Final Thoughts

This is my last blog. For the last fourteen years it has been my privilege to send you a weekly devotional. I didn’t know that it would be a part of my weekly routine. When I first arrived, it was suggested that I write a little thought for the Compass and the blog. So, I did and then just kept doing it each week. It’s been meaningful for me to share my thoughts and I hope it has provided some encouragement and inspiration for your spiritual life. Although I think most people read for the cartoons! In that first Compass article I talked about the difficulty of settling into a new city. We were having trouble finding an apartment. The kids were starting school. We needed to get a vehicle. Navigating the paperwork and registration process seemed overwhelming. Language was an issue. Plus we were getting to know a new congregation.  I shared the verse from Jeremiah 32:17. In the midst of great distress in Jerusalem, Jeremiah was trying to see how the promises of God could be fulfilled. In the face of so many questions he declares, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” What a comfort and strength that verse is. How important it is to keep reminding ourselves that in any situation, nothing is too hard for God. As Rhonda and I take the next step in our journey, we know God goes before us. The same is true for the congregation at Crossroads. We want to thank you for your kindness and support to us over the years as we have served in the pastoral role. It seems to have gone by so quickly. We have loved living in Basel and Crossroads has become our home and family in many ways. Thank you for the great send off you gave us this past weekend. Your thoughtfulness, prayers and gifts have all been appreciated and are so meaningful.  As we leave our time in Basel, we leave a part of ourselves here. It has been an amazing part of our story. And we are so grateful to have been a part of your story as well. 

Saying Goodbye Can Be Tough

Saying ‘goodbye’ can be tough. I’ve been thinking about some Bible stories where people had to say goodbye to one another. Moses led the children of Israel for forty years when it came time for a transition. David and Jonathan were close friends, but the situation was complicated by Jonathan’s father, King Saul. Continuing their friendship just wasn’t possible. In Acts 20 we read about Paul and the elders from Ephesus. He had spent three years teaching and working among them before going to Greece. He stopped in on his way back to Jerusalem and he knew it would be his last time with them. It was an emotional moment for them all. In our international community there are always a lot of people moving in and moving out. It’s not unusual to make good friends and then have to say goodbye after a couple of years. Relationships can grow close when we are away from family and our home community. After a while it is easy to want to protect yourself from losing good friends and so you just stop interacting as much, or perhaps caring as much. Moving on or away is part of life. Like anything else, it is important we acknowledge the impact it can have on us. It’s good to know there are some things we can do that are helpful.   Blessed are you, Israel!Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord?He is your shield and helper (Deut. 33:29) When we part with a blessing, we invite God to be with our friends and to watch over them. Saying ‘goodbye’ isn’t easy. However, as Christians we know the parting is temporary and we look forward to enjoying eternity together. Meanwhile we count our blessings for having known one another.

God’s Faithfulness Amidst Changes

After 40 years of traveling around in the desert it was time for a change in leadership. Moses would stay behind while Joshua took the children of Israel into the Promised Land. Most of the people had never known another leader and there was no doubt some anxiety and confusion. They knew that there would be challenges ahead. As Moses prepared to hand over the role to his successor he said to the people, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them (other nations), for the Lord your God goes with you, he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) During a leadership transition there are legitimate concerns and fears.  The key concept in Scripture through times of change is ‘faithfulness’ – God’s complete faithfulness.Leaders come and go. Leaders have good and bad points. Leaders are human and subject to the laws of nature. But God doesn’t have those kinds of restrictions or weaknesses. He sees the beginning from the end. He knows how things will work out. He is always at work on behalf of his people. During this time of pastoral transition, I’m praying that you’ll have confidence and trust in God to know that he is guiding you (the congregation) through these times. Be strong and courageous. Knowing that God is faithful to his church, sets our hearts at ease. There’s a new chapter ahead and he will be leading all of us into that adventure.

God’s Waiting Room

Rhonda and I are preparing for a transition in our life. After 14 years in one city and church we are moving back to Canada. There is an endless list of things to prepare and get ready for. That’s practical work that we can see and do something about. However, there is also the emotional and spiritual work of going through a transition or change. For us, it’s some uncertainty about what lies ahead and what life will be like after our years in Basel. In our case, we’ve had some time to think about and prepare for this move. That’s helpful. But not all transitions come in a timely way. Change can happen quickly and unexpectedly, and the future is suddenly a little more scary. Maybe you are in a season of change as well. It might be that you are between jobs. It could be the health of a loved one, a move between homes, or a change in your stage of life. It just seems like this is a season of waiting. You aren’t sure what is to come and you might not know what to do with yourself in the meantime. Max Lucado in one of his books says here’s what you need to know when you are in God’s waiting room: “while you wait, God works. God never twiddles his thumbs. He never stops. He takes no vacations. “Be still and know that I am God” reads the sign on God’s waiting room wall.” In times like these, we go back to our basic understanding of faith. God is good and he cares about what happens to us. We can trust in him because of who he is. When our anxious spirits get the better of us, we meditate on that verse: “Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10) Be still and know that I am. Be still and know. Be still. The waiting room is a difficult place to be. We do not sit there alone. And we will not be here forever because ‘this too shall pass.’ God is at work.

The Devil Doesn’t Rest – But You Should

The Devil Doesn’t Rest (But You Should) — One Sunday the pastor preached a sermon about the importance of keeping a Sabbath Rest. He mentioned that because Sunday was a busy day for him, he took Mondays off. After the service an older lady confronted him. “I can’t believe the pastor takes a day off. You know, the devil never takes a day off,” she said.  The pastor replied, “I know he doesn’t. That’s why I don’t work for him anymore.” When the children of Israel left Egypt God gave them a gift. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work … Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”  (Deuteronomy 5:13-15) God gave them the gift of rest. When they were slaves in Egypt they could not rest, the work was never done. Slave drivers made sure they never had a break. Modern slave drivers come in many shapes and sizes but continue to ensure that we don’t get the rest we need. In his Kingdom, God gives rest and invites us to trust him with our work and activities, even when everything isn’t finished. Finding rest in a busy modern world is challenging. Despite knowing that we need proper refreshing many people don’t have a good weekly rhythm to keep them healthy. Time taken to renew ourselves can include some of the following: Like the children of Israel, we too have been invited to enjoy God’s rest. He created us and he knows what we need. Accepting his invitation is a sign of wisdom.

Signs Of Immaturity

Some people never really grow up. It’s like the bumper sticker says – “You’re only young once, but you can be immature forever.” Dealing with immature people is never fun. Just because someone has been a Christian for five, ten or twenty years doesn’t mean they are a mature believer. It’s amazing to me that people can hang around the church and other believers but never really grow in their own faith. The writer of Hebrews offers three ways to help spot the immature believer.First, they have a hearing problem. “About this we have much to say and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.” (Hebrews 5:11) It’s not just toddlers and teenagers who have this condition, it’s a sign of immaturity when people refuse to listen or understand what someone is trying to teach them. The second sign that people are still immature is that they can’t help instruct others; “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.” (Hebrews 5:12) As believers we should be able to help lead someone else to Christ, we should be able to encourage others with Scripture, we ought to be quick to model prayer and godly living. But the immature believer forever needs to be reminded of the basics. Finally, the immature believer lacks discernment. “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14) Those who aren’t growing are not open to the Spirit’s leading and teaching. They aren’t worried about what is right and wrong and how to tell the difference. So they get focused on things which are not healthy for them. What’s the solution? The writer of Hebrews wants them to “go on to maturity” and understand the deeper things of Christ. The writer encourages them to get nourishing food from Scripture, to get sufficient exercise by applying their faith to daily living and to develop a keen ability to judge right from wrong. The bumper sticker may be right – some people will remain immature forever. But for believers in Jesus arrested development and lifelong immaturity isn’t an option. It’s time to grow up.

When You Only Have Little To Give

The Bible never tells us his name. We don’t know much about him or his family. We just know that he offered what he had and Jesus was able to use it. All of the gospels record Jesus’ miracle of feeding the 5’000. But only John tells us in John 6:8-9 that the food came from a young boy. Jesus had been teaching all day and the people had been listening but suddenly they realized the hour was late and no one had brought food. Jesus had compassion and told his disciples to feed the people. Where were they supposed to get food? Andrew stepped forward with a few small pieces of bread and fish from a boy. But even Andrew didn’t see how such a small amount could satisfy anyone. “What are they for so many?” Jesus commanded everyone to sit down, he prayed over the small meal and they began to distribute it. And everyone was fed. The little boy’s lunch was all that Jesus needed to do his work. There are a number of theological points in this story. The miracle of feeding that multitude was a sign that Jesus was the Messiah. Yet the passage speaks to me in a more personal way – Jesus can use what I have to offer him, no matter how small my offering is. When I was younger and bolder, I felt that I had a lot to offer God. I was well educated, had a variety of skills and was full of enthusiasm and vision. God was blessed to have me on his side. Or so I thought. I confess that as I get older, I’m not so sure that I have that much to offer. What I thought would be needed and helpful to God hasn’t been so useful. What I thought would be impressive has become rather shallow. I am coming to realize that God does his best work through the small and weak. Jesus takes our bread crumbs and pieces of fish and uses it for his glory. In our weaknesses he shows himself strong. With food for a small child he feeds a crowd. It’s his work and not mine. My abilities and talents are not nearly as important as my availability and willingness to let him work through me as he sees fit. I sometimes feel embarrassed when I come to him and say, “This is all I have today, some bread and a little fish.” But those are the days when he shows himself strongest and most able. Those are the days when I get out of the way and let him work. John the Baptist said it best when he said, “He must increase and I must decrease.” Offer him what you have and let him do the rest.

Reading The Bible Can Lead To Injury Or Death

Snake Salvation was a reality TV show about “snake handling pastors” in Kentucky. They believe in a bible passage from Mark 16 that suggests a poisonous snakebite will not harm them if they are anointed by God’s power. Sadly, the series was cancelled when the main character died from a venomous snake bite. Does the Bible really say you should go around picking up dangerous reptiles? People often say things like, “I just believe what the Bible says, and I do what it tells me to do.” But in practice the Bible is open to a lot of interpretation and we tend to pick and choose what we like. Did Jesus really mean for us to cut off our hands if they cause us to sin? (Matthew 5:30) Should we feel guilty about wearing clothing with two different kinds of fabric? (Deuteronomy 22:11) Why don’t all women wear head coverings in church? (1 Corinthians 11) None of us comes to the Bible with a blank slate; we all bring our own interpretation to bear. And our interpretation can be faulty. There are many parts of the Bible that are clear and easy to understand. As we mature in our faith, we must wrestle with some of the more difficult passages and think about how we interpret Scripture. But, honestly, the most difficult parts of the Bible for me are the most straight forward and easy to understand. These are the passages that I know I should practice but somehow I fight with. Verses like: There are difficult and challenging questions about reading the Bible. Common sense though could really help those snake handlers. But like Mark Twain said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” Yes, it’s the parts that are all too clear that bother me as well. I still have a lot of work to do.

Don’t Be Lazy

BuzzFeed, an internet site, offers twenty-five shortcuts you can learn from lazy people. The list includes brushing your teeth in the shower and sleeping in the same shirt you wore all day. Why do more work if you don’t have to? I’m not sure the advice is worth the time reading it. Sure, some shortcuts can be helpful but sometimes this leads us to conclusions that aren’t accurate. We look for easy ways to put people into categories. We sort by skin colour, gender, nationality, educational status, income and disabilities. The shortcut, sorting people into categories, is useful because we think it saves us time and energy. Once we put someone in a category, we think we know something about them (since they are like this…then they must do this or believe that.) Based on our assumptions, we make a judgment about that person. When Samuel was sent to anoint a new king over Israel, he saw Jesse’s oldest son. “This guy looks like a king,” Samuel said to himself. “He must be God’s anointed.” He was quickly corrected as God spoke to him and said, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT) It’s a disservice to others when we prejudge based on our categories. God has a totally different way of looking at people and we can’t always see what he sees. That means we have to take the time to get to know someone before knowing what they are like. Most people don’t fit neatly into categories anyway. We are complex individuals who wrestle with the many issues of life. So don’t be lazy. Watch out for how you size people up this week. The Lord is concerned about what’s happening in their heart and in yours.

Better Than Gold

Last week the price of gold hit an all-time high of $2,431.46 (US) per ounce. Economists are trying to understand what is driving the market. Economic uncertainty is no doubt a part of it. It reminded me of a news article from a few years back. John Waddell’s hobby was to go looking for gold in the abandoned mines that dotted his property in central Arizona. Occasionally he got lucky and found the odd gold nugget. One day, while out searching, he fell down one of the shafts. He was using climbing equipment to explore the shaft when a carabiner clip broke. He fell about fifty feet to the bottom, breaking both legs. During the three days he spent in the abandoned shaft, he fought off rattlesnakes and hallucinations. Thankfully, some friends knew he was missing and went looking for him. They knew the area that John liked to search and were finally able to locate the mine. It took a rescue crew about five hours to get him out. He was badly injured but glad to be alive. It’s amazing what people will risk their life for. Some people search for gold or other forms of wealth. On the internet, it seems like most people are looking for fame. A researcher asked people, “If you could say in one word what you want more of in life, what would that be?” People responded with answers like happiness, peace, love, passion, joy, security, and fulfilment.  Everyone is looking for something. But the writer of Proverbs counselled, “How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver.” (Proverbs 16:16) Jesus told his followers to, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)  Our desires are not necessarily wrong, but we are reminded that seeking God’s wisdom should always be at the top of the list. When we truly find his understanding, we find everything else we need.