1. We acknowledge that God is our Father Who desires intimacy with His children and is the source of life and desires to impart life.
We vow to welcome and receive intimacy with God by the practices of silence, solitude, simplicity, prayer, and scripture.
- I will practice the openness to recognizing whatever scripture I am in daily, that it will speak into the experiences, events, and life practices I partake in.
- I will seek the invitation of God and His story in all people I meet while inviting them to be a part of my story.
2. We acknowledge that God’s Trinitarian nature reveals a mutual submission among His Persons.
We vow to practice mutual submission as we live in the context of community.
- I will give myself in service to the needs of my wife, my tribe (church), and my community as they have need or desire for the work of the Kingdom.
- I will pursue the understanding of my community’s needs by developing and fostering a relationship with community leaders and civil servants.
3. We acknowledge that God is a welcoming, gracious, merciful, lover of all people Who stands in solidarity with us and desires to be with us.*
We vow to practice both giving and receiving hospitality and neighborliness.
- I will seize every opportunity to pursue a relationship with my neighbours while creating environments of connection by being personally visible on the street as much as possible.
- We (Bonnie & I) continue to have an open house as we welcome any and all to out table over visiting and tribal gatherings.
- I continue fostering relationships with the other amidst diversity in beliefs, understandings, and cultures.
4. We acknowledge that the God who raised Jesus from the dead is a redeeming God Who is in the process of restoring all things.
We vow to participate in practices that actively restore shalom.
- I will continue serving at the Calgary Mustard Seed while developing friendships and relationships with the many homeless on Calgary’s streets.
- I will seek every opportunity to speak out against injustice, prejudice, and worldly labels particularly in the issues of euthanasia, mental illness, and those considered “disabled”.
5. We acknowledge that God is the creator of this world and all things belong to Him and are for Him
We vow to live as faithful stewards of God’s creation including our bodies and resources
- I will seek to live a healthy life by educating and developing a greater understanding of the workings to a holistic life.
- I will seek to train my body through exercise every week by weight training, wheeling, and healthy eating habits.
- I will submit to the continued understanding that I am not my own person, I am a temple to the Holy Spirit, and therefore under the possessive communal dwelling of his continued eternal presence amidst my own.
“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.” God’s words here leaped in my heart as I reflected on the meanings to a rule of life. A rule of life must not be one of doctrine, complexity, or teaching, but rather an embrace of breathable naturalism and simplicity to which we ascribe in living communal practice with an expectation of becoming that which we are. Fyodor Dostoevski put it as, “The whole law of human existence lies in this: that man be able to bow down before the infinitely great”
The submission to communal life as a Christian is not sustainable through the life of just one and as our creator, it is God who first makes those relational ties with our inner being as he seeks intimacy and knits the fabric of life into the community around us (Jer. 1:4-10). Miroslav Volf rightly identifies that, “The Christian faith is not primarily about human doing but about human receiving. The barebones formal injunction to which the gospel can be produced is, ‘Receive yourself and your world as a new creation.’”
Catalyzing this receiving of new life and intimacy is the reality of God’s being in the foundation of love. This is not a reaction of motivated love but rather, “God’s love for humanity [as] freely given… The one true God does not need anything from humans, but exists as self-complete and yet not self-enclosed plenitude of self-giving and other receiving of love.” It is in a submission to receiving that love that we can then reflect it in response as an attribute to our being in the imago Dei. This existence however is not limited to our relationships solely between God and us but also in creational community. As we live deeper into this rule of life we recognize that love is not quantifiable and therefore not ours to give and receive, rather there is only one love in the identity of God which is shared and mirrored by all of his creation and intrinsically woven into the DNA of communal practice.
The universal inclusiveness of the Christian community gives birth to an alienation of its practice from that of the world’s understanding. Volf reflects the thoughts that, “through the new birth into a living hope, a ‘sect’ is born. And indeed, before the new born child could take her first breath, her difference, her foreignness, was manifest.” Hospitality and acceptance in the world’s perception is founded on a belief that it is quantified through personal individual meriting and yet, as Christians we fully live out an inclusiveness of hospitality and acceptance for all, despite difference, diversity, or social dictums. We love and entertain as God loves and entertains all!
The freedom in this endeavor to pursue God’s love and redemption of all things, returning his love to that which he creates, brings not a sense of enslavement, but a radical becoming and returning to who we are and who we were meant to be. No longer are we trapped by the self-consuming rules of ego but catalyzed by the movement towards communal self-realization and the rule of life. In Volf’s terms, “Every act of knowing God both satisfies and engenders human curiosity, every encounter with God both quenches and deepens human thirst. In the infinite being of God, the incessant movement of the human spirit begins to arrive at its final rest.”
Rest… indeed, a life long meditation on the practice of Sabbath!
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Je 31:33–34). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 Dostoevski, Fyodor, Quoted in Philip Yancey’s, Reaching for the Invisible God: What Can We Expect to Find. (Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000),123.
 Miroslav Volf, Captive to the Word: Engaging the Scriptures for Contemporary Theological Reflection. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 51
 Ibid, 140.
 Ibid, 89.
 Ibid, 177.
God knew me! What does that mean? How does he know me? It seems incredibly powerful to think about the fact that God dreamed of what I would be like! The things I’d say and the things I’d do! To fathom that he even knew my faults!
The reality is I am still learning about myself and I don’t fully know who I am in the course of life. That is what I really am about; I am journeying through life slowly learning more and more deeper, who I am. The realization being that if I really want to know who I am, I need to seek the one who created me as only he can fully know who I am.
Still, I can make some key notes in my characteristics…
- I am a man. It seems silly to note but the reality is my sexual identity creates a defined role I have in existence. That role being not only individual but also in my community and society.
- I am a husband. This of course creates a intrinsic reality that my character and identity not only shapes just who I am but also that of my wife too. Of course the reverse of that is also true in that she shapes who I am too.
- I am intelligent. It’s not meant to sound in any kind or arrogance but, God wants me to learn and as such learning is meant to be done not just in knowledge, but also in exercise. Intelligence is the willingness to take knowledge and process it into wisdom.
- I am passionate and emotional. I cannot lie, I shed a few tears every once and a while when a good movie is on. Joking aside, I can be very passionate about the callings I have and the people who are a part of my life. I do not think I should separate my emotions from the decisions I make in life. Of course, I don’t think my emotions are the sole elements I rely on for my decisions.
I could go on here with some other notes but this is a start.
I think it is interesting that God also said he “consecrated” me. In that way, my separated sense of self consciousness and self awareness was given by him. There is, in a sense, a piece of God inside of me as who I am. A finger print of sacred exists in a way. I am unique!
“I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:5)
There is a realization here that God created me with a purpose, a mission in mind. A prophet is one who not only hears from God but speaks with and for him. It is a vocational calling to which transcends my identity in everything I do and am. I have a deeper calling to listen to God and respond to him whether in actions or words.
That vocation however, is not separated from the appointment of that calling to which is the “nations”. A nation is not necessarily a political country, but rather it can be a people group of affiliation or locality. In that sense, I realize that my identity is to listen and respond to God’s presence in the midst of all the people who are around me in life. This means in work, at home, on the street, and anywhere I find myself at any given moment.
These are a few thoughts I have had while meditating through Jeremiah 1:4-19 as a start.
It’s been a week of Face Time and Skypeing into Dallas Texas with a new tribe out of Rochester Michigan as I start my studies for the MRE (Masters of Religious Education) and Missional Leadership out of Rochester College. I wasn’t sure what to think of hitting the books again and although being unable to travel, I was a bit nervous to using Skype as I had never done so before. It took a few days to settle in but even sitting in the comfort of my home, the Intensive Week lived up to its name. I am exhausted!!
Listening to the stories of the other students really moved me and inspired me as I could see the awesome impacts of God in their lives! Story after story of deliverance, compassion, suffering, redemption, and God led mission left me feeling very small in the world and yet recognized as a brother in a Kingdom far greater then I or you could imagine! I greatly look forward to growing closer and learning from this tribe in the years ahead!
A few days in, the language began to incline and I recognized the old familiar tongue of missional latitude that I suppose I should expect from higher education and deeper waters of missional thought. From the discussions of narrative and meta-narrative to the formulation and defence of hermeneutical interpretation, I recognized a need to brush up and grow my linguistic skills. This left me with a pondering to our roles in community and how we embody biblical, or God’s word, in the community narrative? (Ah yes, it seems to be taken an old road again! ;) )
A few days ago, a fellow student made the statement, “I’m struggling with the big words.” My mind reflected to seven years ago as I left the Bible College and started enacting the call of mission in my community. Over and over my family and friends would tell me, “We don’t understand this missional language you are speaking. You have to speak to us like a normal person!” Epiphany hit me, Alan Hirsch was right! Even as missional leaders, we need to learn the language of the community and for the next seven years that is exactly what I learned to speak!
The role of missional leadership is to take the missional narrative and linguistics and in a sense, learn to become a translator who embodies God’s word not only in action but in spoken word. The meta-narritive is taking the hermeneutic and putting it into the story of… the Simpsons! ;)
Yes, I’m back into the deep end of the pool again and I’m sure there are some sharks about, be they institutional or my own endurance to tread water and keep my head up. I just pray that as I swim away from the boat again, that as I come ashore, Jesus is there waiting by the fire. (Interesting note of thought – the last boat I swam from was the institutional church (See Here). Now I’m swimming from the “missional” front lines!)
This fall tens of thousands of young people have begun studies after high school. They have worked hard for this. Having won the prize of admission reserved for those disciplined in study, they will enter rich academic environments, richer then they have ever known, to pursue the promise of a good job.
They will find courses devoted to every question under the sun. But there is one question for which they will search in vain: the question of life’s meaning, of what one should care about besides a job and why, of what life and living is for.
I’ve been thinking about this vacuum recently. Western public education began with the notion that life’s most important questions are appropriate subjects for students to explore. This has all but disappeared. It is perhaps truer to say that what is most important in life has been collapsed, within education itself, to economics. Economic globalization of the last three decades or so has been the final squeeze to push questions of value and meaning out of formal learning. The disciplines with the oldest, deepest connection with these questions, the humanities, including the study of religion, have been badly weakened, even within secular universities. Research, the capacity to produce “true value” for new economic opportunity, is now king. Education is about commodities and the quantifiable. The question “What is life for?” is homeless here.
The loss of the quest for meaning has come at a staggering price. The September 2012 Maclean’s headlined Canadian students feel hopeless, depressed, even suicidal. Among other things it discussed the results of a 2011 survey of 1,600 University of Alberta students, where “about 51 percent reported that, within the past 12 months, they’d felt things were hopeless. Over half felt overwhelming anxiety. A shocking seven percent admitted they’d seriously considered suicide, and about one percent had attempted it.” Canadian universities don’t have a monopoly on these things. At Cornell University in New York, the solution for hopelessness and depression has been to install bridge netting under the seven bridges leading to campus to catch jumpers on their way to class. Sadly even the article itself reduced the problem to one of “mental health“. Mental health is serious stuff, and important to acknowledge and deal compassionately with. The issue though is complex. Hopelessness, depression, and anxiety has much to do with the conditions of life, like prior to a major assignment. There will, as the saying goes, “always be prayer in schools as long as there are exams.”
Despite globalization, the quest for meaning persists. At one level it helps us cope. With a “why“, Victor Frankl observed, we can deal with any “how“. For Christians though, our longing for transcendence empowers us to invest in riches that can be enjoyed forever. The scriptures call it “hope in Christ” (1 Cor. 15).”Hoping in Christ” helps us to endure too. It also gives us the Model for living, a Christ shaped character, and a horizon far past the hollow promises of consumer culture, a reason to spend life for the sake of others.
Since questions for meaning are always questions of the spirit, and the right and proper subject of Christian education, it would be easy to say here “Hooray for Christian education!”
However, life’s meaning is far more than “a question” of the spirit. It is rather a quest, a hunger of the spirit. That’s why not all churches or even places like ABC are automatically places of authentic spiritual food. Sometimes Christian institutions bear a strange similarity to religious studies classrooms where information about God or belief systems is passed off as sufficient for Christian discipleship. Information however, while important and necessary, is hardly sufficient for becoming a follower of Jesus.
At the heart for our quest for meaning is Jesus who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He didn’t say, “I’ve come to tell you ‘Ten steps to walk in the Way.‘” He didn’t say, “I’ve come to tell you the Truth.” He said, “I am the Truth.” He offers Himself. This of course matches our yearnings precisely. They are for Love Himself. Information is not enough for the quest!
Jesus knew all of this! He knew that what disciple-learners needed more than anything in their quest was a model of loving surrender to the Father. This was a lengthy process, even under the master Teacher! Along the way there were questions, doubts, fears, denials, prejudices, jealousies, and a host of other distractions. Their enemy was ours too: they thought that the “Way” was the way of privilege and power. All of them desert Him at one point. After three years of instructions they still think that (Acts 1:8). Throughout this jagged journey to learn Him, every moment was a teachable one. He never gives up on them.
Regardless of how that quest unfolded in particular cases, the common thread was that Jesus was always with them, entering life with them, challenging, encouraging, whittling away their self-preoccupation. All this to say that for Jesus curriculum was not enough. He longed for them to experience His inner life. His presence was key!
Dallas Willard puts it this way: “…spiritual formation rests on the indispensable foundation of death to self and cannot proceed except in so far as that foundation is being laid and sustained. You cannot follow Jesus from a distance. You do life with Him.” (Renovation of the Heart, Page 64)
The quest for meaning is satisfied through the challenging conversation and encounters where life’s big questions are faced honestly. In fact, our gospels are both declaration and a “working through” of the conversations about what it means to live for Someone else. Without those conversations, they wouldn’t exist! Peter Berger is correct: “Worldview hangs on the thin thread of conversation.”
As they walked with him, Life seeped in. Jesus’ own dreams of a new, Other-oriented life took shape. They learned to serve by serving. They learned to love by loving. They learned to be loved, by being loved. Meaning arrived not by armchair philosophizing, but through fresh encounters with Life Himself. Jesus knew that the transformative turning points of life are already in the journey, not just in the synagogue.
It is easy, and so tempting, to think of what is done outside the classroom as unimportant. It is not. The stakes are too high, the consequences too stark, the possibilities for Others too rich, and the horizons of meaning to beautiful, to abandon the co-curricular.
I tend to like the dark. Truth is, I spend most of my best reading time in the dark; staying up late into the night in bed with my book in front of me and my small little reading light curled over the top of it as I envision the author standing before me speaking the words I’m reading as though we were engaged in a deep conversation. I’m not sure why but I feel like my mind is just more focused that way, more willing to engage in what the text is saying.
It was a few nights ago though that after starting Brian McLaren’s new book ‘Naked Spirituality‘ that I came across a conversation he expressed having about gratitude that deeply disturbed me. I usually am greatly inspired by his writing which is why it took me back so much when reading it. Try as I might, the discontent would not leave so I thought it best to put pen to paper and express my thoughts in an open letter here. Will McLaren every read it? I do not know but, I hope by verbalizing it we might all grow to find a deeper, more unconditional spirit of gratitude.
Dear Brian McLaren,
I remember the first time I ever picked up one of your books. I was in a Chapters book store here in SW Calgary looking for something different and came across your writing of ‘A New Kind of Christian‘. Like most other times in book stores, I began reading it in one of the aisles and found I could not put it down. Most often I like to read apologetics or theology books and it is my wife who reads the narratives and biographies but your thoughts in this book where mesmerizing! Needless to say I was finished it in 3 days and on to find the 2 follow ups after it.
Since then I have gone on to read a number of your other books including starting most recently your latest work in ‘Naked Spirituality‘. After hearing so many of your thoughts in your other books though I must admit to being a bit distressed in a story you speak of regarding a spirit of gratitude. You say,
When I was still a teenager, my friend Mary asked me, “How much money would you give to keep your eyesight if you knew you were going blind?”
“A lot,” I answered. “Everything.”
Then she asked, “What if it was your ability to walk – if you had a disease that would leave you wheelchair-bound unless you could pay for a cure. How much would you spend?”
“Everything,” I said. “I’d liquidate everything I own and go as far into debt as I could to save my mobility.”
“How about your hearing?”
“The same,” I answered.
“How about your sanity – your mental health, your intelligence?”
Finally I asked, “What’s your point?”
“I’m just trying to save you from BYTS – the Big Yellow Taxi Syndrome,” she said, evoking the newly released Joni Mitchell song. “If you were to loose any one of these abilities, you would pay millions of dollars to recover it, so each one is worth millions of dollars to you. You would rather have the ability to see or hear or move or think then tens of millions of dollars in the bank. Well,” she smiled and gave me a little shove, “you have them! Which means you’re better off than a multimillionaire! You have to know what you’ve got before it’s gone.”
I realize that we live in a world that likes to box frame such things as success, richness, blessings, normality, and capability but in honesty I can’t help but feel personally towards this story. In open truth, here I am, in a wheelchair, paralyzed as a quadriplegic after a car accident 18 years ago, reading this story, and what I’m hearing is you would rather do anything, including go as far into debt as possible, then become like me!
Why? What is wrong with me? What am I lacking that makes your abilities more valuable then my own? Should I then go and do “everything” to not be this person in a wheelchair?
Let me share a story with you which comes from an experience I had prior to the car accident that has placed me in this wheelchair and is strangely similar to your encounter under the stars. It was about a year before my life would change in such a dramatic way and like most days I was found dribbling a basketball down the street. I was always athletic competing in just about everything and being a 6 foot 210 pound 15 year old I was as invincible as you could be!
Growing up in the church I understood the concept of God but I really didn’t take the conversation seriously. Anyways, there I was, dribbling down the street towards the courts and I distinctly remember an inner voice speaking to me. It said, “How would you like to be in a wheelchair for the rest of your life?”
Now my mother had worked with people in the health care industry before who had been in wheelchairs and so it wasn’t like I wasn’t aware of some of the challenges these people face in life. Still, without really taking notice of who I was talking with and the implications of what I would say, I shot back, “Sure, I could do that! It would make me cool, unique, and I’d be some what revered!”
Let’s be honest here; I had no idea what I was talking about. More to the point, I had no idea who I was talking too! Looking back now I can honestly say that I know I was talking with God that day and he was preparing me for what was going to become very shortly, a new projection to the pilgrimage of my life. Still, what was I looking for here? What was the deeper desire? Maybe even, what would make me grateful to be who God created me to be?!
Let’s look at it from the perspective of the secret vision of Jesus. (Thought you might like that term ;) ) Jesus’ disciples loved asking questions and they were constantly asking him about the “why’s” in life. One time they were walking on the streets of Jerusalem and they came across a blind man begging on the side of the street. His followers turned to him and said, “Teacher, why is this man born blind and disabled since birth? Is it because he himself has displeased God or did his parents offend God?” (John 9:2)
Jesus looked at them and answered, “It is neither because God is displeased in this man or offended by his parents. It is so that he can do the incredible works of God through being who he was created to be!” (John 9:3) Blindness was seen by Jesus not as a lacking or deficiency but rather a personification of God given character and identity. This man was special, unique, and cool because of who God made him to be!
I have been in a wheelchair for many years now and gained much more wisdom and appreciation for the gifts God has placed in my life because of the wheelchair I live in. As such I must admit to recognizing that you probably are writing this false understanding of gratitude without realizing the danger nor damage this sense of false gratitude can create. But, we must see beyond the world’s sense of segregationalized and marginalized gratitude. Our eyes must be blinded by the glory of the cross which drives gratitude straight to the hearts of the segregated and marginalized!
I have been around some incredible people who face incredible physical and mental challenges in life and one thing that has been greatly impressed upon me is the real spirit of being able to accomplish all things through Christ’s inspiration and guidance. (Phil. 4:13) Perhaps something I am most grateful for is the encountering of Christ’s presence through such relationships and events!
We have met one time before a few years back when you came to Calgary to speak with Bob Goudzwaard on your book ‘Everything Must Change‘. After your talk I came up and shook your hand while you signed my copy of ‘A Generous Orthodoxy‘. Perhaps this is something else that must become more generous in recognition and must change in our society’s understanding of appreciation. A real spirit of gratitude is not an appreciation for what we quantify as the justifiable right in our life; but rather the physical, mental, and spiritual diversity and beauty God has placed in each one of our lives both individually and communally. Sharing those things together as equals and sharing full equity between each other despite differences; those moments are truly miraculous and filled with the glorious spirit of eternal gratitude!
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” – James 1:19-20
Silence. It is a theme which has filled my life right now. Not the kind of silence where everything around me is quiet but rather the opposite. I have grown silent and for me, it is becoming stifling. It is difficult to write, to dream, to share my thoughts with others, and to speak in public spaces.
As a boy I can remember it being told to me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say then you shouldn’t say anything at all.” In a lot of ways I can agree but at what point does it become unhealthy for a person? When is silence no longer good for me; even if I am struggling with the inner wrestlings of unease, frustration, anguish and that which is considered not good?
No; silence is not working out for me any longer. It is over taking me, drowning me in its deafening noise, and killing my spirit. I need to get it out. I need to expel it from my thoughts so that I might better defeat its grasps.
The things you read here may not always be right and they certainly may not always sound good. I just hope you can extend me some grace as I try to put this out so that I can possibly leave it behind.
Vision Casting and the Things of Dreams
“For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words… For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.” – Ecclesiastes 5:3, 7
Not long after graduating from Alberta Bible College with my Bachelors Degree in Theology I began asking myself the question; what is my mission in ministry and how can I tie a number of our past projects around an actual vision? I found myself drawn to the story in Matthew 16:13-20 when Jesus and his disciples where passing through Caesarea Philippi.
Jesus, while passing by the shops in the streets, turns to his disciples and says, “Who do the people say that I am?” Their answers vary from a teacher, a moralist, a prophet, and a healer. But he then turns the question around to being very personal in nature as he says again to them, “Who do you say that I am?” What a fascinating and telling question for Jesus to ask! I imagine the surprise as his disciples are taken back by the question. Jesus doesn’t care so much what the people think of him. He wants to know what his followers think of him, and more I think to the point; what they personally think of him. Peter’s answer hits the nail right on the head, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.“
Meditating on that crux in the question it seemed to me that Jesus’ words were transcendent over time. It wasn’t just a question for his followers in Caesarea Philippi. It is a question he continues to ask me and each one of us here today. Who do we say Jesus is? The expressions and answers which we give being worked out not only in our statements and words, but also the actions and lives we live out day to day.
This was a vision I could follow; this was a dream which took over my heart. Seeking expressions of Jesus as Lord in Life and Community. The birth of Expressions.
It was my hope that Expressions could be a community of groups which not only found and built bridges between our culture and the gospel through unique and dynamic ways but that it could also be a place where everyone could grow in leadership through the distinctive callings and gifts Christ’s Spirit placed in each of our lives. The movement of Expressions would not be confined by the traditional avenues of Sunday morning church practices alone but also find new ways to revealing the gospel and the Kingdom of God in all things and in all places.
I shared this vision with our home church community and with the elders. In discussion they seemed concerned over a few issues with Missional Theology but were intrigued and wanted to see more in the way of these groups taking shape.
Over the next two years I developed a number of groups including Re:Genesis, God at the Movies, Expressions of Compassion, Conversations in ESL, Mars Hill Adventure, Adorations, H2O: A Journey of Faith, and a number of community events such as the Grey Cup of Coffee Event and the Super Bowl of Chili. It’s not an exhaustive list of everything we did over the next few years as there were other events but, it is the staple of who we were. I loved every minute of it and felt as though I was living a dream!
Supporting these ministries solely on our own though, I soon realized that I could not keep up this pace while supporting my family and looking after my own personal health. I needed the support of other leadership and those who would dream, aid, advocate, be a voice, build along, and journey with me. So I again turned to the elders in our home community.
A bombshell was dropped. They explained they could not support us as we were seen as an “outside identity” and not really a part of the church.
Feeling Sold Into Slavery
“Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver” – Gen. 37:26-28
An outside identity. I felt so alone and unwanted by the elders and leadership in the church. We had been a part of the church community for over 8 years and yet we were still considered an outside identity. Still, the words seemed foreign to me and stung deeply. I found it harder and harder to sit in the back during worship and hold back the tears from filling my eyes, and rolling down my checks. I couldn’t do it any longer and turning to Bonnie I said, “I can’t go back to that church anymore and simply sit in the seats while passing in tithes. There has to be something more.“
I felt as though I was being sold into slavery by my brothers. We left. It hurt doing so as we have so many friends and spiritual family there. We still do. I just couldn’t seem to go anymore without the pain of those words cutting deeper and deeper into my heart. I only hope they can understand and find forgiveness.
Exposing the Elephant in the Room
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” – James 5:16
Over the last year and a half we have continued with a number of our groups in Expressions on our own while struggling to maintain a balance with health, time, and finances. In trying to support a number of our groups as well as our own needs; a few years back I took up a job in the local Home Depot. It wasn’t meant to be a long term job as I had hoped to find a place soon on staff in a church community and it wasn’t much in the way of financial support but, it helped with things and enabled me to continue with some of our groups in the house. It has been hard though as it leaves little time for personal health needs and times for rest or family gatherings.
In the last few months I have taken a few personal leadership classes as well as evaluational courses. They’ve been difficult. Not in the intellectual sense but rather because their forcing me to look internally at some things which are glaringly confronting me. They always seem to start with the question, “If you can sum up who you are in one brief sentence, who are you?” Searching for an answer this small voice I’ve been hearing over the last year creeps up inside of me:
- “You are a joke!“
- “You are not a pastor nor will you ever be one.“
- “You are useless and pathetic.“
- “You are the running joke of the pastor community.“
- “All the times that people have said that you are great at speaking, teaching, leading, ect… They are only being polite and don’t really mean it.“
They are statements which leave me with the questions:
- What is wrong with me?
- Is it because I am in a wheelchair?
- Is it because Bonnie and I do not have any or cannot bear any children?
- Is it because I do not have enough education or a Seminary Masters Degree?
Call it burn out, a broken heart, or call it something else; I don’t know. What ever it is; it has robbed me of my self confidence entirely. The more I wrestle with this elephant which has invaded the space I call my personal identity; the more I realize that I am facing a deep depression within myself and I don’t know how to defeat it. This depression has slowly eroded my ability to dream and find hope for the future. I don’t know if I have any meaning in my life and if I am of any significance or for any purpose.
This must change…
Repentance and a Desire for Reconstitution
“In you, O LORD, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me!
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily!
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!“
This must change. I honestly do not know how, but I know it must.
“We need to learn the difference between the convictions of the Holy Spirit and the accusations of Satan!” Those where the words Scott Weatherford spoke from the front of a church Bonnie and I had gone to after I felt a deep need to be in worship with a community we had not been a part of before. I’m not sure why the words stuck with me but I just seemed to keep playing them over and over in my head. Perhaps God was speaking to me.
Looking back I can realize that this voice that has been speaking to me seems far more accusational in nature then it does a convictional calling to walk in righteousness. I don’t think this excuses the impact of the failure in human leadership within my story and yet I realize my struggle is one which is internally a true battle not against flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) I only pray God might restore my strength, redeem my confidence, and reconstitute the person he wants me to be in leadership and life.
Over the past few weeks I’ve felt called to commit to some personal steps. I don’t know where they might take me but, I’d like to share them with you.
- I’ve begun reading through the Psalms. David was a man after God’s own heart and I pray for nothing less then that for myself.
- I have a deep desire to find a home church which would encourage and help me grow not only spiritually but in leadership and ministry. This might redefine Expressions, and it may not. I leave that in God’s hands as it is in His Kingdom that I serve.
- I have cut my hours back at work in the Home Depot. This will make things a little tighter in the budget but, I need the time to focus on my personal health and to search out where God may be leading me.
As I mentioned earlier, I realize that things must change and I’m not quite entirely sure how. I only hope that these steps might help and as I take them, Jesus might show me and guide me to the next steps in the journey he wants me to take. If I can borrow Thomas Merton’s prayer, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I’m going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.”
I thank you all for your prayers and for the words you might share with me.