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Monthly Archives: August 2009

I’m currently sitting in my hotel room in Liberec, Czech Republic where we’ve been attending a conference for the past number of days. Prior to being here, we were in the north of France (Lille and Calais) for a few days. Tomorrow we’re heading to Paris and potentially back up to Lille/Calais depending on how things go in Paris. Here’s a few highlights of the trip so far:

– The Canadian government seems to think that the Roma (traveling Romanians of Indian descent i.e. Gypsy’s) are not a persecuted people in Europe. I would beg to differ. Since last August, the Roma have essentially been driven out of Lille by the local government. The city went to the trouble (time and money) of putting up large cement barriers along many of the places where the Roma had been living. Wouldn’t that time and money be better spent doing something productive and beneficial for the Roma? We did find one Roma camp that told us of nightly harassment from police. These are honest folk who have families and don’t deserve to be treated the way that they do.

– There is an organization in Lille that has provided some more permanent housing for a few Roma. Our good friend Elias and his family are living in one of the more permanent trailers which is actually quite nice and livable as it has running water.

– Spending time with the Roma is one of my favourite things to do in France. They are such a hospitable people, inviting you into their caravans and giving you what little food and tea they have. This reminds me of Paul in his letter to the Corinthians where he speaks of the Macedonians, who although they were extremely poor were quick to practice generosity. Playing soccer with the kids was another highlight. Simple simple simple.

– In Calais there are many refugees from the middle-east living in ‘the jungle’ and trying to get across to the UK. We met a young boy, only 15, named Abdullah who took us into the jungle (after we crossed a 6 lane highway!) and offered us water. We spent the next 2 hours or so listening to the stories of folks, mainly men, who had fled countries such as Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iran.

– This morning I walked into town here in Liberec and met a 35 year old man named Ali. I was just sitting on a bench when he approached me and asked if I knew where an internet cafe was. I said I didn’t and to my surprise he sat down anyway. We began to talk and I found out he was from Morocco but was living in Prague working at his fathers restaurant. As we spoke, knowing that Morocco was predominantly Muslim, I asked Ali if he prayed. His response was, “No. I drink beer and have sex.” To which I responded, “Cool. I drink beer, have sex and pray.” He then offered to buy me a beer (@ 11am on Sunday morning). Of course, I could not refuse this gift and so for the first time in my life I had 2 pints of beer before noon on a Sunday morning. I love Church. For the next hour and a half we shared about our lives and our families, our hopes and our dreams and at the end, as we parted ways, Ali was gracious enough to allow me to pray for him and his 6 year old daughter. It was only about a 20 second prayer, but I’m believing that through that God is working and maybe this is one step along the way for Ali. We exchanged contact info and I truly felt a connection with Ali. Pray for him and his daughter, Miriam, who he doesn’t see often as she lives with his ex-wife.

– The GEM conference has been great. It’s cool hearing the stories of folks who are living all across Europe doing what they believe God wants them to do.

That’s about it for now. I’ll have pictures when we return to Canada and hopefully some more updates along the way. Thanks so much for your prayers, keep it coming.

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Ambition is held in high regard in North America, as perhaps it should be. Parents encourage their children to work hard in school so that they can get into a good college/university with the hopes that a good education will open doors in the future in terms of attaining a well paying job. Then of course, once you get into a good job the idea is that you can provide well for your family and enjoy the many things that one can experience in life.

The thinking then, is that if you work hard then you’ll be successful in terms of income and can live well. And so some people work very hard in order to attain a certain standard of living. In this case, others can be seen as potential competitors for the finite goods that are out there. Therefore, not only do we work hard but we try to work harder than others as to attain more goods than others and secure for us and our families a better life. If you view others as competitors then you will obviously be slower to freely give to others. I used to play basketball in college and if we were way ahead of the other team then our coaches would urge us to slow down a bit as not to embarrass the other team (giving was ok, since there was no danger of our competitors ever catching up to us). However, if the game was close, and competitive, then you would never think of slowing down for the sake of your opponent, because you are both competing for the same thing. Often we look at life the same way. There are only a finite amount of goods available and so life is like a competitive sport where we compete for the same goods. Therefore, one works hard, and only gives to others if they themselves have a comfortable lead.

However, how might a Creator God fit into this scenario? Were we made to compete with one another? Is it truly by our own hard work that we receive?

If you believe that God created all things then it seems impossible to answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions. If God created all things and all people, then we are not competitors, we are one. In addition, if God created all things and everything we have is from God, then all of our possessions are not actually ‘our’ possessions, they are God’s. “Well I came from a poor family and worked hard in school and have worked hard at my job and so I deserve all that I have due to my hard work and ambition!” one might say. But who gave you the ability to work hard? God did. In fact, it is only by God’s generosity that you or I can exist. Should God decide to stop giving we would cease to exist because God is always giving, He is a pure giver. Therefore, although hard work and dedication are good things, it is *not* by your hard work and ambition that you receive. Rather, you receive because God gives.

Assuming that it is by God’s generosity that we receive and not by our own hard work, then it is safe to say that our possession are not *our* possessions, rather, they are gifts from God. And if we were not created to compete with one another then the gifts that God has given us are not only for us to enjoy. Sure, God gives so that we can live and enjoy life, however, to think that God’s giving ends with us is a lie. God’s giving is like a river that flows, not like a lake that wells up and collects water. Therefore, we are not the end destination of God’s gifts. God gives to us so that we can enjoy but *also* so that we can in turn be givers like God is.

To be truly human is to reflect the God in whose image we are made. Anything less than that is to be less than human (which of course, we are for the moment). However, despite the fact that we live less than human lives part of knowing and following Christ is allowing God to transform you back into a fully human person. And so as God transforms us into His likeness, we better reflect and anticipate God’s future reality when all of creation will be restored and made right. It can then be said, that since God is a giver, we cannot be fully human unless God transforms us into givers and not just receivers.

One of the issues that I see poisoning the Western Church today is that we’re very good at receiving and fairly poor at giving. And so Jesus says that it is hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. However, since we in the West are rich, this is a verse we tend not to take very seriously, yet, Jesus took it seriously. Take for example the rich young ruler that was unable to follow Christ because he was unable to detach himself from his possessions. We have much in the West and so much is expected from us. Our bank accounts and homes may be full and yet, unless we are being shaped into givers, we are not blessed but cursed.

God generously gives and so all we have is from God and, therefore, is God’s. We receive much, not because of our ambition or hard work, but because God is generous and so we ought not see others as competitors. Instead, as Miroslav Volf put it, we should see others as the intended recipients of God’s gifts. Therefore, to hold on to our possessions and treat them as ‘our’ possessions is to fall short of what it means to be a human being that is made in God’s image.

This is good news to the poor, but terrible news to the wealthy who view their wealth as the result of their own hard work.

As Miroslav Volf puts it, even though we are all sinners from head to toe, none of us is a sinner through and through, with nothing good remaining in us. As sinners, we are still God’s good creatures (He said so, remember?). To use an old Reformation analogy, think of water and ink. “Water is the good creation, ink is sin, and the sinner is a glass of water with a few drops of ink. All the water in the glass is tainted, but it’s still mostly water, not ink,” (Volf, Free of Charge, 98). Similarly, we are all marred by sin and none of us represent the true humanity as we were created to. However, we are still ultimately God’s good creation.

When you look at folks whom you see as having more ink than you do, never forget in whose image they are made.

Grace and peace.