Years ago, there was a very wealthy man who, with his devoted young son, shared a passion for art collecting. Together they traveled around the world, adding only the finest art treasures to their collection. Priceless works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and many others adorned the walls of the family estate. The widowed, elder man looked on with satisfaction as his only child became an experienced art collector. The son’s trained eye and sharp business mind caused his father to beam with pride as they dealt with art collectors around the world.
As winter approached, war engulfed the nation, and the young man left to serve his country. After only a few short weeks, his father received a telegram. His beloved son was missing in action. The art collector anxiously awaited more news, fearing he would never see his son again. Within days, his fears were confirmed. The young man had died while rushing a fellow soldier to a medic.
Distraught and lonely, the old man faced the upcoming Christmas holidays with anguish and sadness. The joy of the season, a season that he and his son had so looked forward to, would visit his house no longer. On Christmas morning, a knock on the door awakened the depressed old man. As he walked to the door, the masterpieces of art on the walls only reminded him that his son was not coming home.
As he opened the door, he was greeted by a soldier with a large package in his hand. He introduced himself to the man by saying, “I was a friend of your son. I was the one he was rescuing when he died. May I come in for a few moments? I have something to show you.” As the two began to talk, the soldier told of how the man’s son had told everyone of his, not to mention his father’s, love of fine art. “I’m an artist,” said the soldier, “and I want to give you this.” As the old man unwrapped the package, the paper gave way to reveal a portrait of the son.
Though the world would never consider it the work of a genius, the painting featured the young man’s face in striking detail. Overcome with emotion, the man thanked the soldier, promising to hang the picture over the fireplace.
A few hours later, after the soldier had departed, the old man set about his task. True to his word, the painting went well above the fireplace, pushing aside thousands of dollars of paintings. And then the man sat in his chair and spent Christmas gazing at the gift he had been given. During the days and weeks that followed, the man realized that even though his son was no longer with him, the boy’s life would live on because of those he had touched. He would soon learn that his son had rescued dozens of wounded soldiers before a bullet stilled his caring heart.
As the stories of his son’s gallantry continued to reach him, fatherly pride and satisfaction began to ease the grief. The painting of his son soon became his most prized possession, far eclipsing any interest in the pieces for which museums around the world clamored. He told his neighbors it was the greatest gift he had ever received.
The following spring, the old man became ill and passed away. The art world was in anticipation! Unmindful of the story of the man’s only son, but in his honor, those paintings would be sold at an auction. According to the will of the old man, all of the art works would be auctioned on Christmas day, the day he had received his greatest gift. The day soon arrived and art collectors from around the world gathered to bid on some of the world’s most spectacular paintings. Dreams would be fulfilled this day; greatness would be achieved as many claim “I have the greatest collection.”
The auction began with a painting that was not on any museum’s list. It was the painting of the man’s son. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid. The room was silent.
“Who will open the bidding with $100?” he asked.
Minutes passed. No one spoke. From the back of the room came, “Who cares about that painting? It’s just a picture of his son. Let’s forget it and go on to the good stuff.”
More voices echoed in agreement. “No, we have to sell this one first,” replied the auctioneer. “Now, who will take the son?”
Finally, a friend of the old man spoke, “Will you take ten dollars for the painting? That’s all I have. I knew the boy, so I’d like to have it.”
“I have ten dollars. Will anyone go higher?” called the auctioneer.
After more silence, the auctioneer said, “Going once, going twice. Gone.” The gavel fell, cheers filled the room and someone exclaimed, “Now we can get on with it and we can bid on these treasures!”
The auctioneer looked at the audience and announced the auction was over. Stunned disbelief quieted the room. Someone spoke up and asked, “What do you mean it’s over? We didn’t come here for a picture of some old guy’s son. What about all of these paintings? There are millions of dollars of art here! I demand that you explain what’s going on here!” The auctioneer replied, “It’s very simple. According to the will of the father, whoever takes the son…gets it all.”
Puts things into perspective doesn’t it? Just as those art collectors discovered on that Christmas Day, the message is still the same: the love of a Father, a Father whose greatest joy came from His Son, who went away and gave His life rescuing others. And because of that Father’s love, whoever takes the Son, gets it all.
As I prayerfully pondered how best to enter 2022 personally as well as what to share with a church plant on the Akuapem mountains (in the Eastern Region of Ghana) that had invited me as guest preacher for their Watch Night service, THE PRESENCE became overwhelming clear.
WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR 2022?
Take a pause and sincerely answer the question: What do I want for 2022? How about THE PRESENCE as a present? Yes, God is everywhere (omnipresent) so why does He say where two or three are gathered in His name He is present, among them? God can choose to concentrate His presence in a person or place, and that is what I mean by THE PRESENCE. My aim is to show that everything you need for 2022 is in THE PRESENCE of the LORD; all you’ll ever want is in THE PRESENCE. At the end of this, my prayer is that like the Mariah Carey song, “All I want for Christmas is you,” you’ll leave here saying, “Dear God, all I need for the New Year is YOU!” so “All I want for the New Year, is YOU!”
HEAVEN CAN BE HELL
Four years ago, when I was still president of ISMCanada, I led a team to organize our biennial staff conference for most of our 100 staff from coast to coast to come to McGill University in Montreal, on the east coast of Canada. One of the devotional speakers I arranged to exhort the conference attendees was a young pastor (he’s a white African from Zimbabwe) from the Peoples Church of Montreal. Pastor Chris asked a question that I would like to repeat: HOW MANY OF YOU WOULD STILL LOVE TO BE IN HEAVEN EVEN IF GOD WASN’T THERE? My own response revealed my heart and I was shocked. I realized to my utter shock and shame, I didn’t really mind being in Heaven—the golden streets, tree of life, worship music, peace, no more sickness, sweat or tears…—even if God was absent.
But really, WHAT IS HEAVEN WITHOUT GOD? Heaven without God is hell! Samuel Rutherford put it this way, “O my Lord Jesus Christ, if I could be in heaven without thee, it would be a hell; and if I could be in hell, and have thee still, it would be a heaven to me, for thou art all the heaven I want.” Teresa of Avila said, “Wherever God is, there is heaven.” And for John Milton, “Thy presence makes our paradise, and where thou art is heaven.” Simply put, God’s presence is paradise.
Now, let me ask you: WOULD STILL LOVE TO ENTER 2022 EVEN IF GOD WASN’T THERE? 2022 without God is hell. Yet even Covid in 2022 with God is heaven. Everything you need is in the Presence of Yahweh; is it protection, provision, guidance, favour, promotion, strength…? It’s in all in THE PRESENCE. For many of us, we don’t mind having this stuff without God coming along! We want his hand but not his face; we want his stuff but not him. That is a tragedy of our times; an error!
This last Christmas season, I was really challenged by the Spirit-led life of Simeon in Luke 2. He was a righteous and devout man in Jerusalem who Joseph and Mary met when the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, and they took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. Interestingly, my main text for this message, Exodus 13, begins by explaining that what was written in the Law of the Lord—“Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”—was part of the Exodus story as God killed all the firstborns of Egypt and spared the Israelites’.
Simeon was no special person per se—not a priest, prophet, pharisee, politician—just an ordinary guy who thought right, acted right, was in right and intimate relationship with the LORD and devoted to Him. He was waiting for the promised Jewish Messiah (“the consolation of Israel,” they would say) and the Holy Spirit was on him [THE PRESENCE]. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Someone reading this needs revelation in 2022; it’s in THE PRESENCE.
Just check out at the intimacy in THE PRESENCE—such a deep thing that thousands of generations had waited for in faith, and God chooses to promise this sight to simple Simeon! It reminds me of Abraham’s intimacy with the LORD to the extent that God said, before he would rain judgment on Sodom & Gomorrah, “shall I hide what I’m about to do from Abraham].
Moved by the Spirit [THE PRESENCE compels, propels], he went into the temple courts right when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required. Indeed, the steps of the righteous are ordered by THE PRESENCE]. Simeon took him in his arms [may you too take hold of and take delivery of God’s promises in 2022 by THE PRESENCE] and praised God [there is praise in THE PRESENCE], saying some amazing things which made Mary and Joseph “marvel” (v. 33), including prophesying some incredible things like the crucifixion, all of which could only have been revelation. Such is the life of an individual in THE PRESENCE.
In Part 2, I share about the remarkable Israelites-in-the-desert example of THE PRESENCE, so well-summarized in the following famous two-stanza Wesleyan hymn:
Captain of Israel’s host, and Guide
Of all who seek the land above,
Beneath Thy shadow we abide,
The cloud of Thy protecting love;
Our strength, Thy grace, our rule, Thy Word;
Our end, the glory of the Lord.
By Thine unerring Spirit led,
We shall not in the desert stray
We shall not full direction need
Nor miss our providential way;
As far from danger as from fear,
While Love, almighty Love, is near.
Find Part 2 here.