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Today (July 6), Rhonda and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. I remember the day clearly because I shot a five over-par at the Pine Grove Golf course in Sudbury, Ontario. Five over par was an excellent game for me at that time. And honestly, if it wasn’t for a bad slice on the 14th hole which ended up in a sand trap, I am convinced I could have finished just 3 over par. Ah, it was a beautiful day.

But the day only got better because at just after 2 PM in the sanctuary of Glad Tidings Church, before God and a host of witnesses, the women I was crazy in love with, said “I do”. She promised to be my wife “from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; until death do us part.” I loved her then and I love her now - she has been completely faithful to those words.

We have enjoyed many good times and indeed have been blessed with a rich life of things we enjoy together. There have been those times which were ‘for worse’ when her simple trust, faith and confidence in me have pulled us through. I am always amazed that knowing me as she does she still believes in me and loves me in spite of all my faults. The ‘for richer, for poorer’ part has involved mostly ‘for poorer’ as we have started over again in various locations around the world. She truly believes in our calling to ‘store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.’ As for ‘sickness and health’, I’d have to say that we have been blessed with good health and strength but as we grow older she watches out for me. Recently, we have started a jogging program knowing that we need to be working on our health together. The best part for me is that I have her to myself for twenty minutes, just the two of us. She has completely fulfilled the ‘to love and to cherish’ part of her vows and that hasn’t been easy.

Rhonda’s vows, twenty years ago this afternoon, were not mere words but an expression of who she is and what she intended to do with her life. She took those vows seriously, she meant them and she has kept them. She is one of the most honourable and authentic people I know. As most people at our wedding were only too willing to tell me, I got the better deal in this marriage. She promised to be a ‘great wife’ and she is. I am still ‘crazy’ in love with her but now in a deeper and more intimate way than I ever thought possible.

Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favour from the LORD.” All I can say is that this has proved to be true in my life. God gave me a wonderful wife and I am blessed because of her.

Rhonda, thanks for the last twenty years, they have been great. But I think the next twenty will be even better. Happy Anniversary!

I’m not sure that this story is true but it’s been told many times. As the story goes - when Ronald Reagan, a former U.S. President, was a boy his aunt took him to get a new pair of shoes made. The shoemaker wanted to know if Reagan wanted the shoes to be square toed or round toed. Reagan couldn’t make up his mind. A couple weeks later the cobbler saw Reagan and asked again if he had a preference. Reagan still couldn’t decide and didn’t give the cobbler any instructions. So when he finally picked them up he had one shoe that was square toed and one that was round toed. Reagan said he learned a valuable lesson; “Make your own decisions in life or someone else will make them for you.”

About the most consistent thing that any of us has to do, on a regular basis in life, is to make decisions. Some of those decisions can be easy, some more difficult. Some days it’s a mix of easy and hard choices.  Sometimes, it’s all we can do to decide which size coffee we want at Starbuck’s. At other times, we can quite easily make decisions that might be life-altering.

One of the greatest abilities that separates us from all the rest of God’s creatures is our ability to weigh factors, to recognize different alternatives, to make a decision and then to implement an action plan towards the successful accomplishment of that decision. From the beginning, people have had to make decisions. Adam and Eve had to make a decision - a choice- to obey or disobey God, and we know the choice they made, and can recognize rather clearly something of the repercussions that have flowed, even to us, from that initial choice of serving self rather than God.

A few years ago I clipped an article out of a Christian magazine that is no longer in existence. It has served as a kind of framework for me as I think about decision making.

1. Decisions point us in a certain direction.
2. Decisions have consequences.
3. Decisions build on each other – with every wise decision it becomes easier to make more wise decisions.
4. Life is made up of a few big decisions and a billion little ones.
5. Our ability to live wisely depends on how we handle the little decisions.

We can decide to lose weight but that decision must be made every time someone offers us a jelly filled donut. We can decide to defeat a certain sin in our life but we have to make that decision every time the temptation comes our way. Every day that we keep taking those small steps we grow stronger and wiser in the things of God. Our ability to live wisely depends on how we handle all those little decisions.

Jesus gave us his approach to decision making in John 5:30, “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.”

The key element here is that he listens for the will of the Father.  Many of us prefer to do our decision making by talking. But Jesus says that the thing of first importance is to listen for the will of the Father. We need to place ourselves before him and be quiet so that we can hear him speak.

When we understand the importance of making wise daily decisions we’ll understand the need for listening to God. It’s about our attitude and our heart approach to seeking God. As one of my favorite Bible characters says, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.” (1 Samuel 3:10).

Art Basel

Living in Basel gives you many opportunities to see and experience various aspects of culture. The city is full of museums and musical events as well as local festivals and activities; last week was Art Basel. Art Basel is one of the largest contemporary art fairs in the world. Since the New York Times calls it ‘the Olympics of the art world’ I thought it would be worth taking in.

So last Friday afternoon my daughter and I went down to the Messeplatz and bought tickets. Besides discovering that it’s a massive exhibition I learned a number of things. First off, I don’t know much about modern or contemporary art. There were a number of galleries showing what I recognized as art, you know, a painting of something. There were some works by Picasso, Klee, and Andy Warhol. But, there was also a whole lot of stuff that looked, well, unfinished or like it was done by a five year old. Now, I am trying to keep an open mind since like I said, I don’t know anything about modern art. It’s just that I am really not sure how a bundled stack of newspapers qualifies as art. It looks exactly like what my Swiss neighbour puts out at the curb once a month. I had a lot of questions which leads me to the second thing I learned.

Looking at the paintings, sculptures, pictures and pieces made me want to learn more about modern art. Rather than being turned off I really wanted to know more. What is it that people with an appreciation for modern art can see that I can’t? If the book store had been selling “Modern Art for Dummies” I would have bought two copies, at least. Why can some people look past the swirl of paint on a pie plate and see something deeper? While I couldn’t appreciate or understand everything I saw that afternoon it made me long to know more, to enter into the experience that other people were able to have and share.

The final thought I had as I left the fair was a reminder to me that God is the author of creativity. He is the original creator. In The Message, Genesis 1:1 reads, “First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see.” He created mountains, trees, rivers and rocks. He created bumble bees and tigers, eagles and hump backed camels. We live in an amazing world of diversity and beauty. It was God’s gift to his people; he placed us in the middle of it. He even created us, made us in His image. I believe that one of the ways we are created in His image is that like Him we have the ability to create. We may not all be artists but we create in other ways, we have different canvases and different approaches. The power to be creative, to express some deep impression or desire, like what I saw at Art Basel, is evidence of God’s mark on who we are and our desire to know Him. So, go ahead, be creative, it’s a God-like thing to do.

Living as Exiles

globe.jpg When I was in university I lived in a house with a bunch of the other guys. One of them was the son of the owners, a family that had emigrated from Yugoslavia in the 1950s. His grandmother used to come over every Sunday night with food for the week. Most of us would try to be there Sunday evening because she was always willing to feed us and she brought her own home cooking. It was fantastic food; the best meal of the week. His grandmother had lived in Canada for almost 30 years and spoke hardly a word of English. I could never understand how that was possibile. How could she manage to live in a society without learning to speak the language of the people? Now I know - it’s actually quite easy.

I know because for the last few years I have lived in communities where I have been the outsider. You learn to cope in a variety of ways. You find people from your own community and you hang together. You speak your own language. You learn just enough of another language to greet people and count in a grocery store. The rest of the time you stay in your own areas. You wait until you can return home or move to the next assignment. You consider yourself to be ‘just passing through.’ Sometimes we call it the ‘expat life.’

The Bible doesn’t talk about expats but it has a lot to say about exiles. To be an exile was to be removed from your homeland. To be somewhere else that was foreign and strange. There is a period of Jewish history that is referred to as “the exile.” This was when the tribe of Judah was taken captive to Babylon for 70 years. At first, many of the exiles thought it was temporary. They didn’t believe that God would let them suffer for very long. There were false prophets circulating among the people and saying “Get ready, any day now we are going back to Jerusalem.” So the people sat around waiting to go back home. They didn’t do anything more than they had to. Their thoughts were constantly about returning to Jerusalem. But God had other plans; he had decreed an exile for a period of 70 years. So he had the prophet Jeremiah write a letter to the exiles.

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. Jeremiah 29:4-7

Jeremiah tells them that they will indeed be in Babylon for a while. God has a plan and it will all work out. Meanwhile, they need to get busy living their lives. No more waiting to go back or move on. No more dreaming about ‘the good old life’ or ‘the next great thing.’ It was time to unpack their suitcases and hang up some pictures on the walls. It was time to learn the language, use local food and meet the neighbors. It was time to have children and raise a family. Don’t put life on hold – live it now!

I am a foreigner (Auslander) living in Switzerland. I am here by choice and I choose to live in the same way Jeremiah encouraged the Jews to live in Babylon. I can’t sit around and moan about going home. There is work to be done (planting and harvesting) and a family to raise. I am studying German even though it’s painful at times. We get out to enjoy the city and to meet people. And, most importantly, I am to pray for the peace and prosperity of this place, Basel. God has us - and you - here for a reason. Let’s live our lives now, in this very place!

Church ministry is a team sport. While it is tempting at times to do everything ourselves the truth is we can’t. And we shouldn’t. The church works best when we all work together.
Last night was our monthly Elders’ meeting. We talked a little longer than planned but it was a good meeting. I got to thinking about it and realized that for the last 15 years or more I have attended at least one such meeting a month. Sometimes there are two or three such meetings a month. Whether they are called elders, deacons, trustees or ministry leaders - the local church just wouldn’t carry out its mandate without these dedicated individuals.
During the years of wandering in the wilderness Moses made many complaints to God. More than once he complained about the heavy burden of leading people and that he was all alone in his job. God heard those cries and answered in a number of different ways. He provided for 70 new leaders to come and assist in spiritual matters. God told Moses “I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone” (Numbers 11:17)
In Exodus 18 Moses’ father-in-law was used to help develop a plan for the delegation of judging disputes among the people. These things helped Moses but I am sure it also enriched the quality of ministry and decision making among the people. It is clear from these accounts that even a gifted man like Moses needed to be part of a larger group devoted to leading.
When Jesus began his earthly ministry the first thing he did was choose his twelve disciples. These men shared life with Jesus during a three year period and then stepped into significant leadership roles after the resurrection and ascension. Then they also choose people to work with. We often look at amazing leaders in Scripture (Moses, David, Jesus, or Paul) but then overlook that they were surrounded by others who helped do the ministry.
Team ministry or team leadership is not a foreign concept in the Bible. God’s plan is for men and women to work together in the kingdom. Now in this church age we continue to be blessed with godly and talented individuals who serve and carry out the ministry. Any church that becomes a one-man show is in great trouble. That’s not how things were designed to be.
I am grateful for the many people I have worked with over the years. Serving in a leadership position in a local church can be a difficult task. The people I have worked with have been marked by great humility. They run the risk of being misunderstood since once you are in leadership people question your motives and means. But for me the greatest joy is working together and serving together. I have the wonderful opportunity of sharing life with so many fantastic people. I know that it is God who calls us and places us accordingly in the body. (1 Corinthians 12)
I hope you are thankful for the leadership God has provided within the local church. Please remember to keep those individuals in your prayers and encourage them with your words. If you are a leader, remember that we all work together. No one has all the gifts but we bring what we have and God makes it all beautiful.

Consider the Ant

The church kitchen is having an ant problem. I just killed a few more while I was grabbing a coffee. Our church is located on the 3rd floor and we seem to always have ants. New and more ant traps have been placed out and any open packages or sweets have been removed. Still I see ants wandering about. Where do they come from and what do they want? More importantly, why won’t they just go away? How can such a tiny pest be such a huge problem? They have been very persistent.

So as I was watching some of these ants I got to thinking, what does the Bible say about ants? The only thing I could find was these verses from Proverbs:

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!
(Proverbs 6:6)

Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer. (Proverbs 30:25)

The writer of Proverbs had noted the efficiency of ants and was impressed with their work. There is a general theme in Proverbs about working hard and being diligent. The word ‘sluggard’ is one of my favourite. A sluggard was lazy and self indulgent, someone who wasn’t interested in working for a living. These verses about ants are often used to teach about the importance of hard-work, being organized, self-motivation, planning ahead and so on.

At the time that Proverbs was written most people lived day to day. They didn’t enjoy a grocery store, home delivery or a line of credit. If they didn’t work in the field, or in the work shop, they would go hungry. If they didn’t prepare for harvest and winter the family would starve to death. The need to work hard was very real.

We have to admit that by any reasonable standard we have it much easier today. Most of us aren’t in immediate danger of going hungry. We have some reserves and there are often community or government programs to help people out. But I think that God is still interested in our work and wants us to be diligent about it.

Work was part of the created order of our world. God placed Adam and Eve in the garden and told them to look after it. Long before sin entered into the world there was work. The effect of sin was to make work more difficult. For some people that means they grow lazy and careless. But for others it means they overwork and become driven. As Christians we need to know that our work is valuable, we should have a good work ethic and strive to be diligent in all we are called to do. However, we also need to guard against giving ourselves completely to work. Our work is what we do, it’s not our identity, it’s not who we are. Remember that God created work but he also created a rhythm – six days of work and one day of rest. Finding that balance can be a challenge but it’s very necessary.

So, take a moment and do the following three things – First, thank God for your work. If you are looking for work know that God is concerned about this and will answer your prayers for good employment. Second, ask yourself if you are working like an ant or a sluggard. Some personal reflection and evaluation is good from time to time. And finally, make sure to find time for your rest. God wants time for you to renew and refresh, he wants time to meet with you.

If you were watching the news last week you might have heard that the world was supposed to end on Saturday. It didn’t. An errant radio preacher in California, Harold Camping, had calculated that Judgement Day was to begin on May 21 with massive earthquakes around the world. I was surprised that so many news organizations picked up the story. Since his apocalyptic prediction didn’t happen he is now being mocked in the media without mercy - and rightful so. Not only did he show himself to be careless with the words of Scripture but he set himself up as an authority. He is what the Bible calls a ‘false prophet’. The Old Testament had a way of dealing with false prophets. However, the State of California doesn’t allow people to be stoned. (At least not with real stones.)

The sad thing is that many critics of the gospel use Camping’s bad theology as evidence that the Biblical teachings about the second coming of Christ and end of the world are untrue. Furthermore, many sincere but uninformed people who want real answers are left feeling more confused than ever. Just because Jesus didn’t return on the day Camping predicted doesn’t mean he won’t be coming back. The problem with these kinds of date-setting predictions is they undermine the truth we find in scripture and cause people to doubt the word of God.

The return of Christ was one of the first and most certain doctrines of the early church. Long before all the books of the New Testament were written, before the Church Fathers could articulate the Trinity or the nature of Christ as fully human and fully divine – their faith was based on Jesus – born of a virgin, crucified, resurrected, ascended into heaven and returning soon. The early church was energized by a passion that expected Jesus to return within their life time. The pages of the New Testament are brimming with this expectation. It was clear however that no one knew when that would be. Jesus himself is the source of this teaching: “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36)

One of Paul’s first letters was to the church in Thessalonica. These new Christians were so excited about the return of Christ they could hardly wait. There were so many questions and misunderstandings about it that Paul devotes a good part of his letter to dealing with the issue. He assures them that Jesus will return and they will get in on it whether it happens now or much later.

Human nature is such that we find waiting hard. If Jesus is coming back why has he waited so long? Peter dealt with that same question almost 2000 years ago. 

He quotes ‘scoffers’ who say “Where is the promise of his coming? All things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4) So it’s nothing new to question the timing of Jesus’ return. But all the New Testament authors agree that just as surely as Jesus came to earth the first time he will come again.

Since this was such a central truth and doctrine to the New Testament church maybe we should be talking about it more. At least Camping’s predictions have got people talking and thinking. Maybe we should be using this occasion to engage people in dialogue about the end of the age and what’s going to happen.  The Apostle Peter goes on to say that God has not forgotten about the end of the world but he is patient, “not wishing that any should perish, but all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

As I read the news accounts this past weekend I was reminded that Jesus is indeed coming back (we don’t know when) and that we have a job to let people know about it. Yes, there may be ‘scoffers’ out there who mock and make fun of any Christian doctrines. But I also believe that there are many that long to know of Jesus’ love for them and would welcome some good news in their lives. Let’s be prepared to offer our reasons for hope when someone asks.

It is one of our most common temptations and it leads to no good. When we give into it we are overcome by feelings of inadequacy, envy, and disappointment with God. It keeps us from recognizing God’s blessings and prevents us from receiving more. It can drive us to overwork and causes us to withdraw from close relationships. The biggest problem is that it completely prevents us from enjoying life to the fullest.

The temptation to compare ourselves to others is as old as humanity itself. While it seems to be a childish trait (‘he got more than me’) most of us don’t seem to outgrow it as we get older. We just do a better job of hiding it.

We compare ourselves to others in a variety of ways; we judge based on looks and personality, possessions and material goods, family relationships, social status, giftedness, educational and professional achievement, the success of our children, spirituality and on the list goes.  Instead of counting our blessings and being thankful we look at what other people have and we want it. We are never content. By focusing on a perceived lack we become dissatisfied with how God has blessed us.

If you really need to compare yourself to others just imagine what life in Haiti is like these days, or how would it feel to be living in Libya at the moment. We seldom do that kind of comparison, rather we see people with more than we have and we feel unhappy or unfulfilled. The Bible is pretty clear that we should not go around comparing ourselves with other people. God’s standard is much higher than that. He has given something to everyone and he expects us to be faithful and thankful for what we have. God calls us to be good stewards of all he has entrusted to us.

Galatians 6:4 says “Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.”

There will always be someone with more toys and a nicer car than I have. Someone will have a better job or more opportunities than I have. Someone out there has more gifts and talents than I do. If I spend my time wishing I had all those things then I will miss out on being the person God has called me to be. I am not responsible for the gifts and opportunities I don’t have. I am responsible for what God has entrusted to me so far. And truthfully, most of us are a pretty blessed people.
Comparison maybe helpful when shopping for the best price, but don’t rate yourself compared to other people. No good ever comes from that.

My parents named me David, after my uncle, my mother’s brother. I like the name and I like being named after someone in the family. Of course, David is also a popular Bible name. King David was the most famous and most important king in the history of Israel. He is a prominent character throughout the pages of scripture. Although a flawed individual he is described as a “man after God’s own heart.” He had many low points and committed many sins but always returned to God for forgiveness and mercy. As Pastor Jim Cymbala says, “his body was in the Old Testament but his heart was in the new.”

One of the best known stories about David has to do with his killing of a giant. David was the youngest son of many and very low in rank within his own family. He was often out in the field by himself to watch the sheep. His older brothers no doubt saw him as little more than an errand boy.

One day David was sent out by his father to see how the war against the Philistines was going. Three older brothers were on the front lines which as it turned out was a dull place to be. Instead of fighting there was developing a daily stand-off between both sides. A nine foot giant named Goliath of Gath would come out and call for a challenger. He wanted a battle with one individual from the other side, winner takes all. The Israelites were all afraid; no one wanted to be the first of many who would die.

When David heard Goliath on the morning he arrived he was upset that someone would mock and defy “the armies of the living God.” David was more surprised that there were no challengers to Goliath. So he volunteered. I am sure that at first there was laughter but eventually they realized he was serious. So King Saul asked David why he thought he could beat Goliath.

David was ready with an answer. He had spent a lot of time looking after his father’s sheep and there were dangers out there. He never ran from those dangers but always worked to protect the flock. He told Saul, “I have killed lions and bears and I can kill this giant too.”

You see, while it looked like he was out of the way, passing time with the herds, God was preparing him for something. David was gaining experience and confidence, he was using his sling shot and his aim was getting really good. He had taken on lions and bears and would not let them harm the sheep.

My brother-in-law is a hunter. He’s killed many bears with a bow and arrow. I must confess that I’m deeply impressed since it’s not the kind of thing I would do. But I don’t think he’s killed a lion and I know that he hasn’t killed a bear with a sling shot. David was one gusty kid.

David had gained confidence as a young boy, now young man, working for his father. Now he was ready for something bigger, more important. God had been building his faith, one small step at a time. That’s how God builds our faith. We have a little victory and we draw on that experience for the next challenge we face. Then one day we are standing in front of a giant wondering what we should do. Well, we should remember that with God’s help we have already killed some lions and bears. God was with us then and he is with us now. He used those previous experiences for this very moment. That’s how God works.

We all face challenges, giants that seem too big; giants that mock our God and our faith in him. Giants that threaten our lives or the lives of people we love. But God has prepared us for this challenge, whatever it is. He was with you then and he is with you now. David had five smooth stones in his pocket but he only needed one. Yet, he had to have faith and courage to step forward and face that giant down. He trusted everything to God when he said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of the Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:37)

So take courage, God has been working and preparing you for this moment and he will not fail you now!

Slow Down

When I was 12 years old and living outside Lyon France, our family would go every couple weeks to the English library on the 5th floor of the British Consulate. It wasn’t a very big library but I was always ready to return some books and look for new ones. It was there that I first found Jules Verne’s book, Around the World in 80 Days. It’s a great book about adventure and travel that I have never forgotten. Set in 1872 the hero, Phileas Fogg, sets out to prove that someone can circumnavigate the globe in only 80 days. His friends thought it was impossible; man would never be able to travel that quickly!

139 years later and we laugh at that thought. You could now make that trip in two days – if you have the right connections. It’s one example of how busy and fast our modern world has become. Travel used to be a leisure activity. Now it’s mandatory for many people to travel from continent to continent for just a few hours of meetings.

As the pace of our world has increased, thanks to many forms of technology, people feel increasingly tried, busy and just plain worn out. Who can blame them? What used to take 80 days is now done in less than a week with many other activities added in. The most common illnesses in our day are connected to stress and burnout; simply doing too much in too little time.

The Bible always calls us to live in a counter-cultural way. It is challenging to break away from the patterns we feel are imposed on us. But as believers we need to find time to rest and renew in the presence of God.

Professor Michael Zigarelli of Charleston University Business School conducted a survey of 20,000 Christians around the world. The survey identified busyness and constant overload as a major distraction from God. Zigarelli writes, “It may be the case that 1) Christians are assimilating a culture of busyness, hurry and overload, which leads to 2) God becoming more marginalized in Christians’ lives, which leads to 3) a deteriorating relationship with God, which leads to 4) Christians becoming even more vulnerable to adopting secular assumptions about how to live, which leads to 5) more conformity to a culture of busyness, hurry and overload. And then the cycle begins again.”

If we are to end that cycle we need to be intentional about building ‘down time’ into our lives and schedules. Having a twenty or thirty minute quiet and reflection time in your day-timer is not a sign of weakness or sloth. It’s allowing for you to pause and remember who you are and who God really is.

Jesus modeled it for us when he was here on earth. Before and after intense periods of activity Jesus would retreat for rest and fellowship. He rose early in the morning for prayer which was essential for his relationship with God. Luke writes that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)

Most of us don’t have the luxury of taking 80 days to travel around the world. (Although, you have to admit that would be an amazing trip.) However, we don’t always need to travel at Mach speed either. God himself issues a regular invitation for us to slow down and rest in green pastures by the still waters. I hope you take him up on the invitation.

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