Our Stories Have Power

If you think about it, the Bible is a book of stories.

That’s really what it is. And, I’m not saying that to diminish the inspiration or power of the Bible, but to actually raise the power of stories in our lives. The Old Testament is full of the stories of Jewish people and their interaction with God. The Gospels are full of the stories of Jesus and His interaction with people. And, the Epistles are also stories of sorts – insights into the Early Church, and the stories that shaped them.

So, I raise all of this, because we so often discount our own stories.

We discount the lives we have lived, and the impact God has made in our lives. But, the truth is, our stories matter. They shape us, change others, and give tangible insight into the working of God in our lives.

When Paul shares his story in 2 Corinthians – that he has been battered and bruised, but not beaten – we resonate and can understand. When John shares about his interaction with Jesus in Revelation, we enter into his world and are changed. When we read Acts – literally the story of the Early Church – we are shaped, formed, and changed by it.

I write all this to remind you of one simple thing that we often discount and dismiss: Our stories have power. Our stories have meaning. Our stories are places not only to connect with ourselves and others, but also with God.

And, this is something I think the church understood a while ago, with the importance placed on “testimony” or “bearing witness.” And, it’s something we need to get back to. We need to share our stories.

Andrew Root, an amazing theologian, writes this:

“Stories are the tentacles of personhood that reach out to share and be shared in. We enter each other’s lives not through magical voodoo, but through the words of our stories, and entering into these stories binds us to one another. Story is the formative experience of relational personhood, and to share our story is to invite others to share in our being. When I share your story, I share in your person.”

So, share your story with others. Open up. Share around a table. Share over a cup of coffee. But, please share your story.

Because, it is in opening up and sharing that we become bound to one another.

And, I think that’s needed more than ever in our world. To be bound together, and bound to Christ. But, that only happens as we share our lives with one another. So, share your story, and see what happens.

The Gift of Patience

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m pretty driven.

I have task lists that I love to check off each and every day. And, I often ask Krista, “How was your day?” implicitly asking, “What did you accomplish?” This is part of who I am, and how I’m wired.

But, what I’m also learning is that patience and slowness is a gift.

When I read the Bible, what I notice is how often God doesn’t seem to be speedy. God seems to be okay with taking His time. He doesn’t always seem to do things instantaneously, but rather gives things time to grow and change.

And, this idea of being patient with God – of God working faithfully over decades and generations, and of us being obsessed with speed and yet trusting in the slow work of God – is something that is becoming more and more obvious to me.

We read in Psalm 37:7: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” We are called to wait patiently for Him.

Or, we read multiple times in Paul’s writings about how we are called to be patient. (see 1 Corinthians 13:4; Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:2)

And, I think that we, as a culture and society, have fallen in love with speed and efficiency, when what I think we are called to do is to fall in love with the slow, patient, and true work of God.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin writes:

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.”

And, that’s what has been really working on my soul lately – seeking to trust in the slow work of God, and that He who began a good work is faithful to complete it. (see Philippians 1:6)

People to Be Loved, or Things to Be Used

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“We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives, and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, I want to write about how we see the world. Because, the truth is, we all see it through a different lens and worldview. And, what I want to briefly raise up is that there is a way of looking that prioritizes things(i.e. money, power, productivity, property), and another that prioritizes people (i.e. their welfare, care, support, freedom).

We get a really good example of this in the story of the Exodus…

What ends up happening is the people of Israel are made to be slaves to the Egyptians, who then see them not as people, but as things to produce, things to be controlled, things to be abused, and things to be managed and owned. Their focus was on making Egypt more profitable, meeting higher quotas, and not caring about the Israelites or the harshness of their demands on them. (see Exodus 1:11-14) The Egyptians saw the Israelites as “things” to be exploited and used.

But, what I think is so interesting is that if you go on to read Leviticus (I know, it’s a tough slog at the best of times), what you see again and again and again, is God seeking to shape the consciousness of the Israelite people away from things and toward persons – to not see people as things to be used, but rather as people to be loved.

We see this in verses like Leviticus 19:16…

“Do not try to get ahead at the cost of your neighbor’s life, for I am the Lord.”

Or, Leviticus 19:18…

“Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love your neighbor as yourself.”

Or, most clearly in Leviticus 19:33-34…

“Do not exploit the foreigners who live in your land. They should be treated like everyone else, and you must love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.”

God is seeking to not only bring the Israelites out of Egypt, but to rid them of the way Egypt saw the world. His desire is to change the world from seeing it as primarily about “things” (i.e. ownership, possessions, power, and production), and to see the world through His eyes, focusing in on persons and people.

Remember, God is the one who “heard the cries” of His people and “looked down on the Israelites and felt deep concern for their welfare.” (Exodus 2:24).

So, I write all this because, in today’s world, it is so easy to slip into seeing everyone in terms of “things” – to see the world like Egypt did, as detached, indifferent, uncaring, and concerned most about protecting their stuff and their wealth. But, the way of Jesus is different…

Jesus is concerned first and foremost with people, both prioritizing them and loving them.

And, while I don’t know what this all means for you practically, with all that’s going on in our world, in your life, in politics, and in our neighbourhoods, one thing I think it does mean is that when Jesus says, “Love your neighbor,” and God says, “Treat the foreigners well” and “Don’t try to get ahead at the cost of someone else,” I think He meant it.

And, this means we should seek to practice it too.

Living Like Jesus

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I often use the book, Common Prayer by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Enuma Okoro, for prayer. I find it helpful for my personality and bent. And, a little while ago, I read this prayer which I thought was beautiful, true, and needed:

“Give us more light about each other: that we might understand enough to love.” (p. 154)

Isn’t that a beautiful prayer? Isn’t that what is missing in our world – enough understanding, so that we can love?

The truth is, we love binaries, we love judgments, we love knowing who is in and who is out. But, that’s not what true love is about.

True love is understanding someone enough that we might really support and journey with them. And, even when we disagree with them, to do so in a way that values their dignity and worth.

I just think that this deep understanding about others is missing in our fast-paced, “talking point,” and “tweetable” world. We are missing the depth that allows us to develop compassion and transformation. We need to be moving toward understanding of those we differ with, so that we can love them deeper, and understand them better.

This is especially important with our enemies and those with whom we really disagree. 2 Timothy 2:25 (NLT)puts it this way:

“Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.”

Gentleness is supposed to be part of our tone, demeanour, and perspective. And, what grows gentleness and compassion is often understanding.

So, to make this practical and personal, I want to ask:

With whom are you struggling?

And, if you can name someone, can you also pray that prayer above? Can you ask for more understanding, so that the depth of your love grows?

Because, I believe that in our world today, that’s what is needed:

More understanding. More love. In essence, more living like Jesus.

Daddy Watch Me!!!

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Our daughter, Eden, is three years old, and amazing. I’m obviously biased, but I think she is beautiful, so bouncy with energy, and adorable.

Your kids are probably cute too. 🙂

Anyways, she has this habit of saying, as only a three-year-old can, at the top of her lungs, “Daddy, watch me, watch me, watch me!!!!” And then she will twirl, dance, try to jump, or do something ridiculous like push one of her brothers.

The point is that she wants my full attention.

In fact, what she will often do is stop what she’s doing and look back to make sure I’m still watching. She wants to know that I’m watching her, invested in her, and attending to her.

Because, when we give someone our attention, what we are actually doing is giving them a signal and a sign that we love them.

To truly love someone means giving them our attention. That’s what Eden is seeking from me, as I’m trying to make supper and she is twirling, wanting me to watch her go round and round.

So, if giving someone attention is a sign of love, maybe that’s why the Bible so often speaks about God always looking over us. We read verses like…

Psalm 32:8 (NIV) – “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”

Psalm 33:18 (NLT) – “But the LORD watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love.”

Psalm 121:8 (NIV) – “The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

And, I read these verses and realize that God is not like some silent watchmen up above. Instead, He is like an interested and invested parent, watching their son or daughter twirl, jump, or dance through life.

We have a God who is fully invested in our lives.

And, even when we, like Eden, are yelling, “Watch me, watch me, watch me!!!!”, God is always watching. His attention to us isn’t distracted or distant. He is fully engaged in our lives, which should give us hope.

Because, His attention is a reminder of His love for you, me, and all of us who say, “Watch me!”

Resentment

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Today, I want to talk about something that so often stalks us, as Christians. It is something that hides in churches, and it is something that hides in our lives. It is something that actually kills and steals so much of life.

It is resentment.

Resentment is almost a “Christian sin.” And, I say the word “sin” specifically in the sense that sin separates you from God.

Sin kills healthy things. Sin infects living things with death.

In this sense, resentment is a sin. It will infect your life, bring death to your soul, and separate you from God.

It’s also almost a “Christian sin,” because it’s such a temptation for Christians – a temptation to do the right action for the wrong reason.

Resentment is a particularly tough temptation for those drawn toward caring and helping others, because resentment builds when we don’t feel appreciated enough, valued enough, or noticed enough.

We do the right actions, but don’t see the “right” or expected reaction, and resentment builds.

This is why I said it’s almost a “Christian sin,” in that so many Christians choose to love and care, but then feel resentful afterward…

They serve and give to someone, who doesn’t seem to appreciate their effort.
They bend over backwards for someone, who seems to take it for granted.
They put way too many hours into a sermon, only to have it critiqued within five minutes.

Or, however else it works out in your life.

But, this is why resentment is both subtle and a sin. Because, ultimately, whenever resentment is present, what it reveals is that the right actions were done for the wrong reason. That we gave, sacrificed, or served not because it was right, but because we wanted the “right” reaction.

Resentment happens when sacrifice turns inward.

And so, while we often talk about lots of other “obvious sins,” this is one that goes unnoticed, slides under the radar, and then remains unchanged.

But, I think it does need to change.

Because, I know, at least in my life, that resentment is often right there under the surface. I can get resentful to God for all that I gave up for Him. I can get resentful for the sacrifices that I give that seem to go unnoticed. Surely I am owed something in return!

But, resentment can’t go unnoticed and unchanged, because a resentful heart isn’t a Christ-like heart.

So, what do we do with all of this?

Well, I think the first step is to reflect and ask: Is resentment hiding in our hearts?

And, if so, then I think what we do is confess and get back to giving.

We confess the sin, ask for healing and forgiveness, and then seek to get back to giving, serving, and sacrificing, but this time without the expectations or agendas.

Can we be brutally honest about something?

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After seeing all that’s happened in the past year, we can honestly say this:
Hate seems to be alive and well in our world.

For all the progress we have made as a society in so many areas, hate has not been eradicated. In some ways, it’s still growing – in our culture, in our politics, in our lives, and even in our churches.

And, this is problem. Because, there is almost nothing more antithetical to Christianity than hate.

More and more, in the political process, in conversations, and even across pews, hate is pouring forth. And, it’s no longer enough to simply “call out” hate as wrong – we definitely need to do that – but, we also need to change this reality.

As Christians, we need to be partnering with the Spirit to rid our world of hate. Because, hate is toxic, it is infectious, and it spreads. Hate is insidious on the left and the right, and it is a problem.

So, what do we do? How do we rid our world of hate?

Well, the answer is to love those who hate. But, that is a real challenge. Because, loving hateful people is just plain hard.

Recently, I read something by James A. Baldwin that I believe is both true and helpful. He writes,

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hate so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

I think this is insightful, true, and also helpful.

As Christians, we are called to love others. We are called to make the world a better place. But, in a world of shouting, anger, and hate, it can be hard to love others.

What Baldwin is getting at is that often hate gets attached to pain. And, perhaps that’s where we need to focus. To not just focus in on changing people’s hate, but also on the pain underneath the hate. To hear, listen, care, and, yes, at times even challenge the pain, if necessary.

We need to see others not just as their hate, but rather as a people who might have pain as well.

This has been helpful for me. Because, now when I hear a hate-filled speech, I also hear pain attached to lost jobs, fear-filled futures, and uncertainty and lies. Of course, this pain never excuses the hate, but it does help me to love those who hate.

It also helps me to be part of changing the hate around me, as well as the hate that is within me.

So, I write all this because I think in our world full of sound bytes, talking points, yelling, name calling, and hate-filled speeches, we can find a better way. It begins by healing deep pain, not just seeking to stop hate. Maybe one way to live in this world of hate is to focus on its healing.

Because, hate will truly be stopped when healing happens.

Death and Suffering are Weird Things

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Death and suffering are weird things.

Because, they are awful, wrong, and even evil things, but, they are also the things out of which meaning, beauty, and strength can grow.

This is the strangeness of death, suffering, and difficulty. It’s both terribly awful, and also the place of some of the deepest transformation I’ve ever seen.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is one of the best known writers on the subject of death, suffering, and grief. In fact, she was the one who made known the “Five Stages of Grief.” She writes this…

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

I love that last line: “Beautiful people do not just happen.”

So often, beautiful people, with strength, sensitivity, and compassion, have gone through the crucible of suffering. They have faced hurt, suffering, and evil, and have not let it turn them bitter, but rather let it turn them into someone better.

And, to say this isn’t to make light of the suffering people face. Instead, it’s to realize that suffering doesn’t have the last word.

Because, what Kubler-Ross is getting at is something that is actually biblical. We read this in Romans 8:28…

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God.”

We should be clear with something: The text does not say everything we go through is good. Some things are evil. Some things are hellish. Some things are so full or darkness and difficulty that we yearn to be free.

What this verse is promising is that evil, suffering, and even death do not get the last word. That God works all the evil we go through toward good. That even the worst parts of our lives don’t get the final say.

That, in the words of Kubler-Ross, beautiful people don’t just happen, but rather they are made.

I saw this especially with my dad.

He suffered in pain with cancer for years and years. I saw him struggle, and walked with him as his health slid and pain increased. My dad always said that cancer had made him a better pastor, but was quick to add that he would have been fine remaining a mediocre pastor without the cancer.

So, death and suffering are wrong. They are to be fought against. And, they are an enemy. But, as Paul says, they also don’t get the last word.

Because, out of the ashes of death, suffering, and hurt, goodness can grow. In the end, grace, life, and God get the last word, not the difficulties we face. The question is…

Will we trust in a God who is working things toward good, even in the midst of the darkness of our lives?

When Your Kids are Better Than You

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Have you ever had a moment when you realize your kids are learning things, without you even realizing it?

This happened quite a while back at Christmas.

We had a busy day trying to get the kids out for school, catching buses and drop-offs. And, I had an early breakfast meeting, only to come home and realize everyone was still sleeping and we are now late.

And by late, I mean late.

It’s at this time that my son, Hudson, starts to ask about his allowance. About how much he has, how much he gets and if he can have it all now.

Like, right now. Like, “I need cash, dad.”

I respond like any parent would with a “No, go get your stuff on” and proceed to run around like madman trying to get things ready.

We make it out and I give Hudson $5 reluctantly, because apparently it’s a day when they can buy presents at school that they will wrap for them. And, he wants to spend his allowance money (hence the “How much do you owe me dad?” conversation).

That’s all I thought of it, until I picked up Hudson after school and he walks in with a wrapped gift. And, he’s proud, excited and shows me what he’s bought. On it, in big bold letters, it says, “Asher, Merry Christmas, from Hudson.”

He used his allowance money to buy a gift for his brother. His brother he often wrestles. His brother he often fights with like any child. His brother whom he loves and showed it with a gift.

Ever feel like your kids are teaching you?

Here I was all mad about giving him his allowance, and all he wanted to do was buy something for his brother. Because, as he told me, “That’s what we do at Christmas.” (He also told me that if I’d given him more of his allowance, he could have bought Eden something too.)

So, I write all this to remind you that sometimes your kids are picking up more than you realize.

And I think we need to pay attention to them and what they are learning, because truth be told they learn faster than we often do. I should have learned to trust my son 6 months ago, but I didn’t. And this last week the exact same dynamic played out again. He asked for money, needing his allowance, this time though it was so he could buy food for kids in Africa.

So I write all this because, while you think they are not listening at all, as you are just trying to get them to school, hockey or piano, they are paying attention.

And, sometimes, if you are paying attention, they have something to teach you.

Like how my first response when Hudson asks for his allowance should be “what for” 🙂

Consuming Church

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We live in a Western consumeristic world.

This is something I’ve written about before, but it’s still true. And, what matters most isn’t to lament this, but rather to recognize it and “call it out” when we see it. Because, what can (and does) subtly happen is that this Western consumeristic world starts to infect and affect the church.

One way that often happens is through this idea of the church “providing religious experiences” for people. That the goal of coming to church is to have “an experience” in which people encounter God. And, on the surface, there isn’t anything wrong with this. Because, in many ways, that is what I hope happens during our weekend services.

But, when you peel back the layers, you can see how quickly that goes off course. Because, the church doesn’t exist so you can have “an experience.” Church isn’t about you in the first place, and it’s not about me either.

Church is about Jesus calling us to be faithful in His mission in the world.

But, it quickly slides into consumerism when we show up to “experience something” and then rate our experience based on what we were offered, rather than what we brought to it. We talk about what we receive, rather than what expectations and openness we brought with us.

I write all this because it is subtle and dangerous.

And, I know it’s me. I’m more likely to enjoy something that makes me feel good, rather than something that invites me into the hard process of being an apprentice of Jesus.

Eugene Peterson puts it this way:

“There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.”

Now, I’m not bemoaning the current state of Christianity. Instead, I’m bemoaning the state of my own soul. Because, I’m shaped by this culture, just like everyone else. And, because of this, I’m tempted to ask, “How was church this week?” – as if I’m somehow outside of it, divorced from it and a spectator, rather than part of it.

Instead, I should be asking different questions, such as:

. “How was I a part of church?” 
. “Did I give, participate and open myself up to being found by Jesus?”

Different questions, but question that I think matter.

Because, it’s so easy to seek a little religious, uplifting experiencing, rather than choose the long road, pursuing holiness in an apprenticeship to Jesus.

So, this post isn’t to “call out” anything else other than to remind us that the temptation to consume church is always there, and it needs to be recognized and, most of all, resisted.