Home Is Where….


There once was a wealthy man who owned the best farmland in the country. His hired hands were well-trained and the farm prospered. But the real love of his life, even more than the farm, were his two beautiful boys, who for the record, couldn’t be any more different!

The oldest boy was the kind of son every father dreams of, disciplined, hard-working, and rarely questioning what he was asked to do. The younger boy, however, was of the free-spirited kind, always asking questions, and he would rather play than work anyday! While the older boy carefully learned the tools of the trade preparing himself for the day he would be a landowner himself, the younger carefree son couldn’t wait to get out and discover the real world!

Some weeks after his 20th birthday bash the youngest son said to his father, “Dad may I have a minute with you?” And for the longest minute he spoke frankly of his boredom on the farm and how he dreamed to discover the world out there. “Father,” he said, “I hear the world calling for me, I have to go and discover my place in it! And I know it pains you for me to ask you this, but the only way forward for me is to get my portion of the inheritance right now.” The father was silent for a moment, although he knew deep down that this day was coming, it still took him aback to hear his son’s request. “You are free to go,” he finally exhaled and sadly watched as his playful and curious son walked out of their lives.

The young man rented a large upscale apartment in a bustling city. He was fascinated by all the sights, the lights and his newfound freedom. He could now go to bed whenever he wanted and wake up and not worry about chores. His carefree spirit, good looks and seemingly endless wealth attracted a lot of attention. He soon became the toast of the town, but not always for the right reasons. His apartment unexpectedly became ‘the place’ for the best parties. The pretty girls couldn’t be more plenty. The drugs always found a way into the parties and enhanced his feelings of happiness. “This is the good life,” he thought. But little did he know he was being played as much as he loved to play. The girls had their way with him and his wallet. His new friends knew how to pry one more joint, pop one more pill, stay for one more drink, order another pizza, and, of course, party all weekend. It took its toll on him and his bank account. The bills for repairs and the endless parties for his so-called friends kept adding up. The day came, of course, when it was all gone, every cent of his inheritance.

The owner of the apartment had no choice but throw him on the street. He was homeless. The timing couldn’t be worse, a deep recession hit the land and the only job available was one he loathed to do, raising someone else’s pigs. The pay was so poor that he could hardly afford food. Sometimes he would even try eating the pig food to save a few coins. After weeks of this he came to his senses. He said to himself, “I’ve screwed up bigtime. This is not how it was supposed to turn out! How could I have been so stupid!” His thoughts went back home and to his father’s eyes. How sad they were the day he left home. “I could be such an idiot and he’d still love me,” he faintly smiled to himself. He thought of the time he crashed the truck and how his father would still let him drive the car around! “Man, he was the best dad a boy could have,” he knew it. “I wish I could go back, but how can I now? I’ve embarrassed the family name. But I’ll die of starvation here, maybe if I went back and asked him for a job. At least I know his employees have good food to eat and comfortable sleeping quarters. It’s a million times better than this squalor I’m living in now. I’ve got to go find my way back home even if I have to walk all the way back.”

And so he left on foot for home, all the while practicing what he would say to his father, “Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and I’ve sinned against you and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But could you find it in your heart to let me live with the servants and I’ll work hard for you until I pay every cent back. I’ll get back on my feet.” He kept on repeating it, “I’m no longer worthy, no longer worthy, no longer worthy…” And the tears fell to the ground.

But while he was still a long way off his father saw his silhouette. He knew right away that it was his younger son. His heart raced as he leapt to his feet and ran and ran through the fields towards his son. When he came upon him he threw out his arms and embraced him and kissed him over and over. The son was so overwhelmed he had been expecting the worse, he expected his father to say, “Why are you even here?” “Dad, I’ve sinned against heaven and against you.” But he couldn’t finish his speech, he just crumpled into his father’s embrace crying, “I’m not worthy. I’m not worthy.”

The father called out for his servants explaining his boy had finally returned. “Quick”, he said, “Go get him a clean robe, some shoes, and the family ring. And oh, lets not forget the celebration, tonight, yes, invite everyone you can, prepare the best food, and don’t forget to kill the fattened calf! At long last my son is home!!!!!

That evening the guests arrived and while the feast was being served and the music played. the older brother had just come back from a long day in the fields. When he heard the music from afar he wondered what he had missed. When one of the servants told him it was his younger brother come home, he refused to go in. “Get me my father,” he barked, “ I need to talk to him, NOW!”

And when the father came out to greet him he saw how angry his oldest son was and asked him why he was so upset. “How could you do it, Dad? How could you let yourself be duped by this rotten so-called-son of yours, not just once, but twice! He’s a freaking dishonour to the family name! I can’t believe you are actually feasting and celebrating in his honour!” There was a long pause as the father looked him in the eyes, but the older son turned from his regard. And then the son let it all out, “I’ve been slaving for you all these years. I’ve done everything you asked me to, and more! You never had to worry a single minute about my whereabouts. And did you ever throw a party for me? Not even once, Dad! What’s wrong with that picture!”

The father put his hands on his son’s shoulders and looked directly at his angry boy, “Look at me son. We are all in this together. Everything I have is yours. Everything, yours! That will never change. But this my son, your little brother, was lost. We thought he was gone forever, but now, thank God, he’s back. Can’t you see, he was as good as dead to us, but he’s alive and at home at last! Come on in, please,” and nodding his head yes the father added, “And he’s excited to see you, too. Let’s welcome him back home together.” With this the father gently kissed him, but the older boy just stood there shaking his head, staring off into the distance.

*This is the famous story that has been called the prodigal son that Jesus told. I’ve paraphrased it to make it sound more 2019 ish. I’ve given it a title, but if you could suggest a better title for it, I’d like for you comment. I’ll ‘subjectively’ pick what I think is the best one. Thank you.

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Healing


Honestly, I am confounded by those who approach the way of God’s blessing with narrow formulaic thinking. We love simple formulas and in the process reduce God to a magic dispenser who responds to the right confession of our needs and wants ‘in His name’. But a very simple study on the different methods of Christ’s healing will show you that he didn’t like doing the same thing over and over. He didn’t want to be franchised.

So, let’s get to it, a quick survey from my sunday school days tells me of a mysterious-full-of-surprises Jesus. He really is a ‘winking’ Savior! To one, blind, he says, “Go wash in such and such pool.” It washes the blindness away. To a group of lepers he meets on the road, he tells, “Go to the temple and chat with the priest there.” Out of the ten healed only one returns to say thanks! He actually spits on one blind guys eyes! Glad we don’t use that messy method today. Imagine you doing that while sick with a cold! Another woman doesn’t even really pray, she just simply squeezes behind Jesus as He is teaching and yanks the bottom of His robe and is healed. Then there is the deaf man that was brought to Jesus. They begged him to touch him. Jesus pulls him away and sticks his finger in the ear and grabs his tongue and screams ‘Be opened!’ Of course it worked, this is Jesus, right! Finally, there is the case where Jesus actually uses spittle in the dirt to make some mucky substance and puts the goo in the blind man’s eyes. Once more there is a miracle.IMG_2322

We could go on and on talking about the variety of God’s blessing hand. What are we to learn from this? Yes, he heals by a word, sometimes by laying of hands, and even from strange methods to show us to never limit God to one sure-fire way to move in our lives. Faith is important, but it may not be the only factor, after all Jesus did raise some dead people who didn’t ask for a thing! So when it comes to receiving a blessing I think we don’t need to use formulas or special words. Surprisingly, the only prayer we actually have recorded was from someone asking for a miracle for his son was, “I believe, help me in my unbelief!” Not quite the faith-confessing-undoubting response you would expect. His son was healed!

My usual method for my needs looks a little like this: I thank God for life, all of it. When I am sick I asked for a quick recovery. If it is bad I ask friends to join me in praying. If I am not healed, I don’t complain or beg. I don’t try to conjure up more faith. God heard me the first time. My biggest need is to let go of my thoughts on how something should be done. God’s ways are not necessarily my ways. That’s an understatement! And physical healing isn’t the only issue I face. I have financial needs, relational challenges, needs of others that come across my path… and in all these things I ask for peace. Faith sometimes isn’t a way to avoid, escape or walk away from the problems of life, but the power to walk through with graciousness, confidence and love.

Hope this balanced perspective is helpful.

Beauty and the Soul


There is beauty and purpose in each season. Who can deny the delight of witnessing the renewal of nature itself when gusts of warmth bring on the leafgreenburgeoning colours of delicate flowers and tree buds release their fingers towards the sun. We all love it when summer’s lengthy light entices us into taking long nature walks in short sleeves and lazy days abound around waterfronts and barbeques, and oh, the glorious sunsets. Who among us hasn’t ooh-ed and aah-ed as the sight of the bold reds, golds and oranges of autumn begin to herald the end of summer’s green. And then there is the season that gets the least love, especially if you are Canadian where complaining about dark cold days is a national pastime, winter. Yet even winter’s bleak skies and frigid climes has its beauty and purpose.

My soul has seasons too, though not always chronological. Soul-seasons seemingly can’t leafredbe rushed and suddenly change with little forewarning. Spring for the soul is about clean slates, fresh starts, and discovery! Summer is strength, delicate strands of hope taking form. It’s watching with confidence our projects and confidence grow. Fall is maturity, seeing our investments reach their prime. But winter, we are not so sure what benefits to the soul winter brings. It seems life is put on hold. It’s the biblical equivalent to the dry desert.

Looking back to one of my hardest soul-winters I remember the shame I felt during an illness that took months to recuperate from. My veins were alternately pierced and arm tied to an IV pole that dripped antibiotics and salt solutions for ten days into my system. I worried about the expectations of my peers and employers. I could not perform as I had in the past. It was humbling. I was sure that my ‘net worth’ was descending . I tried hard to speed up the process of healing, get myself going again. But my body and mind wasn’t ready for it yet. I think God was trying to teach me, “Slowly I am with you always.”

I understand better now that slow invisible change, both in us and in the way we see life, usually happens in seasons we dislike the most. Of course I still tend towards trying to rush my exit out of desolate dry seasons, cutting cold seasons, brown ground barren seasons and enter the seasons of colour, freshness, warmth and growth. We feel shame and quite useless (almost dead) in our winter seasons. That’s when we need to step back again and let wisdom speak. She whispers to us to embrace the moment, live into the now, leafbrownpossess or be possessed by the renewing power of winter! Let love lure you into the next newness.

The more I think about the rhythms in our lives, the more I realize that God’s steadfast love is the common denominator in each season and his mercies are new just the same. In his time He makes lasting beauty to break forth through the darkness or dryness or the disappointment.

A wise man named Thomas Merton said, “Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.” That’s something to hang onto! Go back and read that phrase again. The slow growth of maturing beauty lasts longer because it’s roots have gone deeper in the soul. Not long ago someone said to my wife, “You have changed and it is remarkable!” I began to reflect on that a bit and smile inside because I saw it too. Often we are unaware of the changes happening inside of ourselves until someone else notices. Until then we don’t properly appreciate the inner coherence of beauty being matured in us.

There is a process to any growth and it entails the mysterious miraculous. We are not simply mellowing out with age, no, God forbid! We are becoming more like original goodness in our soul and adding beauty to the world.  Like the crushing of grapes, it helps to remember that the juice will one day miraculously become like fine wine! It’s a slow but real process. Stop for a moment today and reflect on what is being planted in your soul these days.

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A Quarter of a Century!


_MG_0413Today We Celebrate 25 Years of Global Ministry!

I still look back from time to time to that moment sitting on a picnic table in Montmagny, Quebec.  I knew well on that cold damp day that my life and my family would change forever. We had just received news of our overseas appointment. Thailand would soon be home. Though we had no idea what life in Asia was like, I was still making promises to God. My youthful fervour had me promising to God that I would give it my all and for as long as he wanted.

The day our  Old World ended was August 17th 1991 at 14:50hrs. Imagine what three tired little boys, a wife and her man might have looked like as they pushed their trolleys filled with 10 over-stuffed suitcases after over thirty hours of travel and finally entering a strange New World. Anticipation. Once we got out of the immigration lines of Bangkok’s old Don Muang Airport we were greeted by two Canadian families waiting to put fragrant Jasmin garlands around our necks and we were stuffed into two old vehicles for our first look at the snarled Bangkok traffic, eyes wide-open and sweating buckets.

That first week we all slept together at Ray and Betty’s, one room for all of us, the air-conditioning working at maximum. Nothing felt familiar, not taking a shower with lukewarm water as the ants marched one-by-one on the shower wall. Even going to Kentucky Fried Chicken witnessing Thais all dressed up and cutting their finger-licking chicken with their forks and knives! This was indeed a New World.

The next month was spent figuring out how to buy furniture, groceries, and a second-hand car. We had to adjust to torrential rains and humidity. Our laneway was continually full of swamp and rain water and we hired a man to pump out the water to prevent flooding our driveway. We had to learn how to relate to a Thai house-helper who quit after a few months, the first of many! Then there were the instant noodles my kids loved and I hated, and a son’s hatred of rice, which I loved! I remember the fear of driving manual on the wrong side of the road, but for them it was the right side. In our wooden home on stilts we learned to aim the fans for maximum human coverage. Each morning it was pitch black as we prepared to go to language school before 6am to beat the traffic jams. Honestly, we easily spent the first couple of years living in and out of culture shock.FamilyThailand earlyyears1991

Oddly enough those days don’t seem all that long ago, yet it is exactly 25 years ago to this very day. Not many people work with the same organisation for that long these days. I think many people within my organisation know a bit how we have lived in this exotic New World. Some upon meeting us ask how we decided upon Thailand, but I usually don’t get around telling the whole story, of how I became interested in cultures and languages and people groups. Or of the day I cried so hard for war-torn Cambodia that I thought my heart would burst. Maybe some day I will write about my Dutch-Reformed spiritual roots and how the Pentecostal message changed our Spiritual World. I’d love to tell how a teenaged boy was already drawn to an atypical life by reading books like ‘Peace Child’ and ‘Lords of the Earth’. Those stories of another continent (Indonesia) opened an Avatar-like world that I never knew existed. Something was kindled in me that would flame into service in cultures and contexts not my own.

Beginnings are usually the hardest anytime, they demand the most of us. Though Patricia and I looked forward to the challenge of proficiency in the Thai language it took hours, days, and months, and yes, even years learning to speak Thailand’s tonal language. Not easy, especially with a family. In my first Christmas message I spoke a tone wrong and inadvertently changed the angel’s message to the shepherds to, “Behold we bring you Good Rice.” That was indeed good news that day in our context! Though I loved how Thais would always encourage us and say, ‘Wow, your Thai pronunciation is so good!’ I knew better! It took courage every time to teach and preach in this strange-sounding language and I begged God to helped me more times than I can count.

Being a white family in the early nineties in Thailand also carried a novelty factor with the Thais, especially in villages outside of Bangkok. One time I was in a far flung village and a little boy saw me as he was riding his bike. He lost his balance and fell off. As I walked toward him, he got back on and sped away, fast! Another time in Nong Khai, where we planted our first Thai church, I borrowed a rickshaw. I put my three boys in the back and drove them through town. If only I had a camera to film the faces of those who caught this rare sight of a slender white man and his boys. They gave thumbs up as they called out to their friends to see this strange westerner pretending to do the most humble job on the social ladder.

Maybe it was this curiosity and willingness to try new things, go to new places that helped me to not return to ‘normal’ Canadian life. If you saw some of what I have eaten or where I have slept at times you might think us strange. We did it for the gospel. All of it. We have sweat enough water over the years to fill a pool and can tell you of the long weeks suffering from what the Thais called running stomach! After our first four years in Thailand we were skinnier than when we were married and that was already skinny! But I was happy, I was fulfilling the promise I made on that picnic bench, to give it our all even when it was extremely uncomfortable or embarrassing or lacking the immediate results that we felt God deserved.

About halfway through our 25 years I experienced a desire for God to do something new in me, to open new doors of influence. As I began to study the life of Joshua I took note of the correlation between ‘the courage of one’ and ‘the benefit of many’. If Joshua could not find the courage to act, to overcome his self-doubt and Moses’ long leadership shadow, the result would be many people losing out on opportunities to see or feel God in new ways. Stepping into the swirling waters of the Jordan without Moses’ miracle stick would be his biggest step of faith. Without Joshua’s courage many would lose out on a preferred destiny!

Thaiyouth prayHow impacting Joshua’s life would be on my own. Twenty-five years ago we took the  risk of working with Thai Youth,  a role I was uncomfortable with, yet it resulted in hundreds maybe thousands of youth encouraged to give their all to God’s way. We never thought we would host teams, develop a child sponsorship program, chair a board for a ministry among children born with HIV or bring leadership training to other countries. Yet we stepped out of our comfort zone and gave of ourselves. None of this would be part of our story without the courage to step out into the unknown. Even today I’ll meet someone who will say, “I was at that camp you spoke at and I gave my life to Christ!”

If it is true, and I think it is, that life shrinks or expands according to the measure of courage, then each courageous step into the unknown carries great promise. Today we find ourselves again needing courage to minister in a new way and in a new culture and context; Europe! We came to Paris knowing no one, just the two of us with a dream and no team. We did a lot of walking asking God thaPetersharest each step would be guided to bring His love wherever we found ourselves. We knew that this step of obedience risked much, that we could be misunderstood by many, and we were. It resulted in the stretching of our faith and finances. And yet we heard an inner voice saying, “Have courage, don’t be afraid… as I was with you in Thailand I am with you in Paris!”

When I look back, I see so much of God in my steps, 25 years of ordered steps, I cannot doubt that He has us here and now for such a time as this. I cannot say how long we’ll be in this Once Again New World. My promise to God, however,is the same I made on that cold and damp day in Quebec, I will give it my all as long as you provide the strength and the resources. And we are seeing lives, French lives, drawn closer to their creator, and we believe there is much more to come.

 

 

 

Begin with Beauty, Not the Beast!


Bono is known to have uttered a phrase that has challenged church-like folk to be less about opposing and more about embracing the good. It was something like this, “For too long the world has heard about what we are against, but it’s time we let them know what we are for!” In essence we need to stop parading a God that is against us. He’s always for life! We don’t need to shout that He is against divorce and adultery; we speak up to say that God is for passion, fidelity, intimacy, and love. Instead of yelling on deaf ears that God is against this and that, we whisper that God is for beauty, justice, peace, and joy! There much less need to aim the bow of judgement and letting go arrows targeting sinful behaviour than we think. An approach that begins with God’s fingerprints and beauty in others can initiate a transformative conversation better than starting with an original sin conversation.

Don’t you think it strange that we missed this possibility and instead developed divisive brands of Christianity each one being ruled by rules of exclusivity? Of course, ahem,  my brand is better than yours because we are, ahem, more biblical than you! You know it, most religious groups have the carrying-card of inclusion, the shakers and movers of their group, must correctly answer pages of well-formed questions to have this card to belong. I wonder if its time to unlearn some of our exclusive ways and begin with the beauty and not the beast!

When I wrote the first paragraph above I wanted to test it out on the Facebook market. Immediately the feedback was immensely popular. It resonated; however not with all. One took offence that I had quoted Bono and with great length stated that the Ten Commandments were not an invention of Evangelicals. Another was quick to remind me that Jesus called out the evil deeds of his generation and proceeded to quote verse and chapter. But was Jesus always condemning and quoting Old Testament ‘Thou shalt nots’? Or was the pattern of Jesus conversations more about the true heart of God than the wrath of God?

Now please think about how Jesus’ life corroborates with life and not death. He was more for acceptance than rejection. Furthermore the thing that got Jesus in trouble more than anything else was his life of inclusion. He was a friend of sinners. He allowed a woman of dubious reputation wash his feet. He engages in a life-changing conversation with a loose Samaritan woman with whom even the women of her village would not speak. He was called a winebibber and the implications of that are shocking. Could this be because He rarely lived up to the expectations of the rigorous exclusive religious systewoman anointed Jesus feetms of the day? Surely he was a disappointment to the sacred stereotype of a messiah, of a prophet-like condemner of sin and sinners à la John Baptist?

It is hard to for us imagine that Jesus never lived in the position of defending morals, nor took on the snarly role of ‘the official opposition’. With a keen sensibility to the rhythms of Jesus’ life we cannot help but to notice he is always for life. He is for relationships. He is for reconciliation. He is less judgment and more grace! Jesus provided the people a better alternative than the Kingdom of religion, He pointed them to the Kingdom of God!

I see Jesus as a bridge builder more than a boundary marker. Wouldn’t that be an honest barometer of His life? I am writing these words from a humble heart, from the position of a learner. Each day I walk in a secular world where God seemingly isn’t included. But it is hard to go through a day, any of us, without wondering about God. I want to be ready to show my Turkish friends, my Algerian butcher, my friends at the Bistro that God is for them, for freedom and offers them a wonderful possibility, the Reign of His Love in their lives. Like a good chef, I want to offer the best presentation of God’s ingredients that whet an appetite for grace. This is an important discussion that opens to us a fresh approach when speaking to the stranger or our enemy and most important of all, loving our friends like God would. Senate Chairman Of Transportation Committee Calls For Investigation Into George Washington Bridge Lane Closures