Saturday, 21 April 2018

The Exchange: A Day of My Life for ...

"The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" (Psalm 14:1)

Every once in a while I discover a little nugget somewhere that ends up having a profound effect on me. It's not about whether the source has Christian origins or not. It's about a truth in a message, regardless who the messenger is.

Today was one such day when I discovered the following, said to have its origin with the Trappist Monks at Genesse Abbey. It goes something like this:

This is the beginning of a new day. I've been given this day to use as I will. I can waste it or use it for good. What I do today is important because I'm exchanging a day of my life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving in its place something I have traded for it. I want it to be gain, not loss; good, not evil; success, not failure; in order that I shall not regret the price I paid for it.

Profound, isn't it? I thought so. For me it begged the question: "How do I spend my days?" Can I name even one positive thing that came out of today? Was someone's day a little brighter and more hopeful because my path crossed theirs today? Was I a blessing today?

Or did I essentially waste the day, once again, a day that I can never get back? Maybe I was more of a curse than a blessing. Maybe I once again dragged my sorry self through the day, complaining about who knows what, being a cantankerous old fool, and taking down those whose paths crossed mine, as opposed to blessing them. I hope not.

What did you exchange for this day of your life?

Something to think about. Peace.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Friday, 16 February 2018

What Are You Doing Here?

“… and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, What are you doing here, Elijah? … And behold, there came a voice to him and said, What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19: 9,13; Amplified)

My wife and I have both been reading though the Old Testament again lately, and as often seems to happen, a nugget comes to mind that makes us stop and reflect and fellowship around that nugget. Recently she shared with me the “what are you doing here?” nugget above from 1 Kings. For several days now, I have not stopped for long in meditating upon it. Is God trying to say something to me? Hmm, I wonder.

What are you doing here?

The context is an interesting story. There had been a three-year drought in the land, and food and water was scarce. Elijah goes to a destitute widow in Zarephath, to a poor woman who had nothing, who happened to be picking up two sticks for dinner for herself and her son. God miraculously provides for Elijah’s needs through her, and for the needs of the widow and her son as well (1 Kings 17).

A little while later Elijah finds himself alone in a showdown with a bunch of pagan prophets. Long story short, two bulls are sacrificed; one for all the prophets, and one for Elijah. Neither altar is given the customary fire. The prophets dance around their altar calling on the name of their deity, but nothing happens. Next it’s Elijah’s turn. He begins by increasing the odds against him by three times calling for four jars of water to be dumped on top of the bull and firewood. God shows up and burns up Elijah’s sacrifice, to the amazement of all. All the pagan prophets are killed, the rains return, and the drought was over (1 Kings 18). King Ahab tells his wife Jezebel what Elijah did to all her prophets, she gets ticked and threatens Elijah, and Elijah runs away scared for his life (1 Kings 19).

What are you doing here?

Every time I’ve read this account of Elijah in the past, I’ve always thought of the “here” that God speaks to him about in a geographical sense. “Why are you here?” (insert name of city or town where you currently are). Where is “here?” Of course, it’s a place. That’s what “here” is; it refers to a place. As you read 1 Kings 19, there are several places mentioned. Go to any one of them, and you could say, “I am ‘here’.” However, true as that may be, I’m starting to see another possible way to read the “here” that has nothing to do with a geographical location.

Could it be that maybe the “here” is also a state of mind or circumstance? How did I get myself “here” (teenage pregnancy)? How did I get myself “here” (addicted to alcohol or drugs)? How did I get myself “here” (obese)? How did I get myself “here” (divorced)? How did I get myself “here” (constantly stressed out)? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Is that what God asked Elijah those two times in verses 9 and 13 of 1 Kings 19? “What are you doing here, Elijah” (running scared)?

What are you doing here?

I’ve never claimed to have this faith-walk thing all figured out; not by a long shot. Yes, I believe God has shown me some interesting things along this pilgrimage of mine, but time and again I’ve also made a royal mess of my spiritual walk. I too have seen God’s hand miraculously in my life on more than one occasion, and sometimes I too have still run scared. Why?

Oh, I know I’m not alone. The Bible is full of examples of people who have seen the miraculous hand of God, only to turn and run scared or do something incredibly stupid and unbelieving. As I’ve reflected on that a time or ten, both on some of the antics of biblical characters and my own stupidity, it seems fair to say that sometimes we Christians act more atheistic than the atheists themselves. At the very least, sometimes we seem more agnostic than Christian.

So when we see Elijah, one of the mighty men of God, fresh from back to back miracles, running scared, it makes me scratch my head in wonderment. Part of me wants to yell out, “What’s the matter with you, Elijah? God just worked in some pretty incredible ways in your life, and you’re running scared from some heathen queen, the very one whose prophets were just proved false?” Still, I’m not one to judge, because I’m no better. “What are you doing here, Will?” Hmm.

What are you doing here?

Is there an answer to the “here” problem? If so, I have yet to figure it out. All I think I know, is that the particular “here” that God asked Elijah about, and asks you and me about, is not really the place he desires us to be. I cannot believe that God desires us to run scared, or to experience teenage pregnancy, or to be addicted to drugs or alcohol. And I certainly cannot believe that God’s plan for us is to be constantly stressed out over all the junk this world has to offer and seems to demand of us. The good news is, God loves us too much to leave us alone in our “here,” and so He comes to us, as He did with Elijah, and wants to care for us and give us rest. The good news is, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3: 22-23; ESV)

Thomas ‘A Kempis once said, “Habit overcomes habit,” and I like that. Maybe the answer lies, at least in part, in the creation of some new habits. That’s not to say that everything about our particular “here” will suddenly change and get better. They could, and yet consequences for our previous actions can also still remain. The teenage pregnancy will still lead to an infant being born at an inconvenient time in life. An addiction can still yield irreparable damage to the body.

Maybe that is why God asked Elijah those two times, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God is in the restoration business, and maybe before He can bring that restoration, He wants us to each come to grips with the question, “What are you doing here?” It is not about condemnation, for there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Rather it’s about a God who loves us enough to confront us with our “here” in an effort to heal and restore.

What are you doing here?

Photo Credit: Nina Matthews Photography; Flickr Creative Commons

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Government: The Other Church Member?

So it would seem that the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and his Liberal party have once again endeared themselves to Christian churches with their latest political left-wing agenda. Ah, the drama of this former drama teacher and his cronies would be amusing if it were not so sad. What is it this time?

This time the circus performance centres on new changes to the summer employment program, whereby organizations, including churches, can apply for subsidies to hire students for summer jobs. Unlike past years, part of the conditional application, apparently now requires applicants to take a pro-abortion stand on their applications. If I read this correctly, the bottom line is, anti-abortionists need not apply. The bottom line is, think like and agree with Trudeau, or stay home. Democracy? Hmm.

Still, I am not really pro or anti any political party. I'm actually seriously contemplating never voting again. The old adage that one should vote for the lessor of the evils doesn't work for me; it is still voting for evil. It's the world's governmental system; these Caesar's are here today and gone tomorrow when another Caesar comes along with his/her mouthful of manure to, oddly enough, endear the masses tired of chasing the south end of the previous northbound horse. Truth be known, and harsh as it sounds, all politics is little more than s**t, no matter what the title or the political party. None of it has anything to do with God, and personally, I'm tired of bowing the knee to Caesar.

"What harmony can there be between Christ and … " (2 Corinthians 6:15)

Though I'm a Christian, I really cannot join these churches in their quest to change the government's position. While I am a man of prayer, I won't be joining their call for the faithful to pray about this matter. Now this may shock you, but I say, "So what! Who cares?!" The creation of student summer jobs is an admirable one, no doubt. But I fail to see why church institutions should expect a secular government to contribute to their programs.

Personally I think that churches are too married to the Caesar's of the land already. They have charter numbers and indirectly through that are entitled to seek government charitable donation receipts. At the risk of further offending, maybe the government needs to scrap that too! I cannot help but wonder how many would continue contributing to the churches' coffers at the same level if there were no tax receipt attached. Hmm, but that's a topic for another day.

There are plenty of reasons why I think we all need to do some serious rethinking as to how we do church. Government interventions are but one of the many reasons why I dissolved my association with the institutional church over fifteen years ago. There are many more reasons, to be sure! However, as someone once said, "Oats come a little cheaper once they've already been through the horse." By linking ourselves to the state, have churches become lethargic and content with second-hand oats? Whatever happened to the purity of clean and unadulterated oats? Hmm.

In revising the abortion laws, it was Justin's father, Pierre Trudeau, who once said, "There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation." I would like to suggest that there is also no place for the state in the churches of the nation. Churches would do well to stop abdicating their responsibility as a church by expecting handouts from the government to do what they alone were called to doing. Failure to do so simply means that the government can come along any time they want and essentially tell the church what to believe and what to do, as they seem to be attempting in this instance. Their financial contributions to the institutional church essentially makes them church members, and as such Big Brother has a vote in its operation.

I love the (non-institutional) church, and I love Jesus. But I'm gaging a bit on the thought of a State Church, one which, if we are not already there, we seem to be headed full steam towards.

That's the way I see it anyways. Peace.

Source: Summer Job Program Changes Anger Churches

Sunday, 7 January 2018

of Bumper Stickers and Tailgating Jesus

Well here we are, one week into yet another new year. A time to celebrate and share hopes and dreams for good things ahead. So let me ask, how has 2018 been for you thus far? Awesome? Maybe less than awesome? Perhaps ‘Meh’ describes it best? I confess that mine was pretty awesome … on day one. After that it’s been, well, rather, … meh.

I’ve never really been one too much for New Year’s resolutions; mostly I think they’re a waste of time and never last the first week anyways. If they do, there’s probably a pretty good chance that come February, they’ve already fizzled out. I’m not sure what the actual statistics are on New Year’s resolutions, or if anyone has actually studied them for that matter. However, I remember some years back when my wife and I were members at a local gym, we always saw a huge increase in traffic at the gym on January 1. By mid-month, you'd never know it; traffic patterns were pretty much back to pre-January norms. New Year’s resolutions are, well, … meh.

But I’m not pointing fingers; eventually my own lofty weight loss and fitness goals also fizzled out. I know that I should get back to it, but often something inside of me just seems to time and again say, … meh.

Having said that, there is one “resolution,” however, that I do desire to see succeed, though often I feel like I’m only batting 5% at best. Year after year, and often throughout the months in between, the regular desire of my heart, is a closer following of Jesus. This yearning is evidenced by this bumper sticker someone created and shipped to me recently.

Are you following JESUS this closely?

What a timely gift! I love the double entendre; it speaks loudly to my abhorrence with tailgaters (even though I have to confess that sometimes I’ve been one too). Perhaps more importantly, it asks the sobering question: How closely do we follow the Lord whom we claim to love and follow?

While in context referring to the end of the Babylonian captivity, I believe the Lord’s message through the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Israel rings just as true to you and me today. The Lord said, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Yes, a different context, but the same divine expectation from the same God. Are we seeking God with all our hearts, or only with half (or less) of them? Remember, Jesus himself said that he wasn’t into lukewarm followers (Revelation 3: 15-16).

Are you following JESUS this closely?

I’m not there yet, not by a long shot! But as I pick myself up and dust myself off from my latest sad-excuse for a Christian walk, I resolve to move forward and strive to follow Jesus a little closer, and with a little less lukewarmness. Thankfully God is gracious, merciful and loving, and He does pick up the pieces of broken lives that seek after Him with all their hearts.

So here we are at the genesis of another new year. It is exciting to see what God may have in store for us. As we wait on Him, I'd like to challenge each of us to be tailgaters of JESUS. Yes, follow Him that closely. But please, let's refrain from tailgating the car in front of us; that might not end as well.

And, please, no more, … meh.


Monday, 13 November 2017

A Hard Word: Does Your Ear Have An Itch?

"And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray." (Jesus; Mt. 24:11; ESV)

I saw this cartoon online recently and the first thing I thought was, "There is probably more truth than fiction here." Obviously we cannot and should not paint everyone with the same brush, yet it seems to me that when I look at much of the "Christian" (or maybe "pseudo-Christian" is a better word) world today, many seem to have traded in "what God has said" for "what you would rather hear." At the very least, there seems to be a growing tendency among some to recreating God in their own image and after their own twisted and hermeneutically-flawed interpretations of the Bible.

Maybe it's always been that way and we're just noticing it more and more now in this online digital age, where everyone can publicly share their own brand of heresies and two-cents worth for all the world to read and get more confused by. It's gotten to the point where I find myself needing to unplug from social media more and more, and return to curling up with my Bible or another good book, just to clear my head from some of the garbage and pseudo-Christian teachings out there. Again, I am not painting all with the same brush; there is lots of good solid and sound doctrine out there too. However some of the stuff out there, disguised as Christian, I'm sure must make the early Christian church turn in their graves!

And yet it really shouldn't surprise us. Paul said to Timothy, "For the time is coming when [people] will not tolerate (endure) sound and wholesome instruction, but, having ears itching [for something pleasing and gratifying], they will gather to themselves one teacher after another to a considerable number, chosen to satisfy their own liking and to foster the errors they hold, and will turn aside from hearing the truth and wander off into myths and man-made fictions." (2 Timothy 4: 3-4; Amplified)

Remember someone else who once asked, "Did God actually say …?" (Genesis 3:1). It seems to me that he asks it still and unfortunately many, even in the church, are listening. 😢

Maybe it's just me, but when I look around me at some of the things the church now accepts as normal, things clearly contrary to "what God has said," not just in Old Testament law but also in the New Testament, it all looks like a whole new religion. What do we do with that? It worries me to think of how many people, despite all their good intentions and sincere beliefs, may one day hear an "I never knew you" from Jesus. It's a hard and troubling word, and yet it is there in our beloved Gospels. Again, what do we do with that?

"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way
is easy that leads to destruction." (Jesus; Mt. 7:13; ESV)
Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name and driven out demons in Your name and done many mighty works in Your name? And then I will say to them openly (publicly), I never knew you; depart from Me, you who act wickedly [disregarding My commands]." (Matthew 7: 21-23; Amplified). Yes, that's a hard word.

Does your ear have an itch? Be careful who you let scratch it.

Something to think about. Peace.

Cartoon Sources: Unknown

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Habit Overcomes Habit

"Habit overcomes habit."
(Thomas 'a Kempis)

This week marked another first for me. No, it wasn't something off the proverbial bucket list like going to the infamous Sturgis biker rally was for me a few years ago. But it was a first nonetheless, in that it I had never experienced anything quite like it before, and most likely something that I may never experience in my lifetime again.

What am I talking about? I am talking about sharing a lunch table with a coworker and friend, as well as four elderly nuns clad in their traditional habits. My only regret is that I didn't think to get a picture until it was too late.

Working for a Catholic-based healthcare organization as I do, though I am not Catholic myself, I have met several nuns (sisters), all of whom, like nurses, have shed their traditional habits/uniforms and begun dressing like everyone else. That's really unfortunate, in my humble opinion. I fear they may have thrown out the proverbial baby with the bath water. I'd long to see nurses once again uniformed in their traditional whites and caps, and I'd love to see nuns in their traditional habits, but I've digressed from what I've intended to say here.

So when four nuns who used to manage one of the healthcare facilities that I now work at were invited to visit their old facility, and came dressed in their traditional habits, I simply had to sit down with them over a meal. As I reflected on this afterwards, a couple things struck me as interesting:
  1. It's perfectly all right to not agree with everyone on matters of the faith. These sisters and I are clearly not on the same page when it comes to understanding our faith walks.
  2. There is nothing like sharing a meal together to at least semi-erase those lines of division and soften the tensions between brothers and sisters of different faith backgrounds.
  3. Jesus ate even with sinners and prostitutes; can we not at least eat with those who call on the same Lord and God, albeit with a little different understanding than ours?
  4. Maybe we are to be pitied more than all men if we think that we, in our little traditions and denominations, have a clearer understanding of the things of God than those in other traditions and denominations. At the very least, do not such attitudes border on arrogance on our part? Hmm, I wonder. 
  5. It seemed clearer than ever throughout the meal that they too were children of our Heavenly Father, and if He has accepted them just as they are, dare I do otherwise?
  6. Maybe that is why Jesus is so often depicted in the Bible at a table, even with a Judas. There were no Judas' at this table, though I personally have walked a less than exemplary Christian walk myself a time or ten. I suppose therein is the lesson: "There is no one righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10). Thankfully that's where grace comes in.
  7. Judgment, if it is to happen, is not our responsibility; loving others, including those who think differently than us, is our responsibility. If we are to be judged, perhaps it will first and foremost be on how well we did (or didn't) love one another, and perhaps especially those who think differently than us. Let's leave it to God to sort out the rest of the puzzle.
I was reminded of the time when we pastored an institutional church years ago. Before going to church, my wife almost always put a pot roast or some other dish in the oven on a timer. Then, if we saw a new comer in the church, we always invited them home with us for a meal. Regardless of where they came from, or whether or not they shared our faith views, they went home at the end of the day feeling like someone cared and that they made new friends. And all of this was before we even had a chance to discern exactly where they stood in the faith.

Yes, there is something about sharing a meal that breaks down walls of mistrust and misunderstanding, and helps us to see others through the eyes of Jesus. The habit-clad nuns I met that day, and had the privilege of sharing lunch with, turned out to be beautiful and wonderful people. My prayer is that God may bless and keep them.

What an awesome day! What an honour to share the table with those beautiful saints! If anyone walked away blessed that day, I'm pretty sure that it was me. Something to think about.

Peace & Blessings, my friends.

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons

Saturday, 7 October 2017

"Thoughts and Prayers" Revisited

“Faith without deeds is dead.”
James 2:26

So, I am a little confused about something. What’s with this “Thoughts and Prayers” phrase that one often hears touted everywhere? The “Prayers” part I get, so long as it’s genuine and not just another pat christianese mantra, but the “Thoughts” part? What’s with that? What does that even mean?

Someone’s going through some difficulty in their life, and the pseudo feel-good answer they get from a would-be well-wisher is “Thoughts and Prayers?” Am I missing something here? If we are men and women of faith, then by all means let’s pray for one another. Obviously that’s even biblical. “The earnest (heartfelt, continued) prayer of a righteous man makes tremendous power available [dynamic in its working]” (James 5:16; Amplified).

Yes, by all means let’s be people of prayer.

But what good are “Thoughts” in dealing with someone’s crisis or misfortune? Are good thoughts better than bad thoughts or no thoughts? Some poor single mom can’t afford to feed her kids, or someone is sick and/or dying, or unemployed, or depressed and burned out; are my “Thoughts” about their predicament going to change anything? “Prayers” will, if it pleases the Lord; but “Thoughts?” Sorry if this sounds a little crass, but “Thoughts and Prayers” seems somewhat hokey-pokey to me.

“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2: 15-17; NIV)

In other words, forget the “Thoughts” part and actually do something.

Maybe this saying/mantra needs to be reworded. As suggested by the cartoon above and by James 2, perhaps we should scrap the “Thoughts and Prayers” in favour of “Deeds and Prayers.” Perhaps instead of just thinking about a problem someone has, we actually go and do something about it. No, God isn’t calling us to save the world, but as proof of our faith, perhaps He is calling us to do our little part in the corner of this rock called Earth that He’s planted us in. Someone once said, “Bloom where you are Planted.” In other words, don’t just have good “Thoughts” for someone. Bloom and make a difference where you are, but do something. Words and "Thoughts" alone are cheap.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (Matthew 5: 13; NIV).

“Thoughts” alone are like salt that has lost its saltiness, “It is no longer good for anything.” Forget “Thoughts and Prayers” and start thinking (no pun intended) “Deeds and Prayers.”

The “Prayers” of true faith will always be accompanied, not with “Thoughts,” but with deeds and action. Just thinking (just having good "Thoughts") is useless unless it leads to doing good.

Yes, do something; don’t just think about it, unless of course, you only want others to share their good "Thoughts" with you and do nothing to help you in your predicament if the shoe were on the other foot. I guess it all comes down to the proverbial Golden Rule. "Thoughts and Prayers?" Hmm. 😕

1st Cartoon Source: Unknown (via Facebook)
2nd Cartoon Source: © 2016 Kristian Nygard