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Now What?

A Reflection for Ascension Day (May 26, 2017)

Today we remember a significant day on the Christian calendar that we as Bible believing people do not think about enough – myself included. Forty days after Jesus rose from the dead… and yes, today is exactly 40 days since we celebrated Easter Sunday – Jesus ascended to heaven. Thus, this day is known as “Ascension Day.”

Like me, you may have heard very little, if anything, about Ascension Day – even if you’ve grown up going to church most of your life. And that may be partly because the fact that Jesus went up to heaven after 40 days doesn’t seem to impact us too much. He’s up in heaven. We’re down here. (So what?)

That is exactly the question I want to consider: What does Jesus ascension mean for the Christian living 2000 years later? We know how to respond to the work of Christ in dying and being resurrected for our sins: accept Him as our Lord and Savior. But what does it matter that Christ who went up to heaven? Looking at the responses of Jesus’ first disciples provides an example of how we as His followers 2000 years later are to live in light of His ascension into heaven.

[READ Acts 1:8-11]

1. Don’t Sky-gaze

Unfortunately, our first indication of what to do in light of Christ’s ascension is not a positive, but a negative. It is not a what-we-should-do, but a what-we-shouldn’t-do. In Acts 2:10-11 we read that the disciples “were looking intently…looking into the sky?” In short, the disciples were sky-gazing. The two men dressed in white asked a rhetorical question. In other words, they already knew the answer. “Why do you stand here looking into the sky?” It was pretty obvious why they were doing that. Cause Jesus had just gone up into the sky and had disappeared behind a cloud (verse 9). But the point the two men dressed in white are really making is, Hey guys, quit sky-gazing. He’s gone for the time being. Yes, he’ll be coming back, but you staring into the sky won’t make it happen any faster.

You’ve probably heard it said that some people are so heavenly-minded they are of no earthly good. For this moment in time, that was the description of the disciples. And some of Christians are just like those disciples. They are staring at the sky, eyes all glazed over waiting for Jesus to come back. But that’s not what Jesus wants His followers to do in between his ascension and his second coming. He wants His followers to be doing more than sky-gazing. He wants them to be working.

Notice that the passage that follows is not one of the most glamorous or evangelistic sections of the Bible. Chapter 2 gets exciting with Pentecost but the rest of chapter 1 is about the selection of another apostle, namely Matthias. The disciples don’t go into some great evangelistic campaign right away. They get down to the everyday nuts and bolts details of life. Judas killed himself so we need to find a replacement apostle in accordance with the Scriptures, so let’s get to it.

Yes, God wants Christians to be witnesses for him and to serve Him. That’s obvious. But part of living for the ascended Christ is getting our eyes off the skies and getting them on the everyday details of life that need to be done. Colossians 3:17 reminds believers “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” Christians need to be living out the daily details of Christ.

2. Worship Him

Now there’s a second passage that talks about the ascension and it is back in Luke 24:52-54. You may remember that Acts and Luke were both written by doctor Luke and are sort of a part 1/part 2 account of Christ’s life and the start of the Church. Before they returned to Jerusalem to take care of the replacement apostle selection, they did what? “Then they worshipped him…” Later in verse 53 we read that after they got to Jerusalem, Jesus’ followers continued to praise God. So the second aspect of our response to Christ’s ascension is to praise God.

Worship and praise can take place anywhere. Christians can and should worship and praise God, as the disciples did, continually. Maybe that means that while you are walking or driving to work, you sing – as opposed to worry about the troubles of the day. Everything we do as Christians is supposed to bring honour and glory to God. In other words, everything we do should be an act of worship.

3. Be Joyful

A direct result of living a life that praises and worships Christ is identified in verse 52. “Then they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” As a result of Christ’s ascension Christians should live with great joy.

Can you think of some Christian people who never have a smile on their face? who look like they just lost their best friend… almost all the time? I’m not suggesting we should put on a plastic smile when life is hard or sad, but Christians should definitely be people characterized by joy… and I think your face should show it. Most of you are energetic as young people and you are having lots of fun – and that’s great! I hope that your energy and enthusiasm and fun are fueled by the joy of the Lord, not just by the next great activity you are going to do with your friends. I hope you have a smile on your face not just because you enjoy what you are doing, but because you enjoy the life God has blessed you with. Are you a joy-filled person? If so, why? If not, why not?

4. Live Expectantly

Back to Acts 1:11. After the rhetorical question reminding the disciples to quit sky-gazing and get back to what God has for them to do, the two men dressed in white continue. “This same Jesus…into heaven.” It’s as if they are saying “Are you expecting him to come back down right away? He told you he’d leave you for a while and the return. He told you He would send the Comforter to be with you. Now back to work.” And its as if the disciples say, “But we love Him so much. We don’t want to miss him when he does come back.” And the two men dressed in white assure them that just as he’s gone up before your very eyes (verse 9) He will come back again and no one will miss it. Live in the real world, and live expectantly.

How do you and I live “expectantly”? Think about the way the word “expecting” is commonly used today… of a woman expecting a baby. In the last couple weeks before our children were born, I gained a new understanding what it meant to live “expectantly.” First of all, my wife couldn’t wait for the baby to be born as it was becoming increasingly uncomfortable; not painful but definitely uncomfortable.

Meanwhile, I was mostly excited. Waiting for my cell phone to ring to say “come home, its time to go to the hospital.” And though I was mostly excited, I was a little bit nervous too – would everything go okay. Would the baby be okay physically, mentally, etc? What if we something happened at the last moment.

In some ways, I think there’s a parallel between being “expectant” parents and living “expectantly” for Christ to return. Knowing that Christ will come back a second time should give us a new or different perspective on life than the rest of the people on earth. When we don’t get something we really wanted, it’s not the end of the world. It feels like it for a couple days. But in the perspective of eternity, it probably isn’t that significant. God’s in control of every detail. Or maybe you didn’t win that sports competition you worked all season for. Yeah, it stinks and it leaves a bad taste in your mouth for a while, but then again, in light of living with Christ forever, it’s barely a blip on the screen of eternity. That doesn’t mean that pain doesn’t hurt, even deeply and immensely. But it means that we can try as much as possible in our human understanding to see the disappointments and suffering in life on God’s timetable rather than ours. Why? Because as Christians, the promise of Christ’s Second Coming and living with Him so far outweighs our “momentary troubles.” Paul says it this way at the end of 2 Corinthians 4:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away,  yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

So Christ is ascended. That’s a fact we believe because the Bible clearly describes it. And what does it mean the Christian living in 2017? It means that we are to live not sky-gazing, but faithfully doing the work God gives us each day, worshipping Him in all that we do, being joyful in all that we do, and having an eternal perspective on life since we know that He is coming back again for us someday soon. May God help us to live faithfully, joyfully, and expectantly for His glory until He comes again.

Book Review – Revitalize by Andrew M Davis

(As pastor of First Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, Andy Davis writes about the process of revitalizing a local church from first-person experience. Revitalize combines solid theological principles with practical examples and shares the wisdom of the Scriptures on various aspects.

Positively, the book is full of biblical principles, well-supported with scripture references, on almost every topic ranging from the church’s mission, purpose, ownership to the pastor’s need for humility, courage, and patience. Davis’ pastoral heart comes through as he coaches prospective leaders through the joys and challenges, and acknowledges mistakes he made along the way.

The only criticism this reader would offer is the issue he chose to highlight as preaching/defending Biblical authority – namely, male leadership in church leadership (though later in the book he clarifies he does believe in female deaconesses). While his position is certainly held by many within evangelicalism, it is not the only position held and certainly not the only position held by those who would agree with Davis’ on the authority of Scripture. However, not only did this view of male leadership in the church become the litmus test for Scriptural authority, there was no acknowledgement of other views being within the realm of evangelical. In short, there was no room for explanation of different interpretation issues; you simply either believed in male headship or did not believe in the authority of Scripture.

This significant challenge notwithstanding, Revitalize is a commendable book for a church leader(s) to read as they embark on the process with a congregation.

Note: This book was provided to the reviewer in exchange for an unbiased review by Baker Books.

3 Strategies for Naming the Elephant

african-elephantIn the book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, Ronald Heifitz, Alexander Grashow, and Martin Linsky (Harvard Business Review, 2009) identify five key characteristics of a healthy organization (p. 101). One of these, “The elephants in the room are named” is a challenge all of us have likely encountered on more than one occasion. While one may personally recognize the elephant in the room, it takes some skill to help others in the room to be willing to acknowledge the un-discuss-able reality out loud and put it on the table for a meaningful conversation.

Here are three “Ask” strategies that can be effective when it comes to making the elephant visible and discussion-able.

  1. Ask a question
    Arguably the preferred way of addressing the elephant in the room is to ask some leading questions so that others can recognize the untouchable topic by answering your question. Questions like “Is it possible…?” “Would there be an advantage to…?” “What would happen if…” can draw the elephant out of hiding and into full display and gives others permissions to address an issue/topic that seemed off-limits.

    Of course, asking a question could also simply draw a number of “No” responses, keeping the elephant hiding. If good questions, cannot assist people in discussing a taboo concern,…

  2. Ask for permission
    Asking the question allows others to name the elephant in the room. Asking for permission means you politely name the elephant yourself. It is courageous, yet sometimes necessary, especially in working with the risk averse members of a team. Simply asking, “May I suggest that the issue we are facing is actually…?” or “I wonder if one of the reasons we keep coming back to this problem is because…”

    This approach may be necessary when others do not see the elephant. They are willing to consider your suggestion, but the team members may not have seen it yet or as clearly as you. As soon as the elephant is named, people may be willing to address the topic. Of course, as with asking the question, the response to your ask for permission may also be a dismissive “No.” A dialogue could happen where the person explains why your suggested option is not a concern, but at least the taboo topic will be on the table. Then other team members can either agree with your suggestion or with an alternative. At the very least, the elephant has been  named.

  3. Ask for “Forgiveness”
    Although arguably the least constructive way to unveil the elephant, sometimes after having the same discussion with a team a few times, someone needs to just speak up in exasperation and say, “Or we could do the obvious and [name the elephant].”
    Admittedly, the immediate reaction will be stunned silence. You just stripped the elephant naked in front of everyone with seemingly no warning. Survive the awkward silence for a few seconds and then calmly explain what caused your strong words. It may be something like, “I am sorry if I surprised you with my frustration. I feel we’ve been dancing around this topic for 4-5 meetings and if we are going to move forward productively on any plan, I think we have to be willing to acknowledge that [elephant] is an issue/problem.”
    Again, some will interject, especially in the absence of any other voices, say, “Well, that seems to be quite the over-reaction” (or words to that effect).” Again, express the same sentiment above in a calm, minimally emotional statement emphasizing the issue needs to be addressed.

I am pretty sure I have used all of the above strategies at one time or another, each with varying degrees of success in terms of naming the elephant and discussing it further.

How about you? What strategies have you found effective in helping your team name the elephant?

Book Review – Foundations: Ancient Faith for Modern People by John Amandola

If you are looking to engage and connect with young adults who are suspicious of church yet spiritually interested, this may be the resource you have been looking for. Developed by church planter John Amandola, Ancient Foundations for Modern People (Missional University Press, 2017) combines engaging stories with solid teaching on the foundational issues of Christianity in language that is clear, yet largely devoid of religious jargon (ie Christian-ese). With instructions for the leader at the beginning for how to best use this resource, Amandola provides the guidelines necessary for meaningful weekly conversations with young adults, recognizing and avoiding the challenges (or temptation) to be overly directive.

Some will critique the book for its lack of theological depth, yet in reality it demonstrates thoughtful biblical explanations without using theological jargon. Used for its intended audience and purpose, it provides solid Scriptural teaching and reflection. For the theologically (over-)educated person, it helps, even forces, one to rethink and rephrase faith into generationally appropriate language.

If you are a youth or young adult pastor seeking to engage college age (or above) students in meaningful spiritual discussions, regardless of their place on the spectrum of Christian faith, this resource would be worth the price.

Note: This book was presented to the reviewer in exchange for an unbiased review.

Why host International Students?

Who are the people your children cannot wait to come visit? Grandparents? Cousins?

For our children, they are excited to see our international students come “home” for a visit! (Yes, they love to see their cousins and their grandparents, but we live close to both sets of grandparents and some cousins, so it is not as big a highlight.)

Family Slushie pic.jpg

So this week as H&B have finished their academic year at UBC and have a couple weeks before their spring session courses begin, they returned “home” for a visit. We are glad and our kiddos are thrilled! They are dancing like its Christmas again… in May! H&B will get to see a dance recital, watch a couple soccer games, and do all sorts of “big sister” things with their younger “siblings.” Even better, they will get do to this along with our current “big sisters” M&P.

Within the Golden Hills School Division international students are welcomed to come to Alberta, Canada and specifically to rural locations in our area (eg. Three Hills, Strathmore, Drumheller). In some locations, the international students live in a residence (aka dormitory) and in other locations they live in host homes for the ten months of the school year. Host homes are singles or couples or families who volunteer to have a student(s) in their home and are reimbursed for room and board expenses monthly. We are nearing the end of our sixth year of hosting international students through this program and have found it to be a great experience in so many respects.

Why would you host international students?

  • A Global Learning Experience

The students come from various countries of the world, especially Africa, Asia and South America. We believe it is an opportunity local students (as well as the international students), especially in rural communities, the begin their global education. There may not be a lot of diversity in many small towns, but international students at least begins to open young people`s eyes to the various cultures of the world and the reality of the global economy in more than an academic exercise as they interact with people from other cultures in their classrooms.

  • A Global Perspective in our home

Six years ago, our first international homestay student a grade 10 girl from Hong Kong named B arrived. She lived with us for three years. At the time she came, our children were 3, 1 and our third child was due in January, four months after H arrived. Because they grew up with H around, they do not see the places on the map as random names far away. They  know Hong Kong is home for H (and B & M & P). They also know how close it is to Japan where another international student, A, came from.

Not only do they learn the geography, our children also learn the customs and culture of another part(s) of the world. They are introduced to new foods – some they like and others, not so much. We don’t have to go anywhere to receive a rich global education!

  • Language Learning

Especially as our children were pre-school age, it was a great benefit for both the international students for whom English was not a first language. They did not feel as embarrassed (or shy) about their pronunciation or spelling of words as we were helping our children learn words, phrases, present and past tenses, etc. Likewise, our children enjoyed learning along with them and even learned some Cantonese or Mandarin words.

  • Extended Family

H & B both have come “home” for Christmas celebrations over the past two years, even after they began their respective studies at UBC. They enjoyed being around “family,” and it was much more affordable and workable than flying to Hong Kong for just two weeks (especially when Chinese New Year does not coincide with Canadian holidays). And by family, I don`t just mean our nuclear family but also extended family as well as former teachers and friends from high school who were also around over the holidays.

As H nears the end of her time at UBC, we have already been invited to attend graduation next year, regardless of whether her parents are able to fly over. What an honour!

  • “Practice” Teenagers

Another benefit of having international students in your home is you get to practice parenting teenagers, before you do it for real (with your own children). Just kidding… sorta! If you have not dealt with teenagers before it does provide parents with a preliminary look at the different parenting challenges and joys high school students bring in comparison to toddlers or elementary school children. Certainly the level of responsibility is very different, though it does give a taste of some of the drama of the teenage years. Fortunately, my wife served as a dorm parent at a boarding school for teenage girls in India when she was single, so she’s a pro!

Some have shared they would struggle to have their home life and privacy “invaded.” While not without its challenges, we have found the international students are very respectful of your privacy and usually (especially Asians) want a fair bit of time on their own to study and do well in their academics. The student(s) knows the parents are making a substantial sacrifice for him/her to study abroad, so they want to do well. At times, it can be challenging to get them to participate in family activities because they are so committed to academic success.

Dr Yaw Perbi, president of a non-profit organization working with international post-secondary students identifies a number of other reasons we also find beneficial in his book Thinking Outside the Window.

I would strongly encourage anyone – single, married, with or without children, no matter what your lifestage – to consider this opportunity and welcome an international student into your home and your life!



Book Review: The Vibrant Workplace by Paul White

Admitting in the introduction this book is a result of questions arising from the success of his first book co-authored with Dr. Gary Chapman, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, Dr Paul White adequately summarizes and discusses the key issues and obstacles both employers and employees face in using appreciation in various work settings. With a desire for each organization and its people to be healthy and feel valued, White identifies objections raised as he has taught on the subject in various types of organizations around the world.

He does well at honestly dealing with the challenges. Although most of the advice could be classified as “common sense,” given the increasing uncommonness of such, his discussions show thoughtfulness and wisdom. Chapter 6 is an especially useful section dealing with the unique workplace challenges of virtual/long-distance, military, schools, and government settings.

In terms of organizational health literature, this book does not go near the top of the shelf. Nonetheless, it could be a helpful resource if you were already applying the first book and encountered challenges.

Note: This book was provided to the author by Moody Press in exchanges for an unbiased review.

Responding to Jesus

Today is Good Friday. In two days, Christians around jesus crossthe world will celebrate Easter, the day Jesus was resurrected. Some people will go to a service today to commemorate Jesus death and what it represents to their faith. Some people will go to a service on Easter to celebrate what Jesus’ resurrection means to their faith. But will that be the total of our “Easter Celebrations”?

A couple years ago, I preached a post-Christmas message asking the question, “How do you respond to baby Jesus?” Drawing from Matthew 2 and Luke 2, there were three appropriate responses:

  • The Shepherds saw baby Jesus and told others.
  • Simeon & Anna saw baby Jesus and worshipped him by celebrating.
  • The magi (wisemen) respond to baby Jesus by giving gifts.

As I reflect upon those responses to the baby king, seem to also be the best and most appropriate responses to the crucified and risen king also.

How will you respond to Jesus this Easter season?


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