Tag Archives: Love

People are not our Enemies

This is a friendly reminder: People are not our real enemies.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12, emphasis added).

People will, however, appear to be our enemies. They will have different values and morals than us. They will exclude us, will be against us, will wish us evil, will work for our downfall or demotion, will demand our surrender. But Jesus told us how to respond to them:

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you… Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-28, 35b-36).

 

 

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Praying Continuously

Pray without ceasing” the Apostle Paul exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

pray without ceasing

Upon reading this, our first thoughts are questions: Is that even possible? How could I do anything else if I was to obey this? I can’t even pray 30 minutes (or maybe even 5) in one sitting, so how could I possibly pray ‘without ceasing’?

Several saints have attempted to solve how to do this throughout history. The unknown Russian pilgrim, in “The Way ofway-of-a-pilgrim a Pilgrim,” goes on a quest to discover the secret of doing this, and he’s taught to pray the Jesus Prayer by the holy men he finds along the way. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” He’s taught that he needs to continually repeat this with every breath until he can do it mentally, in the background of his mind as it were, and then he’d be obeying the apostle’s command.

The me498641dieval monk Brother Lawrence sought to obey this command by continually, consciously seek God’s assistance in every task; he worked in the monastery’s kitchen and as I recall he would ask God for help with even the most mundane of tasks. He would ask God to help him flip over a pancake in the pan, and then after he had done so would thank God for His help. Brother Lawrence sought to keep God always close to his mind, and worship, thanksgiving, or prayers for help were often on his mind. His letters and a short biography are collected in the work called “The Practice of the Presence of God.”

Frank Laubach, a much more modern Christian inspired by Brother Lawrence, sought to learn to pray wiFrank-Laubach-stamp-264x300thout ceasing. He was a missionary to the Philippines, and devised what he called “The_Game_with_Minutes” Not so much a game as it was a challenge, he sought to see how many minutes out of each hour how many times he could remember God once per minute (that is, at least one second out of every 60 seconds). While not easy, with intentionality and practice he found it was possible, and in fact everything else in his life became easy because of this striving to keep God at the center of his life, minute-by-minute surrendered to Him.

Conversation with God

While praying requires times of structure and devoted attention (Matt. 6:9-13), and corporate prayer is extremely important (Acts 1:14), we can learn to keep God at the forefront of our thoughts if we continually engage Him in conversation. God loves us, and He cares intimately about every aspect of our lives, even the most mundane parts of it; so we can talk to Him about every part of our lives. He delights to hear us, just as a parent delights to hear their infant babble or their adult children talk to them. More than that, as lovers long to be with each other and talk with each other and learn about each other, so God longs for us to be with Him, to talk with Him, and to learn about Him.Prayer without CeasingI think what gets at the heart of praying without ceasing is learning to live in complete and utter dependence on God for every moment of our lives. It includes rejoicing (1 Thess. 5:16) and giving thanks for His help and presence and gifts and love (1 Thess. 5:17), but a life that’s surrendered to God and obedient to His will is what’s most pleasing to God. And being a continual state of prayer – conscious talking with Him, and subconscious awareness of His presence, helps us to be dependent on Him.

While it is difficult, I’m training myself to pray like this. So for example, when showering I talk to Him about my day or about the burdens on my heart. While driving I try to remember to talk to Him about the people I see driving or walking around me. When I meet with people I’m praying for God to show me what He’s doing in their lives as we chat together. And I find myself needing to constantly remind myself to do it, to pray, and to open my heart in love to God’s presence. And since I’m still working at it, there’s no need to get down on myself when I forget. I just remind myself, and go back to God in my thoughts and heart. And He is patient and will wait when I forget.

Almost a constant refrain of my conscious prayer is a cry for wisdom – “God, I need your wisdom.” Often it’s not even for a specific situation, but just in general. And while I’m far from good at praying continually yet, I get short tastes of the presence of God when I do, and I get glimpses of how He guides me, and I get snippets of wisdom that is beyond my ability (or even my realization, until after the fact), so it’s a worthwhile pursuit. Many – but far too few – Christians have already known this.

What keeps us from praying?

  1. Time – we lead such busy lives.

While true to an extent, this is often an excuse more than anything, since we always have some time – whether in the shower, or while driving, or instead of watching TV or surfing the net or reading a book. The fact of the matter is, we don’t prioritize it, or intentionally make time for it; and if we don’t make time, time slips away.

  1. Unbelief – we don’t really believe prayer makes a difference.

This is the true reason we don’t make time for prayer. If we believed in its efficacy, we would prioritize it. Maybe we’ve prayed and haven’t seen those prayers answered (at least, in the way we wanted them to be). Maybe we don’t experience God’s presence and so we functionally live as if He doesn’t exist. Or maybe we’ve gone through tragedy, or been hurt (even by the church), and we didn’t see God do anything in those situations so why would He now?

Our prayer shouldn’t be dependent on our experience of God or our experience of His answering our prayers or not, rather it should be motivated by love for Him and founded in the security of His love for us. When we understand, I mean really get deep down, how He loves us then we’ll trust in Him despite what does or doesn’t happen to us, and we will be one of the more free than people can understand.

  1. Fear – we’re afraid of surrendering our wills to God, and afraid of Him actually showing up!

The sin that entered Adam and Eve’s hearts afflicts us still – the desire for control, and to be the masters of our own fates. To give that up without guarantee of safety or comfort is scary. But surrendering our lives to God is the best decision we can make; not having experienced that though, or seen many people who have, it’s hard for us to believe. So we pray little or not at all in hopes of clinging to the little power we actually have. But surrendering to God brings a freedom from fear, because surrendering to God allows us to know His great love for us, and ‘perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 4:18).

The Challenge

So, will you join me in making prayer a priority in your life? Will you seek to engage God in constant, conversational prayer in surrender to His will? It sounds impossible, but it isn’t. It sounds difficult, and it is – but it’s more than worth it.

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will concerning you.

 

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5 Valentine’s Day Haiku

1.
That saint, Valentine
He gave up his life for Love
We merely give hearts

2.
Kaye, heart of my heart
You bring much joy to this life
Daily my love grows

3.
First time she entered
I couldn’t stop from looking
Electricity

4.
Gifts, choc’late and cards
Roses and fancy dinners
Manufactured day

5.
Velociraptor
You hold my warm beating heart
In your pointy claws

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Breakfast with Jesus? Bring Some Fish

During Jesus’ last post-resurrection encounter with the disciples in the book of John, he gives them two invitations which display beautifully the heart of God.

First, some context, though:

Peter, in John 18, denies Jesus while warming himself around a charcoal fire. He does it three times when accused, and after the third a rooster crows fulfilling Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial in John 13:38. What guilt he must have felt, what shame! In the moment he fears for his own life more than he cares for his master, his friend.

Later, in Galilee, Peter declares to the other disciples that he is going fishing which the fishermen in the group decide to join him in. And there, on the beach near where their boat is, is Jesus. Peter is so excited to see Jesus that he literally throws himself into the water and splashes to shore. Where he sees a charcoal fire burning, with some fish already on it.

I wonder if the smell from the fire triggered his memory, back to that day in the courtyard when he denied Jesus? I wonder if he felt shame temper his excitement?

And here is where the encounter becomes beautiful to me: Jesus doesn’t bring it up at all (he will later, though, in verses 15-19), instead he gives Peter and the others two invitations: “Bring some of the fish you have just caught,” and “Come and have breakfast.”

“Bring some of your fish”

This invitation is an invitation to participate. Jesus already had a fire going with fish on it, he doesn’t need the disciple’s freshly caught fish at all. But he invites them to contribute too. This is an invitation of acceptance and inclusion.

And it’s an invitation that God extends to all of us, to participate in his work in this world (see Eph. 2:10). He doesn’t need us at all, frankly, but he desires to include us. He wants us to do it with him, and makes space for us to do it.

“Come have breakfast”

This is an invitation to fellowship, to communion. Jesus is saying “be with me.” Jesus wants to spend time with the disciples enjoying their company, as much as he wants them to enjoy his. And so it is with us too. We tend to think of God as “up there” and we are “down here,” both spatially and hierarchically, and he really is farther above us than we could ever understand. But he is also here with us, God Immanuel, surrounding and encompassing and filling us, and just as he wants us to be a part of his work here on earth, he also wants to be involved in our lives – from the mundane things like doing chores, driving or taking public transit, shaving, and even pooping; to the less mundane like working, raising children, having hobbies, and being in relationships.

Friend of Sinners

friend-of-sinners

The thing to remember about these two invitations of Jesus, “participate with me” and “be with me,” is that he gave them to Peter before Peter was ‘restored,’ that is, before Jesus confronted Peter with his denial and desertion at Jesus’ arrest. He dealt gently with Peter, which really characterized his life – gentle and kind with the broken and oppressed, the trodden on and ‘sinners,’ and angry with the religious hypocrites who considered themselves ‘righteous’ in their own right. So much so, that those righteous called Jesus a “friend of sinners.” They meant it derogatorily, but Jesus really was a friend of sinners.

Which is good news, because I am a sinner. Even as someone who desires to follow Jesus and his teachings, I still sin, even willingly sometimes. We all do. It doesn’t mean that Jesus is cool with it or permissive about it (he asked one time “why do you call me Master but do not do what I tell you to do?” Luke 6:46). But it does mean that as we in repentance turn to him, he doesn’t meet us with a brandished hickory switch, leather belt, or wet hand. Instead he meets us with a plate of bacon and eggs and a bowl of warm oatmeal.

“Participate with me. Be with me.” These are the invitations of Jesus, and these invitations are for us. Whether you know Jesus or not, he is inviting you, to be a part of his family and his work on this earth.

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The Role of Forgiving & “Forgetting” in Unity

One of the greatest killers of community is unforgiveness.

There can be a myriad of reasons we may harbour unforgiveness against someone, from minor things like “he didn’t put the toilet seat down again,” to the horrific like the continued Boko Haram atrocities, the Charleston church shooting, or Guido Amsel sending bombs to his ex-wife and their lawyers here in Winnipeg .

In church settings the effects of unforgiveness always lead to disunity; fellowship is broken, and I’ve heard of people going to the same church for decades and never speaking to each other. This is very sad, and extremely contrary to the way of Jesus, who at the end of His life prayed for our unity (John 17).

Forgiving

And while forgiveness doesn’t negate consequences (a forgiven murderer still goes to jail, a forgiven slanderer still needs to recant their words), we know that repentance or the lack thereof is not dependent on us forgiving. This makes it one of the hardest things we can do; and also, one of the most Christ-like. As I know only too well, the act of  ‘dying to self’ is greatly needed in order to forgive sometimes.

But because we have been forgiven by God, God expects us to in turn give that same grace to others. Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:14-15 sound harsh to our ears: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins,” but there’s really no way to understand these words except at face-value (this is not to say that we earn God’s forgiveness by works of our own forgiveness of others, but shows the seriousness with which God expects us to love others the way He loves us (see Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18)).

“Forgetting”

Often forgiving someone is not enough to restore unity, however. At least not the way we practice forgiveness today (a shallow, un-christ-like type of forgiveness which says the perpetrator is forgiven, but will never be trusted/spoken to/loved again). This is why Miroslav Volf, in his “Exclusion & Embrace“, talks about the need to forget, or “nonremembering,” in order to forgive in such a way that unity and relationship can be fully restored. This nonremembering properly takes place after “perpetrators have been named, judged, and (hopefully) transformed” (131), and after the victims are safe and have healed/mourned. For without it “as long as it is remembered, the past is not just the past; it remains an aspect of the present. A remembered wound is an experienced wound” (133). This forgetting is not a complete obliteration of the memories, which is frankly impossible, but a sort of “backgrounding” of the memory that allows us to move beyond the offense and pain of it. Volf says that this is the final, and most difficult part, of reconciliation (131).

This week, before next Sunday, examine your heart and see if you are holding any unforgiveness or bitterness towards anyone in your community; and if you are determine to forgive them in the strength of God’s forgiveness given to you. And keep forgiving them for as long as you need to in order to “forget.” It will be difficult, but it will be more worth it than you can imagine beforehand.

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The Power of Praying for Strangers

This past weekend was a busy and inspiring weekend at my church!

On Sunday we celebrated 13 baptisms, which is always exciting, and the testimonies of those baptized were interesting (one guy grew up Baha’i) and God-glorifying. After that, for the first time in the church’s life, we invited those who felt called to be baptized to come forward ‘spontaneously’ to make an obedient profession of their faith through baptism. And 30 people came forward! Including many young adults, two of whom I was particularly excited about and proud of.

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The other event took place the previous afternoon, when myself (the YA ministry lead) and 11 young adults went to Central Park in downtown Winnipeg to share the Gospel. There was excitement and trepidation, and even outright fear, but we prayed & planned beforehand, and we were willing to step out in the knowledge that God was with us, and that He would embolden us.

And that He did. We went in pairs, and each pair reported afterwards that their fear left quickly, and even amidst spiritual attack right as we got to the park, and rejection during our time there, we were able to engage in conversations and, even better, prayers for people that pointed them to Jesus. We also handed out the Gospel of John to all those who would accept, and a group of girls at the park (who happened to be students of one of the YA), were so excited to take all our leftover books and hand them out to people as we were leaving.

We returned to the church excited, emboldened, and with the prayer on our lips that this wouldn’t be a one-time event, but a lifestyle for our YA community. We finished the afternoon by singing some worship songs and thanking God for His goodness, and by praying again for those we encountered, even those who rejected us.

My Experience:

My partner and I went to the water park area. We would introduce ourselves by saying our names, that we are followers of Jesus, and asking how we could pray for them – to bless them, or for healing, or anything else. Strangely, every single encounter we had were with Catholics, except one couple, but it was evident from speaking to them that most of them were not practicing. We were fortunate to not be rejected at all; everyone we asked, albeit uncomfortably, allowed us to pray for them, and afterwards seemed glad that we had. My partner was amazing, and she would even hold the hands of the women we prayed with.

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One couple we met were aboriginal, and while they let us know that they worshiped differently than us (the Great Spirit, by burning sweet grass/sage, etc.), they were quite open with their family struggles and allowed us to pray. It was such an honour, and as we prayed the woman began to weep, and I felt love well up in my heart for them. If you know me, then you’d know that I don’t feel love easily. I believe this was the love of God pouring through us as we actively loved them through prayer.

How easy it was to pray for people, and to show them concretely the hope we have in Jesus, and the hope that He would move in their circumstances. The prayers weren’t eloquent (at least mine weren’t), but we all testified afterwards to experiencing the Spirit of God in us as we prayed. Frankly, I feel chagrined that I don’t this more often, just throughout the course of my daily life, even. And I wonder that the Church doesn’t seem to teach or practice this either (although if it doesn’t practice evangelism much, I guess it wouldn’t practice praying for people either).

My hope is through us the people we encountered that day were reminded of, or able to see for the first time, the beauty of Christ, and want to know Him more. No one gave their lives to Him that afternoon, but we know that He works beyond our brief encounters, and was working before we even got there. And, my prayer is that each of the young adults who went would hunger to see more of Jesus like this in their lives.

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