Tuesday, July 7, 2015

One Good Thing Leads to The Next

Today is Tuesday July 7. Five days from now, I re-enter my life and work as a Senior Associate Pastor at PORTICO Community Church, a busy and fairly large (by Canadian standards) multi-venue and multi-site church in Mississauga Ontario, Canada. I have been on a welcome and much needed sabbatical for the last few months and I have to say that it has been amazing! You can read a bit about my sabbatical experience in a couple of earlier posts on this blog, including a few of the things I've learned through the process HERE.

But, alas, my time is coming to a close. Actually, the sabbatical was finished a few weeks ago and I have since been on vacation time. Suffice it to say, it's all melded together into one long time away from the routine and stresses of work. I talked with someone the other day how that, when I was first going on sabbatical, I wasn't sure how I would do it. I was so used to getting up and going to work every day. But then I joked that now I wasn't sure how I was going to go back, because apparently I like not working more than I thought I would.

Here is the truth. I've realized in the last couple of weeks that I am more than ready to return. Sabbatical has been wonderful, but now it's time for the next season. One good thing always has to end so that the next good thing can begin.

King David had to move off the scene so that his son, Solomon, could build the temple. Jesus' earthly life and ministry had to end so that God's plan of salvation could be fully put in motion and the Holy Spirit be released and the church begun.

One good thing always has to end so that the next good thing can begin. Sabbatical is ending, but I am looking forward in anticipation to the next season of life and ministry after sabbatical. What is ahead will inevitably be the next good thing. That's what I'm believing and looking forward to. Now to enjoy these next five days.




Thursday, June 11, 2015

Throwback Thursday - The Great VW Golf Debacle

Once in a while, I've decided to re-post a blog on Thursdays, either one I've read or one I've written in the past.

Today, I've chosen my first blog ever. I smiled to myself as I read it today, remembering the situation with great clarity. Enjoy it by clicking HERE.

The Blogging Mystery

I have been blogging now for a number of years, at certain times much more faithfully than others. Actually there was a period of over a year where I don't think I posted at all. Still, I've noticed that during these years I have blogged, over 11,000 page views have been recorded from locations all over the world. And it makes me wonder.

You see, it's kind of cool to have this voice and to be able to express some of what I'm learning and thinking from time to time. The mystery to me is, "Who are all you people and why do you read it?" Because in spite of thousands of page views, and with this my ninetieth post, there have only been about twenty comments posted total, most of them on a select number of blogs that were more popular than others, and of course I understand that.

Anyhow, this is what I'm wondering about today. This is not a desperate plea for you to comment on my blog so I can feel somehow validated. I write when I write because I enjoy it. The fact that anybody reads it is an added bonus. I'm really just curious, that's all.

If you choose to remain anonymous and continue reading, God bless you and I hope you get something out of it at some point. But if you have something to say, positive or negative, lets have a conversation. Tell me what posts, if any, are helpful to you. Tell me what is superfluous. Tell me the kinds of things you enjoy reading about and the kinds of things you skip. Tell me what you agree with and what you don't. Let's have a dialogue.

And if nobody really comments on blogs anymore, tell me that too—or tell me nothing. It's really up to you.

Just a random thought.

J






Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sabbatical: What I've Learned So Far

So I am about six weeks in to my ten week sabbatical, give or take a few vacation days, and here are a few of the things I’m learning so far:
  • I am not indispensable.
    We all secretly like to think we are – that the day we drive off the property, things will necessarily begin to fall apart. But when push comes to shove and the day comes to leave the office and hand over everything – it is amazing how well things get taken care of. I’m not there of course and so I don’t really know, but I know that good leadership is in place and I trust that the responsibilities I have handed off are being well cared for. I also have the comfort of knowing that it is Jesus’ church and that He is building it.
  • I am more than just a pastor.
    Early into my time away, this was one of the more significant realizations that I really had to come to grips with. For twenty-nine years, I have been Pastor Jeff. No breaks in between save my normal vacation time. But when the last of the church group left Israel and I found myself alone in an apartment in the city of Jerusalem with nothing to do except rest and read and pray for the foreseeable future, I felt very strange. Who am I if I’m not working? What is my identity if I don’t have ministry to prepare for and staff to meet with and presentations to make?



    You really have no idea how much of your identity is wrapped up in what you do until you don’t have to do it anymore. Gently, God reminded me that I’m His child first – a follower of Jesus first. Of course I have always known that – but it’s easy, especially over time, to forget and get all wrapped up in the calling and the job and the position. This has been special time to spend in God’s presence, being reminded of His love and care for me and of the fact that I am His child, and that, first and foremost, my identity is found in Christ.
  • I miss people.
    
I am an introvert by all accounts. Most people don’t believe it when I tell them that. But it’s true. Well, mostly true I’m discovering. As an introvert, I often retreat to being alone or just spending time with my wife after long encounters with a lot of people. That’s when I get recharged.

 It's not that I don't like being with people. I just find that it tires me out. Some people are energized by being with a lot of people and interacting. I get energized being quiet and alone.

    But being alone most of the time for over four of the last six weeks has been...well, kinda' lonely. Of course I miss my wife and family the most, but also just overall interaction with people. It’s not that there aren’t people around where I am. In Jerusalem it was wall to wall people. Where I am now in Florida, there are people around. But, being an introvert, I’m not that outgoing guy who just randomly meets people. So I am learning a new appreciation for the people in my life who are acquaintances and friends and extended family. And for my church family. I miss them.

  • I am capable of rest.

    I was raised with a strong work ethic. My personality and gifting and nature all lean toward activity and hard work. My whole life to this point has been getting up in the morning and going to work, then staying busy all day and going home to get some sleep and then getting up and doing it all over again the next day. Even when I’m off for a day or on vacation, I like finding things to do.



    So the thought of resting for ten weeks was a little intimidating. My friend told me, “Don’t worry, you’ll adjust. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you adjust.” I was doubtful, but he was absolutely right. When I allowed myself to just relax – I had no other choice really – I was amazed at how the stress and tension began to feel like it was just draining away. I also couldn’t believe how much I slept.

  • I am learning.

    I hope that I am always learning. But having so much time to read and reflect without the distraction of all of my other day-to-day responsibilities and activities (well except for the occasional game of golf and paddle boarding at the beach – and later, lots of fishing), is allowing me to really take in and internalize what I’m reading. Of course I won’t remember everything, but reading a book is like attending a weeklong conference. If there is even one thing that you can take away from it that will impact your life and ministry, then it was worth the time you invested. I look forward to implementing this learning, in both my personal life and in my ministry.
  • I needed this.

    The concept of sabbatical is as old as the Ten Commandments.

    

Exodus 31:16-17 says, “Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever.  It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”

    

In some cases of ministry, academics, and even corporate settings where these policies exist, this has been extrapolated out so that once in seven years, extended time can be taken for rest and refreshing.

    

I know many don’t understand the concept or the need for this kind of thing. Many work hard every day and have stress in their jobs and I’m sure would welcome an extended period of time for rest and refreshing.



    But I also know that there is a spiritual drain that occurs when you are constantly ministering and giving of yourself to people—equipping them, praying and caring for them, and carrying the spiritual burden of delivering God’s Word to them—that I am convinced goes beyond the normal pressures and stresses of most work and that depletes a person like no other leadership responsibility. It’s not something that I can explain or quantify – but it’s real.



    And the longer I am on this sabbatical journey, the more I realize how much I needed this time, and how restorative and refreshing it is for my body, my mind, and my soul. It is an amazing gift that I do not take for granted and for which I am incredibly grateful!
My prayer is that everyone in full time ministry would be able to find a way to take a sabbatical.


Sunday, April 5, 2015

My Easter In The Holy City

Today, I did something that I have been dreaming of doing for nearly ten years now. I spent Easter Sunday in Jerusalem. I woke early this morning at 5am to get ready. From the apartment where I'm staying, the Garden Tomb is about a 25 minute walk. I left at 5:30am in hopes to arrive when the doors to the Garden opened at 6am. The Sunrise Service was scheduled for 6:30am and there was a second service scheduled for 9:30am.  It was a beautiful walk and I stopped occasionally to snap some pictures on the way.
When I arrived, I wasn't prepared for what I encountered. The alley from the doorway entering the Garden all the way to the street was jammed with people. I had assumed that attendance at the Sunrise Service would be a little lighter than the later one. What was I thinking? This is what I saw when I came around the corner into the alley.

After a few minutes the line started to move. I turned around to see how many were behind me and there were now almost as many behind as there were in front.

Once inside, the Garden was packed with people. Every seating area was full as well as the standing room areas. Luckily, I'm tall, so standing room wasn't an issue for me. I found a place where I could lean/sit on a railing and see the worship team, the tomb, and the speaker podium and I waited for the service to begin.

I have been to the Garden six different times now including today. I have never needed to go there to convince myself that Jesus rose from the dead. I have believed in faith that He did so for many, many years. Still, there is something very special about going there, receiving communion together, and experiencing it over and over again through the eyes of the groups that we take.

But today was just for me. I know there is nothing magical about the place, but still, attending an Easter Sunrise Service in the Garden Tomb is kind of surreal. The realization that somewhere very near where I was standing, Jesus gave his life on the cross, and then was buried in an unfinished tomb and on the third day rose again right in that vicinity, made the hair stand up a little on the back of my neck as we sang the words 'Forever, author of salvation. He rose and conquered the grave, Jesus conquered the grave!"

The service was much like any other Sunrise Service you might attend at Easter. It really was nothing special as far as the service order or the speaker and the message. But singing 'Hallelujah, Jesus is Alive' with a tomb cut out of the rock in front of you that has a sign on the door that says 'He is not here. He is risen!' That is something that I will not soon forget.
I am and will be forever grateful for this incredible opportunity to have been given time for a sabbatical, but also to be able to spend some of it in the Holy City.

After a quiet afternoon, I made my way at 5pm to the Easter Services at King of Kings Community in the city centre. The service was full, the worship engaging and the preaching of the Word was rich and meaningful. I soaked it all in - the presence of God was powerful in that place, every bit as real as it had been in the Garden in the morning. Because it's not about the location or even the worship band, the songs, the speaker or the message, it's about the hearts of the worshipers.

If you are ever in Jerusalem and you have the opportunity, visit King of Kings. It is a dynamic expresson of God's Kingdom in the city of Jerusalem that is making a difference and helping people find the true Messiah, who is our Saviour, Yeshua.




Saturday, April 4, 2015

My Passover (Pesach) in Jerusalem

Some of you know that I am currently enjoying the gift of a Sabbatical from my work at PORTICO Community Church, something for which I will be eternally grateful.

On the tail end of a tour to the Holy Land that my wife and I co-hosted together with Pastor Doug and Laura Rhind, I have stayed on my own in Jerusalem for a couple of weeks to experience this city in a little more authentic way.

When our tour guide, Rachel, heard that I was staying on in Jerusalem, she kindly invited me to join her and her family for their traditional Jewish Seder, the beginning of the celebration of Pesach. I accepted.

So, on Friday when all of my family were at home celebrating Good Friday together, Rachel's son Doron picked me up around 6pm to go to their house in the suburbs outside Jerusalem. It was about a 25 minute drive or so.

Rachel's family was very warm and welcoming. And I was not the only guest. One of Doron's friends from work in Tel Aviv was there, Kevin, as well as two friends of her daughter Daphne from the boarding school where she is a soldier/teacher. It is the Jewish way to invite those in who have no other place to go for the holiday. We could maybe learn something.

I also met Rachel's husband Shimon along with his father whose name I can't remember, and their oldest daughter Norah who is home for holiday from medical school in Budapest.

We visited some and then went to the table. Before eating, the Haggadah is read together, which means 'the telling' and is the oral tradition of the 'pesach' or passover. There are toasts and blessings and songs to sing. This family is not a very religious or orthodox Jewish family, so for them the fun is in the keeping of the tradition and in being together. I need not have worried about having the Seder with them or making a mistake. The atmosphere was celebratory and everyone, including Shimon, who was leading the family in the Seder, was having a lot of fun with it. After the initial readings of the Haggadah, which took about an hour, came the food.

And there was lots of it. First the gefilte fish appetizer. Then came the chicken soup with matzoh balls. And then the main courses—roast beef, roast chicken, an array of salads and vegetables and pickled dishes—and it was all very good.

Then, more reading and boisterous singing from the Haggadah, and afterwards, dessert.

It was a wonderful evening and very nice to be with people for a change. I've been by myself since Sharon and the last of the PORTICO group left and this social interaction was a welcome change.

I feel enlightened and enriched by the experience. I am so impressed by a culture that does not forget their roots, where they came from and how they got here. The Jewish faith is based on God's story - God's story is their story. And each year at Pesach they remember. They remember what God did for them when they left Egypt, and how He delivered them and brought them through. I have deep respect for that.

I was consumed that evening with thoughts of how closely our faiths are aligned. The texts that we read together from the Haggadah are stories I have preached and taught for many years. But my thoughts of Pesach, or Passover, extend beyond their deliverance and exodus out of Egypt, to my deliverance from sin and death through the sacrifice of Jesus, the Passover Lamb who was slain on Calvary. I believe all of it points to Him and his once and for all sacrifice and His Resurrection from the dead that gives me eternal life!

Faiths closely aligned, yet far apart. I believe that Jewish people likely make some of the best Christians because when they finally get it, they really get it. They understand how it all works together, how that God orchestrated it all from the beginning to point to Jesus.

So, I pray. I pray for the peace of Jerusalem. And I pray for the Jewish people to come to faith in Yeshua, their true Messiah.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Kinsman Redeemer

My Life Journal readings have been in the book of Ruth the last couple of days. I love Ruth's story. It's a short book, only four chapters, and I encourage you to read it yourself (Ruth).

I like to imagine these scenarios and how they must have happened. Below is something I wrote when preaching on Ruth a few years back - just an imaginative description of a part of the story. I hope you enjoy:

Naomi hadn’t been sleeping well the past few nights. She didn’t want to worry Ruth but…a thought had been nagging her – prodding at her spirit like the constant scraping of a branch in the wind against the side of a house. She was so proud of Ruth for her work in the fields. Her heart warmed just thinking about how hard Ruth had worked and how well she was caring for her dear old mother-in-law. But she couldn’t get away from the thoughts that worried her now.

As hard as Ruth had worked – the harvest was over now. Naomi wasn’t concerned for herself as much as she was for Ruth. But the stark reality was – they were in trouble again. The grain that they had saved would last them a while and then…well, then there would be no food.

She had hoped that Boaz would have made his move by now. Naomi was aware of the age difference between him and Ruth, but Ruth was an attractive woman – a good catch for any available man. Still, Boaz hadn’t shown any sign up to this point of being interested in any way other than his generous help with the grain. He had to be aware that as a close relative he qualified as a kinsman-redeemer, someone who could be responsible to carry on the family name by marrying a childless widow. Naomi thought to herself, “He is such a good man. He is not assuming that he should be the one to come forward – maybe he knows of someone who is a closer relation and is waiting out of respect?”

Well – she couldn’t sit around and think any longer. She needed a plan. Ruth was a young woman who needed a secure home and a future. She began to ponder the situation in front of them. She knew that the kinsman-redeemer was God’s way of providing for widows in their culture. She wouldn’t be suggesting anything outside of what the law allowed. She knew that Boaz was a Godly man, a generous man, who would do the right thing. And she trusted that God in his providence and wisdom, was on their side and helping her and Ruth. She had sensed it to be so since they left Moab. And she was certain that it had been God’s spirit prodding her to take action over these last few sleepless nights.

She played out every detail, every potential scenario in her mind. It would be risky – she wondered how Ruth would respond. It was really Ruth that would be taking the risk – but Naomi was certain that her plan would work.

The sound of the front door scraping along the floor brought her back to reality. Ruth was home and she entered the room where Naomi was sitting to find Naomi with a serious look on her face. “What is it Naomi?” Ruth asked. “Is everything OK?”

Her expression softening, Naomi smiled and said “Everything is fine dear, just fine.” She hesitated for a moment, then continued carefully.

“Ruth, you know I’ve appreciated all of your hard work in the fields this last while?”

“Yes” Ruth answered.

“And I’m very pleased at the grain we have stocked ahead.” Ruth nodded along in agreement. “But Ruth, dear, you know that grain won’t last forever don’t you?”

“Well…, yes...” answered Ruth haltingly. “But we’ll find another way to provide for ourselves Naomi. Your God will help us!”

Naomi felt a smile creep across her lips. There it was again – that simple faith in a God that, in the beginning, wasn’t her own, but that over time, had become the mainstay of Ruth’s existence. What a change Naomi had seen in Ruth since they left Moab.

It was time to tell her of the plan. Naomi cleared her throat and began. “Ruth, I think that it is time to do something about your situation.”

“What do you mean?” Ruth asked innocently.

“Well, I can’t get away from the feeling that it is my responsibility to make sure that you end up in a secure home where you will be taken care of and provided for…and loved.”

Ruth started to protest, “Naomi, I’m fine…I enjoy being with you. I – “

“Let me finish” Naomi said, cutting her off in mid-sentence. “You know how we came to Bethlehem and you went out to the fields to glean?” 

“Yes” Ruth replied. 

“And you know how it just so happened that the field you ended up in was the field of Boaz, my close relative?” 

“Yes” Ruth said again wondering where Naomi was going with this. 

“And do you remember how that just as you were there working in the field, Boaz happened to come by?” 

“Yes, I know all this” Ruth said a little impatiently. “What exactly are you getting at?”

Naomi went on. “Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about this Ruth and thinking about how kind Boaz has been to you and how well we have been cared for during this time, and I think there is something bigger going on here than we’ve been seeing.”

Now Ruth was not following. She gave Naomi one of those “What in the world are you talking about?" kind of looks and let out a huge sigh.

“Ruth, I think God has orchestrated this whole scenario. What we might have taken for chance or coincidence, has actually been God carefully crafting our destiny. And I think there is more that he wants to do for us still and that’s what I need to talk to you about.”

Ruth had known Naomi long enough to know that this was a moment to sit up and listen. She was so envious of Naomi’s seeming closeness to her God. Sometimes lately, Ruth had sensed a similar kind of feeling in her own heart about Naomi’s God – almost like he was becoming her God as well. She leaned forward in her chair to hear what it was that Naomi had to say.

Naomi began to unfold the plan. “You know that Boaz is a close relative of mine, right?” Ruth nodded. “Well that makes him eligible as a kinsman redeemer for our family.” Seeing Ruth’s look of perplexity, Naomi explained. “A kinsman redeemer is someone who, among other things, is responsible to marry a childless widow in our culture to carry on the family name and provide for her, and also take over any unclaimed family property.”

Ruth’s eyes widened as she realized what Naomi was suggesting. “Do you mean…?” 

“Yes” Naomi answered, before Ruth could finish, “I mean we should propose.”

Her suggestion hung in the air like a puff of smoke. Naomi gave Ruth some time to let the words sink in. Then, not hearing any hesitation from Ruth, she went on. “Here is what I want you to do. Tonight, he will be working down at the threshing floor. The barley is all in, but it needs to be processed – and he will be caring for that himself. I want you to go bathe and then prepare yourself as if you were getting ready for the most important date of your life. Put on the nicest and most flattering dress you have and use the expensive perfume you’ve been saving. This is what you’ve been saving it for.”

She looked up at Ruth, who was wide eyed and taking it all in. “Then go down to the threshing floor where he is working. Don’t let him know you’re there until he has finished his work and had his meal. Then, when he lies down to sleep, go and lie down at his feet. Once he realizes that you are there, he will tell you what to do.”

Ruth was silent for a long time. She had never asked anyone to marry her before, but she knew that was what Naomi was suggesting she do. It was NOT the way they did things where she came from – it wasn’t how they did things in Naomi’s culture either. It seemed crazy and yet…she couldn’t explain it, but she had a peaceful feeling in her heart about the whole thing.

She looked straight into Naomi’s eyes and she said, “I’ll do it – but only because you asked me to.” Ruth excused herself, and left to get ready. There were butterflies in her stomach as she thought about the encounter that was ahead.

The night was quiet as Ruth made her way along the road to the threshing floor, her steps marking rhythm with the chirping of the crickets, the gentle wash of moonlight her only guide. Coming through the trees to where the threshing floor stood out in a clearing, she slipped silently to the edge, staying in the shadows so she would not be discovered. Standing there, in the dark, she waited for her eyes to adjust to the flickering light that danced from the torch near the threshing floor. It was still enough that the loudest sounds that she could hear were the pounding of her own heart inside her chest, and the short quick breaths that she was taking. A strange kind of terrified excitement gripped her as she waited patiently for the moment that she would go and take the biggest risk of her life to this point, wanting to do it and not wanting to all at once.

She could see Boaz sitting down, enjoying the last bit of his meal. Then she watched as he washed it down with the wine that remained in his glass, swishing it around in his mouth before swallowing. In the flicker of the torchlight she could see his strong jaw-line and his tanned complexion. She thought to herself, “he really is quite handsome.” Movement jarred her back to the moment, as he stirred from his seat and then got up. Casually he walked around to the end of the grain pile. He arranged his garments in such a way that he would be comfortable and then he laid down to sleep.

That was her cue! She waited for what seemed like an eternity to be sure that he was actually sleeping. Finally, the sounds of his even breathing and an occasional snore wafted from the end of the grain pile and she was satisfied that he was indeed sleeping.

She emerged from her place in the shadows into the dim torch light and moved stealthily to the place where Boaz was sleeping. Looking over her shoulder to be certain she wasn’t observed, she lay down at Boaz’s feet and pulled the bottom of his garment over her. She was breathing very rapidly now and her heart pounded even louder in her ears – she had to stay calm.

She lay there for 3 or 4 minutes, trying to calm her self and get her breathing back to a normal rhythm. It seemed like hours. Finally her breathing slowed to a systematic, more uniform pace and she could no longer hear her heart pounding inside of her head. As she lay there imagining what this night would bring, she gently drifted off to sleep.

How long she had slept she did not know, but she was jolted awake in the middle of the night by a startled Boaz. Something had wakened him in the night and now he was staring at her like he was waiting for a response. “Who are you?” he asked again, trying to make out her identity in the dark as the torches had long since burned out.

This was it! The moment of truth. Ruth’s palms were sweaty and her mouth was dry…she struggled to come up with the words Naomi had told her to say. Finally she forced them from her mouth and heard her voice own voice say, “I am your servant Ruth. Spread the corner of your garment over me since you are a kinsman-redeemer.”

If you want to know what happens next - you'll have to read the story. I refer you back to the link above!