Monday, December 31, 2007

I don’t need Satan to tempt me, I can do it all by myself

Some people believe that God allows Satan to tempt them. If we are Christians, I believe God doesn’t allow Satan to tempt us, as He did in Job’s case, but protects us by the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ. But does Satan need to tempt us? As the bumper sticker says We seem to do a pretty good job of tempting ourselves. And for this reason, Christians are often no different than any other ‘Joe’ or ‘Joanna’ we may see on the street. But if we truly believe that Jesus is the Son of God and who God is, temptation shouldn’t be the problem we make it out to be.
1 Peter 5:8 says that Christians must “be self-controlled and alert [because] your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” This verse is a reason why Christians often do one of three things when they find themselves in trouble. They may cower in their fear, concluding that they are unable to do anything about the fact that Satan is stronger than they are, therefore they must accept defeat. They may attempt to take him on one-on-one, in their own strength, designing their own battle strategies because they believe that ‘Satan is not as big as the Bible says he is.’ They may conclude that, ‘no one else has had this problem before, so no one can help me with it.’ Or they may ignore the supernatural altogether and conclude: ‘I created this problem, so I must solve it myself.’
This last option is a good one when the problem is a spilt cup of coffee or a bulging waist line. Even when the problem involves people, other human beings can and should expect to play key roles in solving the problems they are Involved in creating. But everyone over the age of five can probably realize when a problem is too big for simply their own strength to fix. But millions of Christians believe ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength’ (Philippians 4:13) so they say, ‘I can do it by myself, thank you very much.’
But has Christ given you, even a plural you, the strength all the time? Instead of relying on ourselves, our friends, or even our churches, I argue that when the problem is too big for human means (or even when it is not) we should rely first and foremost on our God.
Instead of Fighting, fleeing, or failing to notice that Satan is simply doing his job in our society, there are at least three proven strategies that work.
1. Believe that God is bigger than anything we may come up against.
Romans 8:31-35 says: So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God's chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture. (The Message)
2. Cheer up because you are not alone in your struggles.
1 Peter 5:9-11 says: Keep your guard up. You're not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It's the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won't last forever. It won't be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does. (The Message)
3. “Pray continually.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
James 5:13-16 says: Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (NIV)
As we enter a new year, having faith in our God, taking heart in our current situation and praying for ourselves and our friends are three New Year’s resolutions I intend and hope to keep. The following is my prayer for my new year. Though I didn’t write it, I will gladly join in. Feel free to join me, wherever you may be reading this at the moment, having faith that God is listening to your prayer.

Heavenly Father,
we come before you
today to ask your forgiveness
and seek your direction and guidance.
We know your word says “Woe to those
who call evil good” but that is exactly
what we have done. We have lost
our spiritual equilibrium and
reversed our values.
We confess.

We have ridiculed the absolute faith of your Word and called it ‘pluralism’.
We have worshipped other gods and called it ‘multiculturalism’.
We have endorsed perversion and called it ‘alternate lifestyle’.
We have exploited the poor and called it ‘lottery’.
We have honored laziness and called it ‘welfare’,
we have killed our unborn and called it ‘choice’,
we have shot abortionists and called it ‘justifiable’.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it ‘building self-esteem’.
We have abused power and called it ‘politics’.
We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ‘ambition’.
We’ve polluted the air with profanity & pornography & called it ‘freedom of expression’
We’ve ridiculed the tine-honored values of our forefathers and called it ‘enlightenment’.

Search us Oh God and know our hearts today.
Cleanse us from every sin and set us free.
Guide and bless these men and women
who have been sent to direct us
to the centre of your will.
I ask it in the name
of your Son, the
living Savior,
Jesus Christ,


Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one
Matthew 6:12-13

Prayer taken from: “Recapture the Wonder: Experiencing God's Amazing Promise of Childlike Joy” by Ravi Zacharias

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Quiet Christ – Part 1

Salvation was the last thing on my mind. Day in and day out, the first and only things I thought about were to “kill or be killed, to plunder or be robbed, and revolt or submit, the forbidden ‘s’ word. My life was one of constant movement, running from the Pharisees, Sadducees (I prefer to call them the harass-ees) and the like. I was always the life of my angry, ranting ‘parties;’ always demanding revenge against Harod, Caesar, whoever, it didn’t matter to me. Nothing mattered to me, I didn’t matter to me!
Before I ended up here, in the filth and mire of death row, I was always running, yelling or both. Whether it was for my life or my death, I was not sure. Rioting in the day, when I could be seen, and robbing at night, my life had become what I did for a living, a riot. Peace, what is peace? It did not exist for me and I had no desire to find out if it could. Life wasn’t great, but it was what I had made it. And at least I wasn’t a tax collector, a leper or a woman; and there are lots of those. So, as I see it, I guess I was somewhere in the middle of Caesar’s hierarchy.
I’ve been here on death row for a week because of my latest rantings. Though they have put me away for a night and a day many times before, whether a few weeks for robbery, a few days for raising a ruckus downtown or a few hours for rape, I’ve always found my way out. Many friends of mine have received slaps on the wrist like these before, but I am the first to sleep here.
For a few days, I was proud of myself. “Matthias or Judas had never been here. If I would live to tell the story, they would be proud of me,” I thought. But I didn’t care. Instead of eating bread and wine I had stolen, locusts and drips of dirty water were now my regular diet. Sleeping in my own disgusting mess, on this cold, compacted slab of dirt in this pitch black dungeon was the pit I had dug for myself. I guess I better just lie in it.
It seemed like I had spent an eternity here before anyone yelled at me from the other side of the wall, until I recognized Matt’s voice, a friend whom I had robbed with on many occasions. The last time I heard from him, he had told me of someone who might just be my room mate.
Matt - Hey Rabby, are you in there?
Rabby – Yeah, wasting away as normal. I am getting used to the taste of locusts. Hey, can you throw me anything?
Matt – Just some day old bread, I’ll try to get it through your window, it’s pretty tiny though. Hey have you heard about this guy, Jesus?
Rabby – Oh, that guy. Lots of people are talking about him. I hear he’s gonna die with me soon. He’s just another criminal like me, another worthless, useless bag of scum with no reason to live. When he gets in here, heaven knows what I’ll do to him.
Matt – But he’s not quite like that. Yeah, he may be your room mate soon, but thousands of people follow him every day. I heard that he has healed people of leprosy, allowed the lame to walk, given sight back to the blind, raised the dead and even healed people from a distance!
As Matt continued to yell from the other side of the wall, I became intrigued as never before. Though Matt had finally thrown some bread through the window, I wasn’t hungry. I was too interested to eat. This man had been charged by the Harassees with a similar crime as mine and they hoped to given my sentence for doing the exact opposite of what I had done. Instead of robbing and murdering, this man had created more of what the people needed, like bread and wine and that sort of stuff. And instead of rioting, this man had offered peace. My attitude began to change.
Rabby – He has some kind of ‘in’ with people in high places, huh? Could he get any bread or wine in here? Gee, if my cell mate can do that, I wonder if he can pick these chains apart too.
Matt – Well apparently, he’s done it all. He’s quite a magician. I’ve heard that he’s walked on water, turned water into wine and he’s even fed the thousands who follow him with a shepherd boy’s lunch.
Rabby – Well, that will definitely keep them coming back for more.
Matt – But that’s just it. He says that we don’t have to come back for more bread or water. He says he is the manna and the well spring of life.
Rabby – If he can provide all that food, that’s quite a currier service he’s running.
Matt – And the clincher is the best part. All we need to do to get all this is believe.
Rabby – Believe what?
Matt – Believe that he is who he says he is.
Rabby – Well, who is he?
Matt – He says he’s the son of his father.
Rabby – Well, that makes sense, so am I.
Matt – But that’s why the Harassees want to kill him. He says his father is . . . Yahweh!
Rabby – Well, if he ever comes in here, I’ll ask him about it.
As Matt left and I slowly gnawed my way through the tough bread he had thrown through the window, I began to wonder. “Manna and wine of life . . . Healer, even from a distance. . . Son of Yahweh. . . Well, my life looks like it will end soon. He can’t give me what I really need because he’s out there and I’m in here. And even if he could give me life for a few days, it wouldn’t matter, because we will both be dead soon. But how can he give life anyway? He’s just like me, ‘the son of his father.’ He’s a nobody.

The Quiet Christ - Part 2

I will never forget the next night. As I heard another few hammer-whacks pounding nails into flesh and wood, and the agonizing cries that immediately followed, I began to see life, or rather death, from their point of view. It was just a matter of time when that would be me, and time was ticking. When I was free, I remember seeing their crosses on the roadside. It scares me half to death when I hear them groan.
It was now late Friday evening (at least I think it was Friday) and Jerusalem would soon celebrate the Passover. It would be my first Passover in prison. On most
evenings, people were in their homes getting ready for the coming meal, but tonight I could hear the faint murmur of a distant, angry mob shouting my name. My ears perked up. After a short hush, I heard the mob shout even louder, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” I guess tonight is my night to join those other criminals on the crosses outside, and my hope of having a new room mate, has run out.
But wait . . . the doors were opening . . . ‘who’s the new criminal?’ . . . But there was none. Just a couple of guards walking purposefully in my direction!
Guard – “Barabbas?”
Rabby – “Yeah, it’s my time isn’t it.”
Guard – “The crowds want you, so out with you.”
As they led me through the streets to the waiting crowd, protesting outside Pilate’s house, my knees shook and buckled as I expected the worst. But nothing came. This gruff form of mercy was something I had never felt before. Maybe I’ll get to see the city one last time before hanging from a cross.
But as I drew closer, I heard the crowd chanting joyfully, “Barabbas is free, and Jesus will die! Barabbas is free, and Jesus will die! Barabbas is free, and Jesus will die!”
Is this Jesus the same person Matt was talking about? The man who can heal from a distance?
As I looked up, I saw the man I thought was Jesus. Wearing a crown of thorns on his head, he had marks from his most recent scourging showing through the purple garment he was wearing, down to his bare feet. He was being led away by several guards who took turns mocking him, hitting him with their staffs on his thorny crown, chanting “hail, king of the Jews!” And this ‘king of the Jews’ would die instead of me? This didn’t make sense. Night time is usually the best time to rob people, but I would set my job aside for one night to watch this fascinating plot unfold.
Pilate decided that the crucifixion would take place on scull hill, a place where I had been many times to say my last good byes to some of my closest friends. And if I had time, I would have asked Judas and Matt to come along with me. But who knows, maybe they were in the crowd.
It took a good hour to make it to the top as Jesus, whom they referred to as ‘the Christ turned criminal’, who was carrying his cross, was in no rush to be nailed to it. I was somewhere in the middle; hearing jeers from Harassees and other men, weeping from women pleading for his release and hungry, tired children, who didn’t want to be there at all.
Though there was hardly any room for a passing lane, a man running towards us attempted to do just that. Late for dinner I suspect. But the Harassees denied him safe passage and demanded that he carry Jesus’ cross back up Skull hill, as he had collapsed under its weight and didn’t have the energy to rise without help. If there was anyone who deserved to carry a cross, this cross, it was me. I could feel a tear running down my cheek because I could not give him the help he needed. He was taking my place, after all.
I was shell-shocked at the recent events. Two hours ago, I was expecting to die at any time. Instead, I am here, watching a complete stranger take my place and die instead. I began to connect the stories Matt had told me the other day and those of crying women behind me. They seemed to make sense somehow. “If this man had done all these good things, why is this happening to him? If I had done all of these bad things, why is this happening to me?”

The Quiet Christ – Part 3

After he was nailed up, I sat down behind the Harassees with my two friends who were in the crowd after all. Those who had crucified him started to throw dice for the clothes of the three criminals on the three crosses. Jesus, the quiet one, was in the middle and most of the relentless attention, scoffing and mocking was directed at him. But he said nothing! If they hadn’t yet done enough to scorn this man, someone wrote a sign that labeled his crime: “King of the Jews”. Gee, that sounds familiar. I didn’t know Harod’s title was a crime? The Harassees said that we should just leave him alone, so Judas, Matt and I sat behind them, hoping to receive some of the warmth from the fire they had made.
If you haven’t seen a crucifixion, they are long, ugly and tiring. Like a prison sentence where the goal is simply to ‘do the time,’ the responsibility of a crucified man is both to ‘do the time’ and ‘bear the pain.’ I hate the idea of doing both.
In addition, though it was mid afternoon, this crucifixion took place in the dark. Soon after the Harassees lit their fire, the heavenly lights went out and the only source of light and warmth was those quickly quenching flames. Needless to say, with no light, nothing to do, and little to talk about, we all fell asleep.
Some time later, we awoke. The fire had long gone out, the game of dice had ended because of the darkness, and those Harassees had gone. Others had come to take their place, but only a few people still remained.
As we leaned against each other, talking, rubbing our hands together to keep warm, nodding in and out of sleep, none of us were thinking about work. We were all thinking about how an innocent man could receive a sentence he did not deserve. Judas, Matt or myself would have been ideal candidates, but this man? I know I am supposed to be a cold blooded, hardened criminal, but in spite of the cold around me, I began to sense warmth that I had never felt before, and somehow it seemed to come from this quiet one.
He remained that way for hours, refusing to answer the ridicules he received from all sides. But if someone mentioned something important, he did his best to answer their comments. For instance, at about two o’clock, one of the criminals asked:
Right criminal – “What are you doing here? I’m here for a good reason. I stole, killed, molested. But you? You just gave. Please remember me when you enter your kingdom. I’ll always remember you.”
Than I heard him speak for the first time.
Jesus – “Don’t worry. You’ll do more than remember me. You’ll be with me.”
How can he be so comforting when he is so uncomfortable? Does he know something that no one else knows? I guess he really must have friends in high places. And what was that about a ‘kingdom’? Really? You mean this title ‘King of the Jews” is more than just a cruel joke?
Though we continued to sit with our backs to each other, me watching the cross, and my friends watching the many passers by along the road, my friends began to be more and more interested whenever the quiet one spoke. The criminals, however, were constantly talking, making verbal jabs at each other, the passers by, and especially at him.
Right criminal - “Who do you think you are? If you are the Son of God, do something Godly. Dying on a cross certainly isn’t Godly!”
Left criminal - “So, you are the King of the Jews, are you. Well, I’m a Jew, and you are definitely not my king.”
Even the Harassees acted like children, making faces ridiculing this helpless man and chanting: “Nah, Nah Nah Boo Boo, you can’t catch me!”
But the quiet one was the man of the hour. He just took it. And some how he let their comments slide like water off a duck’s back. His mind was truly in another place, and nothing could be said or done to bring it back.
As time passed, the criminals became more and more anxious and, if you can believe it, he became more and more ‘comfortable’. The clincher for me was hearing him say
Jesus – “God, forgive them, they just don’t get it.”
Though I haven’t experienced it, I can imagine that time passes even more slowly when you are the one under pressure, or in this case, under pain. The next time he spoke, it was almost three, and he was obviously reaching the end of his endurance.
Jesus – “God! God!” he shouted, “Where are you? Why have you left me?”
And minutes later, he gave one last gasp, and said:
Jesus – “God, please take my spirit. It’s done!”
And with that, bowing his head, he died.
Immediately after his words, an earth quake that no one in Jerusalem has ever felt before or since shook the ground violently. The criminals on the crosses convulsed, while claps of thunder sounded and forks of lightening could be seen from one horizon to the other. I immediately leaned forward, bringing my knees to my chest burying my nails into my legs, closed my eyes as tight as I could, and shouted a prayer of some sort. I have no idea what I said. We were all crying out of fear.
Once the earth quake and the freak storm subsided, I heard someone close by say, “He surely must have been the son of God!”
Though you may have thought the earth quake was enough to kill them, the other criminals stayed alive until the guards broke their legs, bringing death to a quick completion. And until then, they had no one to poke fun at anymore.
Finally, the sky began to lighten. It was now just past three in the afternoon and I could make out the faces of my companions. Judas’ mouth gaped open as he stared at the dead man, still hanging from the middle cross.
Judas – “Wow, What a death! I’m glad we got to watch that one!”
Matt shrugged and began to walk away, “there will be more of those. I just hope it’s not my crucifixion people watch. If this man was Yahweh’s son, he surely could have done something to prevent it.”
Me? I was just perplexed. Speechless and in awe of this man who had more guts than I ever could. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop myself from weeping, because of grief, thankfulness and exhaustion. I hadn’t cried in many years and though, on previous occasions, I would have worked hard not to be emotional in front of my friends, I had no concern about what they may think of me at this particular moment. It was just me and this man. He was my only thought. What could I possibly do to thank him? Even though I didn’t know him, how could I honor his memory?
These were some of the questions I asked myself over the next few days, months, and years. These were the questions I had about this man, “The quiet Christ”

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure (1847)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Core of the Matter

Several years ago while I studied at Trinity Western University (TWU) in Langley, I spent the month of May in Fort Babine, British Columbia. Babine, a small, isolated First Nations reserve two hours outside of Smithers, is a community that rarely sleeps soundly. In the late afternoon, young men may be playing hockey in the gym while women watch; elders may be making moccasins to sell, or catching, drying or packing fresh moose-meat for the coming winter. As the night draws on, William may order a Pay-Per-View match of World Wrestling Entertainment, others might play video games, or watch movies. But while the clock ticks closer to midnight, bottles of alcohol inevitably begin to open, and instead of thinking about bed, the “party begins.”
Quinton (13) and Tashawnda (11) are two native children who were adopted by a single native, Christian woman named Violet. They slowly learn the virtues of the Christian life through the work of their mom, missionaries from Streetcorners Ministries in Smithers and a few students from TWU. For several years, I was one of those students who hoped to encourage them in their young faith.
When school ends at 3:00, Quinton and Tashawnda join their class mates in the slow but short walk back to their homes down the road. I have assisted Mr. and Mrs. Forbes, who have inevitably given homework that they inevitably dread. As I join them in their walk back home, I encourage them to complete it quickly so they may be able to watch the new DVD Violet just bought them, go fishing off the Babine Bridge or join their older friends in the gym later on for a game of hockey. But as I say this I equally understand that the chances of this happening are slim.
In the evening, the struggles continue. Tucking them in to bed, reading them Bible stories, eating an apple, and saying Good night at 11:00pm rather than 1:00am seems to be a good idea for kids who have been brought up well by well meaning parents. But when you have been raised in a place where kids fall asleep at one or two in the morning in front of the TV, reading of any kind may not occur at all outside of school, and a bag of chips is more readily available than a healthier piece of fruit. Needless to say, it takes a lot of work, if it is attempted, because even this tiny piece of wisdom, ‘go to bed early’ is rarely, seen as fun or a good idea. Therefore, wisdom like this is rarely enforced. Instead, it is most likely heard as a command that was made to be broken, given by an exasperated mother who would do anything just to get some peace.
So when the kids run home for lunch, I mention to Violet that I would like to tuck her kids into bed that night, read them a story, give them an apple (like my Dad did for me) and make it fun for them. Tashawnda has a friend over that night, and Quinton has decided to join his friends at the school, so at around 10:00, which soon becomes 10:30 Tashawnda and Kiesha are finally ready.
As I hoped and expected, they saw this as an exciting idea and ten minutes later, I gave them apples to eat while I read them “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstien, a book that takes only minutes to read, but a lifetime to practice. As I finish, I realize that the girls, who have pointed at the pictures and ask questions throughout, have eaten the apples down to the core and if they found them appetizing would probably eat the seeds as well. It was obvious to me that they had enjoyed a different way of spending an evening at home.
In Philippians 4:7-8, Paul gives pieces of wisdom that are more important than going to bed early, brushing your teeth, reading a bed time story or eating an apple. Here, he says we should think about things that are “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.”
When we see others do things that are different, we can not help but become curious. As we examine their actions, we often wonder what it would be like to practice what they preach. I’m sure that in the afternoon Tashawnda and Kiesha were curious about what might happen instead of watching yet another movie late into the night. And after the light was switched off and “Good Night(s)” were exchanged, I couldn’t help wondering if my tiny act may affect these two girls in a small but substantial way. An early bedtime, an apple, a story and hearing the words “good night”, may not be what Paul is encouraging us to do in Philippians 4, but I think it’s a good start.

Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf[a] welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

Mark 9:36-37

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Until we Stop Remembering

How good are you at remembering? Our culture runs well when appointments, obligations and responsibilities are remembered, but collapses, one piece at a time, when these utterly important errands are forgotten. Every year Canadians have a holiday weekend in November called “Remembrance Day”, an annual chance to remember those men and women who died, are dying or will die for our freedom. In four months, we will remember another death with another national holiday. Whether you consider Good Friday more or less important than November 11th, humankind has considered this death, that of Jesus Christ, one of the most important in history. Though this comparison can break down easily, and may be seen as sacrilegious, I would argue that the sacrifices our soldiers make for us can be viewed in a similar light as the death of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
Last December, I enjoyed a beer while talking with a dear friend of mine who may be asked, someday, to fight for his country in Afghanistan as the captain of a CH-146 Griffon helicopter. As we talked, he told me about the things he loves about flying, the other captains, commanders or Lieutenants he works with, and the changes he has seen since moving to Edmonton three years ago. Currently, Steve continues taking steps foreword in his training, being involved in search and rescue missions, flying in and through canyons in the Rockies and strapping himself in for simulated missions at the CFB Namao air base, just outside of Edmonton.
In the BBC documentary “Why We Fight?” (© 2005 Charlotte Street Films, Ltd.) Eugene Jarecki gives many reasons why soldiers may choose to fight for their country. Soldiers are famous for listing “freedom” as one of their reasons for fighting. They may have done it because their parents and grandparents had fought and it was expected that they would fight as well. In more recent years, “revenge” has become the reason why we fight. And of course, servicemen and women are paid well. My friend Steve has a heart of gold, a mind that would allow him to thrive at anything he wanted and a deep and sincere Christian faith. I also know that Steve loves adventure but, when I first heard about the adventure he had chosen, I was confused. “Can’t he find a different, safer adventure?” But when I asked him “Why he wanted to fly in the face of possible danger?” he simply said, “I want to. I don’t want to be a transporter (flying for an airline) I want to FLY.”
How many soldiers who decided to fight in Afghanistan knew they would die for our freedom and therefore for us? Though he did not fight in Iraq, Afghanistan, the west bank or in any of the other 30 wars currently being fought on this planet, Jesus did. And because of this, He was one of the best freedom fighters the world has ever known. Whether it was through His righteous anger as he cleared the temple (Matthew 21:12-17), his defiance against the ‘teachers’ of his day (numerous sightings), or the way he defended His fellow outcasts, Jesus fought for what was right (Luke 4:18-19). Before He was born, His death was predetermined by His Father, and He was determined to make every day of it count for the Glory of His God. Because of these actions, he inspired Paul to write:
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)
These words were written almost 2,000 years ago and I know that Steve believes them. But the fact that we do not need to fight with our hands to make a difference still remains a hard lesson for the world to learn. Whether our wars are large or small, we often conclude that “just one more war is necessary to teach ____ that my way is right.” Humanity does not remember the importance of each individual life well enough to stop killing it. If we did, we would stop the blood bath and then, we may be able to stop remembering. Until then, we will always need this annual day.
We often remember little, unimportant facts: sports stats, gas prices and math statistics. Steve remembers these things. But he also remembers other, more important numbers like, birthdays, e-mail addresses and favorite Bible passages. He is an example of a person who remembers the finer things in life: coming home for Christmas, watching a good hockey game, and walking and riding miles with his brother, sister and friends.
Several years ago, I bought a Christmas card that shows a Christmas tree on the front. As I opened its many folds, I found that the tree’s branches slowly disappear to reveal a cross. As we enter into the Christmas season, the fact that Jesus, “the freedom fighter”, was born to die is one more thing worth remembering. Steve remembers this!

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words!”
Galatians 5:1-2

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Blessed are the Piece-makers

“Hi, I’m David and I’m an anxiety addict.” Every day I wonder if I can match up to others’ expectations of me. Do I perform my job correctly? Do I spend my free time effectively? This is what the little voice inside of me asks regularly. Or in bed at night, I think and wrestle over positive or negative ways that I can change myself, others or anything else I may be able to effect. These questions make me and keep me anxious. And I can’t seem to get away from them.

Several years ago, a speaker at my favorite summer camp spent the week talking about the beatitudes that Jesus lists in Matthew 5. At about that time, I had a shirt that stated one of them on the back: “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). The speaker’s hope was that the campers would form their lives around what he referred to as the “Be-Attitudes.” As I grew, I continued to work at building my life around these truths. Now that I am older and wiser, I realize that I probably have, though because of my anxiety issue, I still find that true peace is a fleeting desire. I have also learned that there may be more Be-Attitudes than I originally thought.

My parents have been marriage and family councilors for years. My Dad has been a pastor since before I was born, and I have heard many testimonies of how they have brought about and encouraged healing in the lives of their clients. (See their website for more.) Because of people like them, I don’t believe the beatitudes of the New Testament are exhaustive, because I would not be surprised to hear Christ say something like this:

“Blessed are the Piece-makers for they shall be whole.”

People who look at my parents, and others like them, wonder in awe at how they can maintain a marriage, raise a family or disciple a community as they do. My answer: “Because they do their best to be piece-makers, they are blessed.”

Just like the other beatitudes, piece-makers are not only professional councilors, psychologists or pastors and others who seem to have their lives together. Piece-makers could also be stay at home parents, truck drivers, or hopefully S.E.A’s like me. They are nobody special. They are just people who enjoy a good relational puzzle every once in a while. They enjoy the challenge of getting others on track, slowly fitting one piece together with its unique partner designed by God to make that person whole.

Last week, over breakfast, my boss placed a basket on the table and encouraged all the others present to take a sheet of paper and pray for the name on the paper. I grabbed one quickly and placed it in my pocket. A few days later, I approached the person whose name I had picked and asked, “So, how can I be praying for you?” I could have also said, “How can I pray so that the pieces of your life may fit, become bigger and you may become whole?” We are supposed to be praying for these people for one week, but I hope to remember this colleague’s name in prayer until the pieces of her life fit together.

Who is your piece-maker? And to whom are you being a piece-maker? Over the past few years, I have felt somewhat incomplete. I have been a Christian for over eighteen years so faith has become a fairly large piece in my life and probably isn’t my problem. I have graduated from university and college, so I feel like I have achieved in the academic realm. I am part of a church family that loves me to pieces (no pun intended), and is willing to find and put the pieces that are missing, together. However, as I mentioned at the beginning, anxiety has always been a close but unwanted companion. If you drew my name out of the basket, feel free to pray against this unwanted companion in my life.

Each of us, no matter what our age, faith or occupation is, can play a role in putting someone else’s pieces back together and they can do the same for you. In that way, we may feel blessed.

Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit.
Blessed is the lamb whose blood flows.
Blessed are the sat upon, spat upon, ratted on,
O lord, why have you forsaken me?
I got no place to go,
I’ve walked around soho for the last night or so.
Ah, but it doesn’t matter, no.

Blessed - Simon & Garfunkel

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


­Society today tells you that there are many reasons why it cannot love you just the way you are. It tells you that if you don’t look more beautiful, if you don’t wear the popular clothes, if you are not more cool, then people will not accept you. This is what it takes to be accepted by the standards of our society.

As I studied English in high school, I learned about something called an if / then clause. It is a rule that if you use the word ‘if’ in a sentence, you must also use the word ‘then’ soon after it. It is there to indicate a cause/ effect relationship.

In Herbie’s story, we read of a couple ‘if/then’ clauses in his life. If you believed that you had sinned too much for God to ever be able to forgive you, then you would feel hopeless about life. This is how Herbie felt. If you had “led a rough life” and had become separated from your family and friends, then you would become lonely. Just as Herbie was.

Often, society is cruel in its consequences for our actions. Perhaps you too have been through circumstances that have dealt you nothing but hopelessness, loneliness, and pain.

However, God offers us a chance to experience his blessing and loving kindness if we will only come to Him. In 1st John 1:7-9, the author tells us about three if / then clauses that lead to life! He says:

1. If we claim to be without sin, [then] we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

2. If we confess our sins [then] He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

3. If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, [then] the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

What peace and joy came into Herbie’s life when he submitted to God’s truth and came to Jesus for cleansing and a new life? This hope is available to all, if they only come to God through the way he has opened, his Son Jesus Christ. Please consider this final if / then clause in Scripture. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son. [If we] believe in Him, [then] we shall not die, but have ever lasting life.” (John 3:16 my paraphrase) If you truly catch the meaning of this, you will find eternal life...Just as Herbie did!

To learn more about Herbie, read his testimony at:

Short Term Vision

After John Esau signed in at the hospital, the doctors told him “the stab wound was not [his] greatest problem.” They had seen a bigger problem than he had seen. That must have been difficult for him to understand. “What do you mean a greater problem? I just got stabbed and am in excruciating pain, there can’t be a greater problem than that!” But the doctors had long term vision and saw his greater need.

Some of us suffer from a problem called ‘short term memory’ and because I am one of those people, I understand how frustrating it can be. I forget people’s names, conversations I have had, or responsibilities I may have just been given. Another, greater, problem that we all experience could be called “short term vision.” Something might happen to us because we can only see the short term consequences of actions we may take.

For example, if you’ve just lost your job, short term vision would probably result in anxiety, discouragement and very few answers to a growing list of frantic questions. You may injure your writing hand and wonder “how you will ever be able to complete this assignment on time. Or your computer may crash for no known reason, and the immediate problems you will face may be endless! Problems like these seem so big when we have short term vision and it is the only thing we can see. What will you do?

You can do several things in response to these problems. You can exhaust yourself thinking about how you could find another job or alternate income. You could try to teach your other hand to continue writing the assignment. Or you could pay as much as is required so the computer is fixed correctly. These ideas may or may not work.

But Jesus offers a fourth solution that has a 100% guarantee for those who have chosen to try it. In the Bible, He beckons us to:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Matt. 11:28

Jesus does not promise to be the man to fix all of our worldly problems, especially in the same way we want them to be fixed. But he will give us rest, the one thing we all seek but rarely find, if we simply ask Him for it.

To his horror, John Esau discovered there was a greater problem than his stab wound that needed to be fixed first. If you will let Him, Jesus wants to show you the greater wounds in your life that only He can heal, and are more important than the problems you can see like a lost job, a broken bone or a computer that shuts down. Jesus wants to give you long term vision, something that only he can give because only He has it.

Prayer for Long Term Vision

Lord Jesus, teach me to see what only you can see,

The eternal things that are currently invisible to me,

Give me long term vision so I( may trust you to make me free,

And take away my anxious thoughts and replace them with faith in thee!

To learn more about John Esau, read his testimony at:

Friday, October 26, 2007

I learn again

Sometimes when I am living inside my shell,
I believe I don’t need You more than anybody else,
But when I moved my eyes from You to me, I fell,
So, I learn again . . . I need You more than words can ever tell.

Sometimes I want the things I should not have,
Help me to love You more than the cookies on the shelf,
Lest I stuff myself with junk, accumulating desires and wealth,
I learn again . . . I need You more than I need myself.

To work for friends, grades, and a living is fine,
But what do we really gain in the daily grind?
Lord Jesus, help me to seek You most with my time,
Because, I’ve learned again . . . what I really need is Divine.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Silver Rule

Whether you call yourself a Christian or not, you have surely heard the words of Jesus at least once. Matthew 7:12; “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you”, is one of the most quoted verses for children. And, whether in a memorable context or one we would rather forget, we remember it as adults. Teachers quote it, encouraging kids to treat each other fairly, husbands and wives bring it to mind, reminding each other to love the way they desire to be loved, or business partners treat each other well, so that the favor might be returned. We refer to this verse as “the Golden rule” and we have worked hard to keep it.

This past week, I was on my way to a teacher’s conference in Kelowna with colleagues of mine. Just before we were to reach the toll booth on the Coquihalla, the engine gave up, and we coasted to a stop on the side of the cold, dark, road. Stranded, realizing we would not make it to the conference, our driver began to do everything in her power to make things right, waving for cars to pull over and offer assistance, making cell phone calls for a tow truck and apologizing repeatedly that our destination would not be reached. Our only destination was back to Vancouver in the cab of the truck.

As I sat in the warm truck, a question began to form in my mind. As teachers, don’t we give kids grace when they make a mistake? When we do the same, whether we have control over the situation or not, shouldn’t we give ourselves the same grace? At my school, we work hard to teach the next generation to obey the golden rule. But we forget the silver lining in it. If we personalize it for ourselves, it asks us to “Do to yourself as you would do to others.” What would this look like?

Two verses in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians focus directly on our responsibilities towards each other and ourselves. My paraphrase of Ephesians 4:31-32 goes a little bit like this.

“Forgive your friends, enemies and yourself because in Christ, God has already forgiven you. All bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and all forms of malice are history. Therefore, be kind and compassionate to one another.” Isn’t it better this way?

The effect of being forgiven is amazing. Like removing a huge weight from around our shoulders, the feeling of forgiveness is certainly underrated. We all agree that we should do it more often, but forgiving ourselves is and always will be difficult in a society that demands perfection of its members. What makes it worse is that we demand perfection of ourselves. Therefore, Bible teacher Chuck Swindoll's (see Insight for Living) hypothesis that, “we are the last to forgive ourselves” makes sense.

But if we remember the silver rule we may find forgiving our friends, enemies and especially ourselves much easier.

"If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

1st John 1:7-9

Saturday, September 29, 2007

It’s good . . . to be Lonely

I have a nasty habit. My habit is that I find too many things to be sorry for. In response to my apologies, friends and acquaintances may say, “it’s no big deal,” my Australian friends may reply: “no worries” and Timon and Pumbaa from the Lion King sing, “Hakuna Matata!” The idea of being sorry, worried or frustrated is ingrained in our North American culture. So when I listened to a song several years ago that said it’s good to have these feelings, I listened hard and often, and its reminder, has become one of my favorites. The song addresses three feelings which we would rather discard rather than face, but to each of these feelings, Wayne Watson says, “it’s good. . . .”
Psalm 23:1 says “GOD, my shepherd! I don't need a thing.” What, we don’t need anything? If we look around, it will not take long for us to desire something and we may find ourselves saying, “I need this,” “I want that.” Last night, I watched “Stranger than Fiction”, a movie about Harold Crick, an IRS agent, who falls in love with a client of his. In an awkward attempt to get closer to his newly found love, Crick bluntly states, “I want you.”
Loneliness is not usually something that we want. Instead, we would go to great lengths to avoid it. Being a shepherd, David, the author of Psalm 23, spent a lot of time alone and knew what it meant to be lonely. But rather than see it as a time of being separate from everyone, David viewed loneliness as a time to be alone, together with his God. Like David, Watson sees loneliness differently. In his first verse, he writes:

It's good to be lonely every now and again
To be parted from the ones you adore
To sit at a table for two all alone
And take a look at the world around you
At people with no one to go home to
Some with a place to belong
Others consumed by their weakness
And another when weak seems so strong

It may be impossible or at least very hard for us to find any reason why it would ever be good to be lonely. But if we spend time in this frame of mind, we may learn that there are indeed good things that can be found in loneliness. David found some of those good things in his Psalm:

You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.
Even when the way goes through
Death Valley, I'm not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd's crook
makes me feel secure.
You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.
Psalm 23:2-5 (The Message)

David doesn’t sound so lonely anymore, does he?

It’s good . . . to go down to Defeat

Genesis 37-50 tells the beautiful story of Joseph. His name means, “the Lord shall add,” and the Lord added to him many things. The casual reader may remember that God gave him power, making him second in command in all of Egypt. Or you may remember that he was his father’s favorite son, who gave him a coat of many colors. But did you know what God gave him? God gave Joseph a resilient spirit that accepted defeat, and an ability to overcome it that few people have ever experienced.

Again, you may be able to remember when Joseph was defeated. The story of Joseph being robbed, stripped and sold into slavery by his brothers is well known. But his greatest sense of defeat was when he was accused of rape by Potiphar's Wife, and spent two years as a criminal in the king’s prison for a crime he never committed.

Heaven and earth view defeat differently. The world views defeat as the way to prove that you are a looser, and Joseph may have felt like one on many occasions. But Heaven says the only way to win is to be defeated first and Joseph is an ideal example of this.

You have probably experienced defeat in your own life. Whether on the job, at home, or among friends, feeling defeated has been experienced by many. Wayne Watson continues his song with council for the defeated.

It's good to go down to defeat now and then
To fail at some noble pursuit
To fall short of the prize
And find in His eyes
There's nothing your victory can do
To secure higher favor
He cannot love you more than now
Winners and losers
All are the same somehow

The last line of this verse proclaims one of the most unheard truths in our society. Whether differences become evident at work, school, in your family or your social circle, we know we are “all the same somehow” and we cherish this. Yet as long as we view our differences positively, it makes us feel successful and we cherish them even more. “I was the only one to receive this raise because I was able to do something none of the others could.” “I’m the only person here to have this disability, so I ride for free,” or the old kids rhyme that I heard many times this week, “I’m the king of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal!” As much as we may claim that we are the same our differences stick out like soar thumbs, and as long as we are on top, we love them because that makes us unique. But, if we are not on top, our overwhelming feeling may be one of deep sorrow instead. It is to this topic that Watson turns next.

It’s good . . . to Know Sorrow

As years pass, it seems that more and more tragic events fill the front sections of our newspapers and magazines. Pastor Martin Neimoller was an outspoken advocate during one of the most horrific times of sorrow in recent years. But instead of reacting, he accepted the burden of collective guilt and suffering caused by Nazi Germany before and during WW II. On August 28, 1989, TIME Magazine published these words of his:

“First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Social Democrats,
and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Social Democrat.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew,
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.”

The questions we raise about the sorrows we can or cannot control paint a sharp contrast in our society. Why did hatred high-jack the minds of Nazi leaders to do what they did? Why have controllable acts like these been repeated since then? But then sorrows we cannot control also occur with greater regularity than we would prefer.

In a couple of days, my family will hold a memorial service for my grandfather. Though I knew that his death was imminent, swallowing the reality that I will not be able to enjoy another walk with him on the sea-wall, play a game of snooker with him or join him again for lunch is a memory I will miss.

However, Watson continues with words I needed to hear:

And it's good to know sorrow
To be closely acquainted with grief
To be showered with tears
No reason to cheer
To find in Christ your only relief

Will these feelings of loneliness, defeat or sorrow ever dissipate? I’ve had enough! God, stop! Bring me out of this dungeon! Comments and questions like these are what filled the mind of David and other psalmists as they wrote down their complaints and praises. And even though it is repeated to music, the chorus of Wayne Watson’s psalm is no different than the words of David.

Lord, let me be at peace wherever I am
Satisfied with all I have--A faithful friend
And know I am grateful
Cause if it makes me love you even more
I know--I'm sure
It's good to be lonely every now and again

What can we do after we are lonely, go down to defeat and know sorrow? Can we fight it and win, or flee it and find refuge? Not very well. Watson recommends peace, “Satisfied with all I have--A faithful friend.” At this point, and only here, can we be built up again realizing that all these feelings are good to experience every now and again.

God has said,
"Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you."

So we say with confidence,
"The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?"

Hebrews 13:5-6

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Missing God

Last week, after lunch, I turned on a baseball game. I enjoy watching sport and could say that when there is nothing else to do; watching sport is my favorite ‘pass-time.’

During the fourth inning, my mind began to wander. ‘I spent an hour with God this morning,’ I thought, ‘time that I planned in advance to spend with Him. But I have spent many more unscheduled hours away from Him doing other things, watching TV, surfing the internet, or being anxious about certain situations; things that may or may not make my life more worth while.’ This raised some questions in my mind. How much does God miss us when we spend time away from Him? How much do I miss God? How much should I miss spending time with Him?

We miss the people who are not with us। These may be people who are away for a short or long period of time. They may or may not be doing things we desire them to do, but we desire them to be with us anyway. Or they may be people whose situation we can do nothing about. This sometimes makes the grieving process even harder. But how do we feel about the presence, or lack there of, of God? Do we desire it as much as the presence of our earthly companions? Do we believe that God is a person who is, or can be, with us? And if we believe He isn’t with us at the moment, do we miss him?

In the latter half of Psalm 42, King David repeats the thesis statement of this psalm of sorrow:

I say to God my Rock,
"Why have you forgotten me?

Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?"

My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long, "Where is your God?"

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Psalm 42:9-11

In the Old Testament, the Israelites asked that someone speak with God on their behalf because the idea of speaking with Him directly scared them. But when Jesus Christ walked the earth, He showed us that communication with God is not an impossible hope. Though many ancient readers of Psalm 47 may have considered David crazy to want to communicate intimately with the almighty, Jesus proved that David’s prayer was not insane but could and should actually happen.

Oscar Micheaux, an African American filmmaker and best selling author once said, "Only when you attempt the impossible do you test the resources of God." Though under great discrimination and scrutiny, he casted the first all black film in 1919, and later wrote and published a best-selling novel. Micheaux believed that he could tap into the same resources that Kings David and Jesus did. Resources that no TV show, website or anxiety can ever provide.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Take it or Leave it - What do we do about the cross?

I have been calling myself a Christian for the past 18 years. My relationship with Christ began, in part, because of the miraculous works He has done in my life. While He performed His life changing work, those who watched and prayed for me at the time may have said something like, “How can God bring him through such suffering?” or “If I could only take away some of his pain, I would.” Those days were often long, tedious and hard. And if I had the ability to say, “Lord Jesus, Stop!” I may have just done it.

But since then, despite a few consistent and persistent challenges, my life has been a bed of roses. It turned out to be a little more ‘normal’ than it had been before, and my spiritual life, just like my physical one, became passive and bland. I was now walking down easy street with few bumps and bruises. Suffering seemed to be a thing of the past. That is, until I recently read the words of A.W. Tozer.

“The cross of Roman times knew no compromise. It never made concessions. It won all its arguments by killing its opponent and silencing him for good. It spared not Christ, but slew Him the same as the rest .... With perfect knowledge of all this, Christ said, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me. (Matthew 10:38)’”

After re-reading these words several times, I began to wonder, What has the cross done in my life? How does the cross continue to change my life? What am I doing with the cross? What does this mean?

As you are reading, you may be asking the same questions. “Deny myself?! Why, I’m happy with my ‘easy street’ life. Besides, I am a well educated, observant Canadian. I try not to deny anything, because that would mean, I am ignorant. And to ‘deny myself’? Christ must be off his rocker! And this, ‘take up my cross’? I work hard from 9-5, five days a week. Isn’t this enough stress? Christ’s words don’t include me.”

But in fact, Christ’s words are inclusive of everybody no matter how old, smart or well off they are. Each cross is unique and different, and as we grow, the crosses we bear change along with our circumstance. As a child, the cross might look a lot like a younger sister who has just taken away your favorite toy and will not give it back. As a student, the cross may look like a four year psychology degree you do not feel capable of completing. As a single adult, it may be loneliness or busy-ness personified. And as a parent or grandparent, the cross you bear may come in the form of anxiety in the face of great responsibility and exhaustion. The stress of the cross is gigantic, almost enough to bring our lives to an end.

In fact it is. As Tozer continues, “the cross not only brought Christ's life to an end, it also ends the first life, the old life of every one of His true followers.... This and nothing less is true Christianity. We must do something about the cross.”

Your response may be, “That makes sense. I accepted Christ ten years ago, myself. So, I have done something about the cross. I go to church every week, I tithe, I work hard to encourage others around me, I even volunteer for Sunday school. This must mean I’m a true Christian.” But Christ’s question still remains the same, “what have you done about the cross?” Have you taken it up upon your shoulder every day, or have you left it in a corner somewhere, hoping that someday, somehow, it might just go away and the stresses that come with it might just leave as well?

But like the inescapable problems we see all around us, this will not happen. Now that we have seen it, it is our responsibility to do something. We are no longer ignorant. But what can we do?

In a parable that many of us can see ourselves in, a “man distraught by all the pain and suffering he saw all around him broke down and banged his fists into the dirt. His head turns upward and he yells at his God. ‘Look at this mess. Look at all this pain and suffering. Look at all this killing and hate. God. Oh God! WHY DON'T YOU DO SOMETHING!!’ And his God spoke to him and said ‘I did. I sent you.’” In a similar light, Tozer concludes,”there's only one of two things we can do [about the cross] - flee it or die upon it!” What is your choice?

We must maintain a sober but optimistic realization that the cross is still there, ready and willing to kill. But though the cross inevitably brings death, Jesus, the author of life, said we must carry our cross daily, not ignore it, leave it at home or “flee it”. If we take up our cross, seek our Lord Jesus in prayer, and endure the temporary trials of this world, we can remain optimistic that life is waiting for us, just around the corner.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Parable of the Carrot, Egg, and Coffee

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs and the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word. In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her daughter, she asked, "Tell me, what do you see?" "Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied. She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. She then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, "What does it mean, mother?"

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity--boiling water--but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water they had changed the water.

"Which are you?" she asked her daughter.

"When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?"

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength? Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart? Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you can get better and change the situation around you with God's help. How do you handle adversity? When adversity strikes, ask yourself...ARE YOU A CARROT, AN EGG, OR A COFFEE BEAN?

Parables taken from:

Monday, August 20, 2007

“Me, Special?”

The other day, I received an e-mail, which said: “I've been rating your intellect, wit, drive, sense of humor, and other attributes. See where you stand, and rate me too with ‘Compare People.’” I immediately thought about a paradox that rages war in me every day. “I want to be seen and approved of by others, and I need to hear good things about my character. But, if the review is tarnishing, what will this do to my self-esteem? Shouldn’t my self-worth be worth more than the thoughts of somebody on the internet? After mulling this over for a few moments, I quickly, but carefully placed the unread e-mail in my ‘Deleted Items’ folder but thought, “I won’t empty this folder just in case I want to read what this person has to say about me.”

This summer I lived at Keats Camps, a camp for children, teenagers and families named for the island on which it is located. This was my seventh summer on staff and I arrived at camp anticipating another fantastic summer, though I had not set foot on the island in six years. It did not take long for me to realize that things at the camp I loved so much had changed. There were a few new buildings; the staff was both newer and larger than I had ever seen, and a new generation of campers would soon arrive. I was anxious about being able to adapt to these changes, yet excited about the new things that God would do.

My job was a challenging one. Though I had the responsibility of encouraging the staff with a devotional after breakfast most mornings in staff meetings, it was up to me how I would fill in the rest of my day. How can I keep my mind focused, work hard for my co-workers, my God, and not be a slacker? What is the most effective use of my time? These were some of my questions, and these were some of my answers.

Before most of the camp awoke, I would join a small group of cottagers and pray for the needs I knew. After staff meeting, I would walk around the camp, offering assistance in areas that needed it, and remained willing to share the story of what God had done in my life [see “Miracle on Fox Street”] during Bible study in the morning, or Crew Talk in the evenings.

Some days were busy, full of people asking for assistance, wanting me to share with their kids, or just to talk with them. Some days were empty, with little action, and it was hard to encourage anybody as hard as I tried. As the summer progressed, I did my best and asked God to fill in the gaps.

Two weeks in, I went home on a day off and brought a well loved children’s book back with me. I hoped to find time to read it to some kids, encouraging them in the way they viewed themselves and others.

“You are Special” by Max Lucado is the story of Punchinello, a member of a village of wooden Wemmicks made by a man named Eli. A Wemmick’s day consisted of judging the looks and abilities of others, rating them with either grey dots or golden stars. Because Punchinello was not ‘a good Wemmick,’ he quickly became overwhelmed with dots and the discouragement that comes with not being appreciated.

As the days passed, Punchinello became more discouraged. Things slowly began to change when he met Lucia; a Wemmick with no stickers of any kind. “That’s the way I want to be,” thought Punchinello. Punchinello soon worked up the courage to ask Lucia why she had no stickers.

“It’s easy,” Lucia replied, “Every day I go see Eli, the woodcarver. Why don’t you find out for yourself? Go up the hill. He’s there.”

Punchinello spent one more, lonely evening at home, watching the Wemmicks present each other with stars and dots. “It’s not right,” he thought and decided to meet his Maker.

As he followed Lucia’s directions into Eli’s shop, Punchinello was thunderstruck at how large everything was. He felt small and insignificant. “I don’t like this feeling,” he thought, “I must leave.”

But as if the bearded man behind the work bench could read his thoughts, Eli called his name. “Punchinello, how good it is to see you. Come and let me have a look at you.”

Punchinello turned slowly and looked at the large bearded craftsman. “You know my name?”

“Of course I do, I made you.”

Eli stooped down, picked him up and set him on the bench. “Hmm,” the maker spoke thoughtfully as he looked at the grey dots.

“Looks like you have received some bad marks.”

“I didn’t mean to, Eli, I really tried hard.”

“Oh, you don’t have to defend yourself in front of me, child. I don’t care what the other Wemmicks think.”

“You don’t?”

“No, and you shouldn’t either. Who are they to give stars and dots? They’re Wemmiccks just like you. What they think doesn’t matter, Punchinello. All that matters is what I think. And I think you are pretty special.”

Punchinello laughed. “Me, special? Why? I can’t do anything. I’m not a good Wemmick, Why do I matter to you?”

Eli looked at Punchinello, put his hands on his shoulders, and spoke very slowly. “Because you’re mine. That’s why you matter to me.”

Punchinello had never had anyone look at him this way before- much less his Maker. He didn’t know what to say.

“Every day I’ve been hoping you’d come,” Eli explained.

“I came because I met someone who had no marks,” said Punchinello.

“I know, she told me about you.”

“Why don’t the stickers stay on her?”

The Maker spoke softly. “Because she has decided that what I think is more important than what they think. The stickers only stick if you let them.”


“The stickers only stick if they matter to you. The more you trust in my love, the less you care about their stickers.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

Eli smiled, “You will, but it will take time. You’ve got a lot of marks. For now, just come to see me every day, and let me remind you how much I care.”

Eli lifted Punchinello off the bench and set him on the ground.

“Remember,” Eli said as the Wemmick walked out the door, “you are special because I made you and I don’t make mistakes.”

Punchinello didn’t stop, but in his heart he thought, “I think he really means it.”

And when he did, a dot fell to the ground.

There are some things I felt like I did well this summer. There are also some things I know I didn’t do so well. When I came home, I had a number of dots and stars on my conscience, given to me either by myself or the people I spent my summer with, that encouraged or discouraged me about the past month-and-a-half.

You inevitably also have stars and dots that you have been given this summer. How do they make you feel? How important are they to you? What are you going to do with them? Whatever you did or didn’t do this summer, your Maker says “You are special, “because I made you, and I don’t make mistakes.” It may have been important or unimportant in the eyes of your friends, but your Maker says “what you did was special, because I worked in you.”

This blog is dedicated to the Keats Camps staff of 2007 where I learned again that whatever remark, phone call, comment or e-mail I receive that effects my conscience, my Maker says “You are very special,” and His words must take precedence.

I have just emptied my ‘Deleted Items’ folder.

“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

Hebrews 6:10

Book Referenced: You Are Special ©1997 by Max Lucado, Crossway Books

Friday, June 29, 2007

Brother's Keeper

The dictionary has over fifty definitions for the word “keep”. Some of the most well known references state: “to hold or retain in one's possession”, “to have the care, charge, or custody of”, or “to maintain by writing”. But do you remember that a keep is also “the innermost and strongest structure or central tower of a medieval castle;” or that Keeps is “a game of marbles in which the players keep the marbles they win”?

Though the most common references to “keep” have to do with maintaining an object in one place or in ones presence, the Bible refers to it in several relational ways. To keep a promise to your brothers and sisters (1 Samuel 18:1-4), it is mentioned in a prayer that “the Lord will bless you and keep you” (Numbers 6:24), to keep watch for the Lord’s coming, (Luke 12:37) or “to keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25) are just a few.

The ancient book of Genesis tells a story of a brother who refused to keep this unwritten law of God. In it, Cain and Abel work in their own ways to please the Lord; Abel kept sheep and Cain grew crops. They both chose and presented first fruits of their labor, their common goal being to please their God. The Lord was pleased with Abel’s offering, but was not pleased with Cain’s.

Cain was furious and he let everyone know about it. The Lord than counseled Cain, saying, “Why are you angry? Why do you look so sad, depressed and dejected? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin desires to bring you down; but you can, and must, master it.”

Than Cain said to his brother, “Let’s take a walk.” When they were in the field, Cain raised his arm against his brother, bringing it down upon Abel, killing him.

The Lord than asked Cain, “where is Abel, your brother?” He angrily replied, “I don’t know and I don’t care. Am I my brother's keeper?” The Lord asked, “What have you done? The voice of your dead brother is crying to Me from the grave.”

In his song “Brother’s Keeper”, the late Rich Mullins further describes what it means to truly keep our brothers and sisters.

Now the plummer's got a drip in his spigot
The mechanic's got a clank in his car
And the preacher's thinking thoughts that are wicked
And the lover's got a lonely heart
My friends ain't the way I wish they were
They are just the way they are

And I will be my brother's keeper
Not the one who judges him
I won't despise him for his weakness
I won't regard him for his strength
I won't take away his freedom
I will help him learn to stand
And I will ~ I will be my brother's keeper.

The crowd asked him, “Then what are we supposed to do?”
“If you have two coats, give one away," he said. "Do the same with your food.”

Luke 3: 10-11

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Show me the Money?

A few weeks ago, I boarded a bus bound for my home in Horseshoe Bay, but did not have my wallet or bus pass with me. I told this to the bus driver, saying that I was legally blind and a member of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. I hoped that he would believe my argument for a free ride and respond, “Remember to bring it next time.” Instead, he insisted that I pay the $2.50 fair before I arrived at my destination. Feeling a little frustrated, I began to tell my story to a woman in the front row of the bus. However, before I had a chance to ask my favor from her, a man walked forward and asked, “What do you need?”

“Two dollars and fifty cents,” I answered, feeling more than a little bit foolish.

To my surprise, he reached into his pocket and, without counting the coins, handed me a chunk of change. I counted the money, gave the man a quarter that I did not need and placed the rest of it in the change box at the front of the bus. After I found my seat, I looked for this generous man, hoping to thank him again before I reached my stop, but I was unable to find him. When I got off the bus, I discovered a single penny in my pocket, which I had forgotten to return to this good Samaritan.

Generosity is something I have tried to work on in my life. I sponsor two children in Uganda, tithe to my church, and support friends who embark on mission’s experiences abroad or at home. However, along with other believers and pre-believers I cringe when I hear pastors quote the apostle Paul who said, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) before they take up the offering. In these situations, before the basket passes, a little voice inside me will inevitably yell “No! I am not a cheerful giver today!” But what does Jesus say about giving? Is what I am doing, what he is asking of His people? Is my desire to keep my money to myself, when it is requested of me, a natural and O.K. response?

In many ways, Christ’s words are harsher than those of Paul. In Matthew 21:22, He says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.” People often talk about how this passage should encourage (or rather guilt) people to tithe more often. However, money is not talked about this way in this passage. If anything, Jesus is saying that we can keep our money, or use it in different ways, in exchange for something God really wants, our hearts.

A few verses prior, while showing the onlookers the coin of the day, Christ asks "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar's,” they replied. In answering this simple question, Jesus gives the Pharisees, and everyone who reads this passage, permission to keep their material wealth. But, instead they need to give to God what is God’s, and it is up to each and every one of us to discover what that is.

People think that the church wants our money so we are careful to calculate and give 10% of our income. But if God wants our heart instead, do you think he would appreciate only 10% of it? Cheques are dead pieces of paper, and coins quickly rust in vaults, but our hearts can remain vibrant, effective to God, and useful to Him if we give them freely.

It is this vibrancy that Paul encourages us to have. The church generally hates 2 Corinthians 9:7 because most of us are not ‘cheerful givers’ when generosity is expected of us. But those who practice cheerful giving, like that man I met on the bus, know that they will receive much more in return from the true Cheerful Giver.

What can we bring to the Lord? What kind of offerings should we give him?
Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves?
Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins?


O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:6-8

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

How do we follow God in the 21st century? Ask your dog

On Wednesday, my parents left for a short holiday leaving Sally, our American Cocker spaniel and I home alone. Home alone together, to enjoy the sometimes beautiful and sometimes torrential, weather of the Pacific Northwest. Sally would hope that her master would take her on a few walks around the neighborhood, or at least throw the ball so that she could exercise her increasingly creaking, aging legs. I was enjoying the rest, the first round of the NHL playoffs, and hoped to spend some time at the gym so my legs do not become creaky as well.

Soon after my parents left, the Internet and e-mail connection, the lifeline to the outside world, crashed. Therefore, instead of walking Sally around the neighborhood, she followed very close behind me as I practiced the ‘stair master’, running between my computer and my Dad’s office upstairs, trying to fix the internet connection. Three days of hopeful yet pessimistic prodding of computer wiring resulted in nothing.

The one consistency I noticed as I ran up and down the stairs was this, Sally never ceased running the staircase with me, always only several inches behind me, always anticipating that I would answer her prayer for a walk, and always wearing a panting smile on her face. I often became perplexed, even frustrated by her persistent and joyful devotion to her master. Why won’t she just go lie down, why does she have to risk being accidentally kicked in the jaw by a wayward heal?

When I leave for work in the morning, I always lock Sally behind a baby-gate in the family room. Her forced obedience speaks volumes as she slowly turns around to face me, sitting and shaking. Her two, huge black eyes watch me in expected anguish, as I leave and she begins to burst into tears. Whether it is several hours or ten minutes, her squeals of excitement, which sound more like a dog’s cry for help, are an inevitable greeting when I arrive home, or as my mom prefers, ‘have risen from the dead.’ When I finally open the door, her squeals continue until i take down the baby-gate that keeps her imprisoned in the kitchen, and she can smell the scent of her rescuer. Only at this time, will she eat the food I have left for her because her self-inflicted hunger strike can finally end, and she can enjoy the fruits of her labor, which are, as it is written on the side of her doggie dish; to eat, sleep, and play.

As I have watched Sally’s excited expectation and anticipation of her master’s next move, she has taught me a great deal, about how Christians should act towards God. The Psalms are full of questions and statements, showing the psalmist’s desire to spend time with God, to receive something from Him and a desire to do things for Him to quicken His return to them.

Animal activists have often reminded us that animals share and understand more of our heartfelt emotions than we give them credit for. As I read the Psalms, it is obvious that the psalmist is talking to God, whose ways are greater than his are. In the same way, the thoughts and actions of humans are greater than those of their pets. However, it does not mean that we cannot learn a lesson or two about the Bible, from our furry friends. After all, God created them too.

For instance, Psalm 37:4 says “Take delight in the Lord and He will give you your Heart’s desires.” It is easy to see the delight that a dog takes in his master. Whether I take Sally on a walk, throw the ball for her off the deck, or allow her to follow me as I run up and down the stairs trying to fix my internet connection, Sally’s panting smile remains glued to her face and there is nothing I can do to change it.

A few psalms later, is a song that Christians worldwide sing regularly. “As the dear pants for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.” (Psalm 42:1) As I sit here, writing at my computer, or Dad prepares a sermon on his laptop, Sally can often be found guarding the doorway, always at the service of her master, ready to jump to her feet just in case he calls her name.

Because of actions like these, I would contend that the greatest characteristic dogs are known for is their devotion to their masters. Psalm 86:12 talks about the devotion that David offers to the Lord. “With all my heart I will praise you, Oh Lord, my God. I will give glory to your name forever.”

Sally’s devotion to her master often amazes me. Her deep desire to please him, to hear that she is a “Good dog,” or hear him answer her prayers for a walk are always first on her mind. Do we humans want to please our Heavenly master as much as dogs want to please theirs? Is it our first desire to hear God say, “Well Done, good and faithful servant”? We humans should follow the example of our pets as we work to devote ourselves to our true Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.

“As the deer pants for the water, so my soul pants for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

When can I go and meet with God?

My tears have become my food day and night,

while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’

These things I remember as I pour out my soul:

How I used to go with the multitude,

leading the procession to the house of God

with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.

Why are you downcast, O my soul?

Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my savior and my God.’

Psalm 42:1-5