Wednesday, November 25, 2009

THE EMPTY CHAIR





Luke 14:
21 "The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.'



In a world that rewards the proud and accomplished, God turns his favor to the unnoticed.

To the one who will serve God, there are clear instructions.  Go to the broken and weary.  The disadvantaged and marginalized know love when they see it.  They will more readily respond to God’s offer.  They do not have the excuses of materialism, career-building and what others expect of them.

This is part of our calling.  We are to become gatherers of God’s broken family.  We are to deliberately connect with people that are in great need.  It is not simply sending invitations, but relating to people in ways that invite to come with you.  You know the Master and can verify His desire for them to be with Him.  We need to truly believe that God wants them.  We need to want them if we are to be effective in bringing them to God.



Luke 14:
22 " 'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.'
23 "Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.' "


We may be tempted at times to stop reaching out to those in need.  We may feel that we have done enough and life is hectic enough with the people we presently serve.

But God’s heart is to fill the house.  The pursuit of people who need to be at the table must continue.  When we focus on our weariness in well-doing, we will stop.  We will focus on past accomplishments and forget God’s focus.  He is focused on the empty chairs at the party.  He tells us to go further in giving people reason to come to the Lord’s Table.

Monday, November 23, 2009

EXQUISITE EXCUSES






Jesus illustrated God’s heart with a story about a special banquet.  It is a picture of God’s Kingdom.


Luke 14:
16 Jesus replied: "A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.'
18 "But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, 'I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.'
19 "Another said, 'I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I'm on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.'
20 "Still another said, 'I just got married, so I can't come.'

God’s invitation is to come to a favoured place with Him where everything is ready.  He is not inviting them to come wait around.  There is a sense of God being ready to serve upon arrival.


The reasons given for not attending reveal the ways that God can be sidelined in people’s lives. 

The one who bought a field and needed to go see it is like the person who puts their possessions ahead of intimacy with God.  It’s not unlike the person who values their boat, their hobby or their building project over being with God’s people in worship. 

The one who has five oxen values work over worship.  We are not only speaking of church attendance, but an attitude of life towards the things of God.  It is easy to let education and career building crowd out the spiritual life that comes from connection with God’s people.

Christine Sine says, “in order for people to move from communities of poverty to the middle class they need to be willing to give up relationships for accomplishment and efficiency.”[i] 

This is a troubling reality that explains why God’s heart seems to move to the poor.  They are less willing to give up relationships for accomplishment and efficiency.

She continues.


Our world majors on disposable relationships.  We move, we change jobs, or we change churches and we disconnect from the relationships that under girded our previous life.  Even our involvements in issues of social justice become tasks to accomplish that result in few if any relationships.  No wonder we can swing from passionate concern about tsunamis in Samoa to child trafficking in Thailand without any concern for the impact of our swinging concerns.
And it is easy for us to justify our disconnect… especially when our relationships are seen as tasks to accomplish rather than as opportunities to both experience and represent the God who cares so passionately for our world that he sent his son to live amongst us.[ii]
 
The one who just married could not come to the banquet, because the expectation of a significant other was valued over the King’s table.  It’s not wrong to have a deep commitment to someone, but God does not want it to crowd out His love.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

FOCUS ON THE BROKEN FAMILY







I was recently invited to a local high school as one of three community members for a discussion about drug abuse among high school students.  Twenty-five students showed up as part of their urban school program. 

“What was it like to smoke crack?” asked fifteen year old Kayla[i].  She was a frequent pot-smoker and had tried ecstasy and several other common drugs.

Josh, an eighteen year old high school student who had recently been through rehab sat forward in his seat.  With eyes bulging and teeth grinding he blurted, “It’s like nothing else.  I’d take a hit and my brain would race.  It was a powerful feeling of being somewhere else... being someone else.  It was so strong that I would do anything to get more and use again.  I’d rob people, steal old ladies purses, it turned me into a monster.”

“When and how did you start using?” asked Mister Rollins, the urban school program facilitator.

“When I was a kid, my dad used to beat me senselessly.  He threw me down the stairs.  He was an alcoholic.  When I was thirteen my best friend asked me to try his joint.  Right away I knew that this is what I wanted.”  Josh spoke with understanding gained from rehab and his friendship with Mr. Rollins.

Sixteen year old Carrie spoke up.  “I was thirteen when I first smoked pot.  People say that it doesn’t damage you, but it made me lazy.  My marks were in the sixties and then my parents found out that I was smoking it.  They confronted me and what hurt the most was my mother saying she was disappointed in me.  I stopped after that and now I’m on the honour roll with marks in the nineties.  I still drink at parties, but it’s under control I think.”

Carrie’s boyfriend Devon tells his story.  Mom was addicted to prescription pills and dad was a cokehead.  Devon remembers his dad always using drugs and having strangers in their house.  Dad went out west on a job saying he would be back in a couple weeks.  Two years have passed and dad never even said good-bye.  With a lump in his throat Devon talked about his own pot-smoking and cocaine use. 

Mr. Rollins and Ms. Morgan are in their late thirties and teachers at a local high school.  They are respected by these kids.  They find acceptance and love, obvious by their willingness to share drug stories in front of us strangers. 

One in our group asked the students, “What could the community do to help you?  What would be meaningful at this stage in your life?”

Devon spoke up.  “My family has failed.  If the community wants to help us, we need this group to become a new family for us.  That’s what I need.”  Several student voices echoed this felt need.  They were not prepared to go somewhere else, but felt secure with these teachers at their school.

For two hours I sat silently listening to their stories.  I wanted to cry as Alicia described her dad’s deteriorated mental state from years of hard drug use.  She talked of childhood in a house full of addicts.  Her own drinking was becoming problematic.  I recognized that Mr. Rollins and Ms. Morgan were the closest people she had as parental figures.  Her own parents were still dad and mom even though they had failed miserably.

I thought about Devon’s words.  “We need this group to become a new family for us.”

These kids are the same age as my own.  What would it be like as a parent to be so distracted and damaged by addiction to have your own children crying out for love elsewhere?  What is it like for a young person to be so traumatized by their upbringing that they are willing to destroy their own life with substance abuse?

I am thinking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  He defined a new family for everyone that needed to leave father, mother, sister, brother behind.  He invites broken people into His family, the church.  I want these broken kids to find a new family.  I know that my kids will accept them.  They will be welcome at our table.

But they are not going to knock at our door.  We have to find them and allow our brother Jesus to work through us.  Our churches need to learn how to express a deeper love that is inter-generational, non-threatening and filled with grace.  The Father has a big table with room for everyone.



[i] All names have been changed to protect confidentiality

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

CRUNCH TIME FOR THE HEALER






Mark 2:
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . ." He said to the paralytic, 11 "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"


This was a crowd that came to see a miracle.  They had heard of Jesus’ wonderful power and hoped to see something happen.  When the paralyzed man was lowered before Jesus, he looked at the man on the mat and spoke the most unusual words.


“Son, your sins are forgiven.”

The crowd expected a miracle and instead Jesus talks about sin.  The religious teachers in the crowd were immediately troubled by this statement.  How dare this man claim to forgive sins!  Only God can forgive sin.  This sounds blasphemous.

The teachers defined the ceiling on what you were supposed to believe.  They had studied and been chosen to figure out the difficulty of knowing God properly.  Jesus’ claim to forgive sin went over the accepted standard of understanding that they provided.  Like the four men opening up the roof, Jesus was opening up a new understanding.

Jesus spoke to the heart of the man’s issue.  Yes, he was paralyzed but at a deeper level he was immobilized by sin.  He was separated from God.  It was secondary that his legs would not work. 

There is sometimes a connection between a person’s sin and their physical condition.  Other times it is unrelated, but people may wonder.  Why is this person suffering?  We may wonder ourselves if God is somehow punishing us with poor health because of something we’ve done in the past or struggle with.

Realizing the challenge for the stakeholders, Jesus puts a question to them:  “Which is easier to say—your sins are forgiven or take up your mat and walk?”

Jesus poses a conundrum: "Which is easier: to say, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Get up and walk'?" Now there is irony here. It is easier to say sin is forgiven, since one cannot see it. But actually to forgive sin is the harder thing to do. Still, the healing of a lame man could be corroborated visually; one could see its success immediately. Jesus' remarks, however, links the two actions. Healing will reveal the authority to forgive--and in the process raise many questions about who Jesus is. So Jesus says, "But that you might know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." This moment in the account calls to mind the modern sports expression "crunch time." Either the man gets up and walks or he continues to lie there. Either Jesus' claim comes through, or he is utterly embarrassed. God does not help sinners, so what will happen? Jesus has put theological stakes on the event. Will God vindicate him?[i]

The crowd observed the drama of religious tension and the undeniable proof when the man got up and walked.  Jesus was changing their understanding of God and their view of reality.  Who was this man Jesus?

Monday, November 16, 2009

JESUS IS BAD FOR PROPERTY VALUES







Mark 2:
 1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.




When you really think about it, this was somebody’s house.  Not just any house, but the one where Jesus was staying.  It was a friend’s house.  Part of the deal with following Jesus was being inconvenienced on occasion.

First, there was the co-opting of the house for neighbors and strangers who filled every room for days.  There may have been some expectation of hospitality.  Someone had to clean up after the party died down.

Then, these four men dismantle the roof and lower their friend into the presence of Jesus.  I would think that Jesus is bad for property values. 

If we hold on to the expectation that our property is really ours, we will be greatly dismayed when damages occur in the inconvenience of serving others.  Some people would not give a drunk a ride home in case they threw up on the upholstery.  Some churches work hard to keep kids out by treating their buildings like the mother who has plastic covers on her living room furniture and will not allow anyone to sit on it.

Unless, a person sees the bigger purpose of property in God’s service they will be offended and embittered by people who cause damage. 

These four men knew that a roof could be repaired and may have later volunteered to do the work.  But even if they did not, their love for the sick friend was more important than anything in the way of getting him to Jesus.

If more churches valued the sick and troubled over property and efficiency, we might see greater access to the presence of Jesus.  Like the crowd in this story, sometimes the crowd is a barrier to people getting in and finding help.  How many people never go to church because of discomfort with crowds, lack of access or a distrust of the sign outside which says, “Everyone is welcome”?



Saturday, November 14, 2009

THE HEROES WHO WALK AMONG US










Pick a movie-- almost any movie.  The industry thrives on stories of people trying to do the right thing in the face of impossible odds.  Heroes are the individuals who make incredible sacrifice and intervention for the sake of others.  Everything is against them, but they win their war or die trying. 


Most people want to be heroic in some way.  Even outlaws and thugs have a code they live by.  They may not care that they are scorned by the public.  But among their peers, they want respect for being solid.  Even the bad guys look up to the smarter bad guys.


As a kid, do you remember linking arms with your friends and chanting, “We don’t stop for nobody”?  It was the hallmark chant of pre-pubescent solidarity.  Alone, any one of us might have to defer to the strength or dominance of a bigger kid, but together we became a force to be reckoned with. 


When a group of people are drawn together around a common purpose, they often develop a motto, song, and creed or mission statement to keep them focused on the most important values.


The United States Army Ranger creed says, “I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy.”


Here are a group of soldiers who value brotherhood over personal risk.  They will do whatever it takes to rescue their fellow warriors.


What if those kinds of heroics and brotherhood defined us a church? 


There were five friends who lived this code.  One of the crew was disabled and needed help.  Jesus was in town and the four pulled together to help their friend.




Mark 2:
 1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.






These four men went to extraordinary lengths to help their friend.  As they heard the groundswell of stories about Jesus healing the sick, they thought about their friend who had been paralyzed for some time.   Jesus was in town and people were flocking to the house where he was staying.  The men determined that their fallen brother would see Jesus.  Here was a singular hope for his recovery.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

AFTER THE MIRACLE





Mark 1:

43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 "See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them." 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.





Jesus wanted the man to show himself to the priest. It was important to have their endorsement of being healthy. That was the appropriate step to be restored into the community.



Jesus did not want his healing ministry to overshadow his message of the Kingdom. He told the man to go to the priest and not talk openly about the healing.



Instead the man went everywhere telling people about his healing. People became more interested in Jesus as miracle worker than as the truth-teller of the Kingdom.



When Jesus makes us pure, there are usually some steps we should take to deepen the effect. He told the man set from a Legion of demons to go home. He told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more. He told Lazarus to come forward when raised from the dead and instructed others to remove the grave clothes.



The miracle is not the central goal. It is the catalyst for restored life. We need to ask for God’s help and we need to listen for the steps that follow His intervention.



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

CRY OF THE UNCLEAN



In ancient Judaism, leprosy was not just a disease; it was a mark of spiritual impurity. It was not just Hansen’s Disease, but many variations of skin disease and disfigurement. It could even be ascribed to mildew appearing on the walls of buildings or clothing.

The diagnosis and treatment of leprosy was overwhelmingly a function of religious observation rather than medical practice. While the exiling of lepers may have provided some quarantining effect on disease, writings from the biblical period overwhelmingly demonstrate that the Israelites viewed leprosy as a demonstration of God’s punishment. The sentences imposed on to lepers far exceeded the precautions needed for medical quarantine, and the assumption of a leper’s guilt pervaded the psychology of both the healthy and the diseased. Even people infected with benign forms of leprosy were subjected to the rigid regulations of the priesthood. The identification of leprosy in inanimate objects such as clothing and house walls also favour the religious interpretation of priestly practice, as cleanliness of the body and its possessions was inextricably linked to the purity of the soul. Contrasting with the biblical belief in the purification of body and soul, leprosy represented what was anathema in the eyes of God.[i]


Jesus’ encountering people with this disease proved that a leper could change his spots. Imagine the public discomfort when this unclean man approached Jesus.


Mark 1:

40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, "If you are willing, you can make me clean."

41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.


Do you remember a time as a child when you had an accident and wet or soiled yourself? Do you remember the teen angst of body odor or bad breath when you were trying to impress a ‘would be’ love interest?


At a much deeper level, many today know the feeling of trying to hide deep spiritual stains. All kinds of people feel dirty inside and wonder if they will ever be clean. Secret sin and shameful histories can lock people into believing that failure is stronger than mercy.


Special diets and health practices sometimes grow from a haunting awareness that our bodies are polluted. Some hold that a purer body will produce a purer spirit. This is a common religious ideal.


This man with a skin disease was socially marked and religiously judged as a very, unclean person. It was impossible for him to hide or pretend to be better.


What do you do when your uncleanness haunts you? Do you pretend to be healthier than you are? Have you been socially marked as a sick-o and live a life of public shame?


The man dropped to his knees. Luke says that he put his face to the ground. Humility is the best thing any of us can have when approaching Jesus for help. Because the man was alienated from the community and expected to declare his uncleanness when passing by, it would have been easy for him to become bitter and calloused. It would be easy to see himself as a freak and harden his heart towards the people he could not approach.


But the man dropped to his knees and spoke with respect to Jesus. “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”


This was not a statement of doubt. He was not saying, “I doubt that you are able, but I’m going to ask just in case.”


This was a statement of faith. He knew that Jesus could make him clean. He did not presume or demand that Jesus act; he asks if the Lord is willing. “Jesus, I know you can do it. Will you do it for me?”


We learn something important about faith from this man. The lesson is this-- you should ask for help when you know that help is possible. And because we trust, we accept God’s right to choose what to do with us.


How many of us are aware of a stain or sickness in our life and hesitate to ask? When we reach a state of desperation in our lives, it then we have the potential of bowing in humility. Knowing that only God can help, we ask him to do what has proven impossible to us.


When asked if he was willing, Jesus compassionately responded in the affirmative. He spoke and the man was cleansed of his skin disease.


Now that the man had the unorthodox touch from the healer, he needed to take some steps to be fully restored to the community. His reputation as a leper met people before they could get close enough to see healthy skin.



[i] http://courses.cit.cornell.edu/nes263/student2007/ass43/conclusion.html

Sunday, November 8, 2009

TO BATHE OR NOT TO BATHE, THAT IS THE QUESTION



I know some people who have decided they will not bathe regularly. I’m sure they have their reasons, but I’m doubtful of their cause. If not bathing conserves water, that’s good. But when weeks pass and they’re ripe, I think they have thrown the proverbial baby out with the bath water.


To be more accurate with the metaphor, they haven’t put the stinky baby in the bath water. The baby smells bad and they are happy that water has been conserved. Could we at least call for some balance and sponge bathe every day or so?


It’s true that body odour is the best mosquito repellent of all, but none of the stinkers I know live in a malarial swamp.


Isabella of Spain bragged that she had had only two baths in her life--one when she was born, and the other when she married Ferdinand. They gave her a third when she died.


There is a man in India who stopped bathing because he believes it will result in having a male child borne to his wife.


Kailash Kalau Singh told a friend that a “seer” once told him 35 years ago if he did not take a bath he would be blessed with a male child, according to Hindustan Times. So he stopped.

Instead of washing with water, Singh bathes by standing with one leg beside a bonfire and smokes marijuana while praying to Lord Shiva. The “fire bath” helps to kill germs and infection, he claims.

The 63-year-old man’s professional life suffered when customers of his grocery store stopped shopping there due to his “unhealthy personality.” He had to close the store and now tills fields in the holy city of Varanasi.[i]


Of course there are people who go to the opposite extreme with cleaning. The thought of dirt and bacteria is terrifying to a germaphobe. They use hand sanitizer every hour and wear a mask in public to avoid catching diseases. They open doors with their feet and panic when someone else sneezes.


Getting Clean With Religion


Throughout history, most religions have developed cleansing rituals for purification. Hindus bathed in the Ganges River. Indigenous American tribes ridded themselves of impurity in saunas called sweat lodges. Catholics had holy water and most Christians still practice baptism.


The Jews of Jesus’ day and Muslims of today have laws and rituals involving cleansing.


It seems to be a common human experience to feel impure and want to be clean.


Friday, November 6, 2009

RENAISSANCE ON DROUILLARD ROAD



"Renaissance," French for "rebirth," perfectly describes the intellectual and economic changes that occurred in Europe from the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries.


During the era known by this name, Europe emerged from the economic stagnation of the Middle Ages and experienced a time of financial growth. Also, and perhaps most importantly, the Renaissance was an age in which artistic, social, scientific, and political thought turned in new directions.


For fifteen years New Song Church has been a ministry of spiritual renaissance bringing the light of Jesus to darkened wanderers. We are a group of people committed to be advocates, family and mentors to the urban poor in Windsor, this region and beyond.


Though often mistaken for a street mission, New Song is first and foremost a church. We are a church with the heart of a mission. We have intentionally placed ourselves among the poorest and the least likely to make Jesus known.


We serve meals and distribute clothing like a mission, but always with a desire to walk alongside by providing a place of worship and friendship.


In the Old Testament Nehemiah was a prophet who stood and wept as he looked at the ruins of Jerusalem. He sought permission from the king to go and supervise the rebuilding of the old town. Through permission, community involvement, a lot of hard work and an unbending faith, it was rebuilt and restored to its greatness.


Community action and spirituality-- Windsor is a place where justice and mercy are poised to flow like a river. Consider how you can help us through donations, work teams and outreach. We need community partners, inspired individuals and understanding churches to share the journey with us.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

WORK HARD AND REST EASY


Jesus demonstrated a strong work ethic, both as a carpenter, then in his ministry. The disciples were astounded by the Lord’s stamina to minister all day and pray through the night. People who succeed at Kingdom work are those who understand the work ethics required of servants.


A strong work ethic does not mean becoming a ‘workaholic’. Jesus also demonstrated his ability to rest while others laboured feverishly. He slept in the boat and did not give in to the temptation to help the disciples with the rowing. At times, He walked away from the demanding crowd. Competent leaders work hard and rest easy.

Blog Archive