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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Who do you hang around with

In my last blog I talked about following Jesus so closely that we get covered by the dust of his feet. I wonder how many of us are willing to follow Jesus that closely because that can be pretty messy business. Look at the accusations against Jesus about who he hung out with, Jesus repeats some of these accusations in Matthew 11, "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners."' I'm wondering what those people would say about the average disciple of Jesus today, if we would be accused of being gluttons and drunkards because we hang out with the undesirables, the fringe people in our society. It is much easier to look like a Christian when everyone around is playing at following Jesus too. There's a collection to feed the hungry, throw a couple extra bucks in and we're good with God. Sign a petition against the evil of the day and you're standing up for the faith. Commiserate with your friends about how we're no longer a Christian nation and then head over to the latest shoot-them up blood bath movie with everyone else and cheer.
I grew up in a family where faith got messy. Some of my earliest memories are of people showing up at the door looking for a meal and my mother or grandmother digging in the cupboards to find something for them to eat. One evening when my dad was at work, we heard a frantic knocking on our door and there were two little girls wet and bedraggled, their mother had just tried to drown them in the ditch because she was at her wit's end. They were hungry, alone with no one and nothing. I was sent to run over the the pastor's house to get him, but he wasn't home. When I came home the girls were in a warm bath, the mother was sitting in our kitchen drinking coffee while mom was cooking up some food for them. When the police arrived, my mom met them at the door and told them to be kind and gentle. She then invited them in and they joined the distraught mother for coffee and some food. I was put in charge of making sure the two little girls were alright. This is simply one example of how my parents lived out their faith. It was about stepping into messy lives and situations and telling people that God is with them.
My wife, God bless her soul, has entered into many messy life situations because I have a tendency to enter other peoples' messy lives too. Even before we entered ministry, we had strangers knock on our door asking for a bed and food for the night, and we welcomed them in; some more heartily than others I will admit. One day I came home from working at the bakery and there was a woman and her son sitting on our neighbour's step. They had been kicked out and had no place to go. They were living in an RV that had no propane left and it was autumn and snow was beginning to fall. She was a stripper as this was one of the few ways she could support herself and her son. I welcomed her in and my wife supported me. Over the next couple of weeks we had a chance to get to know her and her son and introduce her to our pastor. She continued to work in one of the bars and when she saved up enough money to get back home, halfway across the country, she and her son went. About a year later we received a card thanking us for helping them get back on their feet again and that they were checking out churches in their area.
Montreal has been a fascinating place for us to live as we've had many strangers and others find a place to stay with us for periods of weeks to years. It has often been messy and even unwise at times, but in every situation there was someone who felt they had no one else to turn to. We have even faced opposition from members of our own church who felt this wasn't proper, which surprisingly hurt us. In human terms, maybe it wasn't always wise, it was almost always messy, but each time another person showed up I thought of Jesus' words, "Come into my kingdom because you fed me when I was hungry, you gave me something to drink when I was thirsty, you took me in when I was a stranger, you gave me clothes when I was naked and looked after me when I was sick. You even came to prison to visit me." It's not about earning my way into heaven, but about trying to develop Jesus' heart in my own heart.
My daughter recently asked me why my wife and I took her, her sister and her brother into our family. They are all related to each other but were in three different foster homes and over the years God brought them back together again in our home. She mentioned how life would be so much easier for my wife and I if we hadn't bothered, but as I think back to why we had so many children go through our home and why we embraced three of them into our family permanently even though it has made life messy for us, I can only say that following Jesus is messy and this is what he wanted and we gladly joined on in. In the process, God has blessed us; not with wealth or influence, or even a successful ministry, but with love from those who have passed through our lives and we have learned how to live out love.
How about you, who do you hang out with? How messy is your faith life?

Friday, 18 October 2013

Being a Disciple

When you give a pastor a chance to slow down and do some reflecting, I believe you will always end up at some point reflecting on being a disciple. We talk about discipleship and use all those churchy words like being justified and being sanctified, but I rather like the image I came across a few years ago, the image of walking so closely behind Jesus that you get covered by the dust he kicks up as he walks along. The idea is that you stay so close to him in order to hear every word he says, you stay so close so that you can see everything he does and how he reacts to life so that you can learn to imitate him exactly. The whole goal is to start to look and act so much like Jesus that when people look at you and get to know you, they say, "You really remind me of someone else, you remind me of Jesus."
This means that being a disciple means you get dirty. You get covered by Jesus' dust, but you also get dirty because you follow Jesus into all the messiness of the world and the chaos of people's lives. The more I study Jesus' life and teaching, the more I'm struck by how he noticed the chaos in people's life and how he stopped and entered into their chaos to bring forgiveness, acceptance, healing, and hope. Jesus deliberately made himself unclean time and again so the people he touched could be made clean and whole again. As Jesus made them clean and took their uncleanness in himself, their uncleanness wasn't able to stick to Jesus because of his holiness and purity.
I've been thinking about this and how it relates to what the church has often become today and who we are as the church. Jesus waded into the mess of religious legalism in his day and simplified the mess into two laws that revolve around love: "Love God with everything you have and are, and love your neighbour as yourself." The problem is that we are then forced leave the clean places of our sanctuary walls and worship places and walk deliberately into the greater mess of life so we can practice loving God and our neighbours. It's safe and easy to be a disciple when you're in a place where everyone is pretending that life is all good and God is blessing us, a place where we pretend that life isn't messy and dirty and that we're all clean and good.
I believe we misunderstand purity. We are pure, or clean because of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. He became human, entering this messed up world filled with dirt and filth to take it on his shoulders to the cross so that we might become clean or pure again. This allows us to be in this messy dirty world because we are washed clean by Jesus and as we follow him into the world out of our safe sanctuaries and worship places so closely that we get covered by the dust of his feet. We are able to enter into the chaos and uncleanness and bring forgiveness, acceptance, healing and hope as Jesus did knowing that because of Jesus we too can touch people and bring wholeness and cleanness in Jesus' name while remaining pure because our focus is all on Jesus and we know Jesus' blood and body keeps us clean. We follow Jesus into the messiness because we are loved by Jesus and we are working hard at our love for God and our neighbours, putting God's love for us into action towards others.
Jesus told us to go out into the world, not separate ourselves from the world, all so that we can make disciples of all nations. Being a disciple is all about making disciples; inviting others to follow Jesus with us so closely they too get covered by the dust of Jesus' feet.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Thanksgiving when there seems little to be thankful for

I love this time of year with the days getting cooler, the leaves changing colours, reminding me that God is definitely a wonderful artist. I enjoy the longer evenings and of course Thanksgiving Day. For my American friends, we celebrate Thanksgiving much earlier than you do, probably because our seasons change a little earlier than yours do.
Yet as I bumped into someone I haven't seen for a bit and we caught up on the last little while, she said something that made me pause. She said, "It must be hard for you to be thankful this year." Now I guess I can understand where she is coming from, after-all two of our children are going through divorce, my faithful pet dog Babette died a couple of weeks ago (see previous post), and then while doing some travelling on my sabbatical my car decided it had enough and I found myself stranded hundreds of kilometres from home and now we're new-to-me car shopping (basically looking for an old car that will last a few more years yet). These are a few of the events in the past few months only. I've also been doing a lot of self reflection on who I am as a follower of Jesus, as husband, father and pastor and that has often been hard too.
Yet I do feel thankful to God for the past year because it has made me focus a lot more on where I find my hope, my meaning and my joy in life. Certainly I grieve with the two of my children who are going through marriage break-ups because so many people and children are hurting, and though the other things are sad as well, yet I have also seen God provide in each situation, even if it's not the way I would have done it. I have had more talks and deeper talks with my adult children about God and life than I've had the opportunity for in the last number of years and my wife and I have seen or are seeing all our grandchildren this year and were able to show them they are loved by their parents and grandparents and that no matter what happens, God loves them even more. I have the privilege of being able to visit our oldest son and his family in a few weeks in order to participate in the baptism of their youngest daughter, our beautiful granddaughter.
I can see now, and have experienced how difficult times can do more for our walk with God than all the blessings of prosperity and health ever well because as a family we've become closer and have been able to show and express our love and support for each other in meaningful ways, but even more important, I've seen them turn to God even in their hurt and it's deepened my own faith as I try to walk alongside our children, pray for them, and as I talk with God, tell him that even if I don't understand the whys, I do trust him. I've been helped by a good friend and counsellor during my sabbatical to reflect on my personal relationship with God giving me greater insight into who I am and am becoming. Even though I had been stranded many hundreds of kilometres from home, I had made it to friends in Welland who were a huge blessing to me and helped me get on my way again. By the way, if you have a lead on a reliable car......... :)
While I don't wish for suffering and hurt, it doesn't frighten or bother me nearly as much now. Learning to trust God is all things also allows me to give thanks to him no matter what is happening all around me to even to me. Through it all I am never alone, God keeps reminding me that he is with me and my loved ones always. I have a wonderful church family who are supportive and loving too, another way God provides.
I don't wish suffering or difficult times for anyone, and yet I do pray that God shakes you up a bit in your lives to get you thinking and reflecting on what is really important to you and where your life's meaning comes from and may that be a time where you turn to God in a deeper relationship with him.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

God, love and actually saying it

As part of my sabbatical I'm sitting down with a counsellor to think through ministry and my calling as a pastor and who I am as a person. In our last meeting she asked me what God wanted from me and my go-to answer is obedience, faithfulness and dedication as a pastor. She kept pushing me until a light went off as I began to connect the dots between our conversation before and her question. The answer of course is that God wants my love. Kind of a duh moment for me, but I realised that I so often think about my relationship with God in terms of my calling as a pastor and not nearly enough in terms of my own personal relationship with God as a person, a child of his.
Do you remember in school when you would get the answer right and a warm glow of pride would go through you? That happened to me too :) I'm still kind of a kid at heart I guess. The problem was, my counsellor had another question waiting: sigh. This one got me too: how do you show God you love him? Again, my first thoughts revolve around doing, After all Paul tells us that love is an action word, something I keep reminding every couple who comes into my study wanting to get married. But somehow I knew that this wasn't the answer she was looking for. Finally the light bulb goes on again: I need to tell God I love him and it was then it struck me that I don't often stop and tell God, "I love you." I work at obedience, after-all Jesus said, "If you love me you will keep my commandments." I work at faithfulness, working at being the pastor and person God wants me to be, but I don't often say, "God, I love you."
It makes sense, at least to me, that I need to say these three words regularly. Yes, love is an action word and it shows in how I live, but when I fail to tell me wife, "I love you," on a regular basis, she starts to wonder what is wrong in our relationship. Being a guy, a Dutch guy, saying "I love you" doesn't seem to come so naturally to me, but my wife has taught me how important and powerful these three words are. When I talked to God later that afternoon, I said to him, "God, I love you, I know you know this, but my saying it reminds me of its truth." And that's kind of the point here, by saying those three words and hearing them come out of our mouths, we remind ourselves of the foundation of our relationship with God; he loved us first and desires our love in return. I encourage you the next time you take time to talk to God, begin with these words, "Hello God, I want you to know I love you." It will make you prayer time even more meaningful and special.