Cleaning up garbage with Jesus

This morning I had the privilege of picking up garbage in our neighbourhood park and some of the surrounding streets here in Vanier, the historic part of Ottawa where Marion and I make our home with our daughter Bethany. I was volunteering as part of a city-wide effort to get citizens involved in cleaning up parks and neighbourhoods.

Cleaning up garbage may not seem like a very enjoyable task. However, I actually did enjoy the work. It was a beautiful morning and the work was not difficult. I easily filled a garbage bag with cigarette butts, pop cans, coffee cups and other debris.

It wasn’t only the beautiful fall morning that lifted my spirits, although that certainly helped. I was listening to the voice of the Spirit as I worked, and it dawned on me that cleaning up other people’s garbage is an apt metaphor for what Jesus did for us on the cross. He took our filth – it didn’t belong to him, but he took it upon himself. He took it upon himself so that we wouldn’t have to carry it any more.

Not everyone cares about their filth. Some people make very little effort to get themselves cleaned up. This is true of some of the more run-down properties in our neighbourhood. People just seem to get used to living with a mess and to them it’s normal. Some of these people probably care very little if someone else cleans up their garbage. They may not even notice. In the same way, lots of people are so used to living in spiritual and relational darkness that they think it’s normal, and they may not even want to change. For lots of people, broken relationships, anger, unforgiveness, mistrust, immorality, selfishness and pain are just the way life is. Although Jesus paid a high price to clean up their garbage, they don’t really care. They’d rather live with their mess so they can at least live under the illusion that they are free to do as they please.

But others did appreciate the cleanup effort. I was thanked by several people this morning. A young mother in the park seemed pleased that I smiled at her cute six-month-old baby. She thanked me for cleaning up the park. Later, on my way back home after finishing my cleanup work, I was thanked by a man on the front step of the Inuit housing co-op where I had picked up all the cigarette butts an hour earlier. He seemed really surprised that someone would do that. I told him it was no big deal and he apologetically explained that there is a coffee can on the step that people are supposed to use for their cigarette butts, but some people don’t bother and just leave them in the street.

This, too, is a parable of spiritual awareness. Although many people seem completely unaware of what Jesus has done for them in taking their filth onto himself, others are genuinely humbled and grateful when they recognize his undeserved gift to them. The Holy Spirit prompted me throughout the morning to pray blessing on the homes and people that I was serving by cleaning up their garbage. I prayed that those who don’t already know God’s love would have their hearts awakened and their eyes opened. I prayed that they would see their need for a spiritual cleansing. I prayed that (like the ones who thanked me for cleaning up their garbage) the folks in our neighbourhood would have a revelation of the amazing gift that Jesus has offered them. I prayed that they would find gratitude arising in their hearts as they realize that Jesus has cleaned up their filth and taken their sentence of death onto himself so that they could go free.

Some people say that prayer by itself is of little value – that only when it is accompanied by action does prayer become practical. I agree that when we pray, we also need to be willing to be part of the answer to our prayers.

But consider.

Jesus only spent three years in public ministry. He preached to thousands of people, healed many, fed several thousand, entered Jerusalem as Israel’s rightful King but was rejected by her leaders, gave his life on the cross for the redemption of all, rose from the dead and appeared to more than five hundred people – and still he was left with only a hundred and twenty followers praying in an upstairs room in Jerusalem. That was his public ministry. Though it was laced with spiritual power, the results were relatively small. Only a hundred and twenty people were willing to call him Lord after three years.

Faced with this relatively meager result, what conclusion did Jesus draw? What did he do?

He prayed for his people. Faced with a world that needed saving, He did not conclude that he had failed. Instead, he poured out power on the hundred and twenty who were praying and waiting for him in Jerusalem, and set himself the task of praying for them and all that would believe because of their message. He has been faithful to his ministry of prayer for the last two thousand years.

Not everything that was done in Jesus’ name those two thousand years has been glorious. There have been episodes that were downright shameful, when you would be hard pressed to recognize that the church belonged to Jesus at all. And yet – and yet – because Jesus has faithfully prayed for his people, even in the deepest darkness there have always been witnesses to his truth, grace and mercy. And amazingly, the true life of God has erupted over and over again, sometimes at the most unexpected times and places, in the midst of the greatest barrenness and seeming despair. Why? Because Jesus was praying, and the Holy Spirit was stirring in the hearts of His people. The times when the church has glistened with hope and shone with His life and power have been the times when the church had its face turned towards Jesus in prayer and adoration.

Today, despite world-wide upheavals and trouble in many places, despite poverty and sickness and suffering, despite compromise in much of the church, despite decay in society, the good news of Jesus is spreading like never before. Leaders of the major missions agencies estimate that by the year 2020 (2025 at the latest), every people group on the face of the earth will have a witness of the gospel of the Kingdom in their own language. This is unprecedented, and is one of the Scriptural signs that His return is near.

And what has Jesus been doing these last two thousand years? It is written that He has been praying. For two thousand years he has been praying for his bride, waiting for her to come to maturity so that she will be ready for the great wedding feast to come.

I had a great time cleaning up garbage with Jesus this morning. Although the physical cleanup was of some value, far more important is the cleansing of people’s hearts that was the subject of my prayers this morning. And though the results of those prayers were not immediately visible to me, I am confident that not a word was wasted. Jesus heard every one. He has stored them up in the heavens, and they are awaiting their answer. Many in Vanier will come to the light, as will many in every nation. Many will recognize that they don’t have to live in their own filth any more. Instead they can live in the freedom of God’s children, they can know the joy that the Holy Spirit gives, they can live with clean hearts and bright spirits as sons of the resurrection and heirs of the Kingdom that is coming on the earth when Jesus returns.

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift.

 

 

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Fail Brittania (from Dan Juster)

I don’t often reblog other people’s writings but I though this one, despite its somber conclusions, was worth re-posting.

Fail Brittania – by Dan Juster

My own conclusion is that this is one more indication that the Last Days are near. Not a reason to give up the task of cultural renewal, certainly. Until the Lord returns every generation of believers must bear witness. But ultimately, our hope is in his return to restore all things.

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Seeds of life

Today Marion’s parents celebrated sixty-five years of marriage. A simple family celebration marked the occasion. Later, as we said our good-byes, I thanked my parents-in-law for getting married, pointing out that had they not done so, I could not have met and married my wife, nor would Marion and I have had our own four wonderful children or our two beautiful granddaughters. I looked at my father-in-law, gestured at the family members around the room, and said “See what you started?”

Towards the end of the day I went for a bike ride by the river. I needed to clear my head and get some perspective. It was a beautiful October day, and the water sparkled in the sun’s rays. The pathway was full of people enjoying the final hour before sunset. I thought about seeds. Each of the trees that line the river began with a seed. Each human life begins with a seed. At the beginning of all things, when God made man and woman, he told them to multiply and fill the earth. When Marion’s father and mother pledged their vows sixty-five years ago, they made a covenant to be seed-planters.

When a couple conceives a child, they don’t know the details of what that child will become. There is an element of mystery involved. But in hope, they look for their creative act of love to bear fruit and give rise to a child who will be a bearer of their hopes and dreams.

In a less literal but no less real sense, we plant seeds every day with our words and our actions. We impart to others what has been worked into the soil of our own lives, for good or for ill. We do this whether we know it or not, but as we co-operate actively with God’s purposes, uprooting the plantings of the evil one in our lives and cultivating the plantings of the Lord, we can become more effective and fruitful sowers of good seed in the lives of others.

As I have been waiting on the Lord for an answer about work these past six months, I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of reflecting. At the beginning of this waiting period, I kept myself occupied with several small projects. But as time went on, both Marion and I became increasingly convinced that the Lord was telling us both to use this time to rest in Him and seek His face – to meditate on the Word, to pray, to worship, to listen to teachings, and to allow Him to work some new seed into the soil of our hearts.

Along the way, of course, we have wrestled with God about the issue of work and provision. We have been in no real financial distress, but we’ve had to make several adjustments. I had no idea that I would be out of work for this long, yet all along the way Marion and I have received clear and repeated assurances from the Lord that His provision would come at just the right time and that it would prove to be just the right thing. Although we have been walking the road of faith for many years, we are not immune from temptation, and we’ve had plenty of opportunities to embrace worry, fear and anxiety. But thanks be to God, every time we have recognized those ugly tentacles seeking to drag us down, we have found grace to resist the tempter and place our hope in the Lord.

As our time of waiting has been extended well beyond what I had expected, I have found it humbling to recognize how little control I have – humbling to have an explicit, specific promise from God but no explanation as to why it is not yet fulfilled – humbling to explain to people why I turned down two contracts three months ago (“I sensed the Lord telling me not to take them because he had something better for me”), even though the ‘something better’ has not yet become visible – humbling to have no explanation for my circumstances and choices other than “God told me” – humbling to have to sell the camping trailer that Marion and I had bought less than two years ago. But, praise the Lord, it’s only a trailer – it doesn’t own us – and as always with these things, it was liberating to let it go. We got to enjoy it for two summers, and then we got a good price for it, so we are able to ride this wave a while longer without having to make more major adjustments. And it is truly wonderful to sense the Lord stretching me, working faith in me, increasing my capacity to endure a test that seems to go on and on, with no clear exit in sight. God is faithful, and He has given us a promise, but He hasn’t given us a schedule. When I ask him for dates, he says “soon” and “trust me”. He’s been saying “soon” and “trust me” for the past three months. But, praise God, His provision has not run dry during that time.

The past few days I have thought about what it must be like for those who are in prison because of their faith. Like me, they have no control over when their waiting period will come to an end. Unlike me, they face verbal and physical abuse, separation from their families, and possible death. Although my test is light compared to theirs, I have been able to pray for them with increased understanding of what it must be like to face each new day with no idea how long they will be in prison. From a human perspective their situation may seem hopeless, yet every day they choose to cultivate hope and faith because they know that the One who has called them, and holds them in his hands, is faithful.

The Apostle wrote that none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. Periods of testing are never appointed for our benefit alone. They are appointed for the benefit of those whom God has called us to serve. And so, as well as increasing my capacity to endure tests, I also see that He is deepening and strengthening my capacity to impart hope, faith and courage to others. I have fewer answers, but I sense that the answers I have are becoming more deeply anchored in my life, so that I can speak them with greater integrity, from the core of my being, as it were.

All of us are seed-sowers. I want to plant good seed in the lives of others. And so, though periods of testing by definition are never truly welcome – at least, not to our flesh – I can now say that I am truly grateful to God that he has appointed this season of testing in my life. I am also grateful that he has chosen at several junctures to ignore my advice as to when it would be best for him to bring this test to an end. I will be glad when this particular test has come to an end – in His timing, not mine – but I am deeply grateful for what it is producing in Marion and in me. Because of this period of testing, fallow ground is being broken up, our hearts are becoming softer and more pliable, new seed is being planted, we are seeing new possibilities for the future. And so on this Thanksgiving weekend, my bride and I have many reasons to praise and thank the Father of lights from whom comes every good and perfect gift.

Thanks be to God.

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