People to Be Loved, or Things to Be Used

peopletobeloved-1024x576

“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

struggling-970x546.jpg

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!!!

watch-me-970x546.png

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!”

Repentance

repentance

“The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” – Jesus (Mark 1:15)

“Repentance is not an emotion. It is not feeling sorry for your sins. It is a decision. It is deciding that you have been wrong in supposing that you could manage your own life and be your own god; it is deciding that you were wrong in thinking that you had, or could get, the strength, education, and training to make it on your own; it is deciding that you have been told a pack of lies about yourself and your neighbors and your world. And, it is deciding that God in Jesus Christ is telling you the truth. Repentance is a realization that what God wants from you and what you want from God are not going to be achieved by doing the same old things, thinking the same old thoughts.”

“Repentance is a decision to follow Jesus Christ and become his pilgrim in the path of peace.”

– Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

In this quote, Peterson really gets at what repentance truly is, and what it looks like: It looks like making a decision to live differently.

Repentance is to exchange the ways of the world, for the ways of Christ; to say that following the path of guilt, shame, judgment, power, and fighting for meaning isn’t the path you are called to walk. Instead, you are called to walk a path of peace, life, grace, holiness, and love. 

Repentance is making a decision to live differently, not just feel differently.

So, with all that, ask yourself, “Are there any decisions you need to make today?

Because, you can choose to live differently, starting today.

Can we be brutally honest about something?

brutally-honest-970x546

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.

When Your Kids are Better Than You

Surprising-Moments-970x546.png

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

worship-experiences-970x546.jpg

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.

People of the Second Chance

second-chance-970x546.png

A little while ago, I was reading the book, People of the Second Chance by Mike Foster. In it, he lists what he calls “The Five Condemnments”:

1. “I don’t deserve a second chance.”
2. “I am my shame. I am my secrets.”
3. “I will always feel and be this way.”
4. “I am defined by my worst moments.”
5. “My life, my dreams, my hopes no longer matter.”

As I interact with people, I see so many who live under these condemnments. That somehow a second chance is for others, not for them. That somehow what defines them most is their shame, failure and worst moments. They feel trapped in a cycle of no hope because yesterday was bad, so tomorrow will be bad, and they feel they deserve it. In essence, they start listening to the lies other people say about them, rather than what the Gospel says about them.

But, Jesus has a radically different promise and pronouncement for all of us. Here’s what He has to say about you:

1. “You do deserve a second chance, because I died to secure that for everyone.” (John 3:16)

2. “You aren’t your shame and secrets. You are forgiven and free.” (John 8:1-11, when Jesus encounters the woman caught in adultery).

3. “Your future isn’t full of darkness and repeats of defeat. If you believe in Me, you will have full and abundant life today.” (John 10:10)

4. “You are not defined by your worst moments, but rather by My calling on your life.” (John 21, when Jesus restores Peter after his worst moment).

5. “Your dreams do matter, because I, the Good Shepherd, know you and all that you need.” (John 10:14) – In fact, the first words of Jesus in the book of John are, “What do you want?” (John 1:38). So, your wants, dreams and desires do matter to God.

I write all this to remind you of something: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is freeing, transforming and totally life giving. The condemnments we so often live under aren’t part of living under God’s reign, love and grace.

So, today I want to remind you that if you feel like you don’t deserve a second chance – that shame owns you, that your past failures define you, that life can’t change, that your wants and desires don’t matter – than, well, Jesus begs to differ. Come and experience Him, and find that difference in your life.

Quit Keeping Score

QuitKeepingScore.png

Today’s blog post is a little honest or vulnerable for me to write, but I think it’s important. I want to let you in on where I struggle the most…

I struggle with a deep desire to be perfect, to succeed and be good.

And, that doesn’t sound that bad on the surface. It makes me driven, it makes me get things done, it makes me be a better dad and husband in many ways. It means that I don’t tend to drop things, and I will push things forward. It means you can count on me.

It also means I carry a brutal weight around, all the time.

Because, I can’t be perfect and the truth is (while it’s awkward to say), sometimes my desire to be perfect is greater than my desire for God. This is where this becomes downright dangerous, because all of sudden what matters more is my expectations, rather than God’s. What matters most then is moving things ahead, rather then sitting with God. What matters most is perception of perfection, rather than the real, honest, messiness of life. And, what this leads to at its most base level in my life is this…

I keep a scorecard of success and losses.

While you may not personally be driven to be perfect (that may not be your struggle), what I think you can relate to is this idea of keeping score. Because I believe this “keeping score” mentality drives so much that we measure ourselves  against our brother or sister, our parent’s expectations, our co-workers, or that neighbour down the street. We measure ourselves by what “other parents do” or what “society says we should do.” And, we end up keeping score to know that we are worthwhile and meaningful.

We keep score to know that we matter.

In my desire to be perfect, I keep score all the time. But, this is just absolutely true: There is no keeping score in God’s kingdom.

Because whether you are perfect or not, whether you can keep up with your perfect sister, or that co-worker, or your perfect parent friend, you have this truth…

You are loved by God.

You are a child of God

You are redeemed by God.

I think what we need in life is less keeping score, and more submission to the fact that you matter and are already included in God’s kingdom. I write this as much for me as anyone else.

What if you gave up keeping score?

What if you gave up striving for all that stuff around you? What if you just rested in the fact that you are loved, you are okay and God is for you? What if we let that centre us and lose the scorekeeping cards? What would life look then?

Because the short answer is this: Your life would look better, wholer, and certainly more full of God. 

So, give up the scorecard this week and see how it feels to simply be accepted by God.

 

What is God really Like?

whatisgodlike.png

This is a question people often ask: What is God really like?

And, often when push comes to shove, even though we hear of God’s grace and love, we often fall back on a view of God as primarily angry, wrathful and vengeful. This idea of God as full of rage and wrath lingers in our theology, and it nags at the back of our minds.

Which is why I think we need to get something crystal clear: God looks exactly like Jesus.

Or, putting it another way, Jesus fully and absolutely reveals God. And what Jesus reveals isn’t a God full or rage and anger, but a God full of love. This is what is seen pre-eminently on the cross. Here Jesus doesn’t punish and exact vengeance on others, but takes on our punishment and what we rightfully deserve.

So what Jesus reveals is that at God’s core is love, even when we are tempted to believe its something else.

And, if this sounds, well, controversial or a little worrisome to you, that itself highlights the issue. We have been so influenced by a view of God that doesn’t look like Jesus, that we need to regain the only orthodox view of God that there is: Jesus fully reveals God.

Thomas Torrance puts it this way…

“Is God really like Jesus? Questions like that gnaw at the back of people’s minds but which they suppress and which come to the surface only in moments of sharp crisis and hurt, tell us of the insidious damage done to people’s faith by dualist habits of thought which drive a wedge between Jesus and God.

“Fearful anxiety arises in the human hearts when people cannot connect Jesus up in their faith or understanding with the ultimate Being of God, for then the ultimate Being of God can be to them only a dark, inscrutable, arbitrary Deity whom they inevitably think of with terror for their guilty conscience and makes them paint harsh, angry streaks upon his face.

“It is quite different when the face of Jesus is identical with the face of God.”

And, I think that’s true. Our view of God is not only better, but truer and more whole when the face of Jesus is identical with the face of God.

So, today I write this as both a challenge and invitation: A challenge to see God as identical with Jesus, and an invitation to change your view of God so that it looks completely like Jesus. Because, the Father doesn’t have harsh, angry or rage filled streaks on his face. His face is identical to Jesus, streaked with tears and love.