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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.