Sunday, 29 March 2015

When 'the show must go on'

If Freddie Mercury and Queen's "The Show Must Go On" describes your life:

"The Show must go on!
The Show must go on!
Inside my heart is breaking,
My make-up may be flaking,
But my smile, still, stays on!

Whatever happens, I'll leave it all to chance.
Another heartache - another failed romance.
On and on!
Does anybody know what we are living for?"
then keep reading and maybe we can figure what this life's about and how to go on. (This blog won't take long!)

Freddie leaves us empty - he leaves us still questioning life and he doesn't give us an answer. He leaves it to chance and he's adamant that if anything else, "the show must go on". But how? By looking to him and his life? Now I know the music genre is drastically different but let's look at Carrie Underwood's latest "Something in the Water" to get a different look at life. Carrie sings:

"Couldn’t fight back the tears so I fell on my knees,
Saying,“God, if you’re there come and rescue me.”
Felt love pouring down from above,
Got washed in the water, washed in the blood and now I’m changed
And now I’m stronger.”
Unlike Freddie, Carrie doesn't look within herself to find strength and hope. Upon the invitation of a "preacher man", Carrie is lead to faith, is baptized, finds a source of strength, and trusts in "someone bigger than (her)". She sings that it "must have been something in the water". And she's "stronger".

That "something in the water" is grace - it's not magic. It's grace that is a gift of Jesus that doesn't require repayment. It's a grace that allows us to keep going in life. It allows us to continue with all of life's 'acts' and life's 'shows'. Grace carries us from Act 1 (our new life in Jesus on earth) to the final Act (our eternal life with Jesus in Heaven).

Jesus invites us to cast our life's struggles on him and he will carry them. You can look it up here - Matthew 11:28. He doesn't promise life to be easy or to be free of trials, but he does promise us that he'll carry us when times are tough and life seems hopeless.

If you're looking for hope; if you're looking for purpose, look up - not within - as Freddie tried. You won't find it there. Look up toward Golgatha on Good Friday and see the cross where Jesus died, look inside the empty tomb on Easter

When you feel lost; when your forget life's 'lines'; let Jesus take the lead role and the show will go on.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Believing is seeing

A friend of mine from Calvin College usually summarized any decision he made like this: "It's real simple." And then he'd proceed to give a lengthy explanation. So here's my attempts at using his template!

It's real simple. I don't want to 'write' to the choir anymore. I don't want to write 'eloquent' stories or commentaries and have hopes that people I know might 'like' them. I don't want to check how many people have read my blog, forwarded it, or shared it. For me - it has been too time consuming and I don't want my focus to be on the numbers - though web analysts will tell me different - and I've 'said' that I don't care about those things...but if truth be told...I do. And, if I was actually selling something, then it might be justified.

If I write, I want to touch someone's life in a meaningful way - not anecdotally. I want to be an extension of God's grace. Writing quietly in the background of life if that's where he puts me. Because if I try to manipulate life to my advantage, frustration always, and I mean ALWAYS ensues.

So if you have some time, I'll try to explain.

Would you ever search for something if you didn't believe it existed? After all, if it doesn't exist, then why bother? Why would this guy that I photographed on Myrtle Beach go through the expense of a metal detector (approx. $400) and a sand scoop (approx. $120), not to mention his opportunity cost (some ECON101 jargon for you), if he didn't believe he was going to find something of value?

For several days this past week I observed this guy (I'll call him Craig from now on) methodically combing the sand strip for buried treasure - maybe for a lost penny, quarter, diamond ring or an ancient coin washed ashore from the latest tide. Whatever he was looking for he was deadly serious about his search. The rubber boots, the long sleeves, a baseball cap, gloves, a small bag around his waist to store his treasures all gave Craig the appearance that he was on a mission and didn't want to be interrupted or delayed. By the looks of him, this was his job...not a week-end warrior in search of 'The Holy Grail'.

Had I another minute on the beach to summon courage I would have tried to ask Craig some questions - like what he considered his greatest find to be. I would also have asked him how he started his life as a 'treasure hunter'. Maybe Craig would have told me there was a long history of treasure hunters in his family. Or, he might have said it was because of someone he observed when he was aimlessly walking a beach in search of life's meaning one day. Whatever his story, I left wishing I could have asked him about it. And... I would have thanked him for the lesson he taught me. The lesson that believing is seeing.

You know that story in the Bible when the man said to Jesus, "I do believe, help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24)? That's the point! Hebrews 11:6 says: "anyone who comes to (God) must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." I think we spend far too much time trying to prove to others that God exists - thinking that we need to win them to Christ through our arguments and lengthy treatises - that we fail to show Christ in our own actions. Skeptics of Christianity have to believe that they are seeing a difference in our lives. And, if curiosity grows by what they see, then they might want to search for "the difference maker" themselves. In effect, they believe something to exist and now they need something more evident to remove their unbelief.

It's like a business handshake, a personal testimony or a spouse's wedding vow. I don't have empirical evidence to accept it as true, but I believe its credibility based on reasons that have earned my trust. If contemporary science tells us that God is not real because the naturalists say there is no hard factual evidence, then we (Christians) need to be the evidence that offers hope to the skeptic.

Of course, we can't rely solely on our arguments or abilities. Ultimately, it depends upon him and our love for Christ.  Joe Boot writes in Beyond Opinion, "Without love for Christ first and foremost - no matter how strong our efforts - we will be only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1Cor. 13.1). May God deliver us from our pride and use us graciously in his mercy".

Thanks for reading...'til we meet again. It may be sooner than you think!

In the meantime, I'll be praying for a new approach to my blog...and for that one person who might say, "Hey, tell me more about this Jesus guy...he sounds interesting".

One more thing before I go... Thanks Craig. You have no idea!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Who was that mystery traveller on the Chicago 'L' train?

On August 25, 1989, after an evening out with friends to say farewell to a memorable summer, a young man stepped out of a car into a rainy, windy Chicago night. The streets were unusually quiet save for a dog's bark and a racing cab probably late for a fare. Walking down the stairs to the platform he looked up at the transit board to see when the next train to Evanston would arrive. Instantly, a wave of uncertainty spread from head to toe as a realization set in. Wrong train stop. Wrong station. Wrong side of town.
Racing back up to street level he frantically searched his pockets hoping to find a quarter to call a cab. Finally, in his last pocket to check he found a quarter - it was the only coin he had. There was a phone booth across the street - his only chance he thought. So, aided by the dim light from a sorry excuse for street lamp above he dialed a taxi's number. “Sorry sir”, came the dispatcher's voice from the other end. “You’ll need to give us a physical address. We can’t pick you up from a phone booth. Have a good night. Good-bye.”
No quarters. No change. No cell phone. Just a prepaid train stub. He'd been advised many times that this wasn’t the time of day to be navigating the streets alone. Boarding an unfamiliar train in the dead of night was his only way home. With a heavy reluctance he walked back to the station...down the stairs and waited.
A train’s lone headlight broke through the fog and rain. No choice but to get aboard. The doors slid open and after glancing around he saw that vacant stares were the only occupants of the late night train. Finding a seat he took stock of those around. The usual late night riders he surmised. Don’t stare. Don’t look out of place. Don’t panic.
“Division is our next stop. Division.” The conductor said. A few moments later: “Chicago is our next stop. Chicago”. Those stops sounded familiar but, there was a problem. He was on the ‘Blue’ line – and should have been on the ‘Red’.
Each time the doors opened, he jumped up to survey his surroundings since the windows were wet with condensation and the rain reflected thousands of tiny lights. Maybe he would recognize something significant. No. Just another wet platform. Just another person looking for a half smoked cigarette.
“Where’re you headed?” came a voice from a seat behind him. “I’ve noticed you getting up each time the doors open”, she said. An elderly lady riding the late night Chicago train was the last person he thought would - or even should - be commuting by herself.
“Yeah. Trying to get back north to Evanston. Got on the wrong train.” His voice quivered.
Looking at him with a strange sort of familiar tenderness, she replied, “That’s where I’m going. I just came from the airport and I’m going up to visit my daughter. You can travel with me…but could you help carry my suitcase?”
“Sure. No problem. Thank you.” Relief washed over him.
Not much was said for the duration of the ride. A transfer at Union Station was required to get on the ‘Red’ line to Howard. About thirty minutes later the voice on the speaker broke the quietness of the ride, “Dempster is the next stop. Dempster.” “That’s my stop”, she said. “Mine, too”, he replied.
The doors opened and they exited the train. Across the platform and down the stairs they went. He handed the lady her suitcase. She turned left and the man turned right. No sooner had they gone their separate ways when he turned to say ‘Thank you’ once again to the lady who accompanied him safely home.
But she was gone. Not a footstep. Not a breeze. Not a trace. Nothing.
I didn’t see her again.
Was it fate? Did mere circumstance cause our paths to meet? Or, was an angel of God riding the Chicago “L” train that late night? Whoever that person was that appeared so unexpectedly, and then disappeared so suddenly, I believe God was watching over me that night. We tend to think that God only acted and appeared to people in the Bible. But he’s as present and active now as he was then. God is here with us. He promised never to leave.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

URGENT: Rescuers needed

As far as I know, the rotation of the earth is affected by tidal forces caused by the moon...and losing my wallet. I don't know about you, but when I lose - let me rephrase that...misplace - my wallet, I'm pretty sure my neighbors know. If it isn't 'found' in less than 10 seconds, my entire family plus the family pet is conscripted to search. A chain of command is set up, a 'fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants' grid search ensues...with lots of unnecessary, yet customary, weeping and gnashing of teeth...until the worn out, butt-pressed, forlorn, and forsaken piece of tri-folded, wannabe animal hide gives up its not so hidden hiding place a.k.a. the kitchen counter. Once found, peace is restored, the sun shines brighter, and the earth returns to its daily rotational speed of 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds.

I wonder if that's today's equivalent to the lost coin or the lost sheep in Jesus' parables in Luke 15. Or, more probably, it might be like losing a set (the only set) of keys which can't be duplicated, or losing an irreplaceable family heirloom, or maybe even losing flight MH370 somewhere in the Indian Ocean. In whichever modern day scenario you can think of, searchers from near and far volunteer to look for the precious lost item and only when it's found will celebration and any 'whooting' take place.

When Jesus talks about looking for the lost and calling back those who have walked away, I get the feeling that he was talking about all-out, no holds barred search and rescue operations. SAR ops like the ones mobilized on mountain sides after an avalanche occurs or a media frenzy covering the SAR of miners trapped in an underground cave. It seems to me that the situations Jesus describes are monumental and potentially life altering scenes. It's life and death...spiritual life and death. But truthfully, that thought has me feeling sad...and guilty (well not so much sad as guilty, unfortunately). When I think of the spiritually lost; sure - it concerns me, but more often than not I lack the sense of immediacy and urgency that Jesus frames for us.

I don't think I'm unique to feeling this way. Generally speaking - and understand I'm not saying it's true of all Christians - our concern gets ramped up a little for direct family members where we might go out on a limb to gently nudge them back to Christ and say to them, with sincerity, "I'm praying for you". However, to those unknown, or even those an arms length away, we hardly give their eternal destination a second thought. (Maybe, it's the idea of predestination that holds 'TULIP' slanted folks like me back where we sit back too casually and we 'give permission' to the Holy Spirit to do his work.).

And, isn't it true that our focus and spiritual intensity on the 'ninety-nine' who worship beside us is far greater than it should be? We're often too busy keeping peace among the choir members and preaching to those already 'found' that we forget about those who haven't darkened the doorways of a church in eons or those who haven't got a clue who Jesus Christ is...although sadly enough his name comes up often in their conversations in a form of a curse.

Today, in our church's sanctuary, I looked at a painting entitled "To the Sinner A Promise of Heaven" by Ovide Joseph Bighetty, a Cree artist whose series of 17 paintings, “Kisemanito Pakitinasuwin -- The Creator’s Sacrifice”, depict Christ's road to suffering, his death, and ultimately his resurrection. In the tradition and style of artwork belonging to North American indigenous people, Bighetty shows Jesus hanging on a birch pole and appears to be talking to one of the convicted criminals hanging beside him. And from the gospel account in Luke 23, we know Jesus welcomed this criminal into Paradise - into Heaven - just moments before his own death. Even up until his last gasps for air, Jesus continued his mission on earth of searching and saving the lost. It was a truly remarkable moment of displaying God's mercy.

So, as long as we're breathing and able, we don't have the option to give up or 'allow' someone else to do it for us. Jesus is the Command officer and we're going live - into a rescue operation not a salvage operation.

It's imperative! Get that search party organized, the media deployed, missing persons signs printed and a parade route planned! Let's find them...and bring them home alive...alive in Christ.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Hurricane #OntSexEd

I was really disappointed last week.

Did you see that media storm leave with as much abruptness as it came? It wasn't one of those over-promised, under-delivered weather events created by our favorite whipping boy (or girl - you pick the gender) a.k.a. The Weather Network. No, I'm talking about the storm with million an hour 'vocal' winds that left the "hallowed halls of learning" virtually untouched - Hurricane #OntSexEd. Not that it contains too much information, I think it contains too little. I was really hoping that the teachers would have to pick up more slack because I really don't want to teach my kids about sex...private parts...same sex attraction...gender identity...who does what...where...what comes next...and, of course, the obligatory 5 minute cuddling! This particular view of the sand is pleasant and not at all uncomfortable for my neck and back.

'Cause what am I supposed to do with Ezekiel 23:20 or Genesis 38:9. Back when I was a kid, my parents - having what I'm assuming was providential wisdom - read from the King James Version (KJV). And, I can only assume it was because King James and his 47 biblical scholars had it together - he knew that young children and women would be reading the Bible so he dutifully 'sanitized' certain unsavoury passages. Here's what I would have heard...although I can almost assure you I never did.

From the KJV

Ezekiel 23:20
20 For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.

and from

Genesis 38:9
9 And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.

Hmmm. I'm thinking the readers of scripture could have read those verses so fast that only the ears of the scholarly and the wide awake parishioners would perk up. Those too tired from doing early morning barnyard chores or too distracted from making 'shooshing' noises because of the loud peppermint wrappers wouldn't would have been none the wiser.  But, when 1978 rolled around and the New International Version (NIV) surfaced, I can only imagine the content of the hushed conversations around the kitchen table when devotions were read.

Now, the same passages from the NIV would be the source of unwelcome blushing and embarrassment. Fast reading just won't do anymore. From the NIV:

Ezekiel 23:20
20 There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.

and from

Genesis 38:9
But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother.

UGH. And more...UGH.

Now, I can appreciate why my Grade 12 Bible teacher, no less, told us to ask our parents about Genesis 38 because, in his words: "I'm not touching that one with a ten foot pole." It was the classic move - "Don't ask me, ask your parents." So, true to form, our parents deflected the responsibility back to the teachers and they, in turn, passed it back...and that's how it's supposed to go. I'm sure there's an unwritten rule...somewhere.

So, when the new sex education curriculum arrived I was really hoping they would have tackled some of the - let's just say - fabulous functions and fun features of the human body. But, it doesn't - so I'm still on the hook for some of the explanations. Don't worry I promise not to diagram anything! Secretly though, I'm hoping my kids are past the age where I need to tell them anything at all and that 'the street' fulfilled it's obligation by filling in where I've failed. C'mon sexting! Don't let me down!

Seriously, I'm hoping you've picked up on my 'tongue in cheek' tone! I'm not 100% thrilled with the new curriculum and I was ready to jump all over it until my cousin, Linda Geerts, outlined a very thoughtful critique of the new curriculum. Linda has taught primary aged children for 21 years within the Christian, parental school system. She speaks from remarkable experience and - if you know her, even a little - you would know she is a child of God and truly has the best of intentions toward the children entrusted to her care.

Here is Linda's analysis (reprinted with permission):

"I haven't noticed that much different than what is already on our Health curriculum requirements, what we call "Family Life" in my school. For the record, I teach in an independent, Christian school, and have taught grades 1-6, for 21 years. Sex ed. isn't the only thing that's changed. Some thoughts:
1. The media is over-hyping this controversy.
2. Ultimately, it IS the parents' job to instruct their children in sexual matters. But, because so many DON'T, we teachers fill in the gap. Do we want to? Not necessarily. But we will.
3. The culture around us has changed considerably! Do you know what children watch on TV/screens these days? I'm often shocked by what parents allow their children to watch. I explained to a gr.1 student a few years ago why watching "2 1/2 Men" is inappropriate for him - even for adults! Students of all ages have asked me questions such as What does gay mean? or What is rape? (Hey, just read the stories in the Old Testament. These questions regularly come up in Bible class!)
4. Teachers are always conscious about using age-appropriate terminology and keeping things simple according to the needs or level of the students.
5. When significant questions or discussions have popped up, I'll contact parents to say, Hey, we talked about this in class today, and why. Often I've redirected a student, "You've asked a really good question! I'm willing to answer it, but I'd like you to ask your mom/dad first."
6. I have ALWAYS used (and always will use) proper words for body parts when talking about health and sexuality, whether it's been to a 6 year old or 12 year old. I will not use nicknames; it's too confusing, as every family seems to have their own nicknames.
7. The topic of consent: is that just a different word for what is already taught - appropriate and inappropriate touching, etc.
8. Keep in mind: families have 1,2,3,4 children at home. Parents have a duty to love and protect their kids. So do I, and I have 20-30. Chances are, somewhere in that group, there might be someone who needs to hear that inappropriate touching or sexual abuse is wrong. It's my duty to protect them.
9. The greatest difference I've noticed is regarding same-sex relationships. But in our culture today, it's there. Kids have already seen it and heard about it. TV shows include it. Talk shows talk about it. It's on the Internet. Why shouldn't I then broach the topic from a region of sensitivity, clarity, and age-appropriateness?
10. Your family doctor asks your kids questions about these things also to protect them.
11. Puberty is hitting kids earlier. They need to know what to expect. 20 years ago it arrived around gr 6-7 or even 8. Now it's earlier. My grade 5s and many gr.4s need to know.

Do you trust your kids' teachers?"

Makes you think, doesn't it? Are we off loading on our teachers too much? Have you ever talked to your children about the passages above? Truthfully I haven't talked about those passages - yet. Well, maybe Genesis 38...but I'm not sure.What about discussing the content of The Songs of Solomon? Or other passages in the Bible where sex and sexual acts are written about? Try finding Christian literature on how to discuss the how's, the what's, and the where's of sex without it sounding medicinal and smelling of an antiseptic.

God made sex for practicality - i.e. reproduction, for pleasure - i.e. P.L.E.A.S.U.R.E, and for unity i.e. "and the two shall be as one". God's gift of sex has responsibilities attached and he takes our sex lives very seriously. Don't ignore it...because your kids won't and the Internet certainly won't and doesn't! And, if you feel secretly indebted, you might even want to thank a Liberal MPP for picking up your slack.

A stumble, a tear and a rainbow

Greeted by a surprise rainbow on Mom's birthday! It was at a dressed up gravesite that 40 or 50 people gathered around last Tuesday,...