A New Kind of New Years Resolution

I’ve always enjoyed all of the fresh feelings that accompany the calendar rolling over. New Years has often provided for me feelings of newness and freedom that seem exclusive to early January. It is around this time that many of us also start thinking of New Years Resolutions.
As I’ve thought about this most recent new year I’ve been thinking less about my typical Bible reading, fitness, or dietary goals and have instead shifted my attention to evaluating my character and behaviours as a follower of Jesus. So often my resolutions are focused on what can do to better myself or my life. What would happen if I resolved instead to turn my attention to Jesus, the One who claims to be Life and who gives it to us in abundance? Maybe this new kind of resolution to reflect on and grow in that vital relationship could actually revolutionize the rest of my life?

I (Adam) have the privilege of serving on staff at Terwillegar Community Church in Edmonton. Over this past year our staff journeyed in writing a mission statement for our church. I am someone who is invigorated by the writing of mission and vision statements, so needless to say I LOVED this process. At the end of the day every church mission statement should in some way reflect the various commissions given to the apostles by Jesus, ours is no exception to this and goes like this: Our mission is to know Jesus, walk with Jesus and share Jesus. Simple. Memorable. Challenging.

As the Christmas tree was taken down and appetizers were being prepared for the New Years celebrations my mind was reflecting on these three practices of knowing, walking with, and sharing Jesus. I asked myself: How am I doing in these?

How am I doing in growing in an understanding of who Jesus is, his character, love and beauty? In the many ways I try to know my wife Jalene more intimately, am I similarly pursuing Jesus?

How am I doing in allowing my beliefs and experiences of Jesus to shape the ways in which I go about my day? Do I live in such a way that the presence of Jesus is evident in my choices made with my family, during my work day, in my finances, and how I use my time? Am I listening to hear from Him?

How am I doing in letting people know about the many good things that Jesus has done for me? Am I quick to communicate the good news of Jesus, or am I shy and reserved?

These “how am I doing?” questions are important. The Psalmist prayed asking God to teach him to number his days (Psalm 90:12), to help him reflect on his life in such a way that he learn from it. New Years invokes this discipline of reflection, considering what has gone before and aspiring for good in what is ahead. Asking “how am I doing?” in these areas stirs my heart towards knowing Jesus more, walking with Him more intentionally, and being bold while entering into the joy of sharing about Him.

Perhaps you can join with me this month in prayerfully examining your heart in light of the ways in which you know Jesus, walk with Jesus and share Jesus…

Over the next few weeks we will unpack each of these three elements more!

Excited to journey alongside you in this new season,

— Adam Foster

Our Change the World Mentality

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Jalene and I follow cartoonist Nick Seluk and his masterful collection of comics called Heart and Brain, which, “follow[s] the inner dialogue between the cynical, society-influenced Brain and the impulsive, optimistic Heart.” It is common for us to share the latest strips between one another for a good laugh. The reason it resonates with us so much is that I (Adam) tend to depicted in the brain character, and Jalene tends to be depicted in the heart character. All in all it is a great laugh.

Jalene most recently tagged me on facebook with the following comic titled Caffeinated0929_Caffeinated

This comic struck me because of the deep truth that Seluk captures in it: “Our change the world mentality has dissolved into general anxiety.”

I know we don’t like to admit it, but Autumn is coming. Back to school shopping is aggressively taking place, organizations and churches are ramping up for the next season. We may not identify our frantic preparation as having an underlining drive of, “changing the world”, but below our running around and preparation Isn’t there a desire to experience the next season as being better than it was in the last? Isn’t there a desire that we will be people who work more change and make a more significant impact than we had in the las?.  It is a “pursuing change for the better” mentality, and on the surface it is well-meaning.

I am among those with these aspirations, planning, thinking, preparing, and in addition to this, often worrying and feeling pretty anxious. Like the cartoon Brain and Heart, I desire that my efforts in this next season of my life would have an impact, that they would make a difference for the better, that I would be a person that is remembered for positive influence. Yet when I look at the tasks I’ve placed before me, when I draft plans of all I think it will take, the anxiety sets in. The anxiety sets in because I’m worried I won’t be able to do it, I’ve thought up a task that is too big, a to-do list too long. So I reach for another cup of coffee.

Am I alone in this? Or are you also reaching for that cup of coffee? Do you desire great things? We desire to do good, to set our children up to do good, to inspire others to do good. Culturally it seems that the cost of making this happen is by pursuing a lifestyle conducive to worry and anxiety.

Isn’t it obvious though that the level we have taken our “change the world” to posture is simply wrong?

Jesus taught us an alternative, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Simple, familiar words, we all know them… and he goes on to invite us away from a posture of worry and anxiety and to a posture of seeking, “… but seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” Don’t worry, don’t be anxious, instead seek, seek Jesus, seek his direction and guidance.

I believe whole heartedly that when we seek Jesus we will find him. Seeking Jesus instead of anxiously trying to change the world or even simply change our worlds is an act of trust. It is choosing to trust that Jesus’ way and plan is better than ours could ever be. And instead of labouring in trying to change our worlds, we choose to partner with Jesus in all that we do, trusting that he will do what needs to be done, that he will provide what’s needed, that he has got it.

So, for me, perhaps next time I reach for that cup of coffee I should slow down and see if there is an anxiousness in me that ignores Jesus and reflects me trying to work change in the world on my own. And if there is, I should slow down and seek him. As I seek him, I will find him, when I find him I can partner with him in bringing change, in being a father, in being a friend, and in everything else I find myself doing.

You are Home to Me

adventure alm cabin chalet

Home. A noun that that is rich with meaning, feelings, and images – bestowing the one who speaks or hears its single syllable with thoughts and emotions unique to them. Often we use this word metaphorically, not referring so much to a building with four walls and a roof, but to a feeling of security, peace, rest… home. We may say, “home is where the heart is”, “home is found in the company of friends”, or more romantically “I’m at home whenever I’m with you.”

Over the past several months I’ve been immersing myself in the latest collection of recordings by artist Jason Upton, titled, “A Table Full of Strangers pt 2.”. The song writing is masterful and is only strengthened by listening to the whole record from beginning to end (an art I hope is not destined to be lost). In this collection of songs there is one that has got me thinking – challenged me. Upton sings,

“You are home, home to me, you are patient and kind.
You are peace, peace to me, you are never failing.”

It is not hard for me to recollect seasons of my life when feeling out of sorts was the norm. Time felt as thought it passed unusually fast and much of what I would have liked to have under my control was untameable. I ached for things to slow down. I ached to be able to catch my breath. I ached to be able to rest my head – truly rest my head.
I longed for home.

Upton’s lyrics spurred on these thoughts for me: For those of us who follow Jesus, home is more than an abstract concept,  a concrete location and even a group of people. What Upton captures in his lyrics is an echo from the scriptures that our home, our rest, is available in our relationship with Jesus.

The gospel of John teaches us that Jesus sent the Helper, the one to be with us, to show us the way, to be our peace. In John 14:16,17 Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth… you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.”

There are great treasures to be mined in these verses. Home does not have to be limited to where the  heart is, or with the ones we love, or a place where we catch our breath and rest (as precious as each of these are). It does not have to be a place that requires us to travel to it, or a experience that hinges on us creating the perfect space or set of circumstances. Rather home can be found in our relationship with a God who longs to interact with us, who desires to give us rest, who desires to be our home. He lives with us, and is in us. We can go there whenever, wherever, and no matter our emotional state, by simply opening our eyes, our hearts to his presence.

Upton rightly characterizes our home in Jesus to being present with Jesus, who is patient, kind, and never-failing. This makes home much more than a location where we feel security, and much more than a place to rest our heads, because when we are at home with Jesus we are available to receive from one who gives richly, who not simply provides rest, but interacts with us so that we will find true rest, and much needed healing. In this truth we are freed from a dependence on the right circumstances, time, and location to feel and experience home. The feeling and experience of home only requires our  willingness to enter into being present with Jesus.

The temptation we face, that I often face, is to avoid this home. It isn’t uncommon to  feel a desire for home apart from the interaction, apart from this type of rest – apart from the healing. But Jesus is always there, waiting patiently, ready to receive us however we are.

This is a reminder I need, even today. Will you join me in choosing to find home first in Jesus?

Check out Jason Upton’s Record on iTunes

Torn Open

I remember my birthday parties as a child and being mesmerized by the wrapped gifts which accompanied those who came. The wrapping paper filled me with wonder and expectation: “what was I going to get!? What is the paper hiding from me!?” Maybe for many of us wrapping paper still has this effect.

I anticipated tearing into the wrapping paper with full force, working within the expertise of my ability to rid my present of that which separated me from it: the wrapping paper. It was fun, almost as fun as playing with what it kept hidden.

I wonder how much my walk with Jesus is kept “wrapped up.” Much like an anticipated present  I can see it, appreciate its mystery, and even pull back the corners to take a look inside, but for some reason I don’t appreciate or anticipate the joy it will give me as I would a birthday present. I am not sure why, I know it will benefit me, I know there is great joy waiting, I know that God has “good things” in store, yet I leave it wrapped up, and don’t engage as I often know I should.

As you study the Bible you will inevitably find all sorts of cool literary tools that the authors used. The gospel of Mark is full of these and as you read it you will run into his heavy use of the word, “immediately”, and perhaps catch his use of chiastic structure1. I was reminded of one of these literary tools recently as I read Mark 15. Both at the beginning and conclusion of Marks gospel, we read very similar words, these words act as a type of bookends to the Mark’s gospel which bring emphasis to a big idea.

Mark 1:10-11 reads, “And when he [Jesus] came up out of the water, immediately he saw 

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the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voicecame from heaven, “You are my[God’s] beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Similarly in Mark 15:37-39 we read, “And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!””.

Do you see the similarity? Two things are torn, and two confessions are made of Jesus being the son of God.  So why is this significant? The first scene in Mark 1 highlights that Jesus coming to earth was truly an act of God coming to man, as if to say, “The heavens opened and God stepped down.” Jesus being God is affirmed by the Father, who affirms who Jesus is by confessing him to be His son. This makes for a strong introduction of Marks gospel, but it also makes Mark 15 that much more significant.

bright_holy_week_good_friday-title-3-Wide 16x9In the way that the barrier of heaven was torn and God stepped down to live among us in the person of Jesus, so too that which separated us from God, the curtain in the temple, was also torn which made a way for mankind to have unhindered access to God through the person of Jesus. This tearing is similarly accompanied by a confession of Jesus’ identity, as if to say that this tearing could only have been done by the son of God, and it has indeed been done!

These book ends in Mark serve as strong message that the barrier between us and God has been torn open because of what Jesus has done. Easter is a time to remember what Jesus has done, it is a time to remember the very thing that served as a barrier between us and God, much like wrapping paper canceling a gift, has been torn away.

So why do we hesitate? Why do I live as if the veil is still in place, or as if God is somehow far off? Why do I at times keep Jesus at a distance or ignore his invitations to engage in life under his leading and guide? Mark’s gospel strongly communicates to us that the things which we believed separated us from God, the heaven’s themselves or the veil in the temple, have been torn, and now we have every opportunity to walk boldly with Jesus. God is not wrapped up or far off, hidden or kept under lock and key. No. The veil that separated, the stone that covered the easter tomb are no more. Which means that the things that separate us are not put in place by him, rather they are things we put in place.

This Easter take time to examine your own life and see the many ways you may keep separation between yourself and Jesus. Are there areas of your life that you want to keep hidden from him? Are there hurts youfeel that you don’t want to invite him into? Whatever it is, remember that at Easter we celebrate the work of Jesus which has made it possible for us to engage in life WITH God, there is no need for more separation; that which separated us from him has been torn open.

Who are you Following?

Jalene and I recently moved back to the city after having lived in the much smaller town of Three Hills. There are many differences between city and town, and perhaps my least favourite of them is the traffic. In the past several months I have found myself sitting in a line up of vehicles staring into the distance, able to see my destination, and being struck with the thought that it would be faster to walk than drive to my destination! My second consideration is that if I just pulled out of the line of traffic, if I just stopped following the masses, I could forge my own way ahead and reach my destination sooner (apparently I need to grow in patience), can you relate?

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We are often forced into following. We wait our turns in traffic, line ups, or follow the mechanical voice of Siri guiding us along freeways and boulevards so we can get to where we need to go. It is also common for us to follow without giving much or any  consideration to the fact that we are following.

In my observation, we live in a culture where we are constantly asked to follow. This invitation is often subtle, yet makes significant effects on how we live our lives. We are invited to follow the masses into obtaining what our culture calls, “the good life”: the realization of perfect outcomes. The perfect job with the perfect income; the perfect career highlighted by achieving perfect and significant results;  the perfect spouse and perfect children; the perfect house, and possessions; the perfect body and perfect health. And all of these are to be realized in a perfect state of bliss, happiness and contentment. The “good life”.

Have you realized this, “good life” yet? Have you found yourself following after it?

facebook-followingFollowing our North American culture’s idea of this “good life” can lead to fatigue, frustration, hurt, envy, strife… the list goes on (and includes depression, anxiety, and burn out), because one of many problems with this idea of the “good life”, is that it is inviting people to follow and to chase after something that can never be realized. This “good life” is built upon the reality that it is unachievable. There will always be more, there will always be an imperfection, a blemish, a relational conflict, a failure. Yet we run and follow after this as if it will somehow soon be realized and our hearts then satisfied. 

I was stuck this week as I studied Ephesians to read that the Apostle Paul characterizes the Christian walk as being one which is no longer following the culture. He writes in Ephesians 2, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world…” The invitation made in Ephesians, and throughout Scripture, is for us, all of us, to “unfollow” this world, and instead follow Christ. The invitation is to walk in a different way, and for the way of the world to be one in which we once walked but do not currently walk. 

Not a week goes by that I don’t hear the subtle invitation of culture, that I don’t feel in my heart a pull follow after “the good life”. But Jesus is also calling, Jesus is inviting me to to follow His way, to walk his way. Friends, if we believe that God is the author of life, if we believe that Jesus came to give us life and life to the full, we must realize that the longings inside of us can only be satisfied by the one who designed us to have them, that they can only be satisfied by God.

Our lives then become a journeying with God and following in HIS ways. Ephesians 2 goes on to say these familiar words, pexels-photo-346826.jpeg

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

When we follow his ways we recognize that we are his work (that he has designed us and has a plan and purpose for our existence, and has worked salvation for and in us), and that we get to participate in HIS GOOD WORK. This good work is the context by which we are to go to work, spend time with our families, shop at the grocery store, attend church, and rush about the endless to-do list. The work is no longer an end to the unachievable means of cultures “good life”, rather the work becomes (when engaging in it with God), participation in His good work. No matter our context we engage in our work as working for God, and in doing so we work with him, extending his grace, mercy, love, kindness, and character towards those around us.

So let us consider the way we are walking, let us consider what or who we are following. I pray that you will join with me in seeking to be one who has unfollowed this culture, and is following Jesus, participating in His good work.

-Adam Foster