More Like Him

This week I had opportunity to spend time with two guys I do not see often during this pandemic. They have some interesting things in common. I am blessed to know them both and honoured to have them think of me as a friend.

C. suffered a life altering brain injury when he was a child. His father beat him so badly that his brain was damaged leaving him quite simple. He has suffered a lifetime of rejection and ridicule but somehow has managed to be a loving and caring human. He has been in lots of trouble in his life, mostly because he is easily led into activities he would not naturally choose. A few years ago, when his dad had a stroke he moved in with him and fed and cared for him, while other family members did not. He loves God and says that it is God’s love that helps him.

He called me because he was distressed that someone had been particularly cruel to him. He knew that his “peace” was shattered, and he wanted me to pray with him that he would forgive and move forward in the “peace of Jesus”. We chatted for a while and we prayed over the phone. By the time he said “Amen” his voice and demeanor changed. That quickly he was restored to his usual attitude of simple benevolence for all those around him.

I want to be more like him!

Another fellow had suffered a life changing brain injury through a traffic accident when he was a toddler. Besides his cognition problems he has some physical issues including speech difficulties. Conversations with him are painful both for him and his listener. I often have to ask him to repeat what he says. As soon as our province allowed coffee shops to reopen the phone rang and I knew who it was. We met and had a grand time together! My friend is one of the ‘essential workers’ everyone appreciates with words of praise. He holds two jobs cleaning so people in his apartment building are safe and so university students can return to safe classrooms. Outside the generic praise for ‘essential workers’ as a group, there is little tangible appreciation for my friend. He is more likely to be ridiculed than encouraged. He too loves Jesus and looks to him for ‘peace’.

I want to be more like him!

Our society too often has upside down values. We fail to recognize the wonderful and rich virtues of these simple and heroic gentle men. Jesus was “despised and rejected by men”. We continue this poor track record!

On another note, I had an unique opportunity this week. I was invited to preach to a congregation in Edmonton. Since last March I have only preached once (at my own baptism) and so this was a treat. I recorded a message and sent it off. A year ago I would never have thought of doing such a thing nor would I have the tools or ability to do so. God is good!

Growing in a Pandemic

Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

I was in conversation with someone recently about the topic we all chat about, the pandemic. My friend said something that caught my attention. “I think the Church will survive this.” I was a bit taken aback because the Word of God tells us that very “gates of hell will not prevail” against the Church. The end, for us, is not in question but the means certainly are. Rather than bemoan the changes that have been forced on the church, and impatiently waiting for things to get back to normal, we would do well to ask, “What are the lessons we can learn?”, and “How can we apply new learning to our future?”

There are certainly things we miss, during these times. We are not able to physically gather and so miss many of the best experiences of corporate worship. I too look forward to the time we are together to practise our faith corporately in these familiar and biblical ways, but I do want to suggest that we can learn and grow thrivingly during these times!

The western church often seems rife with consumerism. People hop from church to church looking for the brand that will best ‘feed their souls’. Often I have heard people exit a church with the phrase “I was not being fed.” This tells much about our mindset and the mindset of many ‘attraction modeled’ churches.

As a lay person, I want to say that a pastor who is the sole source of spiritual nutrition does that church a disservice and individuals who rely only on pastoral teaching are bound to be anemic.  Amy Grant used to sing about “Fat Baby” Christians. These Christians drank only the milk fed to them and never fed themselves.

Psalm 1 describes a flourishing Christian as a tree planted by the water. The tree is placed in a location that makes growth possible and all but inevitable. The tree only has to sink its roots! Sometimes a horticulturist ‘forces’ the plant by drastically changing the environment. I believe we are in a time where God is forcing us to sink our roots.

Sinking roots is an individual exercise to which corporate worship is a complement. Jesus calls us and we respond personally, and this is how we grow. It is an individual sport!

During this time of Covid we have the supreme opportunity to sink our roots. When we do so we will be richer and better able to encourage one another when we can resume corporate meetings.

There are many ways of sinking our roots, but I want to suggest three.

Reading scripture meditatively.

Praying conversationally.

Obeying consistently.

These practises do not need a lot of explanation. Part of feeding yourself may be in figuring this out for yourself. I do want to emphasize obeying though! If we read God’s Word and converse with him but do not incarnate what we have come to know and experience, we remain ‘fat baby Christians’. When we intentionally sink our roots in this way we can count on God to do His work. If we work on the roots He will take care of the fruits.

Eyes To See

Today the Christian Church looks to the cross. The world gazes on and wonders.https://www.livescience.com/63645-optical-illusion-young-old-woman.html

I am reminded of Elisha’s prayer for his servant “Open his eyes!” The world it seems have eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear. Like Elisha we should pray “Lord, please open their eyes” By a miracle of grace my eyes were opened, and I see the awful beauty of the cross. The hymn writer pens “Did ever such love and sorrow meet?”

I am reminded of a variety of op art pieces. There is a surface image, but the mysterious other image is not discernible to us. We stare and stare but until our eyes ‘are opened’ we do not see beyond our initial view. Then suddenly and mysteriously our eyes are opened, and we see through the mystery which is hidden in plain sight. After seeing it we wonder how we or anyone else could miss it. Now that we see it we can never look at the image the same again. We glance away and the glance back and the once hidden image is clearly apprehended.

To the world the cross is but jewellery or a foolish instrument of death akin a gallows or electric chair. But to those whose eyes have been opened the cross holds so much more. When our eyes are opened it resembles clicking on an icon on our desktop. We find so much more behind the icon when our eyes are opened.

We see the place where life begins for us. We ‘click’ on the cross and we understand scripture itself. We find life and health and healing. All this waits beyond the icon that is the cross and we need eyes to see.

The opening of eyes is a specialty of the Lord. In fact, only He can. On this Good Friday and going forward let us pray this simple prayer that God would open the eyes of those we love. Let us pray with thanksgiving because he and he alone, has opened our eyes to the marvellous beauty of the cross!

“How Do They ‘Hear’ Without Someone to Proclaim?”

Can I impress you that guilt is the poorest of motivators for people to seek the help and healing Jesus offers? Too often this is the message that those ‘outside’ the four walls of our church building ‘hear’. It may not even be what the church is communicating or trying to communicate but it is what is ‘heard’.

Jesus says he does not come to condemn but to save (John 3:17). The Adversary is the one who condemns, and he needs no help! The Gospel is the good news of God’s love and invitation to a lost and hurting humanity. It is this love and invitation that marks a fruitful presentation of the Gospel.

I see people who draw near because of their pain. They are all too aware of the wreckage that has become their life. They often hesitate from true repentance because they fear facing this wreckage and reliving the pain! They cannot bear to look at it one more time. Life has become an exercise in avoiding or numbing these events and feelings.

If we have not communicated by word and deed, the love of God, our friends will not feel safe enough. The idea of bringing all that hides in the darkness into the light is beyond daunting if there is no hope of acceptance and forgiveness.

Such ‘word and deed communication’ is vital if we are to succeed in fruitful Christian life. We spend too little time examining what we are communicating. I think we need to pause often and ask, “What are we saying to the world around?” Perhaps we could even ask folks outside our church family what they are ‘hearing’ from us.

Is our energy geared toward this declaration and demonstration of God’s love, in Christ? Do our services and programs tell the good news and equip people to live it out?

Too often I see people come with all their painful baggage. It is hidden away in darkness. They come looking for relief, but the proper groundwork has not yet been done. Like the hard packed soil in Jesus’ parable, they are resistant from real hope and change. Much work needs to be done to prepare this ‘soil’. This is not the work of the desperate person in pain. It is the groundbreaking work of the Church as it demonstrates tangibly the love of God in Christ.

I think I know, a bit, what Jesus felt as he saw the rich young ruler walk away. I see people come only to go. They go back to the darkness rather than bring those actions and feeling into the light. They do not yet feel safe enough to revisit that vile past. Who could blame them? Until we effectively demonstrate God’s inviting love, only the bravest will come.

I do not think we can be satisfied with that ‘harvest’. I believe that the world is still ‘white unto harvest’ if together we can share and show the love of God in Christ to the world. This may require considerable repentance but we of the Church can safely do so because we have received the love of God through faith in Jesus.

My $0.02 worth!

Clowning Around

It was the 150th year of the Diocese and each church was to host the ‘Sesquicentennial Cross’. The church we belonged to, at that time, had the cross on a Sunday which meant we got an Archbishop thrown in with the deal. These were the waning days of the ‘March for Jesus’ movement and so we sang and marched the cross around the block all the while singing Graham Kendrick songs. Along the way I engaged in conversation with a guy who was obviously curious about our activities. I told him and invited him to finish the rest of the walk with us and join our festive service. Surprisingly, he joined us! Early in the service, as the Archbishop plunked on his mitre, he whispered to me, “This church is so cool, you even have clowns!”

This incident is on my mind as I contemplate yet another procession with a cross. Our church is planning to walk with a cross this Good Friday. The plan is to walk by the mall across the street and around the block. I always feel a bit foolish on these ventures. I feel like there are many other ways I might be more effective in witnessing to Christ, and perhaps there are! This though is one way and I have decided to join the throng. I can be involved in other methods of evangelism every other day, but this is a unique opportunity to feel foolish which I cannot pass up.

Fools and clowns are my heroes. In olden times they were the truth tellers. Fools could say in jest the things that others dared not voice. Paul describes himself as “A Fool for Christ”. We misunderstand this because our knowledge of fools and foolishness is quite different than previously.

One of my favourite Saints is Francis who saw himself as “God’s Troubadour” very much in the image of a fool. His namesake the Bishop of Rome has just returned from a Francis-like trip to the Middle East. Like the original he sued for peace and understanding. Such calls for peace in this bellicose world seem foolish and destined to little success, yet the world has seen an example of “a more excellent way”. This is no failure!

On Good Friday, I predict, I will feel foolish. I will wonder about the potential of these efforts to nudge a single heart or mind. I will know though that my fellow sojourners and I will have the opportunity to be fools. Perhaps the great cloud of witnesses will look at us and say, “This church is so cool, you even have clowns!”

The truth is that the cross is always foolishness to the world and Jesus says that if like the bronze serpent in the wilderness, he is lifted up, that he will draw men and women, boys, and girls! I cannot give up an opportunity to be a part of that and I cannot let the chance to be a fool pass me by.  

Diet of Devotions

Our family has been sharing devotions at breakfast time since the very beginning. Our children were raised on a steady diet of bible and prayers alongside their Cheerios. Linda and I continue this blessed tradition. The particular ‘Devotional’ we are currently using has been focussed, the last few days, on the issue of assurance (that is knowing that we know that we are Children of God).

We chatted afterwards about the fact that this has not been a pressing issue for either of us for as far back as we could remember. That we do not struggle with this idea of assurance is based on two things: experience and memory. These two things are emphasized again and again through Scripture. The great deeds of God , in history, the actual experiences of the People of God are recounted and memorialized for future remembrance. The Passover and the Lord’s Supper are apt examples.

It is the same in our lives. We have all faced challenges in life. God has seen us through them. When we recall his faithfulness, we are strengthened to face the next challenge. This week I heard a preacher tell of a member of his congregation who faced a painful death due to brain cancer. He spoke of the man’s faith and dignity. He spoke of the fellow’s gratitude to God in the midst of the pain. The man recalled God’s faithfulness and so faced even painful death with a calm assurance.

It is a tragedy to waste our painful experiences. Let us recall them, even the bitter ones, and know that God has and is seeing us through.

Remembering past pain can be a delicate thing! As someone who for many years suffered with PTSD I know that painful reliving of the past is much different than recollection which brings assurance. I am tremendously grateful that I no longer live ‘there’ and that I can recall, and recount God’s presence help and comfort.

The greatest moment in history to recall is the Resurrection of Jesus. As the Gaither’s have long told us, we “can face uncertain days, because He lives!”

Pain and sorrow, and yes even death, are inevitable. We might wish it were not so, but facts are stubborn things. Blessed are those who can weather life’s storms knowing that God who brought you this far will not fail. It is just not in his nature!

I highly recommend a scheduled daily devotional. There are many wonderful books and guides for every age and stage. We spend the last moments of our devotional time praying together for the upcoming events of our day, our nuclear and extended family, and our neighbours. These prayers help set up our day for ‘the living’. These times correct the course mistakes of yesterday and put us on track to spending a good day with God and one another. This is a long habit and a fruitful one.

IN THE REAR-VIEW

I was ‘looking in the rear-view mirror’ this week, as I recalled days travelling all over the Diocese of Brandon with my friends Bishop Malcolm Harding and Agnes Flam. We were trekking to each church in this sprawling area as a part of Malcolm’s farewell tour. He wanted to have an evangelistic event in every local during his last year of episcopacy.

One of my roles was to gather everyone in a great circle to listen to each other. I asked the gathering to gaze into their own rear-view mirror and identify the one person without whom they would not be who they are. Sometimes it is difficult to get people to share in such gatherings, but this was a topic that folks found easy. People spoke about parents, teachers, grandparents, pastors, and friends.

Afterwards I would sum up the conversation, pointing out that quite ordinary people had been used in extraordinary ways to touch our lives and affect our eternal trajectory. I would ask people to aspire to do the same. I would invite people to pray for God’s strength and guidance for a ministry of influence on children, grandchildren, neighbours, and friends. It would often be a late night before we were through praying with people about their personal ministry of evangelism. Those were memorable days!

As I look in my rear-view, I see Miss Crump (yes that was her real name). To my young eyes she was incredibly old, though I do not know how old she really was. She was wheelchair bound in the late 50’s and early 60’s, long before mobility rights were a thing. Each Sunday as we stomped our way down the stairs to Sunday School, she was magically already there. I do not recall a word she said but as I gaze through my mirror into the distant recesses of my life, I know that but for her I would not be who I am today. It could not have been easy to descend into the basement of that church and wrangle a boisterous bunch of boys (Sunday Schools were full in those ancient days!). She had a host of legitimate excuses and yet for the love of God and children she persevered. Though she had great personal wealth she humbly served! I did not know at the time the impact she was having, and she likely did not either. Perhaps she knows now. I hope so.

I think this is a valuable exercise for each of us. It stirs us to thanksgiving for those God placed in our lives and it can inspire us to emulate them. Sometimes the challenge of being like Christ is so daunting we despair but we can certainly aspire to be like those frail humans that we find looming so large in our rear-view mirror.

I never got to tell Miss Crump of the difference she made but I thank God at every remembrance of her. Perhaps the one you see in the rear-view mirror is still alive, if so please tell them. You can make a difference in their life as they made in yours. Best of all, though, pas it on! You have it in you to be such an evangelist. Your creator put it in you, and He is calling it out of you. Evangelism is really not the daunting task you have imagined it. Pray that one day someone you meet today will recall you in their own rear-view.

The Clunker: A Parable

Young Christian had a clunker. It was filthy and grime covered. It barely ran at the best of times. The driver’s door would not open and he was forced to enter by the wrong door and struggle into the driver’s seat. All too often the clunker refused to start and needed to be gently coaxed into running. When it did run it shuddered and shook at any speed over 50 km/hr. Billows of inky, oily smoke plumed behind. Several times people had written “Wash me!’ in the dirt. Young Christian decided he needed to do just that! He coaxed the clunker out of his driveway and shuddered and shook down the street to “Salvatore’s Car Wash”. He left it with the manager owner Salvatore with the promise that it would be “like new” when he returned.

Young Christian could hardly believe his eyes when he saw his ‘clunker’. It gleamed in the sunlight! It looked like new, better than new! It had never looked so good. “There is no charge.”, said Salvatore, for he loved to transform old clunkers.

Young Christian continued to get in the passenger door and keep the ‘clunker’ below 50, though the engine hummed as never before. There was no trailing plume behind him, yet he maintained the same habits he had developed to cope with the old clunker.

One day Salvatore waved him down and asked why he continued driving in this old way. Did not Christian know that Salvatore had done more than just wash the clunker he had made “all things new.” Young Christian decided he must break the habits he had learned during his ‘clunker days’ and learn the habits suited to the newness of his vehicle.

With great patience Salvatore offered, “I left an exhaustive manual in the glove box. Refer to it often. It will help you transition from your dirty clunker”  to life with a new one.”

Too often I forget that the Saviour does not just wash me from my sin, but he makes all things new. I struggle with the habits formed to cope with my old life. He has given me ‘instructions’ in the Bible and encourages me to check it often. In doing so I can practically realize that I am made new, that I am free and forgiven, that I do not have to live according to my old nature but with His help I can live a new life.

One day I will shed the last vestiges of this old clunker. I do not know what my new model will look like but I know it will be beautiful in its perfection for it will be made after the fashion of the Saviour!

Lent & Lengthening of Days

Have you noticed the days lengthening? They are still 24 hours long but each day the sun shines more and more. Actually, the sun continues to shine year-round, but we see it and bask in it as the year progresses.

Our perspective is so important here. Physics and astronomy might say one thing but until we experience it those truths mean little to us.

I am challenged this Lenten Season, which is named to describe the lengthening of days, to check on my perspective. I can look at life through my own quite selfish lens and be unsettled and unhappy, or I can seek the omniscient God’s perspective.

My mother uses to have an expression, “Its as plain as the nose on your face!”. By this she meant that the thing she was saying was obvious. When she would say that I would try and see the nose on my face. It was not obvious to me. Others could see my nose and I could see my nose reflected in the mirror, but I could not make out the thing that was so obvious to those who had a different perspective!

Lent is a time to see things through God’s eyes, to see truth that he makes plain in his Word. This year as I began to meditate on Lent and its meaning, I was struck with the idea that God was literally giving me more time or day light and that perhaps he wanted me to “redeem the time”. As the sunlight breaks in early and departs more slowly I have opportunity now to use the time to bless God, my neighbour and myself. I bless myself by gaining a fresh perspective seeing my true nature reflected in his Word. I bless God in growing devotion, and I bless my neighbour by putting into practise the things that are plain as the nose on my face!

Lent all to often has devolved into a selfish exercise of deprivation and self-righteousness. I would rather that it be turned into a ‘blessed season’ where I gain perspective and grow in practise. Rather than “What am I giving up for Lent?” I want to ask, “How best can I redeem the extra daylight God gives me?”

Here in Lent the days get longer and longer. They will plunge into metaphorical darkness on Good Friday and end with the Sun of Righteousness breaking from the tomb which can not hold him. The Light has come. The Light is coming (more and more). The Light will one day come and there will be no need for sun or moon for he will be our light!

Much of my ministry has been forced online this past year. I do a Bible Study three days a week and lately we are doing Romans “12 Minutes With Paul”. For years I had studied Romans and I taught it at Taylor College. I had even toyed with the idea of writing a devotional book on this epistle. I discarded that idea when I realised how many others had already done that. I have avoided teaching on Romans for the past few years because I get so excited and bogged down in its dense minutia. The last weeks have been a refreshing return to this great book, which ranks second only to the Gospels in import on my life. I have tried not to bog my hearers in detail but some days we only look at one verse. I so enjoy chapter 8 after the dark chapter 7. This study seems apt as we experience this Lenten Season.

Wipe Your Feet!

On a cold winter day my mind drifts back to warm summer memories. I travel back to my childhood summers. Brown as a bean from playing outside all day, I would return home climbing the back porch stairs and entering our tiny kitchen. The screen door would slam shut behind me announcing my arrival. From somewhere in the inner regions of the house would come my mother’s voice, “Wipe your feet!”. Halfway across the newly mopped kitchen floor I would retreat to the mat and wipe my feet. This was remarkably familiar, and I smile within with fond memories of the safety and welcome of this routine.

Today as I seek to “enter His Gates” and “Come into His courts” I still hear, in my minds ear, “Wipe your feet!” Just as my mother could not and would not tolerate dirty kitchen floors God does not and will not tolerate His throne room being polluted with sin. Confession can become an under practised spiritual exercise. In liturgical churches it can easily become rote. In non liturgical churches it can be easily omitted or perfunctory. In private devotions our rush to intercede for ourselves and our world (Good and Godly desires) leads too often to neglect of confession.

Like any other good thing if our enemy can not get us to ignore it he tricks us into becoming obsessed with it. I remember a time when I had behaved badly and lost my temper. That night in prayer I went before God. “Here I am for like the billionth time! You must be so sick of me coming like this!” and then I felt God’s voice come to me. “I certainly remember this last time,” and the scene of my offense played out before me and I felt the weight of its guilt and shame “but I don’t remember any billion times.” I confessed and felt forgiven for my sin! Later I would recall that “As far as the East is from the West, so far has he cast my sin” and that He “remembers it no more against” me.

Peter resisted having his feet washed. This is a more drastic version of wiping one’s feet. After becoming convinced of the necessity of allowing Jesus to thus clean him he wanted his whole body bathed. Jesus simply chided him that all that was necessary was a good wiping of feet.

All this to say that we do not have to flog ourselves constantly for sin. Jesus took our stripes. Once we have been adopted into the family of God we are welcome, as the writer of Hebrews says, to “Boldly approach the throne”. Yet we ought not to disrespect God and his holiness by rushing into His presence without first wiping our feet.

Many of us have mirrors by our doors to quickly check our appearance before we go out into the world. We do not want to launch out with breakfast stains on our tie or our fly unzipped. We should take a moment before our corporate or private worship to do such a spiritual check. The Psalmist invites God to search him and find any wrong, and so should we.

After wiping my feet, I was welcomed to the warmth of my family home and I could ask my mother the important questions like “When is supper?” or “Can I go over to Steve’s after supper?” But I dared not ask those questions if I had not first wiped my feet!

We are all bidden into God’s presence and family. Wipe your feet!