Tuesday, July 03, 2012

What a difference a year makes

On the ferry, heading to the mainland (I must be an islander now) for a few weeks of school and considering the last time I was doing this about a year ago.
It had literally been just a couple of days after we had loaded our condo into a trailer in Calgary and unloaded it into Amanda's parents garage. We were not into our place in Victoria yet, and Amanda had just accepted a job for the fall. I had nothing but my work computer and a whole lot of questions because I knew it wouldn't be long before that laptop was surrendered and I had no new "work computer" to assume afterward. Plus the prospect of a new degree was somewhat daunting. A lot of questions...
We moved ourselves into a little dorm room for a month while I discovered what it's like to lose my mind and a few short weeks later we were moving into what is now home. Little did I know, however, this new "home" would feel more like prison over the coming months.
This time is different. A year later I am alone because Amanda can stay at home instead of joining her nomadic husband for the fury of courses this month. Two new jobs on the horizon that would not have been imagined the year previous. 5 courses have successfully been completed and the job doesn't begin for another 6 weeks. It seems that this is the time of answers after a long year of many questions.
Though circumstance is rather different now there is one constant. God knew it. He knows it. The only changing factor is that now I can rest in that fact believing it to be true. A year ago I wasn't so sure because my trust was in my own ability. This year I can rest because I know I don't have what it takes but I will see success here regardless of my ability because God is faithful.
The Israelites spent 40 years in the desert coming out of Egypt, thankfully for me it's only been 1. Hopefully I will heed the lessons learned from such an experience and walk humbly with hands held open for whatever He may want to place in them.

Friday, June 01, 2012

timing is everything

I feel like I've been on hiatus in recent weeks, perhaps even months. I wonder if this is what television actors experience when their shows break for the summer...possibly, but likely with more money involved.
Sidenote: Why do I always think about money?
Hiatus, a gap or interruption in space/time, a break. Is it possible for a break to not feel like one? That is, can you experience a "hiatus" while being worked on? I think so and I think that is exactly what this past year has been about. While the so called break hasn't lasted that long and it hasn't been much of a "break" indeed, there is a sense of renewal that comes from recollection on the journeys of these last 12, perhaps even more, months.  This time a year ago we were in Calgary preparing to load up a trailer with our belongings and head west to this coastal region. Still three months left on my "contract" with Ambrose, a month of hectic schooling, and a whole lot of uncertainty to come, I was hopeful for what was ahead.
Of course we all know that hindsight offers much more perspective than foresight and had I known what was to come I may have attempted to approach things differently. But, if hindsight has anything else to offer then in this case it certainly screams at me that timing is everything. Interesting how God tends to manoeuvre in such ways, isn't it? Here I am, 11 months after moving, 10 months after the first summer session of school (with the next at my doorstep), 9 months after finishing work, and perhaps 5 months after I had given up hope (don't worry, hope is not lost). Timing is everything.
Without God's timing and by going my way, I may well have landed a job that was consistent with my interests at the time, it may have even paid well and continued the pursuit of comfort and stability. It may have been the case that I found a niche in the area I have pursued without any substantial reasoning and done quite well. This is all subjective and circumstantial of course because it has not happened this way, but bear with me, timing is everything.
Had everything gone my way from the start, we may have been further along with certain goals and aspirations BUT we would have missed many lessons in humility. Faith would have remained circumstantial, relationship would have been superficial, call would have been suppressed, God would have sat on the mantel, I would have suffered and by proxy so would my wife undeservedly. Had I been able to control the outcome, I would have seen to it (albeit unintentionally) that life would become my masterpiece, fixing the deck to be stacked in my favour with little interest in the things that truly matter. Pursuit had consumed me. That is to say, my concern became more for comfort and well-being than for Gospel and Truth. Not that the desires I had were inherently bad, it was mainly to provide for potential family, look after my wife and see that she is able to enjoy life, be able to contribute and live up to what I had projected to be my responsibility as a man and husband. These desires were not bad or wrong in themselves, but without focus on life in Christ, misaligned. Timing is everything.
Only now am I able to look back at the progression of the last year and a half to see how God has been pulling me back into His alignment. 12 months ago I would not have considered a church ministry position for vocation again. When asked by many I would answer: "I'm not against it, though it would have to be the right circumstance". All the while I would be thinking: "There is no possible circumstance that would take me down that road." Funny how wrong we can be sometimes in our responses to things we think we control, even if only as an illusion.
Without God's timing and His hand in all of this I wouldn't have come across a job posting for a pastoral position that would be exactly what I had long desired to see in the church. I wouldn't have sent my resume because I had felt some strange draw to do so. I wouldn't have willingly sat down to explore the questionnaire requested by the search committee and struggled through my experience and position on issues. I would not have entered an interview with said committee and been completely vulnerable as one a little sheepish to enter pastoral ministry again, but earnestly seeking God's direction. I wouldn't have been able to endure the preparatory process that to some seems excruciatingly long but to me just seems right. I wouldn't have found favour with the board of elders or been so comfortable in that space. And without God's timing I wouldn't be sitting here now eagerly anticipating the next stage in the process, to meet the rest of the congregation and leaders and speak my heart and what I believe to be God's heart into the position for which I am applying.
You see, timing is everything, especially when we have become distracted by the concerns of our culture to succeed in our own way. Ironic how God will bring us full circle, however, to provide something that is exactly what we were searching for in the first place, only after bringing us back in alignment with Him instead of perpendicular to Him. It is not all finished yet, there is still process. But I walk ahead looking up, waaaaaay up (Friendly Giant anyone?), expecting only that God will prevail in this situation and in our lives where He rightly belongs. With humility accepting the direction He is taking us and with anticipation that this pastoral position will hopefully work out. Not taking hold of it as my own, but accepting the call and walking in grace and humility to serve in such a way.
There is definitely a story to be told out of all of this and you are only getting a brief glimpse into the goodness that God has been orchestrating. This weekend I spoke at our current church on Christ as Saviour, indeed it is a personal story but much greater than that. Not only does he save us from eternity in absence but he saves us from our own paths of destruction here and now, if we are willing to let him. Timing is everything, don't think for a moment that you control it.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Tale of Two Women (Mark 12:41-44 & 14:1-10)

Here's the manuscript from my sermon this past Sunday. It's not the best thing to have been put together, but I figure it's important to lay it out there anyway, flawed as it is. I guess it's a life style choice, ever thought of trying it?

I’ve been reading a book this past week, call A Resilient Life, by a man named Gordon MacDonald. He has an interesting story of his own, but there was something that struck me as I was thinking about Lent, about Jesus’ sacrifice, about our response and what kind of life I want to live as a result. Here’s an excerpt from this book, he’s recalling when he was in a private boy’s school as a teenager and seeking to be on the track team:
As best as I can recall his words after all these years, he said, “Gordie, I’ve been watching you carefully. I think you have the potential to be an excellent runner. You have a runner’s body and a natural stride. And you are fast. But you have much to learn. If you are to compete for Stony Brook, you’re going to have to work hard. You’ll have to learn to discipline yourself, and it will mean that you have to trust me and follow my instructions. Every day you will have to come to this track and complete the workouts that will be listed on this board. Now, Gordie…don’t commit to this if you are not willing to give it everything you have.” And then he posed the question, “Gordie, are you willing to pay the price it takes to become a Stony Brook trackman?”
…That infamous day, the coach was not asking for an immediate answer. Instead he said, “I want you to leave the track and think about what I’ve said. And when you decide what you want to do, come back and let me know.”
Last week Cam examined Jesus entry into Jerusalem, as King. These are moments that are rich in historical significance in the gospels, and just like lent, this is a time that can be pivotal in how our hearts and minds are shaped in discovering Christ. I find it interesting the specific parables and stories that remain from the time of Jesus’ entering Jerusalem and his death and resurrection. This is not a significant period of time chronologically, but if you consider that it’s really only a few days between his entrance into Jerusalem and his death on the cross, there’s a lot that takes place and significantly a lot that Jesus makes sure to point out and use as teachable moments for his disciples.
There are two short stories of women (somewhat in honor of International Women’s Day) that grab me as I read these final chapters of Mark. What is it that Jesus sees as teachable moments for his disciples? Why does it happen now? What can we learn from these encounters? Hopefully as we look at these women in light of lent and the season of remembering Jesus coming sacrifice not only will the actions of these women and Jesus’ words regarding them, but also Gordon MacDonald’s story of considering joining the track team will begin to paint a clearer picture.
Let’s look at the two women in Mark, the first one in 12:41-44:
 41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
 43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Okay, nothing surprising there. Jesus notices the poor widow giving and points out her sacrifice to the disciples. Now let’s look at another short little story of a woman and Jesus’ words regarding it:

 1 Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. 2 “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”
 3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
 4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages[
a] and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.
   6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.7 The poor you will always have with you,[b] and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
 10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. 11 They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

Notice any similarities in the women of these stories? Notice any similarities in Jesus’ response to his disciples?
Make no mistake, these are definitely separate stories. They are not related aside from some of the same characters and each holds its own significance in Jewish culture and in the historicity of events. However, there are some curious similarities that I don’t think we can ignore as they not only set an example for us but also provide a foreshadowing of what is to come.
There are three observations from these two events that can be paralleled for us in reflection during this time of Lent.
1)      These women are unassuming.
In each of the accounts, while different, the women are painted as unassuming. They are not of high stature and they do not have any expectations, they simply do what they see as necessary and Jesus praises their efforts.
The poor widow is juxtaposed to a bunch of loud and self-righteous rich people, who do things to gain attention, seek the approval of those around them, and welcome the perks of being public religious figures and rich people that draw praise from the people. These people give large amounts and make it known while the poor woman is also seemingly aware of her status and her ability to give and does so without really drawing attention. After all, she is only giving a few cents, right?
The second woman (known as Mary from similar accounts in Matthew and John), also unassuming just goes ahead and does what she sees as best in the situation. She grabs the most expensive gift that she can find and heads straight to Jesus, not considering or perhaps just not caring what kind of response she may receive. Her only intention is to serve Jesus by anointing him with this expensive perfume, she sees the value in doing so and does it. Not unlike the poor widow seeing the value in her gift and does so.
Jesus’ response regarding both of these women is that she has done all she can.  That’s what I want his response to be to me, “he’s done all he can”, given everything I have to give. This isn’t to live life exhausted, it’s a life that is unassuming, not seeking gain but living generously for the sake of the Kingdom of God, not unlike the two women we see in this stories.
2)      These women are self-denying.
In each instance Jesus points out the value of the woman’s actions. The poor widow is surrounded by those who are able to give immensely more than she could ever dream, but as Jesus makes sure to show the disciples, she has given absolutely everything she has that day. The Temple treasury was the place where a number of different baskets were placed for people to give their non-animal sacrifices for a variety of purposes. This was an act of complete self-denial on the part of the woman, again juxtaposed to the self-gratifying acts of the rich who were giving large amounts of money with little value to them. In contrast the woman has given everything. She is in a sense pouring herself out, disregarding her needs in service through giving money.
The second woman, we can see a more literal act of pouring out, though it does hold some similar symbolism. She literally pours the expensive perfume over Jesus, normally reserved for a burial ritual after a person has died. In this moment she is literally pouring out her love for Jesus and he recognizes this. When she is accosted by the other people there Jesus defends her actions, she has done everything she could. In a sense she has given more than the others, who while their desire to help the poor is noble, it was clearly not what the best use of the perfume at that moment.
This second story has a number of very rich things to draw from it (and perhaps some slightly controversial), but the point for today is that she had given the best of what she had to honor Christ, she is in a sense pouring herself out for Christ. The author also tells the story of Judas doing the precise opposite act here in pure selfishness, selling out Jesus for a pocket full of coin. So here I ask myself, which would I rather be like?
3)      These events are a foreshadowing and an example.
Finally, these two events serve as a foreshadowing of things to come. The second story from Mark 14 is much more clearly portrayed as such with imagery like the pouring out of the perfume, a burial ritual, Jesus’ acknowledgement of his coming betrayal and death. However, the poor widow of Mark 12 does hold similar significance of giving up everything for the sake of something greater, a foreshadowing of Christ’s sacrifice to come.
I’m quite confident that there was no mistake in the placement of these stories in Mark. Jesus has come into Jerusalem as a King, he has been recognized by the masses as the Messiah and we are now seeing the contrasting picture of what it means to be a “suffering servant” on our level. Jesus has his own level of suffering to come, these two women have given just a small glimpse of what is coming in pouring out of themselves just like Jesus will be poured out as the true suffering servant who will take on the sins of the world in such an unassuming manner, denying himself to be the sin offering.
So of course what does this mean for us? What these two woman have portrayed can fit into our world today as examples of ways that we can pour ourselves out, but perhaps there are other ways. Paul says it well in Philippians 2:3-18:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
 6 Who, being in very nature[
a] God,
   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
   by taking the very nature[
b] of a servant,
   being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
   he humbled himself
   by becoming obedient to death—
      even death on a cross!
 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
   and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.
 12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
 14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[c] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
What does it look like for you to pour yourself out? For the widow it was giving all the money she had. For the woman in Mark 14 it was offering herself as a servant to anoint Jesus. For Jesus it was a story of betrayal and horrific death. For Paul, being poured out like a drink offering. The women we’ve taken a look at today were indeed small glimpses of what Jesus would be doing on a much larger scale in only a few days. Jesus then lived out his sacrifice, a suffering servant for the sake of the world. Paul’s life was an example as he followed Christ’s example. We have pictures of what it might mean for us to truly serve Christ by serving others, selflessly handing ourselves over in ways that will mean sacrifice, but will work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
All of this shows that we, as those who are looking to follow Christ in everything we do, will continually pour ourselves out, looking to the interest of others, giving up of ourselves for a greater purpose. These women were blessed by Jesus in what they did, he took notice of them and declared what they did as good. This is not a magic formula to get good things, it’s not a way to try and gain salvation/accolade/wealth through selfless action, it is as Paul put it, identifying with Christ.
Gordon MacDonald writes these words after his recounting that story I read before:
A day later I told Marvin Goldberg that I would trust him and that I would be willing to pay the price. The day after that, my name appeared for the first time on…the white bulletin board. Eight months later, I wore my first white cardigan sweater with a large S.
Gordon’s coach wanted him to consider the weight of what was being asked of him. It wasn’t simply a small price that would be paid, not just a little would be required, he was requiring every ounce of energy and time in preparation for competition. This is the same kind of pouring out that the women experienced in the presence of Jesus, giving everything they had. For one it was a couple coins, for another it was her undivided attention and some expensive perfume, for Gordon on the track team it was countless hours spent on the track in training. For you it will likely be different, at different times. Jesus poured himself out completely, to the point of death, but even before that his life reflected (one could argue the same of the women in these stories) sacrifice, commitment, dedication, discipline. Giving whatever you have, not money necessarily, it could be something like time or perhaps a gift.
Dedication, hard work, emptying of self to serve those around you. The day will come when this life is finished for you, what kind of life will you have to look back on. Will we have shined like stars amongst a warped generation through selfless living and sacrificial giving? Or will we have a “pocket full of change” at the cost of truly identifying with Christ?
Paul’s coined a phrase in recent weeks, “all life altering love requires substitutionary sacrifice”. Christ’s sacrifice is just that, how will it reflect in your life?

Friday, March 09, 2012

A Resilient Life

I started reading a book the other day, interestingly enough (to me at least) I've been far more productive this week by taking time to read something refreshing aside from and along with Scripture than I had been in the weeks previous without doing so. The book is called A Resilient Life by a man named Gordon MacDonald about practices and concepts that are helpful towards resiliency in life, especially a Christian walk.
I had not previously heard of MacDonald, though strangely enough I've had this book on my book shelf for a few years now and have never picked it up aside from purchasing it some time ago. I am not exactly sure when it may have been though my best guess would place it at a Christian book store in Red Deer, Alberta roughly 3 and a half years ago while in the midst of a life transition I thought it could be useful...so here I am some years later taking a look through it and discovering some interesting things both about the topic and the author himself.
MacDonald is a few generations ahead of me, actually probably about a generation before that of my father's so he just escapes the "baby boom" generation (that's a topic for another time). This isn't a book review or anything, I just find some of what I've been reading interesting in light of MacDonald's own life journey and some of his perspectives. I remember reading Wild at Heart a few years back when it was the talk of the evangelical Christian world of men. I was finishing up some (albeit not so good) work at a church after my final year of Bible college before moving on to a new adventure of pastoral leadership in a small Saskatchewan town. Life was in turmoil to a degree and I found comforting and challenging words from John Eldredge, but similarly I sat in discomfort as well as I read. I find this to be a recurrence this week with MacDonald's musings. He's of a very different generation than I and there are ideals he describes which I am not extremely comfortable with agreeing to. Mainly some of what is portrayed as a "rest is for wimps" kind of mentality that you may find prominent of some Christian circles past. I do recognize that he is not expressly saying this as truth, but there are certainly undertones of a grievance of lost work ethic in younger generations. Again, not a book review, just expression of thoughts as I've been reading.
MacDonald certainly has a lifetime of insight to offer on such a topic of resilience and has had the misfortune of a public moral failure to add to it. Some may (and have, judging by some reviews read online) write off a person like MacDonald whose high profile ministry career had been torn apart by his adultery. This really is a story of resilience, however, because he has been in essence "nursed back to health" by a group of committed people who exercised the love of Christ and effectively helped to restore this man from his brokenness and walked with him and his family through the turmoil of it all.
I don't know much about the situation just described but I do know that this is a reality in life. Hopefully it's not something that is praised by any means, but to face such horrific disaster in one's life...to own it and walk head on into the fire storm for the sake of renewal is commendable to me. It also allows me to learn some wisdom from a man who's "been to hell and back" so to speak. He'd gone so far down the path of least resistance that he could no longer see straight and has had to claw his way back and by the grace of God has found just that...grace. Not that this is my experience per se, but such an extreme example gives me hope.
Resilience, to bounce back in a way. To fall, fail, drop, collapse under the pressure of life, be destroyed by circumstance either chosen or imposed and to chose to stand up and keep walking through it. To face adversity with determination, to be pressed but not crushed, persecuted not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. I think this is what a life of faith looks like. Unfortunately sometimes a lack of faith can be the cause of the collapse under pressure, but restored faith and the practice of spiritual discipline can be what begins to bring one back.
I wonder how many know what forgiveness feels like. To be in a position where someone has every right to despise or reject them but to be looked in the eye and hear the words "you are forgiven". How many Christians really know the weight of this concept? It is, after all, the crux on which many of us base our beliefs that Jesus died for this very purpose (simply put) and rose from the dead for life. All that to say, if one really experiences forgiveness, sees the core of that mean then we can all become agents for a resilient life. Once you've known forgiveness, release of a debt you owe, you can really only then become an encourager of resilience for others. Just what MacDonald has become.
It's interesting that I picked this book up this week as I'm preaching this Sunday and had been considering two women in Mark, a poor widow who gives all her money and a woman who pours out expensive perfume on Jesus' head. These two women pour themselves out for the sake of others in their individual circumstance, just like Jesus was about to do (both of these events occurred in the days previous to his crucifixion). Resilience requires emptying oneself for the sake of others. This isn't just confession to be absolved of sin and it's not just the matter of bouncing back, it is these things but more than that. One can be resilient without having sinned, of course, something may be inflicted or circumstance may call for one to climb back after a hard hit. One can be resilient by taking responsibility for malicious actions and facing the onslaught of marauders who want nothing more than what they feel is "JUSTICE" though their picture of justice is rather skewed.
More than any of this I think that a resilient nature requires one to be an encourager of resilience in others, a facilitator of it one might say. When you take on the task of walking with someone who needs to "bounce back" and perhaps is trying to but is not given a chance by others, you are in fact personifying resiliency, you are personifying Christ the ultimate example of it.
A thought struck me yesterday, however minute it may seem for some it was a remarkable moment for me: I can treat this time as sabbatical. I am unemployed, in a new place, seemingly desperate to work and unable to do so because of the market or what have you, but I am afforded the opportunity to study in these days. Why it hadn't struck me sooner is a mystery, perhaps because I have been absorbed by the situation and not able to gain much perspective beyond my "closet", is beyond me. But it has struck me nonetheless, I am taking some classes and I have time to learn in between looking for work and writing sermons and volunteering elsewhere. Why not dive into Scripture? Why not dig up some old treasures of books long gone dusty? Why not look for ways to grow and to nourish and to discover the call of God on my life (once again)? Why not take advantage of a hopefully relatively brief moment in time where I am afforded the opportunity to bask in the presence of the Almighty God to glean from him what I can in preparation for what is coming...developing resilience for the future and learning lessons for today.
I may not always sit comfortably as I read this book (just like Wild at Heart) but that's a good thing, it keeps me sharp and makes me aware of those things in me that need a little smoothing out.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Days Go By

Time flies when you're doing nothing.That's how it feels sometimes, though it may not be the reality of the situation. I am by no means overrun with things to do, but I am similarly not completely static.

What's your experience/perception of unemployment?

I have to be honest, I've had some relatively narrow opinions of those who aren't working. Perhaps that's even part of the battle right now as I sit in this space of not being able to secure a regular position. It's a bit of a frustrating space, it seems that the kinds of jobs I could get are literally not worth my time right now simply because employment insurance pays more than they would, for now. I could look at the situation and say "it's ok because I'm a student" *part time* or "it's a tough market" *so what?* or something else but the truth of the matter is that I need to recognize that it's simply beyond my control.

I don't like not having control and I'm sure you can understand the feeling. In light of recent events I've been discovering that the idea of "control" is really just an illusion that we all like to hold onto. How much can you really control in your life? Think about it...really how much? I know this isn't a new thought, but it's particularly relevant to me right now. What is your life? It is a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14). Or to quote a cult classic, "all we are is dust in the wind dude...dust...wind...dude." We think we have everything under control, but we really just think it, it's not actually what is happening. I don't think this is a bad thing at all though, and any number sermons that you could google would point out that it's Biblically accurate, relinquishing our illusion of control to God is what is best cause he knows best.

That's not the only reason I don't think it's a bad thing. I think me/us not being in control of everything is a good way to keep us grounded, keep us sane, tied to the nature of Christ in us. There are little hints here and there in life to bring us back, to break the illusion that we have it all in our grasp. Sometimes the "little" hints don't seem so "little" but let's be honest, if I'm still waking up in the morning it can't be as horrible as I might think. Some things really are devastating, but there is still life to live beyond those circumstances. Some things only seem devastating, but bubbling beneath the surface is a tremendous new experience or opportunity that is just waiting for the right time to appear, almost like God had something in mind the whole time. I want to believe that, so I need to choose to.

I sat down yesterday in a counselling office, it's been a few years since doing something like that. If you ever need a reality check, it's a good thing to do sometimes. There have been a number of reality checks for me this week, I can be a scary beast when I isolate and I have a tendency to do so in a new place. This is a new experience for me, however, because it is not just me now and how I am directly affects the one I care about most. Reality Check: no man is an island and I am no exception. Reality Check: I am not a victim of circumstance but I do not have control over much of what happens in life, I can control myself and that's where I need to focus. Reality Check: Running to God is much better than running from him, when you know you're built for something you should accept that and lean into it. I'm still learning how.

There's some jumbled thoughts from a tired mind.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Something different I suppose

Here's the manuscript from the sermon I gave on Sunday at church. John 10, pretty good passage:

Have you been a bandwagon jumper? I know I sure have, in fact, unfortunately I might need to confess that I still am at times. I can get so easily excited about something for a little while and then completely lose interest once it’s run its course, I have no use left for it, or there’s another wagon for me to jump onto across the street.
I can think of a number of these kinds of things and I think it tends to be how our society operates on a large scale as well. How about some examples…flock of seagulls haircut, the backstreet boys (or for those who might be a little bit older, the bee gees), bell bottoms (though they came back), delorians, and of course…the internet, cause it’s just a fad.
Well one of those bandwagons that I at one point jumped onto and then subsequently fell off of was blogging. This is one that I’d like to take up again actually because it had tremendous benefit and it was kinda fun to have other people’s takes on my thoughts. Trying to come up with some things to say today, I went back to my blog from 5 or 6 years ago when I was a pastor because I was thinking about Cam diving into youth ministry and remembering how it felt at first.
I was also thinking a lot about the theme verse on which Cam is basing much of his ministry, well, in a sense anyway. It’s the words of the verse and the truth it entails that spurs him on and I think it’s something to take note of, John 10:10 “A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of” from the message. Or “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
Going back to the blog thing, if you’ll humour me, here’s one that I wrote on:
Sunday, October 01, 2006
I feel imprisoned right now. That's the honest truth. Imprisoned by the ease of mediocrity.
There is so much potential that God has placed within me and I know He longs to make me fly in that potential and reach pretty huge heights. What that might look like is another story that I don't know the middle or the end to, but I have a feeling I know the beginning.
Perhaps God's stirring something within me to break free from said prison and bust away from any sort of mediocre lifestyle that just doesn't fulfil.
Jesus promises abundant life. Am I there? I'm not so sure that I am entirely. Do I see glimpses of it? Absolutely. Do I long for more? Yup, sure do. Am I saved by the blood of the Lamb? You bet I am and I'm so thankful for it.
There's something more though. There's a satisfaction in life that Jesus provides that I don't always experience. Contentment is what most people seem to call it, and I'm just not there.
I wrestle with thoughts that I've had many times in years past of, as Paul describes, "being content in any and every situation." If you've read any of my blogs you've noticed that I'm not married and I don't like that. That's not contentment! Does contentment mean that I settle for my current situation? Not in the least! It means I recognize my current situation as being where God has placed me and I find joy in Him, not in searching for what I don't have!
But there are aspects of life that I believe God wants us to be unsettled about. He wants us to feel unsettled over unsaved people, poverty, affluence, mediocrity, stagnance, etc. I shouldn't just settle for a life of second best, a life that doesn't change, a heart that isn't constantly broken for the people around me. I shouldn't settle for just getting things done, they should be done well. I shouldn't settle for last minute efforts to be prepared for wednesday night youth ministry, I should be well ahead and well prepared so that I don't disappoint the people who need to hear the truth.
I shouldn't settle for ideas that come to mind about how to strive for purity, how to help those around me, how to share Jesus with other people, only to write them down on a piece of paper and file them away along with the rest. Non-action plans just don't cut it. And if all of these things are being settled for in my life, then I'm too comfortable.
There's too much that isn't happening that could be and should be. An action plan doesn't go anywhere without the "action."
For far too long I've settled for the ease of mediocrity all the while not realizing that it's really a prison that people get trapped in. As a prisoner wants to be out of his jail cell so I should long to be as far away from a mediocre life as possible. But not only long for it, work towards it.
Can I do such a thing on my own? I think many lives, including my own, would testify that it's not something I can do myself. I need others to push me forward, I need God to pull me up out of the quick sand. Do I know the "action" steps that need to be taken? I'm not sure that I do right now and that is certainly unsettling, but do I need to take action? Yes, I do.
Will I? I most certainly intend to, but succeeding in such a track will only come from God.
Will it just happen if I don't do anything? Not likely.
I think it's time to be unsettled. I'm feeling it right now, it's only begun to stir recently, a hungry heart growls like an empty stomach. There's a longing for more, my heart is saying "more food, less garbage." A broken heart, that's what I want. Not in the normal way, that's been done before, a new kind of broken heart. One the spurs on toward love and good deeds. A heart that longs to see people come to Jesus, that would do anything to see that. A heart that doesn't settle for just existing, for just getting things done, but one that strives to excel in everything and to experience the abundant life Christ offers.
That's what's on my heart today.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over time, in my illustrious long life and experience with youth ministry, ministry and life as a believer in general it’s that regardless of what I try or do, it’s Jesus who provides. If we look at the greater context of this verse there are two major ways that Jesus describes himself and they are definitely worth paying attention to for all of us.
1)      Jesus the Gate
The first way that Jesus describes himself in this shepherding metaphor is as the Gate. “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
There’s a couple things to note about this image of Jesus as the gate. I can’t get the image of a swinging gate out of my mind when I read this, mainly just because I’m a visual thinker and when I think of sheep I think back to my childhood visiting my Aunt’s sheep farm. They had pastures and gates the swung open. But here imagine a stone wall of sorts, likely topped with thorns or some kind of prickly plant to try to keep thing out and to funnel the sheep through the gate. Now the “gate” is the shepherd himself, who would plant himself at the opening to monitor everything from the proper vantage point.
Notice Jesus mentions how the sheep are free to come and go, to find pasture…as long as it’s through the gate. Think this is something to pay attention to for the full life he’s talking about, but we’ll get to that a bit later.
The other important thing to note is that the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Going with the image of the fence, the thief is the sneaky one, trying to climb over the fence when the shepherd’s not paying attention. Scattering the sheep. So the question to think about here is what kinds of thieves do you face on a regular basis? What thieves are trying to scatter people away from knowing the voice of the Shepherd in Esquimalt?
If we’re the representatives of Christ in our world, we need to pay attention to those things not only around us but that can potentially distract us from knowing the shepherd’s voice. What are the thieves around us, and how can we point people back to Jesus?
2)      Jesus the Good Shepherd
11-13"I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He's only in it for the money. The sheep don't matter to him. 14-18"I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. In the same way, the Father knows me and I know the Father. I put the sheep before myself, sacrificing myself if necessary.”
Known by Christ, knowing Christ. Recognizing his voice requires a deep knowledge of what he sounds like, who he is. It’s like a child knowing the voice of her mom or dad, there’s comfort and rest in knowing your parent is near. Jesus makes sure to point out that he knows his sheep, he knows his people, he knows each person who is under his care. There’s some fullness right there, being known by the Shepherd, not neglected and not just a number.
Sacrifice is another key element that Jesus mentions here too. We know that Jesus has made that sacrifice, taking our weight of sin on him for the sake of our freedom. It’s also something that we need to be aware of for ourselves, because just like Peter in chapter 21, Jesus has some words for us as we seek to follow him.
John 21:15-19.
15After breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"
   "Yes, Master, you know I love you."
   Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
 16He then asked a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
   "Yes, Master, you know I love you."
   Jesus said, "Shepherd my sheep."
 17-19Then he said it a third time: "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
   Peter was upset that he asked for the third time, "Do you love me?" so he answered, "Master, you know everything there is to know. You've got to know that I love you."
   Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I'm telling you the very truth now: When you were young you dressed yourself and went wherever you wished, but when you get old you'll have to stretch out your hands while someone else dresses you and takes you where you don't want to go." He said this to hint at the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. And then he commanded, "Follow me."
Jesus’ commissioning of Peter is a commission to us as well. Jesus is the ultimate Good Shepherd, but we need to shepherd, feed, look after the sheep. Bring more along, point them to the Good Shepherd but why? All for what?
Abundant life:
Going back to that blog post I read, I think it’s important to recognize that Jesus didn’t do it all so that we can be comfortable, he said it himself, he came so that we can have abundant life, full life not mediocre, not basic, but FULL life. I think this “full life” means a number of things but here’s a few that stood out to me:
1)      Freedom, from sin. Salvation is much more than just a transaction, it’s a call to action as well, a call to live the way Jesus showed us to because now we have the freedom to! Just like Paul reiterated in Galatians 5: 13-15”It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom.”
2)      Spilling over life, not just existing (sustenance). This kind of life is contagious, it’s the kind of thing that other people see and want to have a part in. This goes beyond just living, doing the everyday thing, to relying on the Good Shepherd for the things you need. Resting in the comfort of his care and following his lead through dark or tricky territory to find that pasture where he’s taking you. This kind of life has us looking towards the shepherd/leader and paying no attention to the danger around, relying on his sustaining presence to get us there. This kind of life might look somewhat crazy or frightening to those who don’t get it, but it’s the kind of life worth living.
3)      Eternity. Abundance also means that it will never end, this vibrant existence that Jesus provides us now in this life will be that much more full, spilling over, when all is said and done. The knowledge of eternity is a huge aspect of living abundantly now… if God is for us, who can be against us?

So what? I leave you with a question that I ask myself continuously…are you living abundantly? The Jesus kind of abundant? Depending on your answer to this question there are different ways to approach it. Ultimately, the way to this life is Jesus, he said it and he did it. He went to the cross to make this abundance possible, so if we are in need of it then the answer is Jesus. Dig into Scripture, find out for yourself who Jesus is and discover how to live abundantly. It’s only through him that we can live so freely, but not to just go and do whatever we feel like, to serve one another in love.
I think that’s what we’re here for at Harbourview. I also think that’s what Cam and Candace are here to do for youth in Esquimalt. To love people, introduce them to Jesus and walk with them as our lives explode with fullness in Jesus. 

Friday, February 03, 2012


It's Friday night and I am at home on my couch, by myself. How lame is that? My gorgeous wife is out with a friend tonight and I am somehow charged with bringing a message at church on Sunday morning so I am here thinking, praying, and reflecting on some things. Believe it or not this provides context for me to write another blog post and to declare that I will begin trying to be more regular with posting.

The reasons for me to write here again are twofold:

1) The last 6 months or so have been quite the challenge and I think it good to explore my thoughts in writing, with the accountability of other people possibly reading my words (it's more insightful that way...hopefully). AND
2) I kinda miss it.

It is the "sermon" or "message" for this Sunday that brought me back to some posts from years ago when I was pastoring in Saskatchewan. Strangely enough, I am not a pastor now but these last number of months have been pivotal in my returning to church speaking. This weekend marks the first time since I was a pastor...some 4 years ago. The old shelves are dusty one might say.

In the process of digging out the treasures that are hidden in this jar of clay (which are still yet to be discovered I think), God has been working to restore some desires in me, like preaching/teaching and perhaps even consider vocational ministry again. It's interesting how this really rough transition to a new place would bring those desires to the surface and I can honestly say it's not just because my confidence has been shaken with being neglected for job opportunities. It is a real desire to serve in ways that I know I can and I know God has called me. Truth be told, I have not been super fond of the Big Guy in recent months, mostly because of the aforementioned lack of employment but even in the midst of roughness there is a woodworker bringing out the sand paper to make these edges smooth. I am looking forward to what is ahead and really do hope that some of it will involve a pay-cheque (for any American stragglers, that's paycheck), but even if it doesn't, I do know that what God is building in me in the meantime will be lasting and most certainly good.

That will be it for now, the wife is coming home and bringing someone with her so I best be off to put some clothes on. However, these days I tend to have quite a bit of time on my hands even with applying for jobs, doing school work, volunteering and anything else I may find to fill my days. That in mind I will return to this place again, hopefully sooner than later, and will continue to tell the story of a life that is in the midst of resurrection...in more ways than one.