The Line


Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Sometimes I have trouble with one part of Proverbs 3:5-6; What does it mean to live the straight path of life? I wonder if people in Saskatchewan understand this verse differently from those who live in Squamish?

Those who live on the prairies know about straight roads that stretch for hundreds of miles, without a curve. If you stand on your toes you can see the Manitoba border from Swift Current.

For others who live along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, a straight road is that uphill section which allows five seconds to pass the slow moving truck in the slow lane. The words straight and mountain road just don’t seem to go together.

Many times life resembles a curve-filled road with unseen dangers or circumstances around each bend. My life has had few “Saskatchewan stretches” where I knew how everything would work out.

My work on a survey crew helped me understand the importance of a road’s centre line. An engineer plots the course of a road and everything else revolves around the plan he forms. Building the road hinges upon the centre line, guiding every foot of pavement that is laid.

Once the asphalt has cooled, a centre line is painted to guide drivers around corners. Although they can’t see around the curve in the road, motorists trust that a well-meaning engineer placed the line to protect them.

I believe that the Master Engineer has placed a centre line for us to follow. It is found in His word, seen in people who don’t have all the answers, and experienced when we place our trust in Him when we don’t always know how things will turn out.

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God’s Carpentry


One of the most influential relationships of my life began with a simple phone call. I was in one of my obnoxious adolescent moods when I heard the phone ring. I grabbed the receiver and delivered my well-rehearsed greeting: “City Morgue—you stab ’em, we slab ’em. The good ones go to heaven and the bad ones go to . . . hello!”

Without missing a beat the person on the other end of the line replied, “This is your Aunt Martha, and that’s the rudest thing I have ever heard from anyone your age. You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”

“Um, well, I, ah, I don’t have an Aunt Martha!” I stammered. “Who is this?”

The caller’s laugh revealed his true identity.

“Oh! Hi, Pastor Tim. Do you want to speak to my mom?”

Tim Tjosvold, the new youth pastor at our church, had tried to talk with me on a number of occasions. Up to that point I had been only an observer, not a participant, in the life of the youth group.

“Well, I wondered if you could help me out,” Tim said. “As you know, we’re working on a youth choir production, and I was—”

“I’m not a singer,” I said, hoping to cut the conversation short.

“Well, no, not everyone is. But you see, there’s a great deal of drama in the production and—”

“I’m not an actor, either,” I interrupted him a second time. There was a pause on the other end of the line.

“We also need someone to help out with props and a few other odd jobs. Would you be willing to swing a hammer with me for a couple of Saturday afternoons to help make a small stage?”

I was the last person in the world who should have been invited to swing a hammer. Tim was probably the second-to-last person. We were both “handyman-challenged.”

I couldn’t think of a good reason to refuse Tim’s request and soon found myself committed to working with him. In spite of countless bent nails and hours of frustration, we became friends. The time Tim and I spent together during those weeks produced more than a small, precarious stage. It laid the foundation for mentoring.

Whether or not it was a conscious decision on his part, Tim engaged me in a discipling relationship. A biblical example of this is the relationship between Barnabas and Saul (who would later be known as Paul). Together, they taught and ministered to the believers in Antioch, a task that built trust and companionship between the two men (Acts 11:25–26). From a discipleship standpoint, the key element was not what the two did in their time together but the relationship that developed.

Barnabas acted like a master craftsman as he imparted his life to Saul. We observe four basic principles of construction in their relationship that can help deepen our understanding of the concept of relational discipleship. I saw these same traits in Tim while we swung hammers together on those Saturday afternoons.

Commitment to Craftsmanship

A wise builder demands an excellent finished product. This requires that he or she invest time and personal attention throughout the building process.

The fundamental principle Barna-bas modeled as he mentored Saul was the attention he gave their relationship. Barnabas’ traveling to Tarsus to seek out Saul speaks for itself; the elder believer showed interest and saw potential in this man.

When a godly person spends time with eager learners, he or she is bound to leave a lasting impact on their lives. Structured discipleship programs or studies have their place. But discipleship is not an assembly-line process. No program or method can take the place of relationships that influence others toward Christlikeness. As we rub shoulders with godly men and women, something rubs off on us.

Commitment to a Blueprint

The successful builder follows a plan throughout the construction process. He or she knows how the final product should look even before cutting the first two-by-four.

Clearly, Saul learned this from Barnabas, because later in his life he wrote of two key objectives in a discipling relationship. The first goal is character development—working to “present everyone perfect in Christ” (Col. 1:28). The second is the multiplication factor: those in whom we invest our lives will also “be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2).

Although a task or project can be included in the time spent together, the project is not the focus. Teaching ministry skills may also be part of the process, but even that is not the primary reason to be together. A discipling relationship focuses on helping others become more like Christ.

Commitment to Progress

Profitable builders are familiar with the saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” The phrase applies not only to construction but also to imparting Christlike character to others.

True disciplemaking takes time and a commitment to the growth of disciples. This is not an easily measured process, since the important foundational stages often do not offer visible results.

There is no way to measure the full extent of Barnabas’ influence upon Saul as the new believer observed Barnabas’ prayer habits, devotional practices and sense of integrity. That Saul emerged a different person after his time with Barnabas is undeniable.

Discipleship is not a microwave-oven operation. Much like the process in Saul’s life, disciplemaking requires a commitment to steady growth toward the desired goal of maturity in Christ.

Commitment to Equip

A wise builder knows that part of his or her job is to coordinate skilled laborers. In the event that trained workers are not available, the builder equips others, sharing from his or her own skills and experience.

The best way for people who are called to ministry to prepare for the task is to work with an experienced person who can “show them the ropes.” Barnabas equipped Saul for ministry by working with him, not by merely passing along knowledge. The men spent time in the streets and in people’s homes, not in a classroom. They touched the lives of real people and dealt with tough issues in a church overflowing with new converts.

A builder knows the job is done when he or she can step back and look at the completed project. The result of disciplemaking is not a visible structure, but Christlikeness. The effective discipler builds into the lives of others, developing relationships that result in mature, reproducing followers of Christ.

Tim Tjosvold never has admitted that he had mixed motives when he called me that day years ago. But I suspect that building a stage was secondary. I’m thankful that this godly man came into my life first and foremost as my friend but also as one who would point me to Christ—even if it meant doing something as ordinary as swinging hammers on a couple of Saturday afternoons.

Note: Tim and Brenda Tjosvold now serve in Niger, one of the poorest nations in the world.

Meet my Friend Brian – Cambodia


Brian McConaghy is a man with a burden for the people of Cambodia. In 1989, he visited South East Asia for the first time. As a Forensic Scientist for the RCMP and having grown up in the political turmoil of Northern Ireland in the 1970’s, Brian had seen a lot of the dark side of human nature. Yet, what he witnessed in the Cambodian Thai border refugee camps on that first trip, appalled him and changed his life forever.

Determined to take action, Brian founded Ratanak International, a charity dedicated to the restoration of post genocide Cambodia. This was the start of a long journey that has taken Brian and Ratanak through many challenging and rewarding times in their desire to be servants of the Khmer people.

One of the biggest challenges came in 2004 when Brian was asked by the RCMP to undertake an investigation of a Canadian pedophile. The perpetrator had been arrested for torturing locally prostituted women. Upon his is arrest videotapes had been seized depicting him abusing little Asian children. Brian’s assistance was needed to identify in which country these child victims were located.

For the first time, Brian was confronted by the faces of little girls, as young as 6, being assaulted on videotaped evidence. Despite feeling totally overwhelmed by the circumstances of these children, Brian was determined to respond. During this case he said:

“I am overwhelmed by the daily hell (a term I do not use lightly) experienced by these children and have no idea how they survive as long as they do. Yet, I am stubborn in my belief that here, there can be hope. I remain convinced that the penetrating light of Christ can punch holes even in this darkness. This is not a time to be passive — it is a time to roll up our sleeves and climb down into the muck at the bottom of the barrel — just as Christ would do.”

If you come to see Brian speak this year at Mission Fest, you will see how Christ has and is restoring the lives of these children, and in so doing, is bringing hope to Cambodia.

For more information go to www.ratanak.com

The Fountain


It was an amazing sight. Red liquid cascadedSpiritual Lessons from Jell-o from one level to the next, shimmering in the light. If it had been an ornate fountain at a five-star hotel it would have been beautiful. Instead, it was my refrigerator.

The red liquid was not a colorful fountain, but red Jell-o that oozed its way into every nook and cranny of the appliance. A sticky mess now faced me.

I wished I hadn’t lectured the kids that morning about cleaning up after themselves. They looked on, wondering if I would do as I said. To add to my dilemma, I knew if I mopped up we would be late for church.

They didn’t hear the struggle within me. Strange sense of humor you have, Lord. Bad timing at best. Can’t I just teach my kids a lesson without having to live it? Would you rather have me clean this up or get to church on time? And to top it all off, I’m the pastor!

“Pick up a rag and get to it.” It wasn’t an audible voice, or a burning bush experience. Something inside just told me that it was the thing to do.

The next 30 minutes were spent on my knees. Not in deep, soul-searching prayer. They were spent taking every item out of the fridge and cleaning it. Every shelf needed to be taken apart. The Jell-O even got into the hinges. What a mess!

The thrill of watching dad having to clean up after himself wore off quickly. My kids made their way to another part of the house to await our departure. But I know they noticed. They learned something that morning, and so did I.

As a parent I am watched by my family. Do I complete what I request of my kids? Will I get upset over spilled milk? Do my time requirements get used as a cop-out for making exceptions to our house rules? How will I react to an unexpected puddle of Jell-o on the kitchen floor?

It’s all a part of the teaching process related in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. We teach as we sit at home, as we drive in the car, and as we walk through life. We’re called to teach on the fly. We teach in the good and in the bad. Our example puts flesh on the bones of our faith. The flowing red cascade of Jell-o in the fridge only served to test if it was real.

Sock Wars


Image

The cat’s out of the bag. I’ve spilled the beans. Things will never be the same. There’s no turning back.

A dirty, rolled up sock can be an effective weapon. The smellier the better. Dad’s seem to be more effective than the kids. Soon three bodies are hiding behind couches, pillows, or anything for cover. Six socks fling through the air at death-defying speeds. If my parents were here they’d be sure to say, “it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt!”  After all, this is sock wars.

There was no million-dollar production and no fancy special effects. Just a Dad and his two kids going all out. The rules are simple. Don’t play to hurt the other. One point for facial contact. No holds bared. And it all ends when Mom comes into the room, noticing the rolled up weapon beside an expensive trinket on a shelf. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except for the fact that I was loosing.

Last night I crossed the line.  Instead of telling my kids about the way my brothers and I destroyed the family recreation room (with three boys in the house, my mom called it the “wreck room”) with our favorite game, we’ve crossed the threshold. Sock wars is no longer a distant memory or one of Dad’s old stories, it’s a family tradition. And mom isn’t pleased.

Seems a little childish. A dad running around the house trying to bean his kids on the head with a rolled up sock. He should probably doing something adult-like. Maybe checking out the stock market, watering the lawn, or anything that adults like to do. Somehow it doesn’t seem right to let your hair down (assuming you have some) and have a free-for-all in the living room.

But then again, the kids did seem to enjoy it.  Socks weren’t the only thing that filled the air. Shreeks of joy and laughter were abundant. “Oh no you don’t” and “I got you” are the two most common phrases. Afterwards my ten-year-old son thanked God for sock wars in his evening prayers. Could it be that God was pleased?

Painted Faces


Painted FacesI looked around me to see fellow commuters, most of them oblivious to the drama that played out before us as traffic stopped at the busy street corner. A haphazardly dressed clown stood at the front of a line and began to juggle five brightly colored rings. He wasn’t skilled, but his performance was the only option other than the blank stares of impatient drivers in their cars.

The thirty seconds of his act seemed like an hour. The clown awkwardly dropped his rings twice. A stuffed-toy monkey perched silently on his shoulder, reflecting the emotionless state of those around me. The clown’s sad expression couldn’t be hidden by the thick layer of paint that covered his face.

Then I looked at the lady in the car beside me. She was busily putting the final touches on another painted face. It was a graceful, wealthier version of the same weary mask worn by the street entertainer.

As the clown walked through the lines of cars the lady glanced upwards and her eyes met his. A closed window separated the two, but it was as if they looked into a mirror. There was no smile, no acknowledgment; not any sign that the two recognized the emptiness that marked their encounter. The clown continued down the row, his hand extended in a plea for a few coins from his audience. The lady zoomed off as soon as the light turned green.

I was not struck by the contrast between the rag-draped clown and the elegance of the rich lady. I was amazed to see the similarity in their gaze, seeking for something that they could not define. Their pursuit for joy and meaning hid behind the thin facade of a painted face. The two couldn’t have been more different, yet their facial expression was identical.

Joy is a commodity that is difficult to find in the hustle and bustle of life. Just look at the sense of despair etched on the faces of people in a crowd. There is a deep inner need that awaits fulfillment. Somehow all people are like the poor clown or the rich lady, needing a fresh infusion of purpose and joy.

Jesus came to earth to reestablish our relationship with God and to offer His followers a new sense of joy. He said, “I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).  He offers a divine sense of gladness that surpasses the difficult circumstances of our daily routines. His invitation for all men and women is to come to Him and find rest for their burdened souls.

Moving Day Decisions


Boxes

The house was in a state of upheaval. Boxes, papers, toys, personal items and the accumulated “junk” of 10 years was scattered around the house as we prepared for our big moving day.

Our dining room table had became known as “Packing Central”, the place where things were sorted into three distinct piles:  the “Keepers pile”, the “Give ‘em away” pile, and the “Junker pile” were all distinctly marked. As space was limited, our moving day was forcing us to make some important decisions, as space was limited.

My 5-year old son paid particular interest in the sorting process, especially when he observed that we had just received a very special letter in the mail. His kindergarten class had visited the Post Office and he had mailed his first letter. With the help of his teacher he had written:

Dear Mom and Dad: 

You are the best.  I love you Mom!  I love you Dad! 

Love, Brett

As he looked at the three piles and the letter sitting on top of the table, he finally worked up enough courage to ask a question that was obviously plaguing him. “Dad,” he asked, “which pile does my letter go into?”

Dropping to my knees, I embraced him and quickly remarked, “Brett, this goes into the Keepers Pile. This is the most important letter that anyone could ever give to me.”

God has sent us all a letter – the Bible – that speaks of His love for us. It also speaks of His Son, Jesus, Whom He sent to the world. He asks each of us to evaluate into which compartment of our lives we will place Him: the “keepers”, the “for others”, or the “rejection” pile.

God awaits our answer to this decision and is ready to embrace us. In the book of Joshua (Joshua 24:15) the Lord encouraged all to choose for themselves this day whom they would serve. We make this importanht decision each day.

From Soles to Souls


An Interview with Rosalia Martinez – Mexico City

A major change of direction in life is not an easy task.  It involves facing fears and taking risks, even when we sense that God has directed us to follow Him. Unlike changing a pair of shoes to express our mood or to match our clothing, a life-changing decision requires determination and courage. Just ask Rosalia Martinez, a resident of Mexico City.

Less than two years ago Rosalia decided to initiate a process that continues to this day.  Led by a deep sense of God’s calling to prepare for missionary service, she left her job as a salesperson at a shoe store. Rosalia began to take steps of faith as she embarked on a new phase in the journey of her walk with God.

“I came to know Jesus as my Savior in April, 1990,” tells Rosalia.  “I was working at the shoe store one day, attending clients.  A lady arrived and invited me to a party, which was actually her baptism.  I went to this “party” and heard of Jesus through the songs and message.  It was on that day that I gave my life to the Lord.”

Some years later Rosalia began to sense that God had specific plans for her to share the Gospel cross-culturally. The pastor of her local church spoke of the ethnic groups in Mexico and around the world that needed to hear the true message of Christ. She knew there was a real need for someone to share the Gospel with these peoples, as those of her ethnic background had few churches or Christians. A desire to share what God had done in her life began to grow as she sensed God’s call for her to serve Him.

Two years later Rosalia took a step of faith and announced to her church family that she would be leaving her work. In prayer God had confirmed that He would make His will clear to her as she walked in obedience to Him. The church responded to her declaration by offering her an unpaid position as an assistant to the pastor. After fifteen years of working in the same shoe store Rosalia left her job, trusting that God would provide for her needs.

“Six months before I left work I told my boss that he should look for another person to take my place, as I would be leaving to work in the church. He didn’t believe me. Three months later I reminded him of our conversation. Once again he did not seek another to take my place. One month before I left he asked me if I was sure of my decision. As I left the store he told me, ‘You have said that God is guiding you to go to other nations, but you don’t have funds to go.’ He then gave me $5,000.00 pesos (approx. $US 500.00) so that one day I would use it to speak of Christ to others. This was a confirmation from God that I was making the right decision.”

Rosalia not only began to serve at her local church, but she also decided to prepare for future ministries. She enrolled in an adult education program designed to help her complete High School.

“My fear was that I couldn’t teach others, as I’d only finished Primary School. I thought that to be a teacher of the Scriptures one needed to have a degree or be a professional.”

Rosalia then studied and graduated from a leadership training center in Mexico City.

“I have learned to understand the Scriptures in a personal way. This has opened up many opportunities for me as I apply what I’ve learned and pass it along to others.”

Rosalia also participated on a missions trip in April, 2002.  Five years earlier she prayed that the Lord would give her the opportunity to visit Ahuatitla, an isolated Nahuatl village northeast of Mexico City.

“When I arrived I could identify with the Nahuatl woman in the village. They face the same problems and necessities that I’ve faced in the city. God gave me peace and contentment as I taught His Word. I felt at home.”

Describing the lessons that she has learned over the last two years, Rosalia comments, “God confirms his will, not by pressuring us, but by gently guiding us along the way as we obey Him. We all need to learn to trust and wait on the Lord, believing that He has a plan for us.”

Like her 19th Century counterpart, Dwight L. Moody, Rosalia left her job at a shoe store to focus on winning souls for Christ. Her ministries within the local church, as well as her preparations for missions at the Bible Institute, have affirmed God’s calling upon her life. She has learned that the journey of serving God is completed one step at a time, following His voice in obedience.