Be Encouraged!

The word for the week is “Encouragement”!

A small group of us have been wending our way through Acts. When we came to the place where John Mark (the Gospel writer Mark) left the mission team and went home. We had a long chat about times each of us has failed and disappointed others. Some (most) of our folks have struggles with addiction and they clearly identified with Mark.

This week we studied the two reactions of the mission leaders. Paul was adamant that he required only people he could trust. The journey was fraught with danger and opposition and he did not want to worry about being deserted again. This is an understandable position.

Barnabas was first introduced to us as someone who stood up for the new convert Saul and encouraged the Apostles to give him a fair hearing. Now he sticks up for his nephew Mark. He is equally adamant that Mark get another chance. At the end of the day these two great missionaries disagreed but did not become disagreeable. We can learn a real lesson from this. The solution was to divide into two teams. The Gospel would go further and faster. Paul and his new partner Silas could embark on their difficult and dangerous trek. The young failed missionary, Mark, would get another chance. He would ultimately prove himself and become accepted by Paul as a valued fellow workman.

Each of us had so identified with Mark in his humiliating failure. I am reminded of my quip when I was trying to quit smoking, “Quitting smoking is easy! I’ve done it hundreds of times!” Dealing with addiction means we fail more than we succeed, but the beauty is that we only need to really succeed once. We all know the sting of failure, the pain of letting others and ourselves down. Mark is not a hero we aspire to in his failure, but he is our representative!

Barnabas is our hero! At risk to himself and his reputation he offers another chance.

We spent some time looking at our lives and identifying the people that gave us a chance. In gratitude we name folks who had been a Barnabas to us. In humility we thought about those we had ‘let down’, our Pauls in effect. We acknowledged our need to mend those relationships where we could and to, with God’s help, demonstrate a new heart and attitude and life and become exhibits of God’s grace.

On a personal note, I received a lot of encouragement this week. Linda and I visited St. James the Less. This is the church that sent us to the inner-city as missionaries about 15 years ago and we like to return on occasion. One gentleman was sharing a prophetic word he had received about our city and then to my astonishment said that they should pray for Linda and I and our ministry. He had no idea that we were considering a new and exciting new stage of ministry. Folks gathered around a prayed for us. It seemed like real confirmation that this is the path we should be on, right now. Afterward I shared our idea of developing a Recovery Centre and he shared that this had long been on his heart. He shared about a model that he had experience with. I look forward to sitting down with him and picking his brain about that. I have no desire to reinvent the wheel.

Please keep this vision for ministry in your prayers. I sense we will be stretched beyond what we can currently imagine but if God is in it, we want to say “Yes!”

Pondering Puddles and the Meaning of Life

I tried not to laugh. I had witnessed someone step off the curb into a deep puddle of water and soak his pants up to his mid calf. I do not normally find these kinds of misfortunes amusing but the person did this because he was checking his phone and not looking where he was going.

Texting and driving has become such a problem that there has been a ban. People everywhere are consumed by the pings and bongs of these phones. “Who is texting me?” “Did someone just like my comment?”

All this evidences a profound need people have for connection. There seems to be a universal urge for relationship but many of us are looking in the wrong places to meet this irresistible impulse. It reminds me of young Samuel who heard a call and ran three times to connect with Eli. Eli realized that the ‘call’ was from God and instructed the lad to communicate to God that he was listening.

I believe two things are abundantly clear: we are created with the need for meaningful connection with our creator, and our creator has a reciprocal longing for us. These two truths shape my evangelism. My early training taught me to bludgeon by dint of apologetics and force of oratory, into the Kingdom. I have come to see this as folly! Instead I see that people are, for the most part, already looking for this connection with the Creator. This natural desire has become perverted. It is on display through our smart phones, our addictions, our human relations etcetera, etcetera.

Folks do not need to be kidnapped against their will. My task instead is to help folks discover that the ‘thing’ they seek in their own unique search, is the Kingdom of God and relationship with their creator. Redirecting someone’s passion is a much less daunting a task than persuading them against their will.

That fellows pant leg became a sign for me of his search for a meaningful and affirming connection. I would have done better to swallow my snigger and instead commiserate and acknowledge my own thirst for connection. Perhaps I missed a real opportunity.

The amazing good news is that God wants that personal relationship that we crave. He created us with the craving and invites us to find abundant satisfaction in Him. It is wonderful that his love is so persistent. As with young Samuel, he continues to call and woo us until we respond.

Next Friday we are hosting our annual Good Friday movie. This year we will be presenting “The Ultimate Gift”. We pray that hearts will be touched. We are also planning a gathering of our House Church family for an Easter dinner. One of our members flies off to Montreal the next day for surgery so this will be an important gathering.

I hope you take time and effort this coming week to ‘walk with Jesus through Holy week’ and celebrate a glorious resurrection Sunday!

Bicycling Through the Louvre

Louvre

This week I had a picture of riding a ten speed through the halls of the Louvre Museum. This unsolicited image popped into my head as I had two different conversations around our Bible Study table. One fellow was very excited about a magazine type book, he had read, which gave a sweeping picture of the whole of Scripture. Another fellow had committed to reading the Bible in a year and was explaining to me how many chapters he was reading a day.

Do you see the origins of my mental image? I understand the value of a scriptural overview. In fact, I have often taught a course “See Through the Scriptures” and I find value in reading a quantity of scripture (and here is where the “but” comes in). A diet that solely consists of either overview or speed reading is not spiritually nutritious.

A cycle through the Louvre might be advantageous if it leads to circling back to the points where we can sit with the art and absorb its beauty and meaning.

We do not often move speedily in our daily studies. We pause often to sit with a passage or verse. We do not move on quickly but chew on a morsel getting as much of the nutrients as we can absorb. Often this will include putting the verses in the context of the ‘big picture’, placing it in the gallery so to speak, but I advocate a depth rather than a breadth survey of the Scriptures.

This past week Linda and I went to a symposium in Halifax. The topic was helping those released from prison find a welcome. I was in touch with the organizers before hand because I was concerned that the chairs would be supportive for my back. A recent ‘church’ conference had left me in substantial discomfort a few weeks ago and I was hoping to avoid a repeat, at all costs.

I arrived with my back rest and sat quite comfortably through the time. The next day we went to join friends of Linda at their church. This church meets in a school. When I walked into the sanctuary my heart sank! The chairs were of the flimsiest variety. I raced out to the car and brought in my back rest, but it did not work. I thought to myself “This service better be good, because I will be paying for it for weeks!”  Before he started preaching the pastor relayed that he felt that we should be praying for people with back problems that morning. He asked folks with back problems to raise their hands and then had folks around pray for them. Immediately I felt relief, but I thought I should give it some time before I suggested a healing. I have not had any pain since and have managed to sleep through the night without being awakened my pain, for the first time in a long time. My kind of back trouble involves things slipping out of alignment, so I am not ready to proclaim that it won’t ‘slip’ again, but I do exult in the freedom from pain I now sense.

Before I said “Yes” to the idea of a new challenge involving a home for a Street Hope recovery Centre I was concerned about my physical health to carry it out. I wondered if my spirit was willing but my flesh was weak. I decided that I could trust God for all the resources. For now, at least, I have greater measure of those resources and I believe this is a token of God’s faithfulness and favour.