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Friday, 9 October 2015

Fruit of the Spirit: Peace

Peace, something so much of our world isn't experiencing right now. Peace is so much more than just the absence of conflict, though for many in places like Syria, that would be a wonderful beginning, peace is often about what's going on, or not going on inside us. I believe that much of the violence and war in our world is due to a lack of peace within those who embrace or engage in violence in order to gain what they hope will bring them peace inside.
I am often surprised at how many followers of Jesus lack inner peace and struggle with so many things inside and the ways it comes out in addictions, bitterness, anger, despair and lack of self love. I have found that many of those who cannot find peace find it difficult to trust God completely, find it hard to forgive others or themselves because they feel God is not fair and hasn't punished those who've hurt them sufficiently. Many struggle with worry about what lies ahead, others with selfishness because they want life to go their way instead of trusting in God when things don't turn out the way they want. I will confess that many of my times of inner struggle and unrest come when my trust in God's wisdom and work in my life becomes weak because they're not going the way I've wanted and planned for.
Some allow anger at others or at life in general to simmer inside because it gives them a feeling of righteousness, while others nurture bitterness as a way of affirming the injustice in life and are unable to forgive because they find it hard to confess their own sin and experience God's forgiveness. When stuff like this sits inside your heart, it poisons your spirit and soul, making it hard to seek peace or pursue because ultimately you've decided that God and Jesus is not enough for you and so you cannot find peace.
In Isaiah, there's a reference to a coming Prince of Peace whom we believe is Jesus Christ. I read a quote that says, "Peace does not come without sacrifice" and it struck me how true that is. Much of our lack of peace comes from our dysfunctional relationship with God that comes out in our lack of trust and refusal to allow Jesus to really shape our lives through his teaching, life and his sacrifice so that we might have peace with God. It took Jesus' sacrifice on the cross for our sin to bring that peace with God and bring about the events that culminated with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I've come to realize that at some point you need to choose to trust God, to trust that the Prince of Peace can and will give you his peace. You have to become so tired of your own stuff and come to a realization that by not submitting yourself completely to God you have only hurt yourself, prevented yourself from experiencing God's peace and have likely negatively impacted the peace of others too. The reality is that you live in community with others and who you are impacts others. Yet Jesus continues to offer you his peace; peace with God, peace within your own soul, peace with others as Jesus' peace soaks deep into your heart, soul and mind. God is faithful and wants nothing more than to have you experience his love, joy and peace. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

Joy, you would figure that anyone who calls their message the "Gospel" which means "Good News"would be the most joy-filled people around and yet this so often isn't the case. Go figure. Yet the most mature followers of Jesus I know all seem to have this sense of contentment and joy in life, which makes sense since joy is one part of the Fruit of the Spirit, a sign of maturity in life and in faith.
Joy is something wonderful but not always easy to experience or even to cultivate when life hasn't gone the way you have wanted or worked for. During times of deep sadness and distress, during times of loss or hurt or abuse, the idea of experiencing joy may even seem obscene. Yet joy is important and that it's important to know that it needs to be rooted in God, not your circumstances in life. Joy comes from knowing that God has saved you from a meaningless life that leads to nothingness, that he provides for you, protects you, chooses you as his child, and even loves you. This is the heart of the Gospel, this is the heart of Jesus' message and why he came. Joy is not so much a feeling as it is a confidence in life that no matter what is happening, you are not alone and it is not meaningless or pointless because it's shaping who you are as a person. Joy comes from knowing knowing God is with you no matter what is going on in your life, which allows even the most unhappy and even unjust circumstances to shape you into a more compassionate, and strong person more ready to reach out to others walking in their own hurts and time of injustice with understanding, support and grace. 
Hard times come and it's during those times that you discover how real your faith is and how much strength you receive from your faith because God is walking with you, reminding you through the Holy Spirit that you are not alone. When my sister died at 18, I was surprised that at her funeral that I could laugh at some of the memories that were shared. Yet it doesn't surprise me any longer because it happened with family and friends around in community, it happened with the words of Scripture reminding us that Toni is with the Lord, and it happened because I knew God was there and the sorrow would soften, never go away completely, but soften and God would not abandon us. I can say, looking back, that even at that terrible time, there was joy, not happy, but joy that showed up as a reassurance of God's love and compassion expressed through his people.
I'm reminded that joy comes from knowing and believing in Jesus as the Son of God, as our Redeemer and as our friend, and this leads to being filled with joy as Peter says in his first letter, "you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls."  Joy is closely tied to faith and hope because of our relationship with God, a way of approaching life and the world with a focus on Jesus Christ and our relationship with him. My joy is based on what Jesus has done for his people and his commitment to us, giving me the strength I need to live life well as a follower of Jesus no matter what my circumstances may be. May you live a joy-filled life.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Fruit of the Spirit: Love

There are 9 parts to the fruit of the Spirit and the first part is love. When you think about character and forming a Christian character within ourselves, it shouldn't come as a surprise that love is the first thing we should be working on. You can know lots about God and Jesus, you can know everything that your church stands for and believes about God, but if it's not shaped by love,  the rest is really meaningless, simply cold knowledge that will not change who you are as a person.
So how do you work on becoming more loving? 1 Corinthians 13 is a great place to start, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." When you look at how Paul describes love, what comes out is that love is based on who you are as a person rather than on a feeling. Love is about how you treat other people, not about how you feel about them, which explains how you can love even your enemies. Loving others is about having patience with them with kindness; it's about humility and being happy for them when things go well for them, Love doesn't take pleasure and doesn't participate in gossip, instead protecting others from being gossiped and spoken ill of by others. Love trusts in God, trusting that treating others this way gives God pleasure and honours God, all while resting in the hope we have as children of God. Finally, love never gives up, meaning you continue to act in these ways to others even if you get no benefit from it, and it doesn't change your relationship with them because it's not about you, it's about what God expects of you because of who you are as a follower of Jesus. 
Can you imagine the difference this would make in the minds and attitudes of those who are not followers of Jesus? It would make it more difficult to dismiss who God is if Jesus' followers were shaped by love instead of "being right." The true test of love is being able to see the image of God in the other person, no matter how different they are from you and embracing that image of God with love and respect. Imagine the changes in our communities if we all focused on loving the people there instead of trying to change them because we're working hard at changing ourselves more into the image of Jesus. Fear of others would begin to disappear and we would be able to have sincere relationships and conversations with those who see the world in profoundly different ways from us. Maybe we would change their fear of us and they might even come into our homes or visit our churches to see what it is that makes us so loving and meet the God of love who loves them unconditionally. 
In the end, this means trusting God that loving others, especially those whose values and lifestyles are radically different that ours, is how we become more Christ-like and that as we are changed into people of grace, that God will be honoured and the people God has placed in your lives will see your faith lived out, giving you opportunities to share with them why you follow Jesus.  

Friday, 11 September 2015

Spiritual Fruit: being ripe, tasty and at our best

It's been a while since I've posted and a lot has happened, including accepting a call to a new church effective November 1. I've also had the pleasure of serving part time as a chaplain for the Ministry to Seafarers at the Port of Montreal and with everything going on, I began to think a lot about how important our character is, who we are inside, in being a follower of Jesus. During my time as a chaplain at the port, we as staff spent time this past winter and spring talking about being shaped by the Holy Spirit into the people God has created us to be. We focused a lot on character because ministry is as much about who we are as it is about what we do.
Paul's image of the Holy Spirit's influence on us as being like ripe mature fruit really struck me, especially now with it being harvest time. I bought an avocado yesterday that was not quite ripe and it was rather tasteless, while last week we had bananas that became over ripe, and while you could still use  them in banana bread, they were rather unappealing to look at and kind of gross to handle because they were so mushy, and then there were those bothersome fruit flies that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I began to think that Paul was rather clever in comparing our spiritual life in the Holy Spirit to being like fruit; we can be ripe, tasty, and at our best when we focus on developing the various aspects of being fruity in the Spirit, or we can be tasteless or bitter because we're unripe, or rather mushy and gross if we become overly ripe; either way we become very unappealing to the world around us, making it much more difficult for the people in our lives to see and know God's grace and the love of Jesus for them.
So over the next while, I hope to do some reflecting on what Paul describes as the Fruit of the Spirit and invite you to join me in that reflecting. I thank the other members of the Ministry to Seafarers and I'm sure you'll see some of your thoughts and words here over the next while as I've learned much from you on how to be ripe fruit in the Spirit: Thanks!

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

more on grace

The other evening in our discipleship group we talked about grace. Defining grace wasn't necessarily easy, but each person understood what grace is, even if they didn't have the words, because each time they experienced grace from someone, whether God or someone around them, they knew exactly what it was. As I've thought about our discussion and stories from that evening over the past couple of days, I noticed a recurring theme: grace was an active response or approach to them at specific times or in specific moments. Grace always built them up, helped them to experience God's love and presence, allowed them to feel hope or acceptance.
Grace is not passive, it's an engagement into the lives of people, or the events around you, speaking or acting in ways that creates an atmosphere or presence where others are lifted up and community is strengthened. Grace is the giving of respect and honour, it is acts of love.
Grace is powerful in our time because of how often un-grace is shown. Living at a time where the internet and social media are so powerful and shaming is more and more common, grace is becoming a counter cultural way of living and relating to each other.
God is the source of grace. God fills our world and lives with grace. Our role is to allow God's grace to flow through us into the world around us. But it's more than just allowing grace to flow through us, as followers of Jesus, it's about actively looking for ways to offer grace and to fight for grace so that our families, our churches and our communities become places of grace.

Monday, 4 May 2015

What does grace look like?

It's amazing how quickly time goes by. I just realized how long it's been since I posted here. Life gets busy and some things get put to the side, for this past couple of months it's been the blog. Good Friday and Easter have gone by and over that time I've been reflecting on what grace looks like. When I read through Scripture, grace shows up as the big theme of God's relationship with us: forgiveness that we don't deserve and cannot earn, along with adoption into a world and life changing family. Yet as I read through facebook, many Christian magazines and blogs, I wonder why grace is so often missing in our relationships with the world around us and with each other in the Christian family. What worries me the most is how ungracious behaviour within the church is justified: "we're in a culture war," "we need to stand up for what is right and denounce evil," "we need to protect the Christian faith which is under attack from government, society," or whatever opponent you might choose to fit in here. Strong language that separates people into "us" and "them" is used so often, especially in the debates concerning sexuality issues. The debate about gay and lesbian Christians in the church has seldom been grace-filled with a concern for those who are trying to figure out how to be gay and Christian and walking with them in love. Then there is the area of politics where faith and politics get mixed together in some strange and unhealthy and graceless ways and there is actual doubt cast about opponent's faith simply because they see how society might be better than things are now. Too often we create gods and demons rather than see people trying to figure out faith, God, church and life. Where has the grace gone that invites people into a closer relationship with God; that models the love of neighbour and God?
I'm not saying we cannot believe in right and wrong, there is right and wrong ways of living according to the Bible, there are right and wrongs ways of relating to God, but I am saying we need to be much more humble and aware of our own brokenness and sin first and perhaps we will be more quick to offer grace as a starting point in a relationship rather than fear or anger. If our starting points are our differences, how can we get to the place where we recognize each other as image bearers of God, sons and daughters of the king, and the bride of the bridegroom? 
Our example of how to speak and relate to each other, no matter our differences, is Jesus whose harshest words were for the most righteous because of their lack of grace. Jesus lived out grace by being among and with the disgraced and sinners and inviting them to follow him. The story of the woman caught in adultery has asterisks around it because it's not in the earliest manuscripts, but I believe the story made it into the Bible because it shows grace and how to address sin with grace. Jesus first protects against the woman from the most righteous of the righteous, picks her up from the ground, tells her he does not condemn her and then says, "Now go and sin no more." This is grace, may we learn to be more grace-filled as followers of Jesus. 

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Confessing to one another

Confession; what a heavy word. It's a scary word in many ways, a call to air out the dirty places inside us, a call to be vulnerable with someone else. This is not normal today, we're so focused on our privacy, so focused on how we appear to others, that confession goes against most of what we believe is good and healthy for us. Yet the Bible calls us to confess our sins to one another and to pray for each other so that we might be healed. This is soul sickness healing, but I believe it also is a part of physical healing because our souls and bodies are intertwined with each other, and part of finding healing within our communities.
I have been blessed to have a couple of fellow pastors that I have held myself accountable to, safe people to confess to. I searched these people out after reading Bonhoeffer's Life Together where he writes that real repentance and change only comes when we confess our sins to someone else. I didn't want to accept this for myself at first because it's scary to be so open and vulnerable with someone else, and yet as I reflected on my relationship with God and others in my life, I began to see the wisdom and blessing of confession. Too often confession is general, "forgive me for the wrong I've done and the things I've left undone." Big deal, what has really been confessed, what exactly have you done wrong and what steps are you going to take to not do this wrong again? So you left something undone, what is it and what are you going to do about it? General confession doesn't call you to change, specific confession does. Confessing specific sins to God is good and healthy, but when you confess them to someone else, God gives you someone to kick you in he behind to actually do the change that repentance is supposed to be about.
This is where wisdom comes in, you need to be wise in who you choose to confess to, someone who is mature and strong in their own relationship with God, someone who can keep their mouth shut. There is too much holy gossip in prayer requests in the Christian community. You then need to approach this person and be clear in what you are asking of them, to be your confessor and to hold you accountable for real repentance. Over time, these relationships often become a place of mutual confession as trust and blessing grows. Asking God to lead you to such a person is the best place to begin. I believe with Bonhoeffer that when this person forgives you, you also are forgiven through this person by God and the whole community. This allows us to face life as God wants us to, with the experience of forgiveness and grace, but also with someone who is holding us accountable for real change, for doing the hard work of reconciliation and restoration.
The more private you are in your sin, the more likely you will never really experience the hope, the forgiveness and the change that God desires to make in you.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Running away

I read somewhere last week that the Bible is all about people running away from God. It got me thinking, especially about my own life. My mother accused me of always wanting to run away, probably because at 17 I dropped out of school to sail with the navy and to get away from everything for a while and figure out some things in my head and heart. Even when I came back home again, I was always looking to leave, trying to find ways to go somewhere else. I always attributed this to having itchy feet, not wanting to set down roots but wanting to see the world and try different things. Now when I married my wife, she wanted to keep her roots in Thunder Bay, our hometown and I kind of went, "Oh no!" The joke in our home is that I brought God into leaving Thunder Bay again by following his call into ministry.
The thing is, as I look back, I was running away from my roots because I often felt I didn't fit in. I was a dreamer in a culture that was focused on the practical, I loved theater and the stage because I could lose myself in other peoples' lives and ways of interpreting the world around me. Part of it was also a running away from God because I wasn't sure I could live up to who he wanted me to be, and because I often felt the the world of faith was too small and restrictive.
Yet as I think back, I can see that no matter where I went, no matter how much running I did, whether physically or in my head and heart, God was always right there using this urge to run to help me see how big he is and how big the world of the Christian faith really is. In running away, I was always running to something else. I needed to figure out what I was running to. In some ways I'm still running away, not from a place, but from ways of understanding and seeing God that keep God small and ineffective and I am running towards a way of understanding God that allows me to see him as the God whose ways are not my ways, as the God who holds all creation in his hands and yet who became one of us. I ran from seeing God only in the church and through words, to seeing a God who is at work in the world bringing hope, justice, forgiveness, grace and more, and who calls us to join him in his work. To a God who is greater and more wonderful than I can ever imagine; and I have a pretty amazing imagination!
I've been part of the Ministry to Seafarers (M2S) for about a month and a half and  I am working with a wonderful team that has been helping me learn how to see God working in the lives of seafarers, even if we only get to connect with them for a couple of hours, or even minutes at a time. The team at M2S has reminded me that we are part of a greater network of centers around the world from many different Christian traditions that are engaged in the same ministry; and even though we may never meet each other, God is working through all of us to be his presence in the lives of the seafarers. I've had some pretty cool conversations with men who worship God from various Christian traditions and am learning to appreciate their faith and ways of understanding God.
In our church we are fellow-shipping with a growing number of people in our community who are from various Christian and cultural traditions who are interested in who we are and perhaps becoming part of our church family and I realize that they are also helping me gain a bigger picture of who God is and how he is working as I get to hear their stories of who they are and how God has brought them here.
Are you running away; where are you running to? If you're reading this, likely you know Jesus in some way and I invite you to try running towards Jesus and God. No matter where you run, God is there, so invite him to run with you and show you more of who he is and he'll bring you to the place you've been running to.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Je suis Charlie?

"Je suis Charlie," the new rallying cry for freedom of speech and a declaration of freedom from fear of terrorism. As a Quebecer, I resonate with emotions of our French brothers and sisters across the ocean even though my French is horrible and I grew up an anglophone from Ontario. Yet I wonder at the same time, can I really say "Je suis Charlie?" I ask this because of the nature of the Charlie Hebdo magazine. It's a smaller satirical magazine with the goal to be provocative, and provocative it is. All faiths, all politicians, all subjects are fair game for their sarcastic and deliberately provocative cartoons and articles. In some ways, this attack was not unexpected as the magazine has been threatened in the past, but it was still terrifying and simply evil.
But now I sit here reflecting on all that has occurred, looking at the newest cover of this week's edition with a cartoon of Muhammad holding a sign saying "Je suis Charlie" with the caption "Tout est pardonne" meaning "All is forgiven," and I wonder about it. The goal is not to provoke Muslims according to the editor, but it is going to provoke simply by portraying Muhammad in cartoon form and declaring all is forgiven will not lessen the provocation because the ones who carried out the attack are not seeking forgiveness, but are seeking justice according to their version of Islam.
Words and images are powerful and say much more than we often intend once it leaves our desks and enters the public consciousness. With such power, I believe words and images need to be used wisely. Jesus is called the "Word" by John; a sign of the power Jesus holds and the words he spoke. Jesus was also condemned by his own words, misapplied by the witnesses, and led to his death. Martin Luther King Jr used words well and wisely and they also led to his death because words can inspire others for justice and change within a society and the values it holds, but at the same time we've seen the misuse of words to inspire others to acts of terror and evil. With such power can we honestly say we believe in the right of complete freedom to say what we want without the responsibility that rights come with of using wisdom to use words and images in ways that build up a community and culture rather than tearing others down?
As a Christian, I know that I cannot put my values onto a magazine that lives and works within an intensely secular, and often extremely anti-religious culture, but at the same time I believe that Christians do need to at least raise the questions in the public forum of what is a society's responsibility to affirm the legitimacy of the others' faith and how they practice it when it does not infringe on anyone else's sensibilities, such as the Muslim's prohibition on portraying their prophet in images. I believe a strong society is marked by respect and honouring each other. Satire has its place, I've been known to be a bit sarcastic at times myself, but you can provoke a discussion without crossing the line into hurtful and disrespectful sarcasm. But it takes someone to begin to talk about it and raise the issue into public realm. People are talking about this now, last night on the metro (subway), I overheard three university students talking about this very thing.
Freedom of speech: Yes! But with wisdom and the desire to build a strong unified and yet diverse society guiding how it is practiced. Just my few words.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

sharing what you believe

This past week has been full and exciting as I am now a half-time pastor and half-time chaplain for the Ministry to Seafarers here in Montreal. It's with a bit of trepidation that I take on this new chapter for the next 8 months. There is always the concern for my family as both positions are ministry oriented and if you are in ministry, you don't just shut off because you're not physically present; you stay engaged and now I'm engaged in two places.
But even in this first week, one major difference has jumped out at me: as a pastor, mostly people seek me out for conversations about God, about faith and spirituality and with all that goes on in ministry in a church, I find I don't engage in much intentional going out and inviting others into a relationship with God. However, as a chaplain I'm the one doing the seeking out, going to the seafarers to engage them in conversations about God, faith and spirituality. The end goal is the same: that people come to know God and are invited to accept Jesus' invitation to follow him, yet the way it's done is completely different in approach. It's also reminded me that we call our congregations to be like chaplains, to seek out others to make disciples of others as they walk the road of discipleship themselves. It's not easy and I've already gained a huge appreciation for other chaplains and for what I've been encouraging my congregation to do.
Yet it is also not as frightening as I first thought. My identity is as a child of God and just like I invite others into my home for a meal, or to a movie, I find that making disciples is mostly about extending an invitation to come along my own walk with God. This makes it much less intimidating and oriented to building a relationship and planting seeds rather than feeling it's all on me. There will be many opportunities to also water these seeds and seeds other chaplains or people have planted by sharing my story of faith and the Biblical stories of Jesus and God's relationship with humanity, and finally, I pray that I might also see harvest times. Yet it is the Holy Spirit doing that, I'm here, and so are you, to do the farming. May your planting, watering and harvesting be blessed greatly.