Saturday, February 28, 2009

FISHING FOR ANSWERS

I am not a fisherman. Approximately every three to five years, someone who loves fishing will ask me to join them and I ponder the question.

Let’s see… I have been fishing probably fifteen to twenty times in my life. In all of those missions, I have been assured by the experts that we are going to a great place to catch fish. I am given great instructions on where to cast, what to use for bait and stories of their previous successes.

By the time we are done, I have caught nothing but a fresh awareness that the fish must know I’m out to get them. Mystically they know to stay away from my line. I am also convinced that my fishing teachers are smarter or possess some higher magic that allow them to catch fish while I leave empty-handed.

Actually, I did catch two fish on separate occasions. Both were tiny sunfish that needed to be returned to the water. I almost felt the thrill of conquering a fish. But, I’m told that my experiences catching runt fishes doesn’t really count.

Maybe that is why I keep an aquarium. I can look at the fish and they cannot get away. I am fascinated by these creatures of the deep who remind me that they are not easily captured, or at least not easily caught by me. For me, they are mercurial geniuses.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

INVISIBLE PASTORS OF INVISIBLE CHURCHES

Chaplains are pastors. They shepherd, teach and equip the people of their respective communities with the same sense of calling, training and significance as their brothers and sisters who pastor in local church settings. Many of them serve hundreds of people with an army of volunteers.

Every chaplain’s story is unique. Some chose their respective vocation in response to God’s call while others transitioned to the field after engaging in local church ministry.

Chaplains serve in a wide range of people groups in many unreached sectors of the community. Some of these include:

· Correctional Services (jails, prison, halfway houses, community reintegration programs, young offender facilities)
· Medical (hospitals, palliative care, nursing homes, special needs, mental health)
· Retirement Homes & Gated Communities
· Academic (schools, colleges & universities)
· Military
· Police (RCMP, OPP, City & Regional Forces)
· EMS (fire, ambulance, critical incident teams)
· Business & Corporate (transportation, business communities)
· Service Organizations (Legion, Goodfellows, Rotary Club)
· Street Missions & Community Agencies
· Entertainment (racetracks, casinos)

In many cases, they comfort, evangelize and pastor individuals and communities that are invisible to society. Often their constituents have family members within the scope of the ministry. Most chaplains deal with people who are away from home and lacking in significant connections to the churches of their originating community.

Some of the reasons why local churches do not reach them include:

· Incarceration
· Disability & Health Concerns
· Transient Populations
· Stigmatization
· Marginalization

Often, the chaplains are invisible pastors serving invisible populations. Many churches are unfamiliar with the scope of pastoral work and valuable ministry opportunities afforded to the chaplains. Many chaplains operate with more connection to their corporate and institutional counterparts than they do to their local ministerial, credentialing body or local church. It’s time that we make our chaplains visible and share in the work that they do.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

MEMBERS ONLY

Recently, I was at a funeral lunch held at Windsor Yacht Club. On the property and in the buildings there are signs placed which indicate that the Club is for member use only. If you were to walk in and help yourself as a non-member, you would be violating the rights of privilege that belong to members.

In fact, there are stewards of the Club who watch to see that members are cared for and that non-members do not take advantage of the facilities, unless they are authorized guests.

Jesus broke the bread and poured the cup with His Disciples. He has paid the price with his own death so that anyone who wants to can become a member of His Body.

1 Corinthians 10:16-22
16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
18 Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19 Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons. 22 Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
NIV


The people of Israel were members of God’s unique group and ate ceremonial food as a privilege of membership within the sacred community.

The church that Jesus inaugurated also has a ceremonial meal for members of His sacred community. The table represents membership in His family.

Paul makes the point in this passage that you cannot eat and drink of God’s sacred table and also participate at the table of demons. In this world, there are ritual activities and community values that run opposite to the gospel.

We must decide which table we belong at and only eat there. Jesus ate with publicans and sinners because he set their table apart as a place to do God’s work. We need to make sure that our presence at any table brings the light of God, rather than it being a place that corrupts us and violates us.

His table is a sacred place. It's better to not eat than to say we love God and treat a brother or sister with contempt. Nothing ruins a good meal like fighting around the table. All are invited and all must examine their attitudes towards others next to them.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

WILEY'S WIN-WIN WORLD

Matthew 4:
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.
9 "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."
10 Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.' "
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.


In a last ditch attempt, the devil offers an alternate route to the Kingdom. What was the mission of Jesus about? It was about God’s love for a lost world. It was about bringing love and redemption back to Creation.

The Devil had temporary power in the earth realm and offered to hand it over to Jesus. The Kingdom would not need a sacrifice. The Devil had a better idea. If Jesus would simply acknowledge that Lucifer was Lord, Jesus could have the world.

The Devil was saying, “You can have what you really want and so can I. It will be a win-win if you are willing to go my way.”

Jesus resisted the foolish deception and told the Devil to leave. He reminded Lucifer (a created being) that only God was to be worshipped and served.

As the devil left him, angels came and comforted Jesus. The rebel angel had no real comfort for Jesus. But God’s true angels came and cared for him. This is a stunning contrast of how far Lucifer had changed from the way he was originally created. God’s angels exist to serve Him and bring care to the human realm. Lucifer exists to resist everything that God is.

This would not be the last time that Jesus would be tempted. The sinless One would experience temptation all the way to the final breath.

We can see that Jesus had to deal with subtle strategies designed to disconnect Him from the Father and the Spirit. The same can be said of all our temptations. All offers of sin are at the price of disconnecting from God.

Jesus had a great awareness of God’s Word. When faced with thoughts or suggestions, he was able to immediately process them through what He knew of God and His Word.

Knowing God’s Word will not stop you from being tempted, but it will give you a solid response that disarms the lie you’ve encountered. God’s Word informs our conscience.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

DON'T JUMP

Matthew 4:
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.
6 "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written:
”‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' "
7 Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.' "


What was the devil doing? Another question centred on Jesus’ identity. If you are the Son of God…

Why the temple and the holy city? In the place that most represented God to the Jews, the devil asks Jesus to demonstrate God’s power to protect. Maybe if Jesus performed the test, he would have a false confidence about what lay ahead. If the Father can be shown to protect him in this way, surely he would protect him from the sacrifice on the Cross.

Satan wants us to believe in a God that is more interested in protecting us than He is in doing what’s just. Satan wants Jesus to put God in a state of obligation. Surely there must be a loophole that will allow Jesus to manipulate God.

Jesus’ reply again quotes what humans should already knew about their relationship with God. He is not an old man to tease and try to hoodwink. Because God has promised certain things, does not mean that we should conduct risky experiments to verify whether He is trustworthy.

Love does not play tricks to see if the other will respond appropriately. That is not love when we put the other to the test. It is distrust and the fear that the other is unreliable. We should not test God and we should not test those we love through trickery and provocative tests. This is the stuff of dramatic, young people wondering if they are really in love.


Monday, February 16, 2009

MAKE YOURSELF A ROCK SANDWICH

Matthew 4:
1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.
3 The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."
4 Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' "


Why is it that temptation often follows on the heels of spiritual affirmation and intimacy? Jesus was barely dry after being baptized… and the Spirit led him into isolation for forty hot days and forty cold nights. He knew that He needed to fast. He would not eat. The time was a gift of devoting himself entirely to prayer, rest and reflection.

There’s something we do not understand about God’s love. The same Father who said ‘This is my beloved Son’ and the Spirit who flew out of the open sky to rest on Jesus, now lead him to the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

It’s true that God does not tempt anyone. But he does lead Jesus to a place of being tested. If Jesus is to be truly obedient, he must experience the lure of temptation and choose to not bite. It is not a sick game God plays, but a necessary test to show humanity why Jesus can be trusted to bear the sins of the world and rescue us from our temptations.

Turning stones into bread was not a sin. Later we see Jesus turn water into wine. These miracles demonstrate the amazing capacity of God to provide what people need. The power of God over the natural realm will be an exciting dimension in the future Kingdom.

The temptation in this case was to put his human hunger above the will of God. Jesus had no reason to act independent of the Father and the Spirit. His hunger had been with him for forty days and nights. He could wait one more day until food was legitimately available.

The Devil tries the same sales strategy as he used on the first couple, Adam and Eve. Always question the truthfulness of what God said—

Jesus heard the voice forty days ago at his baptism. In his human experience he had audibly heard the sky open and his Father’s voice declare that this was His Son.

So now, Lucifer asks “If you are the Son of God…” The big ‘if’…

Maybe the devil wanted to plant a doubt or fear that it was false. Maybe Jesus was just an overly imaginative man with delusions of grandeur. A simple test to prove His Divinity had the double reward of feeding his empty belly.

In other words, taking care of your hunger is the most important thing right now. It’s more important than what God said about who you are. It’s possible that you have believed a lie and are going to starve to death. Wouldn’t it be better to take care of you and stop thinking about God’s will?

Prove it. Prove that you are the son of God. Make yourself something to eat by performing a miracle.

All through Jesus’ ministry he performed many miracles. But they were always for the benefit of others and not himself. He needed to submit the desire for personal gain in order to truly lay down his life.

Jesus’ response to the devil teaches us that there are more important things than physical need. We do not live, truly live because our cupboards are full of food. The real essence of enjoying life and security comes from absorbing and ingesting God’s words.

The temptation is to get more attentive to our physical comforts and needs; to prioritize personal gain over loving obedience to the Father.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

LUCIFER AND THE SNAKE OIL MIRACLE CURES

Who is most prone to temptation? Are there ‘safe zones’ where humans can let down their guard and live freely without having to fight against destructive and selfish motives? I once knew a blind man who collected calendars with pictures of nude women. He only had 4% vision in one eye, but that was enough to keep him interested.

Every saint and every sinner – tempted to turn from God. It is as common as the belly button.

You can live at a Christian retreat centre and attend prayer meetings every day. That will not protect you from being tempted.

I used to believe that temptation happened more often to people who had wishy-washy ethics. People who associated with criminals, addicts and rebels were easier targets for acts or attitudes of disobedience. I thought that the best defence was a safe distance or isolation from those who were weakest at resisting. Then my childhood ended and I discovered the hardening cement of temptation around my own feet.


When we see a brother or sister in sin, there are two things we do not know: First, we do not know how hard he or she tried not to sin. And second, we do not know the power of the forces that assailed him or her. We also do not know what we would have done in the same circumstances. [i]


Jesus was the only man to successfully face temptations of every kind and resist right to his own death. There is something very powerful about Jesus’ resistance that we need to understand and follow in our lives.

Resurrection from the dead is certainly a shocking miracle. But I’m slightly more intrigued by his ‘not sinning’. He had full human capacity to choose and never once gave in to his temptations. I feel a ‘sameness’ about Jesus when I consider that he was struggling with the sin option. I feel a complete ‘otherness’ about Him when I think about His perfect obedience. Once again, I feel pulled to the love and then awkward about the sin-free ‘otherness’ of Jesus.

If I am to bow in humble surrender, it will be when I understand his resistance to sin. It seems to come out of a fanatical and completely free love for the Father. My own obedience depends on letting Jesus’ heart grow in me.




[i] Stephen Brown, Christianity Today, April 5, 1993, p. 17. Quote attributed to F.B. Meyer

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW

At the vain age of eleven I cried as the school eye-tester told me I needed to wear glasses. I almost drowned in a sea of self-consciousness at the leper status of being labeled ‘Four Eyes’.

No one could have prepared me for the moment of clarity when I first donned the little wire-framed lenses. I saw detail and depth that my weak eyes were ignorant of.

At the age of 47 I now wear contact lenses that are one step short of bifocals. One lens is for distance and the other for close up. The optometrist told me that this works for 80% of the people that try it. The brain compensates and you end up with balanced vision. For me, it works.

When the Scriptures say that God gives vision, I get it. You begin to see things that did not previously exist for you.


Isa 41:17,18
17 "The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the LORD will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. 18 I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.


When God gives you your own set of glasses, you will begin to see things that are not – as though they are:


¨ You see a desert – I see a lake.
¨ You see crime and poverty - I see peace and prosperity.
¨ You see a lost cause - I see God waiting to do a miracle.


You will no longer see men as ‘trees walking’[1] . You will see them as they are.


___________________________

[1] Mark 8:23-25

Friday, February 6, 2009

JESUS IN THE TICKET LINE

I love a good concert. There is a special feeling as you travel to the venue, park your car and get in line for the ticket window. Whether it’s a $5 show at a small club or $100 pre-bought ticket, there is a similar feeling.

I am about to experience the sound, the sights and the crowd ambience of artists who have something special to give me. In my head I know that they are just as ordinary as you or I. Enough of them have told us that life on the road is difficult. I’ve heard dozens of stories of their hardships, failures and disappointments. But still…

We want to meet them. There are people who follow them around and show up backstage like lifelong friends. What’s that about? Fans who know more about the artist than the artist… it’s really kind of weird when you think about it.

So, what would it be like if you went to a venue, stood in line for tickets and discovered that the 4 people ahead of you in line were actually the band? What if they were lined up like everyone else and paid the price of admission to the show?

That would be really strange. We pay to see them. Why would they wait for an hour in the cold to pay for tickets to get inside?

That’s as close as I can get to feeling the strangeness of Jesus walking to the water and requesting to be baptized by his cousin John. If baptism is about getting in to see God, why would Jesus stand in line to get a ticket? Why would he ask John the Baptist to perform the ritual that was an act of repentance?

If Jesus were sinless, what was there to repent of?

The first recorded words of Jesus as an adult took place at this event. I want to understand this mystery.


Matthew 3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.
14 But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
15 Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.

Monday, February 2, 2009

STRONG DRINK FOR THE WEAK AND WILLING

How important are you in the plans that God has for the world? Have you noticed the Holy Spirit has a way of lifting us up when we are falling down? This same Spirit will also brings us down a notch if we get too proud or self-sufficient.

God's loving correction causes us to change. We find ourselves hitting the reset button when God speaks.


Matthew 20:20-27
20 Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. 21 And He said to her, "What do you wish?" She said to Him, "Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom." 22 But Jesus answered and said, "You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They said to Him, "We are able."


Though it was their mother asking the question, Jesus perceived that the two boys were really the ones who wanted the privileged position in God’s Kingdom. So, he asks them if they are ready to drink the same cup and receive the same experience that he would.

Their response to his intense question amounts to, “Sure, why not? Bring it on, because we want the honour.


23 So He said to them, "You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father."


There are times in life when we expect certain respect or honour because of our willingness to serve Jesus. But Jesus says that the honour and position comes from the Father and not from Him.

They will in fact drink the same cup, but it’s not as enviable as they have assumed. People are quick to judge anyone who receives honour or position in the Kingdom of God. The disciples illustrate this perfectly.

An earthbound view of position always includes a degree of cynicism and expecting the worst of leadership.


24 And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave-- NKJV


The greatest leaders of all time are the greatest servants or slaves. To drink the cup that Christ offers is to choose the well-being of others over your own comfort and needs. It is to bless those who curse you and pray for those who use you spitefully. Leadership in the Kingdom is a humble affair.

At the Last Supper, Jesus breaks the bread and lifts the cup and invites us to eat and drink the same. In remembering Jesus’ broken body and shed blood, we are called to let our bodies be broken and to shed some blood, sweat and tears as hard-working slaves.

As he was, so we are called to be.



Blog Archive