Sunday, 22 July 2012
Crossing the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver, B.C. gets my adrenaline pumping. After winding through the tall, sheltering trees of Stanley Park, traffic streams onto the soaring span arching over the Burrard Inlet. Suddenly substantial ground drops away, and even oceangoing freighters look like bathtub toys beneath me. I am above the high rises on the North Shore, eye level with the mountains beyond. I am exhilarated by the view yet relieved to reach the other side.
A bridge is a structure designed and built to span a gap, connect two independent parts, join that which is separated. Without the Lions Gate and other bridges, Vancouver’s North Shore would be difficult to reach. The bridge provides a way to get to a desired destination.
Jesus Christ is mankind’s “bridge” over the chasm which separates us from God. That chasm is caused by sin. On one side is God, absolutely holy and perfect, unable to tolerate any wrongdoing. Mankind is on the other side, disconnected from God because of the entrance of sin through the disobedience of the first man, Adam. Sin shook the world like an earthquake, the mighty force of evil opening a fissure wider than mankind could cross. For creatures designed for fellowship with their Creator, there is always a yearning to cross the gap, "but your iniquities have separated you from your God." (Isaiah 59:2)
God knew the Laws He set out for His people would be broken again and again by their sinfulness. Such attempts to walk uprightly before God are like structures of twigs set up across the chasm. They are too weak to hold up the weight of sinful man, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom.3:23)
God, the master engineer, knew how He would cross the gap before it even occurred. He spared no cost, choosing His only precious son, Jesus, to provide the way. Only perfection would do, and only Jesus, sent to earth as a man, lived a perfect life.
On the rough-hewn timber of a cruel cross, Jesus laid down His life across the chasm of sin. And when He rose from the dead He provided the way for men to be reconciled to God. The unreachable distance between man and God was finally linked. "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all men." (1 Timothy 2:5)
Some bridges require a toll fee to be paid before they can be crossed, but not the bridge to salvation. Jesus has paid all the cost necessary to get to the other side, and has freed us from our sins by His blood. (Revelation 1:5)
Jesus Christ voluntarily laid down His life as a bridge to connect us with God. We need only believe in Him, accept him as our Savior and Lord, and the way is provided across the chasm. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) There is only one bridge to peace, joy, and eternal life. Cross at the cross of Jesus to reach the other side.
Monday, 16 July 2012
Before the birth of my second daughter I wondered if I would have enough love to give another child. The love I felt for my firstborn was so immense and intense, I had a hard time imagining having the same love for my second. I needn’t have worried. The moment she was born I found my heart expanding to accommodate another precious little girl, and eventually, a baby boy as well.
Love, I discovered, is a self-propagating force. The more I give away, the more there is to give; it is never used up. William Shakespeare’s Juliet expressed this to her Romeo:
“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.”
Infinite love is found only in God. He is the creator, propagator and source of all beneficial love. “Dear friends,” the apostle John wrote, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)
As finite beings it is hard for us to imagine never running out of love, but God has a reason for giving us such a limitless resource; He wants us to lovingly care for one another. When we experience the love of God in our lives, we find we cannot contain it in our lowly vessel; it is going to overflow. If our hearts have been truly changed by Christ’s indwelling spirit, then He fills us up with so much love we cannot help but splash it onto others.
Human love tends to have an element of give and take to it. When we love someone, we desire and even expect to be loved back. When love is God-prompted it comes with no expectations but to bless the receiver. The scriptural Greek word for that kind of love is agape. Pastor and author John MacArthur says biblical agape love is not an emotion but a disposition of the heart to seek the welfare and meet the needs of others. We have no capacity to generate agape love on our own. The love of God is only unquenchable when allowed to flow through the channel of a yielded Christ-follower. Edward T. Welch writes, “Our goal is to love people more than need them. We are overflowing pitchers, not leaky cups.”
This is the kind of love needed to give up family and home to travel to an impoverished country and minister to orphaned children and HIV/AIDS victims.
This is the kind of love sustaining an inner-city pastor whose congregation consists of drug addicts and prostitutes.
This is the kind of love we need when our mates disappoint us, our children ignore us, and our friends hurt us.
This is the kind of love which flowed from the veins of Jesus Christ as He sacrificed His life so we might know forgiveness and eternity in heaven.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. - 1 John 3:16
Wednesday, 11 July 2012
Hagar fled across the desert, away from the tent of her mistress, Sarai; away from her cruel words and stinging slaps. Tears blurred her vision as she stumbled and fell to her knees on the rocky ground beside the bubbling spring. Wrapping her arms around her unborn child, she succumbed to the waves of desolation washing over her. She was so absolutely alone.
Egypt, her homeland, lay beyond the spring on the road to Shur. So much time had passed since her abduction into slavery, she doubted she could find her way back. But she could not return to the abuse of her mistress. Sarai’s barrenness had become a weapon in the hands of Hagar. For once she had something Sarai wanted, a child fathered by the husband of her mistress. She could not help but despise the childless woman who retaliated cruelly, driving Hagar away.
A small sweet breeze lifted Hagar’s veil to reveal a man standing before her. She had not heard him approach yet there he stood not an arm’s length away. His face was strong and kind; his stance gracefully regal.
“Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
She wiped away her tears and gazed at him in wonder. How did he know her name and whom she served? She thought about running, in case he was sent by Sarai to fetch her back, but there was no sense of urgency or control in his attitude toward her. His question was caring, not accusatory. She felt as if he knew her well, though she had never seen him before.
“I am running away from my mistress,” she replied, not answering his second question because she did not know where she was going.
“Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” His command surprised her; even more his next words.
“I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count. You are now with child and you will have a son whose name shall be Ishmael, meaning "God hears", for the Lord has heard of your misery.”
He went on to describe the nature and future of her unborn son, however Hagar could only focus on one statement; the Lord had heard of her misery. Jehovah, God of her mistress, was aware of the plight of a poor maidservant. She looked up at the one standing before her, knowing she looked into the face of God. So why wasn’t she struck dead, as anyone would be who looked upon the living God? She did not know why, but she did know she was in the presence of God, the one who saw her. Not just her person, but the woman she was inside. He could see her heart, He knew her deepest thoughts, He cared about what she felt and experienced.
Suddenly the place where she knelt became hallowed ground, a place in need of commemoration. This spring on the road to Shur would forever be called Beer Lahai Roi, “well of the one who sees me and who lives.”
Hagar rose to her feet and turned back toward the tents of her mistress. The circumstances she returned to would be the same, but she was not. She had encountered Lahai Roi, the God who sees her. Knowing that made all the difference.
based on Genesis 16
Monday, 2 July 2012
On some warm summer nights in my childhood I would roll out my sleeping bag in our rural back yard and lie with my dog cuddled close, to gaze up into the vast night sky. Knowing little about the science of stars, I imagined them to be pinpricks in black parchment backlit by brilliant light, or twinkling gems thrown across black velvet by some cosmic giant. But my fertile imagination could not define the vague yearning stirred by the stars, the evasive sense of someone reaching down from the dark sky to place a finger on my small soul. I felt insignificant beneath the infinite night, yet the sense of being watched over with care brought calm sleep.
Years later when I first read Psalm 8, those nights under the stars came back to me with vivid clarity. Except now I had a name for the presence I sensed back then....God, my Heavenly Father.
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars. which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” -
The concept of the Creator God of the universe being mindful of me is one I still struggle to wrap my mind around, but as my faith and trust in Him grow, I gladly accept such sovereign care. God’s son, Jesus Christ, is now my star, my Savior, the sparkling light of my life. He is the star to come out of Jacob (Nu.24:17), the day star arising in my heart (2 Pet.1:19), the bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16).
I awoke early when I slept outside, as soon as dawn’s pale light began to seep across the sky. I watched as the stars of the night would gradually give way to the light until finally there was only one star shining. All others faded from view except for the morning star. Jesus has heralded the dawn of a new day in my life, giving me the promise of a fresh and hopeful future. He is the brightest luminary in my world, outshining prestige, possessions, and persons. I sensed his presence as a child gazing up at the stars. I am now assured of his presence as the light of the world, the bright Morning Star.
Thursday, 28 June 2012
A recent road trip caused me to celebrate being part of this vast, diverse country of Canada. As I traveled across the fertile plains of southern Manitoba to the rolling green hills of central Saskatchewan, I felt proud to be a citizen of this beautiful country. Canada is often listed in the top five best countries to live in the world. Canadians are blessed to live in a land with abundant natural resources, economic opportunities, and cultural variety.
I have traveled through many of Canada’s unique provinces, enjoying the ever-changing landscape, however one common thread runs from east to west --- its people. I discovered it is not the geographical features which make up a country; it is its citizens. From Vancouver Island to St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada is unified through individuals who take pride in belonging to something greater than themselves. A large part of the population are not native born Canadians. They have immigrated from other countries and especially appreciate being able to share Canada’s privileges and contribute to their new adopted home.
As much as I enjoy being a Canadian, I am grateful to be a citizen of an even greater nation, a holy nation belonging to God. 1 Peter 2:9-10 says we can be part of "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God."
Acceptance of God’s Son, Jesus Christ as Savior is like being granted citizenship papers to become a member of God’s nation. When we are given the stamp of salvation we are approved to receive His mercy and grace. God’s desire is to continually have new citizens added to His kingdom, and His reason is so He can show us His unmerited favor. "Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." - 1 Peter 2:10
But we are not naturally born into God’s spiritual realm. We must make a decision to leave the territory of darkness our sinful nature makes us part of, to enter in to God’s kingdom of light. Not only can we become citizens of this glorious country, we can actually be adopted into God’s family. "He planned in love for us to be adopted as His own children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the purpose of His will...because it pleased Him and was His kind intent." - Eph. 1:5 (Amplified Bible)
A new citizen of Canada is expected to contribute positively to the welfare of the country. They are required to become gainfully employed so they can provide for themselves and be responsible members of society. God also has His reason for bringing us into His merciful domain... "so that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light". - 1 Peter 2:9b
On July 1st many red and white flags will be flying, declaring the loyalty of Canadians to their country. I enjoy being a Canadian, but my true loyalty belongs to God‘s holy nation, because there I am a citizen forever, where His banner over me is love.
Monday, 25 June 2012
As a sailor in the Royal Canadian Navy, my father traveled to many different countries when I was a child. His homecomings after months away were occasions of great anticipation and excitement for us, not only because we were eager to see him, but because he always brought us wonderful exotic gifts from far away places. I still have many of these treasured possessions....a Chinese music box inlaid with mother of pearl....a fragrant sandalwood fan from Japan.....a toy koala bear from Australia. My father knew how to give good gifts to his children.
In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus contrasts earthly fathers with the heavenly Father. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!”
I can imagine a ripple of laughter through the crowd as Jesus uses exaggeration to illustrate his point. No earthly father would give his child a stone or snake in response to a request for food. Out of love he would give the best he had. Therefore, if an imperfect human father can give good things to his children, we can conclude that our loving heavenly Father will give marvelous gifts to us when we ask.
So what kind of gifts does God our Father give? He first gave us the best He had to give; the life of His precious son Jesus Christ, through whom we have forgiveness and eternal life. Jesus opened the door for us to have a personal relationship with His Father through the vehicle of prayer.
God’s purpose for prayer is not to hand over every request we ask for, it is to build intimacy between Himself and His children so we can become more like Him. He is eager to grant us our desires, as long as they line up with His will. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Ps. 37:4
God has the power to give us whatever we ask, but if it does not contribute to His purposes for our life or has negative consequences, He may choose not to do so. When our desire is for a deeper relationship with God and transformation into His likeness, He is eager to fulfill our request.
When my father came home from an overseas trip, I never knew what would be in his duffel bag for me, but I always knew it would be special, and often it was more than I could wish for. Likewise, in my life of faith I have often experienced the extravagant generosity of my heavenly Father, “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us...” Eph. 3:20
Thursday, 21 June 2012
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge.” -
Psalm 91:1, 2 & 4
I watch them in the tall shrub outside my window --- robins and finches, sparrows and chickadees --- finding shelter in its dense greenery. Perched on gently swaying branches, fluffing out feathers, they rest for a little while safe from weather elements and predators. They are alert, their bright little eyes watching, yet they exhibit an innocent trust in the haven they have found.
Some years ago I feared I would succumb to the terror of night, arrow by day, pestilence and plague listed in Psalm 91. In one fierce storm all my earthly security was removed. My marriage, finances, reputation and health collapsed and blew away like dust. I was so devastated by such a burden of trials, I felt I would never find relief. But I sought hard after God, and in my great need discovered I was bereft but not abandoned, besieged but not alone, for the Most High God was my shelter and I rested in the shadow of the Almighty.
Three years before the storm hit I experienced my desire for God growing like a thirst. I drank in His Word, sought Him in prayer and worshiped Him joyfully, unaware of what He was preparing me for. When the waves of trauma crashed against me, I could say with the psalmist, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
This is no trite panacea for all problems; it is a diligently cultivated position in relation to God. Psalm 91:9 says, “if you make the Most High your dwelling --- then no harm will befall you”; that is, spiritual harm. As I have experienced, none of us are exempt from the storms of this world, yet if we make God the dwelling place of our souls we are guaranteed eternal security. A safe place is only safe if it is entered into; it cannot protect us if we stand outside. None of us know when a life storm might descend. Delaying an intimate relationship with God to some future time is like standing outside a bomb shelter during an air attack. The bomb shelter is no use unless you are within it.
I have watched the birds find shelter in our shrub during a storm. They land on an outer branch in a flurry of windblown feathers, then clinging with their claws they inch in toward the trunk as far away from the elements as possible. There they rest peacefully, sheltered in the shadow of a strong tree. If they should let go they could be swept away by the wind, so they lock their claws around the steady branch and are secure.
God speaks in the last three verses of Psalm 91, describing the blessing He gives to those who know and love Him. “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him, for he acknowledges My name.”
(vs. 14) The literal translation for the word loves is “a deep longing for God”, or a “clinging to God.” He gives His pledge of protection to those who diligently seek Him and love Him.
I like to think birds and other creatures have an innate sense of their Creator. They know how to rest trustfully, as I have observed in the little birds in my shrub. If God protects them, think of how He will protect us.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet no one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” - Jesus, in Matthew 10:29-31