Irrelevant. Longman’s Dictionary defines irrelevant as “not useful or not relating to a particular situation, and therefore not important.” I think one of the worst feelings and greatest fears we have in life is being considered irrelevant.  It’s the feeling that whether I’m here or not doesn’t really make a difference to anyone. Or that what I do, my job, or even my contributions to a conversation aren’t considered of any real interest, value, or importance.Wendy Grandma 001

The best example of how to make someone feel relevant is my wife’s grandma.  Wendy treasured the times she would get to go visit because Grandma always made her feel like she was someone special; that she really mattered.  Grandma had a special Mennonite name that she would call Wendy.  She would say “Scheen Wendy” (pronounced “shina”), which means lovely, or beautiful.  The power of someone intentionally taking time to show and say that she was beautiful has had a lifelong impact on Wendy.

In the Bible we get a picture of this in Mark 10:13 where the disciples were shooing away parents who wanted to bring their children to see Jesus.  In the disciples minds these little ones were not important to the job at hand.  After all what could they possibly contribute?

But Jesus said in essence, “Don’t ever stand between children and me.  There is no one more important than these children.”  Imagine the impact that hearing the most popular man in town say that would have had on these kids.

Two things to take from this.  First, what message are you sending to the children in your life?  Are they hearing that they are only relevant when they have achieved some level of success? You have the power to profoundly impact the life of a child simply by stopping to listen and pay attention to them; to communicate that they are as important and special as anyone else in your life.

Second, is to realize that this is the way God sees you; as worthwhile spending time with.  And he will always take the time.  But here’s the thing, Jesus went on to say that unless you come to him with the same attitude as a little child you won’t get into the kingdom of heaven.  In other words Jesus’ acceptance of you as worthwhile isn’t based on what you achieve, or accomplish.  It is simple trust and dependence on what he has done for you.

You are relevant and important and what you do has eternal value and worth. But it needs to flow from a place of dependence on what Jesus does in you and through you.

How Good Is Your Eye?

Who is the most generous person you know? I expect many of you will have thought of someone who gives large sums of money to many charitable organizations, but in and of itself that doesn’t define a generous person.  You probably also know of people who use their donations to gain advantage or favor or even just prestige.  Generosity, as the Bible defines it is more about a lifestyle of sharing whatever you have.

It may interest you to know that the Bible doesn’t have the word “generous” in the original languages.  But the word often communicating that concept is more of a word picture. Proverbs 22:9 says that a generous person will be blessed because he shares his food with the poor.  Literally translated it says a person with a good eye will be blessed.

So the picture of a generous person is one who is able to see needs that he or she can meet.  It is a lifestyle of sharing the things and possessions you have; living as though what you have didn’t really belong to you but was provided for you to help others.

Like Luke 3:11 says, if you have two shirts give one to someone who has none. Our natural tendency is to think, “But what if I need my second shirt tomorrow?”  Jesus says don’t worry about tomorrow, instead trust God and share with those in need.

I’ve seen this in action many times in big things and small.  God gave a friend of mine a good eye when he looked at me and realized that he was planning on buying a Harley and he could give his old Kawasaki Nomad to me because I needed a bike. God gave another friend a good eye when she saw that our church didn’t have a good pump style carafe for dispensing coffee and, realizing she had two, left one at the church.

Being generous is a reflection of God’s character.  “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.”

Today why don’t you practice developing a good eye?  Look out for a need that you can meet through sharing what God has blessed you with.

God Works In Ordinary Ways Too

God works in mysterious ways, or so goes the saying. But if you’re paying attention you will see him work in the simple and ordinary too. For example a couple of days ago God gently inspired Wendy to buy me some chocolate ice cream as a treat, though she didn’t realize it at the time.  How do I know God inspired her? Let me explain.

As I write this it’s Monday, deadline day for the this article for the Star, but the day had kind of gotten away from me. I was finally about to settle in to write something but my stomach reminded me that I hadn’t had lunch yet.  That was when I remembered the ice cream.  I know, one more distraction, but God was in that too.  He was also in the impulse I had to make some chocolate fudge sauce to put on the ice cream.

I know he was because that’s what moved me to walk to the church to get the half-and-half I’d left there and needed to make the sauce. (Confused yet? Stick with me.)

When I stepped outside I saw Lori, a neighbor from around the corner, talking on her phone outside her car that was stopped in the middle of the intersection.  Concerned there was something wrong I went to investigate.

Turns out she’d noticed the front door of another of our neighbors wide open and their little miniature pinscher in the street still with the retractable leash on.  When she tried to catch him he took off into the field and disappeared.  So when I saw her she was on the phone discovering that the neighbors were out looking for their dog.

To make matters worse, they had only just gotten this little thing the night before and he was still just learning where home was.  So if we didn’t find him, with the temperature dropping to -19 tonight there’s no way he’s survive.

I’m not much of a tracker, but even I could pick up his trail in the fresh snow with him dragging that retractable leash.  We found him cowering and shivering under a camper and Lori was able dive into the snow and nab the leash when I flushed him from under the camper.  He was shivering like crazy but otherwise fine.

Now, if Wendy hadn’t “happened” to impulsively buy me the ice cream, and I didn’t have a sudden craving for it today, and then have this whim to make chocolate sauce, I wouldn’t have stepped outside just at the right moment to connect with Lori to save this little dog.

Coincidence? Nope, just God working in simple ordinary ways.

Winter in Heaven?

-24?!! I mean I know we’re barely through February but really?  Minus 24 this morning?  I am so ready for spring!  Of course I’ve been saying that since November.  Some people really like winter, and I used to, but I must be getting old because I’m ready for it to end earlier and earlier every year.  I still enjoy all the winter activities, but I think I could live without them if it meant no more cold.

I wonder if there will be winter in heaven.  Have you ever thought about that?  I have found myself thinking about heaven a lot more the last few years.

I’ve been challenged to re-evaluate what I’ve always understood heaven would be like in light of what scripture actually says.  Set aside everything you have always believed and read with an open mind what the Bible really says about heaven.  On the things that Scripture affirms by all means pick up those old beliefs but I think you will be pleasantly surprised by what is left behind and even more by what you discover.

For example, we usually think that heaven will be somewhere up in the sky and totally new and unfamiliar.  Scripture actually teaches that the New Jerusalem will come down to a renewed earth.  (Check out Revelation 21, especially verse 2 & 3).  This means that there will be a renewed and recognizable Alberta though it certainly will be better and even more beautiful than what we know now.

Or this: I used to think when Revelation 22:3 talked about serving God in heaven it would just be one long church service with harp music.  But if satisfying and refreshing creative work was part of Eden, does it not make sense that it will be as well on the renewed Earth? We will be active and challenged to create and build and even do business for the glory of God. (see Revelations 21:24)

And relationships.  There’s and old belief that we won’t recognize anyone in heaven because of the new bodies we will have.  But careful reading of scripture suggests that we will know and have even richer relationships with our loved ones.

All of this is a moot point though, if you are not going to be there, and here we get to the heart of the matter.  Do you know whether you will be there?  How can you know?  John 1:11-13, speaking of Jesus, says, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

Will there be snow in heaven? I don’t really know.  But I know I will be.  Will you?

Going The Extra Mile to Turn The Other Cheek

“Turn the other cheek.”  “Go the extra mile.”  These are axioms that you have heard and probably even used.  But I suspect many people would have no idea they are quotes from Jesus.  Even within church circles I don’t think there is a widespread understanding of what Jesus was really teaching.  In part it’s because these teachings were culturally based examples of how to live out the foundational teaching of “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)

(I am indebted to one of my favorite College Profs, Werner Waitkus for opening up these cultural insights for me a long time ago.  Thank you sir!)

In the Matthew 5 account, Jesus gives us three of these examples.  Each of them were situations where someone was oppressing or unfairly treating another, robbing them of their dignity. Jesus demonstrated how to respond non-violently yet still retain dignity, not allowing the oppressor to just “walk all over you.”

The first is “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (verse 39) Pictured here is a slap, which was always done with the right hand as the left hand was used for, uh, less hygienic tasks.  So the right hand slapping the left cheek would be a backhanded slap imposing an indignity.  But if the “slappee” turns the other cheek the “slapper” has one of two choices:

  • He could slap the left cheek but to do so would require an open handed slap which would indicate the one he is slapping is his equal. Or
  • He could choose not to slap which forces him to back down, again acknowledging the other as his equal.

The second example is verse 40. “If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”  This references an Old Testament commandment that stipulated a person could not hold another’s cloak as security for a loan overnight because it was his only covering for warmth at night.  Unscrupulous lenders would get around this by demanding a person’s tunic, the undergarment.  But if the indebted person offered his cloak as well he would either force the lender to cause the borrower to be publicly naked, which in that culture brought shame on the person causing the nakedness, or the lender would be forced to deal fairly and take only the cloak.

Finally verse 41. “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” Roman soldiers could force any non-Roman citizen to carry his pack for one mile.  But if after going one mile you, of your own will, choose to carry the pack a second mile, the soldier becomes indebted to you and thereby your dignity is regained.

Our challenge now is to take Jesus’ teaching of “love your enemy” and find ways of applying it in our own culture and situations of oppression and unfair treatment.

Foundational Relationship Roles

You would think that after twenty-eight and a half years of marriage I would have gotten this relationship thing down pat and I’d know exactly what to do at exactly the right time and Wendy would respond in exactly the way I expect. The problem with that theory is that we are both growing and changing.  So the adventure continues.

We are, however, getting better and better at working through the changes.  That’s happening, in part, because as I look deeper into scripture I’m coming to a better understanding of the roles God created male and female for. (I think Wendy has always innately had a better grasp of that.)  I see two foundational roles in God’s design and I’ve put these roles in the form of questions.

Before I list those, let me say that the ways in which these roles are expressed are innumerable and will differ from person to person.  These roles do not pigeon hole a man or a woman to say you have to be this or you can’t be that.  By foundational I mean the prime purpose of human beings, relating to God and relating to each other as male and female.  This purpose is true in all of relating, but it’s most clearly expressed in the husband/wife relationship.

When our boys were younger and they’d tell us about a girl they had begun to develop an interest in the question I came to ask was “Does she inspire you to follow and love Jesus more or does she distract you from him?”  In other words does her lifestyle, her conversation, and the way in which she expresses interest in you inspire within you a greater passion for Jesus?

If we’d had girls I would have asked them this: “Does the way this guy treats you heighten your awareness of how much God loves you, or does it mostly focus you on the guy?”  In other words does he draw your attention to God in what he says, his integrity, and in how he puts your best interests ahead of his own?

God’s beautiful design is that as each relationship is deepened, our relationship to God and our relationship with our spouse, it deepens and strengthens the other.  The better my relationship is with God the better I’ll relate to my wife, and the better my relationship with my wife the better I’ll know God.

I would not be the man I am without Wendy daily inspiring me to pursue God more passionately.  Thank you my darling, I love you more than ever.  Let the adventure continue…

The Struggle of Power

What is true power? Is there a difference between the way God views power and how humanity in general understands it? Considering that Isaiah 55:8 says that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are our ways his ways, I would think oh my yes!

Our natural way of understanding power is the old “might makes right” adage.  We use force to impose our will on someone else, unless that someone else has more power than we do and then it is their will imposed upon us.  This is typically our approach whether it’s the school yard bully, climbing the corporate ladder, or sports and all the way up to military strength and political power.

But that’s not God’s power.

Some might object pointing to the Old Testament where God uses force to drive out the nations from the Promised Land. But I can’t think of a single instance when pure military power or even strategy could be attributed for the defeat of the enemies of the Israelites, can you?

The objections may continue in New Testament passages like Revelation 19:16 that talk about striking down the nations and ruling with an iron scepter.

Notice that this and many other passages about the final defeat of the enemies of God use the imagery of a sword coming from the mouth of Christ. That imagery gives us an insight into what Divine power is really like.  Here’s another passage that gives us a clue, 2 Thessalonians 2:8 “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.”  There is a power there that goes way beyond brute strength.

Let me illustrate.  Suppose I was presented with an ice cube that I wanted to destroy.  I might take a hammer and crush it into oblivion. That’s human perspective on power.  But suppose that ice cube was the size of a glacier, or even an ocean?  I couldn’t make a hammer big enough to crush that let alone wield it!

But the sun is a completely different kind of power that can overcome an entire ice age.  That comes much closer to understanding how Jesus will destroy by the splendor of his coming.

Two things to take from this.  First, the same splendor of Jesus’ coming that brings destruction to those adamant to be his enemies brings glory and joy for those who have acknowledged Jesus as their Lord.

And second, that power has been given to those who follow Jesus.  The next time adversity approaches ask God for wisdom to show you how to let him use his power through you to overcome it.