Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A blind man sat by the road and cried...

I find the miracle (sign) in the ministry of Jesus this week (Mark 10.46-52), both encouraging and befuddling all at the same time. It is encouraging because even though he is this close to the cross and all that is going to happen, Jesus is still true to who he is and that gives me hope for what is still to come to me in my own life and ministry. It is befuddling because nothing happens that causes more to happen and for problems to ensue, like people running off and proclaiming what Jesus has done for them when Jesus has asked them not to.

First let me say a word about faith and believing. We seem to think in our modern, Western culture that these are different things. Where Jesus and the Scriptures – Mark in particular – are concerned they are not. In order to believe, one must both trust and participate in order to know that you do believe and are expressing it. Thereby one demonstrates his or her faith. Believing in Jesus is something that everyone can do, including the devil – and he shudders at the thought of Christ. Faith is an action of the body not just a memory of the mind.

See it in the actions and life of Bartimaeus. When he heard of Jesus passing him by and knowing that he was on his way to Jerusalem, to confrontation and probably to his death, the son of Timaeus started calling out to Jesus, by name. People were trying to listen to Jesus as they walked and talked. This fool, this ungrateful blind beggar was disrupting that, making it impossible for them to participate. They tried without success to ‘shhh’ and in fact the harder they tried, the louder Bartimaeus shouted and carried on. So much so, that Jesus heard and said to them – you call him to me. There was both relief and shame that hey had tried to silence this man and now had to do what they should have done in the first place. And why should Bartimaeus have been quiet – he needed mercy, and this might be his last chance in this life to get it. It means he is going to hang on to this moment with all that he worth that he might receive what he needs: mercy.

This is more than just for one man to receive his eyesight back – this for a person of God to be made whole that he might know God better and be drawn into eternal life. Bartimaeus did all he could to get Jesus’ attention and then “sprang up” to get to Jesus, leaving what little he had behind to get to him so that he could receive mercy. He needed to be drawn out his situation – his blindness. This is completely different from the rich young ruler wanted to be done with rule keeping and with the necessity of giving to those in need. This is also completely different from the power and glory seeking of James and John, who wanted to be given seats of honour, power and authority in the kingdom, even above those who they have learned and served with. Members of the community had to help this man get to Jesus so tht they could have their conversation. They had to participate in the miracle and put aside what they think is right and righteous. They needed to stop worrying about having their needs and demands met and consider another – that the other could be restored and made whole.

What did this man do with the mercy, grace and healing he received? He left his old life behind and followed Jesus up the hill and out of Jericho, towards Jerusalem and the cross. He went without anything but himself/ So if lack of a road map and a mission statement did not stop Abraham, if the sea could not stop Moses, if a wall would not stop Joshua, if a giant couldn’t stop David, Bartimaeus had no clothes or bank account, and if death cannot stop Jesus, then what’s stopping you from becoming the child of God you are called to become?


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Trusting in the Presence of God

Nearly 25 years ago, I can remember feeling that I had the world as my oyster. There was a moment when I was newly married, preaching and teaching all over Southern Ontario leading a growing and fruitful ministry. There was even a little money left in the bank at end of the month instead of month left at the end of the money. I could have been this rich, young ruler. But then it all came to a screeching halt.

On the morning of May 29th, 1994 my wife had to rush me to the Emergency Room at the Toronto Western Hospital. I had awakened to discover that I was struggling to walk or talk. And so, off we went into the dark. After time in the Emergency room I was told it was the flu and to go home, drink lots and rest. We had two more trips like this to the same hospital and was told the same thing each time, go home, drink lots and rest. So finally, on the Thursday night, a friend took us to the hospital they would go to – Mount Sinai. It was here, in a bed and in front of a doctor and two nurses that I suffered a grand maul seizure.

After questioning my wife, the doctor thought that this was not the flu and I was swiftly admitted to the hospital. As the doctors investigated, it was narrowed done to some harrowing choices: leukemia, a brain tumour, or meningitis. After a couple more days of testing, it was concluded that I had an atypical viral meningitis. And as the days when by, the doctors grew grim and thought that there was little time left for me. In spite of the fact that they could give me medications to knock out the infection, they could not control the swelling.

I do remember times during those three weeks when Nova would come in first thing in the morning and help me to do morning devotions by reading scripture and visits from friends and colleagues who would pray unceasingly for me to be healed. Of these I can remember praying with our upstairs neighbours Captain Henk and Sue Willems who go out to what is now known as the Toronto Blessing and then come directly to my hospital room to lay hands on me and pray. 

It wasn’t until my 21st day in hospital, when all of the medical measures had been withdrawn and life was allowed to take it course, that the Lord acted. The priest who had married Nova and I (His name is Richard) in May came to visit. The visit was good and it was helpful to see Richard, even if I could not physically see him. I remember vividly the prayer that was offered as he was ready to depart. I remember a hand on my back where the needles had been used to determine that it was meningitis. The hand as hot – but not uncomfortable.

I went from not being able to see or even tolerate light; from hardly being able to hear; from not being to walk that afternoon to the following morning be able to be in my room with the blinds wide open, sitting up, eating my breakfast when Nova walked in. Nova that day encountered one of the doctors who had been responsible for my care noted for her, “Your husband’s case has us baffled. We don’t know why he got sick and we don’t know why he got better.”
I share this not to make myself look great or to look for pity because of what happened. I share it because of what God did in the life of one person and what he continues to in the lives of other people because of that one person. I have been enabled to see what God can do when there is trust, even in the tiniest amounts, in him is in operation.

And for what is it worth, I had been wowed for some time by the Christians who were around me. They had wonderful testimonies of how God broke down all kinds of walls and barriers for them to come to faith because of where their lives had taken them. For a time, I thought myself a puny Christian next to them. The suffering and pain of those days serves a reminder that we are not alone and when things are at their worst. What we need to do is to keep looking to God for his grace and leading in the way that we should go, trusting him to get us there.


Thursday, October 4, 2018

Dealing with worries

Have you ever wondered why we worry about things? Ever wondered about how to deal with worries? The Gospel this week (Matthew 6.25-33) calls us to consider some things, not the least of which is to consider where our focus is. I say this because I know that where our focus is, there is our faith and strength. And if, as believers, we are not focused on Jesus, does that not lead to fear and frustration because we lack power and courage?

We need to do more than “just believe”. We need to stop and consider that Jesus knows what our needs before we even ask and our simple ignorance in asking. We need to ask, to seek him and to knock on the door until we get not because Jesus acts like a certain jolly old elf but because we need to know what it is that we need. So that when we receive it we are willing to do more that just hold on and treat what we have been given as a personal possession. We are called in this way to seek first the kingdom of God and all that comes with it, starting with righteousness. Keep in mind that the Father calls us into a deeper and deeper relationship with him – that he wants, desires for us to come closer to him so that he can give us all that we need to do what he needs us to do so that others can come into that same kind of righteous relationship with both God and with us.

God’s mercy through us as the Church retrieves us and others from trouble. God grace strives to make us not just holy but whole. Faith makes us ready for Jesus to come again and for what is next – life that is abundant and irrepressible. We come to congregate on this morning to give thanks for all that God has given us. Giving thanks to God keeps us from making idols out of what we have in our lives and us from becoming self idolatrous because we believe that everything depends on us… it does not. Thanksgiving grows because we are in relationship with a God whose giving knows no ending. Trusting God for what we need, is in and of itself an act of faith which is a gift God has already given and we have received. We honour God by taking this moment to praise, to glorify, to pray and to give thanks. Worship causes us to find our focus again and to return to what it is that God is calling each and all of us to.

Fears, misgivings, mistrust and unfaithfulness arise from an unwillingness to accept God at his word and to lean on what he has promised. We often refuse to learn that God is faithful to us all the time. As human beings we are willing to defer to ‘expert opinions’ because of involvements in other matters. We comply with something we know not to be right or the truth because we fear ridicule and being excluded from community because of personal opinions, motives and agendas concerning Church and the Faith we hold in common.

We are dragged into the spot where we are persisting in certain things: to ask, to seek and to knock, and await God’s answer to our needs and necessities. We do so in order that we might become answers to at least a few of our own prayers.

And as a last thought, let’s consider the encouragement of Scripture, specifically Psalm 37.3-7a which says, 

Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!"

We need to give thanks, overcome things in the name of the Lord Jesus and focus on what we are called to. He will deal with our worries in ways that will cause us to give thanks and to rejoice.