Shut Up and Listen!

[blogging is like exercising…stop long enough and it becomes easier not to]

So the other day I was leaving work and three feet from our main admin door was a young man sitting on our sidewalk, cross-legged with his head down. I stepped outside and bent down beside him and asked if everything was okay. He turned his head slightly and with a bit of a slurring mumble told me to “shut up”. He rocked and said something to the affect of needing drugs. His face looked like it had been roughed up and he clearly needed some help that I wasn’t going to be capable of offering. At that point he rolled onto his side and curled up into the fetal position. I went inside and called the emergency services.

The fire department were the first on scene. After a few questions, the young man stood to his feet – clearly not liking the looks of any authority figures. One of the fire fighters asked him, “Why did you come here?” He looked at him with glazed eyes and said, “Isn’t this a soup kitchen? Can’t I come here if I need help?”

The fire fighter looked at me, and I haltingly said it was. But inside my mind I could hear this very LOUD voice saying, “Did you hear him? Do ya get it? Out of all the places or people he could have thought of, he thought of YOU!”

Not wanting anything to do with anyone even slightly resembling authority, the young man took off with the fire fighters hard on his heels. In the midst of the f-bombs and screaming coming from him, I couldn’t shake the feeling that God had me by the scruff of the neck and was trying desperately to drive his point home – “THIS IS WHY YOU’RE HERE!”

Ya see…our awesome faith community, Cambridge Vineyard, is going through what many churches are facing – expenses exceeding our income. We have some options available to us, including severing some of our property, or relocating altogether.

In the past couple of weeks I have asked God to help me make sense of all this.

When all is said and done, I think it was Jesus sitting outside of our office doors, cross-legged, beat up and broken with only two words for me… “Shut up”. He wasn’t being rude…he just needed me to listen.

Cambridge Vineyard are his Matthew kids…

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,

I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,

I was homeless and you gave me a room,

I was shivering and you gave me clothes,

I was sick and you stopped to visit,

I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

I get it! I know where we belong. Please pray that I’ll continue to shut up and listen.

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.

Stunned, Shocked, Surprised…and Speechless!

This past February, two significant events occurred: one happened in our church, and the second occurred in my life. In our church we have this tradition we do every February called Just Because. It’s all about our Vineyard family loving on our Vineyard family…tangibly loving one another. It all started with our late Assistant Pastor, Rob Hall. Rob had a way about him where he just loved to do things spontaneously…and this was one of those things.

So for three or four weeks in February we take a glass vase or jar, place it on a table which is in the middle of our centre aisle, and ask folks to throw change or bills in…whatever they have on them. It’s not planned…ya just give…just because. At the end of the month we take all the cash and buy various gifts – some big and then some just to say ‘we love you, just because’. On either the last Sunday of February or the first one in March, we surprise people with the gifts throughout our service. It’s fun and a great encourager for those receiving. This Sunday, we did that and had a blast!

On February 5, it was my 10th anniversary as a pastor. Ten years when I walked away from a career I loved and into my calling. January and February have been tough months for me emotionally. I’m not really sure why my emotions have been all over the map, but they have been. My lows have been very low. I’ve wrestled with so many things to do with my calling and have had to face some tough realities about how I’ve walked out these ten years.

So this Sunday, we worshipped, gave out gifts, and I preached my heart out. At the midway point of my message at the second service I had turned around to read the scripture off the screen – so my back was to the congregation. I heard what sounded like someone coming into the sanctuary with a noisy stroller…and I just kept on reading this passage with all the passion I had. I turned around and there in front of me was my son Zac and his wife, Sara, with my daughter, Autumn with a food cart that had this huge cake on it. 

I was stunned, surprised, shocked, and utterly speechless. My brain went into high gear trying to figure out what was going on. I think I asked out loud what was going on, and from somewhere, I heard the words – ‘Just Because’. I looked at the cake and written were the words, “Happy 10th Anniversary”. I was at a loss for words and had no idea what to say or do.

And then the most surreal thing happened. Zac and Autumn took the mic and addressed everyone. In front of my congregation they honoured me for all the years that I worked away on my degree while working full time and being a dad. They hi-lighted my perseverance and how I never gave up, regardless of how difficult it was. How I have been an inspiration for them. My wife, April, then got up and shared with everyone the demands of pastoring and how she is proud of me for how I have handled the past ten years.

I was presented with letters and cards from children and adults, gifts, a photograph of April and me signed by everyone in the congregation, and a photo album of various photos (early married years, policing, and pastoring).

Yesterday was absolutely amazing for me. I serve an awesome group of people who passionately love Jesus…and love their pastor. Jesus is good to me, and he sure puts up with a lot from this guy. I’m so thankful it was a cake on a cart and not a pie in the face!

Oh yes…I did find out who was responsible for pulling this off without me catching so much as a whiff of what was happening. But that’s for another post…I promise!