Yes, Common Sense is Spiritual

CalvinandCommonSenseFrom chapter two…

For the Lord grants wisdom!  From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest.  He is a shield to those who walk with integrity.

The phrase, ‘common sense’ is so subtle that we tend to read it or say it without fully understanding the implications that it carries.  I think part of the reason for this is because it’s not bold or brash.  It’s quiet, steady, the same day in and day out.  It’s just there and it’s something that you can depend on.  And that’s the point!  Common sense is a tried and true principle of life that no one can argue against.  Now there are exceptions to the rule, as there is with any principle.  But that’s the thing with common sense and proverbs – everything being equal, they hold true to life.  It doesn’t even matter what part of the world you are from, what language you speak, or the culture you identify with, they are valid right across the board.  That’s what makes them ‘common’.

Now here is what I think is the beauty of common sense: deep inside each human being is the seed of common sense.  I love how Solomon writes, “He [the Lord] grants a treasure of common sense to the honest.”  In that one sentence there is a hint that common sense is found or discovered when we are straight up with ourselves, with others, and especially with God.  Being honest means being straight up.

I’ve always contended that God is everywhere and is in everything, and if that’s the case, then God must be in the common, otherwise, how can God be God?   Today, ask God to grant you a treasure of common sense, and when situations come your way, don’t dodge and weave, don’t manipulate or look the other way, search for the treasure and do life ‘straight up’.

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Finding ‘Beautiful’ in Prayer

Aprilsnow It’s a beautiful day outside.  Sun is shining on the fresh snowfall we had last evening.  The world looks so pristine…picture perfect…except for the fact that it’s April 3!  Oh well, I’ll breathe it all in.

This morning I am beginning a 3 week teaching series on ministering to the sexual minority.  So how to pray before going into such a topic?  “Oh God, oh God, oh God!”  Which actually works, sometimes.

But a Trappist monk by the name of Thomas Merton wrote a beautiful prayer, especially for such a time as this.  I share it with you…

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I’m following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.

And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore, I will trust you always.

Though I may seem to be lost in the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Amen

Words as Paint

Such love does
the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field,
I have to wring out the light
when I get
home.
Wring Out My Clothes – St. Francis

Poetry. I’m not a writer of poety, but I definitely appreciate and soak up the beauty of words intricately woven together. I can’t say that poetry ever grabbed me when I was in school. I think it’s because I had to read it and had to find the various meanings hidden inside.

The nifty thing of not being in school is that I can do things simply because I can. And now I find myself reading poetry, not to discover the meaning, but simply for it’s beauty and articulation. For me, poetry is like a great painting, except the artist uses words instead of paint.

If I want to feed my soul, I brew myself a cup of coffee, sit in my living room and read some poetry. Some of my favourite poets that I’m attracted to are from days gone by. Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Robert Browning, Sara Teasdale, St. Francis, and there’s a few more.

I treat myself by subscribing to a website and a blog. Every morning, poets.org treats me to a poem-of-the-day. Some are better than others, but then that’s just a matter of preference. Another favourite of mine is a fellow by the name of Malcolm Guite , a fellow minister from the UK, and a brilliant poet.

Last week he shared some poetry from various authors. The poem entitled, How I Talk to God, by Kelly Belmonte, stopped me in my tracks. It is simple, authentic, and beautiful. Enjoy!

How I talk to God

Coffee in one hand
leaning in to share, listen:
How I talk to God.

“Momma, you’re special.”
Three-year-old touches my cheek.
How God talks to me.

While driving I make
lists: done, do, hope, love, hate, try.
How I talk to God.

Above the highway
hawk: high, alone, free, focused.
How God talks to me.

Rash, impetuous
chatter, followed by silence:
How I talk to God.

First, second, third, fourth
chance to hear, then another:
How God talks to me.

Fetal position
under flannel sheets, weeping
How I talk to God.

Moonlight on pillow
tending to my open wounds
How God talks to me.

Pulling from my heap
of words, the ones that mean yes:
How I talk to God.

Infinite connects
with finite, without words:
How God talks to me.

FORT-BUILDING THERAPY

So where have I been for the past three weeks? The month of April went by in a blur as I had to walk my leaders through an excruciatingly difficult situation. What’s interesting about that experience is that it reminded me that Paul’s letters to churches and leaders were not just nice theology, but some very practical advice. Thank you, Paul. What else did I notice throughout the process?

The ‘noise’ of my thoughts, and other people’s advice, with a splash of panic thrown in made it very difficult to hear clearly from God.

When you need wisdom the most, it seems so hard to find or pin down. Although I’m not so sure that’s the case, either. Part of me thinks it is simply some fear and trepidation with having to make difficult decisions.

Difficult times are a reminder that anyone can lead when things are going smoothly; it’s when things are hard that a leader is needed most.

There are moments in these times when you feel all alone, and I think much of that ‘feeling’ comes from wishing that someone else could make the decision.

Difficult times are exhausting…and that’s why I took a vacation.

I could think of a million and one reasons why the church needed me (it’s an ego booster), but in reality, my mind and soul needed me more…I needed to be a pastor to me, and look after myself…and so I did.

I vacated my post.

I spent the middle part of my week doing some never-ending yard work…but ‘book-ended’ my week feeling like a kid.

Last year, April and I purchased a rickety old trailer (well, ‘purchased’ is debatable when you consider we paid a dollar for it). We’ve rented a space for the season in a campground. This past week I spent time opening it up, doing some little repairs and making it our little retreat.

It felt good and fun at the same time. In fact it reminded me of when I was a boy and my friends and I built a fort for us to call our own and to escape and pretend. It was built of boards, odd pieces of wood found at our homes or in the bush. We would use some old nails and anything else we could find to hold it together. We told no one about it and made it ours.

This trailer isn’t much to look at. It’s old, and has seen better days, but there’s something about fixing it up, using boards, odds and ends, and slowly making it my little ‘fort’…a place where I can squirrel away and pretend or dream, or simply a place for April and me to unwind and just ‘hang’.

Our plan is if we like doing the ‘trailer’ thing, then we’ll buy a ‘real’ one that is in much better condition and fit in with our neighbours. The only thing is, I’m not so sure which is the ‘real’ deal. As I drive around my neighbourhood, I see house after house where mom & dad have bought their children a pre-packaged ‘fort’ from their local Sears store. It’s ‘nice’ and perfectly ‘put together’…and very two-dimensional. There’s no imagination, no day dreaming, no 10 year old ingenuity…it’s very safe and really dull.

Maybe I’m the only one in the trailer park with the ‘real deal’!

Nothing Really Changes

Larry Norman, in his song, Nothing Really Changes, writes: nothing really changes / everything remains the same / we are what we are till the day that we die. How true is that! This week I had a nice little reminder that what I experience (and no doubt, you as well) in life is nothing new. Let me tell you what happened.

I came across a ‘promo blog’ for the complete set of John Wesley’s writings. In the blog the author shares ten of his favourite quotes by John Wesley. I’m doing a quick read of them and then come across this one:

“When I was young I was sure of everything. In a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was not half so sure of most things as I was before. At present, I am hardly sure of anything but what God has revealed to me.”

It pleasantly surprised me because I could have written that quote! I don’t know how many times this past year I have said to a number of people that the only thing I’m really sure about is that there is a God, humanity is infected and affected by sin, God sent his son Jesus to pay the price of sin, and we have the Holy Spirit who like God, is always with us (Immanuel). Oh yeh…I trust what Jesus has said: to live life with him, to live life for him, to trust him with my life. And that’s about it. All the other doctrines and beliefs, well they are sort of open for discussion.

At times this year I thought I was either having a mid-faith crisis or slipping down that slippery, heretical slope. Sometimeswhen I would say this to people I would get those sideways glances. I don’t blame them because we North American Christians sometimes have this silly notion that the pastor should have all the answers, and here I am going the other way – answer-less!

So what a breath of fresh air to realize that here was a major dude in the post-resurrection Christian era, two hundred and fifty years ago, not sure of very much! Yay! I have company.

But then the thought came to me. Believing that I’m the only one who hits mid-life and discovers that I’m only sure of the basics…well, it smells a bit like pride to me. My gut is that depending on what age you’re at, you, like me are realizing just how little you do know and are finding that you are left with the basics.

And there’s nothing wrong with that!

Freshly Squeeeeezed…

…or between a rock and a hard place. You can call it whatever you like, but since returning from vacation I have felt like I have been drawn through a knothole, and I’m not quite all the way through! No point in going into what’s been going on, just suffice it to say that sometimes, pastoral ministry is not for the faint of heart.

In my former occupation as a police officer there were the motorcycle cops, which meant that for five to six months of the year, weather permitting, they were on their bikes. Problem was, ‘weather permitting’ was defined differently among officers. As a result, some were only going out on sunny days. This did not impress the ‘brass’, and in turn, a memo was sent out stating that ‘fair-weather riding’ was not the intent for using motorcycles.

Although I didn’t ride, I never wanted to be thought of as a ‘fair-weather’ anything, regardless of what I was doing. But I’m starting to wonder (especially these past two weeks) if my expectations for my ministry life mirrors the expectations I have for my own personal life. In other words, am I a ‘fair-weather disciple’ and in turn a ‘fair-weather pastor’?

In my heart I don’t want to be. Although I have been feeling really squeezed these past two weeks, there has been ‘juice’ that has come out of it. So what does the ‘juice’ look like?

I have had numerous people send unsolicited words of encouragement either in person, email or just call me. Both Sundays when I felt I had very little to give or felt completely unorganized, things went off without a hitch…especially with the delivery of my teaching. I have been sleeping well. In spite of the squeeze I’m having lots of opportunities to pray with people. And it is really feeling like Christmas for me.

But if I’m going to be honest, I would like all of that without the ‘squeeze’. Being squeezed is tiring, time consuming, rattles your insecurity buttons, floods you with doubts, and can make you a ‘not-so-fun-person’ to be with. And so yes, my natural inclination is to be a fair-weather pastor and disciple.

But I realize that it’s when I’m being squeezed that I have ample opportunity to see and feel God’s grace that is all around me. He’s got my full attention, that’s for sure! My prayers are more intense and to the point. The squeeze times make for a cheap education – no tuition fees at all! I learn and retain amazingly well! I am reminded in a beautiful way that there is a God, he notices me and he loves me!

I’m still attracted to the fair-weather life. Yes, I’m weak, but I am learning and I am growing. Would I trade these past two weeks. Well, right now I probably would. But I get what Paul meant when he said:

That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12: 10 NLT

Today I Mourn… S.A. Brandon McKinnroe (Roe) March 9, 1977 – November 5, 2011

At our 11am service I was just getting ready to speak when I felt my phone buzzing. Strange…most people know what I do and so to call me at 11:45 on a Sunday is either you don’t know me…or it’s an emergency. I joked about it with the congregation and just as quickly dismissed it. It rang again a few minutes later. I had finished speaking and the congregation had been praying (great service by the way!), and then folks began to slowly disperse. I checked my phone and noticed an email had come in…from my brother, Brian, who was in Kiev, Ukraine on a mission trip.

I quickly scanned the email and sat there stunned as I read the words that my brother’s second son, Brandon had died suddenly on Saturday. Stunned, not only because of his age – it’s just that this is not the way life is supposed to unfold – not this way.

All kinds of emotions came rushing in. I sat there totally heartbroken for my brother and his wife, Marg and their other children, Graham and Erin. I could sense the helplessness Brian must be feeling being half way around the world and not returning until this evening. And then all the questions and feelings of unresolve. You see, Brandon had chosen to distance himself from the family. Not really sure why and I’m not about to judge or guess either. I will say this…we don’t know the crap that he has had to deal with in his life. The battles that have gone on in his mind, along with all the confusion that life may have thrown his way.

And so instead, this week I will remember him…remember his life as seen through my eyes.

I always wondered what went on in his mind. As a young boy, mischief was written all over him and when you looked into his eyes it was there too. I would swear there were times when his eyes would be inviting the sliver of mischieviousness that was in me to come out and play. He liked to have fun and could be witty with the best of us. He could poke fun and receive it, however, you always knew that he would probably one-up you.

I remember during his high school years seeing a side of him that I didn’t even realize existed in our family. He could draw brilliantly, and I remember the one day when I saw one of his first drawings. There in his bedroom on the wall was a drawing of some sort of action hero that was his own creation. As I stood there and admired this creation, I could detect that hidden within that drawing was a true artist. Of course the one drawing that stands out for me was his extremely detailed drawing of a loon on a lake in northern Ontario. What a gift Brandon had…he definitely had the wow factor!

Some would say that Brandon was an enigma…especially when after graduating from high school he enrolled in a math program at a university. I have always wondered why someone with the artistic ability that he had would enrol in such a program. I remember hearing that Brandon figured there was no money in art, and so choosing something like math was the ‘logical’ thing to do.

Brandon was a thinker, and I believe a deep thinker, which meant that he asked questions about everything. I remember about eleven years ago when he visited our church one Easter Sunday, afterwards we had a good conversation, and it was clear that he was exploring his faith in Jesus Christ. I realized then that he had a lot of questions that the church had answers for. My guess is that Brandon wasn’t looking for ‘answers’ as much as he was looking for a place of authenticity…a place where he would belong.

Brandon McKinnroe is definitely a ‘Roe’ and I’m proud that he was and will always be a part of our family. He has touched lives and has given us all permission to be the person that all of us long to be…simply to be ourselves.