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.

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!”

Out of the Mouth of Babes…

Last week my Vineyard family surprised me in a big way by loving on me ‘Just Because’ (see last week’s post which explains what ‘just because’ is). I blown away just cuz they did it. Fabulously surprised and proud to see my son Zac and one of my daughters Autumn stand up and honour me in such a way that defies description. Very proud of my wife, April for the words she said and the support she has given to me over the years. Humbled at the amazing work that Donna, my passionate Pastoral Assistant, went to, to pull this off. I didn’t have a clue that it was going to happen, and she had been working on it for about a month!

I received many cards and encouraging notes…people simply loving on me. There are so many I could mention, however, there is one that stands out to me that I would really like to share with you. It’s from a young boy named Josh. Because he is not old enough to express himself using words, he drew a picture for me. His mom asked him what it meant and so he explained it to her. Knowing that I should probably know the meaning behind the picture, she asked him to describe again what the picture means, and while he explained it, she wrote it down.

Here it is…

Jesus, may I always remember that you gave me that little push, so I could push others.

Amen

The Winston School of Leadership

A couple of weeks ago I finished up a 2 part series on what the Bible has to say about handling money. I likened money to having a dog. Why a dog, you ask? Well, dogs are pack animals, meaning, they live in a pack. And of course every pack HAS a leader. Problem is, when dogs are brought into a human home as a pet, as far as they are concerned, this is their new pack and they are looking for the leader. If no one becomes that dog’s leader, the dog will assume that role. When that happens, it makes for a frustrating experience – both for the dog and the family.

I know this, because my family has such a dog. His name is Winston.

Winston is a Pembroke Welsh Corgi. We bought Winston six years ago as a puppy…a very cute puppy I might add. Now don’t get me wrong…we are not newbies when it comes to dogs. I had one as a kid. Before Winston, we owned three other dogs, and the one before him was also a Corgi. So it’s not like we were the uninitiated – far from it!

A few months after purchasing him from the breeder, we brought him into our home and it became clear that he was not familiar with the word ‘compliant’. Words like ‘strong-willed’, ‘stubborn’, ‘just-plain-bad’ all come to mind. So with that we headed to a well known dog training facility for ten weeks of learning the basics. Every week was a mountain of stress for Winston and for me, but in the end, I passed!

In the weeks following up to this I soon discovered that I had mastered leading him, but April and our three children…well, let’s just say that Winston drew the line on who he was going to allow lead him.

Enter The Dog Whisperer. For those who are familiar with this television show, Cesar Milan (aka The Dog Whisperer) allows viewers to go with him into homes with ‘problem dogs’ – okay, problem owners. Seriously, there are dogs that he comes up against that I wouldn’t touch with a coat of armour on me. But he does it! Within the span of a few minutes, he has communicated by voice and body language that he is leader of the pack in that house. Now granted, there have been instances where the dog has sunk teeth into Cesar’s skin, but even those dogs eventually succumb to the leadership of Cesar.

So what does this have to do with the price of tea in China, you ask? Well…maybe nothing about tea, but everything about some of the qualities that must be found in a leader. Qualities like calmness, confidence, presence, gentleness, understanding and direction, are just some of what dogs look for in a leader. Come to think of it, those are similar to the qualities I look for in those who lead me. When leaders exhibit those attributes, I want to follow.

There are many times where Winston is just a pain in the butt.  But as I look back over these years with Winston as part of our family, I try to see him as my personal school of leadership training…well, sort of.  The one thing I do know is, as I learn to lead and Winston learns to follow, we seem to get along just fine!

Welcome to my Winston School of Leadership.