Saturday, May 30, 2009

CHRYSALIS

Have you ever considered the struggle a caterpillar must go through to be changed into a butterfly?

As a larva or caterpillar, it had one purpose – EAT! All it ever did was munch leaves and walk slowly along on its multiple feet to the next place that it could eat. Its body image was swollen, low to the ground and somewhat creepy.

Then one day, it had eaten enough and crawled up under a leaf. It started to wrap itself in its own body secretion until entirely encased.

For a long time, it appeared that life had ceased from outward appearances. The caterpillar had not been seen in its usual places gorging itself. Hidden away somewhere was a tiny Chrysalis which contained the caterpillar.

Though you can’t see anything happening on the outside, life and change are happening on the inside. The caterpillar has no more food from this world but is experiencing dramatic changes to its being.

Eventually, the day comes when the new creature is ready to emerge and the Chrysalis opens a tiny bit. Through struggle the new being emerges and gently unfolds its new wings.

No longer a fat, swollen, eating machine, the caterpillar has changed into a sleek, agile butterfly with large beautiful wings. Its purpose has changed from an eating machine into a winged creature that travels from flower to flower feeding on nectar and causing flowers to reproduce.

Instead of being a creature that was always taking and consuming, the changed being has a life purpose of flying from one place of beauty to the next, feeding on nectar and causing beauty to reproduce.

Isn’t that a picture of what Christ can do in your life? He can change your purpose and give you what you need to become something beautiful. Consider the differences that can occur in a person who enters the Chrysalis of submission to Christ.



Thursday, May 28, 2009

THE DAY MY THOUGHT BUBBLE DISSIPATED

It was a quiet day in the youth pastor’s office. I had one of those offices that was next to the platform and doubled as a choir storage room.

The calendar lay open on the desk before me. Pen in hand, I scanned the pages and mentally mapped out activities and events for the coming months in my youth ministry. In that ‘half prayer – half dreaming’ state, I was interrupted by a mental picture of Tony.

Tony was one of the kindest, soft-spoken church board members I had ever known. There he was like a thought bubble over my head. I saw his face scowl and a wagging finger raise to accompany his shaking head.

With a sudden chill and the drop of my pen, I sat back and exclaimed, “What is that?”

In a moment of divine recognition I sensed the answer. “This is the fear of man.”

Why was I imagining such a kind person disapproving of the plans I was making? What was wrong with what I was doing?

God quickly gave me a few more mental pictures that often lurked in my imagination.

I thought back to names and faces of people in my life who were negative and critical. I thought about those who were harsh in their judgments and the personalized message I took from them. Years had passed but their mark was on me.

I was suddenly wakened to the effect of my imagination on how I conducted myself. I was twenty-five years old and carrying a lifetime of influences offering their opinion of who I was and how I was doing.

I was a grade-schooler being picked last on the team –

There was a teacher who constantly centered me out and embarrassed me publicly –

A friend’s parent who was ridiculously intolerant and distrusting–

A girlfriend who constantly flirted with other guys—

A pastor who told me I was not cut out for being a pastor –

These and more regularly visited my thoughts to humiliate, intimidate and disapprove.

This was not the collective wisdom of loving correction and godly mentors – it was the grittier stuff of people I did not like. I did not like their humiliation and intimidation. Whether directed at myself or others, their harshness set me on edge. They made me vigilant and fearful of screwing up.

Within five minutes of dropping my pen, I had settled something in prayer that changed everything. I was delivered. It was a quiet deliverance from a device the devil used to wear me down and stifle my passion for God.

It was a vain imagination. It was a mindset of fear. The accuser of the brethren had a perch in my imagination. From there he taunted me with thoughts of inadequacy and derision.

I have often reflected back to those five minutes in the side office. As I have weathered through another twenty-two years of life in the church I have clarity about the opinion of others.

I must first concern myself with the acceptance and approval of God. From His love I find a healthy motivation to love people whether they approve of me or not. His grace toward me is currency in being gracious to difficult people.

When someone comes along who disagrees with my choices and has their mind made up against me, I have a secret resting place in the love of God. I have much to learn from those who are harsh or dismissive. But I won’t be sidetracked or bullied into letting them rule my imagination.

If I am to have the heart of Jesus, I will pray forgiveness for those who don’t understand the pain they inflict. I will not be willing for any to perish. I will walk an extra mile and turn another cheek.

But, I will never surrender to an unhealthy fear of what others think.



Sunday, May 24, 2009

ACCUSATION THEOLOGY

Ernest Hemingway tells the story of a father and his teenage son who had a relationship that had become strained to the point of breaking. Finally the son ran away from home. His father, however, began a journey in search of his rebellious son. Finally, in Madrid, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in the newspaper.

The ad read: “DEAR PACO, MEET ME IN FRONT OF THE NEWSPAPER OFFICE AT NOON. ALL IS FORGIVEN. I LOVE YOU. YOUR FATHER.”

The next day at noon in front of the newspaper office, 800 “Pacos” showed up....
[i]

There are so many people who need to know that all is forgiven and the Father loves them deeply.

One of the easiest snares for the sons and daughters of God is to forget the mercy and kindness extended to them while they were still sinners separated from God. A distancing from God’s attitude will cause us to take a harsh, judgmental view of the Father.

Those who insist on the righteous demands of a Holy God sometimes forget that the axe swings both ways. Their guilt is just as awful. All of us need reminding that the greatest is love, not judgment.

The accuser is close at hand to remind us not only of our own unworthiness, but especially the shortfalls of others. If we focus on the failings and faults of others too much, we begin to practice what I call ‘Accusation Theology’. It is a harsh, vindictive view of God where discernment and correction leave the foundation of love.

Spirituality is measured by performance and legalism. It requires a blindness to one's own condition while demonizing their human enemy.

Jesus simplified theology and religion when he said that there are two great commandments that embody all of the law and prophets.

  1. Love God with all your heart, mind and strength
  2. Love your neighbour as yourself

This leaves us with no room to scandalize another. To do so is to smear God's Name and diminish our intended human potential.




[i] Bits And Pieces, October 15, 1992, p. 13.

Friday, May 22, 2009

IT'S A BIRD.. IT'S A PLANE.. NO, IT'S SUPER VISION!

Jesus says to the rich young ruler, “Sell all you have. Give your money to the poor and come follow me.”

Perhaps he calls the rich church to sell out. Change the priorities. Following Jesus is not easy. There are times when we will have to choose between personal success and compelling mission.

What do we need to sell off in order to remain faithful?

  • Sell our investments in ‘relevance’. We want so much to be liked and accepted by the community that we forget to love the least of these. To our own judgment, we seek relevance to the healthy, not the sick. Jesus was irrelevant and annoying to the self-sufficient and self-righteous. He still is irrelevant to those who have need of nothing.

  • Sell our need for more stuff. In the parable of the stewards, Jesus said the rich get richer and so they should. The man with ten talents earned ten more. The man with five earned five more. But to the one who felt his was not enough to do anything with, it was taken away from him. This is God’s principle. But the rich do not escape from their responsibilities for being successful. The rich man went to Hell for neglecting poor Lazarus, the beggar at his gate. The man who built bigger barns missed the point of sharing what he had and was consumed by wanting more. We need to sell out and invest our lives in the poor who will always be ‘with us’.

We talk about having vision, but vision is not enough. Vision is the starting point. In order for vision to reach its goal, it must become ‘Super Vision’.

Supervision has to do with looking over the things that you have seen. Looking over is oversight.

It’s not enough to be moved emotionally by what we see. Vision requires that we get actively involved in ‘overseeing’ the land God gives us.

Administration is listed as one of the gifts of the Spirit. We tend to think of administration as dry policy, accounting and anal organizational systems.

Spirit-breathed administration exists to serve that which God sees as being important.

There is a great need in the inner city for believers who will be not only compassionate, but strategic and thoughtful about bringing Jesus to the streets.

Part of selling out might include a job change. Instead of working in the best hospital or clinic in the city, God’s nurses may need to work at the worst hospital or clinic. God’s school teachers may need to take an assignment at the tougher inner-city schools and lay down their career objectives for the least of these. God’s lawyers may need to take a few more cases for free. God’s pastors may need to realign their hearts for the least of these in the community. We may have to let the bus kids ruin our carpet and spill pop in the sanctuary. Can we at least get them here? And will they ever come if we don’t get into their lives in a meaningful way?

Vision leads to supervision. Get involved.

There is a sunrise on the sidewalk skyline and it is more beautiful than a mountain view.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

SUNRISE ON THE SIDEWALK SKYLINE

Jazz legend Hoagy Carmichael had a song ‘Big Town Blues’. A phrase he sang paints a vivid picture.

‘I’m in a bargain basement with a sidewalk skyline.’

Children growing up in the core of urban centres may look out the window of a basement apartment and see the sidewalk.

I want to invite you to be part of the sunrise on the sidewalk skyline. Over 80% of Canadians live in urban centres in major population hubs. The gap between the haves and have-nots is a growing chasm. The rich get richer and the poor get by with less.

If Canada were the rich man in Jesus’ parable, then the urban poor are our beggar by the gate. You may not see them, though. We have great security systems, geographic barriers and locked up churches to keep the beggars out at the street.

City planners and business people work hard to create presentation on the major downtown streets. BIAs’ (Business Improvement Areas) are cooperative efforts between city hall and the local business people of a given neighbourhood. Both want to see taxpayer dollars spent to beautify and improve the face of the city.

When people go downtown, they need to feel safe, visually intrigued and interested in spending their money. Sculptures, murals, architecture, and green space combine with public transit systems, traffic routes, entertainment and parking garages to give people a pleasant face on the city. To the chagrin of some city fathers the homeless, the mentally ill and the ill-equipped also show up to share the space. Police, social services and missions dot the streetscape to facilitate the neediest and the most unfortunate.

When you get behind the ‘movie set façade’ of downtown, you encounter the real ‘downtown’ where the poor live.

I pastor New Song Church, one of Windsor’s tougher neighbourhoods with its share of social challenges. My building is an old bar on a dingy street. There is more plywood on the buildings of my neighbourhood than there are windows.

When you go on the backstreets and alleys of our cities, you discover the living conditions not visible to the passerby.

In Windsor, the AIDS committee has a needle exchange program that collected 200,000 used syringes last year from drug users exchanging dirty needles for a clean kit. That is 200,000 needles that would have otherwise been dropped in alleys, parks and garbage containers.

A friend of mine who used to work for Compassion was with me when we visited a couple who lived in the neighbourhood. The living conditions were deplorable. The furnace was not working, the bathroom lacked hot water and the clutter and filth was overwhelming. My friend remarked afterward that it was worse than the poverty he had seen in third world countries, where they at least managed to keep things reasonably clean and tidy.

When you get to the real downtown, there are children like Kenny who at 10 years of age has tried crack and steals everything he can. Kenny goes with his mom in the wee hours of the night to make drug deliveries. Kenny drops by the church to drink coffee. Kenny came to camp with us and still needs Jesus.

When you go downtown, make a detour. Behind the façade you will find the real downtown. Pray for the sun to rise on the sidewalk skyline.



Saturday, May 16, 2009

EQUALITY OF THE GENEROUS HEART

I have often found that the ones with the biggest voices against giving to the church are the ones who give little or nothing. It's always easier to criticize something you don't do. Giving is a spiritual act and it is worship. It's also about giving to provide for the poor. It is an act of support when you make a commitment to a group or individual.

Some of you with wealth are saying, “What can I do to help with the needs?” You are asking the right question. It is the heart of Jesus to ask you that question and respond cheerfully and quietly. Those of you who are fairly well off understand that and I know of many instances where that is taking place.

But what if you are on social assistance or doing odd jobs and are genuinely poor? How can you be generous and respond to the ongoing needs? Our church family is full of many examples of generous people that are poor in the securities of this world.

It is the poor who are often most capable of the greatest gifts. Let me challenge you all to do what you can to give your life away. Out of your poverty, give as a sacrifice of love to God.

I don’t think that there is virtue in being poor. I think that God wants to give each of us a future with increase. But that future needs to include a mature view of giving to the work and people of God. It is the responsibility that comes with maturity.

The challenge of human nature in this regard is to develop a sense of equality between the poor and rich alike.

The New Testament gives examples of people who had great wealth that shared it with the poor of the church. The Gospel value seems to be that we should find ways for the poor to be enriched, and the rich to walk humbly.

The apostle Paul spoke about the needs that existed in the Corinth church and had a message for the people of various incomes and resources. He was talking about the financial picture of the local congregation.


2 Cor 8:13-15
13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.
14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality,
15 as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little."

NIV



Jesus was very aware of the rich and the poor of His day. Most of His words about them had to do with equalizing the differences. To the poor he pronounced blessing. To the rich he gave warning.

There is no security in the wealth you achieve in this world. If God blesses you with abundance, figure out how to share it with the less fortunate. Being a worldly success does not make you a better person in God’s eyes.


Proverbs 30:8-9
8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, `Who is the LORD?'
Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

UN-LIMIT

Where does stinginess, greed and hoarding beyond reason come from?

Eunice Pike was a missionary in south-western Mexico for several decades in the last century. She worked among the Mazatec Indians.


During this time she has discovered some interesting things about these beautiful people. For instance, the people seldom wish someone well. Not only that, they are hesitant to teach one another or to share the gospel with each other. If asked, "Who taught you to bake bread?" the village baker answers, "I just know," meaning he has acquired the knowledge without anyone's help. Eunice says this odd behaviour stems from the Indian's concept of "limited good." They believe there is only so much good, so much knowledge, so much love to go around. To teach another means you might drain yourself of knowledge. To love a second child means you have to love the first child less. To wish someone well--"Have a good day"--means you have just given away some of your own happiness, which cannot be reacquired.[i]


There are many people in all cultures who believe in limited good. We worry about not having enough money, enough love or enough patience. We think that someone else needs prayer more than we do.

Believing that anything good is limited, we guard it in case we lose it. The attempt to be a careful steward of the good can slip into a fear-based system of hoarding, turning a blind eye to need and feeling virtuous about possessing more than we need.

The good thing we receive from God’s hand can become more important to us than God’s hand. The gift can be revered over the Giver.

A.W. Tozer wrote this:

"Money often comes between men and God. Someone has said that you can take two small ten-cent pieces, just two dimes, and shut out the view of a panoramic landscape. Go to the mountains and just hold two coins closely in front of your eyes--the mountains are still there, but you cannot see them at all because there is a dime shutting off the vision in each eye."[ii]

When we are born again as children of Jesus’ resurrection we begin participating in Kingdom values. We begin here to learn what we will need later. Learning to let go of the earth’s limited systems and grasp God’s eternal supply changes our heart for the good. Until we are the widow giving away the last two pennies, we do not understand what it means to depend fully on God. The deep lessons of our current need teach us about what really matters in the end.

You cannot take your earthly wealth with you to the grave, but you can take a generous heart with you. It will be resurrected—multiplied usefulness in the Kingdom of God.





[i] Bernie May, "Learning to Trust," Multnomah Press, 1985.
[ii] I Talk Back To The Devil, by A. W. Tozer. Wingspread Publishers 1990.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

SHOULDN'T YOU BE WORRIED???

An average person's anxiety is focused on:

40% -- things that will never happen
30% -- things about the past that can't be changed
12% -- things about criticism by others, mostly untrue
10% -- about health which gets worse with stress
8% -- about real problems that will be faced

Walter C. Kelly was a Vaudeville comedian who made this observation about worry.

Worry is faith in the negative, trust in the unpleasant, assurance of disaster and belief in defeat...worry is wasting today's time to clutter up tomorrow's opportunities with yesterday's troubles. A dense fog that covers a seven-city-block area one hundred feet deep is composed of less than one glass of water divided into sixty thousand million drops. Not much is there but it can cripple an entire city. When I don't have anything to worry about, I begin to worry about that. [i]


Worry trumps faith. Anxiety chokes out hope. The gospel calls us to surrender to the ultimate generosity and plan of God. It is the divine intention that everyone and everything be cared for.

Life in the fallen realm has robbed us of the eyes to see the true, loving nature of the Almighty. He calls the church to join in acts of provision and generous love wherever need is present.

When Jesus is given a boy’s lunch of loaves and fish, he blesses and multiplies it to feed thousands. This is God’s Kingdom reality that all creation longs for.

If you look at creation, there is a generosity built in. One apple seed given to the ground can produce a tree that will multiply seed by the thousands. Reproduction happens when millions of sperm cells attempt to join a single egg.

Something dreadful happened to the cosmos when sin entered it. She had limitations put on which caused death and decay to occur each generation. Nothing created has yet lasted forever—not until Jesus rose from the dead. He was the first to demonstrate God’s original pre-fall reality. Resurrection is the new reality coming with God’s Kingdom.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

PROFOUNDLY GENEROUS

The sounds of casual conversation, ecstatic prayer and livestock mixed with the smells of human sweat, incense and sheep as Marah approached the tables of collection at the Temple. There was a time when she and her husband brought sizable gifts as an offering, but not today. Sadly, Marah’s husband had died from the blows of a Roman guard when he proudly refused to carry the soldier’s gear for a mile. Without children to care for her, Marah was alone. Her husband’s income had carried her for a few months, but the purse was now seconds away from empty.

Remembering Job, she prayed ‘The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’

Whom did she have but the Almighty? Her only hope now was the Lord.

As she approached the table, her hands trembled as she took the last two lepton coins-- the smallest coin of currency and she only had two left to her name. What would become of her?

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’

With a surge of remembrance for the goodness she had known in her life, she gingerly laid the coins down. She smiled as she thought about how her husband would have been embarrassed at giving such a tiny gift.

Jehovah-Jireh – the Lord is her provider now. He would have to help her. Marah was certain of that.


Mark 12:
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."


No-one measured the soul more accurately than Jesus. As he watched the religious rich bringing their large gifts he was not impressed until he saw the poorest one give sacrificially. She was dirt poor and could not afford to live, let alone give money to the Temple.

What was it that so inspired Jesus in her gift?

Her two coins were literally all she had left. There was an act of abandon to the mercy of God in giving it all to Him. There was an attitude that Jesus would preach for in the crowds who listened to Him.

The birds and flowers did not need to worry because Father takes care of them. There are things you cannot change, so why worry?

Depend on God to provide.

It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter God’s Kingdom. What is it about worldly riches that choke out the life of God?

Rich people have a much tougher time giving it all away. There’s something about wealth that makes you feel like you deserve to have some measure of quality and privilege in your purchases. For a rich person to literally give it all away would include letting go of an attitude and self-understanding. The rich have a measure of security that is falsely tied to money and possessions.

Jesus saw this woman with almost nothing give the last of it away with a security that God was her only hope of survival.

This amazed Jesus. It still does when he finds faithful dependency in those who recognize their poverty and choose to be profoundly generous.


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