A different sort of king

Palm Sunday cross graphic found via Google

Probably to the surprise of some, Jesus does not arrive in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday riding on a stallion with guns blazing as people might have expected a king to do. Rather, as the church remembers this weekend, he enters on a colt. And his eyes are filled with tears, knowing the trial and death that awaits him. Jesus is a different sort of king than the people are expecting.

Jesus had sent his disciples ahead to fetch the colt and bring it to him. If anyone asked what they were doing with the animal, he instructed them to say the Lord needed it and would return it shortly. In those days kings would not have asked to borrow an animal; a powerful ruler would simply have taken it and added it to his stable. But Jesus is a different sort of king.

As Jesus rides the donkey into Jerusalem, a crowd gathers – ordinary citizens with their children waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna!” It’s a word that means “Save us!” The crowds probably mean to say “Save us from the Romans occupying our land!” Jesus, however, has his eyes on a bigger enemy than Rome: He is entering Jerusalem to battle sin and death itself. Jesus is indeed a different sort of king.

Looking at the pieces of this story, I can’t help but wonder about the owner of the colt. Did they have any idea who the animal’s rider would be when they loaned it to the disciples?

It reminds me of a 19th century Sunday school teacher in Boston named Kimball who introduced a shoe clerk named Dwight L. Moody to Jesus Christ. Dwight L. Moody became a famous evangelist who influenced someone named Frederick B. Meyer to preach on college campuses. Meyer led someone named J. Wilbur Chapman to the Lord. Chapman, while working with the YMCA, arranged for Billy Sunday to come to Charlotte, North Carolina to attend revival meetings. This led to community leaders in Charlotte scheduling a second revival with someone named Mordecai Hamm. Under Hamm’s preaching, a young man named William gave his heart to Jesus Christ. You knew this man as Billy Graham, who preached to more people than anyone in history. I am certain that that 19th century Sunday School teacher in Boston had no idea what would happen from leading a shoe clerk to Christ.

It’s amazing what can happen when you and I welcome the Lord to work through our lives. I might think I’m just letting someone borrow a colt or that you’re just having a nice conversation with a shoe clerk. But don’t underestimate Jesus’ ability to take little things in life and use them for great purposes. He is ruler over all, yet he knows, loves, and guides you and me individually. What’s more, he had you and me in mind that day as he entered Jerusalem to conquer sin and death. Do you know any other rulers who relate to you like that?

As I said, Jesus is a different sort of king. He’s one worth worshiping this Palm Sunday.

I shared these thoughts in this week’s Rock Valley Bee.

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Disturb Us

Somebody once asked me as their pastor not to make them uncomfortable in church. They didn’t want any surprises in the worship services or the church’s ministries. They were comfortable with routine and things remaining predictable.

On the one hand, I completely empathized. I don’t like surprises either. I’m not likely to embrace change when it sneaks up on me unexpectedly. When something comes of out left field, I’m more likely to put my guard up and resist it.

On the other hand, I could hardly keep from laughing. I’m very mistaken if I think I can always predict how God is going to work and what he might call me to do next. If I demand things always go the way I prefer, the way that keeps me comfortable, I’ll miss out on opportunities in which God desires to stretch and challenge me so that I can learn and grow.

I suspect there are many things with which God would like to see me be uncomfortable. His Spirit wants me to be uncomfortable with complacency in my walk with Jesus perhaps caused by getting stuck in ruts of routine. His Spirit wants me to be uncomfortable with the selfish things I do that strain my relationships with others. His Spirit wants me to be uncomfortable with the consumerism in our culture that would have me believe that buying more stuff will make me happy. His Spirit wants me to be uncomfortable with the racism in this country’s institutions as well as in my heart.

Comfort Zone quote found with Google

Recently I discovered this prayer attributed by some to Sir Francis Drake, the English sea captain of the 16th century. Through these words the Holy Spirit prompts me to become uncomfortable while he simultaneously reminds me of God’s presence – which is truly comforting.

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes, and to push us into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.

I shared this in this week’s Rock Valley Bee.

Rare contentment in an epidemic of affluenza

Celebrating Thanksgiving Day? That’s traditional. Living thankfully year-round? Now that’s counter-cultural!

Our culture encourages you and me to want and grab more and more. It’s practically an economic virtue. Depending on who you ask and what you all include, you’re exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 ads every day whether you’re looking at Snapchat or the logo on your shirt. Combined, all the advertisers in the US spend nearly $200 billion a year to get their products and services in your face. And while each one may offer something unique and even good and useful, together they give the same message: “You will not be content until you buy what we’re selling!”

Advertisers know that, in general, we have a lot of buying power, whether using our savings or racking up credit card debt. More than ever before, they know we have the ability to take them up on their offers. Yet, ironically, never before have people been so discontent. I think it’s crazy the whole phenomenon of Black Friday immediately following (even usurping) Thanksgiving Day. We pause to be thankful for what we have… only hours later to frantically grab for more!

Author Peter Schuurman refers to all this as “affluenza.” He writes: “We are sick. Sick not from some sort of deprivation, but rather from an excess, an overabundance.” In general, we have so much more than we need, but at the same time, our culture trains us to feel like we never have quite enough. To be thankful, to be content is rare in an epidemic of “affluenza.”

I receive the antidote for this sickness from a surprising source: A prison inmate languishing in jail. This inmate’s name is Paul and what he writes to the church in a city called Philippi is just as relevant to the people of Sioux County: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Even in the slammer, Paul experiences more freedom than a lot of people on the outside shackled to their discontent. He has a contentment that gives him joy even in the worst circumstances (like a cruel Roman jail).

What’s the secret? “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Another way you could put it is like this: “I have everything in him who gives me strength.” Paul is so thankful for what Jesus has done for him: He is a forgiven child of God through Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection on the third day. Being blessed like this is better than anything else Paul’s world (or my world) can offer. No matter what happens to him, Paul knows God is with him and for him. That finally gives him contentment.

Contentment will not come from taking advantage of a Black Friday sale. There will always be something new to buy. I’ve learned that contentment comes from allowing the Holy Spirit to nurture within me the reality that Thanksgiving is not simply a day on the calendar but a lifestyle God invites me to experience in Jesus.

Thanksgiving graphic found via Google

I wrote this for this week’s Rock Valley Bee.
Of course, my Canadian readers will have celebrated
Thanksgiving Day back in October!

Contagious courage

While we were in British Columbia this summer, my 10-year-old son and I hiked the Abby Grind. The trail begins a mile from my parents’ house at the base of Sumas Mountain and climbs 1,200 feet in just over a mile, making for some good exercise. It didn’t take long before we started huffing! Near the three-quarter mark, we were both tempted to just turn around, but then we knew we’d miss out on theAbby Grind lookout spectacular view at the lookout. So we encouraged each other on and both made it to the top.

On the one hand, we both needed to hike the trail ourselves. We propelled ourselves onward with our own legs, muscles, and willpower. But on the other hand, we needed each other’s encouragement to keep going, to cheer each other on. We were also encouraged by other hikers coming down the trail reminding us that the effort was worth it.

With satisfied smiles, we scrambled up around the last corner and saw the Fraser Valley spread out below us and Washington State beyond. If it had been a bit clearer, we might even have seen the ocean. A little later as we descended back down the trail, we encouraged other hikers making their way up.

Life sometimes feels like a serious hike in which we often deal with aches and pain. Sometimes we feel alone with our doubts and fears and secret desire to drop out. One of the reasons I think God places us in a Christian community is so that we can cheer one another on. Author Lewis Smedes once observed that “nobody else can have courage for us. But behind individual acts of courage there is usually a community. Courage is contagious. It spreads when we get close to each other.”

I see a church community as a place to experience the contagiousness of courage. Surrounded by fellow hikers on the path, we hear and see people cheering us on while we in turn do the same for others. Sometimes I’m the one reminding you that the effort of being a loyal spouse, a dependable parent, or a hard worker is worth it; sometimes you’re the one encouraging me.

This goes for faith as well: Sometimes I encourage you in your walk with Jesus and sometimes it’s me who needs your encouragement. Are you part of a community where you encourage others and other encourage you? Consider joining a church gathering this Sunday.

Yes, it’s possible that I could’ve conquered the Abby Grind on my own. But hiking it together with someone was not only more fun but also boosted the courage in both of us.

I suspect there’s someone with whom you’re hiking through life who could use a boost from you today.

I wrote this for the Rock Valley Bee a couple weeks ago
but kept forgetting to post it here!

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My neighbor, the immigrant

I am an immigrant. I was born and raised in Canada but a religious worker visa allows me to currently live and work in the United States. My visa expires later this year so my family is working on becoming permanent residents of this great country.

My parents are immigrants. With their parents (my grandparents) they left the war-torn Netherlands soon after the end of World War II. My grandparents arrived in Canada with only a suitcase or two of belongings and began working for the farmers who sponsored them.

Perhaps it is because I am an immigrant and a son of immigrants that I watch with interest news that has to do with immigration, whether it has to do with deporting people who are here without proper documentation or creating barriers (literal and ideological) to keep foreigners out. I realize that not everyone advocating for these measures holds to a Christian worldview as I do; however, removing foreigners and turning away people who need our help should dismay those who follow Jesus and take the Bible seriously.

The Bible says, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.” In the New Testament, much of Jesus’ ministry is with “foreigners” – Samaritans and others rejected by the society of his day. And it is Jesus who says that when we feed the hungry, give those who are thirsting something to drink, and welcome in the stranger, it is as though we are doing these things to Jesus: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

I realize that immigration is a complex issue. I cannot condone breaking the law and it is prudent for a country to have secure borders. However, I believe it is possible for immigration laws to be both just and merciful, characterized by both common sense and compassion. More fundamentally, I believe that as a Christian, while I can recognize immigration as an issue, I am compelled to see immigrants themselves as my neighbors – people God has given me to love and perhaps whom he will use to bless me.

Immigration graphic found via Google

It turns out that in God’s eyes we are all immigrants regardless of the name of the country on our passports. According to God’s law, my sin should have expelled me from God’s presence. However, in Christ, God welcomes me into his family and makes me a citizen of a Kingdom that knows no geographical or political boundaries. Many of the Bible’s commands to help the fatherless, the widow, and foreigner have attached to them the reminder that God’s people were once foreigners – foreigners in Egypt, foreigners cut off by sin. But by grace, I am welcomed into God’s family and Kingdom. If I really “get” this, I will have a similar posture, one of hospitality and kindness, whether it’s toward my family or coworkers, my neighbor who has always lived down the street or the one who recently moved into town from another country.


This was my column in last week’s
Rock Valley Bee.
Websites and articles I’ve found helpful in thinking about this topic:
justice.crcna.org ::
evangelicalimmigrationtable.com ::
Think Christian: “A Theology of Immigration” ::
The Banner: “What Does It Mean to Love Your Neighbor?” ::
Relevant: “We Are Called to Serve Immigrants” ::

Falling asleep while praying

Sleeping cat photo found via Google

From time to time, Monica or I (you’ll have to guess who) am asleep by the time the other is done praying at bedtime. Sometimes we chuckle about it. Sometimes it makes us feel guilty.

Then I read this in Kevin G. Harney’s book Seismic Shifts (it’s a long quote but worth reading)…

Seismic Shifts by Kevin G. Harney[This is] a picture that captures the heart of prayer. It comes from a confession I have heard many Christians make over the years: “I feel guilty because there are many evenings I try to pray but end up falling asleep right in the middle of my prayer time.” These people feel they let God down each time they doze off be­fore uttering their official Amen for the day.

This is what I tell them, and I hope it speaks to your heart.

Imagine a mother cradling her 5-year-old girl in her arms. It is the end of the day, and the two are talking. The mom is telling her about the plans for tomorrow. The little girl is talking about the fun she had that day. As the daughter talks, she yawns and rubs her eyes. They keep chatting, but the little girl is fading quickly. The mother looks down at the one she loves so tenderly. As they are talking, in midsentence, her little girl falls asleep, right in her arms.

How does the mother feel? Is she angry? Disappointed?

As the mother looks on her precious daughter, she smiles and rejoices. There is no other place she would rather have her little girl fall asleep.

When we end our day with God and we happen to doze off, he is not angry or disappointed. He holds us in his arms, embraces us, and gives us a kiss on the forehead. God loves to be with us, to speak to us, and hear what is on our hearts. And if we happen to fall asleep in his arms, it brings joy to his heart. There is no better place for us to end a busy day.
(pages 95-96)

Granted, if I consistently fall asleep while praying because talking with God has become boring or I consign him only the final few drowsy moments of a too-busy day, it might be a good idea to rethink my prayer habits. However, if I fall asleep in the loving and familiar embrace of our Father’s love, well, what father won’t be filled with deep satisfaction and joy?

I think also of how sleep (and sleeping securely in safety) is a gift for which the psalmist prays (here and here). I like imagining God answering that request even before the psalmist is finished asking for it!

I wrote this column for The Rock Valley Bee.
It combines a couple of popular blog posts I wrote
soon after I started blogging.

Worship is like orange juice

Back when I was serving Telkwa CRC, a wise man once told me that worship is like orange juice. The service you attend on Sunday is theOrange juice graphic found via Google concentrate. But you add water so you can experience it all week long.

We need the concentrate. Without it there’s no juice. Similarly, God puts the desire – the need even – within us to gather with others to worship him. When we miss Sunday services, we miss out on God feeding us through his Word and the sacraments. We miss out on our hearts being stirred and our wills equipped for action through the songs and readings. We miss out on receiving encouragement from other worshipers. These things are like the concentrate necessary for making orange juice.

By stirring in water we enjoy the orange juice for several days. Similarly, the concentrated form of worship we experience on Sundays propels us into a life of worship all week long where we offer every aspect of our lives – from our work to our leisure activities to our time with family – to the glory of God. We can invite God to be the center of our lives all week long.

Then each Sunday we receive more concentrate as we gather again for worship services. Glorifying God together refills and rejuvenates us and our love for him and one another. Ignoring opportunities to worship together is like expecting to be able to drink orange juice indefinitely without adding any new concentrate.

That’s not to say there aren’t times I wish I could do without the concentrate. The concentrate keeps fresh in my mind and on my taste buds what orange juice truly tastes like. But sometimes I don’t want fresh reminders of who God is and who God calls me to be because I’d rather water things down and do my own thing. I’d rather not consider what God would have me do with my paycheck or what kind of Friday night entertainment strains my relationship with him and others. Sadly, I miss out on the real thing God offers, drinking some sort of substitute that will never satisfy like God does.

But when I come to my senses, God always has ready a fresh supply of concentrate. The opportunity to gather with others to worship him and be refilled is always less than seven days away!

Regardless of what your weekend routine currently looks like, consider how participating in a worship service might be like the concentrate in the can that you stir into the rest of your week. I’ve become convinced that allowing Sunday to launch me into a life of worship all week long is the most meaningful way to live. But don’t just take my word for it: Taste and see it for yourself this Sunday and the week that follows.

This is my latest contribution to the faith column in The Rock Valley Bee. It was published this week.