Save the Planet

I watched three young teens race their bikes down an alley and hurl their left over snack packs onto the ground as they sped away. Plastic bags, Styrofoam containers, chicken-bone wings, fries, paper napkins, half-used plastic cups with dipping sauce – abandoned. Things like that aren’t hard to clean up despite the negligence of these boys.

Our oceans are another matter. 80,000 tonnes of floating plastic has been photographed swirling around the Pacific – making up a mass larger than France, German and Spain. And it likely isn’t only our youth contributing to this mess which now drifts in five large masses – one stretching to 1.6 million square kilometres.

Youth may be part of our hope as they become passionately engaged in environmental concerns. An 18-year-old Dutchman named Boyan Slat started a group called Ocean Cleanup several years ago to deal with this catastrophe labeled the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. His organization estimates that eight million (out of the 322 million tonnes produced annually) end up in the oceans every year.

Most of us might ignore this out-of-sight, out-of-mind issue until we realize that some of that plastic is being swallowed by the fish we eat. Large tangles of lost fishing net are caught up in this mass, trapping passing sea life like turtles.

Saving the planet is something Christians tend to think is something Jesus did some 2000 years ago. We genuflect to the cross and empty tomb. We say a prayer of gratitude for the eternal life we gained but we don’t necessarily connect that our role may go beyond loving God and loving our neighbour.

Jesus reduced all commands down to the one of loving each other “as I have loved you.” The New Testament is an application and commentary on how we do that. A key piece we may miss is that demonstrating love for you may be demonstrating respect and honour for the place you live and grow – this planet.

As we move into spring and summer the beauty of the world is taking shape all around us with little help from us. What are you doing to keep that beauty from diminishing? What are you doing to help with saving our planet? Yes, the people, but also the place where all these people live.

How do you believe this?

Followers of Jesus face a challenge lifestyles ,family,society influencing

In this age, when an avalanche of fake news through social media almost crushes us with statements and claims which stretch the limits of our ability to believe, it can be easy to dismiss the gospel claims about who Jesus was, why he lived, died and rose again. Existential skepticism, reasonable doubt, unbelievable truth, mixed freely with a kaleidoscopic array of cultural, religious and social ideologies, might excuse us setting aside the crucifixion / resurrection narrative as obscure, superstitious and irrelevant to our contemporary lifestyles.

Followers of Jesus face a challenge. Our mandate is to share the gospel story as the only hope for humanity but we are often left without clear understanding of how to answer all the questions, objections and skepticism of those we want to share with. Our integrity can’t encourage people to ignore their questions and embrace our faith without confidence in its truth claims. Intellectual honesty for both the inquirer and the responder are necessary if commitment is to last.

What we believe is often filtered through the family, culture, church, country, education system and social group we grew up with. We believe what we’re told until it doesn’t seem so believable anymore. Somewhere, we start to think that unless what we believe can withstand every question posed that we can’t hold it any longer. We start to realize that perhaps this is a faith which was never ours. Holding our faith surrounded by doubts limits our ability to effectively share what we believe.

Winfried Corduan, in his book Reasonable Faith (p. 20), states that:

“People usually learn about the facts of their faith from some form of authority. These sources might include parents, clergy, teachers, or the Bible. Because we are taught to respect these authorities, we accept what they teach us about God. No one can be expected to examine all of his or her beliefs before committing to them as true. Many people do not have the capacity, time, or interest to undertake a thorough evaluation of a doctrine and its alternatives. For that matter, if the world had to wait for the “experts” – theologians and philosophers – to come to agreement on beliefs before accepting any of them, nobody could believe anything. So God has seen to it that some people are commissioned to represent His truth as He has revealed it in His Word, the Bible. Such is the obligation of all parents to their children and all others who occupy a teaching or preaching capacity in the church. We see then that it is both possible and proper for all articles of belief to be accepted on the basis of faith, that is, out of respect to the authority that teaches them.”

The issue is never the questioning of our faith but the integrity of the questions we ask of it. To arrive at commitment we accept that there is a knowable truth given by a knowable God who is able to intervene in human history with a reliable communication we can access, understand and apply to life. From that source we are able to sort our way through the puzzle of whether Jesus is Legend, Lunatic, Liar or Lord.

Ultimately, we are engaging in a reasonable faith which grows over time.

Confused?

confussed happy smily college freshman

March 2015. I’m sitting at the back of my English 101 tutorial classroom. Alarmed brain signals careen along the labyrinths of my mind as the course instructor announces:

“According to this theory, marriage is an unnatural constraint on sexual freedom. Marriage infidelity shouldn’t be shameful! Things would be a lot more ‘natural’ if everyone simply indulged in their desires.”

As he elaborates on the theory with eloquent arguments and examples from the media, my long-held values backflip like a half-cooked pancake on a griddle. Traces of doubt slither into my mind. Have I been living in a bubble up until now? 

Four years later, looking back at my wide-eyed university freshman self in English 101, I realize how much I trusted my professors to be right. When you’re eighteen and surrounded by seasoned thinkers, it’s easy to blindly believe the best-argued case. Problem is, universities are peopled with scholars who argue their case for a living. Most of them are pretty good at it.

Torrents of ideas have come crashing down on me in lecture halls. Ideas about society. Ideas about the origin of the world. One astronomy professor insisted that the universe created itself from scratch and that humans were random networks of stardust. Another literature professor nonchalantly reduced Christianity to a system of murderous colonizers and power-hungry church leaders.

I’ve also picked up new ideas from friends. University exposes you to a huge variety of perspectives from different religious groups and worldviews. Even between two Christians, opinions can differ wildly on issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and gender-neutral washrooms.

It’s no wonder that, flailing in a sea of opinions, some students pick and choose a set of beliefs as they would select choice morsels at a buffet spread. They live only by the ones that seem palatable to them and adjust their views to their tastes. Paul already knew these customized worldviews were coming when he warned, in 2 Timothy, that “people…will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (4:3).

Others, like me, become plain confused.

It goes without saying that my Christian beliefs took a good shaking-up in university. But they have solidified into a stronger faith and greater trust in God and in Jesus’ salvation.

How in the world did I soak up four years of “enlightening” theories, many of which encouraged me to abandon my faith, and still end up a Jesus follower?

My astronomy professor shared his frustration that, despite his measuring tools, he couldn’t solve all the puzzles of outer space. My literature professor bemoaned our inability to break off the “chains of religious influences”. Even with all their professed insight into the mysteries of life, they were still confused.

And it hit me: humans don’t have all the answers. The most articulate scholars don’t. Neither do the brains behind the theories. But poring over the word of God, I find all I need to know in one handy guidebook. It comforts me when I’m at my worst. It gives me amazing discernment in sticky situations. It rebukes me when I wander off from where God wants me to be. And it boasts the mind-blowing mystery of salvation that makes life worth the living.

Yes, I respect human reason and university textbooks. But now, I also know that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ” (Colossians 2:4). The Bible, the lamp to our feet and light for our path, has the power to dispel confusion and trumps any man-made philosophy

Overwhelmed

overwhelmed horse

Maybe you’ve felt this way. Overwhelmed. You know it’s not just the day. It’s not that no one seems to care what you say or do anymore. It’s not that you feel empty and confused. It’s not that your smile is plastic and your gut is permanently twisted like a pretzel. It’s not even the avalanche of activities, people and decisions cramping your time, energy and space. You just feel no longer in control.

The great physicist Stephen Hawking may be overwhelmed after passing away and meeting the God he denied his whole life. He did leave us a good quote when he said “people need not be limited by physical handicaps as long as they are not disabled in spirit.”

Feeling disabled in spirit can happen in a family context, a work environment, in the middle of a shopping trip, or while we’re stuck in traffic. It might even happen in a church where you are bombarded with thoughts, emotions, convictions, reactions you don’t know how to handle.

For those of us in the trenches of life it wouldn’t be unlikely to have consultants, counselors or advisors tells us to limit what we put on our to do list to only the things we can manage effectively – Delegate, trust others to take some of the load, let go of the most stressful challenges. They might also tell us to limit purposeless meetings or conversations that suck up our valuable time.

Finding space to process, to call on our personal support system and to determine what we will eliminate or refuse on our agendas will also be something that we will be told to consider. Each of us has a different capacity in carrying our loads and it is important not to compare who we are and what we can do with others around us.

I feel overwhelmed frequently. My recent evaluation says that others notice I am overwhelmed. Taking the advice of others to limit myself sounds like wisdom. It doesn’t work to lecture a person who is overwhelmed, I’ve been through that. It doesn’t work to guilt, shame or scare someone who is overwhelmed, I’ve been through that as well.

The gospel of Mark records Jesus’ response to his disciples after he’d sent them on an overwhelming road trip. They’d gone out two by two with no bread, no bag, no money and no extra tunic – only a walking stick. They preached repentance, drove out demons and healed the sick, trusting God to meet all their needs. In Mark 6:30-31 we read what happened after their return to Jesus. “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have time to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’”

Perhaps this is the best idea. Coming away with Jesus by ourselves to a quiet place and getting some rest. I think being overwhelmed happens when we don’t get enough of this.

What do you do when you’re feeling overwhelmed? Or, what do you do to avoid feeling overwhelmed? Being part of a supportive community is definitely something that helps a lot.

What’s it All About?

The messages I get often start with Why or Where. Why is God letting this happen to me? Where is God right now and why isn’t he answering my prayers? Why am I here?

Rick Warren, in his book Better Together (p. 12), says “the purpose of your time on earth is not primarily about acquiring possessions, attaining status, achieving success, or even experiencing happiness. Those are secondary issues. Life is all about love and developing relationships – with God, and with other people. You may succeed in many areas, but if you fail to learn how to love God and love others, you’ll have missed the reason God created you and placed you on this planet. Learning to love is life’s most important lesson. Jesus called it the “great commandment” (Matthew 22:38). Nothing else comes close in importance.”

If you’re like me, it’s easy to nod my head in agreement but then I meet real people in real life.

For example, K. is the mom whose son is an aggressive autistic wreaking havoc in the community. K. has a husband dying from a brain tumour and acting out against her. K. has a daughter who gave her a three-week-old child to look after since the daughter didn’t want to leave her life of drugs and prostitution. Now K. has kidney cancer and lives in serious pain. Her messages to me express how overwhelming life is. Her trust and faith in God were ejected long ago. How do I love in this situation?

  1. came by for prayer again today. One son is an alcoholic and one a drug addict. She converted to Christianity from another religion and is seeing huge transformation in her own life and choices. She battles and fights for her boys but is drained of energy. She can’t keep a job because she is always chasing to intervene in her son’s latest escapade. The things she loves disappear again and she knows who took them. Yet today, she declares that God knows who needs those things most and she releases them without animosity toward her son. Still, she is in desperate need. How do I love in this situation?
  2. is a young professional who was lonely. She prided herself on her purity until she met an older man who overwhelmed her with compassion and care. She quickly fell prey to his sexual advances and found herself involved in things she never imagined doing. When that relationship ended, within a week, she was into another relationship with a younger man who repeated the same activities with her. She feels trapped because of her loneliness, guilt because of her faith, helplessness to make meaningful choices. How do I love in this situation?
  3. is an older refugee who longs for connections. He had significant status in his home country before he had to run for his life and come to Canada a year ago. He is learning English and loves to talk but no one seems to have time for him. He is constantly sending out invitations to come and share food at his home. He would love to still make a difference in his home country through a politician here but needs help accessing his representative so he can share his story. How do I love in this situation?

Every person we meet has a different story and love needs to be applied uniquely to their situation. We need wisdom and compassion and grace greater than we can imagine.

Who are the significant people in your community who need practical demonstrations of love? What can you do for even one of them?

What Else Is Out There? Don’t Read This – part 2.

Being a parent seems to be getting more challenging all the time. We’ve hardly got our children walking and we’re being warned to “stranger proof” them at the same time we’re trying to socialize them; we’re encouraged to get them into SMART start but not to expose them to too much social media or television; we’re trying to teach them good values, reading, language, colours and sharing while connecting them to social settings where other families have other ways of doing things.

Now, we’re being reminded that we need to “porn proof” our kids. We’ve got them ready for earthquakes and fires by warning them about the danger and then teaching them what to do if the event happens. We are always looking for the way out. How do we do that with pornography when so much happens away from our awareness?

In the near future our church will be having a workshop for parents on the massive impact of sex trafficking in this city but one thing is clear. As parents, we hardly take seriously enough the things our children are being exposed to. We don’t realize how enticing images draw young minds into forbidden channels where they are exposed to illicit scenes which awake latent desires.

Children should be reminded that they have a feeling brain and a thinking brain. The imagery and emotion of pornography are centered on our feeling brain in such a way that our thinking brain doesn’t do its job of warning us about future consequences. For them to label images out loud “that’s pornography” will keep them alert so they can make wiser choices. Finding ways to distract themselves when images pull at their senses is a helpful way to protect their mind from long term memories which will impact them in relationships and self-care.

Sometimes, parents fend off the idea of how vulnerable our own children might be by thinking that the girls or boys who get caught up in sex trafficking or pornography are from other countries or they’re here without stable family support. The reality is different.

A large percentage of those youth pulled into the industry are born in Canada. The government claims 90% of known individuals caught up are Canadian. The internet, social media, the mall and even dog walkers have been used to troll for vulnerable victims. Girls even younger than 13 are being targeted.

Many of the young girls involved still come home at night so parents don’t catch on. Some of the things to watch for include longer periods of time where their presence isn’t known; changes in routine; having more than one cellphone; getting expensive things; unexplained absences from school and deep weariness.

As parents, please ensure your children are supervised when in public spaces. Be aware of their social media activity. Know where your child is and screen any potential older friends. Talk to your child about what to do if they get into a difficult situation with someone. Give clear instructions on how to handle themselves in social settings of all kinds. Pray without ceasing for this child’s protection.

Are you staying connected with other parents so you have a support network? What is God saying to you in his own efforts to protect you from the dangers around you?

Don’t Read This

Once again, don’t read this if you don’t want to know how bad things are in our city. Don’t read this if you don’t want to admit how hard things are just to be human in this environment. Don’t read this if you think you are the only one struggling with sexual temptation.

The British apologist C. S. Lewis, stated that “Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is…You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it not by lying down. A man who gives into the temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.“

If you’ve ever stood on the deck of a BC ferry and walked into the wind there are times when you could almost be blown overboard. Those resting inside have little idea how challenging it is to stand or walk for those on the outside.

In my best dreams as a pastor I would like to imagine that all followers of Jesus are safe inside the ship and that the winds are wreaking their havoc on those who deliberately refuse to come inside and get away from all the images on television, in the theatres, on the computers, in the magazines, in the malls, in the bookstores, in their classrooms, in their workspaces, in their community centers, in their doctor’s offices, on the billboards, on their tablets, on their phones and in their own imaginations.

The carnage on our society is deadly. How can prayer impact the direction and consequences we are seeing unleashed around us as Romans 1 promised?

Huge percentages of youth, young adults, married men and women, and even seniors are confessing in groups designed for believers that they are enslaved by pornography, masturbation, sexual fantasies and addictions, pre-marital and extra-marital sexual encounters, inappropriate thoughts, attractions, lusts or desires.

An enemy is working hard to cripple the church from being an effective witness. How can we stand up under this onslaught? As someone said to me today, you can’t keep playing with this fire and not get burned. Are we facing a wildfire that has gotten out of control?

Last week we had three policemen join Cathy Peters in meeting with daycare workers from several of our daycares throughout Vancouver. We hosted this important event to highlight how child sex trafficking is rampant in our own communities. We’re going to share this same information with parents in the next little while but there is serious concern that parents won’t believe that their son or daughter could be at risk.

 

 

More on this in the next blogs.

It is said of Billy Graham, in memory of his passing, that he took sin seriously in guarding his own exposure to temptations or compromising situations, but he also took redemption seriously when it came to the sins of others. Perhaps as you ponder what is going on around you it might be a good time to take both of these things into consideration as we deal with ourselves and others. What is God asking of you as you work to become a wounded healer in our broken world?

What Should I Ask For?

The Lord’s Prayer is a great template for us as we begin to grow in our intentional communication with God. We see him as our Father, someone to be honored in his place of authority as we submit ourselves to his designs for our life and our world. We express our trust in his protection and provision. We anchor our hope in his commitment to bring glory to his name.

As we turn the focus of our intercessions onto the others around us we look at how Paul prays for believers. He seems to focus constantly on the importance of a rich personal relationship with a Sovereign Savior who will never let anything get in the way of his love. He constantly focuses us away from the challenging outward experiences we endure and refocuses us on the Lord who walks with us through those hardships. This is the only way to find peace in the world we live in.

It’s who we are in secret, when no one else is watching, which counts – How thankful, how thoughtful, how gracious, how generous, how peaceful. Our time in prayer is what mirrors our internal reality as we walk back into our circumstances. It’s who we are in secret, but it is also who we are in community as we join in corporate prayer. The balance of public and private prayers are essential to growing as a disciple of Christ.

Author Tim Keller, in his book Prayer (p. 25), says “When your prayer life finally begins to flourish, the effects can be remarkable. You may be filled with self-pity, and be justifying resentment and anger. Then you sit down to pray and the reorientation that comes before God’s face reveals the pettiness of your feelings in an instant. All your self-justifying excuses fall to the ground in pieces. Or you may be filled with anxiety, and during prayer you come to wonder what you were so worried about. You laugh at yourself and thank God for who he is and what he’s done. It can be that dramatic. It is the bracing clarity of a new perspective. Eventually, this can be the normal experience, but that is never how the prayer life starts. In the beginning the feeling of poverty and absence usually dominates, but the best guides for this phase urge us not to turn back but rather to endure and pray in a disciplined way, until … we get through duty to delight.”

Finding creative ways to pray with each other can encourage this intimacy of communion with Our Father in heaven. Try popcorn prayers – short sentence prayers where others can pop in – focus on who God is, on what you’re thankful for, on specific intercessions for others.

What do the following verses say to you in their context?

John 14:13, 14 “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”

John 16: 23, 24 “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

Now, what will you ask for in Jesus’ name?

Does Prayer Change Anything?

One of the most frequent requests I get as a pastor is for prayer. Regardless of whether the issue is sickness, finances, relationships, housing, spiritual confusion or lack of wisdom the natural desire for many of us is to ask for prayer. But does it really change anything? Is it supposed to change something?

Significant parts of our North American culture seem to have regained some curiosity around issues of connecting with some form of spirituality. Mindful meditation seems to be the buzz word for the current trend. Eastern forms of mysticism, First Nations’ spirituality, and new age philosophy have infiltrated our culture and even superseded disciplines of a crumbling institutional church.

Within the growing and emerging churches there is a reflection back on ancient practices of contemplation, centering prayer, listening prayer and divine readings designed to promote communion with God. Francis Chan focuses us toward the intimacy of relationship with our Father God through prayer.

Throughout the centuries Christian thinkers have recognized that prayer involves heart, mind, soul and even body. Prayer intertwines intellect and emotion with will and experience. It is a conversation of love between two persons committed to each other.

The apostle Peter (I Peter 1:8) says “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Perhaps this is the first thing that is changed – us. Prayer reorients my heart toward God and what his desires are and it engages my spirit in wrestling for truth in a world that works hard to distract, discourage, and raise doubts in me.

Author Tim Keller, in his book Prayer (p. 18), says “Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change – the reordering of our loves. Prayer is how God gives us so many of the unimaginable things he has for us. Indeed, prayer makes it safe for God to give us many of the things we most desire. It is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life.”

I watched, with pride, as a group of young professionals gathered in the balcony prior to our Sunday service to pray. They were praying for our technology problem when everything else they’d tried hadn’t worked. Moments later, and seconds before our worship team began its first song, a button was pushed and everything worked. God’s grace wasn’t lost on any of us who saw that moment.

Clearly, prayer changed something. What has it changed for you?

Can Different Generations Really Come Together as One?

It’s no secret that while building up a church family with multi-generations is the dream of most congregations that this is more challenging than it seems. Different generations have different soul language with the music they respond to; they have different heart language in what they feel committed to with their time and resources; they have different body language in terms of how they build relationship and share their lives.

Sociologists might label the four key generations as Builders, Boomers, Gen Xers and Millenials. Each has been shaped by different backgrounds, different times, different perceptions of their culture and different experiences of faith. Perceptions , actions and reactions to what is happening will vary. How do you build unity in the middle of so much chronological diversity?

Loving your different generation neighbor often involves first building a relationship – taking an interest to show you care by listening, asking insightful questions, praying for and supporting in practical ways. Our seniors would love to have someone sit with them over tea and ask them to share their experiences. There needs to be verbal expressions of respect for their experience and wisdom. They can make great mentors.

Liz Selzer, in her book 3D Mentoring (p. 122) says “People need to see each other as competent, authentic, able to create meaningful connections, accountable, and dependable. “ They need to find their voices in three ways: by building a learning culture where everyone’s strengths are celebrated and appreciated; give opportunities for all to participate in a way where it is safe to take risks and fail; establish a forum where everyone’s voice gets heard and encourage everyone’s contribution.

This kind of culture happens one on one as we intentionally sit with each other and listen to each other. There is a God story in the life I am facing and preparing myself to hear it and appreciate it changes my whole attitude toward what God has done and what He is still doing.

Which generation can you expand your heart toward? How will you do that?