Secret Service

The last child jumped out of the van and ran to the door while I waited to make sure their mom was home. Safe inside, I turned the old Chevy out of the alley and toward the church, thankful for some quiet.  The newer radio is playing some Hip Hop, with it’s red and blue screen flashing. It seems out of place next to the dim dashboard. I turn it down.  Pulling up behind a pick up, I’m waiting my turn to go.  It’s late. I want to call it a night, but then I think about the broken sink in the men’s room. How did the boys do that?  At least no one got hurt.  I’ll clean it up in the morning.  The truck in front of me is just sitting there. A guy runs up to the truck window, it looks like some kind a deal is going down. I’m too tired to really care, and I wait for him to go. In the dim quiet of the inner city community I wonder about my place in this Kingdom work.  It feels pretty obscure at times. When I signed up for this, perhaps I expected a bit more applause and some impressive results to brag about.  Then I think about my Sunday sermon text, “Jesus took the bread and gave thanks . . . . then he took the cup and he gave thanks.”

How could Jesus give thanks, and for what?  He will soon be rejected by men and hung upon a wooden cross in the garbage dump of Jerusalem.  He will be forgotten, or so it seems, and even for a moment forsaken by God, but never abandoned.  Yet, he gives thanks for the sheer joy of serving and giving himself as an offering to God.  I want to be able to do that, to serve the Father knowing he sees the service done for him in secret, and he rewards it.

happiness tree

There is a legend of a man who discovered the barn where Satan kept his seeds ready to be sown in the human heart. The man noticed that Satan had more seeds of discouragement than any other kind. When questioned, Satan reluctantly admitted that those seeds would grow everywhere except for one place. “And where is that?” asked the man. Satan replied sadly, “In the heart of a grateful man.”

  “In everything gives thanks, for this is the will of God”

 

The Pilgrim’s Way: Enjoying Today

Anthony DeMello tells the story of Brother Bruno, who was trying to pray one evening when a bullfrog disturbed his prayers. No matter how hard he tried to ignore the loud frog, he found himself distracted and unable to concentrate.  Finally, in frustration he shouted at the frog to stop singing and he returned to his prayers.  But an inner voice began to surface – one that wouldn’t let him alone.  “What if God is as pleased with the croaking of that frog as God is with your prayers?  The voice kept asking, and no matter how hard he tried Bro Bruno couldn’t let go of that thought.  Finally in utter frustration, he leaned out the window again and ordered the frog to sing.  The bullfrog, along with all the other frogs in the area, began to sing at once, and the sound of their croaking filled the air, making a harmonious and melodious sound.  Brother Bruno listened to the sound with great delight and was finally able to focus on his prayers.”

Enjoying what is, without wishing for better things, is a practice at which I want to get better.  I’m learning that looking back and saying “If only,”  or looking forward and thinking “What if?”  only contributes to my own sense of dissatisfaction with today.  Doing this, says Craig Barnes, “assures us that our happiness lies in those places that implicitly define our present life by what is missing.” (Searching for Home)

The Israelites wandered, not unlike we do today, in a wilderness away from a sense of home.  Though God provided daily food, protection and his presence, they seemed to be afflicted with an “if only” outlook on their circumstances.

“. . .  Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”  Numbers 11:4-6

Manna, which literally means “What is it?” was God’s daily miracle of grace as he accompanied them along the journey.  Each morning as they picked up the “What is it?” a question was being formed.  Faith is seeing God as present and active in our daily lives.  Asking  “What is it, God, that you are up to now?”,  is a way to keep our hearts free of complaint.   This faith building exercise will ensure us that we see the beauty and mystery of God today and enjoy the frog song.

The Pilgrim’s Way: Clucking in Babylon

Walking in the woods one day, a man found an eagle’s egg, apparently abandoned.  He took it and placed it in the nest of one of his chickens, where it eventually hatched.  The eaglet grew up as a chicken, scratching at the ground and digging for worms and bugs.  He even learned to cluck like the other chickens.  Every once in a while, he flapped his wings and flew a few feet into the air, but he never tried to fly any higher than that.

One day, he saw a splendid bird soaring gracefully above him over the landscape.  “Who’s that?” he asked the other chickens,  Who told him it was and eagle.  “What a magnificent bird,” the eagle thought to himself, “Too bad I’m a chicken.”

It is easy to forget who we are and get stuck in our journey with God.  What does it take for us to move beyond the chicken coup and into the heights God has for us?
freshwater-amarnath-pilgrimage-horseback_49062_600x450

Speaking to his beloved people God challenged the Israelites:

Forget the former things,
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland. Isa 43:18,19

At this moment in their history, Israel was back in exile and living in Bablyon.  Going back to the promised land again would mean facing the ruins of the past.  This kind of soul work takes courage and is difficult.  It may seem easier just to stay put and die again outside the promised land.

Going back into the rubble created by sin is the only way to recover our real identity as a child of God.  In the movie Get Low, Felix Bus is a man who is unable to face his past guilt and so spends 30 years locked in a self imposed exile as a hermit.  The only way for him to get free was to confront his past and confess to the one person he had hurt the most, his once girl friend Mattie.

With the help of a funeral director and an old country preacher he manages to gather a crowd for an unconventional funeral party, his own. There he musters the courage to confesses his shameful past.  In the end he finds forgiveness for himself and freedom from his prison.

Holding onto the past, whether guilt, or loss, failure, or disappointment can stop us on the path to the promised land.  God’s love can set us free if we can only receive it.

Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 1  Mark 2:9

 

 

 

Fusion

Nate and JenniferI was captivated as I stood at the altar with my nephew and his new bride.   They gazed intently into each other’s eyes as though they could hear or see nothing else.  I spoke briefly about the power of oneness called fusion.

Fusion in physics is a nuclear reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei join together, or “fuse”, to form a single heavier nucleus.  Scientists are working in billion dollar labs on fusion reactors for the purpose of harnessing fusion for energy.   It is this process that powers active stars.

This powerful union between a man and woman is something universally sought and yet so rarely experienced.  It is really a picture of another even more powerful union that God desires with his bride the church.  Jesus prayer highlights this thought in John 17.

I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one–as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

We reach our highest human potential through union with our Creator in Jesus Christ.

As in marriage, this union with God is a process.  First, you have to leave, like Abraham, the home of our ancestors for a country God will show us.   Secondly, we cleave to God like Ruth to Naomi,

“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”  

Finally,  we weave, or perhaps it is God who is the weaver, making something good of the threads of our lives.  When life gets challenging we remember that God is at work making all things work together for good.  You may only see the underside of your lives being woven together, but God has a very different perspective, as this poem says.

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colours
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ‘til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.

 

An Inconvenient Christmas

Christmas is not found in the in a post card Winter Wonderland world we imagine. Rather, it is discovered in the messy life of our unfinished tasks and unfulfilled longings.

God’s comfort, however, comes when we welcome Him into the fragmented parts of our lives, not just the parts we have all together. Mary welcomed the baby Jesus at an inconvenient time in her life. As a young woman engaged to be married, she is invited by God to be the mother of the Messiah. Then, nine months later and three days journey from home, her moment of birth arrives while she is lodging in a barn. Now that’s inconvenient! God’s timing is perfect but not always opportune.

Vulnerable and humble the Lord of all arrives, clothed in humility, disguised as a man. Like an Avatar but more, Jesus is fully God while becoming fully man.

Mary Joseph and Jesus#1#
I struggle at times to see how my every day life connects to God’s greater purposes in the world. Looking at the Bible, however, I see another reality. God is at work in this fragmented and suffering world. We are in the middle of a great cosmic struggle that will culminate in the return of Jesus Christ. For now, creation groans, we groan, the spirit groans and the groaning is getting louder. (Rom. 8) God is in the midst of this groaning with tears of his own. We are not alone in our struggle; there is hope.

God is on my side even when I doubt myself and waver in faith. His promised Holy Spirit is our advocate who comes alongside just when we need him. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” (Romans 8.) God’s help, in this verse, originally meant “together against” and to “support and help.” Christmas reminds us that God is on our side even when we fail to see Him.

My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ‘til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.

The Interrupted Life

It has been said, “Life is in the interruptions.” Christmas also reminds us that God is in the interruptions.  We spend so much of our lives on hold, it seems.   Now we are waiting for Christmas holidays to start and then we’ll wait for the next paycheck to pay for them.  We stand in line at the checkout; sit in traffic jams; wait at the doctor’s office.   We look forward to the birth of a child, long for a prayer to be answered and hope for a problem to be solved.   Can it be that these delays are opportunities for life too?  Can we find God in the middle of unfinished tasks and unfulfilled longings?  I think this is where we will most often find him, if we are looking.

The whole world is in a Grand Interruption.  The first Advent of Christ was the first phase of God’s great rescue mission.  We are in the in-between times while we wait for his return and our final adoption as sons and daughters of God.  According to scripture, creation is like an expectant mother,

  “ . . . we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”  (Rom 8:22)

Creation has been subjected to futility by the will of God as a consequence of fall of humankind.   Yet creation hasn’t given up hope, but rather groans like a woman in labor longing for the birth of her child.  The sons whom creation is giving birth to are every believer who longs for Christ’s return.  Because we live in a fallen groaning world, we too groan with expectant longing for the good that God intends for mankind.   For the word of God says

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,g for those who are called according to his purpose.  (Rom 8: 28)

Most of us prefer things that are neat and tidy and with happy endings.  Christmas is about Jesus coming into a mixed up world and God dwelling among us.  If God can be born in an obscure and stinky stable, he is able to abide in our messes.   Do you ever feel like you have to get it together for God before you can let him into your life?  It’s as if he is standing at the door and knocking but we leave him there because we are so busy tidying up.  Let’s invite him into the middle of our muddle, because life is in the interruptions.

2012 Mistique


2012 will be remembered as the winter solstice with its ‘end of the world’ forecasts and ‘dawn of a new age’ predictions. Which will it be? The mystique around 12/21/12 is centred around a combination of the Mayan calendar ending its 5125 year cycle, and the sun being aligned with the center of the Milky Way for the first time in about 26,000 years –which is all very intriguing.

Jesus spoke about the end of time when he said that,

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars.” . . . “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:25, 28)

If the signs are telling us anything, it is that the grand future hope of a new world will be arriving soon with the return of Jesus Christ to the earth. Our redemption is close, and this is the reason to get up and look up with great anticipation.  What’s more, these signs tell us to prepare our hearts by living in that future hope now.

Jesus also said, “People can’t observe the coming of the kingdom of God. They can’t say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ You see, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17.

In saying this, Jesus reminds us that we have no further to look than in our hearts and in our current dilemmas to find God. Looking for a solution ‘out there’ to our problems can hinder us from benefitting from the changes we can experience now. As one author has put it,

“. . . if you feel you’ve got a problem to solve that is ‘out there’ and you don’t see or want to see any possible relationship between the ‘you’ who is trying to solve the problem and what the problem actually is, you may wind up not being able to see the problem accurately, in its fullness.”

God is active within the dysfunction of our families, our churches and our whole society. He is working to complete his good purposes in and through his people. The beginning of seeing our problems clearly is to see our own contribution to the problem. By suspending the old story we tell ourselves and opening ourselves up to the possibility of another script, the one that God is telling us, we are empowered with the prospect of new possibilities. It might amaze us how the things we can’t untangle begin to solve themselves when our desires line up with God’s.

This Christmas let’s invite the hope of the world to reside in the messy manger of our lives and watch what he will do.

 

 

Going Somewhere

I love the scene from Forrest Gump where he decides to start running one day as therapy to deal with the disappointment of Jenny moving out.  Soon, however, he has this following of people running nowhere with him.  Then there’s the scene where after three years, he just stops and says, “I’m going home.”  All those would be followers are left wondering where to go now.

Do you ever feel like you are running, but you don’t really know where you’re going anymore?  When I start feeling this way, I am learning that keeping my appointment with God, in solitude and reflection, reorients my heart.  Then I feel human again.

We live in a directionless society.  Our modern civilization has become this vast and efficient machine that demands more and more human hours of toil.

“We have forgotten our collective ends, and we possess great means: we set huge machines in motion in order to arrive nowhere.” (Jacque Ellul, The Presence of the Kingdom, p. 51.)

Ellul points out the irony that man has become a ‘means’ or a cog in the wheel of a mechanism that is supposedly designed for his happiness.  In today’s ‘advanced’ economy, for instance, temporary foreign workers are even being exploited by Chinese owned Canadian mines, (see article)  all the while obedient consumers in the West are compelled to over spend on stuff we don’t need.  To what ends?

While our society has lost it’s way and seems out of control, I still believe that a purpose for the world exists and can be found in the heart of God.  The apostle Paul in the Bible speaks of God’s good plans for the planet when he says,

 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  Rom 8:18,19

I can no longer blindly believe that the world’s systems are going to bring in some future utopia.  The myth of progress must be challenged, since the only ones progressing are the ones with the power.  We don’t grab life, we receive it as something that already exists in God.  Welcoming our destiny in God, as he fills our lives with meaning is the discovery of a lifetime.   It is a process of adapting ourselves to the mystery within, Jesus.

Jesus said,  “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”

So we run but not without direction, for we are following the one who walked before us, the King of the coming Kingdom, Jesus who lives in us.

More Than a Rule Maker

The older I get the more I hate rules.   They are made out of a necessity to control.  For instance, it’s the overeater like me who needs dietary restrictions. It’s also the unruly child or unruly class who needs rules to govern them.  Then when rules are made, they have to be enforced, and consequences set for breaking them.  Freedom is lost.  The best days I have spent with my family were no rules days.  We just went through our day enjoying each other’s company.

I think that’s how it was in the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve had a wonderful relationship with God, until Satan came and questioned God’s reign in their lives.   They didn’t need to eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, because they knew God.   Many more years passed before the Ten Commandments were written, long after the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. Then God saw what a difficult time Moses was having leading Israel, and the commandments were written, and God became known as the Rule Maker.  It became a huge part of man’s story with him.  However, the three items God later had placed in the Ark of the Covenant:  Aaron’s budding staff, some manna, and a scroll show his complexity.  These items displayed different facets of God’s character as our guide, our provider, and our teacher.  When Jesus came, his story telling showed us anew what a great teacher he truly is –so much more than just a Rule Maker.

Jesus invites us, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. “  (Matthew 11:29)

Do you have a rule to which you restlessly adhere?  Have you listened to God’s voice, asking you to replace that yoke with a relationship with him?  Is he asking you to trust him to guide and provide for your life as he teaches you, and to lay down the burden of enforcing some rule in your life with the wonder of knowing him?  I know I have heard this call.  The freedom we find as we respond to his invitation is the better way and the reason Christ died.

Work: Chasing after the wind.

Does work ever get you down? You are not alone. The author of Ecclesiastes lamented his work too:

“What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.”  (Eccl. 2:22, 23)


It seems healthy to me to occasionally look at work from this “under the sun” view of Ecclesiastes.  It prevents us from making too much of it.  Apart from a few classic works of art and music, some cool inventions and buildings, what is gained from the last 100 years of toil?  Are we in the brave new world?  Who will remember the great contributions of the 20th century a decade from now? Perhaps the likes of Gandhi, Churchill and Mother Teresa will be remembered, but what of the billions of ordinary people who we never heard of in the first place? In my own experience, I like to know the “why” of doing something. However, this can be idealism.

There may not be a point to everything I do except that it needs to be done. Yet, I must believe there is a divine point to all things or I am a practical atheist.

My view of work is changing. I expect less fulfillment from it and that keeps me balanced and encourages me to take some time to “work at” some fun things too.

However, laziness, isn’t an option either, since experience and scripture both indicate that slothfulness generally ends in poverty or dishonor. (click for Proverbs) So, we work, under the sun, but we do not have to submit to its despair.  Rather, work can be enjoyed when we find a purpose “above the sun” for what we do.

Above the sun, we work for the coming Kingdom of God that is already here.  Working in two kingdoms creates a healthy tension.  We may find we are pulled between the futility of striving after the wind and the hopefulness of changing the world through Christ.  It is not our politics or our corporations that will create meaningful change; it is the Christian working under the sun with an above the sun vision.  So much work today is motivated by envy and competition.  A higher, nobler motivation is love for God and for my neighbor. This way we work for something more rewarding than praise of man or financial reward, and work recovers a sense of meaning and joy for us.

 “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.”  (Colossians 3:23,24)