A Big Mac For Thanksgiving

McDonald's Big MacMy Canadian friends celebrated Thanksgiving more than a month ago. My American friends celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday. In The Bahamas, Thanksgiving is not an official holiday, but many here recognized and celebrated the day.

I was among those who celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday, but I did not celebrate in the traditional manner.  I didn’t watch NFL football. I didn’t travel to visit family. I didn’t eat a big turkey dinner. I had a Big Mac for dinner.

I had a Big Mac for Thanksgiving dinner and it closed off one of the most special Thanksgiving celebrations I’ve ever been a part of.

The day began packing a massive amount of canned and boxed food items into 42 large bags.

The food was donated by members and adherents at St. Andrew’s Kirk as a part of an initiative to distribute groceries to the neediest of families who live in one of the more impoverished communities in Nassau, Bain & Grant’s Town.

Because of the strong partnership that the Kirk has with the Bain & Grant’s Town Urban Renewal Centre, myself, along with another Kirk member, were driven through the neighbourhood to homes that were selected by the URC staff as housing particularly vulnerable individuals. Most were senior citizens; many were disabled persons; all were appreciative recipients of our offering of groceries.

I don’t feel comfortable describing in print some of the conditions that we came across. But I can tell you that it is a heart-wrenching experience. And while it is a delight to us, and an encouragement to those we visited, to deliver some food items, I’m acutely aware of the fact that the ongoing need massively exceeds what a bag of groceries can supply.

Once the grocery delivery was done, I traveled back to the Kirk to prepare to receive 100 children from the Bain & Grant’s Town and Farm Road Urban Renewal Centres. We were hosting Thanksgiving Dinner—McDonald’s—thanks to a generous donor.

In a few short minutes our Kirk Hall filled with 100 excited children. A few minutes later, an additional bus load arrived. McDonald’s quickly adapted and ordered 50 more meals to be delivered to accommodate a crowd that was now close to 140. McDonald’s didn’t simply drop the food off—they sent along staff to serve each child their meal. McDonald’s even provided an entertainer—an energetic man, along with his sidekick, “Charlie”, and a few hundred pieces of candy to delight the hearts of these beautiful children.

There are few sights more precious than seeing 100+ smiling children. This was a dinner I won’t soon forget. And I suspect it will be for these children a Thanksgiving to be remembered.

As I reflected this morning on the day, a verse immediately came to mind: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

First, let me say that I don’t regard my “works” to have been all that special. I did not supply the dinner for the children. The groceries came from several dozen donors. My role was little more than delivery boy during the day and custodian during the evening.

The reason why I think this verse is relevant is because I’m not sure the command to “let your let shine” is aimed at individual behaviour. In this passage, Jesus is speaking amid a very large crowd. Matthew makes a point of telling us that Jesus spoke directly to His disciples…”Let your (plural) light shine…that they may see your (plural) good works and glorify your (plural) Father who is in heaven.

Yesterday, in a community just over the hill, beyond downtown Nassau, St. Andrew’s Kirk shone a light. The good works of a particular community of people who follow Jesus made an impact.

And do you know what was the most gratifying part for me? Not too many of the recipients said, “Thank you”. Instead, what we more commonly heard was “God is good” and “To God be the glory”.

I was reminded yesterday—by the Scriptures, and by the people of Bain & Grant’s Town—that we don’t serve others in order to be thanked. We do good deeds, we serve others, with the hope that those we serve might turn and glorify their Father who is in heaven.

I was privileged to witness that happen yesterday.

I had a Big Mac for Thanksgiving dinner and it closed off one of the most special Thanksgiving celebrations I’ve ever been a part of.

Coping with Critics

Chuck Swindoll, in his fine commentary on Nehemiah, asserts that “you haven’t really led until you have become familiar with the stinging barbs of the critic. For the leader, opposition is inevitable.”

You probably know this to be true from experience. Most every leader will eventually be criticized—whether you are the Prime Minister of a nation, a business owner, a store manager, or a leader within a local church. Resistance to leadership is commonplace.

Accordingly, a good leader will be someone who possesses skill in problem-solving.

Nehemiah was such a leader. As Nehemiah led the people of Israel in the reconstruction of Jerusalem, he had to cope with persistent opposition. In Nehemiah, chapter 4, we read about Sanballat and Tobiah openly mocking those engaged in reconstruction. Moreover, Sanballat and Tobiah made a point of recruiting other critics and together they conspired to frustrate and interrupt the work of Nehemiah and his fellow countrymen.

I want to offer you something to consider. Nehemiah was someone who was experiencing God’s abundant blessing and ongoing favour. And yet, Nehemiah still has to deal with fierce opposition. Just as God cleared a path for Nehemiah to travel to Jerusalem, He could have also made smooth the path for Jerusalem’s reconstruction.

What we see here is that God’s favour upon Nehemiah does not preclude Nehemiah from having to face serious adversity.

This leads me to conclude that, while facing opposition is highly unpleasant, there must be something positive in it.

Could it be that God allows us to face opposition, purposing us to draw closer to Him?

As we read on, I am inspired by Nehemiah’s instinct to pray and to keep working. Nehemiah’s approach to leadership is a delightful balance between being highly spiritual and immensely practical.

The temptation, when we are criticized, is to give up the work. For the leader, this is not a viable option. Nehemiah shows us a better way. Nehemiah continues to move the mission forward through earnest prayer and resolute effort.

The balance between these two approaches will be the key to our success.

Prayer without pragmatics is presumption. Prayer without a security plan is going to get someone hurt.

On the other hand, pragmatics without prayer flows from pride. To attempt to engage our critics without Divine assistance is to court disaster.

If God has called us to a significant work, history teaches us that we will eventually face opposition. But this opposition has been designed by God to shape our character and to further His purposes (Rom. 8:28). For this reason, we do not run from adversity, but rather, we greet it with earnest prayer and a steady determination to stay with the work.

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“Implementing A Vision Amid Opposition”, based on Nehemiah 4:1-9, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, October 16, 2011.

Work Together

Have you ever found yourself saying to a colleague, or partner, “Never mind, I will do it myself”?

Many of us have learned the hard way that delegation doesn’t always work. And working as a team isn’t always an easy alternative either. Many of us know, first hand, the “too many chefs in the kitchen” principle. Sometimes it’s just easier to “fly solo”.

I am well acquainted with the temptation to work alone (and often give into to it), but this temptation must be resisted. The kind of work that God has ordained for His people is designed to be completed by a group.

The apostle Paul declares that we “are the body of Christ, and each one of (us) is a part of it” (1Cor. 12:27). Some of us are the “eyes”, some the “ears”, some the “hands”, some the “feet” (1Cor. 12:14-26). Individually, none of us are the body. We are parts. Only together can we be “the body of Christ”.

I must resist every inclination to be “a lone ranger”. A do-it-yourself attitude may work with your home renovation, but it will not work with the church’s transformation of a community. Accordingly, we can do far more together than we can do on our own. God’s designed it this way.

Nearly, 2,500 years ago, Nehemiah came to a point where he had to enlist others in order to succeed with his vision to rebuild Jerusalem. He had done so much on his own. He prayed. He planned. He acquired all the necessary documents and permissions to travel and begin rebuilding. But, eventually, Nehemiah had to present his vision to others because what was required was beyond him.

In Nehemiah 2:17ff, we read about that presentation. The response of the people is so immediate and so positive that we risk missing the profundity of the response. It’s not as if Nehemiah was presenting to a bunch of people with nothing better to do. This was an agricultural society—if you weren’t working, you weren’t eating.

These folks were up to their eyeballs with things to do. Signing on to Nehemiah’s vision would require putting some very important things on hold. Furthermore, many of these people were no longer even living in Jerusalem. Signing on would mean significant time away from home.

In short, working together would require sacrifice. And yet, there is no sign of hesitation. The immediate response is “‘Let us start rebuilding.’ So they began this good work” (Neh. 2:18).

There is a sense in which the things we are called to today are beyond us, just as rebuilding Jerusalem was beyond Nehemiah’s individual abilities. To maximize our growth in Christ-likeness, to most effectively spread the Gospel, to facilitate kingdom advancement and community transformation, we need one another.

We were never meant to do this Christianity thing on our own. The faith given to us it not reducible to a “Jesus and me” equation. We are called to be a part within a body. We are called to play a particular position on a team.

Nehemiah understood this and succeeded. Jerusalem was rebuilt on the back of a team whose members were committed to God and to one another.

My hope and prayer is that today’s Church will mirror that wisdom and resolve. Accordingly, I urge you: Go find your position. Do your part. Work together.

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“Implementing A Vision Together”, based on Nehemiah 2:11-20, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, October 9, 2011.

Casting A Vision In Difficult Times

planning aheadThe Bible is filled with accounts that could come under the heading of “Mission Impossible”, and the story of Nehemiah is one of them. News of Jerusalem’s destruction reaches Nehemiah, living 800 miles away while serving as cupbearer to the King of Persia.

Hearing the news of Jerusalem in ruins made Nehemiah weep. He stopped eating. He was devastated (Neh. 1:4). But rather than give up all hope for his homeland, Nehemiah turned to God in prayer.

Nehemiah would eventually come up with a comprehensive plan to rebuild Jerusalem, but before pursuing his vision with his people, Nehemiah pursues his vision with his God.

For any Christian who desires to reach a particular destination, for every pastor who longs to see the renewal of a local congregation, the example of Nehemiah is worth mirroring.

The “odds” were stacked against Nehemiah. You can hear his critics:

“Nehemiah, how do you plan to get to Jerusalem–it’s 800+ miles away?”
“Won’t you lose your job as cupbearer to the King?”
“Who is going to help you?”
“Don’t you realize how dangerous the region has become?”
“Nehemiah, don’t you realize that this task is too big for you?”

I think Nehemiah was acutely aware of the obstacles in front of him…and that’s why he prayed.

It was said of Hudson Taylor that the sun never rose for 40 years in China without God finding him on his knees in prayer for the great land.

Reconstruction is hard work—especially when there are those who oppose it.

Nehemiah’s example shows us what is possible when God supports our plan and powers our efforts. Nehemiah is a delightful example of how to pursue a vision in the face of contrary circumstances.

My current context for ministry is Nassau, Bahamas and, while I can’t make a clean comparison between ancient Jerusalem and modern day Nassau, I definitely see a parallel.

Renewal is possible—prosperity is possible, when God is involved. And God’s people have a role to play in that—and that role begins with prayer.

As I said to my congregation recently: “If Nehemiah can do it, we can do it.”

I don’t know your particular circumstances, but if God is for you, who can be against you? If your vision is really God’s vision, you will succeed. Be constant in prayer as you go after your destination. If Nehemiah can do it, you can do it.

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“Casting A Vision In Perilous Times”, based on Nehemiah 1, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, September 25, 2011.

Good Religious Zeal

Many will read the title of this post and think that I’ve just stated an oxymoron.

“The word ‘good’ and the words ‘religious zeal’ do not belong together”, some will say.

This generation has certainly seen its share of religious zeal gone bad. History  also records a trail of religious movements that sought to forcefully impose their beliefs on others.

One of the unfortunate side effects of this is that today’s Christian church is feeling pressure to produce a brand of Christianity that is devoid of any zeal. There is a pressure to be moderate. There is an expectation for us to be entirely quiet and private about what we believe.

I want to suggest an alternative. The answer to “bad zeal” is not the absence of zeal. The answer to “bad zeal” is “good zeal”—what I would term “biblical zeal”. I say this because the Bible actually commands our zeal. The apostle Paul says to the Romans, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Rom. 12:11).

The Greek word, translated “keep“, literally means “to guard“. What is implied here is that every follower of Jesus begins with zeal—zeal for the Lord and all that He has done for us. We begin with zeal for the mission, and all that we are required to do. But it appears that there are things that threaten our zeal, and so we must “guard” it.

I appreciate Paul’s imperative while living in an age where there is pressure—sometimes even the expectation—that we will give up our zeal.

As I seek to guard my zeal from those who would have me give it up, I am challenged to examine the nature of my zeal. Because as I look at Paul’s command in context I see a particular kind of zeal being described.

The imperatives which surround the call to zeal are marked by selflessness. Paul begins with a challenge to love with sincerity (12:9). He goes on to encourage devotion to others, to the extent that we would honour the needs of others above our own (12:10). Paul exhorts Christians to be marked by joy and to be patient in affliction, while remaining faithful in prayer (12:12). Paul goes on to encourage generosity and hospitality (12:13).

Keep reading and you’ll find imperatives for humility, empathy, and harmony (12:14, 15). There is a call to integrity (12:17) and a call to peace (12:18-20), ending with the command: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:21).

As I consider the placement of the command for me to be zealous, I cannot help but connect that command with the traits which surround it.

The answer to “bad zeal” is not the absence of zeal. The answer to “bad zeal” is biblical zeal.

Biblical zeal loves sincerely.
Biblical zeal acts humbly.
Biblical zeal serves joyfully.
Biblical zeal endures patiently.
Biblical zeal prays faithfully.
Biblical zeal gives generously.
Biblical zeal pursues peace.

Our world bears the scars of misplaced zeal. Biblical zeal is different. Biblical zeal promotes healing and transformation.

Don’t be shy about pursuing biblical zeal!

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“Be Zealous”, based on Romans 12, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, September 11, 2011.