more than just my feelings

I would love a wider breadth of worship music on a Sunday.

I’ve got a bunch of personal reasons why I’d like more variety and why the lack of variety frustrates me. That said, there is more to my frustration than simply my own personal desire for a space and time that reflects my experience.

Essentially this is not just about me. At least, that’s how the story goes in my mind so hopefully there is some truth to it.

There are some really important practical problems with an always up beat worship experience.

I think that we teach theology, expectations and actions in our worship. And if I’m right then perhaps we should spend more time critically thinking about the worship we present at church.

If worship teaches theology was does it teach?

That God makes us feel good.

That God will come.

That God fixes.

That God changes everything for the better.

This theology will directly impact expectations. However I’m not particularly worried about the expectations of the church. Those are absolutely skewed but the church, for the most part, knows when it’s being serious and when it’s being more rhetorical.

For those new to our spaces however, this may pose a problem.

What does it say to someone who comes to church broken and looking, sings songs about how God will comes, how he will fix and how everything will be better. Then reflects back on their life months later to see the same brokenness present. What happens when they see that their life isn’t perfect and mended? What happens when they stand in a service look around at all the other “happy” people and realize they are alone? What has to go through their mind?

What didn’t I do?

Why doesn’t God love me like them?

Why isn’t God fixing it?

Does God even care?

Is God even real?

Maybe it’s a step to far. But I doubt it.

If every Sunday we drill the theology of happy people living happy lives because God has made it that way this expectation will happen.

All because we couldn’t be open and honest without pain. All because we want to be happy on a Sunday rather than real.

And this leads nicely into my last thought (almost like I planned it).

In worship we talk about doing a lot of things; raising hands, bowing our knee, giving over our lives, trusting God, etc.

How many of them do we actually do? Some church are better than others but there aren’t many where people literally bow their knee when they say they are bowing before Christ.

We just talk about all the things we do and then wonder why we can’t get people involved in each other’s lives. Why we can’t build spaces that people feel safe to be open about their doubt and pain. Why we can’t get people to volunteer or to give back to their community or talk to their neighbour or do literally anything that would bring them closer to being like Christ.

It’s so pervasive it’s almost like there is something happening every Sunday teaching them and encouraging them to say one thing and do another. Something teaching them to hide the honest reality of their life because somewhere it’s being reinforced that the honest expression means they don’t know God or worse God isn’t even there.

Thank goodness we’d never do something like that every single Sunday…

our love has a limit

For something that is supposed to be so naturally human we struggle with love.

Not the idea, we get it. But being love to someone? We struggle.

We understand that Jesus loved everyone and called us to do the same. We understand that He died for us in large part because He loves us. We know the verses that talk about how we are to follow His example and how people will know we are His disciple by our love.

We get it as an abstract concept but when it comes to real life it really breaks down.

This seems to be the underlying issue to me. While we would say “Jesus has called us to love everyone” we follow that up with a really reasonable and practical “expect _______.”

Of course we don’t say it that way. Let’s be honest, we’re more clever than that. Our brains wouldn’t allow for that kind of a statement. We need a better frame to allow us to accept that “love everyone but _____” proposition.

We talk about accountability.

We talk about holiness.

We talk about how we cannot condone sin.

We talk about plain reading of the scriptures.

We talk about justice.

We talk about when Jesus said “go and sin no more.”

But here’s the problem. We aren’t the woman caught in adultery and we aren’t Jesus. We are the religious leaders of the day. We are the ones dragging people in front of Jesus hoping He will condemn them. We are the ones using the law and the rules to dehumanize and belittle people.

We are the ones who refuse to see all the ways we’ve missed Christ in our own lives and point out the flaws in everyone else.

Yes Jesus tells the woman to go and sin no more. But it’s Jesus who tells her. It’s when she meets and connects with Jesus she leaves with the call to sin no more.

We are the ones in power, we are the ones trying to maintain the system, we are the ones raging against the outside world hoping it conforms to us and condemning it when it doesn’t.

We could be Jesus in this story.

But too often I think it’s just too satisfying to be right rather than to be love.

not more but how

Things always get strange when money comes into it. I don`t know why but it just does.

The idea for this week was to take the money you would spend on yourself and spend it on others. I did that but it was far from a perfect science.

Ultimately I found that I’m still fairly selfish. I’m happy to be generous with others and to give, but when it comes to money I still want for myself.

Here’s what I mean.

There were all kinds of opportunities to be generous and I took a bunch of them. No problem. A couple times I thought, I’m going to get a coffee, then didn’t and spent the money on someone else. Good it worked.

But when I checked my wallet at the end of the week I spent more than I usually do. Great right? More generous than I usually would be.

Well, sort of.

I just spent more. I was generous with other people and gave money away. But in the end I probably only didn’t spend the money on myself twice. 2 coffee’s I didn’t get. In all the other instances I spent the money I wanted to spend on myself and then also made a point of being generous too.

Kind of an odd response, especially considering it was my idea.

I suppose it’s a good first step. I was more generous with the people I my life than I normally would be. But I still felt like I needed to spend money on myself. I couldn’t just for one week leave myself totally out of it and be entirely generous.

I have no idea if it’s good or bad but it’s something for me to think and reflect on. If in the end I only had $10.00 would it go to me or someone else? Or would I try to rationalize why I should split it?

I don’t know.

So we’ll call this week a successful failure. I did it and I was more generous, but I’m not sure I ended up in the space or mindset I was hoping for. I’m going to ponder it some more and hope that I can really start to put others before my need for coffee or whatever else I bought. It’s not about spending more but how I spent what I have.

So many baby steps.

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.

sometimes…

I so want you to care about this.

I so want this to mean something to you.

I so want this life for you.

I so want you to want this life.

 

Why is it so hard?

Why doesn’t God make this easier?

Why isn’t this just how we are?

Why do we need to change?

 

What am I doing wrong?

What is it that I can’t show you?

What is it that I can’t teach you?

What is it I can’t help you to feel?

What am I missing?

 

Sometimes when all of these thoughts come I don’t know what to do. I just want to yell. I want to shake people. I want to press and be harsh. I want to scream. I want to leave people where they are because that’s all they want anyway. I want to not come back to someone who is content with what seems to me like a life that’s just existence. I don’t want to meet them where they are at, I want to drag them to what’s better. I want just loving people to not be enough. I want an excuse or reason or permission to make people a project because that is so much easier. I want love to be easier. I want life to be easier, mine and theirs. I want to give up on people. I want to just care about me.

I just thought you may appreciate knowing how I feel about compassion sometimes.

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?

I don’t want to do that

This one ended up being more polarizing than I anticipated.

You could just see it in people’s faces when they heard what it was.

“Oh……that’s a neat idea, within reason.”

What if some knows?

What if someone takes advantage of me?

What if I don’t want to?

What if I can’t afford to?

Yup!

The idea this week is to choose a time block, the morning, 4pm-6pm, every day this week and say yes to every request that comes.

You can see why the within reason statement comes in now.

I’ve listed a bunch of what ifs that can run through your mind. But I think it ultimately boils down to one.

What if God wants me to do something I don’t want to do?

And now you know why I picked this activity.

we gave it up

I want you to live a life of compassion.

I honestly and truly believe it’s the life we were created to live. It’s the way we are the best versions of ourselves. We find the greatest depth in life when we live an other centred life. Life lived in community is best. Groups of people living lives marked by grace and love for each other and their neighbours creates a communities people want to be a part of.

But it’s not without its costs.

This week I want to look at what some of those costs are. I’m big into transparency. I try my best to be open and honest about every aspect of my life. This space is littered with my failures and flaws. I don’t hide how and what I am, at least I try not to.

In the same way I don’t want you to start into this life not realizing what it may cost.

This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned cost, but it bears reminding.

When thinking about cost if can’t help but come back to Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he wrote “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This resonates with me in a way that’s hard to describe.

It almost haunts me.

I understand it, I believe it, I just didn’t realize it when I started down this path. I knew that God called all of us not just parts but I didn’t grasp the extent to which all means….well all I guess.

I wonder when it will end. When will I have given enough?

“God wouldn’t ask me to give up ____ would he?”

And that’s the point of this week. Not to discourage you but that you know what you’re in for.

One of the things you’ll need to die to is the approval of others. Not everyone, but most.

The approval of my wife matters a great deal to me, as it should. We’re a team doing life together. If she doesn’t approve of what I’m doing or who I am, it’s because I’m doing something stupid. But I can’t live my life in search of the approval of everyone.

It might be odd to talk about the approval of others when we started with the idea of being other centred but it’s very present and it’s subversive to what we’re doing.

Ironically one of the ways we can strive for approval is one of the biggest parts of this entire journey, sharing our story.

Ever hear someone tell a story about what they’re doing and walk away not feeling encouraged that you can do the same but rather that the story teller seems to think rather highly of themselves?

It’s not hard to boast in our compassion.

It’s not hard to talk down to people who are new to the idea and the life style.

It’s not hard to judge those who don’t agree with you or do as much as you think you do.

It’s not hard to share all the amazing things you’re doing hoping to hear “wow that’s amazing. I don’t think I could do that” or “I hope I can be more like you” or just simply so that everyone knows how good you are. Specifically how much more good you are than them.

So what do we do? How do we share stories but not boast and seek approval?

Two steps.

First, whenever possible share someone else’s story.

Talk about this amazing person you’ve meet and what they are doing. Share stories from people in your community doing something cool. You don’t have to share names, it’s about the story not the person.

“I was talking with this guy who…”

“A heard about this family in my church who is…”

If you don’t have one from a friend, share yours but don’t say it’s yours. Tell it as though it’s someone else’s. Let it be about the story and not you.

The second, which is admittedly more difficult, is to quickly reflect on why.

Why are you telling this story? What are you hoping will happen? Will this build up the listener or build up you?

This means there will be times you don’t share your story. It means there will be amazing things you do that no one knows about.

And it’s not because what you did isn’t worth sharing. It just means that in certain situations with certain people sharing becomes boasting and we shift from other centered to ego centred.

It’s the times you hear others boasting all the good work they do and you want to jump in.

It’s the times you hear someone talking and you want to put them in their place because they aren’t as good as they say they are or really doing all the much.

It’s the times you force in a story about how great you are when the conversation never allowed it.

It’s the times that you are the center.

We don’t get to be the center anymore. We gave it up.

And sometimes when you haven’t’ heard a thank you in months, you are struggling to keep putting others first, you are biting your tongue and responding with grace you just want to shout:

YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MUCH I GIVE OF MYSELF!

WHY DOES NO ONE CARE!?

IS THIS WORTH IT!?

I think it is. I think this is the life we were made to live.

It’s not the easiest life, but it is the life of greatest depth and the one I think Christ has called us to.

door to door

I had someone come to my door yesterday. They were from Amnesty International. They were going door to door asking people to support Amnesty International in their efforts in Syria.

As she left I said “try to stay dry” and she responded with “I’m out here trying to help with human rights, what’s a little rain?”

This brought three things to mind for me so I thought we’d work through them this week. It’s amazing how something so small can make you think so much. That or I’ve just got some sort of cognitive problem that I should see someone about.

It’s probably the second one.

The first thing I pondered on after she left was “should I have given her some money?”

I didn’t.

Was I wrong?

For someone who talks about generosity I was strikingly ungenerous.

I’d made up my mind when she came to the door. I don’t have money for this.

I didn’t consider it might be an opportunity from God. I didn’t pray or search my spirit to see if this is something God was leading me in. It was someone at the door soooooo be polite and get out of the conversation as fast as possible.

Just like Jesus would do.

But the larger question is do you have to give every time? How do you know when to give?

I said that we already have charities we support. They work building community and capacity. They are organizations that speak to our hearts. When I started to speak I made up my mind not to argue. I wasn’t going to get into if one was better or worse. I decided I wouldn’t discuss which was more deserving. Luckily she didn’t’ push.

The point isn’t to judge which is better. Aiding those in what will probably soon be classified as a genocide, that’s always good.

Taking those shunned by their community and giving them a chance to be productive for the first time in heir life? Also good.

Giving someone who’s never had the resources to support their family that chance? Good choice.

See it’s all good. There is so much good working going on.

Back to the question of action.

It starts with a wiling heart, which mine was not when that young lady came to the door. It starts with a sensitivity to the ask and the heart of God.

So back to my response. No is entirely ok, if you at least consider the question. I didn’t. So I was wrong this time.

That said, all your resources are going to other meaningful work? Great, thank you for getting involved.

But if that young lady comes to your door and not only do you say no to her you say no to all of the calls to support justice, love, peace and the work of God?

Point blank, you’re doing something wrong.

to long

 

Writing about expectations the other day reminded me of story.

It was a Sunday morning and my father was preaching. I have no idea what he was talking about. I’m sure it was stirring. At the close of the service, I’m not sure how it happened but a group had gathered at the front to pray for my dad. He’d been ill for years at this point.

It was a passionate group. They prayed with depth and hope and cried out for God to move.

After they were done a wise friend came up to my dad and said “there’s a lot of pressure on you now isn’t’ ere?”

Didn’t see that coming.

I have a very close friend who deals daily with a persistent illness. She told me that she no longer ask for prayer at her bible study. She did for a while and people were full of passion and hope for her, but as she continued to not get better she started to feel uncomfortable asking.

She felt that everyone was tired of praying the same prayer and frustrated with HER that she wasn’t better.

I’ve felt this way a bunch. You can see the eyes roll before you even ask. Somehow the choice of God not to move slowly became the result or choice of the one being prayed for.

It goes like this.

Pastor teaches people to pray. Pastor tells people that God is good and full of grace and hope.

Pastor gets ill. People pray.

Nothing happens.

People pray. Nothing happens.

How long until people get frustrated? How long until they not only question but question the pastor?

How long until the bible study stops praying with passion and hope for the ill. How long until they are frustrated and tired of the same pain and same despair every week? Seriously how long can someone expect us to keep praying for them and supporting them when they’re ill? Life and people have to move on, right?

Your life and focus might change and shift and to be honest the ill person’s life has changed too because once they had community and support and now by simply being ill for too long they lose community too.