Archive for January, 2011

DESIRING GOD

IS GOD – knowing God, walking with God, hearing from God, obeying God, worshipping the One True and Living God, enjoying God, DESIRING GOD – the singular pursuit of your life? Of your family? Of your church?

Just so you know – with George Washington, in my role as a pastor, and all that apocryphal ”I cannot tell a lie” jazz – as for me and my house and my church, I’d have to say, “It depends.”

     Which is to say, in the interests of honesty, transparency, and integrity, sometimes God is my/our singular pursuit.

It depends on the day, the week, the season. It depends on the mood we are in (I am in) at any particular moment. It depends on if we are being spiritual or natural – you know, regular people.

And, it depends upon what you (I) mean by: “Is God the singular pursuit of your/my/our life?

I was reminded of this last night, after supper, by my lovely and adorable daughters.

Now, you need to know – if you couldn’t tell, already – that I absolutely adore my daughters.

I’m not exactly sure what the Old English phrase ”the apple of my eye” means, or where it comes from, but I have two apples – one for each of my eyes, and their names are Abby and Ashleigh.

(I should note, and quickly, that I dearly love my 26-year-old son Christopher and my wife Shelly. But on this particular occasion, it was my daughters. And there is the daddy-daughter-thing ….)

To think that God loves me – me! – and them infinitely more profoundly and fondly than I love my own children is, well, impossible to comprehend. And it makes me smile.

But there we were, last night, at the dinner table. In our dinner table discussion, Abby (13) and Ashleigh (10) both mentioned this “funny guy” that one of them had found on, of all places, youtube, and that I “just had to hear him, because he’s so funny!”

At some point, after supper, as I dutifully took out the trash, which for me in my trash-eradicating-obsessive-mode means going all over the house trying to find every bit of trash before it makes its way into the trashcan I just emptied(!), I realized that my dear sweet daughters were waiting patiently for me, so they could introduce me to this aforementioned “funny guy.”

Honestly, I’m not sure that I knew I could laugh so much, and so hard … in three minutes’ time.

I asked Abby to send me the link, which was waiting for me, when my Blackberry and I awoke this morning. The most enjoyable part of this 3-minute snippet of a longer comedy routine was that the “funny guy” touched upon one of my pet topics: the use of language … sort of.

When I found the link on my Blackberry this morning, I couldn’t resist listening to it again. (Also, there are graphics to go with it – not video, exactly – that enhance the laughing experience.)

I thought I might be laughing so hard (again) as to awaken the whole family.

My laughing experience last night and this morning prompted me to wonder:

     Why does our pursuit of God so frequently look lilke and feel like and constitute something other than an en-JOY-able pursuit?

Oh, I know that life and relationships and work and ministry are hard. That’s a given in the fallen world in which we live, and any version of ‘Christianity’ that white-washes this self-evident truth with spiritualized  magic thinking should be avoided – fled from, even.

Indeed, it’s not one of the promises of Scripture that we would want to claim, but to every person who aligns himself or herself with Jesus Christ and commits to living out His gospel, the Bible promises that we will have trouble in this world (John 16), that we will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12), and that we might even despair of life (2 Corinthians 1).

Yet, we should be heartened to hear that, in the midst of our circumstances – whatever they may be, we can have … JOY. This, too, is a promise from God’s Word – written in Holy Scripture, lived out and made possible by the Word-made-flesh, and granted to each of us by the Holy Spirit.

I was reminded of this last night and this morning, as I literally laughed-out-LOUD, and the Lord reminded me of His promise of joy to those whom He loves and who love Him …

     “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” — Jesus (John 16:24b)

     “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life–the Life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the Eternal Life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us–that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. — 1 John 1:1-4

     “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to come to you and talk face-to-face, so that our joy may be complete.– 2 John 2:12

Oh yes, and here’s the link to “the funny guy” but with a disclaimer: He uses one quasi-swear word (‘hell‘) in a quasi-swearing sort of a way (as in ‘What in the hell are you talking about, Brian?‘) But if you can get beyond that, you’ll laugh-out-LOUD, too. I PROMISE!

     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1cYS6aGstU

Grace, peace, and MUCH JOY from me and mine to you and yours!

Pastor Mark

P. S.

The first part of this week (Mon., Jan. 31st–Wed., Feb. 2nd), I’ll be attending the Desiring God Conference for Pastors (www.desiringgod.org) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the third year running.

This year’s theme is “The Power of a Praying Pastor.” I’m very much looking forward to it, and for the first time, attending with friends and colleagues from Winnipeg.

Pastor Jeremy Kim of the Korean Church of Winnipeg (www.winnipegchurch.org) and with whom we share our facilities here at Bethesda is joining me.

Also, our brothers at Grant Memorial Baptist Church (www.grantmemorial.ca) are gracing us with their fellowship and a ride down and (hopefully!) back in their church van.

     Please pray for me, especially. First, I need the refreshing that this conference and its theme offers. Also, this is the exact point at which my first attempt at a blog died. I just never got back to it, after the break in momentum brought on by last year’s conference. I’d appreciate it, very much!

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Navigating hazardous roads

TODAY AS I TYPE, we’re having our second quasi-snow storm of the season here in Winnipeg – my apologies to the U.S. northeast and midwest and Canadian southeast that are digging out of something  like their fifteenth REAL snow storm … of the month!

We’ve gotten a bunch of snow prior to this, for sure – considerably more, in fact, than is normal. But to this point, our snow has come in drib-and-drab-5cm-chunks at a time, rather than the frozen deluges that have befallen our North American compatriots to the east and south.

     (The folks up here [officially] measure snowfall in centimeters and rain in milimeters, rather than in inches, feet, and fractions of inches and feet.)

This means, of course, that I generally have no idea how much of what we are getting.

Occasionally, if compelled to do so, I force myself to do a mental metric-to-English conversion when weather happens, or I see a speed limit sign, or I see “Kenora, 124 kms” on Highway One.

The funny thing is that most people over the age of 40 still speak in inches, feet, fractions of inches and feet, and miles – or some confusing combination of metric-English-double-speak!

But I digress, again …

Before and as I drove to the office this morning, the snow was falling at a rate of about 15cm an hour (about 6 inches an hour for the metrically impaired), and visibility was about half a kilometer (about a third of a mile). During my drive, which I enjoyed immensely, I thought of something that I heard over the radio during our first winter here in Winnipeg back in 2007-2008, which was this:

     “You can drive fast on roads and streets covered in ice and snow. You can turn on ice and snow. You can apply the brakes on ice and snow. And you might – might! – even get away with doing two of the three on ice and snow, provided there are no other vehicles on the road and no obstacles – such as lightposts – alongside. But what you may not do, under any circumstance, is simultaneously drive fast, AND turn, and AND stop on roads covered by ice and snow! And we seem to need relearning of this basic lesson every winter.

I knew this already, having grown up in north-central Indiana, where we regularly received the “lake-effects snow” from Lake Michigan. I began learning to drive in my dad’s Ford pick-up truck, just as soon as I could manage to reach the pedals with my tippy-toes and achieve the requisite coordination of clutch and 3-speed-on-the-column manual transmission, while peering with glee over the dashboard and steering what seemed to me at the time a HUGE steering-wheel.

There were few things I enjoyed more during our many snowy Indiana winters than careening down our 200-yard-long drive in my dad’s pick-up (and later in my 1966 red Chevy Impala), plowing through feet of snow, literally, and learning to keep the vehicle going forward and relatively straight, while it was being buffeted and bounced from (and through) snow drift to snow drift, until I reached, in a glorious cloud of snow and steam, the gravel road on which we lived.

If the the road had been plowed, then I would normally stop to enjoy the thrill of yet another victory of man-boy over nature. But if not, I would make the right turn out of our lane on the fly, onto the road (westward), and continue my frenetic flight to town, or wherever I was going.

That is, unless I got stuck, which meant that I would have to make the laborious walk, trudging back through the same feet of snow to the barn, to fire up the Massey-Ferguson tractor to pull myself out of the snowbank.

But that’s another story entirely, and honestly, didn’t happen all that often ….

Because my brain is – you know – abnormal, I took a quantum jump, as I was driving my drive and thinking my thoughts this morning, from the materially hazardous driving that I was doing on the streets of Winnipeg (and enjoy just a bit too much, I admit) to the metaphorically hazardous driving that I do in ministry leadership (and enjoy just a bit too little, I confess).

To paraphrase the sage advice about the kind of driving one does on roads and streets covered in ice and snow, I have discovered the following about the life-cycle, and mood, of a local church:

     We can move boldly forward into the future with Jesus. We can make lesser but more palatable (less threatening) adjustments along our journey of faith. We can remain where we have beeen, preferring some by-gone day, hoping to recreate it. And we might – might! – even get away with doing two of the three, assuming that Jesus give us the grace to navigate such a hazardous path. But what we may not do, under any circumstance, is simultaneously move boldly forward with Jesus, AND make lesser adjustments, AND remain where we have been, preferring a by-gone day. It’s simply NOT POSSIBLE to do all three.

We need to choose – at every single point along our faith journey, which sort of followers of Jesus we will be, and what sort of churches of the Lord Jesus Christ we will be.

In the ninth chapter of his gospel, Doctor Luke records for us some eerily appropriate words of Jesus. And though His words seem to be applied specifically to individuals, I am becoming more and more convinced that they apply – equally clearly and equally compellingly – to whole churches as well. Here is Luke’s narrative and Jesus’s words, according to Luke 9:57-62:

     “As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, ‘I will follow You wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’ To another He said, ‘Follow Me!’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, you go and proclaim the kingdom of God!’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow You, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God!‘”

God’s grace and peace from me and mine to you and yours,

Pastor Mark

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“Love the one you’re with!”

IN THE EARLY 1970s, some of you may remember that Steven Stills released his first solo album and a song entitled “Love the one you’re with.” This single-record became a huge hit, was “covered” by many other groups in the years following – including his own Crosby, STILLS, Nash, and Young – and still plays on the radio today from time-to-time.

As it turns out, Stills was inspired by another popular and gifted musician of that day, Billy ”… nothin’ from nothin’ means nothin’ …” Preston, who used to say in conversations, “Well, if you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with!” Steven Stills grabbed hold of the line, and PRESTO!, a hit was born.

Quite obviously, an Evangelical Christian pastor, committed to fidelity in all of my relationships – first with God, second with my wife, and the Biblical imperative for all born-again believers to do the same, can’t endorse the clear hedonistic message of the song.

Except … for the Christian hedonism endorsed by Pastor John Piper in his book Desiring God and his Desiring God Ministries (www.desiringgod.org).

Piper culls from Scripture, the writings of Jonathan Edwards, the Westminster Confession (“The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever“), and other sources the idea of Christian hedonism, which is stated succinctly and boldly in the declaration:

     “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.

I was reminded of two aspects of this truth, shortly after I arrived at the offfice this AM. And it is good, Biblical, theological truth: God IS most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him!

My wife Shelly and I were lamenting with one of our bright young leaders, Paul Eikelboom, about our impending loss of him and his wife Alexandria from our staff and congregation this summer.

I had the honor and delight of performing Paul and Lexi’s wedding back in August 2010. But more to my point, Lexi has served on our staff as our ministry coordinator since October 2009 and her new-ish husband Paul since January 2010.

Lexi completes her undergraduate studies in April, anticipating graduate studies in theology elsewhere. They just don’t yet know where “elsewhere” will be, or when exactly they will leave.

But because none of the four universities to which Lexi has applied are even in Canada, and only two in North America, we will have to say our sad “so longs” to Paul and Lexi at some point in our not-too-distant future.

     [Pause to recover, as first Lexi and later Paul have been much more like my beloved, adopted kids than my colleagues, and even less my subordinates.]

In this conversation/lament, I commented to Paul and my wife Shelly that I am preparing myself already for their departure, and I have to remind myself that most of our relationships in life are seasonal, especially those associated with ministry.

Very few of our relationships turn out to be deep and lifelong. We celebrate those rarities when they occur, for sure. But most relationships in life and ministry are, in fact, seasonal.

At this point in our conversation, though, Shelly exclaimed, “Then, love the one you’re with!”

     YES! That’s exactly right! Steven Stills’s original meaning aside, good Biblical practice and theology requires just that: We have an obligation to “love the one(s) we’re with!

In addition to the Biblical promise and spiritual reality that God is always with us, and we are to love Him above all others, during the season that we have together – however long or short, according to God’s good and sovereign will, we are to love each other with a good and godly love!

     Jesus had something profound to say on this topic, though it’s not explicit, perhaps: “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. – John 3:7-8

I guess that maybe I shouldn’t lament – at least, not so, so much – the seasonal aspect of most relationships in life and ministry. Perhaps Jesus is just saying that even this is part and parcel to the way God works – keeping us on the move, perhaps, so we are less likely to forget that this life is not all there is, and this world is not our home.

What do you think? (I’m still going to cry when Paul and Lexi leave us. I’m just saying ….)

God’s blessing and peace, from me and mine to you and yours!

Pastor Mark

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OKAY, I CONFESS: I’m an NFL fan. And this, without ever having put on a helmet or pads … EV-ER.

It must be the competition and character thing, also the self-deluding ”I could do that!“-thing.

But INfinitely better — and this is not a delusion … my wife is an NFL fan, too!

I didn’t marry Shelly for this reason, of course, but I don’t mind telling you it was an unexpected and inestimably delightful discovery in our courtship!

So for something more than seventeen years, we have enjoyed watching NFL football together. Now that we have kids, we have passed on the NFL fever to them.

Throughout the NFL season, we enjoy Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football as highly enjoyable, anticipated, and weekly family events – especially when Payton or Eli Manning are playing. (GO, COLTS … NEXT YEAR!)

I first caught the NFL fever while growing up on the farm in Huntington, Indiana, back in the dark ages – you know, when there were just the three broadcast channels on TV, and PONG was the latest (and only) ”video game.”

     I also became a hopeless Chicago Cubs and University of Notre Dame fan, during this early formative period of my character and outlook on life, so that may tell you something more.

But I digress ….

I was enthralled by “America’s Team” – Roger Staubach, Billy Joe Dupree, Drew Pearson, Bob Hayes, Harvey Martin, Randy White, Bob Lilly, “Captain Crash” Cliff Harris, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, Tony Dorsett, Coach Tom Landry, and the rest of the 70s Dallas Cowboys.

They inspired me on many a fall and winter Sunday afternoon to go out and punt, pass, and kick a cold-hardened football in the barnyard. (I used to make a kicking-tee out of bunched up dirt or snow, depending on the season, and I often threw that football into a circle drawn onto the side of the barn.)

I know it won’t make much sense, but I also loved and followed with equal fervor the Pittsburgh Steelers of that day – Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, Lynn Swan, John Stallworth, ‘The Steel Curtain’ (“Mean” Joe Greene, L. C. Greenwood, Ernie Holmes, and Dwight White), the two linebacker Jacks (Ham and Lambert), Mel Blount, and Coach Chuck Noll.

Nonsense, maybe, except that between them, in the ten years 1970-79, the Cowboys and Steelers appeared in nine Super Bowls, winning six (Cowboys, 2 of 5; Steelers, 4 of 4 and back-to-back, twice, in ’74-’75 and ’78-’79), and met in two – both won by the Steelers (’75 and ’78).

This was truly the Golden Age of the NFL – that is, I suppose, unless you’re a San Francisco 49ers fan. But there were other great teams and great rivalries in the 1970s.

Coach Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins went undefeated in 1972 – still the only team in NFL history to do so – and appeared in three straight Super Bowls (1971-73), winning back-to-back in ’72 (over the Washington Redskins) and ’73 (over the Minnesota Vikings).

Speaking of the Vikings, after he cut his teeth here in the CFL with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Coach Bud Grant and his men made four Super Bowl appearances in the 70s but without a win. (Marv Levy’s Buffalo Bills also appeared in four Super Bowls without a win, in the early 1990s; only, the Bills appeared in FOUR STRAIGHT – even a bigger feat, and defeat.)

And who could forget the real hostility of the rivalry between the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos, which began in the 1970s but persists until today?

Now, why on earth would a pastor go into such an historical review of the NFL?

Well, first, as I confessed alrealy, I am an NFL fan. But also as I wrote in a previous post, I want my blog to be a forum where I can “think out-loud” about any topic of interest or relevance.

I also hope to make a consistent spiritual connection to life – that is, real life and not just “church life,” though I do strongly believe a commitment to Christ implies a commitment to His Church.

Finally, you may have been hearing, just under the surface of my words, a sort of lamentation – comparing yesterday’s NFL with today’s NFL, or just yesterday with today.

If you heard that, then you heard correctly. But it’s also a lament over the loss of former substance and values, replaced by hype and imagery and self-promotion and appearances.

     Can you imagine famously-tough-and-front-tooth-less Jack Lambert and Terrell Owens co-existing? Can you conceive of Ben Roethlisberger playing for Coach Tom Landry? How about Larry Czonka and Albert Haynesworth on the same team? Me neither.

Substance has been exchanged for flash, and long-term health and stability for short-term gain.

Athletic (or bottom-line business) results are now preferred over personal and professional integrity, while money has been thrown at problems (and players), where only character and discipline will deliver the [lasting] goods.

I believe this is true for today’s NFL, with billion dollar stadiums now being built and petulant players being signed to $100 million contracts, and they still won’t play as the coach directs.

It’s also true for goods and services produced and marketed today, as well as for what we are teaching our children these days, concerning priorities and values in life. It’s also true for how we are doing church-life and ministry today.

How this contrasts with the biblical order of things in the upside down kingdom of God!

Today, I’m thinking of God’s covenant people, after Israel began clammoring for “a king to lead us, such as the nations have” (1 Sam. 8:5).

First, God reassured Samuel that the people whom God had appointed him to serve were not rejecting Samuel as their prophet, so much as they were rejecting God Himself as their king.

Nevertheless, God instructed Samuel to do as the elders of Israel demanded, erroneously and rebelliously. And so, he anointed a human king, pleasing to their own eyes and befitting their own ambitions. King Saul became the personification of their own best imaginations of themselves.

It didn’t take long to see that it wouldn’t go well for Israel under the rule of their chosen king, or for King Saul himself. Despite a pleasing appearance, exceptional height, and manly-man-warrior-ness, Saul the man was in way over his head, trying to be Saul the king of God’s chosen people.

Accordingly, presciently, and along with His instructions for Samuel to anoint Israel’s first [human] king, God also instructed Samuel to issue a dire warning to His people of the many disastrous consequences that would come as the direct and inevitable result of rejecting God as their king for a king in their own choosing and making.

It didn’t go well, as predicted.

And after it hadn’t gone well, when the time came for anoint the next king — one of God’s own choosing — even while the first king still reigned, notice what God said to Samuel:

     “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him [one of David's brothers]. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

As I watched the two NFL Conference Championship games yesterday – the winner of each advancing to Super Bowl XLV (45), I couldn’t help but contrast the hype of the events with the events themselves, and the talkers with the doers.

As in the ’70s, the two winning teams were those with the best combination of defense, offense, fewest mistakes – as measured by turnovers and special teams, and coaching.

The more things change, the more things stay the same, it seems. And for sure, the best people don’t always win, and that’s unfortunate.

But common to winners in every realm, as was the case yesterday, players and coaches alike quickly testify to the power of the unselfish and sacrificial team-play of specific individuals in securing the victory – over the season and in the championship game.

This is the testimony of character and substance over appearance and talk.

I wonder what would happen, if more of us took hold of that which is real, substantial, and eternally valuable – in God’s estimation, I mean, as He has revealed it in His word to us.

     What if we actually replaced – deliberately, even ruthlessly – what is merely appealing to the eye, or preferred by individuals in the moment, or the passing fad of the day … with such character and substance? In life? At work? In our relationships? In the Church?

Grace and peace from me and mine to you and yours,

Pastor Mark

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The lost key, err, keys …

WE HAD A BIT OF A CRISIS here at Bethesda Church last night, but it all started on Sunday.

This past Sunday, after church, our younger youth wanted to play basketball in our small gym downstairs. This is a very good and usual Sunday-after-church activity for our kids. We are happy that they want to stick around, and we are happy to be able to provide facilities for them to enjoy their time together here at church.

To get the fun started, they needed to unlock the “ball cupboard” in the gym. Being resourceful sorts, they had come to know just where the keys are kept. Having retrieved the keys quickly, they proceeded to unlock the cupboard in a flash, get a ball easily, and (I’m quite sure) all had a great and sweaty time.

     But our AWANA leaders didn’t have quite such a good time on the following Wednesday night, which was … last night ….

     [AWANA is an acronym for 'A Workman Approved Not Ashamed' (see 2 Timothy 2:15) and is a Bible-infused evangelistic and discipleship ministry for children and youth administered through local churches, including our local church.]

The key-holder on which the “ball cupboard” key has been kept is, unfortunately, the same key-holder on which other keys are kept, including the key to the “AWANA equipment cupboard.”

Back to the Sunday-after-church basketball …

As is more-often-than-not the case, the exuberant and highly motivated youth, who had quickly retrieved the key-holder and with it effortlessly unlocked the “ball cupboard” on Sunday with the single key that mattered to them, were somewhat less exuberant about and substantially less motivated to clean up, lock up, and return the keys and key-holder to their rightful resting place, when the time had come to go home on Sunday afternoon.

It gets worse.

Some of the young people from the Korean Church of Winnipeg, with whom we share our facilities, arrived in the gym – potentially only minutes after our youth had left it – to find the aforementioned key-holder and associated keys, all of them, hanging from an open lock, dangling from an open hasp, attached to the still gaping, open ”ball cupboard” door.

Being responsible young people, they shut the door, securing its related equipment, took the key-holder and associated keys, and gave it/them to one of their leaders, who was busy in the middle of – you know, leading ministry – but who placed the keys, all of them, on one of the shelves … on a bookcase … in the staff office … of the Korean Church of Winnipeg.

There the keys sat until Wednesday night, when one of our off-duty staff people – also an AWANA parent, also my sweet wife Shelly – found them waiting for her (though she had no idea that they awaited her, passively and patiently) … on one of the shelves … on a bookcase … in the staff office … of the Korean Church of Winnipeg, which door had been left unlocked, fortunately.

That was at about 8:00pm (or so).

Unfortunately, our AWANA ministry is scheduled to begin, like clockwork, every Wednesday night, at 6:25pm, sharp, and gym activities are supposed to begin by, oh, about 6:28pm (or so).

Having run frantically all over the facility, since about 6:15pm (or so), trying to find, again, where the keys to the “AWANA equipment cupboard” could possibly have gone – no doubt, running past the Korean Church of Winnipeg staff office, oh, a dozen or so times – the games leaders did what any self-respecting, resilient, resourceful, and now a-full-fifteen-minutes-late leaders of energized ten-and-eleven-year-olds would do …

     They tore the door of that blasted cupboard right off of its smackin’-frackin’ hinges! (Thus endeth the problem of the lost keys.)

So I was driving home last night, to drop off some AWANA kids at their homes, so I could drop off my kids at our home, so my sweet and loyal wife could accompany and support me as I replaced a dead battery in my ailing car … at 9pm … and -30C, when a thought suddenly occurred to me:

     Didn’t Jesus speak somewhere about lost keys? Surely He had.

Scrolling through my Bible memory: Lost sheep … lost life … lost (to be saved) … lost senses … lost coin … lost sonbut no lost keys. (I’ve checked my concordance to confirm: no lost keys.)

That’s not to say Jesus didn’t speak of keys; He did – in the Gospels and the Book of Revelation.

Jesus said to His disciples, specifically in response to Peter’s confession that He is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”: I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).

To some of the religious leaders of His day, Jesus said: “Woe to you, experts in the Law!  You have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11:52).

To John the Apostle on Patmos, He said: “I AM the Living One; I was dead, and behold I AM alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18).

Finally, to the church at Philadelphia by way of John, Jesus said: “These are the words of Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open” (Revelation 3:7).

Considering our AWANA experience with lost keys last night, and having reviewed these ‘key statements‘ of Jesus, I can’t help but make a connection:

     How often do we who are in the know, concerning the Gospel, effectively misplace (or leave unattended or obscure or misuse or hide altogether) “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” from those who are seeking to enter in?

Grace and peace from me and mine to you and yours.

Pastor Mark

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WEATHER REPORT

WHEN I ARRIVED at the office this morning – just after 9AM – here at the corner of Grant Avenue and Cambridge Street in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, the radio announcer on 92.1FM (“Winnipeg’s original, classic rock station!”) was just reporting that “the current temperature [was] -33C with a wind-chill of -43C, under partly cloudy skies, expecting a high of -28C.”

The most disturbing part of this morning’s 9AM weather report was that the ‘high’ of -28C … had already been achieved … and passed, on our way down through -33C and beyond …!

It wasn’t until sometime after we arrived here at Bethesda that I learned (or relearned) that the Celsius and Fahrenheit temperature scales meet at … -40 degrees.

I’m quite sure that I once had to retain that bit of knowledge for somebody’s test at some point — most probably to pass Mr. Diffenbaugh’s 11th-grade chemistry class at Huntington North High School in 1978-79. But never having had to deal with this particular scientific fact in any practical way before, it had somehow slipped away.

NOT ANY MORE!

Please believe me when I say that -40 is C-O-L-D, any way you measure it — whether you take the lead in such matters of a Swedish astronomer (Anders Celsius) or a German physicist (Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit)!

It is for this exact reason that both sets of our parents/in-laws have made quite clear to us that, though they love us and look forward to every moment they can get with us — well, espcially with our kids/their “grandbabies,” if we want them to visit us here in our new(ish) home in the Winter-Wonderland of Winterpeg, we should only expect them between April and September!

As for me and my house, I do take some solace in the abundant evidence around us that such brutal, and dangerous, conditions can be overcome, trancended even.

In our congregation, something close to a third of our folks are seventy-plus-years-old, including a remarkable percentage of those over ninety! This reflects more generally the demographic of our beautiful, adopted city. And most of these sturdy people – whether by birth or by marriage – have lived here in Winnipeg for most, if not all of their lives ….

     (My wife Shelly has a working hypothesis: Because of the regular but brief periods of extreme cold during the winter, there is some powerfully preservative aspect to life in here in Winnipeg that is evident in the number and percentage of our ‘older’ Winnipeggers! Editor’s note: this is simply an unproven hypthesis, which hasn’t gained any known scientific traction … yet!)

So for those of you who’ve resisted the urge to live in — or even visit – us here in The ‘Peg, during our most distinctive and beautiful time of the year, perhaps one of the former leaders of my home country of the United States of America said it best:

     “The only thing we have to fear … is fear itself!” — President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Hmm … that sounds strangely like something Jesus might’ve said. But wait, it sounds strikingly similar to something that Jesus DID say:

     “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” – Jesus (Mark 4:40)

And …

     “Do not fear, only believe!” — Jesus (Mark 5:36)

God’s grace and peace to you and yours from me and mine!

Pastor Mark

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AT THE CHURCH I have had the privilege to lead since August 2007 — Bethesda Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, we do our best to take seriously the ministry of the Word of God at all times. Frequently in our Sunday morning worship gatherings, we have a time for the public reading of Scripture, early in the service, and usually separate from ‘the sermon.’ (See 1 Timothy 2:1-8, as well as 4:9-16 – especially vv. 13-14.)

Sometimes one of our elders leads us in this time, sometimes another designated person does so, and sometimes I take this opportunity to introduce the theme or message of the day, or to address some particular matter from the Scriptures that I don’t necessarily want or feel the need to devote to an entire sermon.

This Sunday, just two days from now, I plan use our ”public reading of Scripture and prayer” time to address the horrific events of this last week in my home country of the United States of America, specifically in Tucson, Arizona.

What seems a lifetime ago, I spent about eight months in southern Arizona for my U.S. Army Intelligence Officers’ Basic Course at Fort Huachuca (pronounced “Whaa-Chuu-Ka“) in Sierra Vista, Arizona from October 1988 through May 1989. Because Tucson is only about an hour and twenty minute drive away, presumably, it still serves as “the big city” to the civilians, soldiers, and officers at what we used to call “Fort We-Got-Cha.”

In retrospect, and in virtually every practical way, that part of my journey WAS a whole universe away and a lifetime ago — before Christ, before a ministry calling, before seminary, before my lovely wife Shelly and my two incredible daughters, before Bethesda and CANADA(!). Back then, I never would’ve imagined any of these gifts from my gracious God and self-sacrificing Saviour.

But here we are ….

Most of you will already know that, last Saturday, a deranged 22-year old man attempted to assassinate a United States representative, Gabrielle Giffords. She was conducting one of her “Congress on Your Corner” community events to meet with and hear from her constituents at a local Safeway store in suburban Tucson (Casas Adobes).

     Ms. Giffords survived, barely, but six others were killed and thirteen wounded, many of them seriously.

The dead include a beloved and brilliant United States federal judge, one of Ms. Giffords’s aides – himself a young man (30-years old) and recently engaged to be married, and a bright and beautiful 9-year old girl, who could’ve been my own daughter (just turned 10).

The 9-year old girl, Christina Taylor-Green, had recently been elected to her school’s student council, and she came to Ms. Giffords’s event to meet her own representative and to learn more about how her government works.

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, many people and pundits presumed that the gunman had been politically motivated, most likely from the political right. Perhaps he had been incited, even, by the increasingly vitriolic rhetoric and charged political and social environments of southern Arizona, and in the country, over the last few of election cycles.

It turns out not to have been the case.

As the story unfolds, and details give it shape, it becomes increasingly clear that the gunman was not particularly political, but severely disturbed and on a steepening downward spiral.

Even so, a very healthy and potentially constructive conversation has broken out over the consequences of our attitudes toward others who differ from us and the words that we use to express those differences.

As a participant in this conversation, on Sunday, before I read aloud Romans Twelve (the whole chapter), I plan to offer three lessons that we might learn from these recent events, as we move forward together into the future:

     1- Don’t turn away. All of us have turned away, perhaps moved away physically, from persons like this young man. On the bus, on the subway, on the street, maybe even at church, we have turned away because we see or sense that a person is mentally disturbed. But what if we were to reach out to such a person, offering friendship rather than further estrangement, trying to get them the help they need to be better, be more whole, and do better in the world that is, for them, spinning out of their control? For sure, we cannot be caretakers to every deranged and down-and-out person. But we can, I can do a lot better; I’m sure of it.

     2- Live every moment for the glory of God and the advance of His Kingdom. The only person who expected to die last Saturday, January 8th, at or about 10:10am MDT, outside of that local Safeway store in Casas Adobes, Arizona, seemed to have been the gunman. None of those six had any inkling that they only had seconds of life left to them. According to eyewitness reports, some of them spent their last seconds, heroically,  saving others. None of us know how long we have left on this earth. God’s word, however, makes clear that we all have a sacred responsibility to llve life to the fullest and to the glory of God, while we still can.

     3- Debate differences without demonizing. The inevitable and innate result of demonizing — or generalizing negatively, to use less sensational phrasing — is the defacing, diminishing, and devaluing of other human beings, who are [also] created in the image of a holy and loving and just and merciful God. We should be very careful with the ways in which we characterize others — in the world, in politics, and yes, in the church, too.

I offer these potentially transforming lessons to you and to myself. I hope it helps, someone, to make a more constructive contribution to the world that God has created and the work that He is doing in and through us these days.

Oh yes, hug your loved ones a bit more tightly, a bit more consciously, maybe just a bit more ….

Grace and peace from me and mine to you and yours,

Pastor Mark

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We’re back … WELCOME!

AFTER NEARLY A YEAR-LONG HIATUS, and a new name, I’m working my way back down my blogging-path. Pray that I will find the time, the energy, the ideas, the words, and especially the discipline to do a better job of writing, regularly and in a way that interests a growing number of you, increases my ability to communicate effectively, glorifies the One True and Living God, and advances the Kingdom of His Christ.

(Thanks to George Frideric Handel for that last phrase!)

One of the things that I intend to do, and soon, is to rework the “Pillar Posts” from my former blog, which included “Lesson Number One, along my blogging way.”

This would definitely constitute Lesson Number Two, along my blogging-way: When expriencing a major break in blogging — if one MUST experience a major break in blogging, then get back to it immediately! Otherwise, I may just wake up one morning and find that a year has past since my last post, and I’m essentially starting all over — new name and all.

Here’s the story, in brief. During the first week of February 2010, I left frigid Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada,  to attend the Desiring God Conference for Pastors in [almost] equally frigid Minneapolis, Minnesota, USofA. Up to that point and guided by my Tanto-techo-advisor-he-has-all-the-brains-and-does-most-of-the-work-while-I-get-[all?]-of-the-glory-guy, Dan McRuer, I had been buidling up the blog and generating some interest and a small but enthusiastic following. (BTW, check out Dan’s website at http://danielscyberodyssey.com/.)

So, we were beginning well, making some progress, learning some lessons, having some fun, and thinking some thoughts out-loud …

THEN NOTHING, literally, as in …

     “What happened to Wilcoxson? Abducted by aliens? Overcome by the stark-and-stunning reality that no one will EVER read his stuff? Finally found out and thrown in jail for stealing that 45 of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ “I love rock and roll!” from that little hardware and sudries store in North Manchester, Indiana, when he was dropping out of college (the first time) back in ’81?”

First things first: I apologize to you, my [former?] readers, for dropping out on you, as well as to the owner of that little hardware and sundries store in North Manchester, Indiana, for stealing your stuff ….

Aren’t you thankful for the Biblical truth that Jesus’s blood covers it all, or His blood doesn’t cover it at all? (Me, too — believe me! And for the legalists in the crowd … yes, I repented and asked for forgiveness, specifically for stealing that record … also the Snickers bar from the A&P after track practice, when I was in the 8th-grade at Crestview Junior High School in Huntington, Indiana, in 1976.)

Back to the blog.

Over the next while, I’ll be getting back to writing and thinking out-loud — hopefully in such a way as to fulfill the aforementioned objectives. For those who value regularity, I hope to post something most days, Tuesday-Friday, and at other times intermittently.

And as I already mentioned, I’ll be updating, improving, and building upon pillar posts from my former blog (http://PastorMarkWilcoxson.ca), and bringing them into the current context (http://NotAnIdleWord.ca).

Finally, I’ll endeavor to explain in some detail why I’ve selected the title ”Not An Idle Word” this time around. (For a really BIG HINT, see Deuteronomy 32:44-47 and Matthew 12:33-37.)

Blessings to you and yours!

Pastor Mark

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