I realize that I’m a nobody. I’m just a small house church leader in SE Calgary who’s voice is but a whisper in the midst of great speakers such as people like David Platt. But, I couldn’t help but cringe as I listened to these words in his post “Why You Should Not Believe in ‘Heaven is for Real‘“. Have we so lost our imaginations to the power of telling our story?
My mother lived to be 39 years old. I was 15 when we both were in a car accident in 1994 where she passed away and I would spend the next 3 months fighting for my life in the General Hospital Intensive Care Unit. Over that year I witnessed several miraculous experiences but one will be with me for the rest of my life.
I laid there, starring at the wall at the foot of my ICU bed listening to the beeps and the whirrs of the machines around me. Then a small pin light appeared at the foot of my bed. It grew over the next few minutes until it was the size of maybe a yoga ball that radiated all around the room. I didn’t really think or feel anything until a voice spoke to me from the light. My eyes filled up with tears and I could feel my self choking a bit as I heard my mother’s voice. It was warm and filled with love and only spoke a few words. She said, “You and your father will be ok.“
It perplexed me in many ways that I won’t share here but I felt a great sense of hope and peace knowing that my mother was with Jesus. Perhaps that is what many of these experiences and stories of the miraculous are meant to mean; a struggle or paradox between our rationality and reason with the ever present tense of the Kingdom of hope and peace being near! Should we ever hide these stories? Should we be quiet out of the fear that others simply will not understand?
David Platt is right that several of the biblical authors also experienced prophetic visions of heaven with Isaiah seeing the Lord on a throne with his robe filling the Jerusalem temple and angels all around him (Isa. 6); Ezekiel envisioning fire lashing out with gleaming metal (Eze. 1); not of Paul’s vision, but the testimony/story of another man’s vision of the “third heaven” – “whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.” (2 Cor. 12:2) (Interesting to note here that Paul himself accepted the story of a fellow believer while leaving the wonders of it up to God); and of course John’s vision of doorways to heaven, thrones, and voices like trumpets (Rev. 4)! Yet each grappled with what words to use to describe what they saw and each were ostracized, judged, and told to be quiet by the priests and community around them much like those who share such stories today.
There were also many who experienced resurrection and coming back from the dead such as the young girl who Jesus laid his hand upon as she “awoke” (Matt. 9:18-26); a widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17); and most famously, the story of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). Again, you are correct David Platt that the scriptures do not speak of any stories or experiences that these people shared and yet, that does not mean they did not share any. What stories do you suppose Mary and Martha shared with the villagers and those they saw in their travels? What experiences could Lazarus have spoke of while being dead in the tomb? Who are we to say, or were you there?!
I don’t profess not to struggle with some of the details in people’s visions like Colton Burpo’s story. But I don’t doubt at all that they experienced something significant that greatly affected the trajectory of their lives! So in what ways can these visions and dreams speak to us today?
In the first sense, these events happened to these people and their experiences have deep and meaningful significance to them. They have a right to speak of them and share how God may have spoke into their lives! We may not understand or even agree with everything they share but, we cannot deny that they experienced something in their life and it is shaping who they are.
Secondly, by listening to their stories we can find symbols of hope! By witnessing their testimony and the radical transformation that it has on their lives, we find an epiphany of God’s presence, love, and recognition to our existence. Though we know only in part, God’s glory is still in these stories. They are visions of God’s Kingdom come near in both the personal experience of the individuals and the communal promise of hope to the greatest story ever told!
Perhaps the greatest way we can treat these stories is by taking the advice of James, being quick to listen and slow to speak so that whatever righteousness God might work (James 1:19-20), might be done so through His works and not our own. Or should we become like the Pharisees commanding the crowds to silent at Jesus’ presence?! I think not less the stones begin to cry out! (Luke 19:40) If we all were willing to cry out “The Kingdom of God is near!” without fear of the judgements of others, perhaps then yes David Platt, we will recognize heaven is.. for real!
Lastly David Platt, regarding Kevin Malarkey… Who are we to speak against a person’s birth right and family name let alone that of a boy?! Does not the bible speak of the significance to a person’s family name? These are names of importance, history, meaning, and they deserve respect and honour in any room! To demean and mock them with a tact of bullying is in no way an act of Christ discipleship!
This might completely have you question the legitimacy of my Christian faith but, I am fascinated by apocalyptic films and television shows like ‘The Book of Eli‘ and ‘The Walking Dead‘. I guess I’m just enthralled by the wonder of how society and humanity would live without all the electronic, web connected, and media driven devices we are so used too and impacted by on a daily bases. As I get drawn into the stories and lives of these characters I recognize a simplicity to their practices and yet they each struggle to find meaning, purpose, community, and direction. They become heroic to me in their synergistic desire just to simply live and thrive as a community in mission; even if it is with flesh eating people all around them!
Speaking of eating… I like to say this simple quote while watching these shows that absolutely drives my wife nuts; “Everything’s got to eat some time!” I laugh as she squirms and blurts out with sarcasm, “Erik!” But it is true, is it not?! We might like to think differently but the reality is that these worlds of flesh eating zombies and cannibalistic appetites really aren’t that different from our own world. We simply give it a different title so that it sounds more economic and humane. The word we use is “Consumerism“.
Millions of people spending hours a day wanting, desiring, craving, and some times even obsessing over the self perceived drive for MORE!! And it doesn’t seem to matter how we get it either, whether through sweat factories, cheap labour, political bullying, even war; we want more and even after we get it, we might be subdued for a brief moment but ultimately we fall back to that same drive for more tech gadgets, more money, more clothes, or more vacations. Our lists for more can be never ending! What is it that quenches the scales of guilt towards greed in Dante’s Inferno? A pound of flesh!!
A few days ago I took some time to simply unplug from the grid. No TV. No internet. Ok, I did listen to a little music but who can escape the melodic guitar solos of the likes of Jimmy Hendrix, Jimmy Paige, and Stevie Ray Voughn?! It was a day of simplicity as I cleaned house, did some reading, and hit the weights in my basement. I felt great, rejuvenated, and even a little nostalgic to the days when I lived without all the electronic gadgets my wife and I use today (yes, it is a reality that I’m beginning to get that old!).
Jesus would often retreat to the mountains or go off on his own to unplug from the demanding world around him (Luke 5:15; Matt. 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12). Perhaps it was in the same way that he found rejuvenation, a time of refocus, and reconnection with his Father and the mission he came to complete. A mission not so much to take and consume but one to give and submit too. Of course, to complete that mission he couldn’t stay in the mountains; he had to return to that demanding world. Yet, even in the midst of those demands, he was not distracted from the very real purpose and work he came to complete.
My time in retreat reminds me that I have this same need for refocus in my own walk of faith. I must be willing to unplug from the demands of a consumer driven world if I am to become the person that God really wants me to be. I cannot allow my passion and desire for knowledge and understanding of God’s Word to become self consuming and absent of the actual practice of its calling and purpose. To do otherwise might place me into the same realization that one of my favourite characters, Eli, tragically comes to see in himself saying, “I spent so long trying to protect the book; I forgot to do what it says!” If I am not walking in submissive nature to faith and service, I am only one of the walking dead consuming anything and all in the name of more.
“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.
“Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” – Jeremiah 1:6
Jeremiah was a young man and it seems he felt boxed in by the the pressures of his society’s and cultural expectations for qualification and vocational purpose. It was in his own thoughts and mind that the people around him and the fellow Jewish countrymen would find him lacking. He was too young, lacked in education, failed in pedigree, and generally had no authority for speaking on behalf of God or truth.
It seems like things have not changed much since those days. So often we fall into the patterns of society’s expectation of boxed in rules, perimeters, and requirements for the right to be considered qualified to speak or enact visions for change or mission. Success is even margined by the cultural expectations of independence, self sufficiency, and quality being judged through numbers or profit. It seems authority and power always comes back to that which the individual presents over that of others.
These social and cultural expectations scream at us, “You are not good enough!” “You cannot achieve or act because your not gifted enough, educated enough, wealthy enough, old or young enough, in the right titled or position of authority!” “You lack the abilities to succeed!” It is a worldly noise that fills our minds with the distractions of self doubt to the point that we just simply give up. We don’t even bother to try, and why should we? The world knows we will fail and we know we will fail.
It was here, in this mind set of self doubt, that God spoke to Jeremiah and like him, unless we are willing to quieten our own self defeat, we will miss hearing and listening to our creators voice and calling.
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 1:6-8
Jeremiah would not find his authority in the world’s expectations but rather would only find it in his relationship with the Lord. He was not to look to his society’s or cultures expectations of character and abilities but rather that of God’s character and abilities entering into his life and personhood.
God has placed you and I in a very special community and neighbourhood! When we look at our neighbours we are not under their judgements but rather sent to them by God’s presence in our lives to speak with his words, love and act with his understandings, and deliver a Spirit of freedom from the worlds expectations of success, power and authority. We live not within the boxed categories of the worlds view but that of our creators view of abilities, talents, and gifts which with him in our lives is endless!
“Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,” – Jeremiah 1:9-10
My neighbour is from Toronto and is a huge Maple Leaf fan. Try as I might, I can’t convince him that the Calgary Flames are a far better team! I must admit, I know I’m dreaming here a bit but, the hope of another 2004 Stanley Cup run just can’t leave my heart. Why am I sharing this story?
Despite the political differences my neighbours and I might have, the reality is God has placed all of us over this separation or relational gap. My neighbour and I can cross over the thresholds of our sports, political, ethical, and religious boundaries and embrace a conversation to which God can speak through and to both of us. We don’t have to have all things in common to relate as it is God’s presence that bridges the words and worlds between us.
“to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Listening to the voice of God in the relationship I have with my neighbours begins to break down the barriers of communal self defeat. No longer are they strangers, they are friends and they impact the person I am today. As we share in life together we begin to find parts of our worlds coming together which shape the meanings to authority that we have and our relationships with God.
It is in these relationships that I can plant seeds of thought through my actions and words which can bring God’s presence just a little closer to my neighbours and friends lives, whether they know him or not. In some sense, I see them doing the same with me. Together we are building community which in relationship with God, becomes a building of the Kingdom.
My Heavenly Father,
The past few weeks have been a blur to me and yet I have anguished over the news reports of the death to a young boy in our city back in May 2013 (Click Here). It is incomprehensible to think of the strife and pain he went through as his parents starved him to death! Why would a mother and father do this to their own son? Why did they not seek help from others?
I’m under no delusions either and I recognize sin has a communal role also. So where were the neighbours to this young boy? Where were the doctors who could check on his health? Did no one notice anything? Or did they turn and look the other way, unwilling to be involved, unwilling to care? Where were you God when this boy slowly weakened to the point that he submitted to the powers of death?
Jesus, your words echo in my heart as I contemplate the complexity of sitting on the side of the Mount of Olives; “Blessed are you who hunger…” (Matt. 5:6). To hunger, it is a state of lacking that transcends the simple need of food and substance. We hunger for purpose, for meaning and significance, for the awareness that you and those around us see us and receive us in communion. That in the breaking of bread we find not just the physical nourishment of food for the body, but a healing and communal fare that speaks into our thoughts and our souls.
Martin Luther King said that, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” The hunger that this boy experienced was not just one of his physical symptoms but of the hunger his parents spiritually and mentally lacked. It was a hunger the community and neighbourhood had lost sight of in the love for those who live so close.
I too live in one of these neighbourhoods Lord. I too struggle with the pains of hunger, the deeper desire for who I am in you; nourished and sustained in the calling of your sacrificial love and the reflection of your eternal presence here in my home, my block, my city. I lament my apathy for communal neighbourhood practice Father. I repent and ask for your leading to the bridges of the full sustenance of community and brotherly love. It is in this “thirst for righteousness…” that I submit.
Righteousness… where do we find this Father? Where is the justice and hope for this boy? The Jews called it shalom, a place where things are as they should be in peace. In some sense it is in the keeping of saying, “In peace I come. My peace I give to you.” Culturally, when a relationship is made, one would not leave the other until that peace is experienced; be it in giving of service, food, hospitality, or wisdom.
My knee jerk reaction in the desire for justice for this boy is to say an eye for and eye, “Let the parents starve!” Yet, is this a place of shalom Lord? Should I find justice in the vengeance of death? I realize in reality that the answer is no. We must also seek righteousness, seek shalom with these parents who lay in starvation for the proper calling you have placed upon them. They are broken, wounded to the spiritual and mental purposes you created them for. In seeking your shalom with these parents we must sit with them, speak with them, nurture them to your presence in the hope of repentance and healing.
Hope… yes, I see you Father, sitting at the side of this boy as he anguishes in his room. I realize that understanding comes at the bigger picture of the whole which is solely in your thoughts. Yet, here you are. Bringing shalom in the hope of your eternal presence amidst all this hunger. Here is a place of submission that justice will be in your receiving and embrace of this boy’s eternal life. This is a hope I can be “… satisfied.“
Satisfied… A place of contentment where your eternal presence and love supersedes with authority over all places and times of strife, anguish, hunger, and suffering. Richard Rohr brings the words of, “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” It is to this spirit Lord that I live into the satisfaction of knowing, amidst the brokenness of my city, my community, my being, that you are present, you are righteous, and you are hungry to be with me. – Amen
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.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Martin Luther King Jr.
It’s not the easiest discussion to have and yet a few days ago, when a friend posted THIS article, I felt compelled to begin a conversation and explore what it means to rightfully stand for a Pro-Life agenda while not compromising a Christ like mindedness and nonviolent mission. I do agree and understand standing for pro life values. Yet, the judgmental exploitation of graphic images can cause greater harm to those who have been through abortional issues. I ask the question; is this how Christ would respond to the “woman at the well“? (John 4:1-26) My hope is that as Christ’s followers we can learn to respond to these issues with more a Spirit of love!
The Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform has for several years protested against the practice of abortion for several years here in Calgary by posting graphic images to bill boards, and protest signs openly on street corners and in front of clinic buildings. Any unsuspecting passer by from the age of 50 down to 5 would be instantly subjected to the violence of aborted fetuses and gruesome death. Is this really how we should protest against the tragic loss of life due to these issues? Must we force everyone from senior citizens to children to be visually aware of this grotesque misrepresentation of choice?
It is argued that if the sexually explicit images of naked bodies and such could be used to promote sexuality in media, television, and promotional ads; then these graphic images to which the CCBR are using could also be used in the protest against abortion issues. It is true that our culture and society are deeply affected by sexual immorality and we cannot ignore the misuse of such advertising and should likewise protest against such images. Yet, sin is not graded nor quantified. You cannot compare graphics from abortions to sexuality. Nor do I think the acceptance or use of one cancels out or excuses the use of the other.
We as followers of Jesus need to embody a message of protest which lovingly takes the discussion of abortion into the public with a practice of grace and not judgement. But, we must be willing to ask how and who does this also. Statistics may advocate for a faster more immediate response but are always a poor base for Christian social activism otherwise, one man’s death would count for nothing! With regards to who… Perhaps only one percent of those who struggle with the contemplation of abortion are reached by the Crises Pregnancy Center but, who’s fault is that? We need to have a community which not only embraces the truth but builds a community of openness and interdependence upon one another. One which builds relationships in the practices of grace! Proper Christian activism spends less reliance upon the movement of para-church organization and instead takes the message of truth directly to the heart of the formation of community and church.
“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” Martin Luther King Jr.
Several years ago I remember reading a book by Philip Yancey where he described an art exhibit called something like the Cadaver Museum. In it you would find everything from the preserved lungs of a smoker, the heart of an obese man, bodies riddled with cancer, and even aborted fetuses. It was meant to promote an awareness to the many health issues and effects they have on the human body. A small portion of it I believe came through the Glenbow Museum here in Calgary maybe a year or so ago. The city was shocked and in an uproar as to the ethical issues this placed on them and yet the display was not public nor visible unless you actually went into the exhibit yourself.
Do I think graphic and violent images can be shared in the Spirit of love? the short answer is yes, but not in the way the CCBR chooses to do so under their understanding of love. Yes, the CCBR does have the freedom to protest and yet true freedom is not the ability to do what you want to do. Freedom is not the ability, the right, to do what I want to do. Freedom is the power to do what we should do. I do not protest the CCBR’s RIGHT to protest; I protest the WAY they choose to protest!
It is true that many war memorials and Holocaust Museums have horrible graphic images as to the atrocities the Jews and others have been through. Yet, these images are not paraded and displayed on the street corners for any and all to see. They are shared in places and environments which build bridges of relationship and foster healing and not deconstructive separations between absolute rights and wrongs.
King David had committed a horrible sin; he had committed adultery and after it was discovered he would be exposed, he then committed murder to cover it up. The prophet Nathan rather then convicting him the the public courtyards then took him aside, and he told him a story of a a rich man who stole a poor man’s lamb. David was enraged by this sin and it was only after this that Nathan told him that it was him and David repented remorsefully for he knew that God was the one speaking to him. (2 Sam. 12:1-15)
I ponder whether the outcome of this story would have been different should Nathan had forcibly convicted David in the public eye. If we have learned anything as followers of Jesus, it’s that we should not scare at the images of violence in this world. Were it not so then the cross would have no meaning. Jesus promised us, “In this world you will have tribulation.” Yet we cannot allow those images to be used outside of a Christ like manner. We cannot dismiss that it is not us who will overcome but the amazing graces of Jesus who has “overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
“Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” – John 21:20-22
“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.
Not so long ago I had posted an article my friend Michael Coghlin wrote titled ‘Have you Heard the Good News?‘ It had mostly stirred the emotions in me regarding the challenges of evangelism and yet, my friend Don brought up a good point in a comment following the post; “I think that if we try too hard to concentrate on the ‘good news’ then we end up watering it down. It may seem like we’re building bridges but we may be doing very little to touch people’s lives with the real importance of the Good News.” I think he is right; we cannot simply focus on finding righteousness and salvation at the absence of not recognizing our own brokenness and need for repentance. But what exactly is it that we are repenting of?
For most of my life I have heard it said, “To error is human.” “To fail is natural.” But is this really true? Philosophically I can argue that to know failure you must first comprehend perfection. Yet perfection is solely measured in the personal sense. What I consider beautiful you may yet consider absolutely appalling! The same, I suppose, could be said of sin. What I consider to be nefarious in nature may not be to you. Sin in and of itself is undefinable to the exhaustive sense of comprehending its entire meaning.
“Sin is the missing of a target, a wandering from the path, a straying from the fold. Sin is a hard heart and stiff neck. Sin is blindness and deafness. It is both the overstepping of a line and the failure to reach it – both transgression and shortcoming. Sin is a beast crouching at the door. In sin, people attack or evade or neglect their divine calling. These and other images suggest deviance; even when it is familiar, sin is never normal…Above all, sin disrupts and resists the vital human relation to God.”
I think that is the actual problem we have with sin; we live with the expectation of trying to neatly define it to the letter of the law so that we can quantify its structure. To be blunt, we want the easy way of rationalizing the rule book of life so that we can find judgement within it. We want salvation and redemption within the life we have here and now today. It seems ironic to consider this when judgement itself cannot be completely ratified entirely until our life in this world comes to an end.
Perhaps the nature of sin is instead outside of the measurements of dogmatic law and is more than just a set of rules. Perhaps sin is very much like we identified earlier; relational in nature. If this is true, then sin itself must be more of an entity unto itself. Sin has character for the sack of personhood, existence for the sake of personal meaning, malevolence for the sake of self depravity. Perhaps this is what the Apostle Paul meant in saying, “But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.” (Romans 7:8-9)
Let’s wake up people. Let’s free ourselves from this prison of sin which calls itself natural and seek out redemption. This kind of relationship with sin is parasitic and in essence leeches off the perfected natures we as human beings were created for. Let’s put on our new selves and begin building on a relationship with life and not death.
Sin does exist in the objective sense a part from us yet I think the reality of our relationship too it is not to follow its lead but rather follow the lead of righteousness. In teaching his disciples Jesus says; “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:24-27)
Jesus’ leadership is in two forms; the first is that we alone cannot give anything or work to find freedom from our relationship to sin. That freedom can only come from the self sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. For that reason he models to us that we must rely of his Lordship, his ownership over our lives, and in acknowledging that authority we will find freedom through his grace and not our own personal efforts.
Secondly, by finding our allegiances in his Lordship we can begin in works which are inline with the very perfected natures God created us in and thus be filled with true purpose and meaning to our lives. Failure will no longer be a word with any meaning to us and freedom will become an expression which fills our heart with excitement and passion for the next opportunity to see the realities of Christ’s Kingdom manifest itself within us through creative, unique, diverse, and dynamic ways!
Sin no longer lives or reigns in this earth. Sin no longer is a problem; for it is dead. We are forever alive in the truth, the life, and the way through the power of redemption and freedom of Christ.
My good friend Michael Coghlin and pastor to Connections Christian Church wrote an article not to long ago looking at Good News and the way many of us might struggle with the word “Evangelism”. Take a read and maybe weigh yourself into the conversation… What stops you from sharing the good news?
“Evangelism” can be a scary word. For me, it immediately conjures images of obnoxious street preachers shouting hellfire and brimstone, or door knockers handing out tracts to convince me I have an invisible problem and then (conveniently) giving me a when-I-die solution to that problem. Ask me to evangelize a stranger, and I get a knot in my stomach, my palms start to sweat, and I’ll find any excuse to disappear. But ask me about my iPad, and I turn into an Apple evangelist!
“So,” I ask myself, “What gives? Why am I an eager tech-talker, but a hesitant faith-talker?” Here’s a few reasons:
- The message of Jesus is exclusive, and bound to be an unpopular message in a tolerant-of-anything-but-intolerance culture;
- Canadians are private, and what drives my life is reserved for discussion with my closest friends or psychologist, if anyone at all;
- I’m ashamed of the things others have done in the name of Jesus (residential schools in SK, bombing abortion clinics, picketing with signs like “God hates fags”);
- I fail to live completely into the Christian faith, and I fear that if I share it (the talk) I’ll be found out as a fraud (the walk);
- I haven’t been taught to share my faith, and I hate doing jobs I’ve not been given the tools for.
Accurate though these reasons may be, they only address outside issues. They don’t press me to question, “Do I experience Jesus as good news? Do I believe Jesus is good news for my neighbours? Do I believe Jesus’ good news is worth giving anything and everything for (riches, career, family, reputation)?” We need to ask these questions.
But, if “evangelism,” “sweaty palms,” and “running away” are three sides of the same coin, then how we think of “evangelism” also needs a serious overhaul. Jesus proclaimed the “good news [Greek: evangelion] of the kingdom” as he healed many people (Matt 4:23). What we lose in translation is that Jesus’ speech and actions were evangelism!
If we are to redeem the language of evangelism, here’s a few thoughts. First, let us start thinking, saying, and believing “good news” when we hear “evangelism.” Second, let us scour the gospels to see what was “good” about the good news Jesus proclaimed and lived. Third, let us give ourselves to “good newsing” our communities—as good parents, good friends, good neighbours, good coworkers.
In a world where technology exists to enter the human mind through dream invasion, a highly skilled thief is given a final chance at redemption which involves executing his toughest job to date: Inception.
DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a specialized spy or corporate espionage thief. His work consists of secretly extracting valuable commercial information from the unconscious mind of his targets while they are asleep and dreaming. Unable to visit his children, Cobb is offered a chance to regain his old life in exchange for an almost impossible task: “inception”, the planting of an idea into a target’s subconscious.
Inception – an act, process or instance of beginning which is often shaped by our encounters with a dream and vision to our future hopes and desires in our lives. Dreams are powerful in nature and we would be wrong to ignore their significance and meanings. In some cases our dreams may very well be God’s spoken guidance into the fabric of our being and purpose here in the world. Elihu, Job’s friend and wisdom imparter reminds him saying, “For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, then he opens the ears of men and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn man aside from his deed and conceal pride from a man; he keeps back his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword.” (Job 33:13-18)
Yet there is a danger also in the conceptualization of our dreams; if we choose to box their meaning in, stifle their implications, and bring our own singular interpretations to them, then to often these dreams can become ideological and lead us head long into the paralysis of idolatry. The writer of Ecclesiastes warns us, “For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity, but God is the one you must fear.” (Ecc. 5:7)
Join the Expressions Community this Saturday for God at the Movies when we will watch the film ‘Inception’ and explore the themes of Dreams & Ideologies. We will have snacks and drinks available as we look forward to seeing you here. If you and a friend are able to join us please email email@example.com to ensure seating availability.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak at Canyon Creek Christian Fellowship on Sunday January 2nd, 2011 about Living for Potential while focusing on Matthew 5:48. Although feeling a little rusty, here is what I shared…
“Are you ready for Christmas?” It seems like an innocent question enough but what are we really asking? Most times we’re wondering if you’re done rushing around to the many over run shopping malls and sale displays too which you are looking to buy the greatest gift for your loved ones and family. I must admit that even I have caught myself in this frame of mind from time to time throughout the last few weeks. After all, who wants to be stuck in traffic and that last weeks rush before the big day arrives on December 25th.
Yet is that what Christmas is really all about? Just us consumers delighting in the buying of gifts for others while waiting to see just what presents they might also have for us?
Last week while taking a moment to relax, I came across a post called ‘The 5 Stages of Relationship With God‘. It didn’t really have any particular holiday theme but as I read it, I couldn’t help but truly see the meaningful beauty it connected with in the story of Christmas and our relationship with Emanuel during this time of season.
I have a Kinship with Religion
It is pretty much impossible to say today that you do not know who Jesus is. At least that is true for a North American culture and society. We all have in one way or another been impacted by an understanding of the word Christianity and the general story of the Nativity. I think every year I hear about someone stealing the little baby Jesus from some church’s Nativity scene as a bad practical joke!
The spirit of Christmas as a religious relationship finds its expression for those of us who brave the cold to find a local church community who is hosting a Christmas Eve Service so that we might join in with carols and song while not feeling we have to attend church any other time of the year. Or as my fellow columnist Chris Hammer at the Calgary Beacon writes in his post ‘The Christmas Dichotomy‘, “Christmas is a time to engage with the comforts of tradition; whether celebrating the birth of a baby in a manger or the arrival of a jolly soul in a red suit.“
This is without a doubt a deep and meaningful relationship we have and Jesus is there too of course, but the relationship is distant. Not distant in presence per say but more so in the meaning of relevance. Soon the daily activities of life resume and the fable story of a little baby in a manger have little to no significance in our activities or thoughts.
Still for some, that distance might like other far reaching relationships cause us to question, “Who is this baby Jesus?” What happens to him when he grows up?” “Is Jesus real and if so, what makes him so special?”
I have a Kinship with Doctrine
Every year around Christmas I hear the conversational whispers of the battle between perceived Consumerism and the “true” meaning of Christmas. On one side are those who want to see a greater focus on the celebration of the birth of Jesus while on the other side are those who simply want to find a sense of joy in giving and receiving gifts from family and special loved ones.
Doctrine makes us want to create and follow certain beliefs or principles according to our understanding of faith or truth. It is the foundation to our world view and by definition creates “laws which are established through past decisions“. But following doctrine at the absence of feelings and emotions is outside of human natural behavior and becomes void to the essence of our need for relational acceptance and support. We need community and with community is our need for a greater sense of grace and tolerance.
Last week I was strolling through South Center Mall and came upon a quote from William Arthur Ward. He said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” I pondered the feelings that I have of gratitude, as a Christian, for God sending his son Jesus to us here on Earth. What or who would I be today if Jesus had never been born? How would I feel knowing that my faults, my sin had never been forgiven by my creator? Or how could I have known what purpose I might have; what on earth is right and wrong; is life meant to have a moral, ethical, and emotional compass? And if so, how could I possibly relate to it?
Words cannot express the emotions of gratitude, joy, love, and admiration which I have for Jesus and the relationship we have today. It is a relationship which not only sets a living compass for doctrines which guide my thoughts and actions but; it is also a human kinship filled with the workings of grace, forgiveness, and life long blessings.
It is that relationship which makes me want to share that same spirit with those around me; my friends, loved ones, and even the stranger I pass in the mall as I look up and smile while giving a friendly greeting, “Merry Christmas!!!”
I have a Kinship with Jesus
Have you ever listened to the lyrics of the Christmas song ‘Little Drummer Boy’ and wondered, “What is the essence of my drum to play?” “What is my gift for Jesus?” I know I have and at times and in some instances I have felt like the little boy, in that my gift isn’t really that special. Yet, in Jesus’ eyes all our gifts are special!
When we find ourselves realizing our relationship with an incarnate and living Jesus, we begin to explore the gifts, talents, and passions in our life in a new way. They’re no longer meaningless and pointless but instead they are unique and special just between us and God because they become expressions of our relationship with Jesus. Our hobbies become the praxis of His presence in our lives!
I wonder what the wise men must have thought as they packed all their belongings, gathered their family, servants, and helpers, and headed west across the continent to see a little baby Jesus in a manger who would one day be king? The pride they must have felt, knowing the relationship they had with this future king must have been great as they even bragged about it to King Herod while coming close to the end of their journey! (Matt. 2:1-2)
Jesus has a Kinship with Me
I am just a guy but if I were Mary I cannot imagine the terror that would have filled my heart when an angle stood before me saying “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” (Luke 1:30-31) At 14 years old, the thought of being pregnant and unmarried must have been scary to say the least. Even more so would be facing the whispered judgments of the many who would watch her as the little baby Jesus grew inside of her.
Being in relationship with Jesus brings the comfort of friendship and unconditional acceptance that we all love but when the realization of Jesus’ character as Lord and the Son of God settles into our minds it becomes a little terrifying to think of his relationship with us. So how do we get beyond this fear so that we can bridge his Lordship from our minds to the heart?
There is a well known proverb in history that says, “The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.” (Psalm 111:10) This is not a fear of harmful intent or life threatening danger. More so this is a fear which inspires us to become something better and maybe in the process we might just make a difference in the community and world around us!
My colleague Justin Bills has been my friend for several years now and I was inspired by his post that he wrote last week called ‘The War on Christmas‘. When he shared that he was giving half of his parents Christmas gift to Living Water International so the people in Africa might have clean water I was moved by his faith. Justin doesn’t just want to lead through his knowledge of scripture or authority by position; he wants to inspire others by following the life calling of Jesus being in relationship with him.
Mary faced some amazing fears in those moments standing in front of God’s appointed angle. Yet with awe inspiring courage she spoke, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Matt. 1:38)
“Never get stuck with the angels—if shepherds in fields or Mary in tomb (Jn.20) had stayed with angels, they never would have seen Jesus!” – Leonard Sweet
Jesus and I have a Mutual Kinship
Many years ago I can remember exploring the Anglican cathedral church of St. Steven’s in downtown Calgary. My mother would bring me there late on Thursday evenings while she practiced with the choir for the yearly Christmas celebrations and I would have my prodigious imaginary adventures while exploring the “catacombs” and secret passage ways within the halls of the church (usually consisting of over and under the pews and the tunnel passage way behind the altar front) :-).
At four years old I had little knowledge to the relationship I had with Jesus nor the way he and I would encounter one another in the future. Yet looking back I now know that he most definitely knew and loved me. There were many people he placed in my life at that church that showed his love at Christmas and many other times of the year. People like Bob, “Aunt” Ruth, Meredith, Graham and Barbra Goode. People who are still in my life today.
Jesus and I having a mutual relationship is so much like my imagined adventures in that church as a boy. Through the exploration of the unknown and the relationships we develop along the way, Jesus shapes who we are, loves who we are, and in turn allows us to in our own time, come to know who he is freely in our own way and at our own pace. There never is a “right” way to do it. Just the slow prodigious adventure of being in mutual relationship with him at Christmas and every other time of year.
So where do you find yourself in relationship with Jesus this Christmas? Which of the 5 kinships do you find yourself this year? It doesn’t matter which answer you might discover because it is the right one for you today. In all of the 5 Kinships with Jesus at Christmas we find the real Spirit which fills this season… “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
May you find yourself surround by a Spirit of Love and Joy this Christmas as Jesus blesses you, your family, and loved ones. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!
I cannot say “Our” if my religion has no room for others and their needs.
I cannot say “Father” if I do not demonstrate this relationship in my daily life.
I cannot say “Who Art In Heaven” if all my interests and pursuits are in earthly things.
I cannot say “Hallowed Be Thy Name” if I, who am called by his name, am not holy.
I cannot say “Thy Kingdom Come” if I am unwilling to give up my own sovereignty and accept the righteous reign of God.
I cannot say “Thy Will Be Done” if I am unwilling or resentful of having it in my life.
I cannot say “On Earth As It Is In Heaven” unless I am truly ready to give myself to his service here and now.
I cannot say “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” without expending honest effort for it or by ignoring the genuine needs of my fellowmen.
I cannot say “Forgive Us Our Trespasses As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us” if I continue to harbor a grudge against anyone.
I cannot say “Lead Us Not Into Temptation” if I deliberately choose to remain in a situation where I am likely to be tempted.
I cannot say “Deliver Us From Evil” if I am not prepared to fight in the spiritual realm with the weapon of prayer.
I cannot say “Thine Is The Kingdom” if I do not give the King the disciplined obedience of a loyal subject.
I cannot say “Thine Is The Power” if I fear what my neighbors and friends may say or do.
I cannot say “Thine Is The Glory” if I am seeking my own glory first.
I cannot say “Forever” if I am too anxious about each day’s affairs.
I cannot say “Amen” unless I honestly say, “cost what it may, this is my prayer”.
As found on The Minds Retreat.
“All evil needs to succeed is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke’s words have echoed over time and stirred many people’s creative imaginations as they contemplate their meaning and significance. Perhaps most remembered in my mind is when Winston Churchill quoted him in a speech while addressing Britain’s call to arms in World War II.
War has always been a word synonymous of destruction, pain, grief, and death. As a child I can remember participating in Remembrance Day Celebrations as we would reflect at the horrors of World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Heart felt connection seemed evidenced in the faces of the elderly around me as they reminisced of family and friends who endured horrific times, events, and loss. Yet for me as a young child, war and the remembrance of such events seemed at a distance and the emotions were more of a spirit in complaisance then they were of relational relevance.
How can I place value on the men and women who died and served in these wars as strangers to my life? What significance of their involvements really mattered in my young years? Why remember such tragic and evil times when I live in such a time free from the antipathy of war?
Times have changed as I have grown up and no longer do I live with an indulgence to believe in a world free from war. Perhaps more inline with the thoughts of Burke; no longer do I live in the delusion of a world free from evil.
Yes, evil has gripped our little blue planet once again with wars starting and ending in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Terror has gripped the hearts of nations contemplating destruction and annihilation such as the countries of Iran, Israel, Palestine, and North Korea. Crimes of injustice and horrors have taken place in countries such as South Africa and Somalia. Tides which are so close that I cease to forget.
In the reality of this waking call I realize, it is not just the seasoned soldier who serves his country which has paid so much and lost to such causes. It is women and children, families, missionaries, civilians, and in short; the commonwealth of humanity. These are people who no longer could just sit and do nothing but instead stood up in the belief of a humanity which is created in a spirit of Freedom, Justice, and Equity for all. These are people who could no longer lay still in a self loathing value of apathy but instead became activists for a Kingdom far larger than just national conception.
Apathy becomes the enemy of human identity and our call to remember those who stood and continue to stand for a Kingdom of truth, freedom, and equality. In the words of Henri Frederic Amiel, “Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence.” We were meant to “hunger and thirst for righteousness“; be “merciful that we might find mercy“; and be “peacemakers” in a world which needs a spirit of peace in place of a demon named terror. But, if we are to do this we must not only remember those who have done so in past but embody their passions and take action ourselves.
Tonight I sit at the table with my family and share a prayer of remembrance. I remember those who have served God’s Kingdom, embodied the Spirit of action which Christ lived, and I remember the sacrifices each made. Tonight I give thanks breaking bread and remember while sharing; evil has not succeeded, the cross has eternally triumphed, the Holy Spirit has claimed victory, and the Kingdom of God is near.
“And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.” – Luke 22:14-23
Recently while I was surfing the net I came across an old photo from the Voyager 1 Spacecraft as it left our solar system in 1990. Printed on it was an arrow pointing at a small grainy white dot with the words of Carl Sagan above it:
This was an image that stuck in me as it reminded me of our simple minuet smallness. And yet I am reminded of the words of the Psalmist who wrote; “What is man that you [God] are mindful of him; and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4) Truly how great is our God and how awesome he is! He is far greater and bigger then we can even comprehend!
In that same sense though it seems we so often forget just how small we are. Our lack of humility and loss of perspective catalyzes our self centeredness and leads us to a path of self destruction and loss in identity, purpose, significance, and meaning. When we do not allow a Spirit of Humility into our lives we soon find ourselves Bewildered rather then Conscious, Consumed rather then Renewed, Meaningless rather then Meaningful, and Empty rather then Fulfilled.
Why should we live with a Spirit of Humility? Michael Dowd offers some inspiring words in saying, “Because what’s undeniably so is that the Universe is primary and you are derivative. Said another way, you are not the center of the Universe and your ego does not run the show. We are not thrust into the Universe, we were born out of it. You couldn’t exist without it and the Universe would do just fine without you. And that’s the truth! Humility and its twin sister, trust, are thus essential because only when you’re coming from a place of humility are you in touch with Reality as it actually is.“
Trust. Trust in a God who is far bigger then we can possibly comprehend. Trust in a creator who looks back to us, stretches out an open hand, and says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jer. 1:5) Trust that by Finding a Spirit of Humility today we can leave a legacy which will transform the world of tomorrow!
This coming Sunday’s Adorations on November 7th, 2010 we will be looking at the character and person of Jonah as we are Finding a Spirit of Humility amongst us. Come and hear how you can live a life which is Conscious, Renewed, Meaningful, and Fulfilled!
“And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’ And the Lord said, ‘Do you do well to be angry?‘” – Jonah 4:2-4
1. Wealth without work
2. Pleasure without conscience
3. Knowledge without character
4. Commerce without morality
5. Science without humanity
6. Worship without sacrifice
7. Politics without principle
Just for your wonderings…
I starred blankly at the news screen as they described the story of a stranger who was listening and after hearing the faint cries of a baby, leapt into a garbage bin. After peeling away the layers of garbage they took off their shirt and wrapped it around a new born boy who with its umbilical cord still attached was rescued from the clutches of death. It wasn’t until later that the stranger would find out that he was not a stranger at all but the unexpecting father of the child.
Let’s face it; it’s a story we have all heard so many times before. We cry out in frustration, “What’s wrong with that person!” “How can they just not know…?”
A Colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces is arrested and charged with sexual deviance, rape, murder, and other horrific charges. Teenagers are found gang raping teenagers in the school yard. And prostitution is legalized in certain states and provinces. It all seems so wrong, so decayed, so grotesque, so… Broken.
I was four years old when I was exposed to the realities of a broken world. My mother worked long days and would leave me at a day home behind our condo in SW Calgary. I remember the lady running the home would keep us locked in the basement all day exclaiming, “That’s where children belong.” Usually with a few “F” words in the mix.
It was here that the eldest daughter of the lady who ran the home began taking me with her to the darker corners of the basement. I don’t remember much, but I remember that I spent most of my childhood trying to hide it and make sure no one ever found out. Most importantly, I tried to make myself forget it ever happened because I thought it was my fault. I was Broken.
I was broken and because I was broken the world will never look the same to me again. The world has become a place of overt violence with battlefields in every marketing advertisement plastered on the billboards and storefronts in shopping malls and road ways; in snippets of film, movies, television, and commercials as they provocatively exploit the psyche of human relational conjecture; in the one liner jokes we so innocently speak to one another with; and in the headlines of news media leading to social judgements based upon the bias of social and personal exclusion from the stories context.
My Brokenness has caused me to become angry. Why can we not see the exploitation of human sexuality and relational identity as the violence which it truly is? Why has it become normal to treat human sexuality as a consumer product and individual right rather then a relational identity and spousal gift? I suppose the reality to which I found is that I am broken, just as everyone is has been broken. The world is Broken.
Jesus’ brother James gives us something we can use in our brokenness. He wrote and called us to, “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” and promised us that, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16-17)
I don’t have all the solutions to the broken realities of our world but I do believe James is right. We need to first recognize our own Brokenness; and once we’ve accepted that we need to expose it, confess it to those around us, and talk about it. When we can be open and real with one another about the struggles we have, the challenges and fears that are a part of our lives; we can be honest in the midst of communal grace and truly seek to transform those realities. Then we can see the real beauty, the real gifts God has placed in our lives.
Secondly, we need to pray for one another as well as ourselves. Speaking to God about our need for healing and openly asking for his hand in our broken reality brings an internal connectivity which reaches to the very depth of our created being as it was meant to be. In Jeremiah God speaks to us saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
Lastly, we must live with grace for one another; accepting that we are all Broken in a reality to which none of us can ever fully understand, experience, or comprehend. Forgiveness is not always easy to work out but, judgment is never ours to make lest our own judgments come upon our own brokenness.
This world will never be the same to me as it will never be the same for you. I will pray for you though just as I pray for the Broken people which I wrote of in the beginning of this post. I hope you would do the same for me.
I thought this was rather brilliant this morning as I contemplated the beauty of Gods creation and the humor of finding things of invisibility. I must use this as an illustration some time!
By the way, in answer to John’s agnosticism and defining terms… I believe that is the point! Man cannot define God’s terms just as we cannot define his character. To do so is to miss his existence entirely and in the midst of trying would only be caught up in ideology and ultimately idolatry. It is God who can and did state his terms through the act of incarnation not through words or things!
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.” – Psalm 111:10
“Violence and fear is at the core of everything in this world. If it was not true then the fact of ‘Fight or Flight’ in nature would not be valid.” These were the words of my friend as we dug deeper into a conversation about our fascinations around violence in society. An odd conversation to have while at work I will admit yet, when God provides the opportunities to explore truth I never seem to back away. It becomes an honest question which I am continuing to ponder long after Joe’s and my conversation. Is fear and violence the soul driving force behind any natural relationship?
It seems throughout history that violence and the threat of violence is often used to control, manipulate, and set in motion the parameters of not only simple human relationships but national and international relationships. Whether it is a parent threatening their child with punishment for unacceptable behavior or a political or religious figurehead threatening ideological superiority with the mandate for social transformation; they all seem motivated by a theme of violence and force. Even I noticed within the context of Joe’s and my conversation it became less about the relational coexistence we have with one another and maybe more about the gnostic rights we possessed over one another. All of which fall prey to the illusions of false forces and mad men.
In a post called ‘Motivated By Fear of Love’ the author of The Naked Soul Blog says, “Fear in many ways runs this world and when fear is planted the crop that is reaped is all too often violence. Violence becomes the tool of those who live in fear because they have come to believe that is the only way they will be heard and that through violence they will make change happen.” I can’t help but like the way the author has radically changed the identification of violence to being more of a resource which an identity or person uses rather then being an entity unto itself. It seems radically different from mainstream thought and takes the power out of violence itself and puts it perhaps more rightly in the abilities and choices which a person who finds themselves within certain contexts can make or use.
There is a story of a time when Jesus was crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat with his disciples. Now the Sea of Galilee is about 13 miles long and 8 miles wide; so it was no easy journey for the time period in a little fishing boat. Like most of us have done on a long journey Jesus decides to get a little sleep and as the other disciples manage the boat a rather large storm arises and as the thunder claps and the winds blow, the waves began to crash against the sides of their little boat. The disciples begin to panic in fear for their lives as they shake Jesus awake. Jesus says to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (Matt. 8:26) Jesus didn’t deny the existence of his disciples fear but; his concern was more for what power they believed that fear had over them.
Fear is an emotion which many of us encounter through much of our life; fear of failure, fear of unacceptance, fear of loss, fear of loss of control, fear of being wrong, fear of what others think – what others say, and fear of the unknown. But that does not mean our fear needs to drive us to fight or flight, nor to turn to violence in the hands of anger and manipulation as a tool for change. Rather fear can turn us to an expression of love and relational correction; one which brings mutual redemption, transformation, and a change that brings progression.
In the words of C.K. Tygrett in an article called ‘The Violence of Non-Violence’, “…the reality of our beliefs is that if they are to be true and authentic they must wear a human face. Someone will be affected by what we do or do not believe in. It doesn’t matter if you are a house church leader, an emergent church “contributor”, a carpenter, painter, etc. If there is a cause deep enough to found belief upon, it will affect another living being.”
If there is one inevitability that exists in this world it is that change is going to happen to both you and me. That does not mean however that fear and violence is going to be the only way that change is going to come about. There is always the factor or factors of the unseen force between us, one which seems more inspired by love, grace, and compassion. I only hope that I might be part of that change.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Phil. 2:1-11
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16
Turning on the television just a few weeks ago during the G 20 Summit I was surprised by the images of violence and rioting I saw in downtown Toronto. I suppose I never expected to see this in a Canadian city and thought the Conference would go by with little protest. This being said, I believe in the practice of free speech and feel it is important to exercise this right with the intent of reformation and communicating a publics claim for justice and freedom. But, this claim and voice must be clear in its content and precise in its message; something which I believe violence, smashed windows, looting, and burning public service cars do not accomplish.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.” Yet still protesting before our leaders in non-violent fashion can have a catalytic affect as Martin Luther points out that, “To create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”
I must admit that I did not grow up in a particularly political family. We rarely if ever really spoke about elective candidates or social statutes. I guess I predominantly felt as though my opinion didn’t really matter in the long run anyway. Yet in the past few years I’ve felt strangely drawn to pay closer attention to those who are in leadership and addressing public issues and concerns. I may be just one person but, my vote has become a social conscience and collaboration between me and God more so then just simple earthly leadership.
The Apostle Paul said, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1) Really?! I mean seriously?! Do you really believe every political leader is appointed by God and has his Kingdom in mind when addressing our national, social, and communal concerns?
To be perfectly honest I struggled with this for years as I did not believe so. But maybe that is the point! We’re not supposed to simply sit in the background letting political leaders in authority do as they see fit; we’re to question, implore, offer our opinions, protest (in non-violent ways), and give voice to the promptings of God’s Holy Spirit in our own community ridings and neighborhoods as it relates to His Word and our daily contexts and situations.
This coming fall the City of Calgary is facing a municipal election along with the voting of a new city Mayor. Our city is facing some major issues including rising homelessness, safety and police services, health services, and infrastructure.
Have you looked into who your wards candidates are for Alderman? Have you looked at what mandates they might have and the priorities they place on them? Have you expressed to them your concerns for our city? Perhaps most important and first on the list is have you asked what God’s desire for your community and city might be? Above all else I pray that God’s will is manifested in the principles and mandates of all of our elected officials lest I protest!
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:10