Saturday, February 21, 2009

Saturday's Song - "Never Let Go"

For Christmas, Bridgette bought me the "new" David Crowder CD - Remedy. It took a few listens, but I'm pretty happy with it. In particular, the 5th song on the album, Never Let Go, has struck me and I think it's my favourite. It's a piano driven ballad of sorts and as I told Bridgette the other day, I think Crowder is at his (their) best on these types of songs. When it requires reaching inside and finding that deep passion, those songs are their best. But what might be the coolest part about the song is how Brennan has gotten into it. He now regularly sings the chorus "you never let go, never let go, never let go-o-o"

It's a simple song with a powerful message - no matter what happens, God doesn't let go. It's one message that I hope my boys learn as they grow up. God loves them, and no matter what happens, God will not let go of them...

When clouds veil sun
And disaster comes
Oh, my soul
Oh, my soul
When waters rise
And hope takes flight
Oh, my soul
Oh, my soul
Oh, my soul

Ever faithful
Ever true
You I know
You never let go
You never let go
You never let go
You never let go...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Proud to be a Canadian

If I wrote a blog for every time I got bagged on because I'm Canadian, I'd probably have 1000 posts by now, so I feel it's ok every few months or so to post something. I happened to come across a great article today from the Christian Science Monitor, via Google News, all about Obama's visit to Canada, but more specifically, about the difference between the Canadian economy & the US economy in light of the global economic recession. There were a few things that caught my eye:

"Canada's largest five banks reaped profits of $8.2 billion, the top five US banks lost a combined total of $8.3 billion last year."

"For 12 consecutive years, Canada has posted budgetary surpluses, compared with the $1 trillion US federal deficit – a figure that doesn't include the $787 billion stimulus package signed into law this week."

"healthcare costs are lower in Canada, accounting for 9.7 percent of the GDP, compared with 15.2 percent in the US."

That last one is particularly telling. I hear over and over how "bad" the healthcare system is in Canada - particularly from middle class & upper middle class people who have never experienced Canadian healthcare or the enormous problems on the US side. Everyone's got "a friend" or some story about somebody being denied treatment or some crap about having to wait months for some surgery or something. I spent the first 19 years of my life living in Canada and never once heard a story like that. I've had family go through cancer treatment, heart surgery, stoke recovery & long-time assisted care and I've seen the same in the US as a pastor. The only major difference is that it costs an arm and a leg to get the kind of care here in the US that you get in Canada.

So, laugh all you want to, the truth is, I can take pride in the fact that Canada, more often than you'd like to admit, gets it right. Maybe Obama can learn something from that 2hr visit...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Safe Places & Safe People

A safe place. That’s the concept that is often used to describe a good environment for a youth ministry. I know I used it when I worked with youth to describe our program and I have heard it used on numerous occasions by others. But if we’re being honest, I think a safe place is something that we look for, something that we want, something that we need no matter how old we are. Feeling unsafe often causes us to create different mechanisms, different safe-guards to ensure that we will be safe. We drive through certain neighborhoods and we lock our doors. We enter certain places and we hold our bags a little tighter. We walk into the presence of certain people and we watch what we say. All because we don’t quite feel safe there.

Author Brian McLaren, in his outstanding novel A New Kind of Christian, describes the initial encounter between a struggling pastor and someone who would later become both friend and mentor: “While he walked over to the trash can, I remember a strange feeling coming over me. The best word I can use for it was safety: this guy is safe to talk to – he understands, I thought.”

The church has not always been a safe place. The church IS not always a safe place. I've heard stories in the past from people who have been hurt in various ways by "the church." One of the problems though, is that we often swing the pendulum back too far in response to these "un-safe" experiences. And that's not right either. Often, in order to be perceived as safe people, or as a safe place, we hide behind dishonesty. We project something we're not, we wash ourselves with in-authenticity and we become worthless as witnesses.

What I love about McLaren's book & the relationship between the pastor (Dan) and the teacher, (Neo) is that they argue, they disagree, they even "fight." They're not hiding behind anything, they're real with each other. Neo is safe, and yet there's a bit of him that is un-safe. You can come and talk, but don't expect to leave feeling settled, just the opposite. Neo leaves Dan often feeling unsettled, because Neo's safety is not inauthentic.

In CS Lewis' the Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, there's a great exchange that happens between Lucy and Mr & Mrs Beaver about Aslan:

"if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."
"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

See, Mr. & Mrs. Beaver are safe. But they don't try and wash over the fact that Aslan is scary. They don't pretend he's a pussy cat. He's a lion. To extrapolate that out, I think it's important that we, as Christians provide people both with a safe place & person to talk with & to, but we can't pull punches. God isn't safe. But in this world, safe isn't what we ultimately need. What we ultimately need, is good. And beyond anything else, God is good. Jesus is the ultimate good news. And fortunately for ALL of us, that good news isn't safe to us and our sin...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Driven or Called?

This is the third part of my reflections on Gordon MacDonald's Ordering Your Private World.

"rrrrring!.........rrrrrring!" I'm in the middle of doing the 3rd thing on a list as long as my arm and the phone is ringing. That interruption is not what being a called person is about. MacDonald, in the fifth chapter of his book describes the called person like this:

Called people...possess strength from within, a quality of perseverance and power that are impervious to the blows from without. p.53

When comparing a Driven person to a Called person, the single most important difference is where the drive comes from, where the energy comes from, where the force of engagement comes from. Is it coming from with-out? From somewhere out there? Someone who is pushing you toward some goal? That's being driven. Or is it coming from within? Is there a strength of character, an ability to withstand the pressures and drives from outside and continue to be about the purpose to which one was, wait for it, called?

Using John the Baptizer as his model, MacDonald goes on to describe the attributes of a called person:

1)Called People Understand Stewardship
"The task of stewardship is simply to properly manage something on behalf of the owner until the owner comes to take it back."
This is a very hard concept for us to understand, especially in our buy-now, pay-later culture. We want to own and often grow bored with it before we've even paid for it. I'm certainly guilty of that.

2)Called People Know Exactly Who They Are
"Today in our media-fashioned world many good and talented leaders face the constant temptation to begin believing the text of their own publicity releases."
This is definitely something I am concerned about, when I think of my boys, growing up, seeing "Pastor Daddy" and then seeing "Daddy" at home. I hope they're both the same daddy.

3)Called People Possess an Unwavering Sense of Purpose
This for me is key in differentiating it from being Driven. You always think of purpose and passion as signs of drivenness, but MacDonald wants to remind us that if you're truly called, you understand in a deep way that the call you've received is the most important thing in the world. You run after it with passion.

4)Called People Practice Unswerving Commitment
Here's a great story that MacDonald shares that really explains this:
"Somewhere in my library is a book in which the story is told of an English headmaster who was appointed when he was forty-five years of age. His first act was to write himself a letter to be opened on his sixty-fifth birthday. In it he wrote (and I paraphrase), 'Today you are sixty-five, and it is time to give the task of being headmaster over to a younger person. You will tell yourself that there is no one who can replace you; that the school cannot do without you. But don't believe this self-aggrandizing propaganda.'
Sure enough, when he turned sixty-five and opened the letter, he found that he entertained those exact feelings about his indispensability. But he took his own advice and released the leadership to another. Which is exactly what John [the Baptizer] did [Jesus]."

The biggest thing that I come away from this chapter with is the idea of forethought. With the right preparation, being called is possible. If you have a long-range outlook you can remember you're just a steward, remember who you are, what you're about, and allow you to be committed. For me, the main thing I keep coming back to is the need to give something up. I'm not making more time in my day - it just doesn't happen. And in order to be, well, ordered, I need time. So, I'm gradually being won over to the idea that something, or some things in my life need to be given up so that I can indeed have that privately ordered life...

Part I: Ordering Your Private World
Part II: Symptoms of a Driven Person

Monday, February 09, 2009


Three days of good rhythms
does not a habit make
But one day of abstinence
sure does a habit break

That's a little phrase I just coined, which speaks well to the last half of last week. I'm going to follow-up either this evening or tomorrow morning with MacDonald's description of the Called Person in comparison to the Driven Person, so please stay tuned...

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Symptoms of a Driven Person

This is Part II of my reflections on Gordon MacDonald's Ordering Your Private World.

I don't tend to think of myself as being "driven." Maybe it's my self-critical nature that tells me I'm way to lazy to be driven, or maybe it's my true self that looks beyond that as a mere facade, I'm not sure. But MacDonald has a whole chapter on the symptoms that suggest a person is driven. As I read them, I found myself face-to-face with a lot of similar symptoms in my life. Maybe you may find some too:

1. A driven person is most often gratified only by accomplishment.
"Arrival is everything to this accomplishment-oriented individual; the trip means nothing."
All too often, I travel impatiently, wishing I could beam myself to my destination. check - I'm all about arrival.

2. A driven person is preoccupied with the symbols of accomplishment.

3. A driven person is usually caught in the uncontrolled pursuit of expansion. "Driven people like to be part of something that is getting bigger and more successful."

Numbers, while are not my primary concern, are definitely a force. I'm about to roll out something new here @ Liberty with Adult Discipleship and concepts of growth, expansion and potential have been huge influences in this. check - I'm interested in expansion.

4. Driven people tend to have a limited regard for integrity.
"Because the goal is so important, they drift into ethical shabbiness. Driven people become frighteningly pragmatic."

I don't think I have sacrificed my integrity on the altar of a goal, but I am pragmatic, most of the time.

5. Driven people are not likely to bother themselves with the honing of people skills.

6. Driven people tend to be highly competitive.

Uhhh... yeah. It's possible that nothing has gotten me into more trouble in my life than my competitiveness. Since High School, when a couple of people hit me square between the eyes with this act, I've made serious attempts to control this, sometimes successful, sometimes not-so. check - I'm competitive.

7. A driven person often possesses a volcanic force of anger...
Yes, I have a temper. It doesn't show up too often, probably with Bridgette more than anything/anywhere else, but yes, - check, I have a temper.

8. Driven people are usually abnormally busy, are averse to play, and usually avoid spiritual worship.
"They are too busy for the pursuit of ordinary relationships in marriage, family or friendship, or even to carry on a relationship with themselves-not to speak of one with God."

This maybe more than any other didn't seem to jive with me. I love people, I love to interact with people. I love my wife and my sons. I have some great friends. Then I read on, to see MacDonald say "I have, at one time or another, seen in myself almost all of the traits I have listed." And I had to admit, there have been times where I have been driven to abandon those relationships in the "greater" pursuit of some goal.

Seeing myself as a driven person was and continues to be somewhat of a struggle. What I appreciated most about MacDonald in this respect, is when he diagnosed this in himself, he said this:
"What I had to learn was that my drivenness needed to be consecrated on a daily basis...To ignore the possibility that my life could be taken over by the spirit of drivenness would be to my peril."

I'm going to try to avoid that same peril myself. Maybe you've read this and discovered a certain amount of drivenness in you. Maybe we can all avoid this peril...

Part I: Ordering Your Private World

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Ordering Your Private World

Recently I finished an odyssey that began a couple years ago in completing the classic by Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World. While I like to give some kind of report when I complete a book, I think this one's worth more than a single post, and it really hit home for me today in an odd way. I was doing a mock phone interview for our church's Youth Director search committee and I was asked the question "if you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?" I froze. One thing came to mind that I've been wrestling with for awhile now. But this interview wasn't about me. It was simply a practice for the committee to get a handle on things, their technique, etc. But I couldn't come up with something plausible, so I ended up answering in a round-about-way, to my boss & members of Session & friends (all of whom were on the committee) one of my own, REAL struggles. I shared procrastination, but the heart of it was discipline. And in that raw moment of me being real, I couldn't come up with anything else but that reality because I've been dealing with it - or not dealing with it for awhile now. If I could change 1 thing about myself, I'd be more disciplined. Problem is, unlike winning the lottery, you can't wave a wand & be more disciplined. It's something that comes with work. One that note, here's a couple quotes form the intro of MacDonald's book that hit me as I read them years ago and still pack a particular punch:

"Sadly, we do not have a Christian culture today that easily discriminates between a person of spiritual depth and a person of raw talent."(p5)

Those who brought their lives into discipline or (and this is a favorite word of mine) intentionality would, more than likely, go on to long-term lives of fruitfulness, adn their best years would be in the last half of their lives when discipline and depth paid off. And those like me, who relied heavily upon our natural giftedness, would reach some high point early in our lives and, more than likely, trail off into averageness for the last half of our days on earth." (p6)

If my private world is in order, it will be because I am convinced that the inner world of the spiritual must govern the outer world of activity."(p9)

If my private world is in order, it will be because I make a daily choice to monitor its state of orderliness."(p17)

After this last note, I wrote "-Keep A Journal" It's one of MacDonald's big things and it's something I did years ago, not quite daily, but nearly. I can also think back to my HS days - when I was definitely more disciplined. Finishing this book was great, but going back and re-reading the beginning was a good kick-in-the pants reminder for me...