Saturday, November 5, 2011

What Are You Giving?

It has been quite a while since I have had the urge to write anything.  To be quite honest, I am surprised that I am feeling compelled to write currently.  I have been up since 2:30am this morning and working all day at the St. Lawrence  Market in downtown Toronto selling vegetables.  It is now 8pm at night and I should be (like the dog beside me ... love you Murphy) passed out.  Still, I feel led to share something that just sunk in.

I was thinking about this Christmas season that is fast approaching.  I know that I am a Christmasaholic, but something has really struck me.  This is the time of year when we really start putting our thinking caps on about the gifts that we are going to buy for people.  I know that some people wait until December 24th for this thoughtful act, but others of us, prepare long in advance for just the right gift for that special person.

In Ephesians 3, Paul is writing to the non-Jewish community about a special gift that God had prepared long in advance for us.  He tells about in verse 16 how he prays to God asking him "to give [us] a gift from the wealth of his glory."(GWT).  He continues to pray that God "would give [us] inner strength and power through His Spirit.  Then Christ will live in [us] through faith".  What a powerful statement.  That God would give us His wealth ... not a financial gift but something far more valuable.  A gift so powerful that it raised Christ from the dead and it is within us. (Romans 8:11)  How awesome is that!  It is the power to move where in our own human ability we cannot.

However, Paul doesn't stop there.  He continues,
 "I also pray that love may be the ground into which you sink your roots and on which you have your foundation.  This way, with all of God's people you will be able to understand how wide, long, high and deep his love is.  You will know Christ's love, which goes far beyond any knowledge.  I am praying this so that you may be completely filled with God." Ephesians 3:17-19
 I think so often we miss this concept of love.  In 1 John 4:7-21, it expands on the meaning of how we are to be rooted in love.  It is a connection with God that is a commandment and not an option.  In Luke 10:25-37 we are shown exactly how much of this we are to have not only for God, but also for one another.  It truly is the greatest commandment.  But we are not to do it alone.  We are not to be a bunch of one person armies going around loving God and one another.  We are to be THE CHURCH!  That means that we need to LOVE our God!  We are to love our church members!  We are to love our coworkers!  We are to love our neighbours!  We are to love our enemies!  When we do this collectively, God reveals the width, length, height and depth of His love for us.  Everyone needs to do their part.

Do we really get it?  DO I REALLY GET IT?

Back to my favourite season ... This Christmas ... am I going to allow the "wealth of God" to empower me to love all those around me and share my ultimate gift from God?  I hope I get it.  I really hope I give it.

Never Lose the Passion,

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Happy ... Birthday

This past week I 'celebrated' my 37th birthday.  I use the term 'celebrated' loosely as it wasn't one that I will look back on fondly and think to myself as a highlight.  In fact, it was one of the harder birthdays to understand.

When I was growing up I had visions of where I would be in my life at this point.  I could picture a wife, kids, house, cars, dog (no cats as they are the other white meat) and the list goes on.  I also had dreams of where my career would be.  Truth be told, nothing is really where I thought it would be.

In the book of Genesis, Abram was also a man who did some reflecting on where he thought his life should be.  He was advanced in his age (He was old for those of us that want to be less politically correct) and he wanted to have an heir to his household.  He wanted a son to call his own.  God had promised to Abram that He would be Abram's "great reward".(Gen 15:1).  But Abram didn't see the point of a great reward when he had no child to leave this reward as an inheritance.  A servant in his household would be the heir of this reward from God.

As I reflected back on this week, in essence, I was asking God, what's the point?  Why did you take me through this life just to be where I am?  In a way, I felt like God had abandoned me.  But the truth of it all, is that without God in my situation, I wouldn't be where I am at today.  It might not be where I thought I was going, and it might not have been how I had pictured things being but the truth of the matter is that I am a lot better off than I would be if I was left to do this life on my own.  What was the real wake up call?  Well ... the birthday morning started off with a bad attitude but finished off with the realization that I am loved by a God that knows the plan that HE has for me.  There were some phrases thrown around that day, but one that stood out to me was this: "So I stand back in awe of what [God] has done in your life and what He is going to do." 

If someone else is in awe of God because of the way that He has worked in my life, then everything that I have gone through is all worth it.  If someone else could see that God was going to work in my life and take me somewhere, then I want to believe that God will do it. Back to Abram for a second.  I think the key to the rewards that God had promised Abram is this. "Abram believed the LORD, and He credited to him as righteousness"(Gen 15:6).  Abram had the choice to believe or not believe that God would do what he said He would do.  I have that same choice.  I can believe or I can choose not to believe that God is with me in this walk of life.  Because of this, I have chosen to believe "that God, who began the good work within [me], will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns"(Phil 1:6).  God is not finished with me yet.  He has a plan for my life and I am going to follow in that plan.

Sure, 37 is not how I had pictured it would be, but God is making it in to something better than I could have ever imagined.  He is not going to bring me this far just to quit on me.  He has begun the work, and I am going to continue to walk with Him through this until the time when He completes it.

One last thought ... to everyone who wished me a happy birthday, thank you from the bottom of my heart.  With each well wished gesture, my spirit was lifted and I was reminded of how blessed I am to have the people that I do in my life.  You all helped turn a day of sorrow into a day of celebration.  Thank you.

*cues the music and dances away to "Celebrate good times, com'on!"*

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rollercoaster Ride

This past summer, I took some students to an amusement park in Toronto called Canada's Wonderland.  We had a great time and went on a ton of roller coasters, but one in particular really has me thinking today.  The newest roller coaster in the park is called Behemoth.  Let me give you just a few of the stats on this wonderful 'little' ride: 

Physical Dimensions
Track Length: Approximately 5, 318 ft (1620.9m)
Lift Height: Approximately 230 ft (70m)
Angle of Descent: Approximately 75 degrees
Time, Speed, Capacity, Design
Ride Time: Approximately 3 minutes and 10 seconds
Speed of First Drop: Approximately 77 miles/hr (125kms/hr)
Ride Capacity: Three 32 passenger trains, with four seats per car
Ride Design: Fibreglass and steel coaches with lapbar restraints

Some of you may say, "big deal" or "so what", but there is a reason that I included the lapbar restraints in the stats.  You see, all that is holding you in on this amazingly fast journey is one little plastic looking lapbar that pushes down against your inner thighs.  They have handles on them and other than that, you are free to move.  It is quite intimidating when you sit down and start climbing that first hill and realize that the only thing that is holding you in at 230 feet in the air is this piece of plastic.  I held on for dear life!  I was somewhat afraid.  At one point (just before we reached the peak) I said to one of the youth, “Is it too late to get off”?

Life is like this a lot of times.  We see a mountain before us and we start to climb it and we realize that the only thing that is holding us in as we climb the mountain is our faith in God that He is going to help us over this mountain.  Some of us even get almost too the top and turn around and go back.  We forget that God is with us and that He won’t leave us or bring us through to the other side.  There are situations in my life (even now) where I still wonder if I can climb the mountain.  There are times when I wonder if my faith in God will get me to the other side of the mountain safely, but God wants me to trust Him and not climb back down the mountain.  He wants me to let go of the lapbar and trust that He is going to keep me safe.

Back to the roller coaster ... I survived the ride.  I remember when we crested the hill I proclaimed, “LOOK HOW BEAUTIFUL THIS IS!”  I was in awe!  And the rest of the ride was an absolute hoot (even at 125kms/hr).  It was such a joy that I went on it a second time with one of my youth leaders and this time ... this time I didn’t hold on to the lapbar and I felt so free!  I felt like I was flying and trusting.

Maybe you are coming up to a mountain for the first time.  Let me encourage you to trust God with your reaching the summit.  Let me encourage you to keep going despite how difficult the climb or how high the mountain might seem because God will not leave you.  You might have to hold on to the lapbar, but God will eventually teach you to let go and trust Him.  Once you do, you will feel like you are flying.  And whatever you do, don’t forget to enjoy the beauty of the top and give thanks for all that God has brought you through.  The best part is ... once you reach that top ... the rest of the journey is so enjoyable because you know that God is going to bring you through.  Let go! Let God!

A Family That Plays Together ...

Just a little over a week ago, my girlfriend and I had the pleasure of going to the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra.  It was an amazing time together and I have to say a special thank you to her next door neighbour for blessing us with the tickets.  It was a wonderful night together.

While I was sitting there listening to the different scores of music being played, I was in absolute awe of how all the different instruments worked together to make a beautiful sound.  Each musician had an important part to play and they each knew what that role was.  Without the second violin, the piece wouldn't sound the same.  Without the first French horn, the piece would have a total different interpretation.  It didn't matter what chair you sat in, each musician was important to the overall sound of the piece being played.

Then it hit me, the church today is supposed to work much like this group of musicians were working together.  Each of us has an important part to play.  It doesn't matter in which 'chair' we sit in, we have a role to fill in the greater purpose of the church.  We are not just seat fillers, but we have purpose.  Sure, some of us take on more recognized roles like pastor, deacon or elder, but those roles are not more important than the greeter, offering counter or kid's program volunteer.  Each person brings a completion to the whole sound of the completed piece.  We are all members in God's orchestra and we are to make a joyful noise.  If one of us doesn't support the whole, the full sound isn't accomplished.  We are all important into what God is doing and how he wants to do it whether we are recognized (like the pianist was that night) or whether we go unnoticed.  The truth is, we don't do it for the recognition; we do it as a service to our Heavenly Father.  In Paul's letter to the Colossians, he urges them: "Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.  Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.  But if you do what is wrong, you will be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favourites"(Colossians 3:23-25, NLT).

The night was thoroughly enjoyable and I was very fortunate that I was able to share it with such an incredible girl, but I am also grateful that in those moments when we least expect it that God uses something so simple, yet so beautiful to remind me of His plans for me.  I am truly a blessed man and I have a whole new appreciation for His Orchestra.  Play on, church!  Play on!

Never Lose the Passion,

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Burnt Taste Buds

I was just on Facebook and my cousin had posted that she "just burnt [her] tongue... Real bad!"  I feel bad for her of course, but her post got me thinking about all the times that I have had been "burnt" in my life.  I even began to think one step farther about all the people that I have "burnt" in my life and the effect that I have had on others.

There have been times in my life that I have felt that God has left a bad taste in my mouth.  After a failed marriage, I put a lot of blame on God for what had happened.  I felt that I had my tongue 'burnt' by the whole situation.  You see, I was in a place of ministry where I was working with great people, with an amazing youth group and I even had a great office with a fireplace and the whole works.  But that was all gone with a blink of an eye and I became 'burnt' by the where I was and with what was happening.

In Psalm 34:8, David states, "Taste and see that the Lord is good.  Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!"  The truth is, God is not the one that left the bitter taste in my mouth, but it was my conscious choice to blame Him for what had happened in my life.  The fact of the matter is that the position, the youth group, even the office wasn't mine to get attached.  In actuality, those things were becoming idols in my life and taking precedent over God and all He wanted was to have me put Him first.  If we are not attached to things, we don't get a burnt taste in our mouths when things don't go the way that we think they should.  The reason is because we know that we can taste and see that God is good.  He provided and continues to provide through those situations.

When I think about the people that have hurt me and the people that I have hurt, only one thing comes to mind ... Forgiveness.    Again, it comes down to making a choice to forgive, but also to ask forgiveness of those that you know that you have hurt.  Colossians 3:13 states, "Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others."  We need to continual forgive those that burn us and seek forgiveness for those that have 'burnt' us. 

For those readers of this blog that I have burnt or hurt in some way, I humbly ask your forgiveness and know that I am well aware of my faults and failures, but request your grace as I strive to be more like the one who allows me to be forgiven.

So to my cousin who burnt her tongue, I am sorry that your tongue is suffering from this temporary pain, but thank you for the reminder that we need to forgive those who hurt us and seek forgiveness of those that we have hurt.  I hope your tongue heals quickly.

Never Lose the Passion,

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Trials and Temper Tantrums

A couple of days ago I was having a little pity party for myself, by myself.  I was going over the events of the past few weeks; few months; few years; few decades (can't believe I can even say that and remember that far back) but I was relishing.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul, Silas and Timothy are writing to the church in Thessalonica and at one point Paul states this: "Be thankful in ALL circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus"(1 Thess 5:18, NLT).   Be thankful in ALL circumstances?  Really?  So when things are going horribly in our lives, we are to give thanks for the crap that we go through?  I always understood giving thanks for the good things that happen in our lives, but why would I want to give thanks for the troubles of life?

Some people would say, "Find things to be thankful for" or "At least you are breathing".  True, we are to be thankful for these things, but these things happen each and every day and we should be thankful for those things all the time.  But the more I think about this verse, the more I think I misunderstood what Paul was saying here.  I truly believe that we are to be thankful for our hardships and difficulties that we face.

God never said that things would be easy in serving Him.  Many have given their lives for the sake of sharing the Gospel.  In one of Paul's other letters, he encourages Timothy to "endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 2:3, NLT).  He knew that the road wasn't going to be easy, but he knew that God was always going to be with him.  The author of Hebrews (who many believe to be Paul) reassures us of that when God promises that "[He] will never fail us.  [He] will never abandon us"(Heb 13:5b, NLT).  God is going with us in the good and in the bad.

Ultimately though, God controls it all.  "I create the light and make the darkness.  I send good times and bad times.  I, the Lord, am the one who does these things"(Isa 45:7, NLT).  If God sends the good times and the bad times should we not be like Job and ask the question, "Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?"(Job 2:10, NLT) or do we grumble, complain and throw a temper tantrum and be like Jonah and say, "Now, LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live"(Jonah 4:3, NIV)? 

Let's return to my relishing for a minute.  See, I wasn't relishing in the good things that God has done for me, I was relishing in the ways that I had felt that God had dealt me an injustice.  I was having a bit of a temper tantrum of my own.  I neglected to see the way that God has shaped and moulded me into His image through those times and I chose to focus on the negative circumstances that got me to where I am now.  As I picked myself up off the floor and dusted myself off, I chose to give thanks for the trials that I face because I know that God is with me and that He will not leave me through this process called life.  He knows what is best and He is allowing these situations in my life because He knows that I need to go through them to trust Him more.  I pray that my attitude will always be that of the "good soldier" and that I am thankful that God is bringing me through for His purpose ... not mine.

Never Lose the Passion,

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Complete Surrender

My girlfriend had given me a great book to read a few weeks ago and if you have the chance (if you haven't already), pick up a copy of "tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Albom.  I want to quote a piece of the book for you:
     Morrie lost his battle.  Someone was now wiping his behind.
     He faced this with typically brave acceptance.  No longer able to reach behind him when he used the commode, he informed Connie of his latest limitation.
     "Would you be embarrassed to do it for me?"
     She said no.
     I found it typical that he asked her first.
     It took some getting used to, Morrie admitted, because it was, in a way, complete surrender to the disease.  The most personal and basic things had now been taken from him - going to the bathroom, wiping his nose, washing his private parts.  With the exception of breathing and swallowing his food, he was dependent on others for nearly everything.
     I asked Morrie how he managed to stay positive through that.
     "Mitch, it's funny," he said.  "I'm an independent person, so my inclination was to fight all of this - being helped from the car, having someone else dress me.  I felt a little ashamed, because our culture tells us we should be ashamed if we can't wipe our own behind.  But then I figured, Forget what the culture says, I have ignored the culture much of my life.  I am not going to be ashamed.  What's the big deal?
     "And you know what?  The strangest thing."
     What's that?
     "I began to enjoy my dependency.  No I enjoy when they turn me over on my side and rub cream on my behind so I don't get sores.  Or when they wipe my brow, or they massage my legs.  I revel in it.  I close my eyes and soak it up.  And it seems very familiar to me.
     "It's like going back to being a child again.  Someone to bathe you.  Someone to lift you.  Someone to wipe you.  We all know how to be a child.  It's inside all of us.  For me, it's just remembering how to enjoy it.
     "The truth is when our mothers held us, rocked us, stroked our heads - none of us ever got enough of that.  We all yearn in some way to return to those days when we were completely taken care of - unconditional love, unconditional attention.  Most of us didn't get enough.
     "I know I didn't."
     I looked at Morrie and I suddenly knew why he so enjoyed my leaning over and adjusting his microphone, or fussing with the pillows, or wiping his eyes.  Human touch.  At seventy-eight, he was giving as an adult and taking as a child.
As I read this portion of the book, I couldn't help but be reminded of how God wants us to be.  In Matthew 18:1-4 Jesus was talking to his disciples about being the greatest:
"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."(NIV)
 I don't know why I am so proud, but when I submitted myself to writing this blog, I promised that I would always be vulnerable in it for the sake of helping others.  If I was going to do it, I was going to do it wide open.  My life hasn't gone the way that I thought it would.  I imagined myself married, with a family, in a nice quaint house living a comfortable life making a respectable living at a job that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Looking at myself from the outside in, I see a guy that doesn't have any of that and my pride gets the best of me sometimes and I feel a sense of worthlessness.  I don't have a wife or family, I don't have a house, I don't have a job, I don't have ... I don't have ... I don't have ... and in our culture, all that adds up to an unsuccessful life. 

But how quickly am I reminded that the value of one's life is not based on what you don't have.  In truth, I have more than one could ever dream of.  I have a family, a girlfriend and friends that love me.  I have a place to lay my head at night.  I have food that I can eat and yes ... I even have the occasional Starbucks treat.  But all of that still doesn't create the value of my life.  Those are just blessings!

What truly gives my life value is the fact that I have a relationship with a Heavenly Father that loves me and wants me to be completely dependent on Him.  My value is not in what I have but Who has me.  That's where the success of my life lies.  You see, I think Morrie was on to something when he realized that there was pleasure in complete dependency on someone.  He was able to both give and receive.  He had figured out the healthy balance and found contentment in that.  Have we been able to find that balance of being able to receive from a father as a child, but to give as an adult?

I don't know what tomorrow is going to hold or even if tomorrow may come.  Life is fragile at best, but the life that I live, I hope that I always give with all I have and depend with all I am.  May I understand what it means to be "like a child".  Complete surrender ...

Never Lose the Passion,

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Spiritus Sanctus

This prayer comes out of a book that I am reading and really enjoy called "The Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions".

Spiritus Sanctus

As the sun is full of light,
the ocean full of water,
Heaven full of glory,
so may my heart be full of thee.
Vain are all divine purposes of love
and the redemption wrought by Jesus
except thou work within,
regenerating by thou power,
giving me eyes to see Jesus,
showing me the realities of the unseen world.
Give me thyself without measure,
as an unimpaired fountain,
as inexhaustible riches.
I bewail my coldness, poverty, emptiness,
imperfect vision, lanquid service,
prayerless prayers, praiseless praises.
Suffer me not to grieve or resist thee.
Come as power,
to expel every rebel lust, to reign supreme and keep me thine;
Come as teacher,
leading me into all truth, filling me with all understanding;
Come as love,
that I may adore the Father, and love him as my all;
Come as joy,
to dwell in me, move in me, animate me;
Come as sanctifier;
body, soul and spirit wholly thine;
Come as helper,
with strength to bless and keep, directing my every step;
Come as beautifier,
bringing order out of confusion, loveliness out of chaos.
Magnify to me thy glory by being magnified in me,
and make me redolent of thy fragrance.

I hope I can continue to pray this with a pure heart and humble desire.  If you haven't heard of this book before, I strongly suggest that you get it.  It is a great inspiration and a great supplement to ANY devotional life.

Never Lose the Passion,

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The What Could Have Been ...

I'm nestled peacefully in the corner of a Starbucks and I am reflecting on the past little while.  There have been some major changes in my life that have made me question even if I should blog any more.  More on that thought later.

Last week was the end of what was for me known as "The Associate Pastor".  I have served at a church for the past year and a bit and now a new chapter of my life has opened up.  As I have had a week to reflect on this transition, I have wondered, "what COULD have been", "what MIGHT have been" and "what PROBABLY WOULD have been" but the truth is WHAT WILL BE will not really be up to me.  In all honesty, whatever could, might or probably would have been wouldn't have been up to me anyway as it wasn't mine to decide.  It is up to God to do what He wants, when He wants how He wants and I am content with that.  His ways and His thoughts are perfect because they are His and He is God. (Isaiah 55:8)  I had to let go and let God do it the way that He has planned for that church.  In my humanity, that is difficult.  For me, who likes to "fix" or "control" things, my natural response is to try to make it the way that I think it should be and go the way that I think it should go.  But I have taken things as far as I am supposed to and now it is on to something new for me.

I heard this quote recently by Marsha Petrie Sue and I think it sums it up really well:
"Stay away from what might have been and look at what can be."
I need to let go of the past and press on to the future. What the future holds, only God knows.  He has been with me every step of the way and I know that He will go with me as I enter into this new leg of the journey.  He has a plan for me! Jeremiah 29:11-13 reminds me of this with:
"For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me." (NLT)
The only thing that God asks of me is that I seek Him wholeheartedly.  The best part about that is if I seek Him, I will find Him.  Now there is something that I can take to the bank!  So I look to God as to what my future holds and trust Him to lead me.  Where do I look?  Well ... I look into His Word.  Psalm 119:105 says. "Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path."(NLT)  It doesn't say that God will light up the whole valley and show me the big picture, but it does say that He will show me the next steps to take as I trust Him to lead me.

As for the blog and whether to keep writing or not ... well ... I feel that God would want me to continue on sharing my thoughts and experiences.  Because God is my lead, I am, and always will be, His associate so watch for more updates to come in the future.

Never Lose the Passion,

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

No Restrictions

Every Tuesday night I stay in town after work for our weekly prayer meeting.  For those that don't know, I live about 25 minutes from work.  Tonight is definitely no exception.  It often gives me time to think and just reflect about what is happening in my life.

For the past few years, I have made "New Year's Restrictions" for myself.  In 2007, I decided that I wasn't going to drink anything but water.  Surprisingly, I accomplished this and was better for doing it.  In 2008, it was no fast food.  Again, I managed to work it out throughout the year.  In 2009, it was no desserts.  This one didn't fair as well.  I did okay until I was invited over for a birthday celebration and someone handed me a piece of cake.  I think it was all downhill from there.  However, I did keep with the no pop rule.  In 2010, I chose not to drink pop for yet another year and was again successful at my task.  This year, however, I have decided that my restrictions would be no restrictions.

Often in the past, I have treated my Christian walk much like my 'New Year's Restrictions'.  I won't do this, or I won't do that.  Often, I managed to do it for a while but then I would fail and the guilt that flooded over me was overwhelming.  I started to see my walk as a failure.  Ultimately, guilt was keeping me from obtaining all that God had intended me for because "I wasn't worthy" of being a Christian.  I was living in bondage because I thought I was abusing God's grace.  My understanding of grace was skewed.

The truth is, that God's grace is not about how bad we are, but rather, that no matter how good we can be it wouldn't be good enough.  We can try and be the perfect Christian and always do it right, but in our humanity, we always come up short.  Sure, no matter how bad we have been, "nothing can separate us from the love of God" (Romans 8:39), but we have to remember that "no one is righteous--not even one" (Romans 3:10).  We all are in need of God's grace no matter how good we are or how bad we are.  No one is restricted from God's grace.

So this year ... no restrictions.  Let go of past failures; let go of the past accomplishments; be free. I've quoted it before, but I think it is worth stating again ... "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:13b-14)