Jesus

An Alternative to Hate

When I was a kid my friends and I would build tree forts amidst the Canadian boreal forest. Mosquitoes, spruce bugs and a variety of flies would bug us as we chopped trees down and fashioned together our forts, but they never deterred us from working together and getting the job done. Sometimes circumstances and attitudes can limit our possibilities, even to the point of rage and hate. There is much to be angry at in our highly politicized and divisive environment. Yet, much of what we see and hear through the various forms of media are but flies that can be faced in a productive and good manner. We can overcome the hate. We can concentrate on the good amidst us.

In the book of Exodus, Moses is commissioned by God to challenge the hate of Pharaoh. Sometimes we cannot ignore the consequences of hatred and evil but must (and through the strength and wisdom of Christ) come face to face with it and work towards productive and life giving solutions. Solutions can come easily and quickly, but usually they take time and effort. Regardless, we are to pray and love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48), hold each other accountable (Galatians 6:1-2), and confront those who use hateful words for the sake of attention (Ephesians 5:11-12).

Clashing with hatred and evil takes a lot of faith. Let us work towards peace and joy as outlined in the Bible and trust the work of Christ in us, through us and with us. He is always faithful. Keep your eyes on Him and the world will see you as an alternative to hate.


Life is Not a Dead End

People feel like life is a dead end and you wouldn’t even know it. They appear to be moving towards peace, love and joy, but the awful truth is they are great at disguising their stalemate. The postmodern world necessities it. There isn’t time to talk about what troubles them, nor many ears to hear. And those who could hear are too distracted or overwhelmed, or when they finally do have time, they haven’t an answer. Or, perhaps, they have a solution but it isn’t congruent or desired. And so, people feel like life is a dead end.

Growing up, I knew of a dead end. A paved street amidst rows of houses, some two story and old as the Great War with flush green yards and chain fences. The street came to an abrupt end. That’s it. If you’re driving, turn around or sit there and stare at the concrete curb or the white barrier or the clump of trees overshadowing the dead end street. There isn’t many options in a vehicle, but on foot you’ve got a host of possibilities. For beyond the curb and barrier lay a path, into the trees and beyond the dead end. So too is the Christian life. Here are three approaches to life that lead to dead ends and three counter approaches that lead to life and the Author of life.

Ambition

Ambition moderated will suffice. Yet left on it’s own, and apart from virtue, it becomes a demanding steward of your very life. The overly ambitious constantly complain. They are never content and always critique the works of others. They envy and gossip with jealous zeal. Friendships fail to mature because the primary focus is on the acquisition of a good yet attained. Though once achieved the focus shifts to another mountain to climb. There isn’t time for rest or the view. One must march on. The overly ambitious tire those around them, and finally themselves, successful or not, into a retreat of depressive anger. They are without peace.

Peace

“His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7b). The road of ambition is thrilling but requires a lot of energy. It burns people out. Anger wells in disappointment. Everyone has disappointments. Guard yourself with the peace of Christ. Redirect your ambition to be a person of peace. Moderate it with self control and you will walk the path of life with peace in your heart and a mind clear from the weight of failures. You will walk with Jesus and hum, “it is well with my soul.”

Approval

Approval moderated will suffice. Gaining the approval of those who discern the difference between good and evil is a boon worth more than a million likes. But those who seek constant approval are desperate for affirmation. They haven’t the resources of inner strength and the knowledge of who they truly are to walk with sure steps. They constantly forget who created them and who gave purpose and order to their steps. Wayward, inconsistent, unreliable, and always in need characterizes their end of the friendship. They take and hastily give but take the wrong things from the wrong people and give to their determent. They are in need of love.

Love

“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love” (Jn 15:9). The road of approval is a promise never kept and a burden always felt. It’s mysterious in that it causes people to shrink the further they travel. Less of them is possible. They require affirmation from confidants and then acquaintances and then strangers in person and online. Take the easier path and surrender to the love of Christ. Moderate your need of approval with first hand experience of His love. If you haven’t yet had His love, ask for it. Seek it as you had with approval and lo, the path will open to you and you will walk with Jesus and hum, “Jesus loves me.”

Appetite

Appetite moderated will suffice. Yet left on its own, and apart from virtue, it will destroy your life. Those overrunning with desires chase pleasure with reckless abandon. They love to pursue and feast heartily on amusements but are never amused. They demand more. They’ve seen it all, usually by the age of sixteen, and slink along with guant souls, starving for meaning and joy. They become jaded, approach friendships with unapologetic shallowness and thus instill life with nihilism. “Paths are just paths to nowhere”, they conclude. Eat and drink merely, for tomorrow we die! They believe this sentiment because they are at a joyless dead end and cannot see the path nor the One who bequeaths joy. They are in need of Him and His great gift.

Joy

“You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet 1:8-9). The road of the appetites is fraught with unseen peril. A fog of delight engulfs and sleepily confuses. Just to lay down for a moment turns into an eternity of missed opportunities and regret. All of which is overcome when we venture towards the higher grounds of Christ and take up the glories of His joy. Vision is gained. Gladness beams from the soul. Seek the joy of the Lord and be delightfully amazed as you walk with energy and a bounce in your step amidst the presence of Jesus, humming “I’ve got joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart”.

Because of Christ, life is not a dead end. Realign your ambitions, need for approval and appetites with Him, and you will walk a good path of peace, love and joy.

The Light for a Dark Heart

A dark heart knows no end to gloom. Abundantly shower the dark heart with goods and resentment will squander every faithful gift, every act of mercy, every gesture of grace, every surprising hope, and every measure of love. The dark heart, if it’s to be rescued, must be flooded with the love of Christ.

“O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them” (John 17:25-26).

The love of the Father through the Son illuminates and frees the dark heart from its self dug grave of resentment. Lovingly embracing (believing) Jesus necessitates that we drop the shovel and step out of the lonely, cold dirt for abundant life. The Father’s providential purpose is clarified in our lives as we walk towards then with Him. His ways become our ways. And our dark hearts become full of His light and full of His love.


Volume Up

David Crowder at The Warnors . . . CheeseCake Comatose . . . Ramblings on Buying Worship . . . & Unmute Me

The Warnors Theater in Fresno California was slowly filling with worshipers of all ages as the April sun crept west into the fading Saturday evening. Getting in and finding our seats was easy, but finding a parking spot among low-riders on one-way streets, wandering high school students dressed to the nines (Winter Formal), bunched families trickling along crosswalks, and random dudes urinating in back alleys (you needn’t see them actually hunkered in a corner to know this was going on - you could easily smell it from about 100 yards) was challenging in the construction riddled labyrinth called Downtown. But after a few missed turns and laps we were finally able to park in a hidden spot, 2nd level of a parking garage.

Previous to this, we had too much cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory. Note: when planning to attend a concert, DO NOT fill up on dairy laden sweets. I hadn't thought of this before the drummer kicked things off, but only desired to conquer whatever was placed before me, even if it was a heavy macaroni & cheese burger, side of sweet potato fries and a too rich for this kid piece of white-chocolate-macadamia-nut-caramel-cheesecake. I’d learned my lesson some 10 years ago in Seattle. That Cheesecake Factory got the best of me. My manhood had been seriously challenged when I couldn’t finish my dessert. I left in shame and vowed never to repeat the failure least a curse of 7 generations befall any Talbot who dare enter the Cheesecake Factory.

Bloated, we strolled into The Warnors while the opening band, The Young Escape, warmed up the crowd. I hadn’t been to a concert in . . . I couldn’t remember. It had been a while, four, maybe five years, or more. And I couldn’t remember who I’d last seen. But that didn’t matter. The place had a good vibe to it. The opening act was engaging the crowd between songs, taking their time and having a little bit of fun with the easy going attendees. Nobody seemed in a hurry. We all knew Crowder was gonna play shortly.

This wasn’t my first worship concert. I’ve been to others (mostly in churches) and have always found the line between worship and entertainment fuzzy. I get that we want to get something out of the experience. I mean, we do buy tickets to get in, so that’s something to consider (as well as the merchandise). There are expectations placed on the bands. And they better deliver or we ain’t picking up any of their shirts after the show.

Ah yes, the acquisitive nature. Do we go to these things to meet with God or with someone famous? Are we inclined to fill our hands or empty our hearts? The Psalmist says, “Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for he is our God” (Psalm 95:6-7a). This sentiment and soul searching worked its way into my thoughts as I sat and stared around the theater. Here we were, capturing the whole thing on our phones while simultaneously worshiping and texting friends about the loud base and “I can barely understand what he’s saying up there” complaints.

Maybe we hadn’t really come to worship at all?

Or maybe we had. It’s the 21st Century, after all, and we better get used to worshiping amidst the nagging distractions of our devices. Incorporating them into the experience has been the norm since the death of camcorders. So what was it? Surely not my own heart? Did I show up with a soul full of worshipful expectations? Or was I merely there to check things out and listen to some good music?

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We all need a break from the fast paced world of deadlines and the grind of meetings. Day to day life tends to mute joy and fun; it’s there, playing in our subconscious, somewhere. We just need a divine touch to get the song’s volume up.

That was definitely part of it, but it wasn’t the whole thing. It was a heart thing. I needed a venue away from the pulpit to worship and open my mind to the Spirit without having to think about the Sermon. I needed a place to come humbly and bow before the Lord as one in the congregation. I needed to be like the priest who sat a few rows down - amidst the church to simply be the church. I needed to essentially forget myself and concentrate on the glory of God.

And I did.

And then I left Fresno to pick up our daughter, go home, fall asleep and preach the next morning with the vlolume up in fun and joy.

This Is My #sticksoutforHumboldt

On April 6th, around 5pm, a passenger bus carrying the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s  Humboldt Broncos - kids aged 16-21 - collided with a semi-trailer in devastating force at the Highway 335 junction not far from Tisdale, SK. A town of just over three-thousand people, Tisdale is considered the Honey Capital of the province and an important agricultural center for prairie dwelling farmers on the edge of the boreal forest. I’d spent a number of years ministering near Yorkton, living among farmers and miners alike, being only a 3 hour drive from Tisdale. Growing up, I’d even hunted for whitetail with my father and brother nearly every November, sleeping in a hunting shack for days just outside of the Moose Capital of the World, Hudson Bay.

Hockey, like hunting and fishing, was an exciting part of my childhood. It was also an important component on the school-ground. As soon as the early parts of fall would turn frosty, the football would be put away for hockey sticks and yellow tennis balls. The recess bell would sound, teams would be drawn up and for fifteen glorious minutes we would vigorously play street hockey, either winning or losing but always, and undoubtedly, relishing with exuberance the time away from desks, assignments, reading out loud, rules, teachers, and above all the dreaded and confusing interactions with the opposite sex. For these were pre-dating days, and so the schoolyard was full of boys playing hockey.

But that doesn’t last long and soon enough the hockey on the streets is ignored for the serious play in the arenas. I remember going to Flin Flon Bomber games (my hockey playing experiences are limited to the most amateur settings, away from the leagues), sitting among my peers as some viciously yelled at the reefs for nearly every blown whistle against us. It was, at times, bordering the barbaric, especially when the gloves were dropped at center ice halfway through the third period of a close and frustrating 2-1 game. Load the penalty box at that moment: we didn’t care. Someone had to pay for goalie interference. Even if he’d hacked their right-wingers shines since the start of the game, a reckoning would befall all who habitually trespassed the goalie’s crease.

Those outside of hockey culture don’t get this sorta justice. But it’s an integral part of the game just as the game is an integral part of the community. Winters in Western Canada are long, brutal affairs that can easily extend into the early weeks of May. Cabin Fever is a serious problem, rigidly setting in depressions, thick as a four feet of ice on a barren lake. The hockey arena has been a good antidote amidst howling northern winds. It’s been more than a game, more than the goals and accolades, but a source of warmth for kids and adults alike. It’s at the heart of the community where generations are able to huddle together and get along over a cup of coffee and an arena burger.

The tragic death of sixteen lives has touched so many because most of us can relate with the kids, parents, trainers, coaches, bus driver, and trucker. The team is in pain, hospitalized and grieving. We grieve too in expressions ranging from anger and calls to inquiries and justice to heartfelt sadness, tears and prayer. A whole community has been rocked and there are the injured, and the parents, siblings, families and friends who are trying to make sense of the whole thing the best they can. Grief is a lot like midnight waves of the sea - it comes and goes with strange frequencies, pushing our emotions all over the place while swamping our ability to think straight. As best you can it’s better to ride it out rather than fight or ignore the waves, one day at a time. Know too that “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed “ (Psalm 34:18). Through the cross, Jesus has shown us that He is never far from our pain. He too knows what it means to suffer. And as our Heavenly Father, He understands grieve. To all my friends and family in the Great White North, we are praying and grieving with you. May our Lord be with you and may His peace be in abundance.

Pastor Aaron

The Depths of God's Faithfulness

“Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.” This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said, “Tell the people of Jerusalem,  ‘Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey—riding on a donkey’s colt’” (Matthew 21:2-5).

Palm Sunday is near and it usually means children and songs and palms and our Lord overlooking Jerusalem with the cross in the forefront of His mind and His disciples amidst Him, clueless of all that’s to transpire. I’ve preached Palm Sunday many times, and often reflecte on the mixed emotions of joy and sorrow that Jesus would have felt as He rode the donkey down to Jerusalem (the joy part is something I’ve always questioned: sure, the multitudes are joyful and singing, but was Jesus, knowing His terrible death was but days away?).

After much study and thought, it’s become apparent that there’s more to the procession than I’d originally understood. The fulfilled prophecy mentioned in Matthew is from Zechariah 9:9. It’s an old promise of redemption that God gave to His people, and it’s deep. Like the depths of a river, God’s Spirit moves and gives life with an incredible, subtle power. We often live on the shores of God’s river, enjoying life as a beach or dock. But it’s more than that and it’s wonderfully meaningful, for the shore line may recede into a muddy mess or dry up, but God’s depths of faithfulness will always remain.

I’ll see you this Sunday as I preach on Matthew 21:1-11, The Depths of God’s Faithfulness.

 

Pastor Aaron