Look Alikes

They say that couple as they age, begin to look more and more like each other. Maybe it’s just the wrinkles. Gets me thinking of a good line that says, “Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.” I know what it is to grow old having celebrated forty some odd years here, but sometimes I wonder what it means to grow up. Patricia still warns me to not get too carried away with my hyper personality when in a crowd of people.  Guess I still need to grow up. In lots of ways we all need to keep growing up. One of my “grow-up needs” is accepting my age and not let the receding hairline get to me and even more so not let my kid’s “old” comments put an unholy fire in me. Getting old is mandatory you see. If that is the case then I want to grow old with grace and to do that God’s grace in me can never be allowed to get old. It has to stay fresh and alive even when the dwindling hairs on my head turn grey and the deepening lines around my eyes indicate where they used to twinkle.

Growing old does have one advantage though. If done right. It makes us more like our Father in Heaven. We become more patient, humble, certain about what matters and more giving.

I love the story Brennam Manning tells, it is about a boy who stares at a face carved in the mountain. The boy, it seems, is always asking tourists if they know who the granite face carved in this mountain is. No one knows. As he gets older he keeps looking at the carved face and at every opportunity and asks, “Do you know the identity of that face.” And no one does.  He becomes forty, fifty and sixty until one day a tourists comes by and tells the once-young boy whom is now a weather-beaten old man, “You are the face on the mountain!” The boy, now an old man, never missed a chance to look at the face in the mountain and in the end became like the face in the mountain!

As I contemplate what I know of God the Father, and look with my mind’s eye again, and yet another time, I find myself wanting to be like Him. A silent prayer is shooting up, “Make me like you too, Father!” I think, even as I age and like my Father above, I get to keep some mystery about me, some strength, and hopefully lots of generous youthful grace. With hope I want others to say, “You, my dear old man, look like that guy the Bible talks about.”

If that could be the case, I’d be one good-looking old person!


A Better Story Needs Disturbing Grace

Are you generous with giving out grace? It’s a wonderful concept when applied to my own failings and screw-ups. Just give it to me, please! But what about when I have to give it and live it out? Not so easy, right? Can I give it out when they don’t say sorry for wounding me? Can I give it out when their behavior affects my present and preferred future? It’s a lot more fun to pour tasteless “Hater-Ade” down their throats, right? I know. But what if we could switch it up a bit and mix up some sweet “Crème de Grace” to serve to the undeserving around you? This special Grace-mix can be, well, intoxicating!

I am so challenged by this concept today. I am the kind of guy that is quick to honk my horn at the guy who got his driver’s licence in a box of Cracker Jacks! I get a wee bit perturbed when the person in front of me at the counter is so slow to get his stuff done and I want to push him out of the way so I can get mine done. I get disturbed easily I think. Sometimes I even surprise myself by my slowness of grace-living. Not a good thing.

I love this quote from Andy Stanley, “What I crave most when my guilt is exposed. The very thing I’m hesitant to extend when I’m confronted with the guilt of others—especially when their guilt has robbed me of something I consider valuable. Therein is the struggle, the struggle for grace. It’s this struggle that makes grace more story than doctrine. It’s the struggle that reminds us that grace is bigger than compassion or forgiveness. That struggle is the context for both. When we are on the receiving end, grace is refreshing. When it is required of us, it is often disturbing.”

Disturbing to give out grace? Pretty hard to top that description of Andy’s honesty, so I won’t try. But I am convinced that the struggle to be a “grace giver/liver” will make your life a more beautiful story. Some parents need to begin this grace giving with their own children. I’m thinking about the Dad that still holding out on the child who disappointed him. With grace a real friendship might bloom into old age. But not just parents, kids too! I am thinking about the daughter who won’t forgive her mom because of the harsh words spoken. With grace forgiveness might happen and new joy flourishes between ladies of different generations. Maybe all relationships could use some “Creme de Grace!” I am thinking about the friend who cut off a whole network of close friends because of disappointed expectations. With grace the bonds of love could grow stronger and life filled with better and not bitter thoughts.

“Creme de Grace” … get it, serve it in a tall glass, drink it in, and give it out to your fellow travelers, and just keep living it.

Stop Wasting!

1 Corinthians 15:10 (The Message) 10-11 But because God was so gracious, so very generous, here I am. And I’m not about to let his grace go to waste.

I hate wasting things, especially time and money! I will use cologne to the last drop even if I’m not enamored with the scent. Nothing is free in life and money does not come to me easily. So I’m still using my lawnmower even though it’s not cutting well. So I’ll wax my car one more time to help make the color last a bit longer. When someone gives me a gift, I try to take good care of it even if it means putting it away in the closet because it’s not really my thing. “Don’t be wasteful,” droned my parents as I grew up. That phrase has seriously landed on my memory glands.

I also think of that phrase we use as we shake our heads in pity, “Such a waste!” It is used for people who had so much potential and ability only to let it remain undeveloped. It is also used for someone who got injured somehow and a promising career cut short. “Man, such a waste!” I love the way Eugene Peterson translates Paul familiar words, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” Eugene’s version shows us how amazingly generous and gracious God was to Paul and Paul’s life-response was, “I’m not about to let God’s grace go to waste.”

I’ve been thinking about the challenging question, “How do you waste God’s grace?” Are you wasting God’s grace? I think about a famous guy named Bob Dylan. That guy had a surprising conversion and made three awesome inspiring albums that spoke of his love for “God’s Grace.” I particularly liked “Slow Train Comin” and it is still a classic. We were all surprised when Dylan stopped following Christ. For whatever reason, he decided to leave it all behind. Not just thinking about his talent and influence, but also his future when I say, “Such a waste.”

When Paul spoke these powerful words about not wasting God’s grace, he first reminds the Corinthian believers of his past, where he had come from. In the verse just before he reminds them of how he was so blinded by hate that he tried to destroy Christianity singlehandedly. Not many of us have the words, “violent, murder, hatred…” etched in blood on our resume. Paul did. Now, because of the terrible things that he’d done years earlier, Paul would conclude, like you and I, that he was not even worthy to be part of the group that could say, “I saw Jesus after his resurrection!” Paul says, “C’mon now, me an apostle? It does not make any sense!”

Paul, of all people, was the most surprised by how much grace God poured down all over him. In fact he goes further to say something to the effect that he’s the last one in the world who deserved grace. He’s blown away by it all. Scandalous! But then he says those well loved words, “But by the Grace of God, I am what I am.” Pretty awesome. Grace made all the difference in him and allowed him to be what and who he was back then and that Grace just kept him moving powerfully forward in strength and joy. For that reason Paul became an example of a life that did not waste the grace of God. He lived every moment in thanks, joy, and usefulness for the love of God. Nothing wasted.

Grace is not free. It cost God a son. It’s scandalous. And the scandalous grace of God can make all the difference in your life and mine. It is the most undeserved and costly gift we’ll ever receive. Grace changes everything. Can you say that today? Because of God’s scandalous grace you are not just heading to the gym to prolong your existence. You are not just making money to spend it on…you. You are using your life for a higher purpose. You are living joyfully knowing who you are and moving forward under the grace-giving hand of God.

Keep doing that and you won’t waste the precious gift of grace that came your way at just the right time.

Interview that Missionary!

Q. Peter, you must meet a lot of interesting people in all your travels. Can you name some people you’ve met and introduce an unlikely friendship you have made?

A. Well, let me think, I met some homeless people on the street in Skid Row, Los Angeles. There are quite a lot of them there! Here in Bangkok I met up with some old friends from college days. That’s always cool. And I sat on a bed of a one room home in a small town of Northern Vietnam to eat with six family members a huge meal prepared by the mother. Then I had the wackiest kind of conversation eating noodles on the street in Haiphong with total strangers who could not speak a word of English. When I told the owner I was from Canada he didn’t seem to know where that was. He kept saying, “New York?” Lots of laughs and sign language later we shook hands warmly. But I’d have to say that perhaps one person who I will never forget meeting this year is the guy who sat beside me during one of my long flights. I had had a particularly difficult week. As I found my seat on the plane I was hoping the seat next to me would not be taken. I hate sharing my elbow space. It looked good until I saw a guy heading my way wearing a ranger’s hat and toting a Bible. My first thought was, “Please go behind me.” I mean this guy looked like a hard-core Bible thumper dude! But he sat next to me and started to read his Bible. I think he may have been a bit younger than me, but no less experienced in life! He noticed I was reading Max Lucado and the conversation began. As we talked I found out that we had lived a life similar in a lot of ways. He was able to talk me through some of my struggles and it really helped. I don’t believe in coincidences but I believe with all my heart that I walked into something God had already seen, already worked out.

Q. What were you doing on Skid Row in Los Angeles?!

A. Skid Row. Well, I kinda of seen it before from the winsdshield of a car, just passing through to get to somewhere else. This last time I will never forget. During a conference on activism that happened this past July in L.A. I was intrigued that we weren’t there to just sit and listen.  We had some outdoor jobs to do. In the middle of the hardest meanest part of the city our job was to serve food to the homeless. More than 100 tables were set up with white table cloths to seat about 800 people. Over a thousand showed up! This moment was more amazing than all the well known guest speakers that day. There is nothing more eye-opening – heart-opening, ear-opening – than serving the homeless and listening to their stories. One woman said to my friend, Dave, “I can’t believe it… last year I was serving food at a shelter and this year, well, here I am being served.”

Q. Thailand was in the news a lot this last year. How did that affect your family and your work?

A. Ya, it got pretty unpredictable over here. It was quite strange to have soldiers everywhere, to have curfews where we had to be home by 9 p.m. and to see our city on the world news every day. We never knew from one day to the next whether or not the school our children attended would be open, whether or not we could use the sky train or if we could even have church. When it was all over, our family went into the area of the protest camps and helped with the clean-up in the city. It was really cool to see everyone working together, to hear people singing and companies giving away free water. The city has been rebuilding the damaged parts, but the most modern shopping mall that got burned down is still an eyesore. So far it’s only just the scaffolding that is going up. But where there is scaffolding there is a plan, right? Scaffolding just looks messy, but it is evidence that something is being built… something beautiful. I guess that’s how we can see the world and the Way God does things.

Q. In the past year you’ve been invited to speak at youth gatherings, not just in Thailand but also in places like Sri Lanka, Viet Nam, and even at PAOC’s Lakeshore Youth Camp. You and Pat help lead a young adult church in the middle of Bangkok. How does someone from your generation (Baby Boomer) stay relevant in order to speak into the lives of the younger generations (Gen X and Millennials)?

A. My wife and kids help me with this area. A lot! Pat pointed out to me some words of Mark Battersea, “Irrelevance is irreverent.” This really struck a chord in me. Pat and I talk about it a lot and have come to realize that no one – no generation, no denomination, and no theologian- no one can catch up to what God is doing. I certainly don’t think God keeps doing the same thing over and over in the same ways. I also think that even if we did somehow ‘catch up’ to Him we could still never keep up pace with Him. People study Him long and hard and they become diligent students of The Word, then swipe their hands back and forth in a job-well-done sort of way and say, “There now, we have him all figured out.” God is always on the move. There is no ‘still life’ portrait of God or Christianity. It’s like trying to paint a picture of a river. Once you finish the painting, you realize that it doesn’t look the same anymore. It moves. The Word says, “I will pour out my Spirit on ALL flesh” and I like to see that as a Divine Threat. Just like Eli made the young Samuel get out of his own sleepy-time bed and hear from God himself (even though Eli was the trained Man-Of-God, the Priest-Who-Went-To-Seminary and even though it would have been risk-free and tidy to just tell Samuel what he thought God was saying) we want to make sure each generation is getting out of their slumber and is hearing from God for themselves, responding from their own ‘flesh’ and presenting the movement of Holy Spirit in a way that not only resonates with their own generation but is born out of their own culture. The faith of another generation won’t – and definitely shouldn’t- look the same as the one before it; it won’t feel as clear and comfortable for the older Christians. I’ve learned that as an older Christian I need to get comfortable with that discomfort. It’s worth it.

Q. You talk about culture within a generation. You must have seen a huge difference in the culture of young Vietnamese in relation to culture in young Thais or North Americans. How do you approach this younger generation within their own popular culture?

A. You ask pretty hard questions! Well, I’ve found that there are definitely aspects of humanity that cross all culture. It’s another part of being relevant; constantly searching for the parts of life that aren’t smeared in Western thought or experience. I pray and ask Holy Spirit to keep showing me, translating for me, what the culture of God is and how I can speak His language. Young people –whether they are in a cramped refugee detention center in Bangkok or studying law at Harvard- can have a desire to make a difference in their world. However, we must never forget that not all young people have choices about where they live or work, or who they will marry. So we have to be diligent to go to the deeper commonality. The bottom line is this: What is a Message that will resonate in the heart of a young marketing expert in Markham, Ontario, as well as the young Muslim girl selling goat meat in the morning market in Kathmandu, Nepal? How do I present the idea of ‘the call of God on your life’ to the young guy who is expected to take over his father’s coffee shop in Hanoi and the young guy who is preparing to inherit his father’s car dealership in Calgary, Alberta? I have to always ask myself if my message on God’s blessing could translate for the young HIV positive woman or is it an exclusive message for the privileged.

Q. Okay, one last question, you guys just entered your 20th year as missionaries, how much longer?

A. Well, as long as God helps to provide physical health, family health, passion and hunger, ability, finances and if these things are in place then maybe we’ll be in Southeast Asia for a long time. If that all dried up all of a sudden, who knows what that might mean for us as a family? Actually it’s not just about the place, that’s just geography. It’s also about our heart and that’s where God makes his home in me. I want him to enjoy that home wherever I am.