Sunday, 24 March 2019

The Kingdom's Bigger Picture?

"For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you." - Isaiah 41:13 (NIV)

Do you ever get discouraged? I confess that I sometimes do. At times like that I think it is important that we stop, take a breath, and be reminded again of the Kingdom's bigger picture. Be encouraged; God is still in control. 😊

I came across this refreshing nugget today and thought it worth sharing. May it be a blessing.

πŸ’­ πŸ’­ πŸ’­ πŸ’­ πŸ’­

"It helps, now and then, to step back and take in the long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts: it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is the Lord's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No sermon says all that should be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. That is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted knowing they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that affects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very, very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the Master Builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future that is not our own."

Quote: Oscar Romero, who was assassinated on this date, March 24, 1980, as he was saying Mass in El Salvador. Source: Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Thursday, 21 March 2019

The Sheep and the Goats Revisited

"The poor you will always have with you" (Jesus; Mt.26:11)

Perhaps one of the world's greatest injustices is the plight of the poor, the hungry and the homeless. This is one thing in third-world countries where the vast majority of the population is poor, such as in Bolivia, where 70% of the population lives on the equivalent of $2 per day or less. Or even Haiti which is poorer still. It's quite another thing in well off rich nations where we are guilty of throwing away perfectly good food, all the while others go to bed hungry, assuming they even have a bed to go to.

According to one 2016 article, $160 Billion worth of good produce ends up in landfills each year. That translates to about 60-million tons of perfectly good food, or 50% of all produce in the USA ends up in the dump. Taken another way, one-third of all food combined is trashed! Shame on us!

None of us are stupid; lethargic and insensitive maybe, but not stupid. I don't have to mention what that volume of food could do for the poor, hungry and homeless in our communities. Then again, with such waste, maybe we are stupid. Hmm …

"If your enemy is hungry, feed him" (Romans 12:20)

In all fairness, I know that many retailers, at least where I live, do donate great amounts of produce, meat and other fresh foods to our local Interfaith Food Banks. There is nothing wrong with these foodstuffs; they're just approaching the "Best Before Date" that many of us shy away from. Kudos to them for that! I will happily support retailers with values and ethics like that.

As I reflected on this further, perhaps the real irony in all this is that we may actually need the poor, the hungry and the homeless at least as much as they need us, if not more so. How so? I'm glad you asked. Perhaps we need them to teach us how to care enough to give to the less fortunate instead of only wallowing in our self-centeredness.

I remember years ago in seminary, I happened to meet a young lady in an extended care hospital while there visiting someone else. A friendship was struck up, and though I was extremely busy during those years - married with young children, working full-time nights, and going to school full-time days - I managed to somehow find time each week for a visit with my new friend. Even when I was tired and exhausted, and wanting nothing more than to go home and get a few hours sleep, I regularly went to see this young lady. Why? Maybe I felt sorry for her, since she never seemed to have any visitors, maybe it was none other than the prompting of the Spirit of God leading me there, maybe it was something else or a combination of all. But once thing was certain, though I went hoping to be a blessing, inevitably I was the one who went home feeling blessed.

Yes. Maybe you and I need the poor and less fortunate even more than they need us.

Is there someone whose path crosses ours that is hungry? Thirsty? A stranger or someone who is sick or in prison who could use a visit? Is there someone who desperately needs some warm clothes? Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40).

Yes. Maybe you and I need the less fortunate even more than they need us, if for no other reason, than to learn how to really follow Jesus. Anyways, that's just my humble musing. Peace.

POSTSCRIPT: To get the fuller picture, I would encourage you to read the full context of the Sheep and the Goats parable in Matthew 25: 31-46. Do we identify better with the sheep or the goats? Hmm, I wonder.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

O God, We Grieve the Hatred

Copyright 2019 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. Used by permission.
"Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."
(1 John 4:8)

My son shared this hymn with me which I thought both beautiful and timely. It comes on the heels of the recent New Zealand terrorist attack in which many Muslims were gunned down and killed as they worshiped and prayed.

Unfortunately there is a plethora of other global terrorist activities in our recent history as well. The media is currently also reporting of Nigerian Christians being massacred in great numbers by extremists. One doesn't need to look very hard to find it. Extremists spewing forth their hatred are alive and well; religious and non-religious alike sharing in this common depravity. Even in the name of Christianity we have historically let our propensity for pseudo-love (aka., hatred) show the world that we too desperately need a Saviour to change our hearts. Oh God, have mercy! Hatred is nothing new; mankind has known it since virtually the beginning of time. The second generation from Adam already knew it when Cain killed his brother Abel in cold blood (Genesis 4:8). Today man's inhumanity toward fellow man continues.

O God, We Grieve the Hatred!

So what do we do about it? Is there any hope for us? Why does it seem that God is silent? Will this circle of hate ever end? If we were betting on it, the odds would seem to be stacked against it. Yet hope remains because "God is love." None of this has escaped His notice either. We may not understand why He permits horrible things like this to happen, but that doesn't mean that God doesn't grieve over our inherited tendency towards hating each other. Even Jesus wept at the death of a friend (John 11:35). God does care.

Call me utopian if you will, but I think there has always been that flicker of light and hope in this dark world, and that light is none other than you and me made possible in Jesus. All it takes is for one person to let their light shine (Matthew 5:16), and then for another person to do likewise, and then another, and then another … well, you get the point. One little candle, doubled, and then doubled again, can soon set a whole forest on fire. One genuine act of love can work toward disarming hate by spreading to another and becoming two acts of love; then four, eight, sixteen, etc. Simplistic? Yes. Utopian? Maybe. Impossible? No. I guess the only question is, do we want it? Do we really want it? If so, then what are we waiting for? To borrow that overused clichΓ©, "What Would Jesus Do?" Short answer: LOVE, despite the hate and regardless of like faith or not, LOVE one another.

Love begins with you and me. As John Lennon once sang, "War is Over (If You Want It)" By extension, hate is over, if we want it. Do we want it? Again, it all begins with you and me.

Something to think about. Peace.

POSTSCRIPT: A very special "Thank You" to Carolyn Gillette for permission to share her beautiful and most timely hymn. You may want to visit Carolyn on Facebook.

As I pondered the question of where is God in all this, and why does He seem so silent, my dear wife, who also has the gift of a timely word, shared this song with me from one of our all-time favourite artists, Andrew Peterson. I leave you with this, my friends. May it be a blessing.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Do We Need a New Christian Worldview on Politics?

"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies." ~Groucho Marx

I have a confession to make: I’ve been robbed … repeatedly. No, I didn’t go to the police and report it. Quite frankly, I doubt they could do anything about it, or even prevent it from happening yet again.

Just what was stolen? I’m glad you asked.

My peace was stolen … again and again.

There are a lot of things that can rob us of our peace, but one of the triggers for me personally is political rants, discussions and memes. I find myself easily angered over what we armchair politicians perceive to be injustices and stupidity by politicians and their ilk, who by obvious virtue of their disagreement with our own political savvy, are equally moronic. How easy it is to relish time in the cesspools of their faux pas! Yes, I am being a little facetious! 

Have you ever noticed that? Perhaps you wrestle with the same demons. As Christians, what do we do about it? Why do we allow ourselves to get so embroiled with the secular world and their choice of kings? Why do we allow our peace to be so absconded with by those who don’t know Jesus? Do we need a new Christian worldview regarding politics? Hmm, sometimes I think so.

Growing up in the 1960’s and the early 1970’s, I was fortunate to have been able to do a significant amount of international traveling with my family. Some of the countries we visited were politically similar to our homeland, whereas others were vastly different, as when we crossed the infamous Berlin wall, several years before the collapse of communist East Germany. Why do I mention this? I do so to illustrate that we were travelers, aliens if you will, in a land not our own. As such we had no real voice in the political arenas of those countries, not that we wanted it in the first place, nor did we get ourselves too bogged down in the mire of those systems. Fact was, we had no vote or voice in the affairs of the land, and our time there was limited. Soon we would be home again with little more than memories of some wonderful times, regardless of the politics of those areas.

I think therein is a clue for a new Christian worldview of politics, and by default, peace. Peter speaks of the church, of God’s elect, as “strangers in the world” (1 Peter 1:1), and again as “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Peter 2:11). Is that still true today? Are Christians still “aliens” in a world really not their own? Are we just traveling through, “sojourners” to coin an old word, in earthly lands that ultimately we are not citizens in, much like my family’s international treks of many years ago? Or have Christians so bought into the secular world’s political mantras, that to listen to them carry on, you’d have to wonder where their allegiance really lies?  When Paul says, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20), that’s not just in some future tense; it is equally true of today.

Let’s take this a step further. As Christians, if our allegiance lies with King Jesus, the one who said that he’s going to prepare a place for us and then come and take us to our true home to be with him (John 14: 2-3), then isn’t it fair to say that allegiance to worldly kings (political systems) is paramount to polytheism? Maybe that’s a little extreme, but extremeness is a great illustrator. The way my own personal peace has often been stolen from me when I allow myself to get wrapped up in the political debates around me, almost begs the question as to whether or not I’ve been worshiping at some foreign god’s altar. If so, then as a Christian, as a citizen of Heaven, it’s little wonder there’s no internal peace. The god (master) of politics is money, and Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24). In other words, try to serve two masters, and it will cost you your personal peace. Besides, it’s tough to reconcile an angry spirit, regardless if the trigger is political or something else, with the love and forgiveness the Christian is called to in Christ Jesus.

So where does all this leave you and me today? I think it forces us into a decision, perhaps not too dissimilar to the choice Joshua placed on the Israelites of old when he said, “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15). Choose your citizenship and focus your efforts in that kingdom. What it doesn’t mean is that we have license to somehow become so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good. Being a part of the kingdom of Heaven means that we do have responsibilities to our neighbors and community. We do have a responsibility to feed and clothe the hungry and the poor, to visit the sick and imprisoned, for in doing so, Jesus says that we are really doing so for him. Conversely, failing to do so is failing to do so for him, and brings with it a curse and eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). This has nothing to do with earthly politics, but has everything to do with being a true citizen of Heaven.

Having said all that, there is one area that Christians are to be politically minded; we are called to pray for our leaders. Paul said, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2: 1-2). Jesus took it one step further when he called us to pray even for our enemies and those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Have you ever tried praying for a political leader, and especially one that you don’t agree with? Though I have prayed for them from time to time, I confess that I haven’t done so regularly enough. It’s not easy. How about praying for an enemy? Tough, isn’t it? However, if there is one thing that I’m certain of it is this: The more you pray for someone, even enemies, the easier it is and the less likely that they remain your enemy. 

Maybe you agree with my take on this, and maybe you disagree; I’m not here to argue the point or to try and sway you over. This is just my humble musing that I’ve been wrestling with for some time. In my quest for increased personal peace, I am choosing to stay quiet with my political opinions and views, and deliberately scroll past all such posts on social media. I deliberately choose to lean more towards being uninformed, if necessary, on the political scene as opposed to wrapped up in its idiocies. I may or may not choose to vote when an election is called. I am, after all, a stranger and an alien here; here for only a short time, and am looking forward to my Heavenly home, where my true citizenship lies. Maybe I’ll arrive there today, maybe tomorrow; perhaps next month. As such in my pilgrimage through this life, I choose not to waste energies chasing after the wind of earthly kings and their political agendas. I cannot help but believe that doing so could lead to missing the boat of focusing on what my King Jesus wants of me today, and that is to be concerned with the things he’s concerned with, which is usually vastly different than what the political systems of our world are focused on.

The bottom line is that, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son …” (John 3:16). He did so for Liberals and Conservatives; he did so for Democrats and Republicans. He did so for Communists and Atheists and whatever other “ists” there may be. He did so for the politically minded and the non-politically minded. Dare we fight and condemn and belittle and curse those for whom Christ also died – Christian or not – simply because they think differently than you and me? Utopian? Maybe, but I think it behooves us to at very least pause and think more carefully on these things. Selah.

Peace and blessings to you and yours. 😊

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." (Jesus; Mt.22:21)

POSTSCRIPT: Like most blog posts, there is so much more that can be said about the subject, and so many more Scriptures that we could look at. Perhaps there will be a sequel post or two to this subject. Are there counter arguments? No doubt there are. Still, as already mentioned, this is just my own humble musing.

Photo Sources: Unknown