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Birthday Trifle

My mom was a master of leftovers.  I guess with five kids all spaced about a year apart and, though by no means poor but definitely with a budget to work within, she needed to make sure nothing was wasted.  The picked over remains from one meal would be put together with a few new ingredients and become something brand new.  A lot of times we didn’t even realize the meal started with leftovers.  Even the leftover porridge would become the foundation for some glorious fresh baked bread.

Most impressive though, were the dishes that for one reason or another didn’t turn out but still would be transformed into something, not just edible, but delicious.  Like birthday cake.  I don’t remember whose birthday it was (we had a lot of them), but the tradition in our house was that the birthday child chose the meal.  We could ask for whatever we wanted, including what kind of cake.

For some reason this particular cake didn’t turn out.  Either it fell, or got left in the oven a little too long, or was missing a key ingredient because while it tasted like cake you sure couldn’t put candles on it.  Most of us would have thrown it away and pulled out the box of cake mix, but not my mom.  She cut up the mess into pieces made some pudding and whipped cream and mixed it all into a fancy serving bowl and set birthday trifle in front of us complete with candles.  As I recall none of us were disappointed we didn’t have cake.  In fact I’m pretty sure birthday trifle was requested at least once after that.

Many of us live with some “if only’s”.  If only I hadn’t made that choice.  If only I had chosen this path. If only I hadn’t been so foolish or immature or any number of other regrets, guilt, or even sin.  But God is a master of taking the mess that we’ve made and, as we submit our lives to him, he creates a beautiful masterpiece from it.

For those who are Jesus followers, no experience is wasted.

All the experiences of our past, whether self-induced or caused by others, even the blatantly sinful things we’ve done, God will use to make us into a dish that he sets before the world to bless and meet the needs of others who are hurting and messed up.

As per Genesis 50:20, what was meant for evil, God uses to bring about his good.

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The Telemarketer Minister

I usually try to avoid answering phone calls from telemarketers.  With caller-id I can often tell by looking at the number, though sometimes now they route the call through a local prefix to fool me.  If I do answer the next telltale sign is the pause after I say hello while the marketer’s computer connects to his headset.  So if you call me make sure you say hello right away or I may hang up on you.  Even so, sometimes they still get me.

I once answered a telemarketer’s call that even displayed an individual’s name and a normal number, and he responded as soon as I answered.  But he said, “Hi, this is Shawn from Most High Siding Company and I’d like to offer you a free quote.”  Doh! He got me!

Normally I’d jump in and quickly end it right there, but two things caught my attention.  First was his voice.  There was a sincerity, even a kindness not at all typical of your average telemarketer.  The other thing was the company name struck me as odd.

The call still didn’t last long.  It turned out Shawn was the marketer for a small company he formed with a buddy and he was just trying to get referrals.  I assured him I’d mention them if I knew of anyone with hail damaged siding and we hung up after a surprisingly pleasant exchange.

Here’s where it got interesting.  Within 20 seconds the phone rang again with his number.  I picked it up but there was only a pulsing dial-tone indicating we had voice mail. Upon checking the mail I discovered that we had a missed a call earlier in the day from a family going through a serious crisis.  We returned the call and Wendy and I were able to support and pray with this person within an hour of the crisis needing to be faced.

Afterwards I looked at Wendy and said, “If that telemarketer hadn’t called just then we’d have missed this. . . Hey, ‘Most High Siding’, you don’t suppose…”  I immediately called Shawn and sure enough, he’s a Jesus follower who approaches his business as ministry.  His wife got on the line and all four of us prayed and celebrated God’s faithfulness.

Here’s the takeaway from this: Shawn, in submission to God’s spirit through the normal course of business, conveyed Jesus to me. That’s what I heard in his voice.  And the impact was far greater than he could have known.  Ask yourself this, Do people leave encounters with me with a greater passion and desire for Jesus?  That, very simply, is ministry. And if a telemarketer can be a minister, anyone can!


Success!

My first attempt at preaching was . . . well let’s just say I don’t think anyone listening to it would have imagined me becoming a preacher. Honestly I’m not sure anyone even knew what I was talking about let alone what I was trying to say on the topic. I have always considered that effort an epic fail.  But I’ve re-evaluated that moment as I’ve considered what God views as success.

I was in grade 12 and our youth group was leading the Sunday evening service.  I’m not sure what he was thinking but our Youth Pastor tagged me to preach. Maybe it was because I was a pastor’s kid and he thought it would be in my genes or something.  That fact in part contributed to a fatal mistake I made. Since dad preached from point form notes I figured that must be the way to do it.

I got up in front of the church and looked at my notes and none of it made any sense to me.  Apparently it didn’t make much sense to anyone else either because there were a lot of confused frowns from people desperately trying to follow what I was trying to say. Those poor dear people, I could see them straining for me to succeed.  I think they worked as hard at making some sense of my tangled mess as I was at trying to untangle it. I didn’t even really end the sermon; it was more like I just quit talking and sat down.

Stu Krogman, from CrossRoads Church has a beautiful understanding of success from God’s perspective.  After a particular ministry that had felt somewhat less than stellar he asked God whether it had been successful and God responded with two questions: Were you willing?  Were you submissive?

As I reflect on my mangled message in light of those questions I come to a different assessment of the result.  Was I willing to serve God in the capacity he directed me to? Certainly.  Was I submitted to his Spirit leading and guiding? To the best of my understanding at the time, yes.  Therefore despite the apparent results, I am at peace with what God accomplished through that experience. Of course preparation and hard work are important, but I see those encompassed within these two questions.

So has your day been successful? Have you been willing to serve God in all you do? Have you been submissive to him in the doing? Then hear your Father say “Well done my child. I’m proud of you.”


Stock Dog Theology

An old rancher who had used stock dogs his whole life once told me that he’s trained a lot of dogs but there are some that just seem to understand English.  I was reminded of that when a friend told me about taking their two border collies to a stock dog trainer.  Neither dog had ever worked sheep before.  Fresca had very strong herding instincts but she didn’t fare too well because she was too aggressive. Grace, on the other hand, had the sheep moving easily through the corals literally within minutes.

The difference was that Fresca depended on her instincts and paid little heed to the handler, whereas Grace was intent on the slightest sign from the handler who guided Grace’s natural instincts. You probably see where I’m going with this, but you may be surprised by where I see that in the Bible.

Romans 12:1&2 tells us that we will be able to recognize the will of God if we will stop conforming to the way culture works and instead be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  Let me unpack that a little.

Culture in general is self-focused; be true to yourself, be that master of your own destiny, find what works for you. That’s not to say the pattern of culture is necessarily selfish, but it is certainly self-directed.

When Romans says to be transformed (meaning changed through and through) by renewing our minds it’s directing us to be God focused. Vine’s Bible dictionary says of the word “renewing” that it indicates our minds are to be “under the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit who directs our minds bent and energies Godward.”

How do we go about renewing our minds?  It starts with a greater hunger and passion for scripture.  How can you develop that? First ask God for it.  It sounds simple but it’s true.  Second develop the habit of reading it daily.  You’ll find that getting into it will whet your appetite for more.

Now be careful. Don’t assume that as you become more and more able to recognize the will of God because you’ve been transformed by the renewing of your mind that all your problems will be solved and your life will go smoothly.  What you will find is that you will be able to be confident of being in and content in following God’s will in the middle of all the stresses, adversities, uncertainties and upheavals that life brings.


Bring A Gift When You Come

Who was your favorite person to have visit when you were a kid?  I honestly can’t think of one favorite.  I loved it when Grandparents came; not because they necessarily brought some gift, but it was exciting just having them come.  Of course whenever cousins came to visit there was great fun playing together, but even when just the uncles or aunties would come visit I distinctly remember it being something we looked forward to with great eagerness.  Why?  Again they didn’t usually bring gifts or treats but I wonder if it had something to do with the spiritual gift they brought with them?

In Romans 1:11-12 Paul expresses his eagerness, in fact a longing to come visit the Jesus followers in Rome and to bring to them a spiritual gift.  He’s not speaking of the “gifts of the Spirit” rather it is singular, bring them a gift.  What gift is that? It is a gift that will strengthen their faith.  Actually the word is far stronger than that.  It indicates a setting fast, making them unshakable, unalterable, focused and single minded in their devotion to and love for Jesus.

Wouldn’t you love for someone to bring you that gift? Wouldn’t you love to be able to give that to others?   What gift could possibly do this?  Paul describes it as being “mutually encouraged” by each other’s faith.  On the surface that kind of feels like one of those gifts where it’s not quite what you hoped for, like underwear for Christmas, but you know you should be polite and grateful anyway.

But look deeper.  “Mutually encouraged” is actually one word.  It’s a compound word and the base of it is the same word Jesus uses to describe the Holy Spirit; comforter or counselor, or advocate or helper.  The implication in Romans is that the gift Paul brings is the ministry of the Holy Spirit who through Paul brings strength and healing and purpose and greater devotion to Jesus in the people whom he visits.

This is not a gift that only apostles or pastors have to give.  If you are a Jesus follower you have this gift to give.  Paul indicates it goes both ways; he to them and they to him.  When you engage in a conversation ask God to give this gift through you.  It can happen in any conversation, but it is most profound when both parties are intending and expecting to give and receive a spiritual gift.


I Ought To

Some friends of mine were on a family trip to Dominica some years back.  It was a wonderful chance for family bonding as their two daughters were nearing adulthood.  However their trip didn’t begin real well, at least not for their oldest daughter, whose luggage the airline managed to send to an unknown location.  She had to manage without it for the entire trip because they never did track it down.

But when they got home something amazing happened.  WestJet, which was not the airline they were travelling with, called saying they had her luggage.  From a previous flight she still had a WestJet ID tag on her bag and not only did they have it but they told her they would deliver it to their home the next day.

I’m not sharing this as a promotion for WestJet, and neither am I suggesting they had any purer motives than a brilliant business plan in customer service, but their actions are an excellent illustration of a word in the Bible that typically we don’t like: ought, as in since God loved us we ought to love one another. (1 John 4:11)

Other words are sometimes translated as “ought” but here it literally means indebted; since God loved us we are indebted to love one another.  Often when you see it in the New Testament it is describing how we are to relate to one another.  In the illustration WestJet chose to become indebted to Stephanie even though the fault wasn’t theirs and in fact they could have said it serves her right for not flying with them.

The point is that we choose to become indebted to others rather than seeking to please ourselves, not to gain some advantage, but because we are indebted to Jesus and therefore follow his lead.  Hebrews 2:17 literally says he became indebted to us in order that he might pay the price for our sin with his life.  So we pray “forgive us our debt (same word) as we forgive our debtors” meaning that in response to what Jesus has done for us, we “ought” to forgive and serve others rather than please ourselves.  We “ought” to live as Jesus did (1 John 2:6).  We “ought” to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (1 John 3:16).  We who are strong “ought” to bear with the failings of the weak and not please ourselves. (Romans 15:1)

When I choose to see myself as indebted to Jesus and therefore indebted to my brothers and sisters I can stop worrying about whether or not they are gaining any advantage over me. The reality is that I gain the advantage of a life characterized by peace of heart and mind and overflowing with joy.


Making It Work?

How have you learned to make your life work?  Not have you learned how to make your life work, but just simply learned to make your life work.

The Bible teaches that every person ever born, save Jesus, was born with the inclination to move away from God.  In Genesis 8:21 God declares that every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.  Larry Crabb describes that evil inclination as “the passionate conviction that we need something other than God to satisfy the deepest longing of our souls, and that nothing matters more than the satisfaction of our souls.”

Very early in life we begin to learn that there are things that bring pain and things that bring pleasure.  We learn coping techniques to avoid the pain and that help repeat the pleasant experiences, that is, we learn to make our life work.  Some look to be the center of attention, some to high achievement or hard work, and some to less socially valued behaviors.  I coped by being good.

As a kid I was never much trouble.  That’s not to say I never got in trouble, but I learned that if I obeyed my parents and followed the rules life went much easier.  I could keep my head down and kinda fly under the radar and nobody bothered me much.  My teachers always said how much they enjoyed having me in their class even though I didn’t do my work or try very hard, but because I never caused trouble in class they didn’t usually come down on me too hard.

I hated the feeling of guilt, and so if I didn’t do bad things, I never felt too bad about myself.  I always went to church and youth group, and everybody said what a nice kid I was.  And still many of the inclinations of my heart were evil.  I say only many because I had genuinely acknowledged Jesus as my God at a very early age and I sincerely loved God, but so much of my life, even through my teens, was about finding something besides God to satisfy the longing of my soul; some way of making my life work for me.

God is not interested in making our lives “work.”  Jesus died so that we could discover that God alone satisfies the deepest longing of our souls regardless of whether or not our life is working as we might want it to.  Because when my deepest desire is for Jesus himself, not even the good things from God, but Jesus himself then I see everything else in its proper perspective.

So how have you learned to make your life work?