Summary: Sometimes it is difficult to see what God is doing because we are too close to the situation; it is helpful to remember and place our hope in God's long-view perspective.
When I was a kid, I used to get a magazine in the mail every month, I think it was Canadian Geographic for kids or something similar, and one of my favorite parts was on the second to last page. It was about 9 pictures, super close up, and the game was to see how many of those objects you could identify from that super close-up perspective. So I thought I’d begin this morning with that game for all of us: can you identify the following:
Sometimes it is hard to see what things really are when we are up to close. When our perspective is too tight in, when we don’t have any context, when our frame of reference is too narrow. And here is where our faith really helps us because we get a different perspective on life. Here is where our involvement in a community of faith – our church – really helps us because we get other perspectives on life from people who know us and love us. And here is where our exposure to other Christians outside of our immediate circles really helps us because we get to see life and faith from their perspectives.
This week Ernie shared a newsletter with me – it was from the Catholic seminary here in Edmonton. I read that one of the things the young men studying to be priests do is go on a one-year long – yes, one YEAR long – media fast. Except for a couple hours each Saturday, there is no TV, no facebook, no phone, no internet, no newspapers, no youtube, no email, no movies. The story talked about how the young students learned silence, learned to pray, learned to listen to God, learned to be with people and be present with people and listen both to people and to God at the same time. And how they learned to be alone; quiet; with God.
Last week, I had the great privilege of being the co-chair for our denomination’s Ordination Examining Council, which was in Calgary. This is the group that our churches ask to examine those individuals who feel called to be Ordained – to become “Reverends” – and that the council then investigates and grants a recommendation back to the church who then does the actual ordination. It’s a little complicated but here is the point: all six of the people we examined were fantastic, and they each inspired and encouraged me in different ways, but two had a unique perspective. Chung and Geo are Burmese Christians from the Chin people in Burma, and they pastor at the Vancouver Chin Baptist Church. Geo is a full time welder, as well as pastor. Chung is a full time construction laborer, as well as a pastor. They both fled to Canada to escape persecution, arriving within the last 6-8 years, and they both had stories to tell. Chung was 19 when the Burmese army descended on his village and arrested him while he was teaching in the school. He told us his story of being hooded and tied and thrown into the back of the army jeep, kicked and punched repeatedly for 90 minutes as they drove, stopping at a stream where they held his head underwater until he passed out. He was thrown in prison without trial, and was there for 3 years, his hands and teeth were broken, at one point he was buried up to his neck. He stood before the council and in a quiet voice just shared what had happened to him because his people, the Chin, are 94% Christian. Then he got suddenly quiet, and as the co-chair I was sitting up front and could see his emotion well-up, and he was quiet for about 30 seconds or so while he regained his composure, and when he spoke next I could only shake my head in amazement. I wondered what horrific detail was coming next, what in his story he was about to share that had made him have to stop and gather himself. Emotionally I had readied myself for something even harder to hear. But you know what he said next? He regained his composure, looked up and the council, and smiled and said something to the effect of “I thank God for all that happened to me, because while in prison I met a man who introduced me to a living personal relationship with Jesus.” The moment when he had to stop was not at the pain, but at his amazement at the goodness of God who came and met him in the middle of torture and pain and danger. He told us how this man, his teacher, who would sneak him off to the latrines, where they could hide during the rest period in the heat of the afternoon, and tell him about Jesus and disciple him. Someone ratted out his teacher, who refused to implicate Chung, and thus was beaten twice as hard and every time he was hit he cried out “Hallelujah! Amen!”. We were all incredibly moved by his story, his faith, and his perspective. Very different from ours. It suddenly made real to me Jesus’ strange saying, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:10).