The Silver Core of Lamentations

Reading through Lamentations is not my idea of an uplifting time. It is not a book filled with wonderful thoughts on God and spiritual ideals. The book is called Lamentations because it is filled with Jeremiah – you guessed it – lamenting. It is understandable, he is writing as he watches Jerusalem fall to the Babylonians and many are killed or taken into slavery. It is not a good time for God’s people, and Jeremiah describes the utter pain and disappointment he feels. He knows that Israel was given every chance to live up to their calling as God’s people but because of their failures was paying the price for those sins.

As I was about halfway through reading the 5 chapters, and thinking to myself, why did God include this book in the Bible, I came to Chapter 3 verse 22 and 23

“Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”

Talk about your change in perspective!

We use the phrase “every cloud has a silver lining” when we want to convey that even in a bad situation there is some good. Here in the middle of Jeremiah’s lament he pauses from focusing on the situation around him and remembers that God is good. He is allowing His people to go through pain as a form of loving discipline – to get them back on track. He is not abandoning them forever; He will bring them back to Jerusalem and restore them as a nation.

We all face trials. They come in all sorts of areas: health, relationships, employment and depression, just to name a few. Not every hardship is discipline; most trials aren’t sent our way as a punishment for sin, at least not in the way God was dealing with Israel back then. But like the Israelites, God can use our times of struggle to help build us up. We grow through adversity and are better prepared for the next time we face a tough circumstance.

Things happen to and around us, often completely out of our control, and we have to live with the consequences of them. Life can be difficult, but we have a God who loves us and will always be with us. Our situations are, more often than not, temporary. We can choose how we let the situation affect us – and our response to it.

We can even share our experience to help others around us in their times of struggle. How many times have we been encouraged by the “survival story” of someone who came through a similar storm that we were going through?

Jeremiah reminds us that God’s love for us never fails. We are never outside of his care. Every morning we wake up and have a new day that He has created, and we can choose to focus on the negative, or we can praise God for all the blessings we have. God is our strength and through Him we can conquer anything that comes our way.

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The Good Father

One of the highest rated sitcoms of the late 90s/early 2000s was Everyone Loves Raymond. I didn’t watch it very often while it was airing original episodes. I didn’t find it funny.

I have caught a few episodes in syndication since and now find the show to be hilarious. I think the reason why I didn’t find it funny before and do now is that the show ended in 2005, and I got married in 2006.

Many of the shows jokes were exaggerations on the dynamics of married life. Until I was married, I didn’t understand why the situations and reactions were truly funny. The same is true about how Ray reacts to and interacts with his three children on the show – it is much funnier when you can watch through the lens of being a dad.

Growing up I had a typical kid’s view of my dad. I knew he deserved respect, he provided me with all that I needed (and a lot of what I wanted), and I knew that he loved me. I also tested his patience with me and the limits of forgiveness. In truth, I have been extremely blessed to have the dad I have. He is not perfect, but he sacrificed so much so that our family could have a comfortable life. He still to this day helps me when I come to him, whether it is for a handyman project, advice or free babysitting when my wife and I need a short break from our children. I have what many people don’t – a very positive image of what a father should be.

Even with that image, it wasn’t until I had children of my own that I was able to understand love from a father’s point of view. I took for granted that my dad wanted to provide for me, would have infinite patience (again, I really tested this) and would be the superhero that I thought he was. Now, with my children, I know that I want to give them everything they need, most of what they want, keep them away from harm, push them to be their best, succeed in their endeavors, but not be scared to fail. I want to have patience with them, forgive them when they need it and ultimately love them so they will have no doubt that I do.

Do I succeed all the time? No. I am an imperfect father just like every other father. Well, not quite every other father – there is one exception.

Throughout the Bible God is referred to as Father. While our earthly fathers all have faults and shortcomings, our Heavenly Father does not. God is much more than just a father; the metaphor is used to give us a picture of the relational nature and desire that He has. He is not a watchmaker, who simply winds up the universe and lets it go, or a Superior Being sitting on a mountain top ready to zap us with lightning bolts if we get out of line. He genuinely wants to have a loving relationship with each one of us.

Our minds cannot fathom the love God has for us, and the relationship between humanity and God is clouded due to our sin. So to help us understand God uses the imagery of the paternal relationship to help us comprehend His nature. He wants us to come to Him with our burdens and tell him what we need and want. He is patient with us, and has offered us unconditional forgiveness.

I have been a son my whole life and have understood what it is to receive the love of a father. In becoming a father myself, I have gotten a glimpse of how much God loves me. Though my vision is marred by my own sinful nature, my understanding of the symbolism has been taken to a new level. I have a better understanding of how desperately He wants to meet all our needs, guide us in His way and wash away that sinful nature so we can one day find perfect rest in Him.

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All the Evidence I need

Last week, I read an article on how scientists working at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research, famous for the giant hadron collider) had stated that according to their findings, the universe should not exist as we know it. In a meticulously controlled environment, their hypothesis of how the universe came into being has so far been unsubstantiated.

When I first saw the headline, my immediate reaction was that this is further evidence that God created the universe. In reality the findings, or lack thereof, do not provide any proof that God did or did not create the universe. I firmly believe that we will never have proof, at least scientifically speaking, of how the universe came into being. The reason for this is quite simple – scientific proof involves repeatable experimentation and observation. There is, of course, no possible way for anyone to observe the beginnings of the universe. There is also no way to know what exact environment and circumstances were present at that time. Even if scientists could find a way that the universe may have come into being it would never be more than a theory because there is just no way to know for sure that is the way it happened.

That got me to thinking about my own beliefs. I believe that the Bible tells us that God made the world, but it doesn’t tell us how. The Genesis account reads more like a baseball boxscore than an instruction manual. You can read how things progressed and what happened when, but there is very little on how it was done; even when there is some description, it is an overview and vague. The focus of Genesis 1 is on the “who” not the “how”.

The Genesis account, in some ways, is similar to many ancient stories of how the universe came into being. I remember learning about an Aboriginal creation story when I was in grade school. My classmates all got a laugh (and then a lecture on respect from our teacher) out of the story of how the world was created on the back of a turtle. Origin stories have been passed down for generations and to the skeptic the Genesis account could be viewed in the same light.

So why do I believe the biblical account? What about it makes it so compelling that I stand firm on my belief without the proof that my curious mind demands in just about every other area of my life? Why do I come back to it after every doubt I have that it is true?

Maybe the best place to start is the Gospel of John. John states in chapter 20:30-31 that the purpose of his writing is that we may know that Jesus is the Messiah so that we may gain eternal life. John 1 starts at the beginning, or more accurately, before then. John declares that through Jesus, who is God, all things were made.

Of course, this is no more proof than the original account in Genesis, but it does give another piece of evidence. The Creation story written down by Moses is corroborated by John. John’s Gospel is corroborated by the other Gospel authors. Those writings fit together with the Old Testament writings of Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and David; you see that they point to the fact that Jesus is who John declares Him to be. The evidence keeps mounting.

You could argue that I have only used one source, the Bible, for all the evidence. That is true, but remember, the Bible is not just one book by one author written over a short period of time. Every book can be looked at as a different source. The fact that they have been compiled into one is because together they tell the whole story. It is no different than having several witnesses in a court case. The more of them that give the same story, the more credence the story has. It is not like a jury would say, “well, all their testimonies seem to support each other; so, we really can’t trust any of them.”

There are also many outside sources that confirm the accounts of the Bible, from other ancient writings to recent archaeological finds. In other words, there is plenty of reason to believe the individual parts of the Bible on their own as well as part of a complete story.

Does this evidence meet the burden of proof? That is what each one of us has to decide for ourselves. For me? It does.

Scientists will continue to keep looking for how the universe was created, and along the way, they will make great discoveries of how magnificent and mysterious the creation is. My prayer is that in the searching they will give some thought to the question of who – and find the Creator.

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I’m in His Hands

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18 (NIV)
Daniel 3 records the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – one that I am sure every Sunday school student has heard. They defy the orders of the king knowing that the punishment is certain death. I recently read this story, and there was one line that stuck out to me that I had never noticed before – “But even if he does not”.

 

Maybe it is a product of our media culture where the heroes of our favourite movies and TV shows are always able to avoid the enemy’s (often needlessly complex) traps, but the fact that the 3 Jews survived the day isn’t a surprise.

 

The truth is, when standing up to the king, they did not know they weren’t, in fact, sacrificing their lives. All they knew was that in that moment they had no choice but to risk their lives to obey God. God doesn’t always spare His people, there are many martyrs throughout history that stood up for God and paid with their (earthly) lives.

 

Their statement “but even if he does not” is not a statement of doubt but of great faith. Faith that there is a much greater reward to being obedient to the King of Kings than obeying an earthly king.

 

I have never been faced with a life or death choice in whether to obey God or not. I have faced situations where I truly was not sure how everything would work out. Though, those circumstances pale in comparison to the events of Daniel 3, they serve as reminders of how I need to trust God when I don’t know what will happen next.

 

One example of this is my summer between high school and university. I spent that summer working at a camp north of Toronto. If you have ever worked at a camp, you know that the outside world can get a little lost in that closed community.

 

I had been accepted and was planning on attending Asbury College in Kentucky. About 2 weeks before I was to arrive on campus, I got news that due to a clerical error my spot at Asbury was in limbo. Summer was coming to an end, I was miles from my parents, who lived in Florida at the time, and didn’t have much time during “business hours” to deal with getting things figured out. On top of all that, simply going home and getting a job was not an option. I didn’t have a visa to work in the USA, just one that allowed me to live there. There was no obvious answer if things didn’t get cleared up for me to attend Asbury.

 

I remember becoming completely overwhelmed at lunch one day and having to leave the dining hall with another staff member. I don’t remember the words she used, but I do remember the feeling of relief when I was reminded that God was looking out for me. He would guide my path, and I needed to trust that He had a plan.

 

Thankfully, within a few days the error had been cleared up, and my spot was waiting for me. I look back with great fondness at the four years I spent at Asbury – I had amazing experiences and learned many lessons, both academically and spiritually. I am very thankful that they were part of God’s plan for my life. But even if they hadn’t been, I am confident that God would have directed me on a different path and used it to draw me closer to Him.

 

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego faced much higher stakes, and a more important choice, but the principal is the same. I, like them, need to trust that the God I serve is watching over me, and I can trust Him to deliver me.

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Back at it

I recently logged into my blog site and noticed that it has been 3 1/2 years since I posted. For the better part of a year, I had posted weekly and really enjoyed it. What happened? I could say that life simply got busy. There is truth in that, but it is not the whole story. I started writing to share my journey through life with God; so, I feel I should share honestly about it.

 
We make time for the things we want to make time for. My life is fairly typical. I have a wife, 2 kids, a 9-5 job, and I volunteer one night a week. Add in the odd extra event here and there, and you have my life: busy but manageable. About 5 months ago, I decided that I needed to find time to exercise. Long story short, the tall and lanky teenaged body I had 20 years ago had been replaced by one that was out-of-shape and much heavier than it should be. I knew I needed to start doing something about it.

 
I decided to start walking, and I even joined a gym. I had never really worked out before; so, I had some things to figure out, but I knew that doing nothing was not an option. Now, I didn’t have an extra hour in the day I sat around thinking to myself “What should I do with this empty hour?”.  I just knew I needed to find the time to do it. So now my alarm now goes off at 5:30 AM, and after hitting snooze one or twice, I get up and either go for a 6K walk or head over to the gym to do some resistance training.

 
What does this have to do with writing a blog? A good friend once told me that writing is a spiritual discipline. He is right. The truth is that writing is my creative outlet. It is also a form of worship for me and a way I feel I can encourage others. For me, writing is a process that goes far beyond the time pounding on the keyboard. I mull over thoughts and ideas all day long. I also need to be inspired. That means spending time learning from others (through what they have written or said) and, of course spending time with God – reading what He has written and talking with him.

 
Over the last 3 1/2 years, I have struggled to find that time (I tried to warn myself; I wrote about the importance of finding the time in one of my last posts before I stopped writing). I didn’t fall away from God completely, I just stopped making spending time with Him a priority. I studied faith-related topics so that I could teach the teens I volunteer with or to find answers to questions I struggled with. I wasn’t focused on working on my relationship with God. So, much like I needed to do something about my physical well-being, I also needed to with my spiritual well-being.

 
So, I am going to start blogging again. Blogging helps to keep me accountable to spending time with God. In a way, it is like journaling, but I also want to share it with the hope that in encourages others. So, for those of you that read this blog before, I hope you keep reading. If you’re new to this blog, I hope I can bless you as I have been blessed.

 
It’s time to get back at it.

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Eternal Wealth

I am not often up late enough to catch Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, but the other night I was. When he announced his guest would be “The Future of the Mind” author Michio Kaku, I was intrigued enough to keep watching. Though the whole interview was interesting, one comment stuck out to me. Kaku said that to build a computer that is capable of working as our brains do, it would have to be as big as a city block, need a river to cool it and a nuclear reactor to supply it with power. Our brains use about 20 watts of power (less than a light bulb!)

My first reaction was “and you think that just developed randomly by chance?” Then, I was reminded of the story in Matthew 19 of the wealthy young man; you can read the whole story in Matt 19:16-24, but to summarise – a young man asks Jesus what he must do to get eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commands. When the man says he does, Jesus tells him if he wants to be perfect, sell his possessions and follow Him. The young man walks away sadly, as he was very wealthy. Jesus tells His disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.

While the passage in scripture refers to monetary wealth, the same principle can be applied to richness in any form: knowledge, prestige or comfort. If we are “rich”, we tend not to seek out help, we think we are self-sufficient and the need for Christ can get buried in the comfort we are afforded. Of course, many people who are well off seek Jesus. In the end, it is all in our attitude.

None of us are perfect, and none of us can live a good enough life to enter the Kingdom of God. We can be self-sufficient, well-educated and held in high esteem, but we are all sinners and have fallen short of the Glory of God. We are all in desperate need of a saviour. All we need to do is to admit it. Sure, most of us can probably check off the commands and say we pretty much keep them; we are, more or less, a good person, but we need to get on our knees (sometimes literally) and just confess that we, with all our “wealth”, are completely dependent on the One who came to save us.

So, like the wealthy young man, we are faced with a choice: give it all up to God, or walk away. For most of us, walking away may seem like the more attractive option, at least in the short term. We have our earthly wealth and comfort, we even have our knowledge and understanding, but to be made perfect, we need to admit that we are not self-sufficient – we need to admit we need Jesus.

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World Class Consistency

Watching the women’s 3000-metre speed staking event at the Olympics, I realized why I would never be a world-class speed skater. Never mind my complete lack of skating skills, or the fact I was already past the prime age for high performance sports; I simply would not push myself as hard and as long as these women were. To see them bend over after the race, coasting on momentum off the oval, exhausted from leaving every ounce of energy on the ice, I knew I would have given up long before I reached the finish line.

What amazed me even more was the consistency of the lap times. Over 400M, they consistently put up times that were within a second of the lap before. They both paced and pushed themselves so that at the end of seven-and-a-half laps, they would have put up the best time possible. The dedication that I was seeing was awe-inspiring.

In 2 Timothy 4:7 , Paul writes that he “finished the race”, and the metaphor seems perfect. Walking with Christ is an endurance race and, at least at times, a struggle. It takes devotion and perseverance, commitment and resolution. There will be times when it will seem far easier to give in to temptation or neglect dedication.  Most times, it is easy to justify – we get busy with “stuff”: family “stuff”, work “stuff”, holiday “stuff”, even church “stuff” and before we even realize it, we have lost focus on the One whom our sight should be fixed on.

Our aim should be the same as the skaters – consistency. Life is full of ups and downs; consistency is more a goal than a reality for most of us. It seems that just about every time I settle into a routine, something comes and disrupts it. Though we can’t control a lot that is going on around us, we can control certain aspects. If our aim is to have a consistent walk with the Lord, then we should practice consistency in our spiritual lives. This isn’t easy, in fact, lately it has been very difficult for me, but it is what we should strive for. Daily time spent in God’s Word and in prayer are key to finding this consistency.

While I will never have the speed skating ability or total disregard for my body’s cries of pain to finish an Olympic endurance race, I need to continue to “fight the good fight” so that I, too, can finish the race that God has put before me. If I keep my eyes focused on the prize and daily seek His will, I can be assured that one day I will be able to claim my crown in Glory.

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