Ping Pong

By Cam Roxburgh

This article is the fifth and final in a series on missional lessons from Henry Morgentaler. Start at the beginning here.

I did not know Toronto very well. Even though I found myself here often, my travels usually took me to the suburbs of Burlington and Oakville, and as far as Hamilton. Henry had given me directions into his upscale neighbourhood, but I had arrived early and gone exploring. What a spot!

To be honest, I was nervous. I had been invited to his home, to meet his family, to have a meal together and to play ping pong. He was getting old, like really old. There is no way I would lose to him at table tennis!

pingpong

I pondered the unusual friendship I had with Henry. I recalled the time I had first caught a glimpse of Henry at the concierge desk at the Banff Springs Hotel, the long conversation over coffee, the emails and phone calls, and the lunch in the Japanese restaurant. We had a number of deep conversations. I could not say that I either really knew or even liked him, but we were close enough to be able to talk at a heart level. He was broken, and I wondered if I had the same experiences, how different than Henry would I have turned out? I still found what he did deplorable.

Yet, something about him drew me to him. I am sure it was the grace of God both in and for me. I was growing in my understanding of what it really meant for Christ to become incarnate and to establish His Kingdom here on earth. Jesus had a vision of what life should be like and gave Himself so that we might have a way to the Father and the possibility to enter into His way of life. I felt propelled to continue to share about Jesus as King, and the way of life for those who follow Christ. I wanted so badly for Henry to respond to the love and mercy of Christ.

It was time. I arrived at his home with a bouquet of flowers, and was introduced to Henry’s wife who was over 30 years his junior. I was greeted with suspicion, but nonetheless welcomed into the home. Henry’s 11-year old son also came to welcome me and then disappeared. I handed Mrs. Morgentaler the flowers, and headed to the basement to teach Henry a lesson or two about how to play ping pong.

I think we played seven games that took close to two hours. I was sweating, and determined that I would eventually win even one game! Dinner was ready. But who needs food at a time like this?

As I entered the dining room and took my place at the table, I looked around at my surroundings. It was a lovely home and clearly one needed a few dollars to live in a place like this. But it was not over the top. It was tastefully decorated and in many ways quite normal, except for the blinds. They looked thicker than any blinds I had ever seen. He told me that they were protective blinds, as he was afraid for the safety as his family. His life was in danger from others who held a different viewpoint. Something seemed backwards.

It was a long dinner with three hours of food, wine and wonderful conversation. We talked about his family, and his wife entered in telling her own stories. We talked of his training as a doctor and his experiences in medicine apart from the abortion efforts. We talked about the human body and how intricate it was. I expressed my opinion about creation, to which he of course responded with his own view. Even as a Jew, he was an outspoken atheist, especially in front of his wife.

The missional lessons were piling up. I talked about Jesus as a normal part of my life. I did not have to try and find a bridge into a “gospel presentation,” but just talked about Jesus as a friend with whom I had a regular relationship. Jesus was present in my life on a daily basis.

At one stage I pushed the envelope a little and asked if during his time in working in the hospital if he had ever seen people being healed without any medical or scientific explanation. He had on several occasions. I shared stories of seeing people healed through prayer and a deep-seated belief that God was involved in the world at present. Our Father did not just create it and wind it up to tick on its own, but cared enough to be involved on a daily basis. Henry’s explanation for these events was what he called “spontaneous healing.” There was no recognition that God may have done something miraculous.

We continued to talk about my faith and work in the church. At one stage I asked if Henry ever came out to Vancouver, whether he would come to my church and let me interview him as part of our gathering. He took less than a second to say he would be delighted. I told him none of us would agree with what he had done, but I wanted people to hear his story and to pray for him.

And there were other missional lessons. As in Luke 10, I had been invited into another’s home where I would eat their food, hear their stories and have them shape the conversation. I extended peace to them to see whether they would receive it; in other words, I tested to see if God was present and at work in their lives, or whether this was not the time. In that way I never had to force spiritual conversation, but rather just follow the lead of God. I called this the spaghetti principle. Would it stick?

On this occasion, it did not stick. There was no encouragement to continue the conversation past this point. Henry had gone to another room to take a phone call, when his wife turned to me and in a protective tone, asked why I was really there. What did I want from him? It was abnormal for her to see someone simply enjoying conversation with her husband and wanting nothing from him. She was hostile to the gospel and had enough of the conversation for the evening. When Henry returned, she excused herself from the table.

It was getting late and Henry had an early flight the next day. I needed to drive out to Burlington and so the conversation wound down. I thanked him for his hospitality and hoped I would see him again soon. We said good night, and I walked toward my rental car after five hours in his home, sad that the conversation had not produced what I had hoped.

One of the key things that I had learned was that I never had to force a conversation. I was deeply intentional, but never felt pressure (urgency, yes, but not pressure) to close the deal. I had been learning to trust God in each and every step. As I left the house that night and drove away, I knew I would continue to have to trust God.

I was not sure when or if I would ever connect with Henry again. But I had been faithful and had done my part. Now I would wait and see if there was another chapter in the story. If yes, I would to be ready. If no, God was in control. Whatever the next steps, I had been changed by the experience.

Advertisements

Japanese Food

By Cameron Roxburgh

This article is the fourth in a series on missional lessons from Henry Morgentaler. Start at the beginning here.

I had taken the red-eye flight from Vancouver to Toronto. Even back then I was getting too old for such things, but I wanted to spend some time with Henry, and this was the only way it was going to work.

I got into the rental car and headed out for a meeting, and then towards a neighbourhood just north of downtown Toronto. How would this encounter turn out?

I pulled up in front of the Morgentaler clinic, aware of such awful feelings inside. Little did I know how many tears I would shed that day. As if it came naturally to him, Henry had been inflammatory already. When I had called from the airport, he had insisted I meet him at his clinic. I tried to think of another place on earth that I would less like to be. All the way there, I wrestled with whether I wanted to even show up. Almost everything in me told me to steer clear, but there was a growing sense that God’s holiness did not mean that He withdrew from the world, but rather entered it to redeem it. Was I not sent to do the same? Yet another missional lesson. I recalled Jesus with the woman at the well, or the one caught in adultery. I remembered the reputation of Jesus as being a friend of sinners. I reflected on my own sin and need of God’s grace. I walked into the clinic and asked for Henry.

I was not kept waiting long. My little Jewish friend came quickly to greet me. He seemed genuinely pleased that I had come. This was his turf, and I had come to him. He would have known how uncomfortable I would have felt, and how badly I did not want to be there. But my presence spoke volumes to him. I am quite sure that there was a level of pride in him that he got a pastor to come into his territory, but there was also a level of respect that I had not run away. He insisted on giving me a tour.

I am very sure it did not last more than ten minutes, yet it felt like ten weeks.

I paid little attention to what he said. Most of what I saw and experienced would be not a lot different than any hospital clinic on the surface, but I could almost touch the darkness in every room. “This is where…” Ugh. Get me out of here. And then it got worse.

He ushered me into the recovery room where a 15-year-old girl was recovering. I looked into her eyes and saw deep pain. It took every ounce of energy I had not to burst into tears. Henry was talking with such calm and with an air of success. I wondered how I would be able to stomach the upcoming lunch, let alone the conversation I would have with him.

The tour finally ended. I had said so few words, and yet communicated so much. It was time for lunch.

food

Henry’s favourite place was a block away. It was a little Japanese restaurant that served Sushi. Great. I hate sushi—at least the raw fish part. But they had a Teriyaki bowl and I got excited about that. We ordered and settled into a 90-minute conversation. I mentioned that I had seen the CBC special and even read a biography about him, and with only a little embarrassment he launched into his opinion of the television special.

We talked for a while, with most of the questions coming from my side of the table. I asked about his growing up years and then medical school. I asked a little about his family, and then had the nerve to ask about his times in jail. I was surprised at how comfortable he was with me and how he held very little back.

Several times he wanted to know my opinion of his clinic, as if he were looking for some kind of affirmation of what he did. He didn’t get what he was looking for. Once again, I found a way to steer away from the subject without rejecting him. I was growing to value Henry, even if I was so vehemently opposed to what He did and what he represented. I was convinced it was God at work in me as I knew I would not have been able to demonstrate that kind of grace on my own. Another lesson. God gives missionaries the words they need at the times they know they need them.

The conversation took a sharp turn and went much deeper as Henry began to pour out his emotions. My lack of validating his work seemed only to plunge him deeper into a reflective state of evaluating all that he had done. He began to weep at the table. He told me of how much he felt hated. He expressed pain not only at the loss of family, but the lack of real fulfillment. He was such a polarizing figure that never felt loved for just being Henry. “Although I have never believed in a God like you do, I cannot help but wonder, if there was one, whether he could ever forgive me for who I have been. I wonder at times, if I have spent my whole life in the pursuit of completely the wrong thing.”

Time stopped. Now there were tears in my eyes as well. Had I heard this correctly? Now what would I say? I knew the grace of God and the depth of his love went further than mine ever could, but did I really believe that it could stoop as low as to embrace Henry? Yet another missional lesson. The love of God goes to the very depths of the depravity of humanity. God was at work in Henry’s heart as I sat and watched the inner turmoil on full display.

I shared with my friend about who I knew Jesus to be. I told Henry of a forgiveness that extended even to him. We sat and talked for a little while longer and then the window closed. He came up from the depths of despair and was back in control of all that made him tick. Or so he thought. He was composed now but it was time for lunch to be over and for him to go back to work.

“When are you next in Toronto?” he asked, extending the invitation to come to his house for a meal and meet his wife and son.

“Soon,” I replied. “How is your ping pong these days?”

(Read Part 5)

In the News

By Cameron Roxburgh

Get caught up on the earlier pieces to this story in part 1 and part 2.

news

The van ride home went by quickly. I don’t remember all of the conversation with my friends, but most of the first hundred miles was about our coffee with Henry Morgentaler. Did that really just happen?

Prayer had been key. Listening to the Spirit paid off. Our willingness to listen to Henry—and yet not having to agree on everything—actually brought an increased receptivity from him to listen as well. We had spent several intense hours with Canada’s abortion doctor and came away convinced that God had been at work. How else would you explain Henry’s seemingly over-the-top desire to keep connected?

Where would God take this? I was not sure about the destination, but I was convinced that I wanted to trust Him and be part of the journey. I wanted to hear anything He might have to say to me about my new acquaintance.

I do not remember the precise timing of the encounters that followed, but within a matter of months, a number of key events deepened my perspective on what it means to join God on mission. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired a program on the life of Henry Morgentaler. Miss it? No chance! I wanted to learn about his life and what it was that propelled him into a conversation with a pastor.

The program sketched the development of the abortion movement in Canada, the battle to change the laws, the times Morgentaler was in and out of jail, and the great lengths he went to in promoting this cause. What gripped me most me were the scenes of him standing outside Dachau concentration camp with tears running down his face, mourning the loss of his family because of an unwanted child.

Henry went to great lengths to make his case that he was not the bad man that so many considered him to be, but rather one intent on ridding the world of any more Hitlers.

Intrigued by the program and my growing knowledge of his three marriages, kids, interests (ping pong was his huge hobby—more on that later), I went to the local bookstore and bought the best biography on Henry I could find. I devoured it. I was cut to the heart by the pain in this man, but also began to get angry at the decisions that he had made, in regards to abortion and a secular lifestyle. Henry was a tortured soul.

One day, while studying at my desk and listening to the news, I heard an interview with Henry on the radio. Someone had taken a shot through the front window of an abortion clinic and brought about further hard feelings between abortionists and Christians. Henry did not mince words in calling Christians “lunatics,” making many disparaging remarks about “those religious fanatics.” He stated that the world would be a better place without such people.

His remarks seemed unfair to me, so I picked up the phone and called him. “Henry, what was that all about? You know full well that what was done to the clinic was not done by someone whose life is about following Jesus, but by a fanatic calling themselves a Christian. Not all Christians are like that, and I don’t appreciate you making these kinds of blanket statements that paint me and others in a bad light. Not fair!” Needless to say, I was upset.

His response, well—I kept being surprised by this crazy developing friendship. “Of course,” he said. “You are correct. I am sorry. The comments were out of line and the actions of a few should not tarnish the reputation of all Christians. I will be more careful.”

Yet another missional lesson. When we believe that God is leading the way into the “neighbourhood,” we never need to fear telling the truth and speaking out against what others are saying or doing. The words I had used burst his bubble of bravado, and again garnered a new level of respect between us.

So I pushed my luck and went further. “Henry, once again I am sorry that some so-called followers of Christ have done such deeds. That is not how Jesus, a fellow Jew, would have acted. We Christians are getting a bad name and I would like you to help in restoring of the reputation of Christians when it comes to how you perceive them. You have found me to be a normal human being—and one that deeply wants to follow the way of Jesus in the world. I have not treated you in any way but with respect as a human in spite of our deep differences.”

Missional lesson again. One of the ways to develop relationships is to ask for help. Put yourself in a position of being in need and dependent on the other. It goes a long way to developing a sense of mutuality. Far too often, we think we have to be in a position of privilege and power to share the good news, always coming to the rescue of others. It never hurts to be vulnerable. By sharing our weaknesses, we can develop a true relationships of equality instead of charity.

Over the next number of months, Henry and I corresponded through email. I am not sure if he ever followed through on the promise to be fair in his assessment of Christians, but I was about to discover far more about the man than I ever thought possible. I needed to go to Toronto, and had remembered his invitation to call when I would next be in town. I picked up the phone. After a few minutes of conversation, it looked as if our friendship had grown from coffee and emails, to lunch together at a Japanese restaurant in his neighbourhood… and he was going to buy. The deal was getting better all the time!

(Read Part 4)

 

 

 

Regarding Henry

By Cam Roxburgh

This story is part 2 of a series. Get caught up with part 1 here.

It had already been a spectacular week. Banff at its finest was only the start; it was the voice of God urging me to connect with Henry Morgentaler that made this week extraordinary.

I was not sure how I was supposed to connect with Dr. Morgentaler, so had been praying and invited others to do the same. Had I really heard God, or was it the pizza I had for dinner? It was time to go home and I had not connected with him.

henry2

But as I was leaving, there he was again at the concierge desk. Could this be the moment?

With more hesitation than I can ever remember, I approached the concierge desk and introduced myself to Dr. Morgentaler. The bodyguard drew closer. I must have stuttered out of nervousness, but I forced my question out: “Dr. Morgentaler, I heard that you had requested a meeting with some of the pastors that were here this week. I was wondering if you could tell me how that went from your perspective?”

His response was peculiarly unexpected: “The meeting did not happen. In the end, they told me were too busy.” Hmmmm. This outcome was what I had been praying for during the past few days.

“Our van is packed and we are ready to head back to Vancouver, but I would be glad to have a conversation with you if you wanted.” Without a moment of hesitation, Henry responded with the invitation to have coffee in 15 minutes in the hotel coffee shop. He would be delighted to meet with us and just needed to go back to his room for a few minutes before we met.

After parking the car and conversing with my friends and teammates, we headed towards the coffee shop, not having the slightest clue what to say or what the conversation would be like. But, surprisingly, I was becoming less nervous and more confident in how the meeting would go. I was reminded of the fact that God promised to give us the words we needed when the time would come for situations such as these.

As the group of us (his bodyguard and a few of my friends) sat down for coffee and tea, I knew God’s presence. There was a calm I experienced that both surprised and comforted me. I should not have been surprised, but I was. Beyond a doubt, this was a “God-thing,” and I knew He would lead the conversation.

“Henry,” I began, “as we start our meeting I just have a few things to be clear on. Of course you and I are going to disagree on the whole issue of abortion, and I am not wanting to debate that with you this morning. My purpose in wanting to meet with you is twofold.

“First, I want to apologize for the fact that some of my colleagues were too busy to meet with you. What is more, I’m sorry some who call themselves followers of Jesus would treat you and other abortionists in the way that they have. I am deeply sorry for the way some have treated you.

“Secondly, you asked to have a dialogue and for these pastors to discuss with you things you think we have in common. Well, I am here to hear your story. I want to listen.”

The words came out without even a voice crack. Confident, direct, and full of grace. To be honest, I was even amazed at what I had said. There seemed to be an extra measure of grace thrown in, but without compromise on my position.

This was a wonderful missional lesson. I learned that even though I think I have such little in common with the person I am in conversation with, much can be gained and bridges built through being willing to own even the sins of other Christians and in listening to the story of another. Dialogue is created.

Two and half hours seemed like no more than 30 minutes. I heard Henry’s story of being in a concentration camp and the loss of his whole family. I heard the rational behind his passion to eliminate the world from any unwanted babies—Hitler had been an unwanted baby himself. I heard him share about his family now, his life in Canada, and—most of all—things he was thinking about now as he was getting older and drawing closer to the end of his life. But the conversation was not a one way street by any means. He asked questions of me, my family, and my work. He asked why “religion” was so important to me. He was a thoroughly delightful conversationalist. Of course he was intelligent and knowledgeable on many subjects.

Several times during our time together Henry tried to steer the conversation towards more controversial issues. He shared of his view on sex, and made a few comments that were clearly in opposition to where I would stand.

“Henry, that’s ridiculous,” I said with a smile on my face. “Surely you have thought that one through more carefully?” With a little laughter we would banter back and forth, but every time he tried to get me to agree with him on some secular position, I pushed back—and firmly. I was gaining a confidence in this conversation by the minute.

I was learning yet another missional lesson. Normally I have a tendency to respond more aggressively and harshly, but I was discovering that even when I disagree, I can stick to my deeply-held opinions, and do it with grace. We may think that in order to build a bridge with someone, we have to capitulate on our positions. This thought couldn’t have been further from the truth that day. It seemed as if the stronger I was in holding to my own convictions, the more impressed Henry became and the more he opened up about what made him tick. He gained a confidence in our conversation as well.

We were getting tired, and this almost-three-hour delay meant we would be getting back to Vancouver rather late. It was time to say good-bye. I wondered how this conversation would end. Before I had figured out what to say, Henry stated how much he had enjoyed the conversation and wondered if there would be a time when we could reconnect. He reached into his wallet and pulled out a business card. Turning it over, he wrote his private cell number on the back of the card, and encouraged me to call him. When was the next time I would be in Toronto?

(Read Part 3)

This is the second of a series on Missional Lessons from a relationship with Henry Morgentaler.

 

 

You want me to do what?

By Cam Roxburgh

There are few places more beautiful than Banff, Alberta. Nestled in the Canadian Rockies, this tourist destination has rugged and breathtaking scenery. The Banff Springs Hotel, one of the finest anywhere, is famous for its architecture and “hot springs pools.”

I was standing in the lobby in total luxury. I was also in the exact place that God wanted me for the next four days. Little did I know that God was about to give me an experience that would have a deep impact on my life. I was about to learn a number of key lessons on being a local missionary that I will share in this next series of blogs, Missional Lessons from Henry Morgentaler.

banff-springs-hotel-mountains-1402033425LML

The scene was surreal. I watched as hotel employees put finishing touches on Christmas decorations. It was early November, but with a wisp of snow on the ground and crispness in the air, winter was right around the corner. To my right was a grand sitting room. Decorated to the hilt, this old fashioned room had high ceilings and luxurious furniture, and amazing paintings of local wildlife. It also had Amy Grant and Tony Bennett filming a Christmas special for some national channel. To my left was the concierge desk, where Henry Morgentaler was asking a question about local services.

Many are familiar with the life of Dr. Morgentaler. This famous Canadian had since the 1960s, fought abortion laws and pushed hard on his pro-choice agenda. Not only did Henry get the abortion laws changed, but he opened many clinics as well. He has been willing to pay the price for his cause. In the early days he was constantly in trouble with the law for his protests against what he saw as injustice. Henry spent many days and nights in prison for doing what he thought was right.

As I watched him for no more than a minute, I was aware of my deep emotions. He was famous for all the wrong reasons. He stood opposed to what I deeply believed. So famous and so close by, yet so disturbing. I was also aware of his huge bodyguard. Henry had come to hide out. Remembrance Day was the time that abortion clinics and doctors had been targeted by the opposition. Some clinics had been burned and doctors had been stabbed or shot at. Many of those who had become violent claimed to be religious people.

I was also aware of God’s voice speaking to me. He wanted me to connect with Henry during my stay in Banff and listen to his story. This was the first Missional lesson that I was about to learn. God is at work in the world even in the most unlikely places and people. And He invites us to participate with Him. We just need to pay attention and listen for His voice.

Prayer is any communication that we have with God. It doesn’t always have to be on our knees, with our eyes closed, or even in some quiet room. Sometimes it begins in the most amazing hotel, in one of the most beautiful locations, with Amy Grant singing Christmas music, while staring at a man about whom you having nothing good to say.

“You want me to do what?” On this occasion, that was the beginning of my prayer.

After checking in and settling into my room, I needed a walk. No more than an hour later I set out to make the 10-minute walk into town. I wanted a cup of tea. I wanted some fresh air. I wanted to be alone. Three minutes into my journey, I could see an older man approaching me on the sidewalk. It seemed as if we were the only two people within miles. “God, what are you up to?” As Henry got closer, we did not do the traditional Canadian thing of looking down pretending to be deep in thought; instead our heads came up and we made eye contact. Greetings were exchanged and I heard that voice from deep within again: “I am going to make a way for you to connect with Henry this week.”

I am no expert on prayer. It is often a struggle for me to sit still and listen. When I think I hear God speaking, I want to make sure it wasn’t just the pizza I had the night before. I want to be sure before I will act on something. I am too skeptical, but this message was getting hard to ignore. On that walk around town, the thoughts of “when and how?” and “really?” occupied my thoughts and conversations with the Lord.

Returning to the hotel, I still had an hour or so before dinner and the start of the pastors conference. I headed to the hot tub for a soak. One of the leaders of the conference had the same idea. As we sat in the water, he asked if I knew that Henry Morgentaler was in the hotel, and that he had asked to meet with a few pastors from our group to clear the air between himself and “those who were religious.” I was fascinated by the request. I offered my services to be a part of that discussion.

Where this would lead? I phoned my mom, a prayer warrior, and told her the story. I told her of God’s prompting, and of the suggested conversation between Henry and the denominational leaders. I asked her to pray that if it was God to me, that He would open a door for conversation, and… I asked her to pray that there would be no meeting of these leaders and Henry. These were good people, but I knew how the conversation would go. Lines would be drawn and arguments made, and they would miss the point. I prayed for God to act. This was another Missional lesson. Prayer is to be front and central of our joining God on mission. No matter how clever I think I am, it is God who works in and through us. It is not about strategy, but about surrender.

Three days went by and nothing happened. I saw Henry from a distance in the hotel several times, but I heard nothing, saw nothing and did nothing.

The van was packed for the long drive back to Vancouver and our team was heading out the door of the hotel to climb aboard and head home. I was the last one out. As I glanced one more time at the concierge desk, Henry was once again standing there, bodyguard in tow. The voice was back: “now is the time.”

Now? Really? The van is outside and we have an 11-hour drive ahead. I shook off the voice and went through the doors. I got outside and stopped. Was this the time? I returned through the doors only to convince myself that this was really just my imagination, and so exited the doors yet again. Outside for the second time, my wife who was a number of steps ahead came back and asked me what was wrong. I told her, and then suggested we just leave. Her encouragement to me was that if I thought God was speaking, then I needed to act. What harm would it be to go back inside and approach Henry about a conversation? I suggested there was a 6-foot-3, 230-pound reason not to, but that seemed slightly smaller than what I knew God could do.

With more hesitation than I can ever remember, I approached the concierge desk and introduced my self to Dr. Morgentaler. The bodyguard drew closer, I must have stuttered out of nervousness, but I forced my question out. “Dr. Morgentaler, I heard that you had requested a meeting with some of the pastors that were here this week. I was wondering if you could tell me how that went from your perspective?”

What happened next was beyond anything I could have dreamed up in a million years.

(Read Part 2)

The Fruit of Fear Properly Stewarded

By Merv Budd

In my previous post, I talked about how fear needs to be stewarded wisely, like any other limited resource. But how will one know if they are stewarding their fear towards the only One who is worthy and deserving of moving this deep of our hearts? I’m always a bit wary of lists that seem to systematize mysteries, yet there can be benefit in examining what Scripture says about the fruit of fear that is properly stewarded. Perhaps you can do a self-inspection and see if your fear is properly ordered:

1. Properly stewarded fear produces quietness:

From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet (Psalm 76:8).

The practice associated with godly fear is quietness and stillness. A busy culture, a busy schedule, a hurried pace and impatient heart are signs of the absence of the fear of the Lord. When we fear God aright we will be still and silent, waiting on Him, in awe of Him, acknowledging our creatureliness and letting our words be few.

19147_Quiet_Time.jpg

2. Properly stewarded fear strengthens faith:

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

Jesus says that the disciples fear of their circumstances was evidence of their lack of faith. It seems that where ungodly fear is present faith is weak. Great faith is evidenced by great courage. It seems that faith and disordered fear are unable to coexist. Where there is fear, there is room for more faith.

3. Properly stewarded fear has an undistracted focus:

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:30-31)

The story tells us that Peter, seeing the waves became afraid and then began to sink. Doubt and fear partner to undermine strong faith which has its eyes fixed upon Jesus. Where are your eyes focused? We will always watch what we fear most.

4. Properly stewarded fear increases in wisdom:

The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them (Psalm 25:14).

Quite simply: insight, wisdom, discernment of the times, knowledge—these come to those who fear God. Yet, godly fear is not simply a gateway into gaining more knowledge it is a gateway into intimacy with God. The knowledge He gives, is confided with us.

5. Properly stewarded results in obedience:

But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart (1 Samuel 12:24).

See also Deut. 6:13, 10:12, 20, Joshua 24:14, 1 Sam. 12:14. It is quite amazing how often the command to serve God is preceded by the command to fear him. It is an axiom of human nature that we will always bow our wills, and follow with our actions, before that which we fear most. Obedience towards the will of God, be it that will which we find in Scripture or that will impressed upon our hearts by His Spirit, will be evident in those who have rightly ordered their fear.

Of course, is much more that could be added to this list, but I hope that it quickly becomes evident that such things as quietness, faith, focus, wisdom and obedience are not tangential to engaging the mission of God and this requires that we start by more consciously and deliberately stewarding our heart’s fear aright.

Stewarding Fear

By Merv Budd

Perhaps you’ve heard, as I have, that there are 365 “fear nots” in the Bible – one for every day of the year. The impression given is that fear is a bad thing, something we should resist, avoid and turn from. The problem is that we are also told in Scripture to fear God. So are we to fear or not fear?

Lightning. Michael Karrer

Some argue that the fear talked about when speaking about God is simply, or only, a deep respect. The problem is that when we read of encounters with God in the Bible, the people encountered appear to be more than simply respectful, they seem afraid.

When Daniel had a vision of the Lord he records this:

I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; those who were with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. (Dan. 10:7,8).

This seems to be a great deal more than simply respect. And in Isaiah we are told this:

The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread. (Isaiah 8:13)

Dread is not often a word one associates with respect.

I am not arguing that we are not to respect God but it seems that quaking, awe-struck fear in the presence of God is appropriate. And it is appropriate because it is a deeply visceral act of homage. Fear is an act of surrender, the giving of our hearts, to that which we fear. This is why the Bible so often tells people to “fear not”; giving to something other than God such power over our hearts is idolatrous. And that is why we never read of God telling people to “fear not” in His presence, but only to “fear not” those things that are created.

Leveraging our Emotional Resources

As with most resources like time and money, we only have a limited amount of emotional energy. Therefore, it is important that we steward those emotional resources appropriately. When we invest our emotional resources fearing what ought not to be feared we strengthen the power of it’s hold in our lives. As N.T. Wright so ably explains, “when humans worship part of creation or forces within creation, they give away their power to those aspects of the created order, which will then come to rule over them.” This helps to explain why the first listed of those being thrown in to the lake of fire are the cowardly (Rev. 21:8). The coward is the one who has given rule of his or her heart to another other than God.

So what does this have to do with the mission of God? It does not take a prophet to see that we are in the midst of great upheaval. Threats of nuclear attacks, violence on streets and greater polarization on views on many contentious topics are everywhere. It’s enough to drive people to live their life out of fear; either aggressive and violent or in retreat. But this is exactly what we cannot do. The pre-exilic advice given by the Lord to Isaiah just prior to the Assyrian invasion is appropriate for those seeking to live faithfully under His reign today:

Do not call conspiracy
 everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
 and do not dread it.
The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
 he is the one you are to fear,
 he is the one you are to dread. (Isaiah 8:12 – 13)

Our witness to God’s reign is observed by others by what we fear. To live missionally in the uncertainty of cultural upheaval, is not to live without fear, but with right ordered fear. To live in confident trust of a sovereign King who remains in control and who alone is worthy of our worship, even, and perhaps especially, the worship of our heart’s fear.

This is my third posting on fear. Check out previous articles here.

The Bees of Rainbow Falls

Our very own Preston Pouteaux’s new book The Bees of Rainbow Falls is now available. My copy will be arriving this week and I can’t wait!

Here is a review of the book from Dixie Vandersluys:

Centering around his knowledge of the life of bees, Preston Pouteaux’s new book The Bees of Rainbow Falls is an invitation to look at the world and our place in it with fresh eyes. This may seem like a leap: from the, seemingly, small life of the bee to this great big world of ours, but Preston weaves together a narrative that is at once educational, personal, challenging, and inspiring. And it all begins with the way we see.

From the introduction where Preston writes of the lush grass of his childhood and how his imagination was piqued to see beyond the blades to what lies beneath, from who he was to who he could be, from the beginning with God in the garden to what God is doing in the world through our neighbourhoods today, the reader is invited to experience and participate in a journey of imagination. “When God brought me into the garden apiary, he was doing what love has always done — God was opening the window of my imagination to catch the fresh cool wind of the world that God was creating before me” (15).

085-6x9-Front-Back-Paperback-COVERVAULT11 copy

Part one of the book looks at bees and how their lives and the practice of beekeeping has drawn Preston into a better understanding of neighbourhood (person and community). This is not a perspective unique to Preston. Throughout history the bee and its work has offered analogy and insight into who we are as people and how neighbourhoods and places can be reshaped and reimagined.

There is much in the bee that we can see in us. Preston unfolds this powerfully in his discussion of keystone species whose work is often unnoticed but is necessary and vital; in the love and delight that is found when our identity is rooted in God’s perspective; in allowing God’s work to be seen in the complicated intricacies of life — both hive and human; in recognizing God’s hope and promise (“the land of milk and honey”) all around us; how small, unseen actions can be transformational and redemptive; and finally, the practical risks that need to be taken to change an environment in hopes that it will thrive. The reader is left with questions to examine his or her own life: What about my life? Is it impactful and life-giving? Am I seeing all there is to be seen in my neighbourhood?

Not leaving these questions unanswered, the second part of the book explores the themes Preston has discovered in this bee-keeping neighbourhood journey, offering in-depth and practical discussions of: beauty (which reawakens our senses), awe (renewing imagination), security (looking at what real safety is), boring (examining the rhythms of life), taste of place (recognizing uniqueness), and curates (opportunities for care and creation). Some of these themes are obvious, while some of the concepts are unexpected. Yet, Preston’s examination allows each theme to be both universally applicable and uniquely personal, leaving the reader both challenged and encouraged and with the tools to dig into each theme in their own life.

Ultimately, The Bees of Rainbow Falls is much more than a book about some neighbourhood bees. The book offers the reader an opportunity to sit, learn, and reflect on the small, unseen aspects of life, along with an invitation to see how much more there is when we open our hearts and our minds to the intricate, amazing beauty unfolding in the people and neighbourhoods we encounter every day. The Bees of Rainbow Falls is a fresh and enlightening look at the impact of small things and offers the reader the tools for a more intentional, meaningful posture in the world: to make the invisible visible and reorient daily life to see and live the grace and goodness God is manifesting all around.

Fear of the Unknown

By Merv Budd

Recently the Heineken Beer company released an advertisement that sought to bring people together who would normally not associate. People who held not just opposite views but who held prejudices against them. What they found was that as people began to know those whom they had objectified as people, they began to be less harsh and less judgmental.

9435277787_5b8ea12387_z.jpg

While the world wide web may give the illusion that we are becoming closer to others as a species, the reality is that most of us really don’t associate with people who are not like us. In The Meaning of Sunday, Canadian sociologist, Joel Thiessen, revealed the results of a study in which he dealt with how people practise their faith or lack of faith in Canada–how is what they believe or disbelieve, lived out. In the book he divided the people who were interviewed into three main categories.

The first he calls “Active Affiliates” these are people who identify with a particular faith and actively practise that faith. Most of you would fit into this category. The second category he calls “Marginal Affiliates”. These would be people who identify themselves by a specific faith but do not really practise that faith on a regular basis. It does not have much influence on their day to day life. These would be people who may come to church at Christmas and Easter more out of tradition than any other reason. The last group are “Religious Nones”. These are those people who do not identify with a particular religion. They are the ones who on census surveys under the religious affiliation question check the box that says “none”. This is the fastest growing religious category in Canada.

As I read the book I began to find that I was getting irritated. In particular, when it came to the Marginal Affiliates and the Religious Nones telling why they have not fully embraced faith. The reasons given showed that they misunderstood what they were rejecting. It irritated me that they seemed to flippantly write off faith for reasons that were so erroneous, based upon ignorance about what Christian faith taught.

But what really started to bug me, was the results of one of the questions that was asked of each group was with regard to who they are friends with. Generally, those who were Marginal Affiliates exclusively associated with other Marginal Affiliates and Religious Nones exclusively associated with other Religious Nones. And I began to ask myself how are these people’s misunderstandings about faith, how are their erroneous assumptions going to be challenged unless they know people from the Active Affiliate group.

By now that niggle had already gone to my gut, it was eating me up that people where so uniformed. But then I realised that when the Active Affiliates were questioned about their friends, they too generally exclusively associated with other Active Affiliates. And this got me thinking if each group only stays in their own little sub-culture they will never have their assumptions challenged, their misconceptions corrected and the stereo-types changed. And why wouldn’t anyone want to be friends with evangelicals? After all we’re so nice. Aren’t we?

The truth is there is an increasing fear of the unknown when it comes to evangelicals in North America. A Pew Research poll found that in the last three years the feelings of Americans toward various religions “warmed” in every case except evangelical Christians. Similarly, A San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish and Community Research found that 53 percent of its sample of 1,200 college and university faculty members said they have “unfavorable” feelings toward evangelical Christians. Faculty have positive feelings toward Jews, Buddhists, Catholics, and Atheists. This is the only religious group about which a majority of non-Evangelical faculty have negative feelings (read the study here).

In the minds of those who observe us evangelicals are scary. In the Western world, the word “evangelical” has become an extreme right wing political group which is harsh, hypocritical and militant. How do we help to change this perception of evangelical Christians so that we are associated more with the person of Jesus?

A number of studies have shown that short, casual, in-person conversations with someone with an opposing viewpoint is one of the easiest paths to changing someone’s mind. It seems that the way of Jesus really is the means by which we display the character of Jesus. We need to go to them, to befriend them and alleviate their fears of us.

What’s Fear Got to Do with It?

By Merv Budd

What does fear have to do with the Missio Dei? This was the question I was asked when I pitched the idea of doing a series of blogs on fear. The truth is that fear is very influential in our engagement with God’s mission. What we fear, how we steward our fear, and our manner of processing fear all get played out, to some degree, in how we love God and our neighbour.

34114_Fear_Not.jpg

Scott Bader-Saye’s book, Following Jesus in a culture of Fear, argues that we live in a culture that feeds fear. That there are people that profit from fear. And he urges those who want to be faithful to Jesus to resist because the mission of God requires courage. This need for courage was driven home practically when I heard about what is being considered in Canada with regard to Bill C-51.

According to the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Canadian government is looking at revisions to Bill C-51. In particular, they are thinking of removing clause 14 which makes it an offense to disturb religious worship meetings. At present, it is an offense to willfully disturb or interrupt a group of people who have assembled for religious worship. The changes to the bill to remove this clause would reduce protection for worshipers in places of worship. What would we do if our protections were gone?

Would fear stop us from gathering? Or would we value our gathering more? Would we decide not to do that which might upset others, to avoid ruffling feathers and taking risks or would we find ourselves caring less about who became upset and focused more upon discerning clearly what God has called us to do? In other words, would fear or courage win out?

Faith requires courage because faith is the assurance of things unseen. Bader-Saye makes this clear as he considers how courage is required to show hospitality to others, but fear will keep us from trying. Similarly, courage is required to practice generosity and trust that God will supply all our needs. Courage is needed to engage those formative spiritual disciplines that nurture us in ways that make our lives attractive; disciplines like Sabbath keeping. As Brueggemann reminds us, “…the Sabbath of the fourth commandment is an act of trust in the subversive, exodus causing God of the first commandment, an act of submission to the restful God of commandments one, tow, and three. Sabbath is a practical divestment so that neighbourly engagement, rather than production and consumption, defines our lives.” And don’t underestimate the importance of courage required to be vulnerable for the sake of authentic community.

Fear seeks to guide our hearts, it is the opposite of desires. Desires try to pull us towards that which promises empty satisfaction that will ultimately destroy us. Fear attempts to push us away from that which will build us up, strengthen our faith or promotes God’s glory. It is a tactic used by Satan to foil the missionary enterprise of the church from it’s very beginning.

In Romans 16:30 – 31 Paul writes, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there…”

Paul, is aware that going to Jerusalem might be dangerous. That foreboding only grows as he gets closer to the city. On his way he stops to encourage the church at Ephesus and as he is about to leave he says this, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.” His sense of danger has grown, in fact he now identifies it as a warning that comes from the Holy Spirit.

As he draws closer, and is staying at Caesarea, we read this, “After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” If the nudging of the Spirit hadn’t been loud enough before now it is even clearer as God has a prophet come to tell Paul of the danger awaiting him in Jerusalem.

Paul’s concerns, we find out, were well justified. Why would he go when he knew there was danger? Wasn’t he afraid? Isn’t fear God’s gift to steer us towards self-preservation? It was such thinking that led Jesus to tell Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” When Peter said Jesus would not suffer and die. Self-sacrifice, not self-preservation is the way of discipleship.

Hardships, even warnings of persecution from God, does not mean that we should abandon the mission of God that He has called us to. Too often we come up against the prospect of hardship, or persecution or trouble and because of fear, we quit. Somehow, we have this mistaken notion that if we are doing God’s will, in God’s way that we will find everything falling into place. That it will be easy, opposition free. And we assume that fear is God’s voice steering us away.

What’s fear got to do with the mission of God? Lots! We want to explore a theology of fear in the next few blogs.