What If?

It is only in the trial of God’s grace that its beauty and power can be seen. Then all our trials of temper, circumstances, provocation, sickness, disappointment, bereavement will but give a higher burnish to the mirror, and enable us to reflect more fully and more perfectly the glory and blessedness of our Master. – Hudson Taylor

Dear Older Self,

Do not ask What if? about the past. Do not ask ‘what if I had decided to go that direction’ or ‘what if I had not decided to do that’, because what if  is not what is, nor is it what was. What if, will not happen, because ‘what if’ was never meant to happen. ‘What if’ in the past tense will always distract from the present.

‘What if?’ suggests another opportunity, arguably a longing for a better direction than the one you are on now. What if is a dream but more so a facade of an ideal world that does not hold any reality.  ‘What if’ will always be a fool’s dream, something to hope for but can never be realized because the passing of time dictates that ‘what if’ will always be exactly that. To hope for ‘what if’ in the past tense is to stand on shifting sand. You can grasp with all your might, but in all your efforts, you cannot bring what ifs to what is anymore than you can make all the pebbles of the sand a solid rock again.

There is another more sinister problem with ‘what if’, ‘what if’ in all of it’s hopes and longing dares to dream of the past more than the future. This longing shifts our hearts desire from what will happen, to what could’ve been. It shifts our contentment in what has happened to wishing it had not. This shift whispers to steal whatever joy we have currently experienced, and entices us to think that the pretend world in our imagination, is truly better.

“What if’ in dreaming of the past, suggests a potential satisfaction in whatever alternative we imagine. “If only this could’ve happened, then I’ll be happy”, is the lie that will tempt you to take your joy from what God has provided to instead want something else. It is fundamental dissatisfaction in the sovereign plan of God. More so, it is a dissatisfaction in who God is for us.

“What if” subtly suggests that our good will was thwarted, more so it suggests that our happiness was thwarted. It may even suggest that the sovereign will of God was frustrated by a decision made an error. While God may have a good plan for us, this good plan is continuously shifted, adjusted and needs accounting for by the various decisions being made and paths taken by humanity. In essence our ‘what if’ and our happiness is left to the whims of the effect of a butterfly flapping its wings. Where we are now, is just where we so happened to fall; the proverbial dice was rolled and this was our lot. God was powerless to prevent anything else from happening.

Older-self, this view is diametrically opposed to what you remember of the Bible. It is opposite of what you remember of God. We have a much too big view of ourselves and much too small view of God to think that a few decisions could upset God’s plan for our greatest joy in Him.  Do not let a wistful reminiscence of what could have been, dim your memory of Who God is and what He has done. You use to say, “God is good”, “in God’s plan”, “if it is His will”. Those are still true today. The promises of God has not changed.

Every action of your life, whether good or bad has the finger prints of a sovereign God in it. Every pain, every failure, every step taken back did not happen unbeknownst to God, but rather was planned for your good. Consequently every joy, every success, every step forward was not merely by your prudent decision making but was brought about by God.

Sure things did not turn out as you had thought, but consider that a good thing. Things happening as you thought they should, would never be to the fulfillment of your satisfaction. That is the never ending cycle of ‘what if’ because ‘what if’ is always asking for more. Know instead that despite your limited thoughts, there is a God who’s thoughts are higher, and is working your life according to His will and not your own. Know that this is the greater good.

Also trust that the way things are now, is best way- The most joyful, happy, and satisfying. The whole of your life, more than a specific moment, experience or memory,  is producing in you a greater degree of satisfaction in Him who is drawing you toward Himself. The vinedresser is pruning you, so that you can all the more depend on Him and produce for Him. In every action of your life, He is doing this.

So then forget about ‘what if’ and instead take satisfaction in ‘what is’. Where you are now, the experiences you have had, is precisely where you are meant to be. Remember every promise of God fulfilled in your life, every foot print left alongside you as you walked along your journey. Remind yourself of those moments. Hold fast to them when doubt again begins to creep in and you long for a life that could have been ‘better’. Know that God was there and He will continue to be there.

Instead, think of ‘what if’ about the future. Not for your own desires, hopes and dreams, instead attune your will with God’s. Dare to dream big, not for your own sake, but dream of what it would mean to find your greatest joy in life in all that God provides. Hold on loosely to these ‘what ifs’ but dare to do so. Still dare to dream. Continuously move toward making God’s name made known. Dare to dream big in regards toward His kingdom.

The end of your life has not yet come, all that God requires of you is not yet done. So long as you are alive you have not yet experienced all that God has planned for you. Be brave in the mist of hardships and persevere with courageous hope. Know that you are living your best life now, and an even better life awaits you.

Yours Truly,

Younger-self

So make up your mind that God is an infinite Sovereign, and has the right to do as He pleases with His own, and He may not explain to you a thousand things which may puzzle your reason in His dealings with you – Hudson Taylor

 

 

Advertisements

He Will Never Forsake Us

There is no such thing as the hushed quietness of night in a bustling city like Toronto. Here, it seems like life is in constant motion. Noise will drift and fade, traffic will ebb and flow, and the only thing permanent about the downtown lifestyle is it’s transitory nature. Held within this paradox is never ending activity, something is always changing, and it’s easy to get lost in the action of it all. Activities, events, opportunities lend themselves toward constant stimulation of the senses, so much so that the very thought of nothing seems like a foreign concept.

When I think back to a year ago now, it seems my life has reflected the prototypical nature of what it means to live in down town Toronto. I have moved over three thousand kilometres, leaving behind church, family, and dear friends to stare wide-eyed at world I feel is out of my league. Holding one foot in Edmonton while knowing the other must be in Toronto, permanence and belonging are the elusive feeling that one hopes to attain some day, but knows can never be assured.

Yet, in the increase of movement does it point on a macro scale to the constancy of the one who never changes. As much as the experience of novelty is craved and wanderlust leaves many longing for more, at all ends is the need for stability, familiarity, and constancy. So far as we can buy new and unique experiences does nostalgia for what once was, settle in. The more things change, the more I wish they had stayed the same.

The constant fluctuation lends to a noticing of what does not. I can examine the ephemerality of my life; but when I look up, do I recognize the stable hand of God. In as much as everything around me is transient in nature, the nature of God dictates that He is not.

The Constancy of God

From everlasting to everlasting remains the constant God. In the fullness of His characteristics, He is complete. To change, would mean He is moving either toward becoming less of what He was, or was less of something to become more of what He should have been. However in His perfection, He cannot be anything else but all that He is and therefore always was. He is, I AM (Exodus 3:14).

God cannot change for the better. Since He is perfectly holy, He has never been less holy than He is now and can never be holier than He is and always has been. – A.W. Tozer

In the speck of a moment in my life, a flurry of changes can occur; a decision is made, a choice taken, a instant waited, and all is not what it once was. However, where I can lose sight in the midst of perpetual changes of the meaning of stability, God remains faithful. More encompassing than simply dependable or trustworthy, but a meaning in acting toward my good. God’s faithfulness mean’s God’s acting toward my good not only in accordance to His purpose, but also in all my circumstances (Romans 8:28).

Not only does God always act this way, but also acts this way to the fullest extent of His characteristics. He is fully loving, just, merciful, and graceful toward us, irregardless of our felt present condition with Him. Not only does He act this way specifically towards you or me, held within a specific frame within time; He also has acted this way since eternity past. Held outside the hourglass, God orchestrates our lives such that we would best experience Himself, in a timeline set from eternity. Whether we exist or not, God is acting this way; yet more than acting He is this way. Better though, is that we do exist in a universe where this is truth.

Where my heart will flutter in wavering anxiousness, God says “peace, be still”. Where my mind may wonder of what might come next, He says “know that I am God”. Where my will is tempted to want something else, He says “I will be exalted among in earth” (Psalm 46:10-11).  

Yet in all the constancy of who God is, He is not held outside daily hum drum of my life  lurking mysteriously in the cold depths of space, abstract and alone. God is acting, tangibly and precisely, like a master surgeon making the right incisions, replacements and operations on an otherwise sickly patient. God’s promise fulfilled to us, for us, and within us is that He is with us.

 Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. – Deuteronomy 31:6 (ESV)

It is a humbling experience to know the greatest testament of God’s commitment toward us, was already done 2,000 years before I was born. The very act which sealed my eternity with Him, was arranged before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). The means to which I joyfully experience a personal relationship with Christ, was wholly earned by sacrificial grace lavished and mercy poured out. My God entirely changed my life before anything about it could change.

However, in fulfilling His promise to never forsake us, He forsook His one and only Son. The eternal separation from Him earned by my sin, was atoned for on the cross. The debt written against us, was driven through his hands and feet (Colossians 2:13-14).

He was pierced for (my) transgressions [and] Crushed for (my) iniquities -Isaiah 53:5

Christ, my saviour who was always One with the Father and in essence of the Father, knew total separation from the Father for the forgiveness of my sin.

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Matthew 27:46 (ESV)

God will never forsake us, because Christ was already forsaken. The suffering servant proves that now forevermore He is for us. Where we were once enemies, God made peace. The passing of time can go by with all it’s changes,  but if the greatest thing has already done, what can man do against me (Psalm 118:6-7)?

The immutability of God assures  that no longer an action by God will be against me, but all that He is is for me. Any disciplinary action taken is not an atonement for my sin, but a drawing me in to a deeper dependance on Him. Whatever suffering incurred, trials experienced, and tribulations known, does the suffering of the Servant mean my exaltation where it was His (Hebrews 12:2).

So then my life can change. My life can through transitions and stages, uproots and settling in, doubt and certainty. Whether I am held listless or passionate, assured or questioning, knowing or hesitant, and in all the variants in between, the truth remains kept by an oath that He is unchangeable (Hebrews 6:17). The truth that “my life is hid with Christ on high”, assures me that whatever experienced in this life will not compare to the next.

I do not know if Toronto is permanent. I do not know if Toronto will ever be ‘home’, or if Edmonton is still home. I do not know if I will be healthy next week, next month or next year. I cannot assure whether God calls me to work here, or to study somewhere else, whether to stay in Canada or move elsewhere. Life is filled with uncertainty beyond the certainty of an unchanging God.

What I do know however, is that same God who delivered the Israelites, and never forsook them over forty years in the wilderness will not forget me now. The same God who delivered Israel into the promise land, will deliver me into His kingdom. The same God who was with Abraham, Ruth, Moses and Joshua, will also go before me wherever I go (Deuteronomy 31:8). The same who led the captives Israelites back from Babylon, will one day lead me home. The same God who did not spare His own Son to reconcile a sinful people to Himself, will never separate me from the love of God (Romans 8:32-39). I know this, because the immutability of God assures it.

So then,

Let goods and kindred go,

This mortal life also;

The body they may kill:

His truth abideth still,

His Kingdom is forever. – Martin Luther

 

A Thought On Christmas

When we reflect on Christmas, I think of how Christmas is one of the stable constants in life. Every year trips, and holidays are centred around it. Dinners are planned, gifts are bought, and the turkey is cooked. Every year the same rituals of Christmas are observed and passed down in the same fashion. Christmas comes every year, at the same time every year, to do the same thing every year. In essence it can be repetitive.

With Christmas being this constant in our life, it can be difficult to evoke the same feelings year after year. What was once filled with hope, allure, and love as a child can give way to a busy, listless and forced celebration…

In this avoidance of cliches the temptation is to shun the meaning on which it was built. This meaning is often thought to be mundane and repetitive, and instead discover in a new way to be filled with emotion and sentiment. We long once again for the ‘magic’ of Christmas in a way that evokes the same feelings as children.

We strive then to recreate this ‘magic’, in various ways, finding the value of Christmas in the things that we do. For some, it’s in the presents striving to find the perfect gift. For others it’s  preparing the tastiest Christmas dinner, spending hours to gain the verbal approval of others. For more it is in the company, working tirelessly to host the flawless event.  There are more examples still, and it is all too easy to justify spending countless amounts of money, time, energy in order to make Christmas ‘perfect’ again. The need for Christmas is too often in the vague confirmation of emotion that it was indeed special.

When Christmas is about sentiment and emotion, the true value of the celebration is lost. It is easy to become tired, bored and stressed striving for a happiness that will not satisfy. When much expectation is met with little time, frustration ensues.

And so I ask you this Christmas season, are you tired? Are you spent? Are you burned out?

I would say rest, rest not in the mere emotions evoked, but in the deep valued tradition of the Covenant fulfilled through Christ incarnate.

Christmas is not a holiday found for mere tingly feelings of warmth, love, family, unity and other abstract terms, but instead is one founded steeped in this tradition, a tradition that celebrates the crux of Christian (and world) history.

When we talk of the true meaning of Christmas, it is not one of trees, lights, presents and time well spent with family. It is not of carols, christmas movie classics, and lebkucken. It is not is poinsettias, candle lights, and eggnog.

Though it can be all of these things, these things are not the main thing, and if we choose to focus on these things, we will miss the aim of Christmas altogether. The magic of Christmas is not found in fond memories of Christmas past, nor hope to a wonderful one for the future. It is found in the tradition of remembering a promise fulfilled, assurance found, and confidence confirmed in a baby boy.

The depth of tradition is especially fond when we remember the unique glory in which our saviour came. That the unique glory of christmas is found in a celebration of life, a life borne destined for death so that death itself may no longer sting. It is in this balance, a celebration of a life that was meant to die that we hold the meaning of Christmas to it’s firmest foundation. The balance is found not only in life itself, but also in the awareness of death, “mild he lays  his glory by, born that man no more may die” this is to remember Christmas. That our saviour born, the messiah in unique human flesh, both fully God and fully man, lived and breathed among us.  That a carpenter from Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, lived a remarkably unremarkable life, for the purpose that we ourselves might live forever before a holy and just God.

The haunting reminder of the victory won, In O come O come Emmanuel, rings especially true:

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight

The depth in metaphor is found in the contrast of the darkness of death, to what is  the brightness of, our Dayspring, Christ, the dawn ushering in a new order of light.

Yet this contrast can only occur in an awareness of both sides of the extremes. Having known a long winter’s night, do we appreciate the break of day. The warmth of the rising sun is all the more felt after the cold clammy tentacles of darkness have given way to the piercing rays of light. The spring thaw is more appreciated after a cold bitter winter than a mild one. The salvation from death is more appreciated in full knowledge of the hell from which were saved.

We cannot ignore the reality of death, and the sin from which it came. We can not ignore us as the originators of sin, the rebellious against God. We can not ignore the threat of hell and the eternal separation from God that exists within it. To ignore it would be to ignore value in the glory of Christ.

And so I would ask you again, are you aware of this depth? Do you value this contrast? Is this the glory you find in Christmas?  Do these things weigh on your heart?  

The glory of christmas exists because God has done it, he has won victory over grave. The messiah has come, the promise is fulfilled. The covenant is brought forth, and no longer will death reign over us. The threat of eternal separation from God has evaporated. Christ is born, God is near.

The glory of Christmas that the glory of Christ shown on the cross, a blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28).  Thus, The darkest hour is past, the gloomy clouds have fled, the shadow of death is gone. The dawn breaks through, the son is risen.

Our God is much too grand to only celebrate Christmas for ourselves, Our God has also done a great thing. That in the depths of His love he would send His one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

One of my favourite verses I’ve been meditating on recently has been Isaiah 49:6 and It reads:

He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant

To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;

I will also make You a light of the nations

So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

To revel in Christmas, is not revel in the small things of ourselves. It is too small a thing to revel in the simple celebrations of Christmas. It is too small a thing to only want a happy holiday. Let us revel in the deep, deep love of our God.

That he extends His grace and mercy to all those who would believe, so that His salvation would reach the ends of the earth. No one is too far, not one past the point of no return, our God is mighty to save.

In this Christmas Season,  I ask you this, is this your rest? Is this your firm foundation, that Christ alone paid the penalty on the Cross? Is this what you will stand upon? That the promise for the forgiveness of sins was sealed in the birth of Jesus? Do you want peace everlasting?

 

Christ is The Greater Eleven

In time of war it is the worst mistake to underrate your enemy, and try to make a little war. – Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley

My father had a habit that whenever we would watch a movie, he would quiz us on what connections we could make toward the gospel. Regardless of what movie, Papa would always somehow find a way to relate it. Though it would at times exasperate my nine-year-old self, it taught me the value of seeing God and people’s need for Him everywhere.  This little exercise, awakened me to the reality that we do not merely live in the mundane ordinary but also in the spiritual extraordinary.

It is in the mystery of this spiritual reality, that creates the allurement of fantasy and science fiction in our world. We know there is something else out there and we even dream of possibilities of this potential. Whether Tolkien, Lewis, Rowling, Lucas, Roddenberry (that Star Trek guy), we fantasize about the possibility that we can escape our present reality and get caught up in another one. Like the eery mist at dawn, does the faint sense of something more leaving us grasping for substance.

Yet in all of society’s dreaming, thoughts, and wandering of another existence, would it vehemently disagree to actually believe in another one. To believe in another one would be to admit that they are not all that is there, and implicitly our life is not merely our own. It would mean our actions have consequences that go beyond only this world’s sphere of influence. The supernatural is simply a nice thought, and nothing more.

One of the greatest tragedies of our society, is the disbelief in this greater actuality. The cognitive dissonance that will not entertain the thought of something or someone greater than us. That beyond us, there cannot be anything more.

Further, for the Christian, one of the greatest inhibitors to overcoming sin is the disbelief that we do not wage a war on a cosmic scale. We believe we fight on the plains of the ordinary, and only battle with that which we can see and feel. Our sins are only immediate and the solution to them lies with restraints toward our fleshly will.

We spend far too much time with minimality, testing our conscience at every opportunity.  We toy with lust, providing superficial accountability and porous safeguards onto our computers. We toy with pride with faux humility, speaking in a self-degrading manner, so that no one will know what we really think. We toy with stale spirituality, reading our bibles minimally, offering generic prayers filled with ‘Christianisms’, to the end of being justified by our own ‘maturity’. Far too often, we toy.

This I believe, is a grave mistake; even further, in the words of Arthur Wellesley, “it is the worst mistake”. That we would rather make little of our enemy, and make a little war with whom we in ourselves cannot over come.  To believe the answer lies only in our doing-to do and do more- is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. It is woefully, ineffective.

Similar in predicament are the unassuming characters, in Netflix’s new hit tv-show Stranger Things. Their initial mistake and perhaps their most costly one, was the  inability to comprehend the gravity of trouble they were in. Neither the scientists responsible for opening the portal, the children who stumble upon it, or the sheriff who looks to answer all the questions, can understand that they are in over their heads. They need a saviour.

The Upside-Down, is both darker and contrary to the white-picket-fenced Hawkins, Indiana they live in. A place that exists as the inversion to their world, it is skulking full of  shadows; containing monsters only seen in nightmares.  In this place, hope is all but a forgotten memory, as one by one inhabitants of Hawkins are dragged into the darkness.

Stranger Things  is a story of intrigue, curiosity, mystery, bravery, courage and 1980’s nostalgia. It is a story of monsters, and men unbeknownst in their humdrum, that just beyond their mundane life is a realm which looks to incite evil and take over all that they hold dear. It is a story of coming of age, naive friendships, and loyalty to a fault. It is also a story ‘El’ aka ‘Eleven’, a child psychic, who is the heroine that acts as their functional saviour.

We do not live in a world all that different. There is a cosmic war going on, an immense spiritual battle being fought for our very souls. This is happening now, on the battlegrounds of our heart and mind. The devil prowls (1 Peter 5:8), yet God is near (Psalm 145:18). This is our reality.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly place – Ephesians 6:12 (NASB)

However, Satan and the evil which he incites is much more insidious in nature. Like the Mind Flayer who takes over Will’s body in season 2, does he desire to direct our will against God in every aspect. Sin is the means to which we open the portal to our souls, enslaving ourselves. Satan and all his demonic forces, take advantage of that open portal, reaching deep within, laying root to decay the foundations of our heart and mind. This, continual indulgence into habitual sin is the enslavement with we lose ourselves: our created reality in the image of God. Simply being taken from this life is not our worst nightmare.

Sin has devastating effects, and not all are equal in their devastation. Unfettered sin, has implications of eternity, in a realm much, much worse than the Upside-Down. Yet the means to which we fight out this spiritual reality, is not abstract and intangible war. It is not a battle fought in the hazy vague with no real grounds on which to stand. It is not mere random incantations and blasts of ‘positive’ energy. The means to fight is found in the now, in our ordinary. To wait would be deadly for our spiritual reality. We need to be transformed (Romans 12:2).

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.  – 2nd Corinthians 10:3-4 (NASB)

So then,  how does spiritual warfare and divine transformation look like to those who are joined in the physical reality of Christ and His body?

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might

– Ephesians 6:10-11 (NASB)

If we fight in the ordinary, the body we currently abide in is the means to which we wage war within the spiritual reality. How we act in the day to day is our hand to hand combat. Every minuscule action, every deed, every thought is directed toward fighting an enemy who seeks to destroy us.  Our living in this realm is the avenue provided to gain victory in the next.  Yet while we remain in the ordinary, we do not fight an ordinary battle by ordinary means. Though we wage ware in the flesh, we do not wage a war according to the fleshAs proven over and over again by characters of Stranger Things, what is ordinary cannot overcome the extraordinary. Our ordinary means to fight, requires extraordinary help; so we turn toward our saviour.

By the grace of God we have been afforded this extraordinary means  (Hebrews 4:15-16), a sinless Messiah who stands to intercede on our behalf. It is by His blood-bought means that we fight. Not in the will of our own, but by the strength of His might. 

Therefore… 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. – Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV)

A favourite author of mine, John Piper recently expounded this verse in a way that I had never before seen. In paraphrase Piper says something to the effect of: Therefore…Therefore in view of Christ’s sacrifice, his death, and resurrection, forever earning your atonement, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Not a fear or trembling to force us into His righteousness because of the wrath of God, but a fear in the awe and wonder at the very God who works out our salvation from within us. A God who works within us, sealed onto completion by His sovereign will. Not onto our own desires does He do this, but for the sake of His glory, His good pleasure. 

This floored me, I was left absolutely stunned. I do not work out my own salvation, I do not fight sin in of myself, but I do through the power of Him who works mightily in me. This is the means to which I fight in His might: by faith alone on the grace of God, to do His sovereign will, in which He keeps all of His sovereign promises. This is to “sever the root of sin, [by standing upon] the power of a superior promise” (Piper).

Therefore, to be strong in the Lord is to take courage at the strength of His might that resides within us. Like Will Byers, we can turn to face the enemy when Satan haunts us with his temptations. Unlike, Will we stand to face the enemy not by the strength of our own might, but in Christ the solid rock on which we stand. We take courage to fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12). We take courage to be strong in the Lord, knowing our victory is assured.

If then I fight in the strength of Christ’s might in the spiritual reality, by what practical means do I fight in the ordinary reality?

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  – Ephesians 6:13-17 (ESV)

To take up the armour of God is to live by Spirit empowered obedience, and abide by faith in the word of truth (John 15:3-4). To live by faith is more than a belief in the right things, but a deep conviction and consequential commitment to do the right things. A firm desire joined with the Spirit, to exercise all the might of God against every temptation which seeks to devour. This is not a matter of who will win, but when and at what casualties.

Thus by the grace of God, let us put on this strange armour; equipped with weaponry not of this world, but of the spiritual (Hebrews 13:20-21), ready at every turn to slay every vile sin which encroaches upon us.

We then put on the belt of truth, the truth defined by the almighty God, in whose right knowledge sets down every lie of the enemy.

We put on the breastplate of righteousness, held up by the truth, we bear toward the holiness of which God has prepared for us.

We put on the shoes of readiness prepared by the gospel of peace. Ready to face every trial and tribulation, knowing the one who calmed the storm says to our soul “be still” (Mark 4:39).

In addition to all, we pick up the shield of faith with which- after having been stood upon the truth, beared toward righteousness, and been made ready by the gospel of peace-every fiery arrow of the evil will be extinguished. Faith is the means by which we stand upon the superior  promises of God, and sever the root of sin.

Lastly, we take up the helmet of salvation, our crown of life (James 1:12), and holding firm to wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Spirit inspired faith in the word of God is the deathly blow, which cuts off the head of the snake. It is the heat which releases the Mind Flayer from it’s host. The very word of God, wielded by the Son of God (Matthew 4), will prove to be our decisive attack against the enemy and free us from the entanglement of habitual sin (Hebrews 4:12). Let us in meekness, humbly receive the word implant which is able to save our souls (James 1:21).

To put on the armour of God is to stand in Christ, who is our greater Eleven. Christ did not simply defeat the enemy for our justification, but acts as the means within us to carry us through toward sanctification. Christ did what Eleven couldn’t; He resides in us as the power within with which we take courage to be strong, and fight by the strength of His might. The ordinary man took victory in the extraordinary spiritual. Not by means which was expected but in a strange and divine way; namely His suffering, death and resurrection displaying the peculiar glory of God.

Chris has won the victory, not by bullets, flames, or psychic powers, but by taking the sting of death and the power of Sin (1st Corinthians 15:55-57), destroying the enemy strongholds forevermore.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us not underestimate the enemy, but wage a war to the fullest extent of our armoury in which we no longer strive on our own, but hold to God. So far as we remain in the body, we are refined by fire (1 Peter 1:6-9) being transformed from degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18) by the saving power of the Lord. Let us look to Christ who is the assurance of our salvation and author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:6 (NASB)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In every Opportunity, Do Good

So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. – Galatians 6:10 (NASB)

Since having moved to Toronto from my hometown of Edmonton, I have been made more aware of the big city-life. The higher pace, the always-have-to-be-somewhere-else attitude, the almost cut throat, dog-eat-dog world makes it more apparent people’s need for Jesus. Not only for the city, but also intrinsically for myself. The hustle and bustle, the busyness,  and the consumerism caters itself toward selfishness, and maybe for myself it’s been there all along, but in Toronto it has been microscopically high-lighted not only in my actions but thoughts as well. I have definitely been made more aware of it now, then I have ever before.

Why should I hold the door for you? Does everyone have to push, fine I’ll push too! You’re asking for money again? Hurry up, you’re making me late! I’m better than you.

It’s sad to see how quickly I regress into self-serving, self-righteous, egotistical person each in every day. Sin runs deep.

There are a lot of people in Toronto, and most people are only looking out for themselves. In a place where there is 2.81 million (2016) people within the city itself and a estimated total of over 6.4 million in the greater GTA, what makes someone stand out? Often it comes down to uniqueness and excellence at the cost of selflessness. My desire is to excel above all others, so therefore I am only going to look out only for myself.

As a Christian, this is fundamentally opposite of what it means to reflect the Christ imitating relationship of the church to the world, especially within myself. Whereas Christ was serving humbly in selflessness, the rest of society is dispositioned toward a morality that looks for the self above others. A morality, that is based on ironically on each self-imposed standard of what is right or wrong. Each person does what is thought to be best for themselves or what they feel is best for others. This fluid standard almost always regresses to further compound our sinful nature.

Some would liken this morality as the golden rule of ethics, which is ironically from the bible: Do to others, what you would have them to do you – Matthew 7:12. Often, it is interpreted as do to others, so far as to what you expect to be done for yourself. The verse, when standing on it’s own is seen as an opportunity for someone to set the definition of their own morality. If I am okay being treated this way, then I can treat others this way. This is flawed logic as one’s current inclinations, can define how they are permitted to act toward others. What they may at one time be okay to be treated with, to another be completely unacceptable. Further, the opportunity to be treated as you expect and the opportunity to treat others as you expect to be treated are rarely at the same time or to the same degree. It is easy to convince oneself that you would be okay being treated in such a way, if that circumstances were merely hypothetical.

Yet, we know as Christ followers we are called to deny oneself and take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23-24). Therefore there is a mandate for Christians to be peculiar, if not unique in conduct and action toward both within the body of Christ but further to the rest of the world. We are called to reflect the Christ imitating relationship of the church to the world.

However if we are to reflect what it means to be Christlike concretely, what characteristics make a Christian stand out to everyone else?

For the Christian, there is a need to appeal to a higher standard, a perfect standard. One whom stands heads and shoulders (infinitely so) above the rest. This standard does not limit itself to human terms, not even logically, but holds itself to whom who lays the base for the very meaning of truth. Thus, this goes beyond comprehension of the person, showing evidence to the divine. We stand out from the world, by not holding to the worlds standards, but ascribing to to one that is not of it.

The evidence of this standard, are characteristics shown to be so peculiar and contrary, that we are set apart (1 Peter 2:9) from everyone else. Not that we hold this standard in of ourselves, but simply bear fruit in evidence of whom is within us (Galatians 5:22-23) as He moves us toward sanctification. In Him, we are being transformed into one degree of glory to another (2nd Corinthians 3:18)

So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. – Galatians 6:10 (NASB)

If our standard is to be distinct in our standard of doing good, then our mandate is to do good as much as possible to the glory of Christ. While there are many opportunities to do good, it can be overwhelming to think of each chance we did have and passed on, even more so are the opportunities that we pass on any given Sunday morning. As mentioned earlier if my relationship within the body of believers is a reflection of a Christ imitating Church to the world, my proverbial pews would sit empty. If my sinfulness ran rampant on any given day of the week, Sunday morning is no different. Though I may be more used to veiling it outwardly I am all the same prone to being a whitewashed tomb, eager to trend toward selfishness inwardly.

Ultimately the call to do good, is a call to lay down oneself for the sake of Christ. In this are we called to reflect Christ: to be distinct, unique, and set apart from the rest of the world at the cost of our own desires. Especially are we called hold differently those that are brothers and sisters in Christ. This because we share in the hope of a risen saviour, those that are in the family reflect a tangible representation of who we should serve sacrificially. Yet despite the sin present and no matter how slow the apparent work of sanctification, both in view of others as well as ourselves are we expected and called to love Christ including those who have the same love that we do. Our love is a testimony of whom we believe in. Our actions display like a mirror, the glory of God to those who are on the outside. Like warm lantern on a cold winter night emitting from the dining hall, should it beckon to those peering from the end of a long drive-way to come in and feast.

In the light of this, is it all the more important that we bear the weight of this responsibility solemnly.  There is a huge need to take this with burden, eternity may be at stake. As the catholic hymn goes almost eerily:

They will know we are Christians by our love – Peter Scholte

It is not a task or responsibility to be taken in passing, nor is it one that can be confined to within the walls of church. It is neither small talk nor the social club, but must and needs to be lived out daily, in as much as we are called to deny ourselves daily. It must go beyond ‘hellos’ and ‘good mornings’ and move into “how are you doing” and “what can I do to help?”. It must move from self-serving to other-serving, this is a love so peculiar that it will stand out to others. It must take risks.

Practically, it means giving up my best interests so that I can reflect Christ. Whether starting small like staying a few extra minutes to get to know someone new, or progressing to something bigger like opening your home for a meal with new students or the new refugee family. Each step outside of our comfort zone allows us to step further into the outstretched hands of the Father. Whether a small or large step, let each step be a death to selfishness, removing all that may inhibit us from moving toward need and not comfort. Let us lay down our time, our comfort, our money and whatever else for the sake of furthering His kingdom.

I can give my time to sit down and listen. I can approach someone we may not know well and offer to help them anyway I can. I can offer to spend the afternoon with a difficult person. I can offer to pay for the meal. The list goes on. The bottom line is, by the grace of God, I can, because my hope isn’t held in this world but in the next.

So then let us do good in a continual effort and with immediate action. Let us not merely waiting of a happening or an opportunity to arise but rather, lets intentional seek to display the servant-hood of Christ in love so that his testimony may be proclaimed. For by this they will know we are Christians, because of our love for one another.

 

Living With The End In Mind

The mind and heart to understand
And love the sovereign Lord who planned
That it should take eternity
To lavish all his grace on me.

O God of wonder, God of might,
Grant us some elevated sight,
Of endless days. And let us see
The joy of what is yet to be.
And may your future make us free,
And guard us by the hope that we,
Within the light of candle three,
Your glory will forever see.

– John Piper (Glorified) 

A few months back I watched a science-fiction movie titled Arrival. The premise of the movie follows a linguist tasked with the responsibility of attempting to communicate with an invading alien species. The film initially seems to follow in a linear timeline, where the beginning scenes are appeared to have occurred in the past as per usual in film sequences. However the sudden plot twist comes when it is revealed that the logographic symbol, a circle, repeatedly used in communication by the invading aliens is a tool designed to alter how they perceive reality. From what was assumed a mere symbol of written communication, instead forms the basis of their entire concept of time.

This tool alters their perception of time, in that, in order to understand the present, the future becomes their past. In essence, life and therefore movement in time is not a single progressive line, but rather a continuous circle, where the future events dictate how to affect the present. The film then ends with the revelation that the entire initial sequence was part of the future rather than the past.

The film, thoughtfully written, and carefully unpacked brings about an existential question of what it would mean to live by acting according to your end. It is an interesting notion, where the impact and potential for opportunity could be expounded knowing how much more certain moments would hold. If knowing the future would be a reality, foresight becomes 20/20. If I could do it all over again, is the wistful thought of man in a mid-life crisis. To be young, re-write history and fix our mistakes we all think would make the world a better place. It is what makes a time-machine so appealing. With the knowledge that I have now, I know I would’ve done it right in the past.

However, i’ll admit thankfully, time is linear, and though advantageous it may seem to live life while watching the rearview mirror of our future, this is not our circumstance. Humanity attempts to play god enough, and in the midst of our fallible mortality, is the reality that we do not know how our life will end. We cannot know where we may get a job, to whom we will marry, and specifically how we may die. Throw in amongst that the thousands of micro life events that could be altogether life altering, and keeping a big perspective on life is like trying to solve a complex thousand piece puzzle with blindfolds on. You can sense edges and shapes, generally knowing where each piece should go, but have no clue about how it all fits together.

In spite of this, by and large, majority of people live their life on their own assumptions. Speculations that are based on their history, and the expectancy that those past trends will continue into the future. It is what forms the basis of mortgages, budgets, job-performance, health insurance, etc. Humanity, lives as though the past will automatically become the future, altogether forgetting the future is not guaranteed.  We assume that we will go to college, find a job, buy a house, have a family, and otherwise live a comfortable life. We assume, and therefore expect. However much foggier is the future, then we would either realize and even more so like it to be.

Yet regardless of the haze that is planning for the future there are a few constants that all people can rely on. Further, the only constants that people should rely on

  1. All people will experience death
  2. All people will face their Creator in judgement

As a Christian we can hold to a few more constants

  1. Promises fulfilled as children of God
  2. Eternal life in Heaven with God

In simplicity living with the end in mind as a Christian, would mean working toward the affect of eternity.  Belief in God, means we do not live our lives inn a linear motion like a movie, not knowing the end of it. Rather it is, seeing the end, and finding out how God effects the present. By the grace of God, we have the very word of God written out for us (John 1:1). The words of God which promise God is sovereignly in control of our life (Jeremiah 29:11). The plans, may not be as expect them to be, nor necessarily what we want, but it calls to move forward in greater dependance on him (2nd Corinthians 12:9). In our movement through life, is our purpose not to live based on our assumptions, throwing a half-guess in the wind, but looking at the Word, and taking it in accordingly. Therefore when we view God in this lens, is the perspective of viewing God’s sovereign end as a reality.

This perspective impacts our perception of life in a two-fold way.

  1. Time becomes all the more valuable, as every moment as an affect toward eternity

Knowing that the time we spend is not just a fleeting moment caught in the transience of time, but rather directly changes how we will enjoy eternity is a sobering thought. Put into this perspective, eternity creates a much more distinct picture of what is important in life. Given that with each passing day the preciousness of time increases, to strive for a living hope and treasures that will not be defiled (1 Peter 1:3-9) becomes a priority. Therefore to act according to eternity and not temporary joys, gives a purpose to strive for, regardless of the haze of the future.

Too often are we caught up with a few pixels on a screen, ensuring that they go right, that when we look at the whole high-definition picture, do we then realize frivolous this really is. Like a cleaner caught up in a spec of dust, are we so often focused on one small section of our lives. Too easy is it to forget that if the rest of the house is out of order, the spec of dust really does not matter! Get the rest of the house in order first, and deal with the spec of dust later. There are much more important things to worry about.

Lastly, knowing our own situation is secured, it should open our eyes to the plight of the millions of others around us. Living in the light of eternity, can we no longer be the blind leading the blind. Like a starving peasant for the first time eating a feast at the King’s table, can we no longer be satisfied knowing that there are millions of our desperate brothers and sisters all too content to eat crumbs and spoiled food. There is an open invitation, and they only need to accept it.  Since our eyes have been opened to the wonders of our God and the opportunity at eternity spent with him, there is an urgency needed to point others toward it.

2. Since Eternity is guaranteed, and all the promises thereof, satisfaction and joy presently is possible.

We can rest assured that all the promises of God will be fulfilled, and therefore are satisfied as we find our joy in Him in our current moment. Knowing that in our whatever circumstance, God is working for our good (Romans 8:28), we can learn to abide in all circumstances (Philippians 4:12-13). We then can take joy, in the wonder of who God is, knowing our greatest needs have already been met in Him. If then we are presently satisfied, we can cease to strive for hope in future satisfaction. Future satisfactions in shallow temporal joys, that are presumed and expected, but never guaranteed.

Though our future may not necessarily hold what we expect, nor what we want, we can cease to fret over what may happen, knowing all along our dear saviour is with us (Matthew 28:20). Though jobless, unmarried, poor, alone, and a career with no upward trajectory, the Christian can endure because their treasure will not fade. Though hardships come, joy can be had (Philippians 4:4). There is a deeper, more satisfying rest living with the end in mind. Rather than fretting over what may happen in the future, we hope toward it, knowing the best is yet to be come.

Run, Not Meander

My knowledge of that life is small;

The eye of faith is dim;

But it’s enough that Christ knows all;

And I shall be with Him.

-Richard Baxter

I often find myself when running to take the opportunity to go down a new path or trail, not knowing where it may lead me. There is a sense of curiosity and wonder as you delve into a new road that deviates from your normal routine. One can explore different paths as the only limiting factor is the amount of time you want to take to get to your destination. Running for me is often not so much about the pace, as much the journey to complete the goal. More than reaching a distance goal, it is to enjoy the nature and the scenery , to challenge myself as I avoid roots and rocks as I go down rabbit trails, and to explore the ravine/neighbourhood around me. My running path resembles much more a meandering river than a straight away at the airport.

However this form of running contrasts greatly to when I ran track in highschool.

By the grace of God, some of my favourite times in highschool were on the track.  Comparison to most other sports I have played, in track, the only competition really is yourself. The question when sprinting is, how efficiently can you run fast? You are the only variable that can answer that question, and how you prepare for it can effect the entire outcome.

There was something comforting about systematically getting ready to run your race. It starts with a slight jog to get the muscles going, then a static stretch, ABC’s, tempo’s, dynamic stretch, and finally accels. Each step is done individually as you mentally visualize running your race over and over again. In your mind you go through the various cues that your coach has told you to focus on as you run your race: high knees, stand tall, stay high, arms at nintey etc. You rehearse again and again, until you can see yourself running the race perfectly.  Finally, when they call your heat, you head to the table to sign in and get ready to take off your warm ups.

There is a world of difference between sprinting and meandering.

When one meanders, one can go to and fro with little regard to what the end destination is. Each deviation from the main path presents a new opportunity to explore, each bend in the road intrigues the imagination with new possibilities. The goal itself is not to reach anywhere in particular, but rather more about enjoying yourself in the journey to get there. Whether you get there or not is a bigger question than how.

However, when you sprint, there is one sole focus: to get to cross the line as quickly as possible. It’s not necessarily about winning, though you try, but it is to run faster than you ever have before. When you take off your warm ups, and you place your hands on the starting line there is absolutely nothing else on your mind. When you settle into your blocks, you think only of a blank canvas as you focus your whole body on one thing: to react. Then, as you explode out of the blocks, you drive with all your might to push everything behind you, locking your eyes on the finish line.

Therefore, since we are surroudned by so great a cloud of witneses, let us also lay aside every wight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

There is a world of difference between running and meandering.

When it comes to my Christian journey, it has unfortunately at times resembled a meandering walk rather than a hundred metre run. I have been more keen on stopping at the side of the road to smell the flowers, or to stop and enjoy a nap, or to deviate from the main path to explore, than crossing the finish line well. I’d rather enjoy netflix, sleeping in, procrastinating, and wasting time on the internet than to seriously think about pursuing Christ. I would plan out my life with the outcome of what I enjoy most, rather than set it on a trajectory for Christ. I would rather stay in my warm ups, taking a brisk walk on a lazy weekend afternoon than to fully commit myself to Christ.

I would rather meander than run, because to run would require effort. To run would require sacrifice, to run would be to die to my desires and to live for Christ. For, ” we have not been given grace to fulfill selfish desires, but freedom to do the will of God who has set us free ” (John Piper).

I have a cd in my car that contains John Piper’s sermon series on Hebrews. The cd came with the car and it has honestly changed my life. I have listened to it dozens of times. In one of the sermons on Hebrews 12, Piper describes the difference between running and meandering. The question that comes to mind  is would we rather meander or run? Would we rather pursue God haphazardly hoping that we gain the prize, or do I want to run as to win Christ? Do I want to lay aside every encumberance and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race that is set before me? All too easy is it to forget there is a race to be won.

All to easy is to get caught up with the question of What is wrong with it? When in reality that is alltogether the wrong question; the question should be does it help me run?

The fight of faith — the race of the Christian life — is not fought well or run well by asking, “what’s wrong with this or that?” but by asking, “is it in the way of greater faith and greater love and greater purity and greater courage and greater humility and greater patience and greater self-control? – John Piper

There is a need for Christians to ask the question, does it help me run the race? Warm ups may be comfortable, but there is a need to examine our own life and see what we can take off. There is a need to shift from a perspective of toeing the line of allowance, and move toward complete avoidance.

As a sprinter, you shed every weight, every article of clothing that could possibly cause you to run slower. You go down to being as streamlined as possible, wearing only your spandex, singlet, and spikes. Everything is meant to help you run well. Every extra weight is put aside, everything that could hinder, laid down. The question is not, can I run with it? But, does it make me faster?

It is ridiculous to think of an athlete, who refuses to take of their warm ups, proceeds to get set in their blocks, hears the starting gun, only to come out of it slowly  jogging toward the finish line. The same can be said of the Christian life. Do we really think to pick up our cross daily is only meant for the hyper spiritual? Do I really believe to gain Christ as my all is bound to Sunday mornings and year-end retreats?

Like a sprinter coming out of the blocks fixated on the prize, so should our sole focus be on winning Christ. Our whole life should be systematically focused that we may run well. Like a runner going through his pre-race routine, do we need to prepare well and then run well. It is daily time spent in the word and prayer as we meditate over and over again the application of it in our lives. It is a desire for deeper understanding of God, stretching our minds and strengthening our faith as we delve into books, articles and sermons. It is actively living out our faith among our colleagues and family,  and it is dynamically living it out in our ministries and small groups. All this, that when we take of our warm ups, get set in our blocks, and started our pursuit of Christ, that it may be our only hope. Then, when it is all said and done, in eternity can be said of us “well done my good and faithful servant”.

 

p.s. if you wish to listen to the full sermon, it can be found here. I would highly recommend it!