Monday, December 29, 2008

IN THE LIVING ROOM WITH THE LION & THE LAMB

Restorative Justice (RJ) is not a program, but a way of looking at crime. It can be defined as a response to crime that focuses on restoring the losses suffered by victims, holding offenders accountable for the harm they have caused, and building peace within communities.[i]


Karen was sexually abused as a child. Now in her fifties, she sat in the chair across from me and told her story. Decades had passed without resolving the tension adequately with her father. As a grown woman, she was able to instantly lock into her feelings of betrayal from a daddy forever stuck in the past.

Her new friend Wayne sat on the couch to the left listening attentively with somber reflection. He had served time in prison for abusing his own children. He had not seen his own wife or children for a few years. Here was a troubled man wanting to examine his heart to understand why he had failed so horribly.

As they recounted their experiences and asked each other the tough questions, I saw understanding grow as both discovered a landscape not marked by history and fear. Karen was able to see a picture of remorse in Wayne. He was able to see the horrible impact that another had made on Karen. Both caught sight of what their lives could become beyond the offenses.

I was transfixed as I saw two people communicate fearlessly. They were both able to sit and listen without becoming defensive. A holiness settled into the living room. For a few moments, we experienced the lion and the lamb at peace together. What if Karen had this opportunity with her own father? What if Wayne were able to be make peace with his family?

Imagine a new reality where a toddler can play with a cobra and not be bitten. Picture a wolf falling asleep next to a lamb or a lion resting by a calf. Isaiah saw a vision of a time when there would be peace between perpetrators and victims.[ii]

The trigger for changed nature is found in the arrival of the Messiah.

‘They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.’[iii]

Jesus’ mission includes restoring safety to relationships. The violent will experience a peace that removes their need to devour and destroy. The timid and defenseless will live fearlessly alongside the powerful. The presence of Jesus is transformative.

In our lives, the knowledge of the Lord does not fill the earth. But occasional glimpses and moments of knowing break through like sunlight in a wintry, overcast sky. Karen and Wayne caught a glimpse and felt the warmth of what Jesus wants to do in their lives.

There is a great place of restorative justice to be established in the community of faith. We can find that place and we can invite others to live there.





[i] Restorative Justice In Canada, p.1, http://www.crcvc.ca/docs/restjust.pdf
[ii] Isaiah 11:6-8
[iii] Isaiah 11:9

Saturday, December 27, 2008

HE SIPPED THE AIR GENTLY LIKE HOT TEA

Last night while you slept, I heard you speaking in tongues.’ These were the words of my eighty-five year old room-mate Marshall Ruthven. It was not the first time I had spoken in tongues. But it was the first time I became aware of speaking in tongues while I slept.

Marshall was my room-mate for two weeks in 1987. He came to Markham Pentecostal Church and asked the senior pastor Dean Skinner if he could go visiting door-to-door throughout the neighborhood.

As a ‘twenty-something’ single youth pastor, I was in my second year of ministry and still figuring out how to serve God faithfully as a pastor. God had been dealing with me in those days to help me overcome my fear of failure and need for approval. I wanted to serve God with all my heart but was having difficulty figuring out church life.

So God sent an old man to share meals and sleep in the bed on the other side of the room. I discovered that old men sound differently when they sleep. While younger people breathe slow and deep, he sipped the air gently like hot tea.

Somehow, he was awake in the night and heard a skinny preacher kid praying in tongues. I didn’t know that I was that spiritual, considering that I was single, full of hormones and socially insecure. Here was an original Pentecostal pioneer noting that ‘I had it’. My two weeks with Marshall taught me much about trusting God and not paying attention to the accolades of my peers.

During his twenties, Marshall was born again. He left his successful business career as a machinist and responded to God’s call in his life to plant churches.

First, he built a trailer that he could haul behind a truck. The trailer was a portable church on wheels and included his family living quarters.

When he pulled into a town that lacked a Pentecostal church, he would seek permission to park his trailer. Then he would unfold the trailer to reveal a modest church building on wheels.

Next, he would go door-to-door in the community introducing himself. He would tell people about Jesus until some of them believed. With a handful of new believers he would start a church. When he felt it was time to move on, he would secure a pastor to move into the community and the church would find a new place to meet. Marshall and his family would pack up the trailer and go find another town needing a new church.

He planted 37 churches throughout Western Canada and the Western States. He never collected a pay cheque. He had even been a missionary to the Doukhobors, Russian immigrants who had settled communally in Canada. They did not believe in government interference in their lives and protested in unusual ways. They were pacifists who took off all their clothes to note their disagreement with government policies.

Marshall held services for the Doukabours where some of them showed up naked.

Eventually, Marshall and his wife lived in Shepherd’s Village, a retirement community in the Toronto area. He never truly retired and that is why we had him in Markham for a couple weeks.

All of his adult Christian life, he had gone door-to-door every day. An average day would cover 150 homes. When someone answered the door, they were met by a white-haired, small-framed gentleman in a black suit.

“Hello, my name is Marshall Ruthven and I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness. I’m a retired preacher visiting your neighborhood and I wonder if I could speak with you for a few minutes.”

He did this every day. It always led to praying with a half-dozen people and some began a relationship with Jesus. The sight of Marshall at your door was charming, disarming and intriguing.

He was a simple man who came to visit with one suit of clothes. All he asked the pastor for was a bed to sleep in, a meal and the opportunity to bring along anyone who wanted to learn about evangelism. We were not the only church to take him in. Or perhaps we were taken in by the sight of a real-life pioneer…

In following him around the neighborhood, I learned the high value of being yourself. I learned the importance of going forward following Jesus without worry about daily provision. I learned that the Kingdom of God grows when people get crazy ideas and apply themselves wholeheartedly to following the dream.

May God raise up more ‘compassion entrepreneurs’ who are willing to go to the ends of the earth without a pay cheque.
©2008 Kevin Rogers

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

DEAR JESUS LETTERS

Merrill is one of our Sunday School teachers for Grades 3, 4 and 5. He's in his early 60's and never had children of his own, but has grown to be a great teacher. In keeping with the Christmas theme, he came up with the idea of asking the kids to write a letter to Jesus.

"Dear Jesus, What I really need this Christmas is..."

When kids are writing to Santa to say what they want, Merrill got them to focus on something more substantial.

With drawings included, one boy wrote 'What I really need this Christmas is love, care, family, friends and food.'

A girl wrote 'What I really need this Christmas is warm weather, war to end, no more bullying, love, family, friends and God.'

Another boy wrote 'What I really need this Christmas is my mom to feel better and money.'

When I was in Grade 1, my dad pastored a little storefront church in Southampton, Ontario. To make ends meet he worked at a local dairy. The problem was, it wasn't always enough to make the ends meet.

Just before Christmas 1968 he sat me down and explained that he did not have enough money to buy big presents for Christmas. It wasn't until I became a dad that I understood how emotional that could have been for him.

So, he said we would pray. And we did.

The very next day, a large box arrived from a supporting church in another community. There were many items of clothing, but more importantly there were a few small toys for my sisters and I.

That was the year of the red firetruck! It was the year that I learned that God answers my prayers.

Let's remember that childlike faith is not childish. It is eternal and sets the example for how we are to be towards our Heavenly Father.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

TONGUES OF MEN AND MONKEYS

When I’m communicating and thinking, I experience a visualization of the words running through my head. Like a message board or sub-titles on a movie, I can see the words I say go by on my mental screen. If I’m listening, it’s not as intense. I will have certain words I hear appear in my head for emphasis.

I think it developed as a learning tool when I was in school and trying to reiterate what I was taught. As a result of this inner thought process, it’s easy for me to spell correctly 99.9% of the time. I often remember names, locations and phone numbers. I recently bumped into someone I met eleven years ago. He had done some work on the church building at that time. Though I had not had any contact for many years, I remembered his last name when he was reintroduced to me.

What mental tools do you have to keep track of information? Can you remember childhood phone numbers, names of teachers, people you briefly met or otherwise useless trivia? How did you learn and memorize the times tables?

Throughout history people have realized the need to remember their story, their battles, laws, recipes and songs. Animals also have some ways to identify and mark, but without the inventiveness and complexity of humans. Men write encyclopedias and dogs pee on trees.

Animal lovers may disagree, but I believe that my thinking is higher than the thoughts of my two cats combined. Perhaps that may seem arrogant but I’m willing to put it to a test. I am certain that I’m smarter. Lovers of humanity might also think it arrogant and bawk at the idea that God’s thoughts are higher than ours. But, God is certain that His thoughts are higher. Many have also come to that conclusion.

My cats and I have limited communication but we seem to understand enough to co-exist peacefully. I’m able to signal them in ways that help them understand good and bad behavior, love and affection and time to eat.

Project Koko is the longest inter-species communications project ever attempted. Doctor Penny Patterson began the study to teach gorillas how to use sign language to communicate with humans.


Koko, a female lowland gorilla born in 1971, and Michael, a male lowland gorilla born in 1973, use sign language and understand spoken English. Koko's participation in this study began when she was one year old, and Michael's at the age of three and one-half. Their intellectual, physical, and linguistic development has been studied extensively since their infancy. Before Project Koko, very little was known about gorilla intelligence.
During the course of the study, Koko has advanced further with language than any other non-human. Koko has a working vocabulary of over 1000 signs. Koko understands approximately 2,000 words of spoken English. Koko initiates the majority of conversations with her human companions and typically constructs statements averaging three to six words. Koko has a tested IQ of between 70 and 95 on a human scale, where 100 is considered "normal." Michael, the male silverback gorilla who grew up with Koko, had a working vocabulary of over 600 signs.


The inside jacket of a Daniel Amos album[i] has a picture of Koko with the text below saying:

MAN: Describe an earthquake.
GORILLA (Sign Language): Darn Floor – Big Bite
GOD: Describe Me.
MAN: A Roaring Lion and a Consuming Fire.

So, how does the Eternal One, Creator of the Universe, Supreme Spirit and Omniscient One speak to humanity? What signals does God use to help us understand what we need to do?

In spite of our limitation, God has chosen to communicate to us in the form of Holy Scripture. By imparting His thoughts through chosen humans, there is a history of God communicating in ways that we can understand.

The Scriptures have a profound effect on all who receive the embedded messages. The Apostle Paul had devoted his life to study and memorize the Law and the Prophets. Out of his emergence as a follower of Jesus Christ came new writings which became Holy Scripture to guide the emerging Church. He advised his protégé Timothy:

2 Timothy 3:
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The Scriptures were part of Timothy’s spiritual formation from a young age. The Word of God opened his understanding to put faith in Jesus to save him.

Paul said that all Scripture is God-breathed. In other words, the life of God is imparted through the words. Scripture is useful to teach, rebuke, correct and train humans in ways that God wants us to be. There is a completeness in the Scriptures that guides us in how to be good.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

THE TROUBLE WITH US AND THEM

Remember ‘Watch The Lamb’, ‘I Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb’ and ‘Thank You’? Singer/Songwriter Ray Boltz came out of the closet last December. The gospel singer who sold 4 ½ million albums has divorced his wife and begun dating men.[i]

Youth drama teams and dowel rod presentations will never be the same. We need a new Christian hero for our young people to follow. Ray is now ‘one of those’.

I must confess that I feel really bad for Ray. I tend to believe the best in people and am inclined to think he believed Jesus would take away his homosexual desires. But at 55 years old after preaching the gospel for over two decades, he has chosen to give up and follow his instincts.

Perhaps we might believe that he is no longer ‘one of us’. I suspect he still is and needs Jesus now more than ever. We have lost brothers and sisters from the limelight, from the local church and from our own families. We need a new way of looking at ‘us and them’.

Ray was confused (or not so confused) for many years about his sexual identity. The only way for us to really know what’s going on would be to talk to him.

Perhaps Ray is a picture of many churches who have been confused about their spiritual identity. We call ourselves community churches, but paint caricatures of what the sinful community is trying to do to us. We call ourselves family churches and stand by helplessly when our families disintegrate. We say one thing but feel helpless to live out a pure vision of the church.

If we are to discover our identity, it will be found in Jesus who associated with the social and religious outcasts of his day. To be a Christian church will be to define sinners the way he did. He said there were sheep and goats, wheat and tares. And both would co-exist until the end of time when God would sort out who’s who. In other words, we are supposed to live with the tension of contrary influences. I think Jesus thinks we might learn diplomacy, tolerance or even loving acceptance of sinful people. (But I could be wrong).

Did we ever have a high place in the community? Were there really good, old days when everyone in town was going to church and behaved themselves throughout the week?

Regaining identity in the community is a moot point. It assumes that we had a place that we are trying to get back to. We do not need to return to former glories as much as we need to embrace the pre-church living on our borders. Who are the broken-hearted that we can bind up? Who needs us to visit them because they are unable to get to us? What good news do we have for the poorest, the confused and the unwelcomed?

I know I should add the appropriate disclaimers about gospel singers coming under a stricter judgment, expelling the immoral brother and that homosexuality is a sin. Some cannot read on unless I do that.

But what’s the difference between Ray Boltz backsliding and a church that would close its doors to sinners? I’m not the Judge, but I want to make sure there are a few goats and weeds in close proximity to me when the last trumpet sounds.

I want the church I pastor in to co-exist all week with broken sinners of every description -- hanging around and being confused by love. Imagine if the only way people knew Jesus, was to see the abounding love that the church has for sinners of every stripe. And what if that love was so transformative, that sinners became saints living their lives surrendered as Jesus-imitators.

The trouble with ‘us and them’ is it keeps ‘us’ from knowing ‘them’. You cannot be truly Pentecostal without a Spirit-born compulsion to reach ‘the untold millions’. How far away are they? Across the ocean or across the room?

Jesus cast out demons and told us to love our enemies. Sadly, we sometimes cast out sinners and demonize our enemies.

I believe our identity as a church will be characterized by love when we emulate the Jesus of the gospels. I believe he is in the midst of that church. Lord find us faithful.

©2008 Kevin Rogers

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

THE LONELINESS OF LONERS

What is loneliness?

  • Loneliness is having your closest friends miles away with no one else to share your pain or joy.
  • Loneliness is trying to establish a meaningful, romantic relationship with a stranger in a chat room because real people do not take notice of you.
  • Loneliness is missing a few days at work and having no-one notice.
  • Loneliness is that deep, hollow feeling that says, ‘My opinions are not important to anyone.’
  • Loneliness is staying at home when the one you want is out with someone else.
  • Loneliness is wondering which your friends are really friends, and which are just trying to use you.


Psalm 25:15-17 (New International Version)

15 My eyes are ever on the LORD,
for only he will release my feet from the snare.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.

17 The troubles of my heart have multiplied;
free me from my anguish.

Monday, December 8, 2008

CLEAR BLUE

I do not consider myself to be the epitome of environmentalism, but I'm making changes. I enjoy organizing my blue boxes every couple weeks. Being a pastor, you often do work that never seems to have an end. But recycling is easy to sort and send. Not so with people.

I have a new car coming in a couple weeks. We're trading the Ford van for a Toyota Prius Hybrid. We are going from family van to eco-hatchback getting 72 mpg in the city. We made the decision when gas prices where cresting at $1.39 per liter. After we made the deposit gas prices dropped considerably, but I still feel good about going hybrid. Partly because I can contribute to a cleaner environment and burn less fossil fuel.

But there's a more selfish reason - instead of being the taxi service for our kids, we'll have to say, "Oh, I'm sorry... we don't have room in our car for all your friends. Do you think their parents could drive this time?" (I know, I know.. we're supposed to go the extra mile!)

Anyway, here's a song I wrote which combines my lament and longing for a new earth. It's called 'Clear Blue'.

Nature Has A Habit Of Decay
You Can Smell It On The Cloak
Time Burns Down Like A Cigarette
And We Are Standing In Second Hand Smoke
Grey Sky Shines On Yellow Skin
Black Lung Collapses Under Crushing Wait
And The Dying City Gathers
So Many Smokers At The Gate

And I Am Running Out Of Time
And I Remember Blue Sky

I Remember When Water Was Pure
We Could Swim And We Could Drink
Then A Broken Branch From The Tree Of Knowledge
Fell Into Our Lake
The Clouds Came Down With Acid Rain
And It Poisoned Everything
So We Lay Beneath The Tree
Where We Rolled And Smoked The Leaves

And I Am Running Out Of Time
And I Remember Blue Sky

My Love Hold On
The Wind Will Blow These Clouds Away
In A Moment Everything Will Change
And We'll See Blue Skies Again

©2003

Sunday, December 7, 2008

GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER?

At the Lord's Table, there was a betrayer named Judas. The devil entered him and caused him to participate in the ambush of Jesus Christ. But Judas was not previously seen as a dangerous man. He was chosen by Jesus and publicly followed the Master.


Sometimes we think of him as being darker than most and wonder where his motivation came from.

The truth is Judas was filled with the religious pride characteristic of his day. He characterized the common religious leadership of his day. He was in collusion with the chief priests and elders. He conspired with them even though he belonged to Jesus’ followers.

He gave up the power and love of Jesus for the security and control of religion.

Mark 14:
53 They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together.
54 Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire.
55 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any.
56 Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.
57 Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him:
58 "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.' "
59 Yet even then their testimony did not agree.

This religious attitude is recognizable for these characteristics:

  1. · They all came together. They ganged up in their effort to find a reason to destroy Jesus. We need to be wary of religious posses who want to rally against a perceived threat.
  2. · Many testified falsely against him. There are many who are willing to settle for half-truths and lies if it leads to the outcome they desire.
  3. · They do not even agree with each other. They were united in their hatred for Jesus but disagreed over the facts. Hatred and fear have a tendency to unite people at the expense of truth.
  4. · Traitors like Judas are sometimes rewarded by the religious proud.
In the 23rd Psalm the writer said the Lord prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies.

Jesus prepared a table knowing that the enemy was present. He prepared the table for the ones who followed and for the one who would betray.

We need to realize that amongst Christ’s followers there is nothing good about pride or religious superiority. When we encounter self-righteous and arrogant people at the Lord’s table, we must follow the example of the Master.

He took the bread and broke it. He gave it to all and said this is my body which is broken for you. He lifted the cup and said it was the New Covenant in His blood. Drink it memory of Him.

When we are discouraged by others at the table, let’s look to Jesus. He did not refuse love to his betrayer. He fed him and included him at the table right to the end. Let us not rush to self-righteously attack our brother or sister when they are influenced by the devil. Jesus did not give up on any sinner. Even from the cross he asked for God’s forgiveness on them.

Do they really not know what they are doing? Jesus said it. Traitors and backstabbers do not understand the spiritual wickedness that controls them.
©2008 Kevin Rogers

Friday, December 5, 2008

INNER CITY GRACE


Grace, It's A Name For A Girl
It's Also A Thought That Changed The World
And When She Walks On The Street You Can Hear The Strings
Grace Finds Goodness In Everything
Grace – Lyrics by Bono of U2
© 2000 Universal International Music BV.


Sunday morning I will open God’s Book and read the words that turn the world upside down. God’s Spirit will be hard at work looking for ears that hear. With clarity and purpose He will say the things that I cannot say.

I watch faces and remember their labels. Adulterer, thief, liar, homosexual, arrogant one, failure… Seated next to Down’s Syndrome, manic-depressive, schizophrenic, physically challenged… worshipping alongside sinner, saint, home-schooler, ex-con, contractor, homeless, lawyer, jobless…

Grace speaks and I am reminded that this morning they are my family and we bear striking resemblances. A few of the healthier ones are sound asleep in their chairs or giving me a smiling, blank look. Grace clears her throat and I get back to work.

This is a place where loners can congregate, liars can tell the truth and the burned out can find a new wick. I am an empty vessel and they call me ‘Pastor’. Maybe they should call me ‘Beggar’ for I need their company as much as they need mine. We look into each other’s eyes and we know the simple truth… beggars for God’s Mercy -- Homeless drifters on this planet looking for God’s City.

Tuesday, I’ll head into the office. I will sit at my desk and try to be an administrator. I have emails to send, calls to make, letters to write and big thoughts to think. Today, I am ‘The Pastor’ and I will be efficient.

Grace is my secretary, but she won’t let me obey my Day-Timer. She lets the strangest people into my workspace to interrupt me. Somehow she lets their calls get through that I wanted to leave for a more convenient time. Doesn’t Grace know that I have an agenda? I get frustrated with her, but she always finds goodness in everything. Some days I wish that Grace wasn’t here. Why if we had more money, we could hire Martha full-time. But Grace has an amazing way of covering my mistakes and turning the office into a holy place.

Grace finds good in everything, even failures. She always said that no-one was bad enough for us to kick out of this church, but last week I had to discipline an adulterous couple. With Grace in tow, I went and asked the man to stay away from the church until he was ready to make things right with the family that he had hurt. He cursed me, claimed to be Grace’s brother. Then he kicked me off his property.

This week he called me and the anger is becoming anguish. First defensive, then attentive -- his hollow gaze longing to be filled with Jesus or a good, stiff drink. Maybe next week he will prove that he is Grace’s brother and we will work on restoration. Until he turns, Jesus dogs him. The hound of heaven howls at him. Man’s best Friend is unleashed and follows the lonely sinner on his crooked path. Grace approves. She knows how to balance justice and mercy. She doesn’t forget names or faces.

Before I arrived in Windsor to start this church, I had visions of what she might look like. I remember talking to a young man from a small town church who told me about the homosexual desires that were eating him from the inside out. When he frequented bars looking for a friend, he noted that several establishments had ‘Happy Hour’. It was a time given to patrons to forget about their cares and be together for a party. This struggling, young man looked at me and said, “I wish that church was like Happy Hour. I would love to be accepted and know that I could forget about my cares for awhile. And I wish church had ‘Honest Hour’ when I could tell people the truth and experience their love instead of their condemnation.”

Having left my middle-class church roots to be a missionary-pastor in the inner city, I have discovered that God’s Grace finds good in everything. Jesus said that the poor would always be with us. Somehow I think He meant that they should always be with us.

I have discovered that the poor have Honest Hour. They wear their weakness on their sleeve and I have learned to touch the hem of their garment. Beggar clothes, much like mine.

It’s Honest Hour for the Church and it is Happy Hour. Tonight Grace is behind the bar and drinks are on the house… and the intoxicating Spirit of God fills us with warmth and cheer. Grace throws a great party where everyone is welcome.

As Pentecostals, let’s not forget our roots were among the poor and marginalized. Azuza St. was a dumpy barn. Revival came into an environment that broke down barriers of race and social standing. We should always have the poor with us for they are our teachers and the members deserving special honour.

God gives Grace to the humble. She knows what to do with them.
James 2:3-4
3 and you make a lot of fuss over the rich man and give him the best seat in the house and say to the poor man, "You can stand over there if you like or else sit on the floor"-well, 4 judging a man by his wealth shows that you are guided by wrong motives.
TLB



©2001 Rev Kevin Rogers

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