lent, coffee, and a life never the same

I love coffee.

I love coffee with a deep and complex love.

However, despite my love for this rich and life giving elixir, I gave it up for lent a few years ago. It went about as well as you’d anticipate.

I made it through but wow was it ever terrible. I really wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be to give it up, how much I enjoy it, and how unbelievably addicted I am to it. I started a new job during that time. I was like a walking zombie trying to make good impression on my new co-workers for weeks without caffeine coursing through my veins.

They noticed instantly when I started drinking it again.

We even joke about it now. They simply cannot believe that I could do it again if I wanted to, nor do they want me to even try.

But reflecting back, I don’t think it worked.

There are loads of reason why people participate in lent but I think this one missed the mark.

I guess there is value in praying more and I suspect I did, but not to the point that I remember or can say with certainty that I did.

I am however acutely aware that I’m not different because of it.

It didn’t change how I saw God or Jesus or my faith at all.

It didn’t draw my closer to God.

When all was said and done Easter came and went and I was the same person I was when it all started.

It was just a couple weeks where I was uncomfortable.

This year I hope it’s different.

I hope that my lent experience will draw me closer to Jesus.

I hope it will show me more the heart of God.

I hope that this will actually change the way I live. That by investing my time, energy and money in this I will be a different person when I’m done.

I want to be a better disciple when Easter comes around. I want to understand what Jesus is calling his followers into and realize that it’s not always easy. I want to act differently on the other side of Easter. I want to be changed by my investment in this process. To be open to Jesus changing me.

I want to see the world in a different way. In a way that won’t allow me to go back to the way it was.

Maybe you’re like me. Maybe giving up coffee and chocolate haven’t really done it.

Might I suggest trying something new?

It will be different for all of us, but let’s not lose the power of this time because the tradition makes it easy to coast. Let’s pick something that changes the way we see the world. Let’s pick something that forces us to truly experience the world in a way that we have never had to before, not simply un-caffeinated for a few weeks.

How will this fast change you? How will it make you different when it’s done? How does this push you to be a better disciple? How will your actions be changed?

It’s not that you’ll never take up coffee again, but rather how will this lent make you see Jesus in a way that you can’t be what you were before?

Let’s not pick something inconvenient this year. Let’s pick something that changes the very world around us.

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commitment is another word for action

Life gets in the way. Or I suppose obstacles get in the way of the life you want.

This week it was sickness.

Sarah has been sick for the past few days. Nothing major but enough that she sat on a couch for two days. Now if you know Sarah you’ll understand that Sarah simply doesn’t sit. She is the energizer bunny incarnate.

She just keeps going and going and going.

It’s tiring just to watch.

So I stepped into her shoes the past few days.

She is amazing, I don’t know how she gets it all done. I did not get it all done.

But that’s just life right?

Things pop up, life is chaotic at best often.

I missed a few days of writing. I missed a few days of work.

Life.

I didn’t connect this week like I had planned. There was time. I’d do it later in the week i said. But there wasn’t time later. I’ll get a great chance to connect with some of my work mates today and at our work Christmas party tonight. But that’s only once. I wanted more for this week.

But I didn’t put in the effort when the time was there. There were chances on Monday and Tuesday that I didn’t take.

I put it off.

Then life happened.

Then nothing happened because I didn’t do it.

I suppose my reflection on this week is the continuing realization that this stuff doesn’t’ just happen. That we need to make an effort. Purpose ourselves to love and be the people we are made to be.

Compassionate living is an amazing life. It’s full and deep, but it takes commitment and in this situation commitment is just another word for action.

growth can happen

A lot of these challenges are things I’ve tried before. Stuff my wife and I have done to try in some small way to get better a living this other centred life. Practical things we can do as a start.

While this time wasn’t the first time I’d tried this challenge it was different.

This week we were trying to give a compliment once a day. As I noted on Monday, it’s more than a little sad that this works as a challenge for week. It’s sad on a societal level but more so, and I didn’t touch on this on Monday, sad that it works on a personal level.

It’s a sober reminder of how far I have to go when it comes to living a live marked my love and grace.

It’s sad for those of us who identify as Christians that this could be considered a challenge. That edifying and building up those in our lives isn’t a calling card of who we are.

But as I said earlier, this time was different.

It wasn’t weird.

Every other time I’d done this it was weird. Weird for me and I think at least unexpected for the people I was complimenting. It wasn’t how they saw me.

Not this time.

This time it felt natural. This time it wasn’t a struggle. This time it happened without so much effort and intention to seek it out. I’d reflect on the challenge and think if I’d gotten there and find there were more than just the one compliment I was challenged to pass along.

I often talk about how hard reflection is. We see our brokenness and shortcomings. We see all the gaps and how far we are form where we want to be.

But every now and again it’s invigorating. Every now and again it’s exciting to step back and see that all the hard work and effort and intent have led to some actually change in how I see and approach the world and how people in my world see and expect me to be.

If this is truly a journey then we should see change and growth.

Who knows, maybe all this effort might actually help me be the person I hoped I’d be.

death and loss

For something as universal and experience as death you might think we’d talk about it more. You might think we would understand the experience better. You might think we’d be better prepared to love those experiencing a death in their life.

But you know as much as I do that for all we might think when we look at death objectively, rarely is that the lived experience.

For worse, death will touch everyone. It will irrevocably impact your life at some point while you are still alive. Talking with a good friend has brought the topic back to mind.

We’re going to explore death a little.

We’re going to do that because society is terrible at supporting people and sadly the church isn’t often much better.

But we should be.

And we can be.

We will be.

Today we’ll touch on some fundamentals, staring points so we are all in the same space.

Death cannot be fixed.

While I understand how redundant a statement that is we still try. We try to make people feel better. To fix or change what cannot be fixed. Death is permanent. It’s dark and traumatic and often our best attempts to fix the experience end up minimizing it.

So we won’t try. We won’t fix this experience. We’ll be with people in the darkness not tell them the darkness isn’t there.

Death is not purposeful.

We won’t try to render meaning where they is none. This is so important I don’t want you to miss it. Death wasn’t part of the plan. So when we talk about death we have to be careful how we speak. We need to understand the implications of the words we choose.

God can bring good from evil but it’s never His plan. He doesn’t cause evil to happen so He can do good. Evil is a part of our world and death is wholly evil. God can bring redemption out of death but it’s not the purpose of death. It’s not why it happened and God’s ability to bring good from evil doesn’t detract from how evil something is.

It happens because we live in a dark fallen world and people need to be allowed to experience that darkness without it being minimized or overly spiritualized. It’s complicated enough experience loss we don’t need to complicate it with some theological controversy over God’s involvement in death.

God doesn’t want death.

God doesn’t cause death.

God is 100% with us during the darkness, but that darkness and pain are very real.

With that as our start we’ll look at how we respond to death tomorrow. If death cannot be fixed and death isn’t part of some bigger purpose what do we say?

Or rather to start what don’t we say?

less thinking, more loving

I think to much.

Everything is interesting to me. Most of if it, interesting to no one. I can’t tell you how many times I ask Sarah “Hey, have you ever thought of ______?”

“No.”

“Isn’t that interesting though? It’s never crossed your mind?”

“No.”

I love to know why things happen and how they work. But this need I have can cause a lot of damage.

On more than one occasion I can think of someone sharing their excitement, “look at this” or “you’ll never guess what I got” or “look what I’m being asked to do”.

Instantly I want to understand. Why is that interesting? Why would you buy that? Who would possibly ask you to do this?

I can be a real jerk.

I just can’t understand the why or how and so I try. I start to ask questions, but my questions don’t encourage, the discourage. Often my questions don’t add to the excitement but quash it.

Often my need to understand robs the person I’m speaking with of their joy and happiness.

Maybe this never happens to you. Maybe you’re great at being excited with someone.

But if you’re like me, we have got to be less selfish, because there is nothing loving about it.

come and see my brokenness

Did the prayer of brokenness resonate with you?

Are you aware how broken you are?

We talked yesterday about what Jesus has actually called us to. What we often say we want to be about. I really believe that for there to be a connection between the people we say we want to be, the one Jesus talks about, and the person we are takes hard self-reflection.

Sometimes we really need a prayer like that when we start to reflect.

Honest, full of real pain and worry. One where we don’t lie to ourselves or God. From the heart. The head has been told God is coming, but the heart worries. He may never come. This persistent darkness may be just that, persistent. One where God doesn’t just show up and fix the world at the end. No “I know you hear me and all will be ok.” Because if you’ve ever been there like I have you don’t know that.

God may not come.

But we still praise God.

Not because He fixes us but because He is worthy.

I think this honest reflection on our pain, brokenness, and doubt is important. Its important when we reach out to community. It’s important in our own lives. How can we expect to connect when we answer everything with “don’t worry God’s going to fix it” when there is a distinct possibility that what the person is praying for, broken because of, or pain they are feeling won’t just go away.

Life is too complicated for insincere or simple answers.

It’s all a part of Gods plan.

God is in control don’t worry.

You just need to trust more

Maybe you need to have a little more faith.

Placing God as some kind of fix all solution cheapens who God is and starts people down a path that can often lead to hatred and resentment of God. If you’re told that if you believe in God he will fix everything. And then you go to church and sings songs every week that reinforce how God is in control and see nothing but people who appear to be super happy and full of joy that makes a very clear statement that if you know God you should be happy and whole.

But your real struggles continue, what do you do with that?

You can start to think what you’re doing wrong. You go to church, you sing the songs, participate in home church, read your bible, pray, you do everything your told you should to make God come and fix your pain, brokenness, doubt.

And a year, 2 years, 35 years later it’s all still there and you just start to wonder.

Maybe God doesn’t love me.

Maybe God isn’t real.

Maybe it’s all been a lie.

That’s why we have to be honest when we’re sharing our experience, good and bad.

We hide our doubt despite the fact that it’s part or humanity. It resonates with those who haven’t found God yet because everyone has it.

But we hide it making it seem like we are different, better than they are. Fixed and whole.

We are different but different because we have seen our brokenness and said God I need you. It’s our honest response to brokenness that is different not the experience of having it.

And it’s that response, Jesus that we need to share.

prayers, songs and hollow words

Did you think about these at all?

We say so much without thinking. We sing a song because it’s on a screen. We repeat a prayer because we’re asked to by the pastor. So much of this Christian experience has us doing and saying things we often never stop to think about.

This week we’re going to look at each of the prayers from last week. See what they are really saying and how that relates to our life of compassion.

First, a prayer of compassion.

Did you think about the words at all? Do you have any idea what you’re saying when you say you want to love like Jesus? How about your actions being your worship not your thoughts or ideas?

Those are not small statements. Those are huge life altering statements.

But so often we don’t see them like that. Of course I want to love like Jesus, I’m a Christian, that’s what I’m supposed to do. And we even know that it’s harder than it sounds and that Jesus loved those forgotten and abused by society. And we still say we want to do that.

But it often doesn’t translate. We don’t then go and love. The words ring hollow. Loving like Jesus loved is something you say and think about how hard it is, few go and do it.

Or how about letting your actions be your worship. If you’ve spent any time in church you’ve heard how our worship is more than the songs we sing. But most don’t even believe what they sing!

We trust God.

We love Him with everything.

God is all we need.

Then we go back to our homes, full fridges and savings accounts to worry about how we can afford to pay for whatever we want to buy next.

I know it’s overgeneralized and you may be the exception. But are you really the exception or do you just not want to face that it’s all more talk than anything else? That you sing those songs because they are on screen not because you really believe it.

How many time have you heard/read the call to a different life and known for sure that’s what Jesus has called you to and done nothing about it? The prayer, this post, just another in a long list of times you said you’re in and then stopped short of change.

A house isn’t wrong, saving isn’t wrong but so often we talk all this great talk about living the life Jesus called us to. We even talk about how hard it should be.

But we keep going back to a life that’s not that hard. Not full of sacrifice and love and grace for others. Just full of more reasons why we can’t and quiet hopes that Jesus wouldn’t really ask you to give this up.

He wouldn’t really ask for everything, it’s just something we say right?

Like the prayers we just say, He didn’t really mean it right?

He did.

My point isn’t to shame or guilt you into change. I hope that’s not what you see here. My point is for you to reflect. To be honest with where you’re at when it comes to the life Jesus called you to. Maybe you’re not ready, maybe you’re not sure this is really where you want to go. That’s fine. Maybe this is the time you finally make the change. That’s great too.

It’s about being honest with where you’re at and honest with God. Honest with how far you’re willing to go at this point. Honest about what’s really Gods. Honest about how much you really want to give up and what small step you’re ready for.

And maybe you’ll be a little more careful next time you sing a declaration or repeat back a prayer that you have no intention of fulfilling.

Because you’re not just lying to yourself are you?  I’m not just lying to myself am I?

you don’t have to change

People say change is inevitable.

It can’t be stop and it’s going to happen.

While that may be true for the greater world you can choose not to change. Sometimes that’s a really good thing. I will love my wife and my children every day for the rest of my life. I’m made that choice and I will make that choice every day. I refuse to change.

I shouldn’t eat hot dogs. They are all kinds of terrible and even I would struggle to say with a straight face that are anything other than horrible for you. But I refuse to give them up.

I will not give up hot dogs.

Some change is good some is bad.

Giving up hot dogs would be good.

Not loving my family bad.

So on principal there is nothing wrong with the concept of saying I will not change. But how do we know if we’re making the right choice when we refuse to change in an area?

This drifts back to one of my favourite spaces and one of the odder stories about myself I’ve shared.

I think this is the time for the hard self-reflection I think Jesus has called us to. The difficult process of saying “who am I really?” Not who do I want to be or who do I wish I was or who do I tell everyone I am but who am I really.

I’ve talked about this before. It’s a horrible process.

But how can we talk about change in our life if we don’t even know where we are starting from?

How can we decide if we need to be more loving, generous, and gracious if we don’t know how those elements of our lives manifest themselves NOW.

One of the ways you can do this is to start with who you think/say you are and work backwards.

Go ahead give it a go now.

Who do you say you are? Write it down with each note of who you are on a new line.

It may look like this:

A father

A Christian

A friend

Someone who cares about community

Someone who cares about the environment

Someone who is healthy

Someone who is gracious…

Now write beside everything you’ve written what a person, not you, but a person who is a “someone who is healthy” would live like.

Do you do that? Are those really that person?

I remember the first time I did some of this type of reflection one of the things that stood out was a claim that I am a healthy person.

Problem was I wasn’t.

I love pizza, hot dogs, beer and sitting on my couch.

So I had to decide am I a healthy person or not?

This led me to make changes. I started riding an exercise bike in my livening room every day. But I also refused to give up parts of the old me.

So there I am sitting on an exercise bike, playing video games, drinking a beer.

Can you picture this?

My mother in law walked into our home and I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone more confused.

But that was who I am. I’m someone trying to be healthier who still loves video games and beer.

But it was honest and real. I wasn’t lying to myself anymore.

So maybe none of this compassion stuff is really interesting to you. Maybe you don’t change because you are actively refusing to like I actively refuse to change when it comes to loving my family. Maybe you don’t think this is really what your life is supposed to be or what Jesus has called you to.

Just make sure that the things you refuse to give up aren’t the hot dogs of your life.

Or at the very least be honest that you’d rather have hot dogs than be compassionate

but change sucks

I talked on Monday about a change to this space.

I’m hoping the change to this space will in turn make a small change in you.

I think when we talk about change and growth and goals it can get really scary really quick. It may just be me but when I start to think about change my mind goes all the way.

Jesus called us to be generous with all we have soooooooooo do I have to sell my house?

Jesus called us to connect with those who are marginalized by society sooooooooooooo do I just go sit on the streets at night to find some marginalized people?

Jesus calls us to a life of grace soooooooooooo do I always have to let everything go?

It gets so big so fast.

It gets so daunting.

It gets so impossible.

I think it’s a strategy I’ve developed so that I don’t have to change. It’s a tool I use to justify my lack of change.

I’m just not in a place where I can give up my house yet so I’ll pray and connect with God and hope I can be there one day. All the while I’m doing nothing. I’m not really praying and connecting more and because the idea of generosity leads, in my mind, to giving up my house I do nothing.

It causes me to be stagnate.

And then I come and write here that I want to live a life of compassion. That I want to be more generous and build relationships and share God’s amazing grace.

Soooooooooooo what do we do? How do we reconcile our minds to our hearts?

We start. We start with small things that are direct and attainable. We start with things that are totally achievable. We share our experience in community to be encouraged and to be challenged.

We stop making excuses about being ready and how much it’s going to cost in the end. We stop making it so much bigger and impossible. It’s and act of will. A choice that say’s we control our actions and I’m purposing myself to be the person I tell myself and others I am.

We find something we can do and we do it. We trust to the process and believe that there is value in effort and that God honours our hearts desire to be close to Him and the life He’s called us to. We understand that small steps are part of the process. We look at the next step and not the big scary end.

So if I didn’t convince you yesterday, go say Hi to some people.

a small but exciting change

This week marks a small change. I hope it’s a good thing.

If you’ve ever checked out the About tab you’ll notice that one of the many ways I spend my time is as the Compassion Coordinator for the Kitchener site of the Meeting House.

My involvement with the Meeting House was one of the reasons I started writing again.

This Sunday we shared with the church that we are starting a new site wide compassion project and I wanted to invite everyone here to join us.

Every week from now until the end of the year we have a tangible compassion action that people can interject into their everyday life. The idea is to give everyone some easy points to start moving towards the life marked by compassion. They are just starting points, some of which I’ve mentioned here before.

I hope you jump in with me and do these.

Every Monday I’m going to share what the plan is for that week and then on Friday I’m going to share what my week was like. I’d love to hear if you’re trying these and what your experience was like.

Since I’m doing something different Monday and Friday my normal Monday and Friday stuff will be pushed to Tuesday and Thursday.

That’s right you’re stuck with me every day of the week now. Try to contain you obvious excitement.

So to start this all off, something super easy.

Say Hi to everyone you pass on the street his week.

I obviously stole this idea from my wife. Is that considered stealing? I gave her credit so I think I’m good.

If you don’t know what this is Sarah’s idea, check out here, here and here to find out why my wife is awesome.

So this week if you’re getting out of your car at home say hi to your neighbour.

Walking the dog, say hi to everyone who passes.

I bike home from work twice a week so I’m going to try and say hi to everyone I pass. It may be super strange but I’m going to try.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. Some of you will be drawn into conversations and relationships you never thought you would. Others might get some death stares. You may just get series of awkward smiles and Hi’s back. All of those are good.

This is about getting out into community and expanding your relationships outside of what is easy and comfortable.

Check back Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for my regular posts and then again on Friday to hear how my week went.

I’m really excited about this. I’m excited to hear your stories. I’m excited to do this with community. I’m excited to see how this will impact my life.

I hope you’re excited too!