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The Problem Inside All of Us

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I was reading the other day, as I often do, and the following quote made me stop completely. I actually couldn’t read any more for the rest of the day.

“How can we Christians claim to proclaim atoning reconciliation through the cross of Christ when we contradict it by refusing to be reconciled with one another, or to allow reconciliation through the body and blood of the Saviour to be translated into our Church divisions.” – Thomas Torrance

Read it again, if it didn’t stop you the first time.

Torrance’s point is for us to examine how we can proclaim that God reconciles us to Himself when we refuse to practice that with each other. How can we hold onto our divisions, debate and disagreements when Christ died to bring us together? How can we share the good news of reconciliation when we refuse to give up our inner Church disputes and divisions?

The easy (and preachy) thing to do would be to call out all the pastors who continue to divide over silly things. The easy thing to do would be to call out all the Christians who continue to hate one another and not forgive. The easy thing to do is to get on a soapbox and slam all of you who continue to hold onto grudges and divisions, and ignore the fact that Christ brought us together.

That would be easier, but not godly.

Because, the truth is, I struggle with holding onto bitterness and grudges sometimes. The truth is, I think my theology is obvious and right, whereas others is misguided at best and stupid at worst. The reason this quote stopped me isn’t because it highlighted the problems in the Church (although it does that); it’s that it highlighted the problems in me…

  • That I would rather divide than work through things.
  • That it’s easier to be right instead of reconciled.
  • That sometimes I love my theology, my perspective and my opinions more than other’s.

Torrance’s point reminded me that I’m part of the problem. That the church’s tendency to place personal opinions, past hurts or theological preferences above people is a problem. Jesus died to reconcile us together, and we shouldn’t contradict it by refusing to reconcile with others.

So, this post isn’t meant to point out anything wrong in anyone else, rather it’s meant to remind us that often the problem isn’t with “out there,” but “inside us.” And, that’s why I stopped reading. Because I realized I had some things to work on.

 

There is always more Corn Pops

cornpops.pngAsher had a meltdown the other day. And, by the other day, I mean, well, a lot of days. Asher is four and just feels everything really deeply, which makes him wonderful. But, on this particular day, he had a meltdown over the fact that we run out of Corn Pops, his current favourite cereal.

And, so he cried and was really distraught that there are “no more Corn Pops!”

As any good father would, I knelt down and held him and said, “Daddy can get you more Corn Pops. Would that make you feel so much better? Daddy can buy more.” And, instantly Asher looked up and said, “Yes daddy, please can you buy more Corn Pops.” And then, because I price match, I found another box in the pantry, and Asher started running around yelling and cheering.

I bring up this little story (one that happens in various ways with all our kids throughout the week) because of one reason: As a dad, I love to give good things to my kids. If I have the ability to give them something that they love, need and lights up there day, I’m going to do it. Especially if it’s like $3 for a box of cereal.

But, here is what struck me: If I love to give good gifts to my children, why do I ever think that God, the true Father, is any different? Have you ever noticed how sometimes we feel like we need to convince God of or can’t be really honest with Him about our desires, wants or needs? That somehow we believe that God isn’t into abundant giving of all that is good and needed.

Now, of course, I’m not saying God will give us all millions – or anything close to prosperity gospel (all health and wealth). But, on the other hand or other extreme, neither is God stingy, scarce or miserly in the gifts He wants to give.

Jesus says this, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11, NIV).

Or, in James 1:17a (NLT), we read, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father.”

What I realized is that just as much as I love to give good gifts to my kids (and follow with me – it gives me GREAT JOY), I believe the same is true with God – that He loves to give to us and it gives Him GREAT JOY. He isn’t up in heaven with a spreadsheet, calculating what we deserve or what He can afford to give. God is in heaven ready and willing to give good gifts to us as His children.

I write this to remind you all of something that we should already know: God is a good Father, who loves to give good gifts to His children. So, let’s live out of that reality today – not out of scarcity, but out of one in which there are lots of Corn Pops in the pantry for all of us.

 

You are NOT a Layperson

I want to be honest and say I’d like to get rid of the word “layperson.” And, if you’ve never heard it…well, that’s good…but here is what it means: “A person without professional or specialized knowledge in a particular subject.”

At a base level, there is nothing wrong with this idea. That in some spheres or disciplines we might be a hobbyist or an amateur at something – like being an amateur filmmaker or electronics enthusiast or racing hobbyist.

The problem happens when this terminology gets infected with consumerism and spreads into the church. Because, here is what can subtly and quickly happen: We end up with two classes of Christians – the professional and the layperson. And, what can easily happen is that we expect more from the professional than the layperson, or we encourage the layperson to live vicariously through the professional.

Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “If I can be convinced that layperson designates who I am…then I am wide open-market for experts who are ready to tell me how to live my life and, in some cases, even live it for me…And so, I end up delegating the operations of my soul to the experts. I no longer deal with God myself – I’m a layperson, after all…following Jesus gives way to following Jesus-experts.”

I couldn’t agree more. This is a problem in the North American church. We are tempted to follow Jesus-experts, rather than get out into life itself and follow Jesus for ourselves.

Now, of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t need people who give up decades to studying the Bible and God. Our theologians, scholars and pastors can help us and they matter, but they can’t follow Jesus for us. We can’t delegate the core of following Jesus to experts who are trained in evangelism, knowing the Bible, hospitality or teaching. They can point us to Jesus, help us understand Jesus,  train us in the way of Jesus, but they can’t follow Jesus for us.


I write all this to remind you to not buy into the idea that you are layperson in the church. If you are a follower of Jesus, you ARE the Church. And yes, some of us have been doing it longer than others (and we should look to these people for help!), but they can’t fill our role or our calling

So, we need our models, leaders, pastors and teachers. But, let’s never let “following Jesus give way to following Jesus-experts.” Because the world needs all of us – including you.

Be a True Leader

beatrueleader.pngI really like learning and practicing good leadership as much as I can. And, it’s a very important topic that’s leveraged highly in seminars, training and such, especially if you’re in the business world.

But, what I’ve noticed is my own personal reaction to some leadership training and discussions. I’ve discovered that sometimes I react strongly against it and really dislike it. At other times, I’m really drawn to it and want to practice it. I seem to have two differing reactions to them: One is allergic, the other is excitement.

As I reflected on this, I realized that what causes me to either get excited or dismissive about a leadership talk is based on this one question: What’s the goal and the motive?

Sometimes in these talks, the point seems to be about creating and drawing a bigger crowd and more of an audience, or to find success and be recognized as a leader. And, when that seems to be the goal (or is subtly influencing the direction of a leader or talk), I really dislike it.

At other times, though, the talk seems to not be about drawing a bigger crowd, but rather focused on empowering, training and releasing more leaders. It’s about the impact any of us can have on those around us. It’s not about the size or reach of our influence, but rather about stewarding it well, so that lives are changed. And, it’s this style of leadership I deeply resonate with and respond to.

I write all this because, in our world today, there is a lot of talk about leadership. There are plenty of podcasts or blogs out there about how to grow in leadership and impact people. In the midst of all that, I want to remind us that the true goal of leadership isn’t to amass a bigger following, but rather to empower others. True leadership is other-centred, not self-centred.

So, grow in leadership, whether you are a business leader, stay-at-home mom or dad, teacher, landscaper, retired, etc. But, make sure the leadership you are growing in is always about others and not just about you.

 

Worship Everybody Does It

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Here is the truth…

Everybody worships something. Everybody moves toward something. Everybody has a goal that, for them, is ultimate and to which they are subservient. Even people who say, “No, I don’t worship. I’m totally independent.” In that case, what you worship is your independence. This is just the reality of life.

David Foster Wallace makes a startling claim about this in his famous commencement address at Kenyon College. And he says this not as a Christian, but as an observer of humanity…

“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”

That’s just what I said, but now read what Wallace continues to say…

“An outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things – if they are where you tap real meaning in life – then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure, and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start to show, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. … Worship power and you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect – being seen as smart – and you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.”

I couldn’t agree more. If you worship anything other than God, ultimately your desires and wants will eat you alive.

Wallace ends with this…

“The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious.”

And, this is the difficulty.

We all know living after these things aren’t healthy, but we still do it. We live a life that is unexamined and suffer the consequences. We slip into this kind of worship without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

So, what is the solution? Well, it’s simple…

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

Guard your heart, examine your heart, challenge what you worship and put your trust in God. Because our desires lead us.

Where is your heart leading? Set it on God and follow that. And, most of all, guard your heart against these other desires that slip in silently and set you up for difficulty. Don’t let your heart go unexamined and unguarded because that will never lead you into life.

So, what do we do? We sit and really reflect on the question, what do I worship? Don’t answer it too quickly, but do answer it. Because your life, and experiencing life, might just depend on it.

Why Families Fail

family failI recently came across a quote by Alexander Schmemann in a book. Schmemann is an Orthodox theologian, and what he wrote stopped me cold.

He writes that the problem with our culture isn’t our lack of “family values.” Instead, it’s the idolization of the family. He says the following…

“It’s is not the lack of respect for the family… [but] the idolization of the family that breaks the modern family so easily, making divorce its almost natural shadow. It is the identification of marriage with happiness and the refusal to accept the cross in it.”

Don’t rush past that idea, because it’s deep.

His point is that the reason many of our families are failing is because we’ve assumed our families, our kids or our spouses are there to make us happy. And, we’ve made them idols to serve our own happiness. But, as soon as you state it that boldly, you realize how self-serving and selfish such an assumption is.

This is why he says that when we idolize the family, it will break down. Because if it’s about us and our happiness, whenever difficulty comes (which it will), we will then refuse to accept the cross in it – the difficulty, challenge, growth and commitment.

I write all this to challenge a simple assumption that Schmemann made so clear to me. My marriage, my kids or any other relationship isn’t primarily about serving my needs and personal happiness.

And, that perspective is one that I need to continually keep in front of me, because culture teaches me differently. But, I know that if I want a beautiful marriage, family and relationships, the centre of it can’t be me. So, now I’m asking myself if there is any cross I need to bear or sacrifice I need to make, because it’s not all about me.

Perhaps it’s worth reflecting on today if in any way your focus or perspective has shifted to yourself. Because, what I know is that anytime that happens, relationships falter. However, when that perspective changes, relationships thrive.

Happiness in Life’s Everyday Moments

happiness blog.png“For the happy heart, life is a continual feast.” – Proverbs 15:15

Who could disagree with that? That when we are happy, life is great – a continual feast, full and vibrant. The struggle is in finding a happy heart. The struggle is in maintaining a happy heart.

Our culture seems to impress upon us that the way to find happiness is to do great things, achieve fame or success, or to pursue anything of that nature. In essence, happiness is equated to really big moments, mountain-top experiences and big highs.

The writer of Proverbs, though, has a different take. For him, happiness isn’t always found in the big moments, but often in the regular ones, such as a word of encouragement (Proverbs 12:25), some good news (Proverbs 15:30), a smile (Proverbs 15:30) or laughter (Proverbs 17:22).

The point being, we look for happiness in the big moments, but it’s often found in the everyday moments.

And, what is interesting is that social psychology is teaching us the exact same thing. Author, Ron Friedman, puts it this way: “Small, frequent pleasures can keep us happy longer than large, infrequent ones.” Not only is that true, it’s biblical.

So, today, rather than just seeking happiness in the large, giant things, seek to find it in the small and frequent things, such as a good cup of coffee, a smile from a friend, relaxing with your kids or whatever else it may be.

Because, it will not only be good for your soul, it’ll make your life a continual feast.