Have you thought about your “altar ego”? In this series, we’re going to look at four different aspects of how we can lay down who we think we are – or who others think we are – on the altar of God’s mercy and grace, and be the people God thinks we are. This message, on feelings of inadequacy, is based on Judges 6.11-16. You can listen to it here:
Posted by Jeff on September 19, 2014
We may not like to think of it this way, but pain is a gift.
Most of us would rather not experience pain, and many people go to great lengths to avoid pain, and even to avoid feeling pain. Yet without pain, we cannot know that something is wrong; even if we don’t know what is wrong, pain tells us something isn’t right.
The much-publicized hospitalization of the mayor of Toronto this week serves as a reminder that pain is a gift. The diagnosis received by Mr. Ford is serious, but now that he has done something to address the pain, treatment can begin.
Yet many people – not just men, women too – will put off dealing with pain. And sometimes, they wait until it’s too late. The beauty of Canadian health care is that our taxes pay for a system that enables us to consult experts on pain without fear of the cost involved. Of course, that system can be abused, but its existence means that if I feel some pain inside that isn’t going away, I can get it attended to right away.
Spiritual pain is no different; we often think that spirituality is personal, and that we can’t consult a professional when we are feeling pain in our souls. But the truth is that we can talk to others about our spiritual pain. It doesn’t always have to be a ‘professional’, either! While pastors and spiritual directors and counsellors can be of immense help, we can share how we feel with trusted sisters and brothers in Christ, too. They may or may not be able to help us deal with the pain, but they can at least share the burden we feel, praying for us and helping us find someone who can help us.
If we feel physical pain, the problem of which the pain is a symptom can be treated. If we feel spiritual pain, the problem of which that pain is a symptom can be treated as well. Sometimes, medical professionals give us prescriptions to mask the pain, but that doesn’t do us any favours. The problem itself must be unearthed and treated. Spiritual professionals, and trusted Christian friends, can’t write us prescriptions, and that’s probably a good thing. Instead, they help us to dig beneath the surface and discern how this gift of pain can help us grow in faith, and what wound may need to be brought to light so that Jesus can bring healing.
Dr. Paul Brand, who worked tirelessly to bring relief to leprosy patients, remarked that one of the greatest difficulties they face is that they lack the gift of pain. As their disease takes away nerves, they no longer feel anything – including pain. Imagine touching a hot stove and not feeling it!
If we are not careful, we can end up being spiritually leprous, where we are so callused toward the pain we feel, covering it up in whatever ways we can find, that we no longer note it, and the real problem that the spiritual pain has brought us is left unattended.
Do you have spiritual pain? Is there something going on in your life that has left you wounded? Can you invite Jesus to heal that wound for you, and relieve you of that pain? Doing so will help you live your life in Christ to the fullest.
“Share each others burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6.2, NLT).
Posted by Jeff on September 12, 2014
The telephone in my home office has a digital display. Lately, though, it’s been playing tricks on me, as you’ll see in the photo. Normally, it will tell me the time, the month and date, the number I’m dialing, and how many new calls I’ve had. (I suppose it would tell me who was calling, too, if I paid for that option.) But right now, if it’s displaying anything legible, it might as well be in Klingon, because I can’t read it at all. I’m not sure what it takes to fix it; sometimes, it has come back to ‘normal’ all by itself. But over the past few days, it has just been a backlit mess.
There are times that we can be that way, aren’t there? Just a backlit mess?
Walking as followers of Jesus is not an easy thing to do in our world today, because to live as disciples is to live counter-culturally: while society is going in one direction, we are travelling in the opposite direction. That makes it difficult to be vigilant all the time, and at times, people may look at us and not be sure what they’re seeing – just like my phone display.
Someone – I think it might have been the 19th century evangelist, Dwight L. Moody – said that the Christian is the only Bible some people will ever read. That places a heavy responsibility on us to live lives that are clear in their demonstration of following Jesus. We won’t live perfect lives, because we can’t, but when we live with greater clarity of faith than not, we become winsome beacons of light, drawing people out of darkness.
If we will live positive, godly, authentic and faithful Christian lives, making what we believe practical in day-to-day functioning, we might be amazed at the number of ‘yes’ responses we get when we say to a friend, “Hey, would you like to come to church with me on Sunday?”
Give it a shot. You won’t be disappointed. And the Holy Spirit, who lives within each believer, will give you the strength to do it.
“You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5.14-16, NLT).
Posted by Jeff on September 5, 2014
On social media last week, there was quite a bit of rancor over a video clip of megachurch pastor’s wife Victoria Osteen talking about how when people come to church, it’s about them, not about God, because God wants us to be happy. (You can watch the clip here to hear her own words.) It’s been suggested, on sober reflection, that this might have caught our hackles, in part, because that’s what we really believe – based on how we act, anyway. Let me explain.
When we come to church – irrespective of the tradition with which we connect – there is often part of us that seeks our personal preferences. In our consumer society, we shop at particular stores because they give us what we want. We drive particular cars because we prefer that kind. We drink a particular brand of beverage because it fits our taste. But the Christian community with which we affiliate – is that supposed to be about consumer choice? Will we be giving “consumer’s choice” awards to churches based on how they meet our needs?
Maybe we prefer organ; maybe drums and guitar. Maybe we prefer expository preaching; maybe topical thoughts. Maybe we prefer small groups; maybe we prefer big Bible studies. Some of that is, of course, quite natural. We are attracted to what we like. It (often!) works in marriage, after all; why not in worship?
To an extent, that is probably true. We are divinely wired to have preferences. It’s part of the beauty of the diversity of the human race. The challenge comes when we universalize our own preferences, and then put ourselves (and our preferences) ahead of others (and their preferences).
I once heard a sermon in which the congregation was challenged to consider – from a consumer point of view – who is the customer, and who is the sales person. As the church, we are not called to self-satisfaction; we are called to “go into the world and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28.19). Those in the church are in sales, seeking to reach ‘customers’ who are not yet part of the body of Christ. For followers of Jesus, this sometimes means stepping outside our own comfort zones – our own preferences – and willingly being part of a community of faith that caters its worship, and its proclamation of truth, to draw those who are outside the family.
We can never cheapen the act of worship into something that just makes us happy; after all, worship is intended to please God first and foremost! As worshippers, of course, we want to be able to offer our praise to the Lord in a way that is in keeping with who we are. But we also want to offer our praise to the Lord in a way that enables people who are far from God to draw near to him.
It’s a complicated issue, and perhaps this little dust-up within the Christian world has given some of us pause to think about how and why we worship the Lord of the Universe.
However your church “does church”, consider who, among your friends and family, you can invite to experience the praise of God. You could change someone’s eternity!
Posted by Jeff on August 29, 2014
Welcome to Labour Day weekend, when, ironically, we celebrate the value of work by not working! For most people outside the trade union movement, however, Labour Day weekend is mostly about getting away for one last weekend before mundane routine returns with the onslaught of September.
Maybe, though, it isn’t so ironic that we pause to celebrate work. After all, work can’t be done in any meaningful way without time to regroup and re-energize. I know people who work seven days a week, and I can’t quite figure out how – or why – they do so. The Creation story tells us that God created the world in six days, and rested on the seventh. It wasn’t that God needed to rest; he’s God, after all, and God possesses limitless energy. No, God rested on the seventh day to give a model to his covenant people that the rhythm of life needs to include rest.
At St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, I will be talking on Sunday about the value of rest, and I will touch on how important it is to work not into our rest, but from it. It may seem subtle, but there is a difference.
We can push ourselves to the point where if we don’t take a day off, our bodies will force us into it through illness. That’s working into our rest – we’re resting because we are left with no other viable alternative. And it’s not healthy.
Instead, we should work from our rest, where our Sabbath time is used in such a way as to re-energize us for the week that is to come. And in that process, we can pace ourselves so that we don’t find ourselves saying, “Boy, I sure hope I’m going to make it to my Sabbath this week.” We should look forward to it eagerly, of course, and our bodies, minds and spirits should become accustomed to the rhythm of expecting rest in the midst of our efforts.
For many of us, that means scheduling that day of rest – actually putting it in the calendar. Nature abhors a vacuum, as the saying goes, and if we have blank spaces on our calendars, we are inclined to fill them – often needlessly. By blocking off an entire day for rest, it keeps work activities at bay. And it frees us to do things that energize us and bring us joy. This should include, but not be limited to, worship, sleep, and time with those we love.
So if you’re celebrating Labour Day weekend by not labouring, good for you! Enjoy the rest, and ask the Lord to let it prepare you for the week that is ahead.
Jesus said to his followers that “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” (Mark 2.27, NLT).
Posted by Jeff on August 2, 2014
On a Facebook recommendation, I pre-ordered, and received quickly from Amazon.ca, the latest publication by Rowan Williams, entitled, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Eerdmans, 2014). It is a surprisingly small book, at under ninety pages. And it is a quick read; it arrived in the mail yesterday afternoon, and I had it completed before going to sleep (with several other needful things done in between).
I recommend this book for those looking for a basic refresher on some of these fundamental aspects of what it means to follow Jesus. As the subtitle suggests, he writes (about twenty pages on each) about the meaning and implications of the sacrament of Baptism, how we read (or hear) the Bible, what it means to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and then gives a brief summary of three views on the Lord’s Prayer (from Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Cassian, all classic Christian writers from early [pre-AD 600] Christianity).
Williams is clear, concise, and accessible in his writing style. He writes with a modest Anglican bias, which the reader would only expect coming from the immediate past Archbishop of Canterbury! But even with that ‘filter’, Williams could be read quite satisfactorily by an inquirer, or by a believer from any branch of the church.
There were six especially helpful learning points that I noted for myself in the book:
- In the Eastern Christian tradition, some icons for the baptism of Jesus depict Jesus up to his neck in water, with river gods, representing chaos being overcome, beneath the water. The old ways are always trying to claim us back.
- The Bible is, in a way, our own story, so history matters when reading Scripture.
- In the Eucharist, Jesus is telling us he wants our company.
- Prayer is about changing your attitude.
- Prayer is a promise to God.
- This one deserves to be quoted: “[Prayer] is opening our minds and hearts and saying to the Father, ‘Here is your Son, praying in me through the Holy Spirit. Please listen to him, because I want him to be working, acting and loving in me'” (p. 80).
Reflection and discussion questions are provided at the end of each chapter for use by individuals or groups. This is a short and helpful read, and I recommend it.