What’s Your Bulls Eye

Bullseye (1)Better to be an ordinary person with a servant than to be self-important but have no food.

A life of wisdom always trumps a life of greatness! Always!

There, I said it.

As I was slowly reading through the 12th chapter of Proverbs, I was intrigued by today’s passage. It was so refreshing to read the words, “Better to be an ordinary person…”. Ya see, that’s what I love about the sacred writings found in the Bible, they speak the truth.  No air-brushing, no glossy images of people, no superstars. Scripture tells it the way it really is. So where am I going with all of this? Let me explain.

Every time that I read or hear the words, “You too, can discover your destiny!” I feel some joy leak out of me. Here’s why. Those words are telling me that where I currently am in life is not my destiny. What it is telling me is that a life well lived is one of greatness, fame, wealth, brains, beauty, popularity, ad nauseam. Then what gets added to that phrase are examples of people who have made it in one or several of those categories, and more joy leaks out. Throw in a dash of glossy photo’s and then you know that your life is completely boring. This is a bit of a rant because I believe that this is a set up for disappointment and discouragement. I’m ranting because this is not the Kingdom that Jesus taught about.

Secondly, we really don’t want every person in this world to be some stellar superstar, do we? As I’ve said to many people time and time again, when I’m stranded on the side of the highway because my car broke down, I want a tow truck driver. I don’t want a famous brain surgeon, or a pastor. Look… we need servers at restaurants, custodians, hotel clerks, cashiers, truck drivers, sanitation workers, people who empty septic tanks…and the list could go on and on. Yes we need entertainers, CEOs, prime ministers, presidents, rock stars, sports stars, etc., but we also need the people in the background because they are the ones who make it all happen!

What Solomon is saying in this verse and throughout all of Proverbs is that wisdom, character, sound judgment, self-discipline, and the fear of God are the bulls eyes in life that we need to be aiming for. The beauty of making those the bulls eyes is that everyone can aim for it and hit it, not just the top 1% of the population. You see, everyone is created in God’s image and have God’s DNA imprinted on them.  It’s why Jesus recoiled whenever people wanted to make him famous or a superstar. That would have missed the mark.  It’s why he said that if you want to be famous in God’s kingdom, then become a famous servant to all.  And that is everyone’s destiny!

Advertisements

Selective Correction

Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get an insult in return. Anyone who corrects the wicked will get hurt.  So don’t bother correcting mockers; they will only hate you.

But correct the wise, and they will love you.  Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn even more.               Proverbs 9: 7-9

I’ve never been one to shy away from the yearly performance evaluation.  If it’s done with the right intent, then it is actually helpful and allows you to improve your weak areas.  The key is if it’s done with the right intent.

Correction.  I’m not sure what comes to mind when you hear that word.  Perhaps it brings back memories as a child at home or at your school.  Or maybe it’s the supervisor losing it on you.  Depending on what you experienced in life when it came to correction, you have probably formed your own definition.  If you have negative feelings towards correction, then you may have confused it with punishment, or worse…abuse.  Correction is neither punishment nor abuse.

The sole purpose of correction is to bring something into proper alignment.  It’s about fostering health in a person’s character, shaping them to be the person God intended them to be.  Correction never demeans, belittles, denigrates, or maligns.  Correction believes the best about the person and in fact, desires the best for that person.

Solomon calls the wise to be selective in who they correct.  In other words, if a person is known as one who cannot receive correction without being offended, hurt, or angered, then Solomon says to not bother.  It’s better to correct the wise and righteous person.  Why?  They will actually listen, apply what they have learned, and become the better person for it.  They are the ones who will be an influential and positive force to be reckoned with in our world.

If your next performance evaluation comes with a bit of correction, before you take offense and sulk and complain to others about your ‘jerk boss’, pause for a moment and consider the intent behind it.  If the intent was coming from a heart that believes the best about you, then take a few seconds to thank your supervisor for the correction. Seriously…do it!

Same Sex and the Real Issue At Hand

Every month I meet with a couple handfuls of pastors from our fair city, mostly to hang out and eat lunch and chat. Which is great and just the way I like it. I enjoy just ‘being’ and not having an agenda or a ‘to do’ list. Perfect.

Last month when we met we decided to add a ‘spice’ to the mix. It was suggested that we should discuss things that are relevant for us, some ‘meaty’ topics. I threw into the mix the idea not to avoid any challenging topics, such as…same sex issues that is sorta on the front burner for many churches/denominations.

It was only a suggestion.

However, by the end of the day, an email had been sent out with the details of the next lunch and that ‘Scott will lead the discussion on same sex issue.’

Yay.

I’m actually expecting a good discussion with these guys. But to say that I’m a little bit nervous would be an understatement.

If I was a betting man, I would hedge my bets that they are coming knowing very clearly where they stand on the issue. And to be quite honest, I really don’t want to know where they stand. In fact, I don’t even think that is the issue here. I believe the issue is: Can we have a conversation and ask any and all questions, and even think through or allow to be questioned what we believe is the ‘right answer’?

I say all this because I find that if I try to have a conversation with anyone who thinks they ‘know the answer’, defences go up, stances are defended, and cliche answers get tossed around. I realize that much of this reaction comes from fear, insecurity, and ingrained beliefs (whether accurate or not). I also wonder if that fear reaction speaks more to our lack of faith/trust/belief in God, than it does to any ‘strong faith’ we think we have.

This past month I’ve been reading and listening to various opinions on the same sex issue, and not because I don’t know where I stand, either. I just want to be able to sit down with anybody and just listen to them, and ask some non-threatening questions for the sole purpose of being able to better understand them. As well, I am trying not to have a reply waiting in the wings, but to acknowledge that their thoughts and opinions are just as legitimate as my own.

Here’s what I’ve learned this past month…

  • I don’t have it all figured out
  • there is freedom in choosing not to judge
  • it takes effort to listen and not spout off
  • it actually does enhance your understanding of the subject matter
  • I am trusting more
  • people are easier to love
  • Christ’s yoke really is easier, and his burden is definitely lighter!

Oh yeh…my meeting with the pastors is in three hours!

BEWARE OF THE ‘GREAT’ SNARE

We are dominated by ‘great’…nah, actually inundated by ‘great’. We live for ‘great’, strive for it, talk about it, flaunt it, brag about it, and unfortunately compare ourselves to it. Great is all around us, but if we’re honest, it’s also just out of reach for most of us. Here’s what I’m getting at.

For some reason I have unconsciously chosen to follow a number of people on Twitter who I don’t really know, but in the Christian world, they’re considered ‘great’…or getting close to it. Those who are great generally have some worthwhile things to say, but what I find interesting (myself included) there are many who are in the ‘triple As’ doing their best to become ‘great’. And so they try to sound great by tweating cool sayings, little nuggets of wisdom, or referencing someone who is in the major leagues.

None of this is bad, but I wonder if we’ve become ensnared in the pursuit of being great, and if we have, then that could be a problem.

For me, I desperately want to bow out of the race of being great. No more being a great dad, great husband, great friend, great preacher, great pastor, great cop (in my former life), great neighbour, great human being. I want to bow out because when I run this race, I miss out on the life that is right before me.

Life before me are the non-great people who are right before my eyes. If I would just take the time to hang with them, I would be dazzled by the story of their life. I become blind to my neighbourhood I drive in and out of everyday of my life. It’s a non-great neighbourhood, but if I could only tap into the stories of life that are found here…wow! The stories I would hear

Life before me is the fascinating life that I’ve led so far, with a vast array of experiences and encounters with people of all stripes and persuasions.

Life before me is family that I have come from and the family that April and I have created. Who needs fiction when you belong to a family! I’m trying to think of how I could apply the word ‘great’ in describing my family. Ahhh, yes… “I belong to a great dysfunctional family!” For the most part it’s true, but nonetheless, I still love the family we have and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Life before me is the church that I have belonged to for fifteen years and pastored for the last ten. We are no different. We too have fallen for the ‘great’ bait. We want so desperately to ‘do’ great things for God. To be a great church, not only in the neighbourhood, but in our city, our nation and around the world.

Unfortunately we are not immune to the snare. In our willingness to remain discontent with who God has created us to be, we set lofty goals that become impossible to attain, and in the end we experience disappointment after disappointment. We miss what we have right in front of our very eyes.

This summer at the Cambridge Vineyard, I am looking at the book of Judges. When I was a little boy in Sunday School they would tell stories of the ‘heroes of the Bible, and that included the ‘so-called heroes’ found in Judges. Who are we kidding, the folks in Judges were no heroes, unless you’re talking about the GREAT blunders they made. What they did get right is that they made themselves available for God to use. Time after time God delivered the Israelites from a life of self-centredness, debauchery, murder and mayhem. And yes, he would raise up the various judges to rescue his people, and like a bull in a china shop, they would get the job done. But it wasn’t because of they were ‘great heroes of the faith’. It was because they served a Great God.

I really don’t want to be known as great, but my prayer is that I will be known as someone – blunders and all – that was used by a Great God!

Parallel Universes…Parallel Saints

Parallel universes. The first time I encountered this phrase was when I was reading a science-fiction novel a few years ago. Basically the concept is that if you travel through a black hole (not going to happen anytime soon) you will pass into another universe that is sort of like the inverse of where we live. The idea created is that life is like what we experience in our universe…but not really. Things have played out and play out differently in this parallel universe. I know…weird, strange and a bit scary if it was actually true. But you have to admit, it’s nice to dream up concepts like this.

This past week while on vacation I think I had a glimpse into a parallel universe of some sort – at least it sure feels that way.

Generally when I go away I will take a few books with me, either on my e-reader or the old fashioned paper kind. I will try to stay away from anything work related – so no ministry, leadership or theology books. I have a novel or two and just some books that are supposed to be light reading.

Several months ago I had about three or four books on the go and realized that if I kept this up, I wouldn’t finish any of them. So I picked one, and set the others aside. One of the books I had set aside was on Mother Teresa entitled, Come Be My Light. What draws me to this book, and others like it is it shares her journey (warts and all) in working out her call to start the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.

So where does the ‘parallel universe’ play into all of this? As I was reading, I found myself scratching my head, realizing that her approach to her faith in Christ was almost the opposite of what I’m used to hearing or seeing expressed among the Christians I rub shoulders with from day to day. For instance…

‘Sold out for Christ’ meant just that – SOLD OUT! Lock, stock and barrel. Everything in. For her, this wasn’t a ‘Sunday’ thing, a volunteer ministry thing, or even a vocation thing. For Mother Teresa, this was a life thing – in every sense of the word.

‘Obedience’ is a good thing. To obey her superiors or those who she believed God had placed over her, was honouring God. In fact for her, to obey was an opportunity to reflect Christ’s obedience when he went to the cross. When she prayed to be more like Jesus, she meant in every way to be more like him.

She never (I mean never!) desired to do great things in this life. In fact her belief was to do small things with great love. That was her goal.

She really took Jesus at his word when he said ‘I will be with you always to the end of the age’, as she ventured on her own into the worst areas of one of the worst cities in the world.

As she ventured out of the security of the Sisters of Loreto convent, and into the unknown of Calcutta she told her superiors that if there was any success, it was because of God, and if there was any failure, it was because of her.

Though she battled for years with depression, it was her rule to smile and have a countenance of joy so that the focus would be on Jesus and not on her.

She solidly believed that the sick, the dying, the poor and marginalized reflected the suffering and thirst of Jesus as he hung on the cross. And so every opportunity she had to encounter the poor and sick of Calcutta was an opportunity both to satiate the thirst of Jesus, and to bring Jesus into the ‘holes’ (homes) of Calcutta.

To say that I have been humbled is an understatement. I thank God that my faith has been confounded by a petite and plain Catholic nun. It confirms for me that none of us have it all figured out, and the sooner we come to grips with that, the better off we will be, the church will be, and the the world will be.

However, there was one thing that I do share in common with Mother Teresa…

Jesus loves me…and I love Jesus.

LIQUID MERCURY

I remember the first time I was introduced to this silvery liquid called mercury that was found in thermometers. It was elusive in that it was like holding liquid ball bearings rolling around in your hand. What fascinated me though was if it was poured out onto the desk, it was impossible to pick it up and put it into your hand. Even when it was in my hand I couldn’t pick it up. It would simply break into two or three liquid spheres

Not sure if they still let students ‘play’ with liquid mercury anymore, as I’m sure they have declared it to be a ‘hazardous’ product…NOT to be played with.

For me the mercury reminds me of this most wonderful human attribute…humility. I love humility when I see it on people. You can smell it a mile away and it is literally the ‘queen’ of human attributes (okay, I’m sure there are others – just sayin’).

I know the Bible talks about ‘clothing ourselves in humility’, or ‘putting on humility’. Sort of like a pair of well-worn jeans. But it’s not that simple and that is what makes it so profound…so mysterious.

You can see it when others wear it, but if you go trying to act it, or tell people you have it, or even try to ‘put it on’ – – well you sorta contradict what it’s all about. To me it’s a definite God-thing. It’s proof enough for me that God exists.

One of the things I love about humble people is that they don’t think poorly of themselves. They are confident, and yet have this wonderful knack about them to make others feel valued and needed. They have no problem celebrating the gifts, skills and talents of others. It’s a beautiful blend.

I tried to find a photograph, illustration, symbol or anything that would represent humility. Everything I found on Google images seemed…I don’t know…plastic…two dimensional. It was then that the memory of my introduction to liquid mercury came to mind.  So let it be known, from this day forward that liquid mercury is the symbol for humility! (kidding)

The other day I stumbled upon a poem entitled, The Man and His Shadow, by Paulo Coelho. Have a read…just read it for the enjoyment, not for theological soundness or anything like that. See if you don’t agree that Paulo paints a most beautiful picture of humility.

The man and his shadow

by Paulo Coelho

Illustration by Ken Crane

Many years ago, there lived a man who was capable of loving and forgiving everyone he came across. Because of this, God sent an angel to talk to him.

‘God asked me to come and visit you and tell you that he wishes to reward you for your goodness,’ said the angel. ‘You may have any gift you wish for. Would you like the gift of healing?’

‘Certainly not,’ said the man. ‘I would prefer God to choose those who should be healed.’

‘And what about leading sinners back to the path of Truth?’

‘That’s a job for angels like you. I don’t want to be venerated by anyone or to serve as a permanent example.’

‘Look, I can’t go back to Heaven without having given you a miracle. If you don’t choose, I’ll have to choose one for you.’

The man thought for a moment and then said:

‘All right, I would like good to be done through me, but without anyone noticing, not even me, in case I should commit the sin of vanity.’

So the angel arranged for the man’s shadow to have the power of healing, but only when the sun was shining on the man’s face. In this way, wherever he went, the sick were healed, the earth grew fertile again, and sad people rediscovered happiness.

The man traveled the Earth for many years, oblivious of the miracles he was working because when he was facing the sun, his shadow was always behind him. In this way, he was able to live and die unaware of his own holiness.

Be Yourself – Everyone Else is Taken

Do you ever wake up and feel like ‘the world’ hasn’t been completely honest with you? I do. I’ve been having ‘one of those days’ a lot in the last week or two. It has to do with who I am and what I can do and cannot do.

As a child I remember my Mom telling me that I can do anything I want to do, if only I will put my mind to it. I remember my public school teachers telling me something similar to that, as well as some older adults that influenced my life. I know what their intention was behind this phrase – “Believe in yourself. Don’t limit yourself, but instead, dream.”

They were right.

Sort of. 

Time and time again I have discovered throughout my life that there are things I do not do well. I do ‘okay’, but the subject matter or the activity doesn’t grab me. It does not hold my interest or bring me life when I engage in the activity. Try as I might, it’s just not there. There are other times when I will throw myself into an activity or attempt at trying to wrap my head around a particular subject, and I simply cannot do it. Not that I don’t want to. I simply cannot do it – either wrap my head around it, or literally do not have the capability to pull it off. And then…there are those times (like all of us) when we try something and go, “I – LOVED – DOING – THAT!” It doesn’t matter whether it’s hard, it just brings so much life and it honestly feels like a ‘good hard’.

A couple of weeks back I was having this conversation with God and with myself (which can be a really scary thing to engage in as I can end up confusing the conversations I have with myself as being ‘God’s voice’.). But what I heard him say, was right out of Romans 12 where Paul talks about offering our bodies as a living sacrifice. I heard him say that the only thing I can offer is ‘Scott’. In fact, that’s the only living sacrifice that I can offer him.

I cannot offer anyone else, because that is not ‘my sacrifice’, and since it is not mine, I have no business in expecting God to accept it. As I continued to read on, Paul gives 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.” Got it!! Be honest in your evaluation of yourself, Scott.

Paul then goes on and basically says that once you have found that ‘thing’ that brings you life, then do that to the best of your ability. Got it!! Find what you do and then focus your energy on that and bring your A game to the table.

I think I’m figuring out part of what Jesus is inviting me to when he says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!”