Archive for April, 2015

A safer place to suffer

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Mental health seems to be a topic of concern nowadays.  While the sphere of discussion is broad, there is a point of contact for me in the whole area of grief and suffering, stress and transition.

I recently listened to a mental health webinar (a seminar on the web – without the interaction and sense of presence found in an actual face-to-face session – an information session and not an interaction time – a rant for another day!). 

One speaker made the point that the church should be a “safer place to suffer.”

Tullian Tchividjian (in an article in the latest Prairie’s Servant Magazine, p. 12) makes the following statement about being in “church”

When an admission of suffering or weakness is interpreted as a lack of faith, honesty soon falls by the wayside, leaving the sufferer lonelier than before.

The church (the people, not the building) needs to be as safe, or safer than the bar, or the local service club, or the neighbours next door.  We need to believe that God is not surprised by pain and suffering and their consequences.  We don’t need to deny them either.  A listening ear is paramount.  A recognition of the anger and trauma of loss is necessary.

We have heard that for some time.  Hopefully our practice is improving.

The other side to this is when a sufferer quickly steps out and returns to a “normal” approach to life.  Corney’s wife died, and within a very short time he was again greeting people at the door to the church.  His enthusiasm was catching and he was the encourager, instead of the one needing encouragement. 

Soon an underground discussion started, trying to find ways to “help” Corney deal with his loss.  He should be grieving, he should be sad, he should be . . .

Corney was fine – the others weren’t.  Sometimes a safer place to suffer means letting go of our ideas of the timeline of sorrow, and exploring with honesty a person’s current life.

That’s when we can be a safer place to suffer!

A safe place to suffer

Monday, April 27th, 2015

What is a church?

There are many facets to that question.  There is the theological view of the bride of Christ.  There is the social view of the body of Christ.  There is the vocational view of the spiritual gifts.  This could go on.

I want to focus on a phrase I heard just recently. 

The church is a safe place to suffer.

Unfortunately for many years we have lived with the idea of the church being a safe place to pretend you weren’t suffering.  We all showed up trying to be perfect.  We seldom shared our problems or hurts.  And heaven forbid (quite literally) that sin would be found amongst us!

After years in the church (and as other older saints will testify), the best place to be is the church.  When the church recognizes that none of us are perfect.  Yes, we are all desirous of being holy, as God is holy.  But, we fall and fail.  Others trespass upon our fragile souls and crush us and cause us to lose faith.  We cannot see the future because we are presently overwhelmed.

The church then grabs a hold of us, and lifts us up – in word and in deed.  And encourages us to continue on. 

That is a safe place to suffer.  That is the church.

Shame and fame – Part 2 (or is that three . . . )

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

I have been captivated by our society’s obsession on fame and shame. 

We desire to create celebrity in every area and avenue of our society.  For those who are heavily into the idea of excellence, we have a business, sports and arts awards system.  For those who are into equality, we create a system where everyone gets an award.

The point is – fame is an investment we would all like to have shares in.  We all want to be honored by someone.  Because we have lost faith in God, we do not allow ourselves to be honored by God.  Our society is fickle – that has gone on for millenia (check out Jesus from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday).  Our own small circle of friends is probably the closest we come to being a place where we expect honor.  Facebook and other social media have “outed” that thought – too many friends are skin deep only and are willing to expose us to ridicule and shame.

So all that leaves as far as fame is ourselves.

Not a pretty picture. 

For you and I are fragile.  We are made from dust and when we die we go back to dust.  If all we can live for is the fact that we are here, if there is nothing beyond this life, and in this life there is no permanence or true recognition outside of ourselves (for when we die, if we are the only ones who honored us, our legacy will die with us) – why continue on?

I dreamt/ had a vision when I was young.  This vision has shaped my life. 

I was looking at a my upcoming career (I was 17 at the time).  I wondered about becoming a manager in a business – like my youth sponsor from our church.  A voice kept asking me if this was a true contribution to the world, and a thing that I should put my life into.  In the vision, I compared the longevity of that business to that of working for the church – which had eternal roots and would always be there.  The choice was obvious.  And the vision vanished!

At the time, I did not realize that this was a matter of fame and shame.  As I approach retirement, I see that I was being directed to consider receiving honor, not from a worldly human organization, but from an eternal divine organization.  In that way, any shame that may have been heaped upon me for following / being employed by the church would not be able to stand the honor that would be lavished on me by God.

40 years later, I’m still affected by the recognition that in God I am recognized.  Not for the work that I have done – although this is a part of judging my commitment to God and this career path.  Rather, I am recognized because God chose to recognize me and to give me honor, and to adopt me into his family and kingdom.

Well, that is a lot of words – more than my usual amount.

This essay on fame and shame is also a first attempt to philosophize and organize some of my thoughts in a written form on a public forum.

I’d love to hear if you have comments.  I’m sure there are points where I need to be clearer (or just plain explain what on earth I just said).  And perhaps there are points that made sense that need expansion.

Thanks.

Infinity and our puny ask

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

From a committee meeting (which sometimes can actually be very productive!)

Oftentimes we begin our prayers for God’s blessing of resources with grasping for a certain amount – in dollars, volunteers, materials.  We are expecting that God will have to really work to help us out – we can hardly believe that God would be able to supply that amount.

What if we began with the resource pool as our first understanding.  Let’s remember that God has infinite supplies.  They are there for the asking.  Our prayer is not to knock breathlessly awaiting an answer for our “request for funds”.  Our prayer should be to make sure we know what to ask for, and why we are asking.  Get the request aright and the resources are ours.

Not a bad approach.

With a never ending love

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

Last night out AWANA children were led through the Lord’s prayer.  When we came to the end, they were asked what “forever and ever” meant.

Their answer was quite simple – time never ends.

Simplicity is great, especially from children.  Until you try to picture what that means.

I’ve been trying.

Longer than my dad’s life span – who lived to 91 (almost).  I watched him for almost six decades of my life.  He seemed always to have an endless quality about him.

His last days were more than a little disconcerting to me.  The thought became very real – he would  not live forever.

I read the Bible through quite regularly.  I’ve tried to think through the ages of those early saints (and some quite obvious sinners!).  As I’ve wrapped my head around a few millenia, forever seems like at least that long. If I could record every day and year, my mind begins to lose count while I trudge through the era of Moses or David or Noah. 

Then I read Genesis 1.  And the millenia continue to tumble past my brain cells.  I’m almost comfortable with the age of this earth as being forever.

Until I get to the part where it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  OK, at that point I put a stake down in my timeline. 

And realize that God started before that.  You ask the AWANA kids how old God is – there answer is again quite simple.  “He never was not.”

Now forever just reached past the horizon of my mind. 

I haven’t even tried to go the other way, into the future!

From beginning to end, God is.  He started with ultimate power, He is in charge of everything, and He sets the standard for all that is good, right, just, pure, compassionate, giving, . . . 

“For Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever!”

Give more than you get

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

I preached on this a few years ago.

What if we cleaned out our houses – giving away all sorts of things that are not necessary (or maybe putting them on a garage sale site!)?  What if we increased our church giving every year by 1%?  What if, every time we bought something, we gave something away??

I know that is radical.  And counter to a consumerist, greedy society.

Recently I sat with two of my sisters.  We were talking about our parents and their philosophy on life.  If there was a need, they went about finding ways to care for that need – from the abundance that they had.  They bought a furnace for a church that was just starting.  They paid an outrageous amount of money to help a Bible College that was in need of expanding.  They gave money to each of us children to help us through rough patches. 

God is stretching all of us to live outside our boundary points.  When the town of Kindersley set up lots, they put a stake on each corner of the lot.  All you needed to do was find the metal post and you knew how you were being limited.   

I think God calls us to live outside our self imposed boundaries – to live by faith.  We have driven stakes into the ground over the years, saying this is as far as I will go.  Perhaps we have been hurt.  Perhaps we want financial stability.  Perhaps we just like being comfortable.

I wonder if it is time to find each of those stakes and ask God if maybe we need to move those stakes a little further out!

Crossing over – the Saskatchewan ferry ride adventure

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Saskatchewan has a few “grid road” ferries.

These are not the fancy ferry of the East or West Coast, or even the Great Lakes.  They accommodate four cars in an open space.   The controls are situated on a panel as wide as your arm spread and as tall as your head.  The captain moves the handles for motion an arms length from your car window.   

Speaking in the town of Leader gave us an opportunity to head out on a Sunday afternoon drive.  We skittled (great word, nothing to do with Skittles) eastward down the road for a half hour.  Our tour then led us through the town of Lancer – described by our Sunday morning congregation as “true small town” and “very quiet.”  No traffic jams here – in fact, I wasn’t sure the stop sign off Main Street was even needed!

The return route would take us back in a U shape because of “The River”.  Unless . . . we used a prairie ferry, cutting across The River, providing a straight line to our destination.  We noted the sign to “Lemsford Ferry” showed that the winter season was over and the ferry was ready for passengers (OK, the sign just said that it was open). 

The dust plumed out from the back of the car as we headed down the gravelled road.  As we came to the ferry, a car was just disembarking.  We were able to get on the deck of the boat immediately.  The apparent heavy traffic flow was an illusion.  The ferry captain explained that the business of the day was not so much cars going across the water as the cell phone ringing asking if the ferry was open. 

As we reached the other side, my wife mentioned that this was the first time she had ever taken a Saskatchewan ferry.  For the approximate seven minutes the ride took, this was the ultimate adventure of the day.

May you find a great adventure today – just something that may be ordinary to others but can put a thrill back into your life!

Down the road

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

I’m am looking very much forward to worshipping with a new congregation today.  Leader is just an hour down the road, but in the past ten years, I have never attended a Sunday morning service there.

My own responsibilities, up until this point, have meant I was either at the Kindersley Alliance Church, or taking holidays somewhere else.

Now, I am able to take a weekend here and there.  Where I can preach or serve in other churches.

Leader holds an interesting background for me.  In the late ‘70’s I was leading a youth group in Kindersley.  We prepared a play that we took down to leader.  Was it professional?  No.  Were all the lines right?  No.  What was right was the heart of the actors and the reception of the audience.

From that church, we also had opportunity to provide an hours long ride to a youth conference for one interested youth.  His name was Mark Bergen.  He is now pastoring the Prince Albert Alliance Church, where I formerly worked.

In the late 00’s (not quite sure how you write that), I met Jessica Kiunga, who hailed from Leader.  She became a vibrant part of our congregation before moving up to Prince Albert.  And recently our Alliance pastor’s wife in Rosetown also hails from Leader.  Can anything good come from Leader?  YES!

And so, I head to Leader to speak and to enjoy a time together with them.  Should be good!

Inventory

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

Spring cleaning. 

I’m trying to find space for many things that have accumulated over the years.  Amalgamating the resources of two families, caring for materials from two estates of which I am an executor (and a third estate on the way), and my own immediate family’s stuff creates an indistinguishable mound in the basement.

And that mound needs definition.  So I have been attempting an inventory on one of those mounds. 

The effort returned me to thoughts of my archival studies.  We would seek out provenance, assure ourselves of the warehoused location, and then write an extensive description of the materials.

Maybe I’m getting old.  I know where the stuff came from, I know where it is and all I need to describe it is a picture.

So, I’ve spent the last day or so laying out the resources on the table, taking a photo with my phone, and passing on the information to anyone who could help me with the old question:  “What do I do with this?”

For those of you who think this is even too extensive – who would rather just throw the whole thing out (based on the years the boxes have not been opened) – this is fun for me!

At the end of the other day, my wife asked me if I was tired.  I had to answer honestly.  I was exhilarated.  Today I’m up early once again, ready to have fun.

Let’s see what is at the bottom of the well!

Six years later

Friday, April 17th, 2015

I preach in a town an hour away (Leader) on Sunday.  The request came as their pastor is currently on a mission trip to Niger.

I began to cast through my memory and find some thoughts that have stuck with me over the years.  Psalm 90 kept surfacing.

In an effort to see what I have preached on the topic, I went looking for a sermon I knew I had preached (I have a small card detailing the main points).  Apparently, for all my filing abilities, that particular sermon is not to be found.

So I had to actually rewrite the sermon – based upon a few words on a card and a whole Psalm in the Bible!  Not a bad approach.  I look back over the past six years and can see these prayers have stretched my life.  Here are the main thoughts from Psalm 90:13-17:

    • Surprise me with your love
    • Give me as many good days as bad days
    • Show me what you are doing
    • Captivate me with your majesty
    • Make my work meaningful

Should be an interesting Sunday!