Victory in this Season of Grace

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Having just come through Easter, the victory of the resurrection should be fresh on our minds. The words out of Isaiah “death is swallowed up in victory” accurately sets the scene of Easter. Complete victory was won. This is the testimony we walk in. This is the good news of the gospel.

So how does this apply to the season we are in now? Are we walking as victors in Christ or hiding out waiting for the season to pass? Is the kingdom of God on defense or is his kingdom advancing?

God is not sleeping through this season. He is not waiting until this pandemic stops. In fact at no point in our lives is that the case. There is no season in which God turns to us and says, “Let’s just make it through. We are in this together.” Thinking of this, I am reminded of when Joshua asks the man in front of Jericho, “Whose side are you on?” It turns out it is the commander of the Lord’s armies and he replies, “I am on the Lord’s side.” (Joshua 5). Whose side are you on? Being on the Lord’s side, is there any reason to cower or fear? What could make us just wait out a season?

God is not taking a break or treading water. He is very active! His kingdom isn’t rebuffed but ever advancing.

There is a season for everything as Solomon learned. But there is no season where the gospel has no say. There is no season where God is not present and active. We need to stop looking at life through the lens of the world and start seeing it through the lens of the gospel. We need to understand God has plans he is accomplishing right now and he is inviting us to join him.

I am finding when I take time to listen, his wisdom, warning, direction and correction is abundantly clear at this time. He is revealing things I have held on to and freeing me from the burden. He is giving me insight for what he wants to accomplish and inviting me to join him. He is revealing truth in scripture in new ways, giving incredible wealth in revelation. I am hearing testimony of the same thing from those who have sought the Lord regarding what this season is about. He has given such a grace to see him clearly and clear out the temple (we are temples of the living God).

It is time to stop consoling each other and grieving the life that was. (Grieving is not a bad thing. If you have lost a loved one, please take the time to grieve the loss with God.) But grieving life as it was? I am finding what this pandemic has done is expose all of the things we anchored ourselves to instead of Jesus. Our health is in question, finances uncertain, job security has disappeared, support networks destroyed, and friends and family made distant. So many things we placed our hope in and relied on for security just got ripped away. If you ask me, this is a wave of grace exposing where we hadn’t allowed the gospel to transform our lives, where we haven’t surrendered and trusted Jesus and have not believed the truth of the gospel.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Matthew 7:24-27

The gospel is unshakable. It is the anchor that cannot be swayed by the storms of life. When the waves hit they are rebuffed because our security is not in this world. We need to stop consoling each other as believers when we are distraught from these things being taken away. We must see this as an opportunity to repent, confess how we have not trusted Jesus, and allow him into whatever area was exposed. If anxiety comes over a stock portfolio collapsing or job loss we say, “God I confess that I have relied on myself and the wealth of this world for my provision and security. I surrender this area to you. Would you expose the lies I have believed that have kept me from the gospel, and reveal the truth?”

Let’s look at it this way. Before this season hit, we had the same issues. The pandemic just exposed them. There wasn’t some massive victory by the enemy causing us to suddenly not trust God or cast a shadow over the gospel. The issues were just “manageable” or hidden before. The answer is not to stay hidden and wait for this season to finish. WE NEED TO STOP TRYING TO CONSOLE ONE ANOTHER, AND MANAGE OUR WAY THROUGH THIS! This is a window, by the grace of God, for freedom and to learn to trust God through our surrender in all of the exposed areas.

I have said this before and this probably won’t be the last time. I really like conflict. It is actually a place of comfort for me. Conflict is when something is “incompatible or at variance”. It activates my hope because I know it is what allows for growth. This season is one of conflict for all of us. We are being hit with a realization we are not as secure as we thought we were. We are being hit with the reality we were placing our security in things that are being wiped out. Don’t avoid this conflict. Conflict is what inevitably happens when anything new is introduced. It challenges the old way and forces us to change or remain, depending on what we decide.

The act of allowing God in through repentance is what sparks the spiritual growth in us. These moments of conflict where what is inside is exposed provides opportunity for freedom. We need to start realizing we can’t ignore it when we see the gospel at odds with our hearts and behaviour. These moments of awareness provide opportunity for us to become anchored in Christ and free of the chains attached to the false anchors of this world.

There are ample opportunities for spiritual growth at such a time as this. We need to start looking at these circumstances as the grace of God because the freedom the gospel offers is way better than anything we had before this season.

There is no going back to how things were. Thank you Jesus for that! I don’t want to lose the freedom I have found in this season. I want my testimony to be: I used to fear and toil in vain on my own but Jesus saved me and now I am free, and free forevermore.

No Fear

I have been thinking lately about the fruit of the spirit. In particular, I have been thinking about peace. The Holy Spirit produces peace within us and we get to experience it at all times. It is not reliant on circumstances or our emotional state. It is simply available for us to receive as we align ourselves with God by yielding to the Holy Spirit.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
1 John 4:18-20

Many times in my life, I have had people tell me they feel peace around me. I have received this encouragement from people in all walks of life. This peace is not something I have created or cultivated or searched for. It is something that I have learned to receive and live in.

Peace is something we can receive in any moment as we acknowledge and surrender our fears to God.

There is a difference between caution and fear. Caution is when I heed the warning sign that says don’t go on the dark rocks because you may be swept out to sea by a wave. Fear is when you look down every minute to make sure the rock you are standing on isn’t as dark as the ones by the water. Caution informs a decision, whereas fear makes a decision.

Fear paralyzes you. It changes the way you think. It irrationally causes you to self protect. It ignores what is true or logical, and becomes the basis for your decisions. It grabs hold of your emotions, body and mind.

When I lived in Waterloo, I lived in a house with a few guys. We came up with a phrase: fight, flight, or Jesus. Our bodies have a survival mechanism called a “fight or flight” response to stressful situations. Intended for life and death situations, our bodies can overreact to common non-life-threatening stressors in this way as well. When stress (or fear) hits, our body naturally goes into a crisis mode and the crisis centre takes over with fight or flight. Jesus is what we referred to as the other option. We are able to surrender our fear and place our trust in God. We are able to come under the perfect love of God.

Martyrs are an example of this response (ie. Stephen in Acts 7), as is Moses interacting with Pharaoh, and Jesus being arrested (John 18). We are called to a different response than fear. Peace can come as we hand over the fear and the stress and receive the peace offered to us.

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I went on a last-minute hiking trip this summer with my friend Mat to Pollets Cove. It was a 5 hour drive to the start of the trail. We arrived just under 2 hours before sunset to the trail that should take way longer than that to complete. We set out anyways and arrived at the end of the trail just after the sunset. Having never been there before, we quickly scouted out a place to set up camp with only the light of dusk to guide us. We set up the tent on a windy cliff top and climbed in the tent as it was raining. While searching for our flashlights, we found some sticky substance in the tent. Our flashlights illuminated a tent covered in marshmallows! An open bag had been left in the tent when it was packed up. We were 10km from the closest people, with no cell reception in an area known for bears, wolves, coyotes and mixed breeds. The wind howled around us and suddenly the fly on our tent blew off as we attempted sleep. My friend was hit with fear (which is understandable given the circumstances). He sat straight up and whispered, “Do you hear that? I think there is an animal out there.” He started praying and quietly said, “JOEL PRAY!” As we prayed he began acknowledging and surrendering his fears to God. We asked for God’s protection and for the tent to stay upright. It took some time, but eventually we found peace and fell asleep. The next morning, we woke up to see that our tent pegs had been ripped out of the ground but the tent poles had somehow dug themselves into the ground to keep the tent upright. The fly stayed attached on one side and didn’t blow away. We were safe, and our prayers had been answered.

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Circumstances like this can trigger fears that are dormant in us. The invitation of God is the removal of these fears. Fear is not supposed to dwell in the same house as the love we have found. Perfect love cleans house. It casts out the fear. This perfect love is found only in God. It is the love that Stephen finds as he is addressing the crowds and while being stoned. A removal of fear does not promise the removal of circumstances or pain, but it places the onus for protection away from us and into the hands of God. It brings peace because we can trust that God is good and what he has for us is good. He knows what we need and is trustworthy with everything we hand over to him.

This is the peace we have to offer the world. It is not an invitation to simply manage fear so we can coexist with others. It is an invitation to encounter a perfect love and share it with others. The world experiences the presence of God in us when they spend time with us. They will find their fears disappear in the moments they are with us. But we are not the saviour of their lives. We get to live in the perfect love of our heavenly father at all times. When those who do not know Jesus experience his love in us it is for but a moment. It is a moment of opportunity, an opportunity to be free of fear. The more we encounter the love of God, the more we give access to him in place of fear, the less we are affected by circumstances, even momentarily. The more mature disciples we become, the more steadfast we become, planted securely in the love of the father. God is so faithful and gracious in moments when we still encounter fear and stress. He welcomes us to hand him our fears, and trust in his love.

There is no fear
There is no fear in Your love
With open hearts God
We are ready to run
Into Your presence
There is no fear in Your love
(“No Fear In Your Love” by Jeremy Riddle)

I often find myself singing this chorus. It spurs me on to encounter the love of God. It helps me invite God to expose any fears that are still present and helps me release them to God. It reminds me there is no reason to fear, and to run into his presence completely exposed. It reminds me the only place fear remains is where I haven’t allowed the presence of God access to. His invitation is for all of me. He desires my heart to be wide open to receive the fullness of his perfect love. He desires this for all of us. Listen to the song and respond to the invitation of God to run into his presence, and encounter his perfect love. Hand over your fears to him and encounter peace in the place of fear.