Friday, August 31, 2012

ACKNOWLEDGING MY MID-LIFE CRISIS


I think I will have a mid-life crisis. I’m not interested in purchasing a sports car or having an affair, but something is happening to me. I will be fifty-one in October and there is a growing awareness of imminent change.

Maybe it was the wedding that reminded me of this. After walking my daughter Karli down the aisle on August 24th, I turned and conducted the wedding ceremony. This is what I said after hugging her and shaking Doug’s hand:


Karli, on the day you were born I held you in my arms and felt an indescribable love for you as our firstborn child. That love has never diminished-- only grown.

Today, your mother and I are filled with joy as we release you from our home to be joined with Doug in starting your marriage. The Scriptures teach that God’s blessings extend for a thousand generations. That has certainly been true in the way God blessed our lives with you.


Doug, we love you for the man that you are and have never doubted the love that you have for Karli. We see how good you are to each other. We believe in you. On behalf of Marsha and I we release our only daughter to your care. We trust you and Karli to prove God’s love and faithfulness to one another.


And with that, I proceeded to lead them through the ceremony that confirmed the end of one life chapter and the beginning of another. My little girl is a grown woman and her stuff is in another house across town. We loaded two vehicles and drove the rest of it over to her place while they honeymooned in Cuba.

For fun, Karli, my wife Marsha and I sat down a week before the wedding and watched our wedding video from 1989. We laughed at our youthful ‘deer in the headlights’ appearance and the hair and clothing styles that seemed so cool at the time.

It truly was a ‘time-machine’ experience as I realized that our parents were the ages we are now. Our grandparents at the wedding are mostly in the grave as well as many other relatives and friends of a short time ago.

It is our parents that are now the grandparents and health concerns are a part of their everyday lives.

I am a middle-aged man thinking about what is behind and what is to come. I know I am not alone to be pondering these transitions.

For the approximately 10% of middle aged adults who go through an age-related midlife crisis, the condition is most common ranging from the ages of 40-60 (a large study in the 1990s found that the average age at onset of a self-described midlife crisis was 46). Midlife crises last about 3–10 years in men and 2–5 years in women.[i]

Monday, August 27, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: MIRACLES


On more than one occasion I have asked my congregation, "How many of you have experienced a miracle or healing at one time that convinced you that God had done it?"

Every time I have asked, about half of the people in the room lift a hand to indicate that to be their experience.

Where are the miracles today? They are scattered everywhere and usually only a handful know about it or will remember it over time.

Tim Stafford has written a comprehensive look at current phenomena attributed to God's Power. He shares many stories of people that experienced miracles and also those who have not.

The book includes a survey of biblical miracles, church history, Pentecostalism and barriers to belief.

As a card-carrying Presbyterian, he speaks to the common ground of prayer that all believers function in. He presents fair commentary on the strength and weakness of those who believe miracles ended with the apostles; to modern ministries like Bethel Church, The Vineyard, Benny Hinn, Jack Hayford and the experience of missions outside North America. 

He has an especially valuable chapter entitled, 'Can A Scientist Believe In Miracles?'

Tim Stafford encourages us to live in hope that God can surprise us. We do not need to follow movements or personalities, but follow the signs to the King.

I will recommend this one widely.


_________________________



"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. 
Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Thursday, August 23, 2012

THE OUTCOME OF INCURABLE INDIGNATION



Matthew 13:
36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.




At the end of the age, Jesus says that God’s angels will come into the world and separate the wheat and tares. The wheat will be preserved while the weeds are bundled together and thrown into the fire.




Jesus includes the phrase ‘Whoever has ears to hear let him hear’. This is significant because he is giving a message that people do not want to hear.

We may concede that there is a Devil who opposes God. We may recognize that there are desperately wicked people in the world that need to justly punished and restricted. But, we may not want to hear that God would actually condemn someone to Hell. Eternal judgment is where we would like a softer God to prevail, especially if we are at risk of going there.

No matter what our opinions of God are, Jesus consistently taught that there is a judgment at the end of time. God will separate wheat and tares, sheep and goats, righteous and condemned. Some will enter God’s Kingdom while others are banished forever from His presence.

The primary disagreement that people have with God sending people to Hell is a perceived inconsistency with His nature of Love. How can a loving God punish someone eternally for not accepting His Salvation?

The problem with the question is that we focus on God’s action and disregard the true nature of our own behavior and response to God. We would rather question God’s integrity than our own.

Matthew Henry said, ‘There shall be weeping, and gnashing of teeth-- comfortless sorrow, and an incurable indignation at God, themselves, and one another, will be the endless torture of damned souls. Let us therefore, knowing these terrors of the Lord, be persuaded not to do iniquity.’ [i]

In the end there are people that will not be cured of their indignation toward God, themselves and one another. These people do not belong with God or His family.

By trying to deny the plausibility of Hell, we minimize the true consequence of sin. Sin hurts you in the end. God knows that and is willing that no one perish. But if we will not come by faith to receive His Salvation, what other option is there? We know we cannot save ourselves. We are foolish to think that we can talk God out of the long foretold consequences of rejecting His Salvation.

Instead of questioning God’s Love, maybe we should hear the warning of Hell and turn quickly to be saved from it. We have a hard time accepting that some people do not want to be saved in the slightest. There are many who take the Law of God into their own hands and set themselves to be the Judge. Why do we think anyone can get away with that?

If we are to see God’s Love in Hell, it is His insistence that each has the freedom to turn away from Him. No one is beyond the opportunity to enter the Kingdom. Love allows the other to reject and turn away. Love warns that doing so will be destructive and painful, but will not stop a heart bent on going its own way. I do not like this one bit, but I must concede that it is true.

On the other hand Jesus tells us that those God saves will shine like the stars. Abraham was promised that God’s family would be as numerous as the stars or the grains of sand along the beach. Even though it is a narrow road of Salvation, there is a countless multitude that will receive this inheritance.

You may be persecuted, harassed and troubled on every side. But, your time will come to shine. The end is coming. I hope you are watching for the God who saves.




[i] Matthew Henry’s Commentary Mt. 13:42

Sunday, August 19, 2012

HANDLING PEOPLE PROBLEMS



Matthew 13:
36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.


In our response to troubling people, we often want to uproot them. If we can just kick them out, we will have a pure group. The workers in the story respond by asking the farmer if they should pull out all the weeds. There are often other people who have opinions about how you should deal with the person who is trying to harm you.

This farmer teaches us a new perspective on the presence of evil in the world. He knew that their knee-jerk reaction to problem solving would lead to greater problems.

Despite the workers' willingness to try, it would be difficult for them to root out the many tares at this stage. The weeds had grown enough that their roots were already intertwined with those of the wheat but not far enough that it would be easy to distinguish them from the wheat; uprooting thus might endanger the wheat.[i]

Jesus story certainly gives us a way to look at people problems. When we act quickly to uproot troublemakers, we may end up hurting others in the process. Knee-jerk reactions to evildoers usually do several things:

1.     The enemy gets the reaction they were looking for from you
2.     The victim(s) justify their anger, resentment and defensiveness instead of examining their part in the conflict
3.     The angry and hurt response leaves no room for sober thinking on the matter
4.     Other people get uprooted when you respond ‘eye for eye and tooth for tooth’. There is always collateral damage when you act hastily and recklessly
5.     Retaliation causes an escalation of evil intent
6.     The victim(s) fail to involve appropriate authorities to mediate and determine a just response
7.     We reduce the opportunities for reconciliation and ‘win-win’ outcomes
8.     We focus on the person’s bad behavior and attitude rather than the evil puppeteer who pulls their strings. The Devil is at work in the world to destroy the work of God and uses people to do it


Jesus’ story amplifies the truth that God is the final Judge. If we are to live in God’s Kingdom we will learn to co-exist with evildoers and allow God to bring every matter to its final conclusion. This does not come natural to us. We are like Peter who grabbed the sword and cut off a man’s ear when the posse came to take Jesus away. The Lord uses the terrible circumstance to heal the man’s ear and leave the final outcome of His own life to God’s judgment.

Kingdom people are called to join God in reconciling the world back to God. We go extra miles for people. We return good when evil is given so they have the opportunity to change their heart.



[i] The IVP New Testament Commentary Mt. 13:24-30

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

ENEMIES AT WORK WHILE YOU SLEEP



If you have an enemy, they may be ingenious in their deception to bring harm your way. They seem to have help beyond their normal intelligence to cause trouble and cover their tracks. Why do evildoers sometimes seem to get away with it?



No doubt you want to retaliate and respond immediately to the person who is out to ruin you. They may catch you unaware when you are sleeping or not paying attention, but you wake up eventually and realize what they have done. Jesus teaches a better response to evil.












Matthew 13:
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”


The old English word used for weeds in this story is tares. While we think of weeds as being any undesirable plant in our yard or garden, tares has a more sinister meaning.

Tares (KJV) or weeds (NIV) here are darnel (Lolium temulentum), a poisonous weed organically related to wheat and difficult to distinguish from wheat in the early stages of its growth. Given the occasional feuding of rival farmers, it is not surprising that Roman law would specifically forbid sowing such poisonous plants in another's field or that one who found an abundance of such weeds would suspect an enemy's hand.[i]

The devious neighbor with an evil plan plants weeds that start out looking the same as the wheat. It is not until the plants grow that the poisonous weed is revealed. The enemy is deceptive, but the victim suspects where the trouble has come from.

It reminds me of the guy who snuck into his neighbor’s house and released one hundred white mice. The neighbor soon discovered that his house was being overrun with mice and decided to move away. Sometimes the bad guys seem to win.

In Jesus’ story the enemy tries to destroy the work of another man, but God’s wisdom in the matter teaches another way to deal with the problems caused by another.



[i] The IVP New Testament Commentary Mt. 13:24-30

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A MOST DEVIOUS NEIGHBOR WITH AN EVIL PLAN


Several years ago I took some of my window screens to a hardware store on the west end. I walked in and noticed that the store was filled with old stock and dusty shelves. This did not appear to be a busy place.

There is something you should know about me. I have the mantle of confessor upon me. Often I will be in conversation and the other person will say, “I do not know why I am telling you this.” Then they will tell me something that they have never told anyone else.

What should have been a five-minute stop to arrange the screen repairs turned into a forty-five minute listening session as the business owner took advantage of having a customer that would listen to his stories.

He was foul-mouthed and bitter. I don’t think he was looking for redemption as much as an opportunity to brag about his escapades. I have long since forgotten his stories except one.

It seems that the neighboring building had a tenant that gave him a hard time. There were many exchanges of tension and threat between them.  They were bitter rivals. One day the hardware man decided upon a strategy to get his rival neighbor to move away and it worked.

He went to a pet store and bought one hundred white mice. When the neighbor was away he broke into the building and released the mice. It was not long until the neighbor discovered that his building was overrun with mice and decided to move out.

If you have an enemy, there is no limit to the deception and treachery that will be used to ruin your life. Human history has repeatedly proven that people will do unthinkably horrible things to get their way and destroy their enemies. The question is what are we capable that can destroy the life of another? Is there a way that we can secure our lives, our church, our city, our nation and our world from those who would destroy us?

Where is God when people act out in horrible ways?

Why can’t we be friends?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A CONFESSION TO MY FRIENDS AT PARKWOOD GOSPEL TEMPLE

Almost forty years ago I moved to Windsor the first time. I was a grade seven boy at the front end of puberty in a new neighbourhood called Forest Glade. I was the new kid at Roseville Public School coming midway through the year. I was the new pastor’s kid at Riverside Evangel Tabernacle that would soon become Calvary Community Church.

Like any normal kid, I wanted to be accepted and make friends. I wanted to find some way to fit in and belong. Those were interesting and formative years of my life. I discovered God, girls and guitars but not always in that order.

My teen and early twenties were times of wrestling the angel to receive God’s blessing. In many ways, I find myself returning to the mats with God and He still pins me. At that time of my life, the struggle revolved around asking God what I should do with my life. I thought he might need another rock star and tried to convince Him, but I discovered that God didn’t take self-absorbed cynics too seriously. I had an attitude that I could do something great for God as long as it didn’t involve going through the Church.

Looking back I realize how prone to cynicism I was. In my reaction to others I saw as hypocrites and Pharisees, I became twice the dark soul that they were. I cannot blame my family for this. I was responsible for fostering an elitist attitude. Back in youth group I remember joking with friends by asking the question, “Do you know where sinners go?” The answer was “Bethel” which of course became University Gospel Temple that became the church where I’ve been invited to speak this morning…

It turns out that it’s true. Sinners do go to Parkwood Gospel Temple-- and the church I pastor and every church that puts a sign out front with the words ‘Every one welcome’.

In my youthful zeal I did not realize that I viewed churches in a tribal fashion. There was a good group (us) and there were you. Today, I find myself wrestling the angel over a dozen other groups of people that I have lumped into ‘us and them’.

Gather people together around a common cause and you will create ‘us and them’.  What can be more familiar than the differences between ‘us and them’?

Children quickly learn to differentiate between the desirable kids and the undesirable-- the ‘haves’ and the ‘have not’s’.  They perpetuate what they see all around them.

A reading of Jesus’ words and action reveals a vision of humanity that redefines ‘us and them’.  As a Jewish man from an unimportant town, He taught a new way of looking at Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, male and female, master and slave.  He did not obliterate cultural and gender distinctions, but redefined the rules according to God’s emerging Kingdom.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

THE STORIES WE WILL TELL


Instead of thousands of technical words, Jesus provokes and stirs emotion with simple stories that echo the lives of his listeners. These are ways for us to picture God’s Kingdom. The father figure, the shepherd, the servant, the children, poverty and wealth, success and failure… look at the pictures!


Who hadn’t noticed that a tiny seed turns into a tree that in turn multiplies its seed? Who hadn’t felt the family tension in the story of the prodigal son? Who hadn’t been frustrated recently by losing something valuable and tearing up the house to find it?

What is the Kingdom of God? Technically speaking it can be summarized this way:


The kingdom of God comes into being wherever the kingly authority of God is acknowledged. Although God is always sovereign, Scripture looks to a future “realm” or “reign” of salvation. This has come in Christ and yet will come in its fullness only when Jesus Christ returns.[i]

What does it mean for us to acknowledge Jesus as our King? We live in a democracy where political leaders get very little respect. What do we know about having a king? We need stories to tell us what a king is like.

The King is coming back and will establish His rule of peace. What does world peace or even individual peace look like? We need stories that help us to understand what we have not experienced.

So many stories… and the mysteries of God’s heart are revealed to those who listen and reflect upon the stories.

The term gospel, or good news, itself, means just a proclamation of the information, of what happened - The Great Story. And that's what the gospels are, a narrative tradition, the story of Jesus.[ii]

Jesus told many stories that draw us into seeing the greatest story of all. God’s story includes many chapters and scenes. In fact, you are in the Story.

Every story has a tension and a struggle that must be overcome. In the Great story, God’s prized Creation is being ruined. God must act to save and restore the world He loves. The Enemy of God almost succeeded in ruining everything, but God had a plan that involved paying a terrible price—the sacrifice of His Son. Once that was completed, the Kingdom story passes hands and we became intimately involved in seeing it unfold.

At the end of this Book, there will a Great and lasting victory. At the end of this Book, the next book will be written. Your life story can literally become what we read about in the future Kingdom.


Revelation 12:
10 And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.
11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.

Your testimony (story) may have been tragic, but your story can change to one more person who overcame God’s Enemy by standing behind the Shield of Lamb’s Blood. Your story is not finished. There are many more pages to be written. I can see you and I standing there on that Day reading the rest of the story.

We fell in love with the high King of Heaven and were willing to live as part of His Story. Our own trivial pursuits were not worth dying for, but we went to the ends of the earth for this King! Let’s write that story together. There are many listeners in the world who need to discover their way into the Great Story.

Michael White said:

Story telling was at the center of the beginnings of the Jesus movement. And I think we're right to call it the Jesus movement here because if we think of it as Christianity, that is, from the perspective of the kind of movement and institutional religion that it would become a few hundred years later, we will miss the flavor of those earliest years of the kind of crude and rough beginnings, the small enclaves trying to keep the memory alive, and more than that, trying to understand what this Jesus meant for them. That's really the function of the story telling...it's a way for them to articulate their understanding of Jesus. And in the process of story telling, when we recognize it as a living part of the development of the tradition, we're watching them define Jesus for themselves.[iii]

How can we picture God’s kingdom? What kind of story can we use? We need to see our lives as the drawings in God’s Book. Every one of us is a picture that illustrates the author’s story and gives expression to it.

Every picture tells a story.



[i] Dictionary Of Bible Themes, 2376 kingdom of God, coming of
[ii] L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/oral.html
[iii] L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/story/oral.html

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