It’s All In How You See It

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which basically means that what one person may see as beauty, someone else may not.  Which then begs the question: “What exactly then, is beauty?”  If that saying is true, then I’m not really sure what constitutes beauty.

However, in saying that, I read a book some time ago, entitled Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, by Elaine Fox.  She unpacks why some people are born naturally optimistic, and others, pessimistic.  If you take an optimist and a pessimist and allow them to experience similar situations, the optimist will naturally see the good, while the pessimist will naturally see the negative.

And so I wonder, are some people just wired to see beauty in life, while others have a much more difficult time?  Well, whether they do or not, I am fairly sure of this one thing: I think I can choose to see what I want to see.  I feel fairly confident in saying that, because I naturally lean towards a ‘rainy brain’.  I think that’s why I enjoyed policing, because as a police officer, your job is to go out and look for what is wrong in society.  But it’s exhausting and a downer to just see the bad.  I made a decision some time ago to choose to look for beauty in all things and people.  I’m not saying that it comes easy…it doesn’t.  But I know that beauty is out there.

As a church minister, I have the opportunity to guide people as they navigate life and faith. Now Christians see the Bible as their guide for life, and that is a good thing.  However (and this is a big ‘however’), I’m fairly convinced that the ‘rainy brain, sunny brain’ plays a significant role in how one reads the Bible, which in turn shapes their belief in God, and how they see others and themselves.  I’m not an expert on this theory, nor have I conducted any studies, but the fact that there are close to 34,000 denominations, is a fairly good indication that we can read the same canon and come to different conclusions.  Just saying…

The Bible is my daily ‘go-to’ book because it nurtures my soul.  I choose to look for the good, and I find it every time!  Currently, I am reading through the books of the prophets in the Old Testament.  There are a lot of rainy passages, which can easily cause one to see an angry God.  But there are just as many ‘sunny’ passages as well.  Hosea is one such book.  This week I read the last chapter of Hosea, and it was full of sunshine.  Here’s what is written:

The Lord says,

“Then I will heal you of your faithlessness;

my love will know no bounds,

for my anger will be gone forever.

I will be to Israel

like a refreshing dew from heaven.

Israel will blossom like the lily;

it will send roots deep into the soil

like the cedars in Lebanon.

Its branches will spread out like beautiful olive trees,

as fragrant as the cedars of Lebanon.

My people will again live under my shade.

They will flourish like grain and blossom like grapevines.

They will be as fragrant as the wines of Lebanon.

 

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!

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.

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.