath and judgment.  But now they could be God’s holy people, preserved from the evils that befell the nations around them, so long as they kept God’s commandments and kept offering sacrifices… so long as God dwelled among them.

The nearness of God was their good.  But it was also high risk.  Without holiness, no man could draw near.  God’s standards were exacting for those who were nearest to Him. Aaron knew this well.

 “Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the LORD has said: “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'" And Aaron held his peace.” [Lev 10:3 ESV]

But his two sons were dead.  They had taken liberties and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord.

Years later David would come to terms with this same reality.  It seemed a good thing to bring the ark of God back to town.  It was a festive occasion!  Problem was, David hadn’t done his homework.  Every king was to have a hand-written copy of the laws of God with him to read from daily so that he would learn to fear the Lord by keeping all His laws. (Deut. 17:18)  David was remiss.  He ordered the ark brought in an ox-cart, rather than carried by the Levites.  And poor Uzzah bore the brunt of his sin.  The cart rocked. Uzzah reached out to steady the ark.  And he was killed instantly!

And David was afraid of God that day, and he said, ‘How can I bring the ark of God home to me?’” So the ark stopped in its tracks and settled with Obed-edom the lucky Gittite, until David had a better plan of action!  Meanwhile God blessed Obed-edom’s household and all he possessed. The nearness of God was his good.

When the ark was finally transported to Jerusalem it came not only with great rejoicing but with great preparation and care, carried on the Levites shoulders. They were so grateful for God’s protection that they sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams!  There was no taking for granted the mercy of the Lord this time (I Chr.15:26). It was for this occasion that David appointed thanksgiving to be sung for the first time by Asaph and his brothers.  It was David’s psalm (96)—Notice his focus:

“Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name;…Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!  Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually…He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth…For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be held in awe above all gods…Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his place….Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him!  Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth…”

David understood God’s goodness and His holiness. He knew the joy of seeking God’s presence as well as the fear of having Him near. Do we?  Or is it all lost on us because we’ve distanced ourselves from ‘the God of the Old Testament’.   This is to our misfortune.  Without the fear of God there is no genuine drawing near to God.  Without drawing near to God there is no being made holy.  It is God’s ways that make His people shine in a depraved generation. When His people have no regard for His ways, they lose their distinctiveness, their holiness, and the blessings of living by God’s design.

Remember Asaph? He and his brothers were the singers appointed by David.  It is his psalm that brings out this point.  Psalm 73 begins with Asaph’s envy of the wicked.  They appear to prosper and to get away with so much. Meanwhile  Asaph struggles to keep his hands clean and his heart pure and for what use?  He’s suffering and being rebuked still.

But then he had a heart change.  What happened?  He went into the sanctuary of God; his perspective of eternity was restored.  He realized God was all He truly wanted. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”  And all He truly needed:  “My flesh and my heart may fail but Go d is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (73:26) And he concluded  ‘But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.”  It was worth keeping his heart right with God, so worth it.

The ‘pleasures of sin for a season’ just can’t compare with this.

I’ve been continuing to read John Owen’s old writings on Overcoming Sin and Temptation.  His point this week was that if you really want to overcome sin it will start with getting a solid grasp on the GUILT of it, the DANGER of continuing in it, and the present EVIL results of it in your life.  I’ve elaborated on these elsewhere if you’re interested, but what I realized when all was read and studied is that we are so indebted to Jesus our High Priest to deal with our sins.  We can’t even see them, let alone grasp how deadly they are to us apart from His work in our hearts. 

But the crazy impulse sin creates in us is to run away from nearness to God, like Adam and Eve cowering in the garden when they could be walking with their loving Creator.  Meanwhile the God who  calls us into fellowship with His Son with intent to dress us in His righteousness, invites us to walk with Him in the light and so be made clean.  He no longer dwells in man-made sanctuaries of stone but by His Spirit in the bodies of those who believe on His Son’s work on the Cross on their behalf (I Cor.3:16). He has given us His Word and, through the Spirit, life-giving understanding of it, so that we can know His ways and walk humbly before Him.  Truly the nearness of God is our good.

Let’s run to Him, with our sins, with our failings, with our doubts and temptations. He has given us Jesus as our great High Priest by whom we may draw near the throne of grace for mercy and grace when we most need  them.(Heb.4:14-16)  At the heart of holy living is not great will power (or ‘won’t power’), not great disciplines for a stringent lifestyle, but a humble heart drawing near go God by faith, confessing sin, admitting weakness and continuous need of Him, willing to say ‘yes’ to His ways, and ‘no’ to our own notions of what seems best.  And as we walk with Him by faith we will begin to love the things He loves and hate the things He hates.  The nearness of God will be our good.  Run to Jesus!


This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1Jn. 1:5-7

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Jas. 4:8

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Heb. 11:6

“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” I Cor.1:9

I could not choose between the following songs.  All of them have been a balm to my soul tonight.  I pass them on for your meditation…


Jesus, Lover of my Soul, let me to thy bosom fly…
I dare not stand on my righteousness…
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ.

…and lastly this, in honor of Reformation Day…and the great truths brought to light at that time.

My life is hid with Christ on high, with Christ my Savior and my God…

November 1, 2014

“I shall be safe” (?)

Last week I talked about holiness, and particularly what it is not. We can think ourselves holy by external comparisons with others when we base our perceived 'holiness' on what we do or don't do rather than what's in our hearts. We can deceive ourselves especially well if we maintain a little distance (and deafness) from God and assure ourselves that He is love and all is mercy and grace and He really doesn't mind how we act. We're covered.

I was arrested by a description of this thinking in Deuteronomy. The Law had just been explained to them. God's covenant with them had been carefully laid out. I am your God. Keep my commandments and you will live. Don't and you will die. And then these words: Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart." Deut.29:19

Notice that he's not necessarily saying this aloud. It's a heart thing.

If you've been a Christian for long you may recognize this kind of thinking. We can get comfortable with the idea that we are 'saved' and on our way to Heaven, and grow careless in the journey. We can grow lazy, discouraged, or cynical and imperceptibly we can begin to let distance come between us and God. Sin begins to feel at home in our hearts and we may not even notice it.

I've been challenged by my reading in Hebrews of late. This book is rife with warnings and encouragement about the deceitfulness of sin and the dangers of drifting, about the potential for our hearts to become hard and crusty and the imperative that we listen for God's voice today and encourage each other today, lest any be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Take care, brothers lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Heb.3: 12, 13

While I was exercising this week I listened to some excellent messages based on the opening chapters of Hebrews, messages with titles like Heed These Warnings, The Danger of Drifting, and Holding Firmly to the End.* It's impossible to read Hebrews and come away thinking you can just continue ambling along to Heaven with no particular care over how you walk, just so you prayed the 'salvation prayer' sometime in the past.

Sin is deceitful. It hardens our hearts. Hard hearts grow hard of hearing. Unless we hear God's voice how can we walk before Him in the obedience of faith?  I especially appreciated this list of warning signs taken from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress.  It shows the trajectory that takes us away from the living God into the consequences of sin's deception:

#1 As our commitment begins to wane there will be a forgetfulness of God and a forgetfulness that one day we're going to meet Him "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God." Heb.10:31

#2 There will follow a gradual loss of private holiness, private prayer, the curbing of our lusts and genuine sorrow for our sins

#3 We will begin to avoid the company of 'lively' Christians.
(People who love Jesus will seem like fanatics to us.)

#4 There will be a disinterest in public worship.
(Though you may still attend, your heart will not be in it.)

#5 Finding fault in others will blind us to our own sins.
'There'll all a bunch of hypocrites!'
(When our eyes are fixed on Jesus we will be busy first with the planks in our own eyes!)

#6 We will prefer the company of the godless. (Ps.1)
(Our interests will be drawn to what the godless have to say and we may pursue old faithless associations we left behind.)

#7 We will be involved in fleshly lusts in secret.
(Secret sins will begin to hold us in their grip--Eph.5:12)

#8 We will begin to play with sin openly, losing our sense shame.
(We won't care what people think, but will be brazen in making our sin public.)

#9 We will become hardened eventually, revealing to all the sorry condition of our lives (I Tim. 4:1,2)


Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
(I Cor.10:12)

I don't want to make headway down this path while I  convince myself that “I am safe” though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.  I don’t want to miss knowing the heart of God who is the essence of holiness. I don't want to stand before Him and hear Him say: "I never knew you", or even to stand before His consuming fire and have all the deeds of my life burned up as loss (I Cor.3:15).

It's too easy for me to pat myself on the back and delude myself into thinking I'm some sort of "holy" based on things I don't do, or addictions I do not struggle with, and miss the rotten core at the center of my own nature.

So I've been asking God lately to reveal to me my sinfulness, not so I can grovel in shame but so that I will not be lulled by sin's deceitfulness into a false assurance of well-being ("It's all good!") while cultivating a stubborn heart that can no longer hear God's voice.

And God is answering that prayer, in the most unexpected of places.

There I was standing in line at Shopper's Drug Mart, impatient to pay for my jug of milk and get home... This was to be a quick stop. I'd intentionally avoided heading into the grocery store, too many steps to the dairy section, too many distractions enroute. I thought for sure here I'd be in and out in a flash! So I'd grab my jug of 2% and couldn't help seeing eggs on sale so picked up two dozen of those as well. And there was butter at a good price. Oh, and a pint of discounted cream. So I added these to my armload and hustled to the check-out only to step behind a gal with her shopping cart full to overflowing with Halloween candy. Not only that but in front of her was an elderly couple obviously in no rush...

What did my heart say? Rats! Wish this gal would let me go ahead of her. This milk's heavy, and cold... If she were nice she would let me go first...I bet she feels guilty standing there being so selfish...I would let me go first if I were her...

What did the Spirit say? No problem. You're not really in a hurry. And your hurry is no more important than hers. Why should you go first anyway? Who are you? Must the world revolve around you?

OK, so, that's right. New strategy. I'll be nice. I'll show her how nice I am. I'll show her I don't resent her standing there avoiding eye contact so she can pretend she doesn't know I'm here heavy-laden with my milk. I'll smile and chat it up with her. I'll be nice.

That strategy worked so well that we were quickly both at ease, her explaining that she works for a company that gives out candy on Halloween. Me affirming this nice idea and jokingly wondering how I could get in on the free candy. Fine. I was nice.

Enter sin. Oh how nice I am. She must think I'm so patient. The cashier must be grateful I am so patient...My oh my how nice I am... Not content to 'put on the new man', the old man must make a show of it, take credit for it, boast in it... Yes, Lord. That's wrong!

But then suddenly a new line opened up and the 'next in line' was invited to come over. By this time there were two or three people behind me diving for first place in the new line up. The gal with the cart of candy prompted me to take my rightful place there. I shrugged it off, said I was in no rush, and alluded to not wanting to be trampled by the 'herd'. Ah yes, gracious me. Sacrificing my rightful opportunity. Letting others go first. Waiting like a saint. Still smiling. No hurry here. Just look at me.

The action was right; I seemed to be putting others before myself. But the heart? To be honest, I wanted that place. I was in a hurry. I resented those folks for taking my place. The only reason I didn't try to claim my rightful place was fear of looking like a selfish fool! But I demeaned them in my mind, while I smiled a placid smile. (No rush here) and gloated over my external graciousness all the while...

Oh, Lord, have mercy on me. My heart is deceitfully wicked. Thank-you for the grace to respond rightly on the outside but I see my heart is not holy....

If Jesus were in my shoes, His actions may have looked similar but they would have flowed from a holy heart, a heart of love rather than self-interest, a heart not consumed with thoughts of self-importance (Phil.2).

I eventually paid for my things and went out to my car, not in shame but grateful and in awe that the Spirit is faithful in this process of sanctifying our hearts. He is faithful in very practical ways in very down-to-earth places. And I had heard His voice and not hardened my heart... This too is a mercy of God. I have seen a glimpse of my sinful heart and been awed by my Saviour, in the checkout line at the drug store.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Phil.2:12,13


If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:8,9

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. Heb.12:15-16


If you have not listened to Alistair Begg, you are in for a treat.  Listen to his series of messages on Hebrews here:

October 25, 2014

The tell-tales of Spirit-empowered Holiness


Holiness is beautiful.  Its counterfeits are odious, but their standards are humanly attainable.  So we write our rules and set ourselves to keeping them. We make our do’s and don’t lists and check them off…and are no more holy, and maybe a little more smug, when we’re through.

I’ve been meditating, talking and reading about holiness a lot lately. What does the real thing look like? It’s a many-faceted topic and I’ve wrestled all day at where to begin here…HOLY.   It’s what God is. It’s what He’s called us to be.  It’s both what we are and what He’s making us to be.  It’s His work and it’s ours to reach for.  We can’t attain it but are to be ever about the business of aiming at it while waiting for it.  Holiness is a beautiful enigma.

My practical grasp of it is so far behind my head-knowledge of it that to write of it seems hypocritical.  And yet, I have a growing sense of what it is not and how it is not attained.  And surely this is a start…

“Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”(Gal.3:3)

“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Col.2:22,23)

We through the Spirit are being made holy, being conformed to the image of Jesus.  The process is hard to define and impossible to mandate. Though we are called to be active participants we are clearly not in control of outcomes. Only God can make us holy. 

The man-made versions of holiness come in an endless array.  They may look quite impressive and their appeal is tremendous.  We can at last ‘do something’ to make ourselves holy!  But without exception, unless the Spirit of God is the wind in our sails, the results will be disastrous!

I’ve been thinking of these things this week in light of sickening scandals revealed at the highest levels of two widely renowned Christian ministries known for their strict adherence to “Biblical principals’'.  Thousands of Christians dedicated to pursuing the highest standards for their families have been  sucked into movements whose founders have been living duplicitous lives for YEARS, even decades in one case. How has this not come to light sooner? How is it that a Christian ministry can flourish in terms of adherents, purporting to promote godliness, while grieving the Holy Spirit all the while,  and noone knows the difference?

Have we gotten so very clever with our principles and formulas for being ‘holy’ that we no longer need faith or dependence on the Spirit of God? Are we blind to the infinite difference between what we call ‘godly’ and who God really is?

I’ve been mulling over these things…surely there are indicators to keep us off the shoals of self-made religion and running in the power of the Spirit toward that  holiness “without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb.12:14). How do we distinguish the two?  Holiness is not a goal we can reach without God but we can sure waste a lot of time and energy and do a lot of damage pursuing it on our own steam.

It’s rather like sailing without minding the tell-tales.  A pair of these brightly colored strips flip about in the wind on either side of the sail.  The position of these tell-tales  tells the sailor how he’s doing with respect to the wind in his sails.  If  he reads them well, he will be spared a great flapping of sails as the wind catches them awry and attempts to turn his boat from its course.  If he fails to heed the tell-tales indication of what the wind is up to he may lose control of his craft and find himself headed in quite a different direction than he had intended.  The tell-tales are there to show him the optimal angle of attack with regard to the wind. The handy sailor will gain a great advantage by them. He will trim his sails accordingly and so arrive at his destination.

Is this not the way of the Christian life? We can get in our boat and try to motor against wind and wave, sails flapping, being blown this way and that because the set of our sails is wrong.  Or we can heed the tell-tales and sail in the power of the Spirit to God’s destination for us—the likeness of His Son.

So what are the tell-tale signs that the holiness we espouse is truly Biblical holiness?  What are the indicators of the Spirit’s sanctifying work and where is it just our flesh flapping in the breeze and thinking we’re going somewhere?

May I offer some negative perceptions first?  These are the ones I know best. They come naturally to me. This stripe of ‘holiness’ is tell-tale that we’ve missed the wind of the Spirit and are heading off course.

  • When we get together for 'fellowship' but speak of 'them' and 'us' more than of Jesus.
  • When we follow the letter of the law but fail to celebrate the grace of God in Christ Jesus as our only source of righteousness.
  • When we are so appalled by the evil in others and in the world at large that we don’t see the evil in our own hearts; more energy is spent enumerating other’s faults than repenting of our own.
  • When we are quick to condemn others’ blatant sins (especially those with which we have not struggled),  but slow to see our own (which are no doubt just as glaring to others)
  • When we are more apt to point out another’s sin than to aid in his restoration.
  • When we nobly bear the burden of obedience to our own set of prescribed rules but cannot help condemning (and secretly envying) others who don’t follow our rules.
  • When we justify our pious distance from sinning brothers in Christ as ‘holiness’ and are consequently too distant to be involved in their restoration

My sails have been madly flapping all through that list.  Those things are tell-tale indicators that we are veering off course in our pursuit of holiness. I see another way drawn out all through Scripture, a “new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” (Rom.7:6) It is beautiful, marked by righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Obedience is no longer burdensome but the overflow of love for God and others that the Spirit has worked in us.  It is marked by a glad service to God, rather than a holy grimness.

Here are some of the tell-tales that the Spirit is filling our sails and moving us steadily in the right direction:

Restful Confidence that the good work God’s begun in us He will move in us to complete.  We won’t be motivated by guilt, anxiety or regret but by the Spirit of God revealing truth and error and guiding our steps in practical daily ways. “…He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.” Phil.1:6

Freedom.  We won’t be bound by a one-size-fits-all exhaustive list of  principles and disciplines.  Our righteousness will not be about keeping rules: “Never…,  Always…”  but about walking by the Spirit in the light of God’s revealed truth.  Consequently, we won’t assume that the way God has directed us is the way everyone must live. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” II Cor.3:17

Sacrificial love will characterize our lives and interactions with others in the Body.  Rivalry will cease.  Instead we will look for every opportunity to build up, to restore, and to forgive.

Self-forgetful humility will keep us from thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. We will not necessarily recognize the changes God is making in us, but others will.  When Moses talked with God, his face shone, but he wasn’t aware of it. The people around him certainly were!

Devotion to Christ will be more important than keeping up appearances or keeping rules. We will seek approval from Him alone.  Our focus will not be on doing but on being with Him and getting to know Him and He us. Our ability to do anything good will flow from being rooted and grounded in this relationship.

These are some of the tell-tales when our sails are trimmed to catch the wind of the Spirit’s working in bringing us to glory. 

We dare not be driven by our own ideas of righteousness, our own clear-cut standards and programs and principles to the exclusion of the need for faith and the Spirit’s power.  It is not the externals that make us holy but the matters of the heart. “All that matters is faith working through love.” Gal.5:6

If we want to be holy people, it will not start with lists, but with loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength.  Who can do this in his own power? The answer to the  lawlessness we see around and within is not law-keeping or even law-enforcement, but love. The one who loves God keeps His commandments and they are not burdensome.

And so we’re faced with ‘Be holy as I am holy.’  What will we do?  It will start with the provision Jesus has made for us to draw near the throne of grace ‘that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need’ Heb.4:16  It will be in drawing near to Him that we will be changed.  This is where the breeze is blowing us. Mind the tell-tales.


“the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.” Ex.34:29

For 'through the Spirit by faith we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness' Gal.5:5

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. II Cor.3:18


A related post from the archives: “Wind and Spirit”

October 17, 2014

My gleanings—the ‘mini devotional’


In my post, Some Bible Reading Pointers, I suggested a multi-genre way of reading the Bible, including some tips for getting the most out of it. One of those ideas was to take what you’ve read and connect-the-dots to formulate a ‘mini-devotional’.  This is easier said than done.  While in my mind I can see beautiful glints that form patterns, much like in a child’s kaleidoscope, it is not simple to put them in words.  The marvel of Bible reading is that the Spirit breathes life into the words and helps us make sense of it and see the glory of God woven through it.  This is not easily put in print.  However, it’s worth a try in hopes that you will be inspired to do the same (  :  So here are my gleanings for your consideration. 

This will not be a polished ‘devotional’, just some snippets from my October 15th reading.

Right now I’m reading in the books of Leviticus, II Kings, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Hosea, Matthew and Romans as per the Grand Tour of Redemption Bible reading idea I explained in the JUST READ IT tab (at the top of my home page), and referred to in this post. 

Note: This is really not an overwhelming amount of reading.  Just one chapter from each of these books took me 36 minutes, including the time it took to jot down some thoughts from each.  [And no, I don’t usually time myself!  I was just curious how much time was passing; I avoided rushing.  I like to ‘chew’ a little and go back and forth a bit comparing passages…and still it was just over half an hour.  So yes, this is quite doable time-wise even for a busier person than I!]

Anyway, here’s what I found:

Leviticus 24—It’s important to keep the lamps burning in the tabernacle, and to keep the bread of offering fresh and present on the table. 
Cursing ‘the Name’ was punishable by stoning. 
Laying on of hands was actually a form of testimony against the guilty—yes, this is the one; I heard him curse. (Now that’s interesting; (how) does this relate to the purpose of laying on of hands in the New Testament?)
And lastly, ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ is presented as the just way of dealing with sin against one’s fellow man.  Yikes.

II Kings 12—Here’s a bit of practical wisdom for temple maintenance.  Take up regular offerings and do the maintenance as ‘funds’ become available.  And the workmen were trustworthy ‘in house’ maintenance men.  Hmm.  Seems pretty sensible.  But what’s this? Sacred gifts that had been dedicated to the Lord, and gold from the temple treasuries is given as a bribe to keep the King of Syria at bay!  Up till now King Joash, the boy king, under the tutelage of Jehoiada the priest, has been a good king.  But ‘oh no!’ his own servants conspired against him and killed him.  Why?!  I just had to detour from my ‘planned’ readings to the parallel account in II Chronicles (12).  It filled in the dismaying missing pieces.  When Jehoiada died King Joash returned to idolatry, hardened his heart against God’s prophets, one of whom was Jehoiada’s son whom he killed, and so Joash came to a bad finish himself. Sad.

Psalm 97—When the Lord reigns the earth rejoices! In comparison idols then look as worthless and shameful as they truly are. This psalm exudes gladness, light, righteousness, justice, glory and of course, Thanksgiving!  As I reflect on it I realize that in our world righteousness is often viewed negatively. God reigning sounds like oppression.  Idols are desirable objects—how can we live without them?  This is all wrong.  To what extent have these impressions crept into my thinking?  This psalm is a joyful restorative of truth—where the Lord reigns there is joy! And what a contrast to the reign of King Joash.  His own servants rose up and killed him.  Once he abandoned the Lord his reign became tyranny.

Ecclesiastes 10—So much of this book is a tad depressing and not really wise.  But here are some proverbs I jotted down—
A dull ax requires more strength.”  In other words, work smart; sharpen your ax. I wonder… what tools of mine need sharpening?
“A fool multiplies words.”  Hmm.  I’m reminded of that proverb that says something like ‘in a multitude of words sin is not absent’. (I found it just now: Prov.10:19--“In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise.” ) Seems like wisdom requires few words. Hmm.  Is this post getting too long?!

Oh, and here’s a tidbit that sounds quite like modern thinking:
“Money answers everything”  (19) This certainly didn’t prove true for King Joash.  His bribe of gold was no use against the King of Syria. “Though the army of the Syrians had come with few men, the LORD delivered into their hand a very great army, because Judah had forsaken the LORD, the God of their fathers. (II Chr. 24:24)  The Lord is King after all and money is not everything!

And one more:  “The toil of a fool wearies him for he does not know the way to the city.” Is is a stretch to be reminded of the Celestial City?…We know where we are headed.  Our labor is not in vain in the Lord.  We need not grow weary in well-doing as the fool who has no purpose in what he does…I think of the workmen in temple gladly serving the Lord (II Kings 12)...I think of the gladness of all the earth when the King reigns (Ps.97)…Serving Him is not wearisome, unless we lose sight of the City he’s preparing. “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” Heb.11:16

Hosea 12—At this point in my little notebook, my words are getting tiny and all jammed up. I loved this chapter. It underlines that it is not self-effort but reliance on God that honors him: "So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God." (6) Here again, God sends prophets to warn his people (as He did Joash), prophets which go unheeded.  God is not eager to judge.  He woos us to return to Him when we get off into our own ways of doing things.

Matthew 24—Jesus is coming again.  In the meantime there will be others who come in His name.  We don’t have to go check them out.  It will be obvious when Jesus comes.  His Glory will be unmistakable.  Meanwhile the love of many will have grown cold in an atmosphere of lawlessness.  (What is it about lawlessness that makes love grow cold?  Could it be the persecution that accompanies lawless times?)  The hope of Jesus’ return is designed to have a purifying effect.  This is illustrated in a parable of servants whose Master is away. The faithful ones live expectantly.  The unfaithful abuse their positions and incur the Master’s wrath at His unexpected return.

And I couldn’t help noticing the upcoming story (in Matthew 25) of the ten virgins, five foolish, five wise.  The wise had oil for their lamps and were ready to meet the groom when He came to get them.  Their lamps were lit…hmm…how does this relate to the constant burning of lamps in the Old Testament tabernacle? (See Lev.24)  I wonder… But there’s one last chapter…

Romans 7--  “We serve in a new way, by the Spirit, not the written code.” God gives us new desires but our ability to carry them out is dependent on the Spirit who gives life and power to these bodies destined for death (Yes, I peeked at Romans 8 also).  Could this be what the five foolish virgins were missing?  The Spirit.  That old Sunday School song comes to mind:
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning
Give me oil in my lamp, I pray…
Keep me burning till the break of day.

Did we know what we were singing about?

And that was my reading for the day.  It took much longer to tell you about than it did to read and think about!  But it left me with an overarching awe of God’s Kingdom—Where He reigns there is joy and love and gladness. Until He reigns there will be wicked kings, crazy idolatry, lawless persecutions…but it’s not forever.  With His oil in our lamps and His love in our hearts we can serve faithfully as we wait eagerly to be welcomed into the joy of our Master!

Now it’s your turn. I hope you will have a try at reading widely throughout the Bible in one sitting. And I’d love to hear how it works for you. 

For the nitty gritty and some practical pointers check out the “JUST READ IT” tab above.

O you who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.  Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.  Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name! Ps.97:10-12