Sunday, 28 June 2015

Excuse me while I laugh nervously

I'm guilty. I was one of those who laughed nervously pretending to be sanctimonious and self-righteous.

At our church service this morning, I was hoping to be granted clemency - ex cathedra if you will, of my sanctimonious and self-righteous views on sexual equality, rights, etc. Well, I did receive clemency, but not the way I had envisioned. I wanted to see a finger appear on the wall writing... "MENE, MENE, TEKEL and UPHARSIN" as it appeared in Daniel 5 with the addition of "THE SECOND ACT" in parentheses. And, then we could all look at each other smugly and say, "See, even God is angry with them! All those people who promote gay pride and homosexual marriage...SHAME!!" We'd sit back and wait for that huge thunderbolt to strike them all dead, wipe our hands, impatiently wait for the minister to say 'AMEN', go down to the fellowship hall, have a coffee, maybe go for a smoke, utter a mildly offensive joke, and complain to our fellow parishioner that there're too many people on welfare and that they are all bums, (or something similar). And, nervously we might laugh hoping the Right Reverend, Pastor, or Father didn't hear our conversation.

The fact is: many Christians (and, too often myself) are pretty good at pointing out the trespasses and missteps of others and refuse to acknowledge the existence of damning sins in our own lives. Jokingly, we make homophobic comments about how God sent a rainstorm to dampen the gay pride parade, but don't mind watching Modern Family. We ignore racial slurs made by fellow Christians against the Jewish community - ignoring that Jesus and the early church were of Jewish descent. Under aged drinking, while prohibited by law, is condoned by many Christian parents, but at the same time we acknowledge that God places government in authority and commands subordination. For other well intentioned Christians, working on Sunday is discouraged, but we become impatient and intolerant when the internet and cable service is interrupted during our 'day of rest'. I don't need to go on...I hope you get the point.

Sadly, we've all heard the accusation that the church is full of hypocrites. And, regrettably, I can't say I disagree - even when I look at my own life I see areas of blatant hypocrisy. Jesus said in Matthew 7:3-5 (NIV), “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." Think about that for a while. Is your brother or sister's spec materialism, or immodesty? Is your plank  greed, envy, or alcoholism? It's a sobering reminder that we ALL have fallen short of the glory of God.

So, before we get on our high horse and shout, "Thank you God that I'm glad I'm not like that guy who is dancing provocatively in the pride parade", we better practice honest repentance and clean out our own closet of skeletons. Isn't it true that it hurts less to point out the perceived faults of others than look truthfully at our own condition?

Am I suggesting that Christians should stay quiet on issues that we feel are contrary to living a life as Jesus did/would? No. However, in a world where actions and pictures speak louder than words, be careful that in your zeal to defend Christianity from the slings and arrows of so-called liberalism, you are not wounding Jesus simultaneously. To quote Ravi Zacharias, "There is no greater apologetic to win others to Christ than through the visible actions of your own life." At the same time, there is no greater way to turn people away from Christ than through your actions.

I didn't witness any writing on the wall this morning. I didn't hear the minister make bold statements on sexual morality. I did see something else on the wall of our sanctuary though - the empty cross. It reminded me of my own clemency. It reminded me that no matter what you or I have done - if you've been married 6 times, aborted a baby, been wasted 100, a 1000 times, stolen a million dollars, known the depths of pornographic addiction - whatever it is/was - if you believe in Jesus and his saving grace and have turned to him in repentance, know that you've been forgiven and He expects nothing in return.

I pray that this would be true for you. If it is, I promise - you won't see a smug smile, or hear any nervous laughter of embarrassment from me, but only humble tears and a joyful cry of thanks to our faithful savior, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Praying for fins and webbed feet after the rain comes

After today's (6/14/2015) rain at
Horizon Flower Farm
I'm a little embarrassed, and a lot more ashamed. Every year, for the past 8 years and going on 9, I go through the same see-saw battle. Too dry...too wet. Too cool...too hot. Too windy...too calm. (Yes...it can be too calm!) When it comes to our weather, growers have to be among the most cynical!

This past May, weather prognosticators were calling for the driest spring on record in the Greater Niagara region of Southern Ontario. To quote an article from last month in The Hamilton Spectator - "Tys Theysmeyer, head of natural lands at Royal Botanical Gardens, calls the situation "unbelievable."" Now, this June could go on record for being one of the wettest.

And, here I am...feeling like an Israelite in the Wilderness of Sin! Do you remember or know that story in the Bible? In Exodus 16, God had provided the Israelites with manna and quail after the people complained that they were better off in Egypt where food was plentiful. Then, in Exodus 17, the Israelites complained they didn't have any water to wash down their food! (Exodus 17: 3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”)


I remember hearing these Bible stories when I was younger, and even more recently, and thinking - "Won't you believe?" How many times does God provide for you and you still don't trust? They're so stubborn! I'd never do that." But, I'm just as guilty, obstinate, and ungrateful (and every other adjective you can conjure up to describe 'dissatisfaction'). Over the past week, when people have asked me if we had enough rain over the past few weeks, I found myself mumbling - more like grumbling - "Yes, but make it stop. Now it's too wet."

God answered our prayers by sending rain. While California is going through a four year-drought, I'm now secretly praying for fins and webbed feet!

How many times does God provide when we think we're going to 'die of famine or thirst'? A new customer comes calling to buy most of my unsold peony crop; an unknown man from Ottawa sends a cheque for a piece of equipment when cash flow is tight; a neighbor presents his barn as a rental option when I outgrow my place; a relative lends a piece of needed equipment at a crucial planting time; a violent summer hail storm skirts our highly sensitive dahlia crop as we pray for a protective umbrella. Shall I go on? Shall I continue to remind myself of God's goodness?

In my family's short experience on Horizon Flower Farm, there is enough evidence to know...and believe...that NOTHING happens without reason or purpose. And, if God reroutes our paths toward a different vocation, he'll be there too - that we can depend on.

Still, my lack of trust gnaws at my soul. I can't help but feel ashamed for doubting; for asking for more proof of his providence; for more evidence that he cares. But I know he has patience...and for that I'm grateful!

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Who invites someone to suffer and expects a 'Yes'?

I've heard it repeated twice now in the last few weeks. Both occasions were similar and both were celebrations of several young people publicly accepting Jesus . Each time the wording was unmistakably clear. It was an invitation to join in suffering. And, if I didn't know what the pastor meant, I'd probably make for the nearest exit...because I don't need an extra side dish of suffering...thank you very much. Truthfully and selfishly, suffering usually looks best on other people.

For those unfamiliar with Public Profession of Faith (as practiced in the Christian Reformed Church), this is a highly celebrated event in the lives of Christian believers where a person is asked several questions in front of a church regarding their Christian faith. And, if they agree and believe the statements of faith as presented, they answer in the affirmative: "I do". After which, the professing members are welcomed with these words, spoken by the minister presiding over the ceremony:

"I welcome you to full participation in the life of the church. I welcome you to its responsibilities, its joys, and its sufferings." Christian Reformed Church - Profession of Faith Form

"I welcome you to....its sufferings". I wonder how many people who hear those words think about the meaning of the invitation. What about people hearing those words for the first time? I mean - celebrating marriages, births and anniversaries are easy and natural. But suffering? Really? Why would I want to do that?

Here's why...and I can think of two answers, but there are probably more.

First - as crazy at it sounds, suffering draws people together. It unites. I think it probably draws more people together than a celebration (except maybe a royal wedding!). Recently, several people within my Christian family have either been diagnosed with cancer, lost dear loved ones to death, or have been involved in an accident. And amazingly, we are drawn to one another. In our shared tears, we become the hands and feet of Jesus and become his agents of peace and healing. In our shared humanity, we are called to cry with those who cry and laugh with those who laugh.

Second - this is where I put my theological glasses on, and is most likely what is meant by the pastor's welcome to the new members. When we suffer for the gospel; that is when we are verbally and/or physically attacked for our Christian faith, we suffer for Christ. The Bible says that when we have problems and trials this will help produce in us endurance. I like how The King James Version puts Romans 5:3 - "And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience." Paul wrote: “… indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom 8:17-18).

That's the best part is...if we share in Christ's suffering, we get to share in his glory! How cool is that?

It's easy to write this. I know. I just pray that when I get a side dish of suffering God will give me two things - the strength to 'walk the talk', and people to cry and laugh with. I've never worn a real crown!