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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Do you want to get well? Another question from Jesus

This question from Jesus always catches me by surprise. What do you mean, 'Do I want to get well, of course I do, what a dumb question!' Jesus asks this question to a man who has been an invalid for more than 38 years, which makes this question seem even more foolish. Everybody wants to be healthy, we're all afraid of being sick, of catching something and becoming ill. Just look at the pharmaceutical business, it's a huge industry in North America because of our fear of illness. Consider the healing ministries in the Christian world, people who claim to have the power of healing and how many people hand over great sums of money to have someone lay their hands on them for healing, or how many people are convinced to send away for a bottle of water from the river Jordan or the Sea of Galilee that has been blessed by a ministry person and so now has healing power. All this feeds into our fear of being sick or ill.
Yet, as I've walked alongside many people over the years, I now understand a little bit what Jesus is getting at here. For the man in John's story, his illness might also the only source of his income. Because he is an invalid, he has the potential to earn a fairly good income through begging, using his condition to tug on the heart-strings of those people who were going by, or from the families of other sick people who had brought their sick relatives to the pool for a chance at healing. It's also interesting that the man does not ask for healing, Jesus notices his situation and approaches him with his question, "Do you want to get well?" If the man is healed, his source of income would be gone and he would now have to work for a living, so it might actually be in the man's favour to tell Jesus that he's fine just as he is.
But how about today, how does Jesus' question apply to us now? When I  think of being sick or ill, I no longer think about simply being ill physically, I now often think about being sick through having addictions. Yes, many of them are physical, but many are about the heart; addictions such as pornography, sex, food, and pleasure seeking. We engage in these things because there is something missing inside us that these activities or things fill, making us feel more whole, more complete, more satisfied. We try to find wholeness in these activities because we hate the feelings of emptiness, so we turn to things or people to make us fill whole.
But how about unhealthy emotions such as anger, hatred, greed or lust, among others? These are forms of being ill in our hearts and spirit. Is there someone in your life that you hold deep anger against? There may even be good reasons for your anger, but does this make it healthy if you've been holding onto it for a long time with no effort or desire to forgive? Anger has this way of changing who you are, creating callouses of bitterness and hatred that, over time, and actually begins to affect other relationships in your life because of what you hold inside of you. Anger has this way of growing and spreading inside of us, driving wedges between us and others, even those who are important to us.
Greed and lust are two other emotions that have even been made sacred in our culture as they are about power and pleasure and control. In a culture that puts the individual first, these are important emotions that drive us to achieve the so-called American or Canadian dream, but they come at the price of placing everyone else as second in our lives, placing emotional barriers between us and everyone else.
These feelings all give us an inner sense of power and control over our lives and yet they also keep us from experiencing deep relationships and friendships. They also keep us from trusting in God. We trust only in ourselves and the control we create in our lives.
Now listen to Jesus' question, "Do you want to get well?" Do you really want to be healed from your addictions or those emotions that keep you from having deeper relationships with God and others or would you rather hang onto what you know and what gives you control over your life and others? All of a sudden Jesus' question isn't so simple to answer.
Healing doesn't come at the snap of our fingers, it often comes through much prayer, hard work and the help of others; trained healers and especially fellow followers of Jesus who are willing to hold us accountable while walking with us and picking us up when we stumble or fall. Jesus works his healing using the community of his body.This is normally how Jesus works healing in us today, and it involves making changes in our hearts and minds with the help of the Holy Spirit and the teaching of Scripture; it means becoming the person God has created us to be and trusting that God fill those empty places in us and heal those areas of brokenness that give us our identity right now.

Friday, 5 October 2012

What are You Looking For

I went back to university when I was 34 years old because I didn't really know what I wanted to be when I grew up. It wasn't until my late 20s that I began to think about going into ministry, and even then, I wasn't so sure that a pastor was who I really wanted to be. I had been in the navy for a while and then worked in a small bakery for 16 years but I kind of fell into these jobs, they were not jobs I had dreamt about doing when I was a child. Jesus' question in John 1:38, "What are you looking for?" would have been a hard question for me back then to really answer as I was, and still am, a dreamer kind of guy, always dreaming of what might be, not always focusing so well on what I should be doing. I think more in terms of who I should be instead of what I should be doing, and this always seems to change in different ways as I meet new people and experience new things.
There were times when what I was looking for was a more important job, more money, more vacation time, more stuff, more, more, but over the years my answer has changed. Now I find that I'm looking for meaning and purpose in my life, looking for ways to make a difference in the world, even if only in small ways, trying to figure out who I am and who I should be as a person and as a follower of Jesus. This is not just about spiritual stuff, it's about day to day real life stuff, about how to live and why. As I get to know Jesus more, I find myself beginning to look for ways to do with less and give away more, whether it's stuff or more of myself as a follower of Jesus, husband, father, grandfather, pastor and friend.
"What am I looking for?" This is question I find myself thinking about more often and am learning that what I say I'm looking for reflects who I am and how my relationship with Jesus and others is. What I am looking for determines how I spend my time and who I spend my time with. The disciples weren't sure how to answer Jesus so Jesus invited them to come and follow him, to spend time with him. Over time they began to see that what they were looking for was Jesus, an answer that is growing more central in my own life too. So what are you looking for?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Questions to shape our life

I've been reading John Dear's book, "The Questions of Jesus," and realising how good it is for me to wrestle with Jesus' questions. It's not even all that important to always find the "right" answer since the benefit for me is in wrestling with the questions themselves. Too often when we discover the answer we stop thinking while Jesus' questions are meant to keep us thinking. So for the next while I'm going to wrestle with some of Jesus' questions here. The first question I've been wrestling with is "Who do you really say I am?" a really good question because it forces me to think about who I really believe Jesus is and then I have a decision to make, will I allow that to shape who I am.
 
Before Jesus asks the disciples who they say he is, he asks them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” There’s a variety of answers, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah, who was one of the most powerful prophets from their past, and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” Prophets were fascinating to the people, seen as different; always calling the people back to God’s way of doing life and leaving status quo behind.
 
It’s only after Jesus hears from his disciples what other people are saying about him that he asks them, “Who do you say I am?” It’s interesting that this question comes after Jesus first asks who the crowds say who he is. The underlying question is whether I’ll be swayed by what the crowd believes. Jesus asks me the same question, “Who do you say I am?” Think about this question for a moment, “Who do I say Jesus is?” Jesus asks me this question with respect, he wants to hear me identify him and choose him; he wants to know who I really think he is and he puts me on the spot by asking it straight out. I need to spend time with this question.This is the heart of my faith and life, who I say I believe Jesus is and how am I going to respond.
 
Good old Peter immediately speaks up, “The Christ of God.” I love Peter because like him, my own mouth often runs off before my brain filter kicks in, but this time, it's a good thing. Peter has seen what Jesus has done in giving them power when they were sent out to preach the kingdom of God, Peter saw Jesus take the bread and feed the hungry crowd, and he has no doubt who Jesus is, though he doesn’t necessarily understand what being the Messiah or Christ means. Peter rejects the crowd’s claim of Jesus as a prophet, confessing Jesus as more than just a prophet, accepting, confessing Jesus as the promised Messiah, the one from God. Peter’s words are right, but his understanding of who Jesus is, is influenced by what he wants instead of who Jesus is showing himself to be. Peter wants a king on a throne. As with many people, there’s a lot of self interest in Peter’s confession.
 
I have to ask myself how my own understanding of who Jesus is influenced by my own wants or society’s picture of who Jesus is? Do I really placed my complete trust in Jesus, following Jesus as closely as I can or do I follow at a distance, waiting to see if the direction Jesus is taking me is the one I want to go in? Jesus lets the disciples in on what it means that he’s the Messiah Peter confesses him to be. I know I have to keep going back to the Bible to keep my image of Jesus in line with what God says and not who I want Jesus to be.

It’s not enough to simply confess Jesus as Messiah. Even the demons confess that Jesus is the Messiah. Luke shares the story of the man possessed by an evil spirit that Jesus meets in the synagogue. When the spirit sees Jesus it cries out, “Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” I can say the words, “You are God’s Messiah,” believe it and still not be a follower of Jesus just like the demons. This is harsh, but truth. Jesus doesn’t promise changed circumstances in my life as a reward for confessing him as Messiah and following him, instead Jesus asks me, “Who do you say I am,” and then warns me that following him is going to be costly and even painful.
 
Jesus warns that the cost of following him is high. Suffering and sacrifice doesn’t just happen because God wants me to suffer, it comes because I start to live counter-culturally and my values, morals and priorities change and come into line with Jesus'. It's about becoming less self-centred and more Jesus-centred; opening my eyes to what is going on around me and taking seriously who Jesus tells me I need to be then and there, and sharing respectfully with others who Jesus is, what he expects, and why.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

A New Beginning Again!

I'm looking forward to the long weekend, the last long weekend of the summer, for a couple of reasons. I always enjoy an extra day off and relaxing on my deck out back with family and friends. Weather wise, it looks like it's going to work out great this year! Don't get me wrong, I love my work as a pastor, but time with family and friends gives me the energy to be a good pastor, and a little extra time with them at the start of the new church year is always appreciated. It's rather ironic that on Labour Day I try to do as little labour as possible!
The second reason I look forward to this particular long weekend is that it's the start of a new church year, a new beginning again. In September everything looks exciting and fresh, all those involved in our ministries are filled with hope that God is going to do something amazing this year through them and in them. Our mistakes and failures are behind us and have hopefully given us new wisdom for how we move forward with hope.
New beginnings are definitely a gift from God: I'm thinking of times like Professions of Faith, re-affirmations of faith, weddings, the start of a new church and school year, New Year's Day, baptisms, and more are all times to stop, reflect back and look ahead with hope and joy as we step out fresh and new in heart and mind.
These are times for me when my faith gets a boost as I remember again that this is all in God's hands, I'm here for the ride and to do my part the best I can with all the experience and wisdom that comes from the past and can be applied now to the year ahead. My prayer is that this is also a time of hope, renewed faith, and trust for all of you as our churches and ministries get revved up for a new beginning again!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Young people, faith and life

This summer I had the pleasure of spending 6 long days with 9 high school young people and a co-leader who was willing to lose sleep and join in the energy and excitement of being a young person again and sleeping on air mattresses a few hours every night, but who was also willing to share her own life experiences while listening closely and with respect to the lives and stories of the youth. It's the best week of the year for me, something I look forward to every year. Spending the week serving different communities in the North-eastern part of North America with young people who are eager to make a difference in other peoples' communities and lives and who want to make the world a little better place to be, even if just a little bit. This week of serving and worship reminds me that one of the reasons we are here is to serve others because this is how we serve Jesus best. After all, faith without works is dead, as well as that deep truth that what we do for others, we also are doing for Jesus himself. 
I'm often asked by people, "What is the meaning of life," and "Why am I here?" This week with the young people every year reminds me that life is about the simple things; about caring about others and helping where we can, about friendships and connecting with others, and about sharing why we follow Jesus. Faith is not just what we believe, it is also how and why we live the way we do. There is a joy and enthusiasm in our young people for life that many of us adults can benefit from, this is why I love being a pastor and being able to spend that week with our youth; every year I probably learn more from them than they do from me!
This week has also changed the way I am a pastor. It has taught me that ministry is more about time together with people than doing programs, that the Bible and faith and our relationship with God is about everyday ordinary things and not complex theological and doctrinal systems. I need to learn and know theology and doctrine, but the goal is to be able to teach it in normal language in a way that shapes how we live and understand our day to day lives as followers of Jesus. 
Thank you to all the young people and my co-leader for another wonderful week and helping me to stay close to God and become more and more the person God has created me to be. 

Friday, 3 August 2012

I Don't Walk Alone

It has been a very stressful few months as a pastor and as a father. There has been death, illness, family brokenness both in the church and in my own family. Now there has been good stress as well with 2 couples coming for pre-marriage counselling and the possibility of a couple of adult baptisms, a beautiful gift for the people being baptised and our church, as well as a wonderful mission trip with high school youth from our church and community (my favourite week of the year!). Normally the summer is a time to slow down and relax, but that has not been the case this year and it has finally caught up to me; thankfully vacation is here next week and I can get away with my wife and we can spend some relaxing time together.
One of the things I've finally learned after years in ministry is to ask people to walk alongside me as I walk alongside others, both as a pastor and friend. I cannot do it all alone. I have been fortunate these past few months to have good elders and friends walk with me and help me as I ministered to others, especially those who have been touched by death and suffering. Having another person's perspective and wisdom helped me to understand much better some of the dynamics involved. This is important since we have such a multicultural church community, but mostly it gave me strength and courage knowing that I'm not walking alone and someone else understands what is going on. Even in the wonderful moments, such as having a co-leader on the mission trip who really understands life and has a great deal of life wisdom, was a blessing as she shared in a deep way her own walk of faith with young people who are wrestling with God and who He is, and living that same kind of life she did at their age.
Jesus had a small group of disciples he relied on for friendship and to confide in; even Jesus didn't walk alone, he chose to include others in his work and journey, but he also included them into his heart and his own struggles. I'm beginning to appreciate the wisdom found in many of the proverbs that we often hear but don't really get until life opens your eyes to their truth. This past year I've learnt the truth in the proverb, "If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together." This includes ministry; it is amazing when you depend on your own strength, talents or wisdom how quickly life can bring you to your knees and you're all alone. Walking with others, inviting them to join you gives you people who will lift you up when you fall, support you when you are tired, and even take over when you need to rest. More importantly, it creates friendships and trusting relationships, something that is more precious to me every year as I learn how rare and difficult these relationships are to keep.
If you are walking alone in order to go fast, I invite you to slow down and invite others to join you in your journey so that you may go far and deep in your walk with God and your walk with others.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Life through the eyes of a child

Having our daughter and grandson living with us is a beautiful blessing and I've discovered that my grandson helps me understand what life should be like. The world is a wonderful place for Real, a place where there are people who love  him and are always willing to stop for a moment to tickle him, hug him, or make strange and funny faces and noises at him. Got to wonder at the adults who are making the faces and noises :)
Real is always ready to laugh, at least when he's not hungry or his diaper isn't too full, and he's always willing to discover something fascinating and new. A dandelion ready to let go of its seeds is the best toy, at least until the seeds are off, a squirrel running along the branch outside our living room window is the most entertaining thing in his life at that moment. Running and bumping into our dog Babette and trying to grab her tail as she runs away provides moments of pure joy. Then, when Real runs out of energy for a few moments, he comes with his arms out high to be held and cuddled with his bottle until his energy and curiosity is replenished.
Imagine our faith life like that, an endless curiosity about Jesus and the world, a desire to explore and discover what lies around the next corner, grabbing pleasure as it comes by, then slowing down and watching as creation happens right in front of us. Imagine where our first reaction is trust, where we head out into the world every morning with our eyes wide open; looking forward to experience what lies ahead of us in the day and excited about the opportunities to see God around us and with us. Imagine a place where people are willing to stop, offer a hug, a smile or even a laugh with complete strangers because they fascinate us and we want to know more about them. And then, when we get tired, we stop and turn to God with our spiritual arms held up, ready to be held and hugged for a while until our energy is replenished again.
My grandchildren have opened up the world to me again, showing me how amazing it really is. It's too bad that we so easily become cynical, that many people purposely cultivate a cynical view of life because its 'cool'. I'm becoming child-like again and life holds much more joy again. I think Jesus knew what he was talking about when he told us we need to be more like little children. Try it, I think you'll like it!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Eating and God

I love the Food Network. There is something wonderful about watching people who love food create these wonderful dishes and share their love with us through the screen. Then being able to go online and try them myself is one of those small precious gifts that make life full. To be in the kitchen and taking all the various ingredients and mixing them together, adjusting the amounts to suit the tastes of the people who are going to be eating it is one of the most relaxing ways to spend an afternoon. It's like being on a mini retreat, connecting back to the basics of life: family, friends, food and God; after-all, he's the one who created all the ingredients and placed all their potential in them so that if you put them all together the right way, you can bring a smile of pleasure to almost anyone's face. You meet God in the washing, the cutting and mixing as you notice the different textures, the colours, the smells and aromas of the food. I imagine God smiling as he was creating the various plants, structuring their textures, giving them their colours, and putting into each plant the potential of how they will interact with other plants, whether flowers, roots, stalks, leaves or even bark to create new and unique tastes that the people still to be created with discover through experimentation and imagination.
I love cooking for others and then sitting back and watching them enjoy the food. As a church we gather together regularly to eat with each other in pot-lucks where we are able to cook for each other and then sit together and share what we've brought while being able to eat some of the love that others have brought. Now I will be honest and confess that dessert is my favourite course of the pot-luck, though I do need to exercise some strict discipline on myself as I approach the tempting offerings on the table.
Food is a powerful way of drawing people together. Last night my wife and I had the great blessing of being invited out by good friends to join them at a small neighbourhood restaurant with a small jazz band. There is something special about eating together, about sharing food, even in being gently forced to eat a piece of baklava I was trying to exercise discipline in not eating, though I must admit I did not put up much of a fight! The conversation flows around the different courses, the words interspersed with the eating and sharing of the food. There is a great deal of sharing and caring and joy that happens in these conversations. This morning, as I thought about the joy of last night, I thought about Jesus inviting us to his meal, inviting us to gather around his table to share the food he provides. This meal is also filled with conversation between our host Jesus and us his guests, and I'm appreciating  more and more how this meal shapes our relationship with Jesus and God. It draws us closer to each other and to God as we gather around the table, and the conversation is filled with sharing and caring and joy. There is a lot more that could be said, but the image of going to heaven and joining Jesus at his banquet table is gaining more meaning and becoming more special for me all the time.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Family and Knowing Each Other

Last week my wife Joyce and I were able to spend a few days with some of our children and grandchildren. Living over 6 hours away from them means that I don't get to see them nearly as often as I would like. The older grandchildren know that when grandpa comes it's time to get tickled, do the roller-coaster and earthquake in the big rocking chair, and get horsy rides; all the fun grandpa stuff. The younger grandchildren are always a little more restrained at first because grandpa isn't there very often so it's almost as if we need to get to know each other again. Thankfully, as they get older this happens less and less. Wednesday evening, as we walked in the door, Carysa, our daughter Marie's youngest girl, who was really shy last time I came in February, came running up wanting to be lifted up and hugged! However Madison, our son Jacob's youngest daughter, kind of looked at me and figured mommy was a safer bet, at least for the first evening anyway. By the time we left on Saturday, even Madison was comfortable with grandpa again. It took time together again to build that relationship of trust, to get to know each other again.
It strikes me that it's the same thing in our relationship with God. I often hear people say that they don't have time to engage in devotions during the day; that life is so busy that taking time to connect with God through reading the Bible or praying or getting together with a few other followers of Jesus to learn more about who Jesus is and what he taught. I'm thinking that their relationship with God must be similar to my relationship with my grandkids; they know I'm somewhere, but I don't have much impact on their lives except for a few days at a time where we get to play and rock and sit with each other. We love each other, but don't really know each other all that well.
When our relationships are based on occasional get togethers, how much impact do we really have on each other? I don't have much influence or impact on my grandkids' lives because I'm not part of their daily, or even weekly lives, I'm just a visitor in their lives. Their parents have the most influence in their lives and I pray that my influence on my children's lives carries into my grandchildren's lives, especially in their relationship with God. But as I look within my own family, I'm reminded that I also have a Father that I need to visit with regularly, who wishes to have an impact on my life, to show me what the new life through Jesus looks like; Jesus, our oldest brother who came here to lead us back to our Father and heal that relationship which had been broken. Father is always there, waiting for me to want to visit. He sent us a beautiful letter to help us know him better, but wants more personal visits so we can get to know each other even better. The big thing is it needs time, time out of our so often busy lives, and yet time that we can't afford not to set aside if we really want to experience what it is to be his daughter or son.
Are you only a visitor with our Father; do you want more? Does following Jesus really make a difference in your life; change who you are and impact your values and how you live? It's only going to happen if you have time together; a choice you make.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Who Defines Who I Am?

Who defines who you are, who we are? It's a rather important question and one many of us don't really think about, at least not directly. I was thinking about this after reading a report that said most people think really negatively about Christians, that we are defined as anti-this and anti-that. I guess I wasn't all that surprised, but it did make me think about the 'why.' Even then it wasn't all that hard to see the why. We've allowed a few social issues and those who believe differently than we do on these issues to define us. We're "anti-homosexual" and "anti-abortion" and we are seen as not being very loving or grace-filled in how we engage these issues, at least not in the eyes of those watching. While on a mission and learning trip last year to Nicaragua, the majority of the young adults I was with, who have been raised in the church, see us in the same way. I thought back to what I have taught and preached, and how I have lived out my own faith in front of these young adults, and could not figure out where they came to believe this negative image of who a follower of Jesus is.
Why are these two issues such defining issues in the eyes of those watching us? Maybe it's because we haven't always let love guide our speech or our actions and because we've mostly ignored so many other important issues within our society. If only we have the same passion for justice and fought as hard against poverty, homelessness, and for the well-being of single parents and their children; if we challenged unjust laws and challenged our politicians to really focus on protecting the oppressed, thinking of those who have no voice and helping them be heard. How would people then begin to see us? What if we really acted justly, loved mercy and walked humbly with God
Imagine if we focused on our responsibility to make our world a better place, a little more like the kingdom Jesus is bringing in, instead of insisting on making the world exactly as we determine it should be, as if we are really that wise anyway. Just look at how hard it is for many people in our churches to get along with each other. Maybe we should concentrate more on first changing ourselves through the help of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps if we took seriously Paul's words to the Colossians to "clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity
It is not our place to change someone, that is the work of God; our place is to show others how God has changed and is changing us and to walk alongside them, allowing the Holy Spirit work through our love and grace and acceptance. When we are truly changed by God's Spirit, we are then a witness to what God's kingdom stands for and this will define who we are as we have then been shaped by God's love, grace, forgiveness, mercy, acceptance and a healthy sense of responsibility instead of privilege.  
Just thinking out loud here. 

Friday, 11 May 2012

Looking Good on the Inside

My son just bought himself a new old car. His old one was going to take more money to repair it than it cost to buy this new old one. When you look at it, it looks a little beat up; there are places where it's really obvious that there's been body work done by the previous owner; not always so well done. Yet the engine and transmission are in great shape because the mechanic who serviced the car did good work and the owner was faithful in his maintenance. This means the car should run well for my son for a few years giving him reliable transportation. It may not look great, but there's strength and power inside that's not so obvious on the outside.
I got to thinking that my son's car is a lot like many of us followers of Jesus. When you've been around for over 50 years like I have, you get a little beat up and can look pretty rough at times. When I look in the mirror in the mornings, I'm always glad I'm not the one who has to look at me all day. I've done some body work over the years, done a little exercising, play a little hockey to stay kind of in shape. My eating habits have not helped the body work part as well as they should have: chocolate will be my downfall one day. Yet my insides are looking a lot better than my outside due to the Holy Spirit's work and maintenance in me. This has been an unusual year for me with travelling to both Africa and New Mexico and it has given me plenty of opportunity to do some inner reflection, looking to see how I'm doing on the inside.
I've got lots of work to do in many areas of my heart, but I can also see evidence that the Holy Spirit has been doing some work on me. Through devotions, fellowship with other believers, and regular times of confession and repentance, the Spirit has been working inside me. One of the biggest signs for me is a growing sense of peace, even when storms come calling. One of our daughters had a cancer scare this spring and the Spirit gave us peace while we were waiting for the results. That doesn't mean the waiting was easy or there wasn't worry, but over the years I have learned how important it is to place these times in God's hands as we prayed and encouraged and supported our daughter. This learning came from the work the Spirit did as I read the Scriptures, talked with God and shared life with friends and fellow believers. I can't take credit for this, because this is the Spirit's work, but I'm also called to do my share of the work on growing the Fruit of the Spirit inside, but also get going on some of that outside body work at the same time now that spring is here.
Wish me luck and plenty of self control around that chocolate!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Is Unity Possible

Over the past few months I've have the pleasure to travel to Uganda, Kenya and New Mexico, all places with histories of brokenness and conflict. I live in Quebec; also a province with a history of conflict. What has struck me is the hurt that is found in the histories in each of these places, separated from each other by great physical distances and yet joined together in lasting hurt. Yet in Uganda, Kenya and New Mexico I also heard hope while here in Quebec I don't hear much hope. The conflict here in Quebec is ongoing and seemingly never ending. For the past 3 months students have been taking to the streets in a battle over tuition fees for university, even though their tuition is the lowest in North America. There is an on-going battle in my province over the use of the English language. Some of those who come from a more militant francophone background would like to see English completely abolished and all English speaking people leave the province. There is an underlying anger, bitterness and even hatred against others because they don't speak the right language or have the right ethnic background. There seems to be no way to bring peace and respect into this conflict as it's been going on for so long now, often fuelled by politicians seeking their own gain in this anger and hatred.
Yet in Uganda, Kenya and New Mexico I experienced hope for change and I do not believe it a coincidence that in each of these areas the church has played a large role in working for change and healing because they feel this is God's leading and desire. In Africa, missionaries came with the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ; a wonderful gift that is alive and well still today. Yet the missionaries also brought their culture and taught that the Africans needed to put their culture aside in order to accept Jesus. Something similar happened in New Mexico as well. In both places, the people lost something precious, they lost a sense of who they are; a piece of their identity. As I travelled recently, I saw followers of Jesus reaching back and reclaiming who they are culturally without turning away from God; I saw wonderful Christians shining the Gospel truths on their culture and transforming their culture; seeing how God is able to work through their culture to reach others who have not yet come to Christ. Some are further ahead in this than others of course, but wonderful things are happening and people's lives are being transformed as they are introduced to the Gospel by their own people within their own culture. The Gospel call to reconciliation has also brought the beginning of healing among the people and those who first set the missionaries with the Gospel, and this is leading to unity and blessing and partnership in the Lord.
My prayer is that the Gospel can once more be brought into my province so that the hope of healing can soften the anger, bitterness and hatred that are so prominent right now. I believe our only hope for unity in Quebec lies in the message of hope and grace found in Jesus. A half century ago Quebec turned its back on God because of how the church brought in the Gospel news, now it's time for the followers of Jesus to come again to Quebec and humbly and bravely invite all Quebecers back into a relationship with Jesus, partnering with those Jesus followers who are already here. Our hope for peace and unity lies not in what language we speak, what our last names are, or even which ethnic group we have been born into; peace and unity will only be experienced when followers of Jesus live out the values and ways of God's kingdom and speak out the Good News of forgiveness, mercy, grace and peace found in what God has done for all of us in Jesus Christ. The power of the Gospel can transform Quebec as it is transforming many of the communities of Uganda and Kenya, and as it is bringing healing and hope among the Navajo people of New Mexico. What is needed here is followers of Jesus to pray with the boldness of the people in Acts 4 and to bring the Word of God to the people of Quebec.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Hope

The past couple of months have shown me how important hope is in our lives. Without hope life becomes meaningless for many people; so meaningless that life can become optional or even undesirable to them. Paul tells us that there are 3 key things in life; faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love. I'm not going to argue with Paul, but I'm seeing that without hope there is no strength to love or to feel the love others are extending  to us. 
I'm discovering that when we don't feel close to God, when we believe that we cannot trust God with our present or our future, or when we can't even believe in God any more, our hope gets lost; it fades away like sunset on a misty evening, it's kind of there and then it's not. When my hope for today and the future has to depend on what I am able to do or control, it can't survive, otherwise why are we in the situations we're in where our hope has already taken a beating and is in danger of disappearing, or has already disappeared. 
Jesus' invitations to "Come follow me," and "Repent and believe," are having a greater impact on me the more I reflect on them. Jesus says, "Come follow me," inviting us to "Watch me and hear more about my Father and who He is." "Repent and believe for the kingdom of God is near," God is coming close, Jesus is reassuring us, that He's already here in Immanuel, Jesus, God with us. His kingdom is one of safety, acceptance, forgiveness, grace, mercy, peace, wholeness, healing and hope because God is in control. It does take trust to repent because that's a heart change leading to life change kind of a call and I also see for so many who have been hurt that believing can be so hard when hope is lost. 
More and more I see how important the church community really is in our world today; a place where God's kingdom values are being lived out and practised, where our heart habits are being shaped by Jesus through the Holy Spirit, where people who have lost hope can find a place with real live physical flesh and blood people who are living out hope looking to Jesus and who He is and what He's done for us, being his body here until he comes back again. 
Titus 2 speaks to this, "For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." This is a living into the future way of living that happens right now, living into a future with hope, a future where Jesus' kingdom ways will shape everyone and the evil that takes away hope today will be gone for good. 

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Our Youth, Our Future

I've just spent the past two hours at our local Christian high school, Emmanuel Christian High School here in Montreal, listening to the finals of the public speaking competition and I've come away confident of the future of the Church and the Christian faith. Eleven students spoke on a variety of subjects and I heard their faith come through, not as something they've added on as an extra in their lives, but as an integral part of who they are as people. There were moments I wished there were more adults able to hear these young people speak. Yes, there was a certain naiveness in their speeches, yet there is something so beautiful in their naiveness as they haven't yet learned to be cynical or bitter about life or people; they really believe things can change. Their hope and certainty of a wonderful tomorrow is something we adults can learn from, after-all, with Christ, isn't our future one of hope?
As a pastor I have the fantastic task of taking our high school students on a mission trip every summer and as I tell them, it is the favourite week of my year because I'm with them, surrounded by young people serving others and open to talking about what they believe with me and the other leaders; a gift of trust and a challenge to my own faith as I watch them living out theirs. I'm reminded that joy in life is a gift from God that is available to all of us if we only trust in Him. Many of our youth do so much easier than we do even though we might be adults and more "mature" than they are. As I hear them talk about God, as I watch them walk and stumble and even fall at times and still hold onto an optimistic picture of the future because they really do believe that God can do all things, I learn how to trust in God again as well.
Today I was reminded that our future as a Church is in good hands because so many of our youth truly do believe that they are in God's hands. How about you?

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Seven Deadly Sins and Holy Week

The 7 Deadly Sins have been a big part of me during this Lenten season. Reflecting and preaching on these sins has had a way of opening my eyes to just how much hold they have on my heart. As I approached each sin I thought to myself that this one really doesn't have that big a hold on me, but as I looked inside myself each week with a new sin in front of me, I discovered a different side to myself that I had mostly ignored. I rediscovered just how easy it is for me to fool myself into thinking I'm a whole lot better person than I really am.
Now you might think that this is really depressing, but in looking at the 7 Deadly Sins, I also had the opportunity to reflect on the virtues that counter the sins' influence on my soul, heart, and mind; to hear Jesus' teachings that challenge us to grow in these virtues and take him seriously. But mostly, as I read through the Gospels, as I saw again and again how much God loves us and how Jesus shows us God's love, I felt myself drawn once again to Jesus and the kingdom life he shows us through his life and calls us to.
Then comes Palm Sunday and the celebration of Jesus coming as a king. I'm reminded again of who Jesus is, a humble king who cries for his people, a king who sacrifices himself for his people. He could have come with legions of angels and instead chooses to ride a donkey with his feet dragging on the ground. He chooses to make himself available to us, comes close to us. This calls to me.
As I read through Holy Week, through Jesus' teachings, his cleansing of the temple, and his warnings, I'm reminded of Jesus' passion for God, but also his passion for us as he wants us to turn to his father, our heavenly father. I find myself drawn to God again as my father and I sense a bit what his pain must have been like as he watched the people start to turn away from his son, and from him.
Now I'm looking ahead to Good Friday, to celebrating the Lord's Supper in a quiet meditative service filled with the stories of Jesus walking to the cross and the passages from the Old Testament that show us this really is God's plan. The love of God and Jesus reaches those places inside me where those 7 Deadly Sins have made their home and I feel their power lessening as God's love moves in. Now my prayer is that I will truly be transformed more into who God has created me to be instead of the person I'm trying to create.
Saturday is a time of waiting, reminding me that we're still waiting for Jesus to come back, to the renewing of creation into the pattern of his kingdom and the hope this gives. Sunday, the day of resurrection waits for us, calling us to cherish this life, this world God has created because he cherishes and values it. God shows this by raising up his son Jesus from the grave, a sign and promise to us that he has accepted Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf and we are right with God. The influence and twisting the 7 Deadly Sins has done to my heart, soul and mind is being undone because of Jesus' sacrifice. And finally, because of Jesus, my relationship with God as father is restored and renewed!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Tim Tebow and the Gospel

I'm sitting here this morning in Montreal listening to sports radio hosts talking about the Steelers Broncos game yesterday. The fascinating part of the discussion is how often God and Jesus are being mentioned, and surprisingly considering the secular culture here in Montreal, mentioned in a positive way. One of the hosts even did some background study on John 3:16 because of a sign noticed by one of the listeners on the winning touchdown in overtime. Most listeners had no idea what the reference was about, but the host did his homework and even tied in the Old Testament perspective about who God is and how this was part of what Jesus said.
Over the past few weeks, many people here, as elsewhere, have been mocking Tim Tebow. But they have made fun of his praying on the field and the sidelines; "Tebowing" has become a new fad practised all over. This morning however, the tone changed and mention was made of Tim's charity work and the young girl in the stands yesterday who was there because of his charity work. Even Tim's comment, “But the real win, at least the one I would take today, is being able to comfort a girl (Knaub) who’s gone through 73 surgeries and who I get to go hang out with. So that’s the biggest win of the day. They are both exciting but that’s what I’m even more proud of,” was quoted to put football into its proper perspective.
Now to be fair, some have talked about how gracious Tim has been about his faith, how he doesn't push, but that it is simply a natural part of who he is. Now this morning, God, Jesus and the gospel are all being talked about in a positive way and probably more people are hearing a positive message about the Christian faith this morning than in all the churches combined in Montreal yesterday.
As I watch Tim and how he plays football, I'm reminded of what Peter wrote in his first letter where he says, "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." (1 Peter 3:15-16), just before this Peter had written, "Live such good lives among the pagans  that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." (1Peter 2:12) I heard these biblical truths played out this morning and think that many of us as followers of Jesus can learn from how Tim lives out his faith, publicly and without fanfare or pushiness, willingly talking about his faith in God and yet respecting others, and doing his best with what God has given him. His generosity, love for God and life is a reminder to us of the joy that comes from following Jesus with everything we are. It's all about Jesus and it comes through in how we live life.