mystery

9 09 2008

the more unknown life becomes the more i realize that i’m not meant to live the known life. there is this great mystery in not knowing what is next, where God will shift things in the next moment. it’s a mystery so unique and great that it draws me in to just dwell in it and the God that is behind it all.

as i write this i am sitting in piles of junk, surrounded by a big mess of clutter, not sure which piece to start with as I try to make it liveable again. personally, i am untied from all the normal confines, separated from employment, from cohabitation, from romantic relationship. It’s all one big pile of uncertainty, a mini-mystery if you will.

a lot of the time the idea is that we should be trying to figure out our lives, figure out God’s plan(s) for us, to wrap our minds around the mystery. i’ve just been struck with how wrong this all sounds and seems. God is an infinite being whose very initial definition is the understanding that we cannot really understand. so why then the massive desire to get it, process it, analyze it all, and spit it out in religious language? there should be a need to just soak up the ambiguous nature of everything and trust in God to provide.

we spend so much time wandering around trying out this and that, claiming it to be the will and desires of God. perhaps God would love for us to just spend some time to stop and sit with Him, deepen a relationship of love, and be drowned in mystery. we have this infinite knowledge base in God who chooses to impart some of His understanding upon us, plenty of which we leave untapped. the endeavour should be to soak up God, not to try to run around pronouncing His position as if we are the almighty, infinite, holy and perfect being. this is to resurrect the relationship with God that we were ultimately designed for, and shown glimpses of with the creation of adam and eve.

adam walked (walked!?!) with God in eden and was blessed with such a close encounter with His creator. God clearly defined a boundary with the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but presented Himself to adam and everything else God had made. adam had the creator, the perfect and holy one right there with him who he walked with in relationship. in his basic nature, from the point of creation, adam only knew of relationship with God. the only thing that adam didn’t have was knowledge of good and evil, not knowledge in general. if that’s the only thing adam couldn’t eat, would it not make sense to assume that he had everything else? in relationship at the point of creation, adam had such a rich knowledge from walking with God and soaking it all up.

at the very beginning, God designed it so that we wouldn’t know it all, but that we would have a rich relationship with Him in His creation. so why, oh why, do we go to the ends of the world to try to understand the mind of God through our systems, through our trees, and run away from the relationship? because we can’t bring ourselves to the point of admitting that we don’t know, that we aren’t meant to know it all.

maybe we need to stop pouring into our paradigms, our schedules, and start listening, walking, and soaking up God and who He is in relationship. this is going to look different for you than it is for me, but that’s alright, there isn’t a system to it. but there’s nothing to say that we can’t begin journeying along the path of relationship and uncertainty together. in fact, i would say that we should make a point of doing this together, in community. i think i’m ready to get immersed in a great mystery…





an exercise in trying to find the “sweet spot”

24 08 2008

it seems to be that we, Christians and the Church, have excelled in getting a point across.  we have made it clear that we have a message that we are going to get out, even though it often only hits those sitting in the pews or chairs.  on any given sunday you may walk into a church building and find any number of Christians raising their hands in worship and listening intently to the pastor preaching on the stage.  even during the middle of the week you can come to the church building and attend a seminar or discussion or a fun event that people from the church are putting on.  messages are getting out there and are being communicated in various ways so that the people attending might absorb some of it and grow in their spiritual lives.

but what’s the message?  what are we really getting across?

i have a feeling that the majority of the churches in the Western world have been communicating the importance of belonging, of giving, of many different things.  but what is the main message that we are all trying to get across?  basically, are we hitting or missing the mark?  do we honestly focus on the biggest and most important thing of all, or do we dwell in the small, nitpicky, questionable things that might improve our financial or social lives?

this comes from a message i just heard from Jim Cantelon.  the name may strike a familiar chord as a former pastor, television host of 100 Huntley Street, and currently working in Sub-Saharan Africa with churches there dealing with HIV-AIDS.  the guy has got a lot of credibility and is on the front lines of social justice in the Christian world.

the premise is this: the main point is about what Jesus established as the main point and is reiterated time and time again through Scripture to give us a greater understanding.  the greatest commandment is to love God and love your neighbour as yourself.  as i’ve written before, this is the foundation of the Christian life and is the necessity above all else.  but i’m not just writing about sitting on your ass and trying to love whoever sits next to you in church, or the guy that walks by with his dog every morning.  yeah, that’s important, but it’s clearly not the point.

the main point is this: to have a vertical relationship with God based in righteousness, which feeds to a horizontal relationship with humanity based in justice.

as Jim mentioned in his message, the Evangelical community has gotten really good at the vertical relationship, about being able to sing our songs and work on our own devotions, but we’ve abandoned the horizontal relationship.  likewise, groups like the Mennonites have focused probably too much on the horizontal relationship and not enough on the vertical.  in his words, “it has to be about finding the sweet spot”.

in looking at the main point and considering it, one must understand that it calls for more than just giving money to a foreign group, or praying for your church.  a horizontal relationship of justice means that we get outside of our bubble and examine the world we actually live in.  a world that has a very different perception of life than the average Christian in the West.  you’ve probably read all the statistics, so i won’t go there with them, but i do want to throw out the idea that our lives, as much as they are vertically planted, are horizontally immersed.  aka, social justice and the Church or the Christian, need to be working at this together.  social justice should be the heartbeat of the Christian life when we examine our lives with others.

i am blessed to come from a church that has chosen to build into the lives of the widows of our community, the single mothers.  these women are often giving so much of themselves to their children and jobs that they are emotionally and physically drained on a regular basis.  meanwhile, the happily married couple with the three perfect children, and the two perfect jobs, living in the perfect house, going to the perfect church, totally miss the fact that their are people right around them, often more than a few, that could use some genuine care and love from the people that are supposed to have their lives grounded in it.

as the Church in general, and i’m not trying to bash here but just observing, has chosen to focus on the little things like our financial welfare, our need for civility, and potluck lunches, our world around us is suffering and plummeting with minimal to no exposure to the Church and social justice.  what if we started to pay attention and focus our efforts on the HUGE things going on, and the real horizontal relationship we’re called to?

the Church has an awesome opportunity to make a huge difference in this world and see the love of God spread throughout, but we’re not going to get it out there as we sit around and focus on the petty things that could make our own lives better.  we have to make our lives about others, about the widows and orphans, the ones God has said He deeply cares for.

we have to be so deeply immersed in loving God and loving others that we find ourselves in the “sweet spot”, caring about and making a difference in the things that matter to God.

we have to care about social justice as much as we care about our own relationship with God.

we have to love, and do it dangerously.





ever get scared?

20 07 2008

when was the last time you felt the goosebumps going up and down your spine and had one of those “i’m freakin’ out!” moments?

mine came in the form of an old blog entry i was reading tonight.  and when i say old i mean over two years, so back when bloggers were these nuts with nothing better to do.  they have definitely gained “cool” status in the last year since everyone knows someone who is this big blogger.

anyways, got this from TheResurgence, or Mark Driscoll, via PastorHacks.  the following gave me those goosbumps and chills i was mentioning before:

Pastors

  • Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • Eighty percent of pastors and eighty-four percent of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
  • Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.

Pastors’ Wives

  • Eighty percent of pastors’ spouses feel their spouse is overworked.
  • Eighty percent of pastors’ spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession
  • The majority of pastor’s wives surveyed said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry.

i am that recent Bible school graduate.  i am planning on going into full-time pastoral ministry.  in some sense, i am in full-time pastoral ministry right now.  and this freaks me out.

yes there are remedies and there are very practical things that are provided for those in ministry to overcome these problems that we are facing.  but it scares me to know that despite all of that, we still have this happening.

i have my own ideas as to why this is the case, but there are bound to be a great multitude of others who have their own thoughts.  personally, the island that is ministry, specifically being either “the” pastor, or a specific pastoral member, is what i believe to be the leading cause in these struggles of a ministry family.  we have come to believe in the approach to pastoral ministry that catapults the pastor from another church, school, or the general population outside of the church into the pulpit.  do you think this might be different if the pastor came from the actual church he started to serve in?  or if the pastor was no longer viewed as the perfectly righteous and holy one, but as the average Joe that he is, along with everyone else who calls themselves a member of the community?

there’s many reasons why this could resonate with me, and several reasons why it does, but as a guy who is preparing to go into this battlefield, do you think i might get a little on edge after reading that?

don’t get me wrong, the benefits of pastoral ministry and what you get to be a part of is beyond comparison (and i’m going to write about that tomorrow likely), but when you see stuff like this you can’t help but be scared.

so tell me, how do we change this?  or is it possible?





mighty to save

20 06 2008

life has a way of being brutal.

sometimes it feels as though the pain is greater than you can bear, that the walls are closing in and are going to crush our hopeless souls.

this week i have experienced death.  a best friend’s father passed and a friend from church left us, both too young for comprehension.

this week i have experienced frustration.  i was contacted by some old friends and posed one of the most difficult on the spot questions.

this week i have experienced anger, pain, and sorrow.  my parents are going through huge life-altering stress and family-changing frustration with career.

this week i have experienced stress.  the busiest part of my job starts in two days and i am by no means ready, understanding, or in the least bit prepared for it.

this week i have experienced the power of an almighty and powerful God.  a God that is mighty to save, who has conquered the grave, who can move the mountains, who has saved my soul from sure destruction.  and as much as it hurts to see what is going on and all the pain of death, frustration, anger, sorrow, and stress, i know that i have a relationship with a real and loving God that has power over all of this.

yeah, that’s my God, the one and only who is mighty to save.  that’s hope.





knowing the heart of God

5 06 2008

The Christian leader of the future is the one who truly knows the heart of God as it has become flesh, “a heart of flesh,” in Jesus.  Knowing God’s heart means consistently, radically, and very concretely to announce and reveal that God is love and only love, and that every time fear, isolation, or despair begins to invade the human soul, this is not something that comes from God.  This sounds very simple and maybe even trite, but very few people know that they are loved without any condition or limits

with all the secrets to leadership, the irrefutable laws, and magic potions that we have concocted for leadership in the 21st century, we fail to see the simplicity at the heart of the Christian leader.  everyone is out there looking for the new radical, or the next visionary that is going to change the world on its head and, in the Christian sphere, bring a bunch of people back to Christ.  funny that we go looking for the experience, the know-how, and the typically-bred leaders as the ones that can lead the revolution.

i think Nouwen’s words here are so far beyond us that we don’t even truly understand what is being said.  what if the leaders that are going to make the biggest differences are the ones that are living sacrificial lives on the street, hanging out with the destitute in society, and learning what it means to live the simple life?  as leaders and attempted visionaries, i believe that we have faltered because we have lost the heart of the matter, which is the heart of God.  we need to come back to the simple message that unites all people in all places, because it has the power to change everything: love.

we’ve gone far beyond the heart of the matter and lost our focus most of the time, but there is still time, there still is hope.  but we need to be willing to deal with the heart of God and build from that, his heart of love.  D.A. Carson, in a conversation with a friend of mine this past week, was quoted as saying that the advice he would give to a new generation of Christian leaders is that:

The challenge for each new generation is to address the margins from the center, and not simply assume the center

so profound.  the center is the gospel of love preached by Jesus Christ, and we as new generational leaders must go out and proclaim the center, so that the world might understand a love that truly has no condition or limit.





the servant leader

5 06 2008

It is servant leadership…in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need their leader

this follows closely on the heels of yesterday’s post about the responsibility of the leader to the community and the community to the leader.

a current struggle of mine is in regards to the role of the community in supporting their leader, beyond nodding the head during the sermon on Sunday morning, or shaking his hand on the way in or out.  in one sense the pastor or minister is an employee of the church, or the larger organization, that serves the community when they show up to “worship” with all the baggage out there.  if we hold just to this view, than the leader is just there to give the listener the product, or the message wrapped up with a nice little bow, and then withdraw until the next time or the next need shows up.  this is wrong, purely flawed.

the leader, assuming that he or she has an ounce of humility to lower themselves to some degree of servitude, is as much a part of the community as the man or woman who walks in with worries.  to take the position that the leader is above all others and therefore to be left alone at the top and to deal in a power exhortation downwards, is a corrupt view of the western Christian Church.  on a whole, pastors are left on an island by their people, the very ones who sing the praises of the preacher, or of the visit that the pastor made to the hospital during the past week.  one wonders if it’s that this is expected or that it is genuinely appreciated and valued.  what would it look like if your pastor was in the hospital?

we cannot ignore that the pastor is to minister to the people and is in place to lead the community of faith towards worship.  but the pastor is as much a member of that community that hurts, struggles, and doubts from day to day.  the pastor is not some perfect man on a pedestal, waiting to be worshiped and adored by his people because he did what was expected.  the pastor is as much in need of the very words that were spoken in the message as the man sitting three rows from the back, or the woman feverishly taking notes in the second row.  the pastor is a member of the body, is one with all other believers, not above or below, but has humbly accepted the role of leading the people to worship of the God on high.  the pastor is not greater, for he needs the people as much as they need their leader.

the question is, when will we start treating our leaders, pastors, and ministers as such?  when will we lose the stigmatism of a leader that doesn’t need the fellowship of his or her brothers and sisters as much as we need to hear the teachings and wisdom that God has given to the leader?

wake up people, we’ve got to learn to love our leaders as much as they love us.





the community and the shepherd

3 06 2008

When the members of a community of faith cannot truly know and love their shepherd, shepherding quickly becomes a subtle way of exercising power over other and begins to show authoritarian and dictatorial traits…

Ministers and priests are also called to be full members of their communities, are accountable  to them and need their affection and support and are called to minister with their whole being, including their wounded selves

the culture of this time would have the common person or churchgoer assume that secrecy is one of the most valued traits that humankind must cling onto.  some sort of lie has been built up to suggest that the human being must keep themselves hidden from those around them.  such a thought process has crept into the minds of those who lead our churches, preach to the masses, and proclaim the Good News in their lives, of which i myself am a guilty member.  i’ve kept secrets, we all have, and still do to this day, but i suppose the point of Nouwen here is to expose the minister or priest as above that standard.

if we are truly to be about community and about brothers and sisters in Christ caring for one another, we must choose to be open and transparent with each other, even if stings and wounds us.  as proclaimers of the Word we can stand up on Saturday night, Sunday morning, or whatever midweek program we run and tell people that they need to be a part of community and know what it means to love one another.  but as the one saying it and telling others about the value and importance, are we truly doing it ourselves?

maybe the reason we feel so burned out, useless, and abandoned in ministry is because we chose to hide ourselves on a higher platform than the community we are to be a part of.  we’re not to be set apart from our communities, we are to be one within it, so we must choose to be transparent and vulnerable as such so that not only can we minister to the needs of the community, but the community might minister to the needs of the leader.