Saturday, December 29, 2007

just a day of fun

So, I back home . . . tired, sore, and still cold . . . but I just had the best day that I have had in the last little while. My roommates and some of our friends and I just spent the afternoon tobogganing, having snowball fights, and just generally acting like kids again! It was so much fun!!!!! I haven't done any of that stuff in so long . . . and I needed to.

I tend to be someone who takes life pretty seriously (unless I've stayed up all night and I'm running on caffiene . . . which is just scary). And taking life seriously isn't always a bad thing. There are times when it's good to take life seriously. But, I have a tendency, especially when things happen that make life not so easy are going on in my life, to take life too seriously at times.

For the last month or so, since my uncle died, I have taken all of life quite seriously and I haven't had a lot of fun with anything that I've done. But, today, I just let it all go and played int he snow with my friends like I used to when I was a kid. It was so good! And it was so what I needed right now!

I know it's something that I need to learn . . . to not take life too seriously all the time. And today was another step in learning that for me.

All I have to say to close, is that I absolutely love the snow . . . it's the one time when it appears to be OK for adults to act like kids again.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

missions and shadow missions

I was finishing up the book When the Game is over it All Goes Back in the Box by John Ortberg tonight, and a couple of the chapters I read brought me back to something he had spoken about this past summer at Leadership Summit. He talked about the hwole idea that we all have a mission in life, but we all also have shadow mission that distracts us from what we are really called to do in life.

Ortberg talks about how our mission in life is that thing that drives us to do something. Something in the world that causes us to do whatever we can to fix the situations. Something that we can't just leave alone and ignore. Frederick Buechner puts it this way: "The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." Meaning that our mission is something that we know that we need to do and it is something that the world needs to have done.

At one point in his talking about our mission, Ortberg says the following:
If you want a sense of mission to burn brightly in you, spend some time feeding your divine discontent. Usually we try to avoid unpleasantness, but if you have a sense that your mission involves helping the poor, spend time around those in poverty. Allow your emotions to become deeply engaged, and carry with you that fire that things must change.
We need to allow those things that cause us to want to do something to change things to be a part of our lives. It won't always be fun, but by doing this we can live a life that has a purpose that goes beyond making money.

Ortberg also talks about how we have a shadow mission in our lives as well. He describes the shadow mission this way:
Just as we all have a mission - a way of sontributing the God's kingdom that we were designed and gofted for - we also have what might be called a shadow mission. My shadow mission is what I will do with my life if I drift on autopilot. It consists of activities toward which I will gravitate if I allow my natural temptations and selfishness to take over.
When we begin to ignore the mission that God has given us - the divine discontent with the way things are in the world, that is when we get distracted by our shadow mission. Our shadow mission can be seemingly harmless, but it is harmful in that it stops us from doing what we are called to do. Our shadow mission can also be harmful if it draws us into activities that are unhealthy or sangerous.

We all need people in our lives who will call us on it when we begin to get distracted by our shadow mission. People who know us well enough and are comfortable enough with us that they will confront us when we ignore the mission that we have been called for. Often when we get distracted by our shadow mission we won't realize it and we need these people to draw us back to reality.

In the book, Ortberg uses the example of Esther to illustrate this idea. While it may not have looked like it in the beginning, Esther was int he position she was in as queen to be able to help her people - the Israelites - when they needed it. It would have been quite easy for her to get distracted by the fact that she was chosen queen because of her beauty and to just keep on living in the lap of luxury with beauty treatments and riches. But, when the situation arose for her to act, and she was hesistant to do so, she also had someone in her life who was willing to call her on it - willing to keep her from getting distracted by her shadow mission and keep her focused on the mission she now had before her.

All of this has really gotten me thinking about my own life . . . and I hope it will get you thinking about yours.
What is my mission? What it that one that one thing that I cannot leave as it is? What is it that drives me to act?
What is my shadow mission? If I just start going through life on autopilot, what is it that I will tend to do? What will I fill my time with when I just go through life without any thought as to what I am called to do?
Who are the people in my life who will call me on it when I get distracted by my shadow mission? Who knows me well enough to help me identify what God is calling me to do? Who loves me enough to challenge me when I shrink back from what God has called me to do?
My answers to those questions are not coming easily. I have been thinking about them for a while tonight already, and I still don't have all the answers for myself. But I think that they are important for us to ask ourselves.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

reflecting on my own Christmas

So, I'm back home in my apartment . . . no roommates yet . . . and I've been reflecting a bit on today. By all standards it was a good Christmas. I had an amazing day with my family! Lots of fun and laughter and enjoyment of each others company. Even the exchanging of gifts (I'm not usually a fan of this part of the day) was enjoyable . . . and the food was delicious (my Grandma always does an amazing job on the dinner).

But, it was also a strange Christmas . . . it's just a little over a month since my uncle passed away. The first Christmas in a number of years without him . . . seeing his fiance (they never did get married before he died) sitting there at the table alone, with people who have become her family over the past few years. There was something missing this year.

We still had laughter . . . brought on mostly by my cousins' 8-1/2 month old daughter . . . but there was noticeably less of it than there usually is at a holiday with family. It was still good to be together . . . but in everything we did, it felt like there was something - someone - missing.

I think we were all a bit more reflective this year than usual. I mean, we all know that with the age that my cousins and I are we won't all be together at every holiday anymore, cuz we'll have other family commitments as we get married and all that. But, this year was different . . . we were all there, except for one important person . . . and he won't be there next year at Christmas, or at Easter in spring, or Thanksgiving in fall . . . and it doesn't feel right.

But, in the midst of all that today, I had the words to a song that I was listening to as I drove to meet my family for the day running through my head. It's a song written by a friend of a friend from when I was at Briercrest. This song has honestly become one of my favorites and one that has encouraged me a lot in the last month or so. The song is called, When I Walk Through the Dark. Here are the words to the song (I was hoping to upload it, but I couldn't get it to work).

When the pain seems like too much to take
When my heart can't stand enough the break
When the battle's wearing down on me
Stay by my side to comfort and guide me

When my feet don't know which step to take
When my heart's not sure which choice to make
When my eyes are blind to sights I see
Help me to know You're right beside me

Hold my hand when I walk through the dark
Speak my name so I know where you are
With You close I will not wander far away
When I walk through the dark

When the clouds block out the light of day
When the summer skies return to grey
When the rains pouir down and I can't see
Stay by my side, and come through this with me


Cover me, with Your love
I don't want to lose my way
And give up all the good here for me
You have planned what's best for me
So I want to be faithful to You

You are here as I walk through the dark
Your voice says "Child, I know where you are"
With You close I will follow the path You make
And walk on through the dark
Your voice says :Child, I know where you are"
With You close I will not wander far away
When I walk through the dark

The words to the chorus of the song have just become my prayer on so many occassions in the last month, as I have walked through the valley of grief. Sometimes things have seemed pretty dark in the last month . . . and today really could have been another one of those days. Yet, I know that there was joy and excitement in today because God is walking through this valley with us.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

reflections on Christmas

So, I've been thinking a lot about the original Christmas recently. What was it really like? What was really going on?

I think so often our Chrostmas story plays and thoughts sanitize the story to make it more enjoyable. But, in doing that I think we miss some of the significance of the situation in which Jesus, God's Son, came into our world to save us! This wasn't some quaint little story . . . it had a prfound impact on the lives of Mary and Joseph before Jesus even arrived.

We live in a world where a young girl having a child out of wedlock is nothing out of the ordinary, nor is it a bog deal. But, in Israel at that time, it was punishable by death by stoning (literally, having people throw rocks at you). The news that the angel brought Mary was not something that she wanted to hear. This situation would make her an object of a scandalous event and completely destroy her reputation among the people in Israel!

Then there's Joseph. This news from Mary and from the angel put him in a tough spot as well. Mary was pledged to be married to him and now he finds out she's pregnant . . . and he's supposed to believe that this is a child form God, not form another man. What kind of a person would choose to believe that? By staying with Mary and still marrying her, Joseph brought himself into the scandalous situation and allowed his reputation to be destroyed along with hers.

This was no pleasant situation for either of them! Yet, they chose to trust God and follow His plan for their lives and His plan for bringing His Son into the world. They had faith in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Then there is where Jesus was actually born . . . in a stable! This was no easy situation for them either. No warm place to lay the baby or for Mary to rest . . . in the midst of animals and all the noise and smell that goes along with them. This is where the Savior of the world came into this earth.

God could have chosen different circumstances and a better place to send His Son to earth . . . but He didn't! God chose a young unwed teenager and her husband-to-be to carry and raise His Son. God chose a smelly, noisy, dirty stable for the place where His Som would be born.

God sent His Son to be a Savior to all . . . from the lowliest in the world, to the greatest!

I think we can often miss the significance and life-altering circumstances that surrounded the birth of Christ when we watch our Christmas plays and see our nativity scenes. They look so quaint . . . and tidy . . . and everyone looks so serene! But, the original Christmas night was anything but!

Jesus' birth was a life-altering event for the entire world . . . just as it was for Mary and Joseph. Jesus' birth is an even that changed history forever! It is significant! It's not some quaint little story that we read once a year! It matters that it happened! It matters that it happened!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

are we hypocrites?

I'm reading a book called "When the Game is Over it All Goes Back in the Box" by John Ortberg right now. All in all, it's a good book. And I've been enjoying reading it. There is one quote today that really seemed to jump off the page at me.

"The world gets pretty tired of people who have Christian bumper stickers on their cars, Christian fish signs on their trunks, Christian books on their shelves, Christian stations on their radio, Christian jewelry around their necks, Christian videos for their kids, and Christian magazines on their coffee tables but don't actually have the life of Jesus in their bones or the love of Jesus in their hearts."

I started thinking after I read that and realized, sadly, how true that can be. We claim to be followers of Christ, yet we don't do a very good job of actually living the way we are called to live.

I know I can often find myself claiming to be a follower of Christ and yet looking down on those around me rather than loving them with the love of Christ. I've really begun to notice this with where I work now. I claim to follow Christ and have His love in me . . . and yet, I look down on the guy who lives on the street and has an addiction problem who walks through the doors of the Gospel Mission. And, this is nothing new or strange to me wno that I work there. Yet, I do it still. And then, when I do have the time (take the time) to sit down and have a conversation with them I'm reminded that they too are human and need someone to love them.

In a world where it is so easy to claim to be Christian, I wonder if we have lost the importance of living the way that Christ has called us to live. We can put the Christian bumper sticker on our car and play the Christian music as we drive without worry about what the consequences may be for doing so. Yet, we're also the ones yelling at or swearing at the dirvers around us that do something that bothers us. What kind of a picture of Christ are we giving the world?

So much of the teaching in the New Testament focuses on how we are to live as followers of Christ. As I read Scripture, I wonder what we would look like to the world if we actually lived that way:
  • What if we actually sought to serve others rather than be served ourselvse?
  • What if we chose to love ALL PEOPLE - even those who the world would call our enemies?
  • What if we gave generously out of what we have rather than just giving the minimum we can get away with?
  • What if we willingly walked alongside and helped out those around us who are hurting and in need?
I think the world would see us very differently. And we would be finally giving the world an accurate picture of what the Body of Christ - the Church - looks like. The Church is not a building but a group of people sent out to change the world!

I just want to close with that quote from the book again for you to think about:
"The world gets pretty tired of people who have Christian bumper stickers on their cars, Christian fish signs on their trunks, Christian books on their shelves, Christian stations on their radio, Christian jewelry around their necks, Christian videos for their kids, and Christian magazines on their coffee tables but don't actually have the life of Jesus in their bones or the love of Jesus in their hearts."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

your past does not define your future

I've heard that said many times, but the last time I heard it I started to think. It sounds nice . . . what has happened in my life doesn't define who I am in the future . . . but how true is it?

As I thought about it, three Bible people came to mind as examples of the truth of this. The first person being Paul. At one point in his life Paul had been persecuting Christians and trying to stop the spread of Christianity. But, this is also the same person who had an amazing encounter with God and had his entire life changed . . . this man who persecuted Christians became an evangelist and helped to spread the Gospel across the then-known world! Paul's past didn't stop him from what he did with his future.

The second person that I thought of was David - a person described as a man after God's own heart. David had some amazing triumphs in his life and saw his way through some difficult times with God's help . . . but he also had some major screw ups in his life. He committed adultery and then tried to cover it up and when that didn't work he had someone murdered . . . among other things. And yet, he is still remembered as a man after God's own heart and God used him and his decendants in amazing ways. David's past mistakes didn't stop him from what could be in store in his future.

The third person that came to mind was Rahab . . . a prostitute who ended up in Jesus' family tree. She had been living a life of sin, but yet she helped God's people and married an Israelite . . . ending up in Jesus' earthly family line! Her past didn't define her future either.

Being someone who tends to hold on to things that have happened in the past . . . particularily times when I screwed up . . . this was a good reminder to me that God can use everyone no matter what has happened in their past. I mean, I know from my own experience that God can take the situations where I've screwed up and use them to help someone else . . . and yet I still have those doubts that God can use me because of my past.

Now, I know that there are probably some of you who are thinking: "Yes, but what about the effects that past things you've done can have on your life?" Our actions do definitely have consequences that we have to live with in the future. Our past will always have an influence on who we are in the future, because our experiences shape us into the people that we are. But, we aren't held back or prevented from serving God because of our past mistakes. That's the good news here!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

living out what Scripture says

I was reading Romans 12 the other day. As I read I started thinking about what the church would actually look like if we lived these things out. It goes back to the whole idea of authentic community, and how things would look if we were willing to live that way.

But, that wasn't where I stayed. I started thinking about my own life. Romans 12:9-21 contains some practical guidelines for living. As I started to think through each one, I started to realize that I have a long way to go in this area of being able to live and function in the kind of community that God created us for.

"Love must be sincere." (Rom 12:9)
Do I just pretend to love others? Or do I actually love people genuinely - not just because I'm supposed to?

"Hate what is evil; cling to what is good." (Rom 12:9)
Do I hate evil the way that God does? This isn't a hating of a person, but a hate for the evil that happens in this world. Do I cling to - do I desire - what is good?

"Be devoted to one another in brotherly love." (Rom 12:10)
Do I love those around me as brothers and sisters in Christ? Am I willing to put in the effort required to love those around me?

"Honor one another above yourself." (Rom 12:10)
Do I put others before myself? Or do I place msyelf and my desires above those of others? Do I consider others to be more important?

"Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord." (Rom 12:11)
Do I serve God with my life?

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." (Rom 12:12)
Am I joyful because of the hope that I have? Am I patient when I am facing difficulties? Am I faithful in going to God in prayer?

"Share with God's people who are in need." (Rom 12:13)
Do I share with those in need willingly? Or do I share only grudging? Or do I not share with those in need at all?

"Practice hospitality." (Rom 12:13)
This is so much more than just entertaining people. It is caring for the needs of others through waht I have. Do I practice hospitality? Or do I look for ways to avoid doing so?

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." (Rom 12:15)
Do I feel the highs and lows of life with those who are a aprt of my life? Or do I just brush off those things and alow them to go through those times alone?

"Live in harmony with one another." (Rom 12:16)
Do I do my best to live my life at peace with those? Do I deal with conflicts and disagreements quickly? Or do I try to ignore them and hope that they will just go away if I ignore them?

"Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position." (Rom 12:16)
Am I so concerned wiht my own social stastus that there are people I won't associate with because of how I may look for doing so? Do I allow my pride to get in the way of my interactions with certain people?

"Do not be conceited." (Rom 12:16)
Am I conceited?

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil." (Rom 12:17)
Do I seek to get someone back when they wrong me?

"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (Rom 12:18)
Do I make every effort to make peace with everyone?

"Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath." (Rom 12:19)
Do I spend my life seeking revenge on those who have wronged me? Or am I willing to leave that up to God?

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Rom 12:21)
Do I spend my time focusing on doing good in the midst of the evil that can happen around me? Or do I get caught up and overcome by the evil that will happen around me in this world?

As I thought through these questions, I realized that I have a long way to go in my own life in these areas. I know that I will always hav room for growth in these areas, while I live on this earth. This passage was really just challenging to me to think practically about how I lived my own life and where I needed to begin to make some changes. I hope that as you read the verses and questions above you were challenged in your lives as well.