Monday, May 31, 2010

Phoning Home

Sometimes I forget how young my children really are until I hear them on the phone. Suddenly their voices sound so small, and almost every time I find myself remembering that they are still just children. When I thought about it tonight it occurred to me that it may even be that way when they are my age, and I am in my seventies. I thought perhaps it is more than just their voices. Perhaps it is how they talk, what they consider to be important to a phone conversation, or just the fact that they are my kids. I do not know exactly. What I do know is that at this age it is quite adorable. For example, my youngest has this thing about passing the phone to the next person after he is done talking to me. He will tell me, as he is passing it to them, “They will be on riiiiiight noooow.” He says this as he presses his head next to theirs so that the phone is never away from someone’s ear long enough for the call to be lost (at least this is our best supposition). Then there is my daughter, who is already rehearsing for her early teens by practicing the art of the extended goodbye. It won’t be too long before we are hearing, “No, you hang up first!” emanating from under her bedroom door. My oldest son seems to be the most secure in talking on the phone, and displays a certain maturity, or at least a desirous emulation of it, when I talk to him. With each one of them though there is this gentle reminder; they’re still children.
This evening it caused me to think just a little further, and I found myself wondering what it sounds like when I call home to my Father. From my end of things I feel that I have a fairly decent grip on the whole prayer thing, even though consistency has always suffered, and I have even read a book or two about prayer and its practice. There has been prayer group participation, small group prayer times, and even the odd prayer on a mic from ‘the front’, and at no time did someone say, “Wow, you really belted it out, but maybe you should read up a bit more on this whole praying thing.” There have even been times when I have prayed for someone, and afterwards they said that God really spoke to them through the prayers. Hmmm. Those would be the times when I know it was God and not me. All that aside though, I still wonder, what does it sound like to the one who created heaven and earth? What does my little lost voice sound like in His courts? Scripture says our prayers smell good; like incense actually. What I have not come across is a description of what the prayers of the saints sound like.
If, in fact they sound like my kids do on the phone this would revolutionize my prayer life. Gone would be all those attempts at loftiness, and grandiose language. Where is there place for that kind of posturing when you are talking to your Father? Gone would be the endless contrivances meant to assure me that I have said the right thing, so that I will get what I have asked for. I know I appreciate it when my kids get to the point, and the little manipulations they try are actually rather annoying because I want them to know that I am approachable; that I love them. Gone would be so much of the physical posturing. Not all, mind you, just the song and dance kind of stuff. I have a really hard time seeing that impressing Him anyway. Gone would be my current sense of what it means to travail in prayer, replaced by a true wrestling with my Father. Anything short of that will simply look like whining from this perspective anyway, wouldn’t it? Wrestling with God is a time when we finally come to terms with His power, sovereignty, holiness, and love. Daddy gently powers us to the ground, and we submit; perhaps with beads of blood on our brow, but we submit. The imagery is not referenced lightly, because Jesus wrestled more mightily than anyone ever has, or will, and for a far greater request than any of us can fathom, and in the end He yielded to the Father.
All of this also leaves me with the question of what actually gets through to the throne, and what is left wriggling on the prayer room floor after we are done. Would I even recognize it from my old perspective or would I just think that all the sweat and effort was true soldiering for Christ and glory? Would I be nearly as impressed? If I truly saw things from this perspective would I perhaps laugh harder; and cry more sincerely? Would I leave with a sense of achievement, or understanding? Would I be threatened by that much boldness, and nakedness? Truly, much would change for me, if only I knew that I was a child.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Who's Your Daddy?

It is a strange thing to set your feet on the land you have dreamed of for so long, even if most people here do not consider Hong Kong to be part of China. The PRC government says it is, so that is good enough for me.
We waited for five years to be back here. During those years we went through many times when we just wanted to chuck the whole thing and see if we can simply make a life for ourselves in Canada. I had a great job with a premier renovating company where I was one of the lead hands. The town we lived in was a beautiful place to live and many people would have considered us lucky to be there. Of course there were also many times when the desire to be back in China was excruciating. For all of those years we felt a certain sense of inner loneliness as we struggled to make ourselves understood to those around us. This included family and friends, all of whom let us know that they loved us, but it was always difficult to connect in that place of dreams.
Being here now seems much different from how I thought it might look. It was to be expected, because following God is always full of surprises, but some surprises really cause you to grab Daddy's hand, if you know what I mean. Part of being here that is really hitting home for me now is a deep loneliness that takes hold every so often. I knew times of this back in Canada, but this is different. There is nothing truly familiar to take hold of, and no one familiar to really talk to. Worse yet is the fact that I have never been a man of many friends, always I have sought deep friendships over surfacey acquaintances. This causes issues because the surfacey stuff is actually necessary for getting to the deeper things.
All this is just to get to this one point. Tonight I was feeling particularly isolated, and decided to do a little bible reading. This evening I was in 1 Samuel and the passages were telling of David's fleeing from Saul. Something stood out to me this time. There was one time when David ran to find Samuel, and when Saul sent men after him to bring him back for execution the Spirit of God fell on them , and they all began to prophesy. This happened with the next batch of soldiers, and eventually with Saul himself. The strange thing that happened next was that David ran from that place. He ran from the place were the abiding presence of God manifested in a supernatural gaurding of his persn. He ran to find Jonathan.
I believe I am also running to try and find a Jonathan. Perhaps I should not be. Perhaps it is time to stay with the presence of the One whose eyes can search my every depth. The One whom I cannot fool. Not to be too cold, but perhaps I should be looking for the Spirit of the living God to fill me instead of a human friendship. This is truly the most difficult hurdle in coming to this land of dreams.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Lingering Thoughts

I am constantly amazed by how easy it is to become distracted from looking at Christ as I am commanded in Colossians 3:1-3. It is a constant source of concern for me. Here at the school we end each day, and begin each day with scripture reading, which has the effect of realigning my focus. It has been an invigorating exercise for someone who always struggled with this kind of routine. The only issue I have is with how quickly I change gears from arranging my thoughts according to God’s word to organizing my day, worrying about tomorrow, or just simply wondering off in my mind looking for distraction. This is actually quite disturbing because when I catch myself drifting away it is nearly impossible to draw my thoughts back to where they belong. Disturbing because of the peace I relinquish every time my focus shifts. Disturbing in its obvious hostility towards the desire of Holy Spirit in me. Disturbing in the fact that it is my choice to whom I will submit.
My nature has always been to avoid authority through determined rebellion, and self-destruction, and this has carried through all of the deep work God has done in my life, resurfacing almost daily. While there has been an immense amount of change from who I used to be, the general makeup of who I am remains as a stranger to the mind of Christ. It is that part that will always resist the forward work of Holy Spirit in me as Paul wrote of in Romans 7:23. It may be that this should cause me to rejoice in Christ, esteeming His infinite grace, which enlightens my eyes to even perceive this malady, but I cannot seem to help harboring a quiet despairing within my thoughts. This familiar little creature has been closeted away in my mind for many years. It may also be that this little creature of despair is something that I stubbornly cling to, so that the cycle of reasoned rebellion can be fed.
Despair and rebellion are connected in a parasitic symbiosis from which there is no rational escape, the only way is to ignore it. That is not a typo. This may sound like a descent into heresy and defeat, but the truth is that I cannot keep my eyes trained on this thing while setting my eyes on things above. Every ‘rational’ fiber in me strains against this simple revelation. It just makes no sense. To win I must cease struggling. To win I must admit defeat. To win I must finally concede. To win I must ignore the war and set my eyes on the Victor.
It was a number of years ago that God gave me a vision of a huge, broad valley populated with masses of people who were wandering about aimlessly. The general direction of their meandering was towards the valley’s end where it ascended up into towering mountains. At their feet was rain soaked earth inundated from the dark clouds swirling above. The feet of the people were caked over with thick muck as they slid and slipped about. The primary thing I noticed about these people was that none of them ever looked anywhere but at their feet, and from their lips came only words of defeat, and hopelessness. This is when I heard the voice of the Lord calling for the people to look up, and when I, as one of those people, looked up everything changed. I first saw a brilliant rainbow arcing across the clouded skies that held my gaze from returning to the ground. The sight of the rainbow also made me begin to look about for the source of the sunlight. Turning my eyes from the valley’s end I saw in the sky that the dark clouds ceased their dominion only s short distance away and bright, sunlit sky cut across them like a fiery barrier. It was then that I realized that the rain was actually a blessing from God, and that all I had to do was stop looking down and lift my eyes up. This had the automatic result of turning my head and thus the direction of my travels. This did not remove the mud from my feet, but continued travel towards the light would by degrees accomplish this feat. If I stopped to wash my feet in the rain I would never leave the valley, but rather lift one foot to wash while placing the other into the mire, which meant I would have to lift that one to wash it and place the clean one back in the muck. This would be a pointless, cyclical exercise in momentary glee.
I believe that this struggle will become easier as the years go on, if I continue to make my focus and upward one. If, on the other hand, I continue to either look down at how muddy my feet are, or continue to try to wash my feet clean I will never cross that dark boundary into the dry ground. The mud is simply a gracious reminder of why I need to keep looking the right way.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

We All Live In A.......

There was a time when I never thought I would know what family truly meant, nor what it would mean to be a member of such a thing. My family, like too many others, was broken early on in my life, and left me with a constant awareness of lack. This was a lack that it took years to realize could not be filled with "stuff" no matter how pretty, or powerful. In fact, stuff just tended to erode away the edges of an already abysmal hole that lived like a sucking wound in the midst of my chest. The opening line of this post, however alludes to the fact that these things no longer elude me, and that is simply because the grace of God reaches much farther than I could ever run. His mercy also reaching through more time than I could imagine living that way.
The place He led me to to begin the healing process was a church that existed as a kind of spiritual hospital for myself and many others like me. Fortunately it smelled more like incense than high test floor cleaner, and the food, at the backdoor food bank was not even near kindred to actual hospital food, but in the spirit it was most assuredly a hospital. The thing about this hospital was that it wasn't all about drugs and surgery, but rather it was about renewal.
Now "back in the day" if I were to have said renewal everyone would have understood it to be a euphemism for a Holy Spirit outpouring. While this was the power behind the renewing I am talking about it was not heart of it. The renewal that I saw happen was the kind Paul spoke of in Romans 12:1-8. The renewing of the mind is at the core of true change of any kind in our lives. Without a change of mind no change of heart is lasting, nor transforming. The change that happened for me, and many others, was a change in our understanding of what it meant to be family. The intersection of the two aforementioned meanings of renewal would manifest (hehe) in our meetings when Holy Spirit would begin to powerfully fill people to minister to one another. When this happened I became a witness to people pouring themselves out sacrificially to help bear up one another with whatever God gave them to do it with. Many times this sacrifice was a simple one of time, and the clock on the wall was completely forgotten as we gathered around to uphold a brother or sister in any way we could. Other times the sacrifices ran much deeper and the commitments extended far past a simple evening of prayer and fellowship. These were my first tastes of family the way God intended it to be, and it was truly intoxicating.
The sad thing about this story, though, is that I saw this all dwindle away over the course of a few short years as the people began to enjoy the rush more than the people. Many of them honestly thought that the power of the Spirit is what had been bonding them together when in truth it was the binding love (Colossians 3:14) that was releasing the power of God's Spirit. People began to jostle about in the importance of their relative giftings. People began to feel rejected all over again as their own particular apportionment from God was weighed in the scales of human conceit, and only by these scales were they subtly judged to be less. Of course no one would have the brass to actually speak of this belief out loud if they actually recognized it in themselves, but all the signs were clearly posted. The unspoken, and wholly unbiblical hierarchy of God's favor settled over us like dark clouds at a summer wedding. The party was officially over.
There were many spiritual divorces, and physical divorces as well. Family lost the sense of holiness. Once again it became a label for these biological unions we have with each other through marriage and reproduction. The larger spiritual fact became nothing more than a fridge magnet. There were, as there always are, remnants of God's gracious revelation here and there, but they became the exception rather than the norm. These days there is a tremendous hunger for the power of those days, but there is a very limited understanding of the nature of that power that once flowed so richly. I do believe that by God's grace and mercy, so amply poured out to one such as myself, He will restore all that has been lost, but just as He did it with me it will be on His terms not ours.
This is a long lead up to my real, and final point for this blog which is that family is what this is all about. All this "church", "para-church", "emergent church", and even"underground church" stuff is really about family. It is about a love that binds us together in a fashion that raw power never could. A love that will bind us when all these gifts are laid down, and we finally dwell forever in the eternal presence of love Himself. These gifts we are given have nothing to do with some kind of hereafter hierarchy. They have nothing to do with personal merit. They have nothing to do with us at all. They are given to be given away so that others know that they are highly valued and esteemed in a family whose only creed is love. To some there are great measures poured out, which is balanced by great requirements. To some there are smaller measures poured out, and these are balanced by the inverted system of honoring that is foundational in God's kingdom. To neither is there given anything earned, but only that which pleases God, and brings glory to His name. This gives us all the latitude we need to not only get over ourselves, but to also get over the others we rate ourselves by. The only true measure is Christ, and we had better never start to suit up for that comparison test.
Be blessed in all you have received. Bless all with all you have received.

PS This goes out to one particular family member that I particularly highly value.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Saturated Again

So here I am in the staff room again with too many thoughts flying around my head, and nowhere for them to go except a piece of paper or a blog. If I were to commit them to paper I would be the only one to know about it, because anything I have ever written has never made it further than my wife’s eyes or perhaps one close friend. If I blog them, on the other hand, there is a slightly larger small circle of people who will be able to share the meanderings of my mind. There is also a slight chance that a team of digital archaeologists may stumble across them one day, and even their bemused looks, as they peruse my ramblings, would give me a small sense of satisfaction. That has always been my core reason for writing anything; sharing. That may actually make this post a little strange, because I am writing this during the sharing time that we have at the school every morning. If there is someone to translate I will try to partake in the proceedings, but today I just don’t have the energy to go through it.
I really do have a lot of time in my own thoughts here due to the language barrier. It is a lot of work mentally for the students, staff, and myself to communicate in a meaningful way. This becomes apparent when a few of the staff are together having a chat and there is never even a sideways glance at the Canadian guy sitting there. At other times someone will include me for a short time, but since this totally ruins the natural flow of a good conversation I will soon find my place phased out. This makes it very noticeable, because the majority of the staff can speak English at a conversational level. There really is no malice attached whatsoever, it is just difficult to make it flow. This whole scenario has put me in the place of being more of an observer than a partaker most of the time. Even when I am trying my best to piece together what someone is saying in broken English, or trying my best to strings some phrases together in Cantonese there is more observation going on than there is communication. It is kind of like talking to a baby. The infant doesn’t understand your words yet, so their senses are used to take in different kinds of communication, and information. This helps them form a structure for future communication, and a basic framework for linguistic interpretation.
There are a number of students who have enough language skill that we can go a bit deeper, and these are treasured occasions for me due to their rarity, and humanity. The students knew this as soon as I came to the school. One of the first things they would ask me was whether I was lonely. They also commented that maybe my fellow Canadian staff member wouldn’t be as lonely now with another Canuck around the place. I do hope that this connection between countrymen will help both of us get through some of the more difficult times here, but it would be folly to rely on it. The workplace is normally very transitory these days, and I think ministry work is even more so.
In the end I have found the importance of leaning into God everyday since I have been here. The truth of my need for Him in everything I do stares me in the face daily in a way I never knew back home. This does not mean that I always avail myself of His presence at every moment, this would constitute the perfection the Father found only in His Son, but the bare knowledge of this daily need is comfortingly humbling. I also find myself hoping that I don’t just stop at the revelation, but rather that I would act on it in an ever increasing dependency. Allowing my self to decrease, so that His all sufficiency may increase.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm

Hey all, do you ever have those moments when you are pretty sure God is opening your eyes to something you would most likely have missed without His help. When you try to tell the story to someone who has never had the experience of a conversation with God they will usually give a weird look, but those who know will always understand the weirdness of it. Anyway, we did this prayer walk today with a friend from Canada, and this evening we got to looking around on Google earth at each others' home towns. Pretty cool. After saying good nights and goodbyes I came back to the computer and my wife showed me how you can do street level views on Google maps, so out of curiosity I tried to locate the stadium of the Tottenham Hotspur English Premier League team (long story). The first location I came to was actually on Love Lane in Tottenham, North London. This seems appropriate as I was only a double click away from this sign in an underpass (see below). You see, when we walk the way of love we will walk in dominion. We will be triumphant internationally, seeing God's kingdom and glory in the earth!

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Oh yeah, just as an aside, the dates of this conference are right around (if not right on) when we were told it would be possible for me to fly to HK and check things out. Hmmmmm.