Not Consumed!

bush

I have been doing some meditating on “the burning bush” of late. It was probably just an ordinary bramble bush which is common in that climate. In its ordinariness it was highly combustible yet despite its tinder dryness the bush was not “consumed”. The flame was of God not the bush. Here we see, symbolically, the transcendence of God. The writer of Hebrews says that God is “an all-consuming fire” in his holiness. Normally a fire would make short shrift of an arid desert bramble bush. This is what any of us would expect and it would be the natural result according to all scientific explanation, but the transcendent holy God is also the God who draws near to us. Paradoxically he is both far above us in his might and holiness and at the same time as close as our thought or breath. This immanence (nearness) is a wonderful mercy!

Lent calls us again and again to the desert, where we follow Jesus in his temptations, and it is here that we become aware of our ‘fallenness’ and God’s holiness. We become keenly aware of our shortcomings and that we continually ‘miss the mark’. Like Isaiah in the temple we realize in the presence of God’s holiness that we “are undone!”

The unburning “burning bush” symbolizes our great hope. In Christ God has drawn near. While we were still at enmity with God, Christ: took on flesh, moved into our neighbourhood, and died for us. Through the radical nearness of the incarnation and the cross, we are not consumed. The God who once walked with humans in the cool of the garden, walks again with those who draw near to him. James sagely invites us to “draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”

In this Lenten desert we recognize our sinfulness in the stark light of his burning holiness, yet we are not bereft for God in his mercy does not abandon us to our fate but rather draws near and draws us to him.

The desert is a great place to take a Lenten sojourn, but we can be thankful that we don’t live there. Even as I make my jaunt into the desert, I know I can and will return to the lush place of still waters purchased for me through the cross and Resurrection!

On another note: it has been gratifying to see more friends coming to our morning Study and Prayer times. There have been times in past where I was the only one and sometimes only two of us but recently others are coming or returning. It was a bit of a slog, but perseverance is paying off. I’m not terribly interested in numbers, but I am interested in people, so it is good to gather with a handful to look at the Word. Lately we’ve been studying Acts. The questions have been challenging and we are all learning a lot. Thanks for your prayers.

Consolation No More

seed

I began my ministry in remote communities in Canada’s north where the most quoted Bible verse was “Where two or three are gathered …” We used the verse to console ourselves when the numbers were not great. Later I worked as ‘Field Secretary’ (Personnel Officer) and visited our Evangelists in many remote locations and the same verse cropped up on those occasions. When I came to Saint John in 2000 to teach at Taylor College our classes sizes reminded us of this verse and we used it again to console ourselves that, at least God was with us!

Later as I began to work in the Inner-city and began Uptown Church, I had an epiphany! I thought, “What if God really means what He says? What if his power and presence are most manifest in smallness rather than in vastness?” I began to look at smallness quite differently.

God had the great mission of rescuing a lost humanity and he began with a seed in a virgin’s womb. The power is in the seed! The presence of God is magnified in the small thing!

Influenced by this world we had come to measure ministry by worldly measure. We counted only nickels and noses. Success was in largeness and busyness. The Kingdom principles instead are about stillness and smallness.

Since that epiphany I have tried to joyfully practise small group ministry, not by default but on purpose. Others may be called to ‘mega’ ministry, but I feel a vocation to ‘micro’ ministry. Jesus spent a disproportionate amount of time with small numbers intentionally. The seed that he nurtured in these few followers bore fruit that continues today.

I recall a children’s talk my friend Al Knight gave, one time. He had an apple and he asked the children, “How many seeds do you think are in this apple?” The guesses ranged in the area of 5 or 6. Al cut the apple and they counted them. He then took one seed and said, “How many apples are inside this one seed?” The answer is that there are limitless numbers of apples potentially in that seed, as it becomes a tree that produces more apples each season with more seeds in each apple. The power is not in the big red apple, as big and delicious as it might be, the power is in the relatively tiny seed!

Jesus has given us one template for ministry and the secular world has given us another very different numbers and success driven template. The question for his faithful followers is, “Which model will we adopt?”

It can be a real blow to our pride when we report the micro nature of our ministry to a mega obsessed world and the temptation is to at least want to be a bit ‘mega’, but the power of the seed is in its dying, and this temptation is to be eschewed.

So, I continue to walk with the few who gather under the Street Hope banner. It is a joy to see seeds planted take root, and over the course of time see fruit develop in my friends lives. I know that this fruit carries in it seeds that bespeak a glorious harvest in the future.

I no longer use that Bible verse to console myself because I feel like a failure but rather, I reflect on it knowing that God is powerfully present in our ‘smallness’. It may not be sexy or saleable but there is no place I’d rather be, and I highly recommend it!