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.

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 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.

do we love?

31 05 2008

The question is not: How many people take you seriously? How much are you going to accomplish? Can you show some results? But: Are you in love with Jesus?

we are in the business of getting consumed with our status and our image in the world, and losing sight of what it means to truly seek the heart of God. it comes down to a simple matter: love. love with Jesus, the fully-God and fully-man. nothing else really matters when it comes down to it. if we don’t love Jesus and aren’t in a love relationship with the God who saved the world, then what have we?

but if we are in love with Jesus, nothing else matters, it all falls away, because the power of a loving relationship with an infinitely powerful God blows everything else out of the water. there is no business in worrying about status or image because it means nothing when we are loving Jesus and know that we are wrapped in His arms of love.

thoughts on TAN

27 05 2008

so i just got the new cd from tenth avenue north, or as i prefer TAN, in the mail yesterday.  yeah, so i still get cd’s through the mail and such, i’m semi-old school like that.  i’d heard there stuff from an album preview about a month ago and though it was great, so i decided to pony up the cash to buy the cd.  i’ll admit that i honestly wouldn’t always go for the typical pop-rock worship idea, but this time that’s the case.

what struck me about these guys, and made me buy the cd as opposed to just passing it off and listening on myspace, was why they are doing this.  we live in a culture of instant stardom, overnight celebrities founded through reality tv, myspace, youtube, you name it.  everyone wants a piece of fame and stardom, and we’re making the 15 minutes available to everyone who wants it, so they can pump themselves up.  we’ve lost our taste in what really is good in this world because we surround ourselves with everything and water-down what we really have that is great.  this translates to Christian music, and as anyone that listens to this stuff knows, there’s a ton of it out there, and a lot of it really is airy-fairy, and often not that good.

Mike, lead singer of TAN (i like that more and more now), describes the issue this way:

i feel like a lot of people are sort of fed-up with Christian music because a lot of it deals with truth, but it doesn’t deal at all with the wrestling, the struggling to believe that.  you know, and Jesus says that there is gonna come a time where true worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth

this resonates on so many levels.  there’s nothing wrong with the praise and worship, and stuff about daisies and dogs and miracles that we listen to, but doesn’t it feel like it just avoids the issue of doubt or suffering that the Christ follower goes through?

personally, i have had my own seasons of doubt, times when i’ve searched and asked questions of God that just don’t make sense to me.  stuff comes up that makes you wonder about this whole idea of faith and what it really means.  doubt is a healthy exercise to go through from time to time, because when you investigate and wonder aloud about what you’re doing and going through, you understand more about it and what it truly means.

there is one song on the cd entitled by your side.  Mike again draws reference to the aspect of doubt in the Christian when he is describing what the song is attempting to get across.

by your side is just a call to anyone who is struggling, anyone who is fighting against God, thinking that they have to work to earn it.  and it’s calling them to stop looking at what you can do for God, and fix your gaze upon what God has done for you, and let that motivate you to love Him back.  you know, we love because He first loved us

in a world where the top dog who worked through the system and got to the top is the model for everyone to follow, the grace of God contradicts everything.  there is nothing that can be done to earn grace or to get more of it from God.  it’s a gift that no matter how hard we work to try to do great stuff and attain holiness, grace is not going to come through anything other than the love of God.  God is standing with us offering grace on a daily basis regardless of the crappy choices that we might make and the doubts we have.  there’s nothing that we can do through works that will get us more grace or limit God’s grace in our lives.

when i think about the questions we direct towards God and the doubts that we have, the Steven Curtis Chapman situation comes to mind.  if you don’t know about it, basically his youngest adopted daughter who was 5, was killed late last week after being struck in the driveway of their home by one of his teenage sons.  devastating tragedy.  they have handled the situation masterfully, and although the hurt and pain is fresh and will continue to be there for life, the family has shown their trust in God in the midst of it all.  in light of that, the lyrics of this song stand out more than ever.

i’ll be by your side wherever you fall, in the dead of night whenever you call, please don’t fight these hands that are holding you, my hands are holding you

God has not left the scene; He hasn’t abandoned those who are hurting, struggling, doubting Him.

i’d say we need more stuff like this in a world where we struggle to see a loving God that is always here.  there’s a lot more that i could mention about the cd, but i’ll let you discover that yourself.

check them out here and here.