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.


thoughts on Nouwen

30 05 2008

i’ve recently had this longing to pull out a book that i read a couple of years ago and found to be exceptional. it’s called In The Name Of Jesus by Henri Nouwen. generally i’m pretty wary of the stuff that a Catholic priest has written, i’m not going to knock his stuff when it is some of the best i have ever read.

you know when you read someone and you are struck by the simplicity yet amazing nature of what he has to say? Nouwen fits the bill perfectly.

so i had this thought, how about i take one of his quotes, once a day until i run through what stuck out in the book, and think about it and mull it over. i can’t be any worse off for it and it’ll be a great exercise in learning to see what i might get out of this. so for the next however many days i’m going to reflect on one quote of Nouwen and see where it takes me, and if you’re reading this too, see where it takes you as well.

how about i start with something from the prologue.

God is a God of the present and reveals to those who are willing to listen carefully to the moment in which they live the steps they are to take toward the future

we often find ourselves seeking out the will of God, or the perfect plan that God has for us without really considering what’s going on around us. how much do we get stuck in the future and the past thinking that God’s will is trapped in something we have done or will do, not in what we are doing? something tells me that we might want to practice looking for God in the moment and where we’re at, not just where we’re going. maybe if we want to know what we should be doing with life, who we should marry, where we should live, etc, we should stop and slow down our lives just enough to hear the voice of God calling out to us while we live our lives away.

now that’s what i call a man with the power of simplicity and profoundness.

rethinking love.

25 05 2008

came across this article this past week and it struck a specific chord in my life and my conception of what love looks like. you see, i think i understand the concept that the definition of who God is, is love. what exactly this looks like is a big mystery for myself and i’m sure millions of people all around the world wonder about it too. what does the love of the perfect and blameless creator truly look like?

the reason i think that hardly any of us truly have it right, or have any part of it figured out, is because of how we truly go around living our lives. i mean, if i’m supposed to be a christian, one who is modeled after Christ, then shouldn’t i be showing His love in everything? i would even go as far as to say that love is the driving part of the christian life, and without it being the number one thing that we all live by, maybe we’re letting Him down. the author of the article, Jim Palmer, states that, “I’m finding myself is that virtually every aspect of knowing God is related to love.”

everything is woven in and out of love and it’s framework presents itself in all i should be doing and saying day-to-day. i mean, God’s own Son put love at the premier place when He established what your two highest commandments were: love the Lord your God, and love your neighbour as yourself. it’s all about love! i mean, we as human beings try to sit back and try to follow the rules of religion and of morality and then we go out in our world and try to follow five million different conflicting ideas of how we should deal with everyone and everything. we tire ourselves out by trying to fulfill everything to a ‘t’ and then we should be satisfied that we achieved the precedent or followed the law. christianity becomes a system and a religion full of achievements and standards that we try to reach, and if i get to a certain point then surely i am closer to God and i am holier than thou.

this kind of christianity tires me out. it’s incredibly hard to keep track of rules and regulations, standards and morals, and to monitor my own personal holiness. but isn’t that the whole norm of our culture and this world? to try to set up boundaries and rules by which we can confine everything and keep it in a nice little neat box? yep, we get thinking that we have a total grasp on what it means to be like Christ, that we have a control valve on the whole situation. it seems like that might be the problem with what we see as a fall-out and abandoning of the church by supposed Christ-followers. how often do i walk into church to see fellow believers, or see my peers during the week trying to show how they measure up or how they’ve achieved a greater level of faith. i’m sick and tired of everyone trying to measure up and trying to show that they have “arrived.”

this is not what i want my faith to look like. i want to know God on a deep and personal level, that i might be able to have an idea of what it means to love like it hurts, to love fully and recklessly. I want to be able to say that i loved to the best of my ability and to know that that is what He wanted from me. I’m not going to get there by following all the rules or the standards, or to try to measure up with the front-row, big Bible doting brother who yells “amen!” every minute of the service. it’s not that he’s got it wrong, but that i don’t want to feel like i have to achieve that. if I’m going to draw closer to God and see Him in everything it’s going to be because of love.

love is not going to be glamorous, and it’s not going to get the accolades and honours we might think would be cool. instead, we’ll be the one that getting down and dirty with the “outcasts”, the “nobodies”, and even the “uncool”. love also means that we’ll be spending time relating with the rich and the famous, and everyone in-between. love is not something that should be limited, for God gave us the greatest example in being there for everyone, sinners and all, that needed to know what love was about. if anything, it’s going to be the ones who are the lowest that are going to be the ones who might grasp this the most. love is unconditional, unchanging, unimaginable until you yourself feel it.

so enough with the rules, enough with feeling that i’m not good enough because i haven’t totally measured up to the religious. instead, it’s time to love, and love fully; to show what it means to be changed because the Father who created us loved us even though we are flawed. and oh that this love might make a difference in those who see it, that we might reflect God’s perfect image of love. it’s not going to be perfect, and surely we’ll stumble along the way, but hey, it was never the perfect that needed love in the first place. and this is love: to know that God loves me and that that’s enough for me.

as Palmer put it at the end of the article, when love becomes our anthem and our life, “anything is possible.”


27 01 2008

recently this burden on my heart has been growing, mostly for the last few weeks. i feel like i’m being called by the Father to go out and be a bigger part of this world and to invest in the people of it.

to give a slight recap on what has brought me here. i spent yesterday talking with the wonderful Joel in downtown Galt and was constantly struck with what it means to live in community and as a part of society. i saw people that i would normally write off, experiences that i feel would normally be outside of me instead sparking a strong sense of passion inside me to go out and make some sort of a difference. it reminded me of the bubble that i live in and how desensitized i really am. then at church this morning, Ian preached about the church and how we’ve pretty much messed it up over time. asking the question of how we got to where we are there was some sort of a pull back to what the first century church really had as oikos. these both built upon some prior feelings of what am i doing in this specific setting at school and trying to learn from books and such.

i want to have a greater purpose and feeling that i am making a difference than what i have right now in a my atmosphere of head-knowledge and no practical life. how am i really going out and changing this world and making a difference. i sit around reading my books and going to services and such and nothing really does it, nothing really brings any sort of justification to my life. i want to know that i’m serving and dealing with a greater meaning and direction beyond what is right now.

maybe the best thing for me is to just try to get through these last few months and then figure things out, but i just can’t get my mind off the people that are out there and need to see and feel love. these three months are a time that i can either focus in on studies that might aid me slightly, or months that i can take and build a difference in a community with. and this is what being at bible college and studying Your Word has brought me to. school can only bring me so far with this, and He’s obviously started to answer my cries  and has given me that burden. now if only i could find out how i’m supposed to go out and live a burdened life when i’m surrounded by books and classes that only bring me apathy and sorrow for a hurting people. how, oh how Father?

make me Your servant, ready to do Your will in the midst of the trials and such that i am facing.  bring me to a point of understanding and faith in Your will for me. bring me to Your feet Lord, humble me continually.

the motions

18 01 2008

time is just flying these days isn’t it? unfortunately when time flies by, a lot of things get lost in it, including my so-called relationship with God. i’m reminded right now as i sit here that there’s so much unimportant stuff in my life that i’m crowding in to take the place of Him. there’s a lot that i need to learn to better prioritize and keep perspective on, but so often i fail to do that.

i just watched the first four clips of the Matthew West documentary “Nothing to Say”. it follows up on his album that was released just a couple of days ago titled “Something to Say”. i know God knows everything about it, but i’m going to share my perspective because i know that’s part of what He wants from me. often i think that i can get so caught up in my own problems and issues that i lose perspective on the fact that He is really in control. Matthew went through a terrible instance of surgery for what appeared to be growths or tumors, or something strange on his vocal chords. this impeded his entire career, the singing, the touring, the recording, and even the everyday life. that he couldn’t speak for two months and not know whether he was going to have any success afterwards was certainly not the most comforting thing. i mean, he had his entire album planned out, the next few years of life and everything mapped out, only to have it completely shaken by this problem that God allowed. yeah i could ask why and wonder what the heck is going on with it, but why question the almighty God about His own purposes?

there was a quote from the artist Mandisa that was included that i can’t even completely quote, but maybe i can get the gist of it for you. she said that Matthew might not be seeing the benefits of this for him where he is right now, but it’s sure that this is being used to help someone else who either knows him or hears of his story in this situation. i struck a chord with that right away because i, not trying to belittle Matthew’s struggle, have been looking for something to speak to me. i look at my current situation and wonder what is the meaning of it all and what’s going to come out of it all. then i see his story and can’t help but to think of all that God has spared me from and brought me through. here he is not knowing whether he can trust his voice, and what that means for his future. here i am wondering what i’m doing in the future. i’ve got it so much better of than he does at that point. mind you, i did have plans and such, and maybe things haven’t been all rosy and perfect, but God has a way of getting our attention when we need to hear it the most.

everything has really been a wake-up call as of late as to who is really in control of my life. if i just keep ignoring You and letting it just slide there’s going to be no growth or change in this spirit, just a measure of pain. if i’m going to do what glorifies God’s name, doesn’t it make sense that i would first have a passion for Him? i’m seriously at a loss for words, probably something that He wanted me to be at, but i find it so disheartening to know that i’m not in control of what’s going to happen next. i just want to be able to wrangle away the reins from His control sometimes and take it my own way. i know it’ll be horrible and life will all go to pot if i do, but sometimes it just seems easier.

there’s this new song on Matthew’s new cd that struck a chord with me. it’s called “The Motions” and talks about just being stuck in a rut and not really seizing life or grabbing a hold of God’s call on our lives. some of the lyrics resonated really deeply with me:

this might hurt, it’s not safe
but i know that i’ve got to make a change
i don’t care if i break
at least i’ll be feeling something
cause just ok is not enough
help me fight through the nothingness of life

i don’t wanna go through the motions
i don’t wanna go one more day
without your all-consuming passion inside of me
i don’t wanna spend my whole life asking
“what if i had given everything,
instead of going through the motions?”

what if i do honestly sit here and continue to go through the motions? what kind of a race am i running then, because it’s certainly not a good one. if i’m truly going to run, and run hard in the race, i’ve got to get outside of the motions and grab a hold of that all-consuming passion that is spoken of. i don’t think i even understand fully what that looks like and what it means, but i know it’s going to alter my life drastically when i figure it out. maybe it means living with reckless abandon like i mentioned before, or maybe it means just seriously seeking God out in everything all through the experience. or maybe it’s even part of both of those.