Friday, May 30, 2014

Great Leaders Follow

Leadership is such a tricky thing. Everyone knows how it 'should' be done, but the reality leaves us wanting so much more. Browsing through the news gives you no shortage of leadership failures -- abuse, harassment, mismanagement and more. Piling onto the weight of leadership, these failures are only compounded by the open wounds left in all of the people who were following in trust.

There must be a better way.

This is always a hard topic to talk about, because if you speak to anyone who I have worked with, I am sure they could disclose countless stories about my own failures. I am not a perfect leader, far from it. I am who is becoming more like Jesus... I am a disciple. As a disciple there are times when I feel like Peter, who stood before Jesus and had his faults laid out before him -- stupid questions, obstinate attitudes and more.

Jesus has called us to be disciples.

He did not call us to be perfect, or to pretend as though we are free from all sin. He called us to depend wholly on him, and showed us a better way to lead inside of our own communities. If you think about it, he called twelve men who were anything but perfect. They were on the very outskirts of society, some even shunned from the mainstream. These are the people Jesus chose to pour into for the years he was in ministry. It is telling.

Perhaps Christian leadership is not about gathering power, gaining influence and then seeing how big we can build the empire before it collapses around us. Maybe Jesus has already shown us a different way of leadership in God's Kingdom and we have merely neglected to follow sound advice. We have been seduced by the callings of power, losing our path over centuries and decades without a real restoration in our leadership.

What then needs to be thrown out?

1. A leader is not judged by the number of people who follow them.

By this metric alone, Jesus was a colossal failure. Oh, he had the numbers, the crowds and the influence -- and then he threw it all out. He purposefully sought to weed out the many, many people who were attracted to his fame rather than his message.

What if a modern Christian leader focussed on their local community? Loving, nurturing, journeying with them authentically? If it was never about what is the 'next big thing' on the horizon or the 'rising star' of their abilities? What if we re-framed that conversation to be about rooting yourself in God's family, listening for what the Lord has to say, rather than what will attract more people?

2. A leader is not there only to encourage.

There are tough calls that need to be made along the way. Moses had a petulant group of children on his hands, and there were times that he had to lead out of his calling rather than popular opinion. These are moments that Joshua, Aaron and others played significant roles in Moses' own life to affirm what he was hearing from God.

In the same way, Jesus had some hard rebukes for his disciples at times. They were blunt, even harsh, but true. He had to do some pruning in order to help the vine grow healthy in the long run.

3. A leader does not lead alone.

Jesus showed us what it looks like to live in community. He regularly communed with God and the Holy Spirit to discern what was next. He did not pick one person to be the heroic leader in the days of Pentecost, he instead chose to form a group who could discern together what was next for the Church.

How many leaders today do you see as being 'above' accountability? Some have built palaces that they insist are made of glass, but are anything but. No one in God's Kingdom is above accountability, just the opposite. We submit to one another in brotherly love, listening to the rebukes and advice of others so that each of us can grow more like Jesus.

4. A leader is tested by their absence.

It is not the work that is done when a leader is present that is the test of their work. Instead, it is the building that has been constructed and must stand the test of time. We are quick to focus on the short-term results, rather than the long-term benefits.

You can throw up a quick house in a week, but you won't want to live in it for decades to come. Ministry is much the same, it takes time and gentle corrections over the long haul to see something that is long lasting. We must stop judging leaders by the immediate and instead look at the long-term results of their work. Speaking in decades instead of years or months.

The real test comes when they are gone.

5. A leader serves.

In the Kingdom of God, leading is one of the least glorious things you can do. It involves washing feet, late nights, tears, sweat and pain. Many lead through times of great troubles to bear the weight of the turmoil and never receive the thanks when the journey is complete.

There is nothing glorious about leading in the Kingdom of Heaven, because Jesus made it clear that if earthly glory was all you were wanting -- you would get it. But if you wanted something that would last, there would be little thanks here on earth. It is not about who will sit at the right hand of God, but who will listen and serve here on earth.

Too many young leaders that I have met think it is about a huge group, recognition or glory. They are not prepared for the long months of pain, broken relationships and hard (but loving) calls that need to be made in ministry.

Perhaps it is time to throw away the notion that our leaders need to be charismatic, bombastic and great speakers. This is a time when the Kingdom of God needs people, not personalities.

What have you seen from the leaders in your life? How has someone been Jesus to you?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

When God Asks You To Do Something Difficult

My journey of faith has interwoven with some incredible people, God using our threads to weave a grand tapestry. Some of those threads have been exotic, attractive while others were the cotton -- the backbone. He has used each of these people to change and mould me into the person that He is creating. Each of us is merely one thread in the whole garment, with our own roles to play.

There have been times on these journey's when the road has been spectacular. This past New Years I was given a great gift by my parents-in-law of a family trip to Maui, Hawaii. It was a fantastic week with everything that you would expect from a tropical trip. Beautiful weather, long stretches of white sand and exotic snorkelling.

We took one of those days to make the trip around the Island to Hana, a small fishing village in the middle of nowhere. It is the kind of trip that they talk up to be an adventure for people who do not usually undertake adventures. As if driving on a well-paved highway was one of the most dangerous things you could do with your vacation.

While the trip did not fully live up to its advertised danger, the road was incredibly curvy, as we weaved with the shape God carved into the landscape. The pay-off was not in the destination, but in the journey you take to get there. Stunning vista's, open ocean, lush tropical fauna and more await you on the trip. It was a highlight, especially the sunset that awaited us on our way home.

These journeys are not always smooth -- especially if you want an adventure. On the way home, my Father-in-law decided he wanted to drive the 'forbidden' route on the way home. The place where insurance companies will not cover you, and where tourists do not dare tread. Now this is an adventure.

The road on the back of the Island is distance-wise similar to the normal road, but memory-wise significantly more exciting. There are large parts of the 'highway' that are unpaved, leaving you at the mercy of erosion as the tropical rain clawing away the road as the land drags it down the slope to the ocean. Instead of a tourist-friendly two-lane highway, you are left with a nerve racking two, but sometimes one, lane road with oncoming traffic on the face of a steep, mountainous cliff.

Bouncing around like cowboys holding on for dear life, we traversed the back of Maui taking in sights that far less eyes get to see. As we wisened up to the multitude of warnings along the way, there were more than a few moments where we were debating turning back, because the road seemed impassible. Yet those moments, in hindsight were a minority of the overall journey home, a mere fifth of the journey.

Coming out the other side of the forbidden zone, God greeted us with this:

Immediately the sore bottoms, and shaken stomachs were worth it.
You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.
-Matthew 7:13-14
Take that lesser road. Life will be dangerous, your knuckles will be white with stress at times, and there may be times when you wonder if you will see the comfort of home again. It will be an adventure, and not in the mass-produced tourist-friendly pamphlet way. You will gain scars, wounds and memories along the way. Change is an expected part of the journey as you learn about yourself and others. This is not the easy road.

It is the right road.

Remember, the next time God asks you to do something difficult, the views are so worth it.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Called to Be Different

The Last One In by Cayusa, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License by  Cayusa 

You were never meant to belong. You are an alien in this world. So why does it feel so much like home?
I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I'm not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.
- John 17:14-19
We are sent into this world as ambassadors, people who once belonged but who have since renounced their citizenship and transferred their allegiances to a new home. We are the worst sort -- traitors to the old, and family of the new. Having turned our backs on all that was offered to us, we abandoned it all so that we could be truly free.

But have we?

So often I have sat with people over a meal where they have confessed that their relationship with God is not where they would like it to be. They struggle with what they feel they want, and what reality shapes up to be. Inevitably, the discussion turns towards actions. Are they living what they know to be true? Are they building their relationship with God, or expecting Him to overwhelm them with His pursuit?

Do our actions testify to the God we claim lives inside of us?

Francis of Assisi is commonly attributed with the phrase, "Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words." We so often use our mouths to testify to the greatness of God through song, testimony and sermon, yet our lives leave something lacking. We are big talkers.


People want to see something different. In community, in life, in work. If I claim to be a brother or sister of Christ, am I any different than the rest of the world? It should take very few words to tell the world of the change our Lord brings, because our lives are a testament to His changing power already.

This may mean giving us what is comfortable and familiar to us. It may mean offending people as you realign your priorities to what will be, rather than what is today. It means living a life full of radical, dangerous love. It may mean taking up your cross and carrying it while the crowds mock and jeer you.

Out of the twelve disciples, eleven died from martyrdom.

Radical faith brings radical results -- so why do we act like the world and wonder why no one sees anything different?

We were called for so much more.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Lessons are Learned in the Journey

Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. 
So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 
-2 Corinthians 5:14-17
Montana highway by gmark1, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  gmark1 

 "Are we there yet?" -- a common half-joke amongst families as they undertake a long journey and one that is not unfamiliar to me. As the youngest of three children, I was often put in the middle seat, smack dab on top of the hot, sticky, uncomfortable fake leather. Elbows on one side, shoulders on the other, those journeys could be excruciating. That was if we were all in a good mood!

Let us not pretend I was an angel, however. Far from it.

One trip in particular my siblings take great glee in retelling that only comes with years of distance from an event because being there was far less glamorous. We had travelled out to Brandon, Manitoba to visit my Uncle and Aunt and spend some time with them before both of our families journeyed south of the border to Great Falls, Montana. Not a spot that you would normally call 'vacation' but I remember a large Target and a mother who was thrilled at cheap prices. The journey itself is a patience testing twelve hours in the best of conditions.

As any young boy is prone to do, I had always wanted a pet to call my own. A friend who would be loyal to me when the bullies at school were particularly nasty, or my brother would not share the Sega Genesis. It was an admittedly romanticized fantasy, devoid of poop, early mornings or any other inconveniences pet owners can attest to. While in Brandon, one of my older cousins had such a dog, a droopy eyed, floppy skinned old mutt who was happy to put up with a ecstatic young boy petting him, walking him and spending copious amounts of time lavishing in his brilliance. For a short time, I had a summer fling... with Elfie.

But as with any summer fling, it must come to an end. A long, excruciating end filled with highways, and desperate parents. Nearly a solid twelve hours of crying that I wanted a puppy, that I wanted Elfie. To my parents credit, they never promised me that I would get a pet to shut me up... but they tried anything else! Games on the highway, food, music, video games... anything to get their youngest son to be quiet. I'm amazed in hindsight they did not through me out the window and keep driving.

How often do we cry out to God begging Him to let us be there already? We are tired of our lives, afraid of what is going to happen next, beaten down from the perpetual waves of despair beating against our shores. We are weak, constantly struggling with sin and broken relationships from a world that lives in the corrupt state of sin.

We want to be free.

Yet God looks at us and He sees a creation in process. Something that is lives in a state of in-between. We are new creations because of Christ, redeemed by His sacrifice on the cross. We are sinful beings, unable to restore ourselves to the state we willingly walked away from. We struggle against ourselves, caught in a perpetual tangle that wounds us as we attempt to extract our limbs. We are wounded.

I cannot speak for you, but it is from this reality that I often find myself wounding others. I succumb to the trauma of life and lash out at others -- judging, hurting and attempting to exert power over them. Thank Jesus for grace in these times, both for myself and for others.

I am a new person. Seeing with God's eyes means offering God's grace to those around me. It may mean showing grace where my heart wants to wound or offering a hard word where I would rather let it go. My family has travelled thousands of miles together, and we arrived mostly in one piece thanks to love.

How are we treating others? Are we learning from the lessons we learn in our own journey, or are we using those moments to wound others?
Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves.
I want to live this out in my own life.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Real Community

Through my life, I have moved numerous times. Part of me has always been jealous of those who were born into a community and have lived in that community for their whole lives. A different part of me pities them.

You learn something wonderful about what is important to you when you yank out the comfort of family and friends and have to reintegrate into a new community. Things that you take for granted are entirely absent in a new place, and others that you hated never developed here. The learning is not limited to the community however, as removing our comforts is an opportunity to look into a mirror.

It is a mirror that we often like to stay foggy, hazed over from years of relationships, history and familiarity. When the disciples followed Jesus, they received so much more than they bargained for. Being asked to follow a Rabbi was a flattering offer for their egos, following him turned out to be something totally different.

Jesus lived with these men for two years. It is not possible to hide yourself fully for that length of time. Existing in community with someone for that period will naturally involve plenty of awkward, disjointed comments, stupid questions and sin. You are laid bare in front of this community and there must be grace and forgiveness for it to work. There also has to be a great deal of honesty, or it will quickly degenerate into gossip and backstabbing.
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other.
- John 15:1-12 (Emphasis Mine)
Root yourself in that for a few moments. Jesus lays out for us a very clear glimpse into God's definition of community. Note that it does not involve programs, activities, luncheons or services. Absent from it is a busy calendar, immaculate clothes and an overwhelming sense of duty and guilt. Jesus' community is based around Him. It involves resting in Him, depending on Him, trusting in Him. Our only clear commandment in that passage is to remain in Him, because he chose us. Take a deep breathe as it soaks in.

The community that Jesus established has very little to do with committees, general meetings or politics. It has everything to do with being a part of a community that helps you root yourself in Christ fully. How does the community do that? Through love.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. 
Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.
- Romans 12:1-5 (Emphasis Mine)
Each of us is vital to the community we participate in and each of us has a role to play. Following Jesus does not mean becoming a clone of a 'good Christian,' instead Jesus leads us to discover what that means for each of us as individuals. This leads us to a great deal of humility as we face our own personal demons and find freedom in Jesus. Philippians puts it this way: "Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had."

Are our churches a revolutionary movement or a social club? Worship services are meant to be a gathering together of a people come to adore and share of what God is doing! A chance for the saints to be strengthened, encouraged and informed of the broader story that the Holy Spirit is weaving. This brings us to our knees in worship of the greater story God has invited us to participate in, leaving behind our old selfish ways.

No more are we called to live isolated, lonely lives. Jesus has called us into his family where we find countless siblings because of our Heavenly Father. In this family is healing from our wounds, freedom from our chains, encouragement for the weary and an calling into a greater purpose. A family that not only proclaims that the Kingdom of God is here, but reveals it for those with eyes.

A community unlike anything else this world has ever seen, where people put others before themselves. Where those in need are valued over those who can give. Where weakness is valued, and strength comes from the Lord we worship. We leave our pasts behind us, washed away in the rivers of baptism -- dead to us -- and move boldly into our new lives together.

It is the kind of community that is wholly exclusive in its' requirements, yet fully inclusive of anyone who God brings. People are repulsed by it because you cannot hide within its folds, you must engage to participate. Others are drawn to it because it is a part of the God shaped hole which resides in each of us. A community where we find acceptance and accountability both, where we are loved for who we are, not what we can do.

That is my hope for real community. If you wipe away the fog in the mirror, what is yours?

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Problem with Evangelism

'Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.' 
- Romans 12:2

There is an uncomfortable truth in our churches. It is the kind of conversation that is whispered in hushed tones behind closed doors, discussed over coffee in a wink wink, nudge nudge kind of way. It is the kind that makes the establishment tremble, and the people in the pews scratch their heads. Like a jacket cover, it may not tell the whole story but it does give a strong indicator of other issues.

The church has a serious problem with evangelism. Yet it was not always this way.

When we look back at the early church, evangelism was the least of their worries. The people of Israel were dissatisfied with the religion that the Pharisees and religions of the surrounding nations were offering them. They had grown weary of worshipping physical idols in their homes and feeling their prayers bounce off the roof. Living with strictly regimented rules that was supposed to give them a relationship with God had left their souls parched. They were hungry for something real, something tangible that would bring real change in their lives. Something the disciples were offering each and every person through living and preaching the Gospel.

Many of our churches today are still attempting to cope with the present reality that we live in a post-Christian society. Having grown up through the seventies and eighties, many current leaders remain ill equipped on how to minister to an emergent culture that has no reference of Jesus or Christian sub-culture. Growing up in these churches, many people in the pews have lost hope for real change. For decades, the church was a significant voice into broader culture -- influencing the flow of nations. Now, the power has tipped, and the imperialistic nature of a modern church has begun to crumble.

Our churches are built on antiquated assumptions about broader culture -- and the gospel has suffered because of it.

Real change brings about real change. This is the foundation that the gospel is built on. Jesus is risen, our chains are gone, and there is peace with God. This is not only a cognitive effort -- very few people will be argued into the kingdom of heaven. What the world, and indeed many church goers are waiting for is to see what a real Christian looks like. Not to hear from a pulpit, read in a book or hidden away behind some secret knowledge. We hunger for the hope found only in Jesus Christ. If He makes a difference in my life... then I should notice it.

Maybe this resonates with you today. You've attended church for years, and it has become a habit more than a movement in your own life. You once felt passion that has long since run dry. Sunday after Sunday you drive to church and put on your 'church face' and do your duty.

Perhaps you hear about this passion and you wish you had ever experienced that. Your own journey has been one of growing up inside a community, but without that personal relationship with God. There has always been a part of you that has wondered about the change that you have heard about in the Bible.

For the past six months, I have undertaken what some will consider a monumental change in my own personal life. After planning and running the yearly youth retreats, I decided it was time to take my eating and weight seriously. Nothing specifically triggered this desire as I have always been satisfied with my weight, but over the years it had definitely begun to creep higher. I began to track the calories that went into my body, as well as slowly beginning to increase my running distances through intervals.

For the first month, it was my wife's encouragement alongside my own will that carried me through. If you've ever tried a significant shift in your life, you know that forming new habits is hard work. A river doesn't change the direction of its' flow overnight, but day by day I logged the food I was eating and learned more about what caused the upward creep. In the month that followed, others began to notice -- and the questions began to be asked.

"Is your wife not feeding you?"

"I hope you are not under a lot of stress!"

"You are not overweight!"

I had lost approximately 10 pounds by that point, a significant amount for sure but by no means was I finished just yet. Through the next three months, I continued to track what I was putting into my body and what kind of effort I was exerting to lose more. As the weeks ticked by, I lost another 20 pounds.

My poor wife is a real trooper, because in normal (?) Mennonite (or Christian?) fashion, much of the assumptions about roles in the home fell on her. Was I sick? Was she too busy to cook for me? Being in a public role, I am somewhat used to being on display, but people would come up and touch my stomach as though I were pregnant, shake their hanging heads and mournfully say, "You have lost too much."

Thankfully, these are not the only stories I have to tell about this journey I have been on. Many other people, both men and women have asked me what I have done to lose the weight. Did I drastically change my diet? Forgo any form of enjoyable food in some epic form of piety? Starve myself? When I informed them that I had not actually significantly adjusted my diet, but instead merely changed how much I ate -- they were intrigued.

Many of them have attempted to get a grasp on their own bodies, but only found frustration. Years of diets brought short-term success but the long-term results eluded them. A temporary change brings about temporary results.

People saw a change in my life that they themselves desired. I was not preaching verbally about the virtues of my eating habits, they came to me. Wherever I went, I was preaching a message... without words.

The problem with evangelism in the church is that the church does not look significantly different than the world. People know there are politics, passive aggressive fights hidden behind the well dressed people sporting friendly smiles. They hunger for something authentic and real, but when they look at the church, the find it lacking. I have found this to be true both within and outside of the Christian community -- people are hungry.

Until Christ's bride (the Church) is willing to take the full gospel seriously, humbling herself before her groom (Jesus), we will not see this problem go away.

Jesus took the well established patterns in our hearts, and changed it.

We say the rich will be powerful, Jesus says our money is a liability. (Matthew 9:23-24)

We hoard power and influence, but Jesus told us to give it up. (Matthew 20:25-28)

We expect payment for our faithfulness, but Jesus told us it will cost us our lives. (Matthew 16:24-26)

This is not a change that happens on a leadership level alone. It is a cancer that we have allowed to lurk in the hidden corners of the church, and it is patently obvious to anyone outside of the Christian culture. Those of us inside of that culture are either unaware -- lulled into the comforting security of regularity or unsure of what to do to change it. Big changes require a big effort: the establishment of our Church involved God dying on a cross.

Rome was not built in a day. It grew brick by brick, second by second.

It involves a serious review of our own personal spiritual journeys. The church is not made up of leaders, but of people in the pews and any church can only be as healthy as the people who make it up. Are we asking more from our leaders? Are we humbling ourselves in our daily walks? Are we exercising our spiritual muscles instead of feeding our worldly appetite?

The question comes down to our own passions, because evil wins when good people do nothing. Reclaiming that passion is a deeply personal journey of discovery and surrender. It is about leaving our comfort and walking into the wilderness, trusting that God will provide the manna for our hunger. When God's people pick up their Bible's and reach out to Him on a personal level, hungering for a deeper relationship and taking the actions to build that relationship -- change will come. First with you, then as God calls you in the people you are close to and eventually in a nation.

People will be offended along the way, they will leave. This may not be the faith that they thought they knew, but it is the one they are comfortable with. Jesus did not come so that we could be comfortable, but instead to lead us into a new land. What He is asking for are people who are willing to leave Egypt and travel back into the Promised Land. He is asking you to leave a war torn nation for one of peace -- but we have to cross the battlefield first.

When our co-workers, neighbours and community begin to see our churches flourishing with people reaching out into their community in love... then we will no longer be talking about evangelism, but living it. There will no longer need to be evangelism programs, because it will be woven deeply into the fabric of the church. Feeding the hungry, welcoming the outcast and getting our hands dirty in the work that others are unwilling to take upon themselves -- that is the work of the church.

Jesus showed us the way, and it is far past time for us to follow it again. The key is under the mat, let's unlock the door and walk into our future.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Slice of Cherry Blueberry Pie by DigiDi, on Flickr

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  DigiDi 

There was a summer when one of my aunts came out to visit. She spent a lot of time at our house after my mother passed away, taking care of us and relieving some of the load from my dad. Memories were made while solving puzzles, making food and running errands. This particular Aunt is an avid baker, and if you have ever been to a dinner with us and partook in herb bread, this is that Aunt. You may not have even known it, but you owe her an eternal gratitude for that creativity.

She is not afraid of a good laugh, and often will create situations that involve both food and laughter. If you think about it, most of the truly great memories in life involve these two ingredients -- food and laughter. Bonds are forged around a dinner table, stories are retold, games are played and our brains relish in the mixture of senses with important people.

This story is no different, although I did far less eating than my brother. On one afternoon my Aunt was where you would so often find her, baking in our kitchen, making an assortment of pies that would be frozen for our consumption later. My brother, never shy asked her if he could have a piece of the apple pie that was still piping hot out of the oven. She replied that he could, but if he was going to have a piece, he better finish the whole thing. A look of glee swept across his face as took her up on the deal.

And so began three hours of pie.

This was not some wimpy, store bought apple pie. This was a deep dish, sugar laden, ooey-gooey apple pie. The kind a baker would not make because you couldn't afford it, and the kind you hope your mother is going to pull out of the oven. Forget dinner, this is the main dish, and it fills you up like it too.

After the first third, my brother was still shovelling the pie into his mouth with some gusto, but the first cracks began to form. There was a slight groan after the swallow, and a portioning of the liquid he would use to wash down the pie lest he use up vital space. The rest of us moved through the family room with some interest as the minutes ticked by to check in on my brother's welfare. Let it never be said that eating is not an extreme sport.

My brother engaged in a glorious act of gluttony that day. There were moments when he begged to be let off the hook for the promise he made, but my aunt responded with a mischievous glint in her eye that he made a promise. A promise he fulfilled that day, despite his gastrointestinal health... and wasn't hungry for the next twenty-four hours. It is the kind of story we continue to retell in our family with great delight.

We all have our pie in life. For some, that might be a literal thing -- food being the all consuming goal of our lives. For others, it hides a little more insidiously, lurking beneath the surface like an unseen alligator preparing to leap for it's pray. The approval of others, the need for more stuff, your career, better grades, sports. We are always consuming the pie, always hoping that it will satisfy it.

If you are anything like me, hiding in the back of that perpetual stuffing of my pie-hole, there's a little voice telling you that it can be satisfied. It's a soft, gentle whisper beckoning you into better health -- and it is easily ignored. You see, we like to give God a piece of our pie. A tiny little sliver that we tell others we hold in reverence. It has it's time and place, like the china or a perfectly clean house: when other people come over. We parade that piece on Sunday's, and hide it through the rest of the week.

God doesn't want a piece of the pie. He craves the whole thing.
Mark 12:28-34 - The Most Important Commandment
One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.” 
Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.
It is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.

Meditate on that for a moment. Let it wash over you like a tsunami, tearing you loose from the handholds you've formed in your life. We run around in  our lives, keeping ourselves so busy, always looking for the next greatest thing, the latest flavour. When we find it, it's a rush -- until we're halfway through the pie. Then rather our satisfaction turns to a threatening pain. We haven't found the one just yet -- and this thing is killing us from the inside out.

Jesus doesn't say that God wants half, or one seventh or even fifteen minutes a day. He throws down the gauntlet and says that God wants all of us.

Do we throw in the towel and stop pretending we haven't given into materialism? Do we throw ourselves into unreserved hedonism, forgetting all that we've learned? Of course not. Jesus is radically challenging the priorities of our lives, stating clearly that God is not interested in anything but first place. He's kind of jealous that way.

God doesn't want your stuff. He doesn't want you to make a show of your faith, He merely wants your everything. While we're running around, tiring ourselves ourselves out from the hustle of life, God is patiently waiting on the sidelines for us to turn towards Him and rest. Like petulant children, we whine, complain and throw temper tantrums at how God is not doing what we want, as if we were that important. He waits for our energy to wane so He can give us what we really need.

This is a radical, new way of looking at our faith. It isn't something that happens in a place, or during set times through the week. Instead, Jesus is giving us a new way to lives our lives -- by putting God first. That conversation you are having with your co-worker... how is God involved in it? That championship you have been training for... how is God involved in it? That song you are listening to... how is God involved in it?

He's not a piece of the pie, He is the pie.

Everything is viewed through Him. Everything. There is no Christian or non-Christian... there is God.

Is what you're listening to - reading - doing - dreaming about glorifying to Him? If not... why are you doing it? Is it drawing you closer to Him? Is it tempting you further from Him?

How much of that pie are you giving God? How does He compare to your time on Facebook? What are some steps you can take today to give him your heart, soul, mind and strength? It sounds exhausting, but I assure you -- it is the most freeing experience.

Just like a perfectly portioned home-made pie, it leaves us completely satisfied at the end of a good meal full of hearty laughs. God wants that for you.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Uncomfortable Truth About The Gospel

Surgent by fs999, on Flickr

There's something about Jesus that makes me uncomfortable. The way he took the expectations of an entire people and turned them on their heads. They were so sure, they knew exactly who he was going to be. They knew so much they could not even recognize him when he arrived.

He was subversive. We want a conqueror, a warrior. He showed us a servant. We wanted him to set us free from our earthly troubles. He set us free from our eternal ones. We wanted him to prove himself, he let us murder him to do it. We wanted glory, he showed us the path through shame.

At each of our hearts is a struggle with our own selfish natures. Why can't I be first? Why not me? How come God doesn't pay special attention to me. It's all about me. We stand with our megaphones and shout into the skies and wait for the response which never comes. Are we even listening?

Jesus has so much more in mind.

He beckons you out to the wide ocean, with nothing but rolling waves in front of you. The clouds on the horizon darken with tumultuous menace. The wind, now gentle against your face carries a chill of coming ferocity; yet he beckons you to follow. Your instincts are begging you to stay on the shore, clawing at your sanity to keep you where you will be safe, yet he beckons. A step into the cold water is a step into uncertainty, a step forward in faith. Jesus watches as he walks out ahead of you, asking you to follow.

Do you?

We want power, Jesus calls us to weakness. We want glory, Jesus calls us to humility. We want fame, Jesus calls us to obscurity. We want it to be about us, Jesus knows it's about him.

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

I so often find myself struggling with these truths. To follow God into a real relationship means to lay myself aside. Everything in my earthly body cries out to be recognized, to seek power and glory for myself. Yet God calls me to a different, less travelled path.

It is not about me, it is entirely about him.

Our world tells us to collect as much as we can around us -- money, power, friends, influence, fame -- and then use it for all it is worth. It will make us happy; it will give us meaning. It does... for a time. Then the same thing that gave us meaning, ecstasy and purpose begins to rot our core, eating away at our foundations. Eventually we wake up in the same fetal position, our muscles atrophied, sapped for strength, and our souls thirsty for something deeper, something more.

Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

It makes me wonder if we haven't missed the entire point of the gospel. It has never been about us, because we find ourselves in this mess because of us. We cannot climb out of this pit, we are stuck, without hope.

It is in that place that God gives us hope. We have no where to turn, and it is there that He can truly meet us, and offer a different way forward. We are parched, our lips bleeding, our body weak -- and He offers us living water. A new hope, a new way forward.

The path isn't easy. There is no paved interstate, no safety rails. It leads through a dark forest, over a treacherous ocean-side cliff that is slick with the salt water mist. Wild animals stalk weary travellers paths, hungry for a kill. There is little shelter from the forces of nature as they test resolve. It would have been much easier to stay on the highway, with comfortable hotels and luxurious food.

That's the uncomfortable truth about the gospel. It has nothing to do with us, and it is the path less travelled. We are too weak to take it ourselves, and so we are taught about our own weakness. Instead, it has everything to do with him. The moment we start to grasp for security, power or control -- we've lost it. It's a leap into the ethereal, the unknown. A step away from our comfort and sanity and into humility and faith.

Take that leap.