Let’s Raise a Glass to the Women of the World!

womanThe latter part of Proverbs 31 speaks in honour of wives.  The writer begins with: “Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?”, and then he goes on to describe in great detail all of her accomplishments, work ethic and overall character.  The description of this ‘virtuous and capable wife’ is quite phenomenal, actually.  I’m glad he’s not describing the ‘virtuous and capable husband’ because I would fall far short of the mark.  So here are attributes ascribed to the virtuous wife…

Trustworthy

Encourager

Uber DIYer

Provider

Early bird

Servant of all

Entrepreneur

Night owl

Strong character

Dignified

Laughs

No fear of the future

Full of wisdom

Awesome teacher

CEO CFO COO of the home

Industrious

Blessed

Dare I comment?  Sure…here goes. I believe this best describes the character of women in general.  Women reveal a side of God that is rarely talked about, mainly because we ascribe the pronoun ‘he’ to God.  Seriously??  I think so.  So I’m going to let you take a peek inside my mind (I know, scary!).  Imagine with me if from the time the first of the sacred writings of the Bible, the pronoun ‘she’ was used for God.  Would our view of God be the same or different?  I just wonder.  Now I’m not saying we should rewrite Scripture or anything like that.  I’m just asking the question.  The way I see it, if all of humanity is created in the image of God, then the attributes of God include the attributes of women.

By the way, I am firm believer that women have within them a strength that is noble, honourable, and gives humanity hope for the future.  Throughout history, women have lived in a world where it is commonly understood that they are just a little bit less than men, and in some cultures, they are way less then men.  Men may say that women are equal, but actions always speak louder than words.  And then we have the church…

I’m always puzzled by the reality that as I read the gospels, never is Jesus depicted in word or actions that women are anything but equal with men.  But then Jesus saw all of humanity on level ground.  Greatness for Jesus is being the servant of all.  Being great in the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with physical strength or gender.  Greatness is based on a posture of humility.

Here it is, 2017 and believe it or not we have in North America, Evangelical denominations that state that the Bible instructs that women are equal in value to men…however, their roles are different from men, and specifically, the role of pastor is assigned to men.  Huh??  How can you be equal on one hand, but on the other hand, not permitted to serve in a particular role?  And this is the type of ‘stuff’ women live with day in and day out, century after century.

To all the women out there, there is coming a day when…

28 Her children stand and bless her.  Her husband praises her:

29 “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!”

30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.

31 Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.

Here, here!!

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phoenix galaxy cluster

The Phoenix Galaxy Cluster

The thirtieth chapter is quite different from the previous ones.  First, the author of these proverbs is Agur, son of Jakeh.  Who’s that, you ask?  Well, scholars don’t really know, other than to say that they do know he wasn’t an Israelite.  Besides that, there are some interesting sayings within this chapter.  If you have time, check it out, and see for yourself.

Here’s the proverb that intrigued me.

Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to all who come to him for protection.

Do not add to his words, or he may rebuke you and expose you as a liar.

If there’s one thing I am learning as I grow older, it’s the realization that I don’t know as much as I would like others to believe.  What has particularly intrigued me the vastness of the cosmos.  One of my side interests is astronomy.  I love learning about what astronomers and astrophysicists are discovering day in and day out.  The knowledge that is being gained is phenomenal!  However, even the vast majority of scientists will acknowledge that there is so much more that they don’t know, then what they do know.  I love that humility when I encounter it.  I am reminded again and again of just how little I really do know.  If scientists can make the admission that with what they’re able to see, there is so much they don’t know, then just how much of God, who I can’t see, do I really comprehend?  Like, really!!

I find it odd that us pastors/preachers talk like we know more about God than others. Sometimes I catch myself when I am speaking in that ‘all-knowing’ tone.  If I am honest with myself and with others, then all I can really tell you is what I discern from Scripture and how that speaks to us in the time we live in.  Outside of that, I really don’t know the mind of God.  His mind is infinite…mine is finite.  Sometimes I think it is better if I remain quiet.

And that is the whole point of this proverb.  Every word of God is truth.  Or perhaps another way to put it is, all truth is God’s…and belongs to God.  Most of the time I try to be aware of how I come across when I speak.  I never want to convey that I have the inside scoop…because I know that I don’t!

While there are many things that I don’t know about God, the one thing I do know is that it is always better to be with God, than it is to just talk about him.  As Agur writes, he is a shield from all that comes at us from life.  While we may not know and understand everything about him, the one thing God has made sure we do know is his passionate love for humanity.  At the end of the day, is that not enough?  If so, then let’s speak of that!

God Needs Friends

I am beginning to think or believe (whatever you want to call it) that God is in need of friends just like any other human being is. God NEEDS friends?? Yep…I think so. Or let me put it another way: As his creation, he loves us, takes pride in us and has amazing dreams for humanity. I think he’s downright grrr-angry that sin polluted everything and basically messed up his plans.

Regardless, friendship, which is a beautiful gift in this rough world of ours, must be birthed or emanate from God…like if I’m created in his image, then friend must have come from him. I think the redemption story is a story of God pursuing us, not so much so that he can get ‘things’ back to the way they were supposed to be, because I don’t think we can ever rewind the tape and go back. Instead, it’s God pursuing us because he loves us – he loves us like a friend who is there through thick and thin.

Jesus tells this very interesting parable where a man prepares a great feast and sends out invites to various people. When the banquet is ready, he sends his servants to tell the invited guests that everything is ready…come now! And no one comes! They give the usual excuses like, “I’m too busy figuring out my investments”, “I just bought a new car”, “I just got married”…etc.

It’s not like they really had some pressing issue that needed attending too right this very minute. It was the fact that they couldn’t be bothered, no time to offer their friendship to one who desires to be their friend. And then it says that the master was mean-angry.

I’ve wondered why Jesus didn’t portray a God that is calm and understanding…an unruffled God. No, instead, he portrays a God who is pissed off! He’s hurt, and I get it. We all get it.

Everyone of us knows what it’s like to go out of your way for someone who is your friend, but for whatever reason your friend is too busy or has other things that need tending to. We know that feeling.

But it goes even deeper than that. It’s when a friend goes out of their way to do something so special, like this man in Jesus’ story who painstakingly poured his heart into creating this sumptuous feast. It was like when he created it he had those specific guests in mind. He made it for them…and they couldn’t be bothered. And I think it broke it his heart!

Or maybe it’s like the little 5 year old girl who does an abstract finger painting at school for her mom. She let’s it dry. Then carefully puts it in a grocery bag and goes directly home because she’s so excited to give it to her.

Mom comes home with so many things on her mind, appointments to attend to that evening, supper to put on. Her mind totally focused on other things…except her little girl. And so with her heart all puffed up from excitement, the little girl gives the bag to her mom. As mom takes the bag, her phone rings, and of course she must answer it because it’s so important. It’s classic multi-tasking taking place: while talking on the phone she pulls the painting from the bag, a quick glance, and brief smile to her daughter…and the painting is laid on the table as the mom goes about her important work.

The little girl’s heart plunges like a rock into deep, dark waters. She had poured herself into this for one reason only: she loves her mom dearly and through this painting is saying to her mom – I LOVE YOU!

As Advent approaches, I like to think that God had us in mind as he poured himself into his gift of Jesus, saying to us – I LOVE YOU!

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.

Oh I Wonder, Wonder…

I’ve been thinking a lot about church, the people that lead it, those who attend it, the programs we run, why we do what we do and why we struggle to simply row in a similar direction.

I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about the church – not the institution or organization, but US…’the church’. By that I mean all of us who believe that Jesus is the son of God. That his message is true. That he came to give us real life. And that he has called us to be his followers/disciples…his image bearers in this world.

And I wonder…

I wonder about our different approaches to Scripture and doctrine. How we can read the same words and yet be miles apart on what those words are saying?

I wonder how it is that we can have this insatiable thirst for reading Scripture, studying it to the nth degree…and yet we forget or choose not to ‘do’ Scripture.

I wonder why we think we have God all figured out when we can’t even figure ourselves out.

I wonder why us leaders of churches never ask the question: “Why do we do what we do on Sunday mornings and during the week?

I wonder how it is that we are the ones that answered Jesus’ invitation to ‘Come to me all you who are worn out…’, and yet us Christians are some of the most worn out people around?

I wonder how it is that we can think we have it all right, and yet the way we treat others in the world you’d swear we have it all wrong.

I wonder why those who are not followers seem to be attracted to Jesus and yet want nothing to do with his church. Come to think of it, I wonder why there are so many Christians who are so attracted to Jesus and yet want nothing to do with his church?

But what we don’t see is the ‘church within the church’. I think of it as the ‘silent church’. This has nothing to do with the institution or organization, it’s the followers of Jesus who meant what they said when they said ‘yes’ to Jesus’ invitation. They quietly go about their day-to-day lives, bringing the gospel through their actions and words to a hurting and bruised world.

They may not have taken all the Bible studies, nor attended every meeting or conference that’s offered, nor served in a leadership position. They have fallen in love with Jesus and they are the ones that are bringing real change to our world.

And so I wonder if the real church is the subversive one that is going about life doing little things with great love. They don’t have all the answers to our theological questions. They haven’t figured out who’s in and who’s not. They simply love God, love Jesus, are filled with his Spirit, and rather than trying to figure the church out, they are being the church.

CAN I ASK A QUESTION?

So I have this dilemma that I’m trying to work through, and I’m hoping that somebody out there can give me a bit of insight. A couple of weeks back I preached a message on being with Jesus, contemplating his last days as he was preparing to go to the cross. Naturally, a topic such as this leads to having an intimate relationship with Jesus, linking it to the intimate relationship Jesus had with his Father.

Now because I had a great Dad, I have no problem using examples from my boyhood of our times together…and it is so easy to transition right into my close relationship that I have with Jesus. On that Sunday I pointed out that Jesus actually calls us friends, and desires a relationship with us similar to what he has with his Father.  I then gave everyone a handout that gave step by step instructions on how to have those ‘contemplative’ moments with Jesus for four days during Holy Week.

So far so good.

I then walked everyone through a sample of what a contemplative time could look like. As I looked out over the auditorium, it was clear that people were encountering the ‘Father’s love’ for them. Perfect.

The service was slowly brought to a close. People were gathering their things up, others we’re chatting with their neighbours, and then there were others who were still engaged in prayer. And then it happened. A person came up to me with bewilderment and questions written all over their face. They shared with me that they have a really hard time with talking about God as their Father. They didn’t have that type of relationship with their dad as I did with mine. In fact, their dad abused them. As I listened to them explain the pain they experienced as a child, I couldn’t help but wondering how many others that morning had the same difficulty with me referencing God as ‘Father’. I prayed for them that they would experience God’s love this week. They left with some hope. I left with many questions.

We only get one father in this life, and if that father is a ‘piece of work’, then referencing God as ‘father’ probably isn’t a good thing. Or is it?

I’ve been thinking about this since that Sunday. If the Bible referenced God as ‘mother’, my perception of God (and maybe my relationship) would be different. I had a good mother, but she wasn’t like my father. There are a couple of ‘issues’ that I have had to deal with as an adult, and still have to work out in my more insecure moments.

So I put this question to my home group. One of them said that they couldn’t relate to God as ‘father’ because of their experience with their own dad. They suggested I could use ‘teacher’ because probably everyone has experienced a good teacher. But we don’t get to choose our ‘dad’ – what we get is what we get. And some of us are not that lucky.

I’ve wondered if I should not use any comparison of God’s love towards us? But the Bible does. What about if the only good example we have is an uncle, can people see God as their ‘uncle’?  Maybe, but at the same time, I want to be faithful to Scripture.  The last thing I want to do is stir up ‘bad memories’ or painful emotions in someone. More than anything, I want people to encounter the God who loves them with a pure love, like no one else can.

I’ve also wondered if maybe I should take the opposite approach – that God demonstrates what a true ‘father’s love’ looks like, not what our earthly father’s love looks like. But at the same time, I don’t want to put a ‘heavy’ on dads and make then feel like complete losers that don’t and never will measure up.

Any suggestions out there?

So You Wanna Speak on Behalf of God, Do You?

If you are a church leader (however that looks) then you are fully aware that while these may be the worst of times for the church in NA, you have to admit that they are also the best of times. One of the things that intrigues me are the many challenging issues that we are facing, or having to deal with. Better than all of that is the fact that agreement on these issues is hard to find within denominations.

I love it because the church is waking up to the fact that they do not really have a handle on just who this God is that we serve! In my personal faith journey over the last thirty years there have been two instances or thoughts – actually, make that three – that have reminded me again and again that I’m only scratching the surface of who God is.

The first time I was slapped upside the head to the reality that I know nothing of God was in my teens. I have this fascination of the cosmos. It all started with a trip to the McLauglin Planetarium in Toronto in my last year of high school. As I sat in this dark theatre gazing at the ceiling displaying the universe, I listened as the presenter told us that the distance of one light year is about 6 trillion miles. As he went on to explain that there are thousands of light years between us and other galaxies, my jaw fell open. And then when I heard him explain that the Andromeda Galaxy is 2.5 megalight-years from us (1 megalight-year = 1 million light years), my brain went into spasm. Years later I thought: “Is it possible that there are things of God I don’t have a clue about?” Duh.

The second instance occurred in my Basic (systematic) Theology course that I took in my first year of Bible college. I remember sitting in class and the discussion was on the doctrine of creation. The prof stated the various views that were out there, and I’m sure that the majority of us were expecting him to tell us what the obvious ‘correct’ belief was (God created the earth in seven actual 24 hour days). Instead he pointed out the pros and cons of the various views and reminded us that there were God-fearing avid followers of Jesus who believed views that differed from ours. And then he asked this question: “Can God still be God to you and take a billion years to complete his creation as we know it? Is he free to take as long as he wants in whatever he does, and still be God?”

My answer wasn’t, “Well of course he can.” Instead I had to ponder that and ask myself, “Is it really possible that certain specific beliefs that we ‘true believers’ hold may be flawed?” In an instant I was humbled and my list of ‘everything-that-I-know-is-true-of-God’ shrunk.

Oh yes, the other thing that was a reminder to me was again in Bible College studying Job. I was reading chapter 26 where Bildad and Job are having a discussion on the greatness of God and his creation, and in verse 11 Job states, “And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?” Job is right! My understanding of God is not even in the fringe – it’s the outer fringe!

There are times on a Sunday morning, just before I’m about to speak where I wonder: “Who am I to think that I can speak on behalf of God?” I dread the day when the church in North America hears this thunderous voice asking: “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words?”  You can bet I’ll be running for cover.